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The Ghost of Paley



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(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 11 2006,09:11   

Paley's position:
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Yes, this is an excellent book that occupies a prominent place on my bookshelf. In fact, if you want to discuss it further, one of us can create a new thread. Three things to remember:
1) I am not a racist, so most of his arguments are irrelevant to my political philosophy.
2) Just like his namesake, Mr. Diamond is a racist. He clearly advocates black supremacy in the prologue. I'll be happy to quote the relevant bits if you'd like.
3) Unfortunately, parts of his argument actually strengthen the position of white supremacists.

Eric Murphy's reply:
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I do want to take issue with your claim that Dr. Diamond is a "racist." By any conventional use of the term, he most certainly is not a racist.

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Diamond himself is very aware of how his dicussion of race and culture can be misinterpreted by those with a desire to misinterpret, and he says so in the book. But the truth of the matter is that a dispassionate reading of "Guns, Germs, and Steel" will provide no comfort to those who think that any particular race has any intellectual advantage over any other race, nor to those who think that any particular civilization's successes are due to the inherent superiority of its members.

Here's the book we're discussing.

Opinions?

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The Ghost of Paley



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(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 11 2006,10:09   

Heh, I assume Mr. Murphy's working hard on his opening...............

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The Ghost of Paley



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(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 11 2006,10:45   

Quote
2) Just like his namesake, Mr. Diamond is a racist. He clearly advocates black supremacy in the prologue. I'll be happy to quote the relevant bits if you'd like.


From pages 20-1 of the book:
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It's easy to recognize two reasons why my impression that New Guineans are smarter than Westerners may be correct.....[he spends the next three paragraphs justifying this assertion, then concludes with]....That is, in mental ability New Guineans are probably genetically superior to Westerners, and they surely are superior in escaping the devastating developmental disadvantages under which most children in industrialized societies now grow up...Why is it that Europeans, despite their likely genetic disadvantage and (in modern times) their undoubted developmental disadvantage, ended up with much more of the cargo?"

Quote
3) Unfortunately, parts of his argument actually strengthen the position of white supremacists.

I'll support this later, but I want to give Eric a chance to respond.

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Russell



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(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 11 2006,11:20   

I'll let Eric respond to the bulk of this, if he's so inclined, but I just want to point out one glaring error in Ghost's invite. Whereas Diamond is writing about New Guineans, somehow Ghost has generalized this to "black". Here in the U.S., for instance, "black" most often translates to "people of (relatively recent) African ancestry". I'm pretty sure New Guineans are at least as genetically distant from Europeans and the major African groups as either of the latter are from one another.

(And, just by the by, I read Guns Germs & Steel years ago and certainly don't recall anything that would justify calling Diamond a "racist".)

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ericmurphy



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(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 11 2006,12:08   

Okay, here's why Dr. Diamond is not a racist: regardless of whether he believes that New Guineans are genetically superior in some sense to other races, he is not advocating that New Guineans be given any extra privileges as a result of any purported superiority, nor that other races should be discriminated against based on even provable deficiencies, if any there are.

My observation that men are, in general, physically stronger than women does not make me think that women should be excluded from physically-demanding occupations. Any person's fitness for any occupation, whether it is physically, mentally, or emotionally demanding, should be based on his or her fitness for the job, not based on the statistically average fitness demonstrated by whatever race or culture he or she belongs to. Preferences based on race or cultural background are generally a short-cut, a lazy way of avoiding having to assess a person based on his or her own strengths and weaknesses.

That being said, an overwhelmingly strong case for affirmative action can be made based on exactly the kind of shortcut preferences I just criticized. Minorities here and abroad have consistently been short-changed based on their perceived shortcomings, and that is true to some extent even today. The whole purpose of affirmative action programs is to level a playing field that is still far from level. Anyone (like, say, Thomas Sowell) who claims that racism is dead in America really needs to get out more. Living in a city as multicultural as the one I live in, I don't need anything more that a walk down the street to see how institutionalized racism still is in America.

