A Collection of Comments

This article will be updated regularly with new comments.

#1 (Responding in a forum)

The idea the reported 5% unemployment says anything about the state of our economy is a fantasy cooked up by government econometricians. Yes, many of them have been to college and hold fancy degrees but that doesn’t mean you should take them at their word. In reality, there are plenty of well informed folks with fancy degrees of their own that can explain why the country is, in fact, in decline. I won’t ask you to take their word for it either but consider this; unemployment is only valuable as a metric when it tells us what portion of the population is providing the goods and services we need and what portion only consumes and therefore burdens society. When you consider that many who have been excused from inclusion in the ‘un-employment’ group actually contribute nothing in terms of capital and have been left out because their excuses are deemed valid, the metric loses meaning. I don’t mind that hardly anyone in this country below 18 does anything but consume. They are meant to be getting an education. However, that does not change the reality that they represent a burden. The same goes for the elderly, tens of millions of people employed by government, college students, and the disabled. Our actual unemployment rate is MUCH higher than 5%.

#2 (In response to this blog.)

You say that Trump is not qualified, but what do you mean by that? Do you suspect he has lied about his age and is younger than the 35 year minimum? Are you proposing that Trump is not a citizen? Maybe we should take a closer look at his birth certificate. I suspect that you are suggesting neither of these things. Although you say he is not qualified, what you mean is that he does not live up to your own personal standards for a president. Since you are referring to your own standards and not a universal standards, the idea that it can be known by everyone that these standards are not met is absurd. Clearly, millions of people feel that he either meets their own standards or that he comes closer than any other candidate. Not only is your article absurd, your attempts to dress it up as an exercise in logic are comical.

#3 (In response to this blog)

The death penalty should not be used to punish Dylann Roof, it should be used to prevent further harm to society. Yea, we could keep him locked up for the next sixty or seventy years. He would remain a burden on the families of his victims and everyone else in society. Why should resources be diverted away from the needs of decent citizens to maintain a pulse in this person you yourself identify as monstrous? I agree with you that revenge is no justification for killing him. How about justifying it as a means of eliminating a problem?

#4 (In response to this blog)

MQTA:

You say that “Whiteness is first and foremost a strategy of elites.” I understand that to mean that it is a construct that is given significance for the benefit of elite whites. If that’s what you mean, I think you should consider that inclusion in the dominant segment of society is less important for the rich and talented and more so for the poor and disenfranchised. During reconstruction, blacks were often preferred as employees because they would accept lower wages. For the elite, this meant cheaper labor. For white laborers, this meant competition. They sought to preserve their relative advantage over whites through violent means including lynching and Jim Crow laws. Things haven’t changed much since then. If you go to a white pride event you will find a bunch of folks who have nothing else to be proud of. They cling to prestige by association. On the other hand, you would be hard pressed to find many whites in the elite who feel threatened by blacks.

TNS:

For elites, a group which in America has always been disproportionately White, their power is underwritten by numerous structures, economic, educational, cultural etc. including race. In a White supremacist society, Whiteness is a benefit. True, this is also a capitalist, patriarchal, abelist, heteronormative and credentialist society, and so, the more of these boxes one can tick off, the better, that doesn’t mean that Whiteness doesn’t matter to White elites and that making sure that Whiteness continues to matter isn’t beneficial to them. Chris Hughes one of Facebook’s founders and the owner of The New Republic demonstrates this very well. He’s a White male from North Carolina from a modest family. He’s also gay. (I know all this because someone profiled him when he bought The New Republic, back when I was a subscriber.) He wrote a letter to a prep school in the north and was admitted on a scholarship. Starting out with the benefit of being White and male in a White supremacist and patriarchal society, he then added to that by boosting his credentials and personal cultural capital by going to an elite prep school. Does that mean being White and male ceased to benefit him? No. I’m a straight Black male from South Carolina, from modest means. Had I done the same thing, I would have stuck out like a sore thumb as a Black man in an overwhelmingly White milieu, which would have given me an additional factor to overcome which he didn’t have. Granted, I would have benefited from heteronormativity, though homosexuals have the benefit of not having their minority status be immediately apparent. He then went to Harvard where he added to his elite status and had the good fortune of rooming with a young man who would soon be a billionaire. So, obviously the benefits of Whiteness are more salient for those who have nothing, that doesn’t mean there aren’t definite benefits to checking that box no matter what level you’re at. As for race and labor, Blacks were “willing” to work for less because they were seen as less desirable than White laborers. Because White laborers agreed that they were better than Blacks, they chose to persecute Black laborers rather than organizing and demanding equal pay for all laborers. And no, someone from the elite may not approach you wearing a Confederate flag and shouting racial slurs, because, the people they are competing with directly in day to day life aren’t Black for the most part and the White lower classes tend to do most of the dirtiest dirty work for them. What the elite will do is propagate the myth that America is a true meritocracy and produce culture which reinforces racist ideas both among those that express them explicitly and those who don’t. They’ll also lobby for and pass bills creating things like mass incarceration and redlining. The mere numerical fact that the elite is disproportionately White means they benefit directly from White Supremacy, because, if we had racial equality, we’d either have to have a larger elite sharing the same resources or some Whites would have to be displaced in favor of Blacks. Social structures are far deeper than superficial culture and who most vociferously seems to be competing with whom.

