URLs du Jour

2021-06-01

[Amazon Link]

  • And New Hamsphire Gets A Mention. Bari Weiss hosts a debate: Should Public Schools Ban Critical Race Theory?

    Here’s what supporters of these bills [banning Critical Race Theory from public schools] will say. They push back and say that this has nothing to do with free speech because public education is not a free marketplace of ideas, but a government-run monopoly. That’s why the courts have consistently ruled that restrictions on curricular speech are not restrictions on free speech. They’ll also point out that these ideas, or at least their downstream effects, are themselves shudder-worthy. CRT suggests, for example, that basic values like objectivity and individualism are characteristics of “white supremacy.” If that sounds like hyperbole, consider that the KIPP charter school network got rid of its motto — Work Hard, Be Nice — because, as the school put it, the slogan “diminishes the significant effort to dismantle systemic racism, places value on being compliant and submissive, supports the illusion of meritocracy, and does not align with our vision of students being free to create the future they want.” At a conference a few weeks ago I asked former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels what he thought of the bills and he compared banning CRT to banning phrenology. 

    Critics of these bills will point say that bad ideas need to be fought with better ideas, and that the way to defeat CRT is through rigorous inquiry and parental involvement, not through the blunt force of the administrative state. (They’ll note that such initiatives are being pushed by the party that is supposed to be allergic to government intervention.) They’ll also argue that because the language in many of these bills is so vague — some limit the teaching of so-called “divisive concepts” — they will inevitably lead to a chilly atmosphere for free inquiry and censoriousness around important subjects like race in America. For Exhibit A of the danger, consider the fact that Oklahoma City Community College just cancelled a summer class because of that state’s new law.

    The debate is between Christopher Rufo (pro-ban) and David French (anti-ban). Both good guys.

    Bari also notes the (marked up and highlighted) new draft of New Hampshire's effort to expunge CRT from being taught at taxpayer expense, HB544.


  • How Many You Got? David Henderson wonders: How Many Pinocchios Should Glenn Kessler Get? Kessler took it upon himself to "fact check" a mixture of truth and nonsense from Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene (R-GA):

    You know, Nazis were the National Socialist Party. Just like the Democrats are now a national socialist party.

    Comments Henderson:

    Now Kessler would have been on good grounds had he challenged her second statement. The Democrats are nationalists to some degree, although probably somewhat less than Republicans and way less than the Nazis. They’re also socialists to some degree, more so than Republicans, but way less so than the Nazis.

    But that’s not the route Kessler took. Instead he challenged her first statement. Under a section titled “The Facts,” Kessler writes:

    The full name of Hitler’s party was Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei. In English, that translates to National Socialist German Workers’ Party. But it was not a socialist party; it was a right-wing, ultranationalist party dedicated to racial purity, territorial expansion and anti-Semitism — and total political control.

    His first 2 sentences are fine; 0 Pinocchios. But the first clause of his last sentence is false. They really were a socialist party. They were also, as Kessler says, ultranationalist and dedicated to racial purity, territorial expansion, and anti-Semitism. They also wanted total political control. None of that contradicts the claim that they were socialist. Stalin was dedicated to territorial expansion and many of the leading Soviets were also anti-Semitic. Stalin also wanted total political control and achieved more of it than Hitler did. Stalin was also a socialist. Would Kessler say that Stalin was not a socialist? If so, I think we would need to award him 5 Pinocchios.

    More discussion and extensive Nazi-quoting at the link. To add to the argumentum ad Hitlerum, I'll note that, like Biden, Hitler was big on infrastructure.


  • Also The Ides of March. Megan McArdle has advice: Beware of ‘expert’ consensus.

    You don’t have to walk far in my neighborhood to come across one of those ubiquitous front-yard signs announcing that the people living in the house believe “science is real,” among other articles of faith. Upper middle-class Democrats have long prided themselves on belonging to “the party of science,” but former president Donald Trump’s covid denialism supercharged that affiliation into a central part of their identity.

    Yet the form this belief in science took was often positively anti-scientific. Instead of a group of constantly evolving theories that might be altered at any time, or falsified entirely, and is thus always open to debate, “science” was a demand that others subordinate their judgment to an elite-approved group of credentialed scientific experts, many of whom were proclaiming the lab leak unlikely in the extreme.

    It seems that expert consensus was somewhat illusory, and it would have been well to remember that like the rest of us, scientists are prone to groupthink and nonscientific concerns can creep into their public statements. We all heard the confident pronouncements of support for Chinese scientists, but less about the quiet doubts that were apparently being expressed privately by people uninterested in a bruising public fight.

    As Edgar Allen Poe kind of said: believe nothing you hear, and only half of what you see.