I'm assuming that since Bill says he's not a racist, he agrees with me at least on my first point, if not the second one.

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Stephen Elliott



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(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 11 2006,12:15   

What is "afirmative action"?

Would I be right in guessing that it is similar to what is known as "positive discrimination" in the UK?

If so, then I  believe it is racist.

  
sir_toejam



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(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 11 2006,12:21   

that sounds like a wiki question to me.

and, no, i don't believe affirmative action was ever meant to be racist (or reverse-racist), regardless of how the policy may have been abused in some circumstances.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affirmative_action

  
ericmurphy



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(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 11 2006,12:37   

Quote (Stephen Elliott @ Jan. 11 2006,18:15)
What is "afirmative action"?

Would I be right in guessing that it is similar to what is known as "positive discrimination" in the UK?

If so, then I  believe it is racist.

If you're calling "Affirmative Action" "racist," you're using the word in a way that may be technically correct, but nevertheless gives entirely the wrong idea. Here's why.

Americans of African descent ("Negroes," "Blacks," African-Americans," along with various less flattering epithets) have historically been discriminated against. For the first 70 or so years of this nation's history, human beings of African descent were considered property. Even today, all other things being equal, an African American is at a distinct disadvantage to Americans of European descent in the job market. Part of this disadvantage is due to institutionalized racism, and some of it is due to diminished opportunities due to previous racial discrimination. African Americans make up approximately 12% of the population here, but there are zero African American CEOs of Fortune 100 companies.

Given the imbalance in the opportunities afforded most African Americans in society, the intent of Affirmative Action is to offset some of that imbalance. It's difficult for me to sympathize with the occasional American of European descent who may have lost out in a bid for a well-paying job to an African American when I see the relative economic success of African Americans as compared to European Americans.

And if you think that African Americans have suffered in the marketplace because they are genetically less fit for the marketplace than European Americans, I'm afraid that makes you a racist by any rational meaning of the term.

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The Ghost of Paley



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(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 11 2006,12:44   

Stephen Elliott wrote:
Quote
What is "afirmative action"?
Would I be right in guessing that it is similar to what is known as "positive discrimination" in the UK?

Yes. Affirmative action is a nice word for quotas. I know the lawyers here will jump all over me for that, citing many cases that make subtle differences between the two, but as the great American writer Bill James said, "If you look at a woman that hard, she'll punch your lights out."

Sir Toejam wrote:
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and, no, i don't believe affirmative action was ever meant to be racist (or reverse-racist), regardless of how the policy may have been abused in some circumstances.

I have to disagree here. This timeline implies otherwise, despite Hubert Humphrey's empty promises.
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Senator Humphrey responded that if the Act sanctioned quotas, he would "start eating the pages one after the other...." "Nothing contained in [Title VII]," Humphrey continued, "shall be interpreted to require any employer to grant preferential treatment to any individual or to any group because of race...on account of an imbalance which may exist with respect to the total number or percentage of persons employed...in comparison with the available work force."4

ericmurphy wrote:
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Given the imbalance in the opportunities afforded most African Americans in society, the intent of Affirmative Action is to offset some of that imbalance. It's difficult for me to sympathize with the occasional American of European descent who may have lost out in a bid for a well-paying job to an African American when I see the relative economic success of African Americans as compared to European Americans.

I suspect it's more than "occasional". And Asian-Americans are probably hurt even worse. Why should they suffer for something they weren't responsible for, even collectively?

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Dean Morrison



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(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 11 2006,12:54   

Here we go -

Paley will now seek to justify that because 'affirmitive action' is 'racist' - then his brand of racism is okay. (Only he want call it that - he'll re-define the word race so you have to say 'ethnic-group'-ism or 'culture-that-is-unsuited-to-Western-society-ism)
I refer to my previous posts.

Paley is clearly a racist - yet seems embarrassed by the term.

As I said before - he does not consider the Jews to be a race - therefore the Germans were not 'racist' when they 'discriminated' against them.