MQTA

You say that the disproportionate number of whites in the elite is evidence that certain members of the elite have benefitted from white supremacy. In other words, inequality of outcome can only mean an inequality in opportunity. What would you say then to the fact that Asians in the United States are disproportionately wealthy, even more so than whites? I think the reality is far more nuanced than your description appreciates. If you’re interested, I recommend a book called “Wealth, Poverty and Politics” by Thomas Sowell.

TNS:

For one thing, there’s more to elite status than personal wealth, Asians are still underrepresented in political and business leadership. And at the moment, the elite which controls the country is still overwhelmingly White. I may check out the book, until then, feel free to make your arguments here.

MQTA:

I meant to argue that inequality of outcome is no evidence for inequality of opportunity. There may be a knitting circle in my neighborhood that is all female. I can’t conclude, based on that evidence alone, that husbands weren’t invited. Instances where people are granted opportunities based on membership to an identity group do not necessarily contribute to representative disparity either. In fact, many advocate gender and pigment based discrimination as a means of ‘correcting’ representative disparity. In my line of work, people are actually given preference based on diversity quotas.

I did not mean for you to accept my view just because it has been expressed in a book. You are right to ask for arguments instead of citations but I don’t think I can improve on what Sowell has said so I will provide two excerpts instead;

“The grand social dogma of our time, that statistical disparities in outcomes between groups are presumptive evidence of differential treatment by others- a presumption that employers, lenders, and other accused of discriminatory must rebut to the satisfaction of commissions or courts, or else face penalties that can amount to millions of dollars- is sheer presumption. No evidence whatsoever is required to be presented to commissions or courts to substantiate that presumption.” – Intellectuals and Society

“The current widespread use of an even, proportional or statistically random distribution of groups in particular fields of endeavor, or at particular income levels, as a benchmark from which to measure maltreatment by others, is taken as axiomatic, not because of empirical support for this conclusion but because that benchmark is a foundation for other social beliefs and political agendas.” – Intellectuals and Society

In summary, I have seen your description of a system that favors various social groups (particularly whites) over others but I do not know what evidence you have for the existence of such a system. If you rely entirely on inequality of outcome, I think you should re-consider. If there is something else, please share it with me.

[Conversation continues past this point. Visit TNS‘ blog for the remainder]

#5 (In response to this video)

MQTA:

My problem with this analogy [Plato’s Cave] is that is assumes that the world perceived by the prisoner who was freed is somehow more true than the world perceived by the other prisoners. It reflects the vanity of Plato and of intellectuals throughout time. They assign a greater significance to their conceptions and label alternative views as delusional. This tendency is demonstrated in Thomas Sowell’s “Intellectuals and Society”. Great read.
Haugen:
 

Well, one reply is, “Of course there is a presumption. It is an analogy. Analogies really don’t prove anything—they only illustrate.” This is Plato’s purpose behind the Allegory of the Cave: to illustrate the difference between the person who recognizes the forms and the person who does not. His proof—although, to be honest, is not a proof—of the Forms is given in several different places throughout the dialogues. The main crux of his argument is that there is a difference between appearance and reality. Most, if not all, people, have noticed this difference. Plato is merely one attempt at delineating the difference.

Now, I am not trying to be rude here, but one wonders what your criticism is. Here is what you have written:

“[Plato and intellectuals through time] assign a greater significance to their conceptions and label alternative views as delusional.”

Okay. I am pretty familiar with Plato’s works and there are times when he ridicules others, e.g., Glaucon. However, that is not his only reasoning. In short, he ridicules his opponents since he has reason for his conclusion which is contrary to their conclusions [1] that his opponent could not refute. This is, by no means, a polite way to treat someone. However, his arguments are not merely “You stupid! Me smart!” (although he certainly wanted to communicate this). So, one reply to your criticism is that you have not yet addressed his reasons. You have merely cited a—perhaps accurate—character flaw.