  • Liberals Pounce. In her daily news roundup at Reason, Elizabeth Nolan Brown features the latest trend: Liberal Media Coverage Is Boosting Conservative Nationalists.

    Much of the U.S. media is accustomed to accepting left-leaning framing of economic policies and arguments—and it's impacting coverage of the conservative civil war over economic principles.

    A significant portion of the right—from legislators like Sen. Josh Hawley (R–Mo.) to Fox News hosts like Tucker Carlson, traditionally right-leaning magazines like The American Conservative, and all sorts of rank-and-file Republicans—has started to sound very similar to the far left when it comes to private business and government regulation. "In the current environment, when you see somebody railing against how the system is rigged to benefit the rich and powerful at the expense of the working class, you have to double-check to see whether it's coming from somebody on the far left or the populist right," notes Philip Klein at National Review.

    They're part of a "growing movement on the right challenging the longstanding commitment of conservatives to limited government and free enterprise"—one that presents "a potentially fatal threat to the conservative movement as it has existed for decades as well as to the cause of limited government," adds Klein. (For more on this, see Stephanie Slade's "Is There a Future for Fusionism?")

    Is liberal media attracted to these folks because they are anti-liberty, or because they're wrong and easy to debunk?

    How big is the pro-market side of the GOP? How influential?


Last Modified 2021-06-03 5:53 AM EDT

The Scout Mindset

Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don't

[Amazon Link]

Another good book in the "How to Think" genre. I didn't like it quite as much as (guess what) How to Think by Alan Jacobs. But this is a noble effort.

When you are considering a contentious issue, Ms. Galef suggests you can approach it with either the "scout mindset" or the "soldier" mindset. The soldier approaches reasoning as defensive combat; evidence is accepted or discounted not on its inherent value, but whether or not it reinforces the belief one is defending; if you're wrong, you've been "defeated". Obviously, you're much more prone to the biases and fallacies of motivated reasoning.

The scout, on the other hand, is more of a "mapmaker". When scouts are wrong, they're not "defeated"; they just need to update their set of Bayesian probabilities. Usually incremental adjustments are fine. Scouts are also motivated reasoners, but their goal is achieving an accurate picture of reality, not defending their pre-existing beliefs.

This hit home for me. Back in my youth, I was a dedicated "soldier"; I wasn't that interested in finding "truth"; I was looking for rhetorical ammunition. If some dedicated sleuth digs out my contribution to BIX (BYTE Information Exchange) and Usenet groups, they'll see what I mean. I was pretty unpleasant. In my defense, everyone else was, too.

It's been a slow evolution, but I've been inspired by folks who are obviously of the scout mindset. And I've been turned of by people on "my side" who resort more to name-calling than coherent discussion; they're interested in the points the "other side" is making solely to disparage them.

Don't get me wrong, I still do a lot of that. But not as much, and I'm trying to improve. Ms. Galef's book provided me with a framework for (I hope) further incremental progress.

The book is a fun and easy read, full of anecdotes. It appears the author, Julia Galef, is kind of a Trekkie, so a lot of those anecdotes involve Mr. Spock. (Indeed, Appendix A is devoted to 23 predictions Spock made over the course of the series, and evaluates his accuracy. It's a mixed bag.)

Near the end of the book there's a handy set of "incremental steps" Ms. Galef suggests for moving yourself closer to the scout mindset. I've snipped them:

1. The next time you’re making a decision, ask yourself what kind of bias could be affecting your judgment in that situation, and then do the relevant thought experiment (e.g., outsider test, conformity test, status quo bias test).
2. When you notice yourself making a claim with certainty (“There’s no way . . .”), ask yourself how sure you really are.
3. The next time a worry pops into your head and you’re tempted to rationalize it away, instead make a concrete plan for how you would deal with it if it came true.
4. Find an author, media outlet, or other opinion source who holds different views from you, but who has a better-than-average shot at changing your mind—someone you find reasonable or with whom you share some common ground.
5. The next time you notice someone else being “irrational,” “crazy,” or “rude,” get curious about why their behavior might make sense to them.
6. Look for opportunities to update at least a little bit. Can you find a caveat or exception to one of your beliefs, or a bit of empirical evidence that should make you slightly less confident in your position?
7. Think back to a disagreement you had with someone in the past on which your perspective has since shifted and reach out to that person to let them know how you’ve updated.
8. Pick a belief you hold strongly and attempt an ideological Turing test of the other side. (Bonus points if you can actually find someone from the other side to judge your attempt.)

I hope everyone reads Ms. Galef's book, becomes more like a scout, and improves the quality of our public discourse by a couple orders of magnitude. ("Isn't it pretty to think so?")


Last Modified 2021-06-03 5:54 AM EDT