:(

  
The Ghost of Paley



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(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 11 2006,12:58   

ericmurphy wrote:
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And if you think that African Americans have suffered in the marketplace because they are genetically less fit for the marketplace than European Americans, I'm afraid that makes you a racist by any rational meaning of the term.

Why should a lack of ethnic representation in a certain sector be interpreted as either "institutionalized racism" or "inferior" genes? Why couldn't culture play a role? And if a numerical discrepancy is evidence for racism, does that mean that whites are discriminated against in sports, heterosexuals in the fashion world, and Gentiles in just about any intellectual profession you could name? In fact, this is the real reason so many middle-class blacks are antisemitic: they take this type of logic to its natural conclusion. This is one of the ways in which liberal philosophy encourages hatred (in my opinion).

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The Ghost of Paley



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(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 11 2006,13:04   

Ignore Dean; he's a proven liar. See the first Jan. 9 post.

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Dean Morrison



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(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 11 2006,13:31   

Larry - all you succeed in doing is pointing people back to your own posts- which are what I used in the first place to establish my point that you are a racist.

Call me a liar if you wish - I expect no more of you - but let people make up their own minds as to whether I am a 'proven' liar, and you are a racist.

One thing - why would I go to all this trouble to 'lie' about someone by calling them a racist if I thought they weren't?

I think that it's you that has a problem facing the truth Paley.

  
ericmurphy



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(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 11 2006,13:55   

Quote (The Ghost of Paley @ Jan. 11 2006,18:44)
I suspect it's more than "occasional". And Asian-Americans are probably hurt even worse. Why should they suffer for something they weren't responsible for, even collectively?

If it were more than "occasional," we'd see the proportion of African American management professionals approach their proportion of the population at large -- regardless of whether you think African Americans are as qualified for those positions as European Americans. Since that's hardly the case, I think we can rest assured that such cases are, indeed, "occasional."

Living in San Francisco, where Asian Americans make up almost half the population, I can assure you that Asian Americans are doing pretty well. The law firm I work for is almost 40% Asian American, our estate planning clients (who pretty much by definition are affluent) are way more than half Asian American, my last two dentists were both Asian American (half the dentists in their building are Asian American). The idea that African Americans are crowding Asian Americans out of the professions is, quite simply, absurd.

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The Ghost of Paley



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(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 11 2006,13:56   

ericmurphy wrote:
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Okay, here's why Dr. Diamond is not a racist: regardless of whether he believes that New Guineans are genetically superior in some sense to other races, he is not advocating that New Guineans be given any extra privileges as a result of any purported superiority, nor that other races should be discriminated against based on even provable deficiencies, if any there are.

I have to admit, he sounds like a racist in my book. But it's true that he doesn't advocate Jim Crow laws, so by your definiton he wouldn't be one. Of course, his political philosophy doesn't affect the strength of his argument, so his book must be judged on its own terms. I just think it's funny that he spends 400+ pages refuting one type of racism when he's so quick to embrace another (in my opinion). Unfortunately, racists are now using his argument to buttress their own beliefs: some now claim that the differences in climate, flora, and geography were the selective pressures that drove the selection for white people's "superior" intellect. And now, of course, they have studies to quote-mine for all they're worth. If Mr. Diamond complains, they can just quote his prologue. But all is not lost yet, there are plenty of genetic studies to come, and I think that the Flynn Effect will be writ in DNA. Not that it matters; Jim Crow is wrong no matter what.

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ericmurphy



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(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 11 2006,14:04   

Quote (The Ghost of Paley @ Jan. 11 2006,18:58)
ericmurphy wrote:
Quote
And if you think that African Americans have suffered in the marketplace because they are genetically less fit for the marketplace than European Americans, I'm afraid that makes you a racist by any rational meaning of the term.

Why should a lack of ethnic representation in a certain sector be interpreted as either "institutionalized racism" or "inferior" genes? Why couldn't culture play a role? And if a numerical discrepancy is evidence for racism, does that mean that whites are discriminated against in sports, heterosexuals in the fashion world, and Gentiles in just about any intellectual profession you could name? In fact, this is the real reason so many middle-class blacks are antisemitic: they take this type of logic to its natural conclusion. This is one of the ways in which liberal philosophy encourages hatred (in my opinion).