Another reply is this: your criticism may be leveled at yourself. I took a brief look at your blog. I did not make a close read, but you appear to be arguing for a sort of pragmatism. Pragmatism is a theory proposed by several figures in the intellectual history. If you are not endorsing pragmatism, mea culpa. However, even if you are not endorsing pragmatism, you are endorsing one competing theory amongst many (even if it does not have a name yet). It is “competing” in the sense that it is contrary to the other theories—including Plato’s. You think your theory is true; hence, since it is contrary to the others, you think it is “more true” than others. Okay, welcome to the club! However, if your issue with Plato and other intellectuals is that they believe their theories are more true than others, that criticism applies to you as well.

I encourage you to keep thinking about this. Plato’s arrogance is well noted by many in the field—some, unfortunately, even celebrate it. However, not everyone is a Platonist—most notably, perhaps, is his student Aristotle. I have not read Sowell’s work and, to be honest, I may never get to it. If Sowell’s conclusion is that intellectuals can be, and even usually are, arrogant, then I agree. However, while arrogance is a character flaw, it does not show that any particular piece of evidence is false, or that any particular argument is incoherent. In short, if you think either that there is no difference between appearance and reality (which is Plato’s point with the Allegory), or that his theory of the Forms is flawed, then I say you have given yourself the challenge to do better. Arrogance is a flaw, to be sure. It is the height of arrogance to claim that someone else is mistaken and either not provide a flaw in that other person’s reasoning, or better reason for a contrary conclusion.

[1] By the way, ridiculing the other was a rhetorical practice among the Greeks—probably us too. Plato and Socrates got as good as they gave.

MQTA:

Thanks for the thoughtful response and taking the time to look at my writing.

I would first like to clear up a misconception. You say ” You think your theory is true” but I have not claimed that my ideas are true. You might think it is reasonable to assume that each person believes in the truth of his own conception, but I do not. I attempt to collect ideas that have utility in the context of my life, but I recognize that the same ideas in another context may be misguided, and that the idea I utilize can be improved to better achieve the ends I desire.

I think your criticism that I have simplified Plato’s work is fair. I did not mean to suggest that Plato, or other thinkers with whom I am at odds, have no arguments. I just think it is worth recognizing that arguments are not proof.

An example; Plenty of evidence and reasoning was presented to support the conclusion that stress caused people to develop ulcers. In the 1980’s, new medical research convinced many people that this had been a mistake, and that bacteria was actually responsible.

Now that there is a new consensus (at least as I understand, not being a doctor) in the medical community, should we be confident that we now have the “truth”?

I would not suggest that their new consensus is arrogant and therefore incorrect, I only challenge the level of confidence I hear among so many. It is that confidence that drives people to feel justified in forcing their judgment on other people. I believe in the freedom of conscience in personal matters.

I do not mean to suggest that you are against freedom of conscience, but I share this to let you in on why I regard the distinction between reason and knowledge as so significant.

Haugen:
 

If you are not claiming your ideas are true, then you are going to have to stop using declarative sentences. Declaratives are sentences with (at least) a subject and a predicate. The only use for those sentences is to state a truth claim. Hence, even the sentence, “I have not claimed my ideas are true” is a truth claim. This is a declarative just as “I attempt to collect ideas that have utility in the context of my life, but I recognize that the same ideas in another context may be misguided, and that the idea I utilize can be improved to better achieve the ends I desire.” are also declaratives. You state, “I believe in the freedom of conscience in personal matters.” This is a truth claim. In other words, you cannot escape the reality that you are involved with truth. Even the claim that ideas have utility, and that you are more interested in utility rather than truth, is a purported truth.

You have provided instances where purported knowledge claims have either been revised or abandoned. The history of science is full of these examples. Yeah, well, welcome to humanity. Examples can abound in areas other than math; history, art, and especially philosophy are all full of examples of revisions and disagreement. These are really excellent examples of why we should be careful. The irony of the human intellectual tradition is that it provides really great reason for humility and compassion. As noted, we tend to go in that exact opposite direction.

I suggest this: do not give up on truth, reason, or argument. Do not give up on humility, compassion, pragmatism, or even doubt. For, none of these are incompatible. In fact, I imagine you will even find that excellence in one helps with excellence in the others.

MQTA:
I appreciate the suggestion, but I would feel obnoxious if I was constantly prefacing every statement with “I’m not sure, but it seems to me…”  Instead, it will just have to be understood that my opinions are opinions. When I said that I believe in freedom of conscience, I did not mean to say that I know that there is some thing, in “reality”, that is called the freedom of conscience. I meant that I am currently convinced in the utility of accepting freedom of conscience as a social norm.
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s