Bill, we don't need to look at the statistics for evidence of racism in American Culture. The evidence for past and present racism is utterly overwhelming (gay people have never enslaved straight people and black athletes have never enslaved white athletes). You don't need to look at the statistics to see that institutionalized racism is a fact of life in America; all you need to do is watch television or look at recent historical events such as the Matthew Sheppard case in Massachusetts in the late 1980s.

That said, it's definitely true that culture can play a role. But, at least in the case of African Americans, the cultural argument supports my case. What happened to African American culture? It was systematically eradicated in the 18th and 19th centuries. What kind of "culture" are African Americans heir to? They've been forced to come up with their own culture sua sponte in a matter of a few generations, rather than the millenia European Americans or Asian Americans can look to for cultural cues.

Should African Americans' lack of an authentic, indigenous, deeply-rooted culture be held against them? What do you think?

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The Ghost of Paley



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(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 11 2006,14:46   

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If it were more than "occasional," we'd see the proportion of African American management professionals approach their proportion of the population at large -- regardless of whether you think African Americans are as qualified for those positions as European Americans. Since that's hardly the case, I think we can rest assured that such cases are, indeed, "occasional."

I don't know about management professionals, but when the California University system banned Affirmative Action preferences, black and hispanic admissions declined dramatically. California's experience is pretty typical. I can't recommend Losing the Race highly enough; it's clear that many minority students had no business being in Berkeley. And graduating from top-flight schools is an important step for any management professional.
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You don't need to look at the statistics to see that institutionalized racism is a fact of life in America; all you need to do is watch television or look at recent historical events such as the Matthew Sheppard case in Massachusetts in the late 1980s.

I'm not trying to be snide (really), but we must have completely different cable packages. I don't watch much TV (and I'm sure you don't either), but what I do see shocks me in its antiwhite bias. I mean, every second commercial portrays white men as nitwits, and crime dramas are awash in white thuggery. Sorry, Eric, I'm trying to keep an open mind, but you really have to clarify this. And even though gay bashing still goes on, I've noticed that Hollywood and Madison Avenue are creating programs and commercials that target gay people. It sure seems like attitudes are quickly changing, and this is supported by the people I talk to. Isn't there a poster here who's openly gay? He might have some insights worth sharing.......
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That said, it's definitely true that culture can play a role. But, at least in the case of African Americans, the cultural argument supports my case. What happened to African American culture? It was systematically eradicated in the 18th and 19th centuries. What kind of "culture" are African Americans heir to? They've been forced to come up with their own culture sua sponte in a matter of a few generations, rather than the millenia European Americans or Asian Americans can look to for cultural cues.

You've got a point there, but is A.A. the best way to remedy this problem? I know it's been said many times, but I think A.A. devalues minority achievement. And wasn't all this supposed to be temporary?
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Should African Americans' lack of an authentic, indigenous, deeply-rooted culture be held against them? What do you think?

Not entirely, perhaps. But it's been about 40 years now under A.A. and in some ways Black culture is getting even more decadent. Single-parent households and out-of-wedlock birth have exploded since the mid-sixties, and a depressing amount of black youth in stable two-parent homes are embracing gangsta culture. Not that I'm letting white culture off the hook: we're experiencing the same &^%%ing trends. Look at the white youth in Great Britain - "lad" culture and hooliganism are taking over. School performance continues to decline, and for our schools - well, 'nuff said.

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The Ghost of Paley



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(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 11 2006,14:53   

Whoops - just caught an error. McWhorter's anecdotes involve Stanford students, not Berkeley ones. Which is even worse, in my opinion.

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Dean Morrison



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(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 11 2006,22:41   

Crikey Paley - it almost sounds like you're talking reasonably..

But I thought you were in favour of Affirmative Action - of the kind Steve Fuller said was required if the 'Intelligent Design Hoax' was ever to get off the ground?

  
Russell



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(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 12 2006,01:11   

Was "affirmative action" really the target topic of a thread titled "Guns, Germs & Steel"? I guess we focus on different things in the books we read, but I have to admit that I can't remember anything about A.A. from my reading of GG&S, though it was some time ago.

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Stephen Elliott



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(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 12 2006,03:08   

I really dislike the idea of affirmative action or positive discrimination.

Despite any lofty intentions I consider it a bad idea.

Positively discriminating in somebodies favour because of race absolutely demands someone is going to be discriminated againt for racial reasons.

That is racist. No ifs or buts. Sounds nice and friendly but will lead to righteous indignation. It will just give real nasty racists a recruiting slogan.

In the UK the Asian community is very well represented in the medical field. How would it sound if someone claimed, "Asians are over-represented in medicine. Positively discriminate for other races over Asians"?

That sounds racist because it is. You can't have it both ways.

  
Russell



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(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 12 2006,03:31   

Quote
I really dislike the idea of affirmative action or positive discrimination.  
I guess I'm going to have to get out my copy of "Guns, Germs and Steel" to figure out why affirmative action is central to the discussion of it.

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Flint



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(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 12 2006,04:00   

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I really dislike the idea of affirmative action or positive discrimination.

This has been a matter of some sensitivity, of course. Originally, the Official Explanation was that there was to be no discrimination either in favor of or against anyone. The (rather ludicrous) assumption was that there were plenty of *fully qualified* minority types out there to be hired, but they were all hiding somewhere, and could only be found by a directed effort to seek them out.

Meeting the resulting requirements led to some genuinely creative definitions of "qualified". But in reality, there were only two categories of alternatives - either define down the job requirements until nearly any warm body qualified, or jigger the procedures for assessing qualifications so as to (often massively) misrepresent the candidates' abilities.

In private industry, out of the desperation induced by legal pressures, companies tended to create "nonjobs" with suitable titles and compensation but without the sort of responsibility that would cripple actual operations. Universities created dual tracks, the original degree programs and the "affirmative action" programs, which were basically remedial training but which were awarded the same degree. The civil service meanwhile went to two tracks on their standardized tests, grading non-minorities according to how well they did relative to the entire test population, and minorities according to how they did relative to other minorities only.

These "dual track" efforts to basically DEFINE very different groups as being the same, have largely failed. But the civil service does not have the "nonjob" option; they are obligated by law to treat all "90%" candidates the same (within the larger restriction that minorities must end up constituting NO LESS a percentage of all employees than they represent in the population at large).

All in all, it's been a Through the Looking Glass experience, where "merit" has morphed from an ability to do a task, to an ability to meet political expediency.

  
The Ghost of Paley



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(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 12 2006,04:28   

Russell wrote:
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I guess I'm going to have to get out my copy of "Guns, Germs and Steel" to figure out why affirmative action is central to the discussion of it.

Don't bother - Diamond doesn't focus on it (or even bring it up I think). But this statement is highly relevant in my opinion:
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Unfortunately, racists are now using his argument to buttress their own beliefs: some now claim that the differences in climate, flora, and geography were the selective pressures that drove the selection for white people's "superior" intellect. And now, of course, they have studies to quote-mine for all they're worth. If Mr. Diamond complains, they can just quote his prologue.

Do you think that Diamond made a tactical blunder?

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The Ghost of Paley



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(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 12 2006,04:41   

Flint, you stated the central dilemma better than I ever could. I for one enjoy reading your posts. Like Eric, you must scribble for a living.

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Russell



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(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 12 2006,05:02   

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Do you think that Diamond made a tactical blunder?
I guess that depends on what you assume is his strategic goal.  What do you assume that is?

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The Ghost of Paley



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(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 12 2006,05:57   

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I guess that depends on what you assume is his strategic goal.  What do you assume that is?

To refute biological arguments that try to account for civilisational differences between racial groups. An admirable goal, but Diamond's execution has problems.

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ericmurphy



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(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 12 2006,07:43   

The problem as I see it:

The United States is bedevilled by extreme disparities in wealth and economic opportunity, disparities reminiscent more of Latin American banana republics than liberal democracies. Many of those disparities are the result of factors over which no one has any control. Let's face it, people are born with different capacities and needs, and no amount of legislation can correct for those differences (although I can probably give Bill an aneurysm by saying "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs" might be a pretty good prescription for a just society).

However, some of these differences in opportunity are the result of historical events that are not very flattering to America's self-image as Land of the Free and Home of the Brave™. A history of institutionalized slavery is certainly one of these, as is its successor, institutionalized racism.

No one denies that these things happened. While some may deny that there are any lasting effects, that's almost as ridiculous as denying the Holocaust. The effects are plain to anyone who is willing to see. Regardless of whatever statistics Mr. Bill would like to wave about as to the causes of the relative poverty of, e.g., African Americans, it's impossible to deny that there is a systemic disparity in the relative economic opportunity of African Americans (and others) as compared to white Americans.

So, the question then becomes, what does a just society do to resolve these disparities? Well, one possibility is to just claim that African Americans are inferior to European Americans, Asian Americans, etc., and just ignore the problem, claiming it's either God's Will (if you're of that persuasion) or that it's Darwin's Will (if you're of the other).

Another possibility is to take as a given that many of the problems African Americans continue to suffer from are due to their treatment at the hands of their fellow humans, those European American guys, either in the past or currently.

If one makes that assumption (because, after all, there has to be some explanation for the lack of economic success of the majority of African Americans), then one is obliged to come up with some sort of remedy. A possible remedy is what became known as Affirmative Action.

It is not difficult to make the case that Affirmative Action has not been very successful. However, how long was affirmative action practiced as a matter of law in the United States? 40 years? That's hardly a generation and a half. How much success would one expect to see in a program over forty years that clearly would take generations to have a discernible effect on society? Would one expect to see parity between African Americans and European Americans on that sort of time scale?

(And in the meantime, I don't want to hear any whining about how Affirmative Action is "unfair" to white people. Take a look at the prison system and death row and then tell me you think American society as a whole is unfair to white people.)

This is what bugs me about conservatives. A program that conservatives don't like for ideological reasons (e.g., affirmative action, social security, medicare) had better work flawlessly or there's going to be constant pressure from the right to a) starve it of funds, and b) kill it once it's sufficiently weakened.

On the other hand, programs that are ideologically favored (SDI, Operation Iraqi Liberation -- oops, did I say that?) which clearly will never work, are funded to death, no matter what the results turn out to be.

I know you think Liberals have ruined the country, Bill. But there's a book I think you'd find pretty interesting. It was written by Kevin Phillips, an economist who worked for the Nixon administration. It's called "Wealth and Democracy: a Political History of the American Rich." He makes a pretty persuasive argument that the very programs conservatives decry are the ones which have done the most to better the lives of most Americans. Considering the subject matter, it's actually a pretty entertaining read.

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Flint



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(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 12 2006,09:16   

ericmurphy:

Behind your reasonable paragraphs lies a nest of assumptions which, at least as far as I know, are neither established nor refuted. As such, they are statements of preference. I'd like to provide a slightly different viewpoint, just to see where our disagreements may truly lie.

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The United States is bedevilled by extreme disparities in wealth and economic opportunity, disparities reminiscent more of Latin American banana republics than liberal democracies.

In all accuracy, these disparities have existed in every society where wealth can be accumulated. As you go on to say:

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Many of those disparities are the result of factors over which no one has any control. Let's face it, people are born with different capacities and needs, and no amount of legislation can correct for those differences

But if differences in "capacities and needs" (not to mention kismet generally) always produce such a pattern, can we really denigrate it with words like "bedeviled"? The slings and arrows of the inevitable?

Quote
(although I can probably give Bill an aneurysm by saying "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs" might be a pretty good prescription for a just society).

I suggest that such a philosophy is a matter of scale. It seems to be not only workable, but the ONLY workable approach, in very small communities (immediate families, very small and tightly coupled teams). It breaks down terminally where people begin to feel that the fruits of their labors aren't being directly reciprocated. YOU may be comfortable living in a society where productivity is penalized so as to provide rewards for being unproductive, but few people are, and by trial and error (or by anthropological observation) this point is reached somewhere in the 50-100 person community. Beyond this point, the temptation to consume more "justice" than one needs is beyond the ability of too high a proportion of the members to resist.

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However, some of these differences in opportunity are the result of historical events that are not very flattering to America's self-image as Land of the Free and Home of the Brave™. A history of institutionalized slavery is certainly one of these, as is its successor, institutionalized racism.

No one denies that these things happened. While some may deny that there are any lasting effects, that's almost as ridiculous as denying the Holocaust. The effects are plain to anyone who is willing to see. Regardless of whatever statistics Mr. Bill would like to wave about as to the causes of the relative poverty of, e.g., African Americans, it's impossible to deny that there is a systemic disparity in the relative economic opportunity of African Americans (and others) as compared to white Americans.

While this disparity is undeniable, the circumstances of the Asian-Americans should not be so carefully tuned out. In comparison to African-Americans, the Asians share a goodly number of characteristics: They are immediately, visibly different. Offspring of European-Asian breeding look like the non-European. Active discrimination has been waged against them. They were never slaves, but they were surely demonized in the last Great War. During which African-Americans were segregated into their own military units, while the Asians were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. So it's hard to argue that Asians have been welcomed with open arms, or that they integrate so quickly into a European-dominated economy (as did the Irish, the Italians, the Swedes, etc.) that they blend under the radar.

Yet the Asians excel in schools, on standardized tests, in business and in technology. Why? What truly major difference leads to this astounding disparity in social success between Asians and blacks?

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So, the question then becomes, what does a just society do to resolve these disparities? Well, one possibility is to just claim that African Americans are inferior to European Americans, Asian Americans, etc., and just ignore the problem, claiming it's either God's Will (if you're of that persuasion) or that it's Darwin's Will (if you're of the other).

And indeed, this claim is made. I don't buy it myself, but rejecting this claim entails drawing a distinction between inherent differences and *performance* differences across a wide spectrum of performance measurements. How can we measure inherent (biologically meaningful social) differences, without looking at performance against some measure? Not a simple task.

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Another possibility is to take as a given that many of the problems African Americans continue to suffer from are due to their treatment at the hands of their fellow humans, those European American guys, either in the past or currently.

I'm sure this is largely the case. The question remains, WHY such an immense difference between blacks and Asians?

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If one makes that assumption (because, after all, there has to be some explanation for the lack of economic success of the majority of African Americans), then one is obliged to come up with some sort of remedy. A possible remedy is what became known as Affirmative Action.

To the best of my knowledge, Asian-Americans have never been the target of Affirmative Action, because by all reasonable measures they haven't needed it. Yes, there have been articles (a recent major article in Science, for example, that in major research facilities, Asians make up over half the workers and only about 5% of the management. But this too is changing, without any targeted government program to force it to happen. All that was needed was to point it out. It's not like enough of the lower ranks lack the qualificatons for promotion, so in this case "Affirmative Action" met the original model - fully qualified candidates were in fact plentiful. And ironically, it's this fact that rendered any Affirmative Action program unnecessary.)

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It is not difficult to make the case that Affirmative Action has not been very successful. However, how long was affirmative action practiced as a matter of law in the United States? 40 years? That's hardly a generation and a half.

And still Affirmative Action to artificially boost Asian-Americans has been practiced, well, uh, it hasn't. Hasn't been necessary. Again, why not? Perhaps it's possible that the reason why not might give us a pretty good clue why Affirmative Action was started in the first place, as well as why it has had relatively little effect. Asians fresh off the boat, not even speaking the native language, have consistently outperformed African-Americans in schools and in business (even within the ranks of organized crime). No two generations (or more) required.

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How much success would one expect to see in a program over forty years that clearly would take generations to have a discernible effect on society? Would one expect to see parity between African Americans and European Americans on that sort of time scale?

Again (because you really DO need to address this), we see Asian success at truly spectacular levels *immediately*, much less after 40 years. We see Asians whose English is barely comprehensible dominating the graduate schools of our best universities. We see that they are financially doing very well indeed.

Perhaps we could argue that the previous immigration waves were mostly European enough to vanish in a generation of interbreeding, and that's why none of them ever required anything like Affirmative Action. But the Asians do not vanish by interbreeding.

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(And in the meantime, I don't want to hear any whining about how Affirmative Action is "unfair" to white people. Take a look at the prison system and death row and then tell me you think American society as a whole is unfair to white people.)

This argument is not honest. Even if we grant (and it would be hard not to) that blacks are WAY overrepresented in the prisons and death row, and that given essentially similar fact situations blacks are WAY more likely to be convicted, and to get far heavier sentences upon conviction, this says nothing about fairness of employment opportunities. If you run a footrace, finish first, and someone you handily defeated is given the trophy because "his ancestors were mistreated, and people of his description are overrepresented in prison", have YOU been treated unfairly? Absolutely. I'm sorry, but when the qualifications for a desirable job are made explicit, and you spend perhaps years polishing your abilities to meet them, it's simply not fair to give that job to someone substantially less qualified because *some else somewhere else, unrelated to either of you* was treated badly.

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This is what bugs me about conservatives. A program that conservatives don't like for ideological reasons (e.g., affirmative action, social security, medicare) had better work flawlessly or there's going to be constant pressure from the right to a) starve it of funds, and b) kill it once it's sufficiently weakened.

While I agree as far as you went here, I'm amused at where you stopped. It is true of people generally, of every description and ideology, that what they DO NOT agree with must clear a higher bar than what they like. As a subset of people generally, conservatives are orthogonal to this measure.

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On the other hand, programs that are ideologically favored (SDI, Operation Iraqi Liberation -- oops, did I say that?) which clearly will never work, are funded to death, no matter what the results turn out to be.

Which is simply the flip side of that same coin. We all filter the world through our ideology, giving every benefit of the doubt possible to what our personal values find "good", and demanding miracles (and not seeing them even if they happen) otherwise.

Affirmative Action addresses, however ineffectively, a very real disparity whose cause isn't at all obvious (because if our "explanations" are correct, the Asians would be impossible). Maybe a better-aimed program would work better. SDI was technically not feasible. Social security seems a reasonably good idea poorly maintained - when it was started, age 65 was the average lifespan (not counting infant mortality) - i.e. the median worker died at 65, so only half the workers who paid into the system survived to extract from it. Social security might still be a reasonably good idea, if the eligibility age had been pegged to the median age of death. Because this didn't happen, the burden of supporting an ever-increasing percentage of capable but nonproductive citizens is beginning to exceed national wealth creation.

But anyway, your point that "conservatives" (you imply they have an exclusive on this) are the only ones to prefer their preferences, is frankly silly. "Liberal" is also a label implying a constellation of preferences. Are these necessarily more rational? Are you kidding? Are you really that incapable of noticing that YOU have preferences, which you find more reasonable? NOTHING is more reasonable than a shared prejudice. I may share many of yours, but I know them for what they are.

  
Stephen Elliott



Posts: 1754
Joined: Oct. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 12 2006,10:23   

"Affirmitive Action" could have long term results exactly the opposite of it's intention.

Should a hispanic medical student get to be qualified as a surgeon on easier terms than an Asian. Who would you demand operate on a loved one given the choice.

Over time the race that is favoured by "Affirmitive Action" would be viewed as less competant than someone without this benefit, when in comparable jobs.

This would give a racist measurable results to say such and such a race is inferior.

The long term effect could be dissastrous.

Surely it would be better to tackle the problem at it's root. Try to give every member of society an equal opportunity to compete.

School reforms would be a start. Have only public funded schools and atempt to ensure they all taught to an equal standard. This would be difficult, but surely worth more effort than a blatantly racist programme.

  
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