white people getting shot by police with their hands up

I have engaged in countless debates and write ups, on Facebook and elsewhere, with people who are convinced that the *cause* for why police shoot African Americans at a higher rate than they shoot other groups is a result of racism and bias.

Most folks are well intentioned and are genuinely concerned about the plight of our African American communities, as they and all of us should be. They see racism and historical injustice as an explanation for why those communities, in so many areas of this country, are in such turmoil today. And I would agree with them.

But on this topic, and after thoroughly enmeshing myself in the data and the stories for at least the greater part of three years now, I am convinced that a better explanation for the gap in how often blacks are shot by police versus other groups is violent crime rate, not racism, not unconscious bias.

Some of the disagreements come down to technicalities and confusion about what causation means, because I am referring to statistical causation of the gap in shooting rates, while others see single incidents as proof of a larger trend. I have tried to explain that such an intense focus on single perspectives from isolated incidents scews our perception and says nothing about the bigger picture, but to no avail.

Regardless though, single incidents can draw attention to a cause that people need to pay more attention to. And when statistics back up the concern, those single incidents can be a powerful catalyst for change.

Which is why I am drawing everyone’s attention to this video, which I was only made aware of this morning. The video shows an unarmed white man being shot by the police, who confused his wallet for a gun. The officer was acquitted earlier this year by a Federal Appeals Court, who ruled that “After careful consideration and review of a video recording of the shooting, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Davidson, we conclude that a reasonable officer in Hancock’s position would have feared for his life.”

Because the suspect was white, the explanation for why the officer shot him could not have been racism or unconscious bias against white people (the officer was also white). Therefore, the next best explanation for the shooting was that the officer genuinely feared for his life and made a tragic mistake. I would argue that this video presents a compelling case example of the phenomenon of why police may shoot unarmed men, whether they be black or white.

As such, if we want to understand the gaps in how often African Americans get shot in this manner, we must look elsewhere beyond racism and unconscious bias for the explanation, and statistics actually back this up. In that endeavor, the best place to start will be with the differences in violent crime between groups. Otherwise, no matter how many tears are shed over such tragedy’s, our solutions to the problem, so often focused on reducing racism and bias, will be about as effective as a cat chasing its tail.

coming to terms with our nature so we don’t kill each other

This form of anti-Muslim bigotry is truly horrifying. I condemn it in the loudest possible terms, and yes, bigotry of this sort is terrorism of the worst kind.

Which gets me to thinking about this and other types of attacks we are seeing across the West: there is a shared human nature that spans race and religion, and a secular understanding of that nature is crucial to developing the kinds of policies that will help to prevent our societies from devolving into a state that could have been far better, had we done a few things differently.

The ways in which Western elites have grown to fetishize difference without understanding how difference can cause the fringe of society, so weak and unable to cope with the rights of others, to act out against their fellow countrymen in this way is, in my mind, one of the most overlooked and under-discussed challenges in all of these debates about mass migration.

Yes, people of different backgrounds can live together peacefully. But I join with Jonathon Haidt and others in their call for Western governments to wake up and to begin to prioritize a discussion on these issues that takes far more seriously some of what the best science has to say about human nature. As such, those fields that derive their theories from the rejection of truth and objective human knowledge should be excluded, because they are part of the problem not the solution.

First and foremost, we must centralize our understanding of human behavior in the context of our evolved instincts, instilled in us through generations upon generations of natural selection. If anyone were to ask me upon which foundational texts such discussions would be based, I recommend two books as a starting point: The first book is On Human Nature by EO Wilson, and the second book is Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt. A few others like Pinker’s The Blank Slate and Better Angels Of Our Our Nature would also be crucial.

But we can’t live in the clouds any longer. If our desire is to maintain any semblance of social trust and harmony, then it is upon all of us to educate ourselves on what the best science says about these issues and take part in the great debate in as productive as manner as possible. Otherwise, we leave the future of our societies in the hands of the directionless and untalented blowhards currently leading us all towards the brink.

coming to terms with my ignorance, not embracing it

On any given day, on any given topic, I think it’s safe to assume that I know less than 1% of what can possibly be known about most issues in the news.

So let’s say you have a news worthy topic where there are two individuals involved, that means you have two perspectives. Only knowing one perspective means you know only 50% of what can possibly be known about a particular event involving those two folks. Obviously, when I say “known”, I mean having a firm enough grasp of something to be able to develop educated opinions about it. I don’t mean some extreme version of knowing like the ability to know all the positions of atoms in the universe during time x.

Ok. So if you have an issue involving 4 people but only know the perspective of one, then you only know a quarter of what can be known. With 8 people, if you only know the perspective of a single individual, then you now only really know 1/8 of what can be known. All of this and so on all the way down.

Once you appreciate how little you really know about most things, it’s fun to watch people who are so confident in their positions that are basically developed from ignorance. I would say that most political debate is people screaming at one another from positions of ignorance about topics they can’t possibly know much about, because those topics are incredibly complex.

Because it takes time to develop knowledge about most important issues, one can generally develop a pretty decent estimate about any given person’s ability to know much at all about it based on certain data points about their life. Key variables would include whether they have a demanding job that sucks up most of their time during the day, and perhaps if they have kids that take up lots of their time at night.

Assuming that most of the average busy person’s day is taken up by these types of important activities, and assuming that the average issue takes at least a couple hours of dedicated reading to even know 5% of what can be known, then the vast majority of the population has no time to know much about much, including me.

abstinence

I actually have nothing against abstinence. I think it’s perfectly fine to teach children that abstinence is the most effective way to avoid STDs and unwanted babies.

The problem is, humans come in all shapes, sizes and…. life history strategies. Per Wikipedia, “A life history strategy is the ‘age- and stage-specific patterns’ and timing of events that make up an organism’s life, such as birth, weaning, maturation, death, etc”

Generally, people whose life history strategies are more future focused, such as those who place a heavy emphasis on savings and education, also tend to delay sex until later in life and have lower numbers of sexual partners. Meanwhile, people whose life history strategies are more short term oriented, with a heavy emphasis on immediate rewards, tend to have more frequent sexual encounters with a greater number of partners starting from an earlier age.

While certain life history characteristics tend to correlate together, there are also folks who display a mix of the above traits. For example, someone might place a heavy emphasis on the future but a low emphasis on commitment, so they have more sexual encounters.

Furthermore, it is theorized these traits also have a genetic and environmental component, which means that individuals don’t really get to choose their life history strategy. Like so many things, first nature has a go at us, then nurture has a go at us, and the final product is who we are whether we like it or not.

As a result, abstinence only policies that fail to teach other forms of birth control are guilty of not taking into account the great diversity of human life strategies. By not doing so, such policies in effect discriminate against some people whose life strategies (which they do not really get to choose) may make it more difficult for them to conform.

Maybe someday such advocates for abstinence only policies will wake up to the fact that people differ from one another, and that having only one kind of sex ed fails to take into account the great diversity in human sexual strategies. When that time comes, we can all develop more rational approaches to preventing unwanted pregnancy and STDs that celebrate, rather than reject, the diversity that exists among humans across ALL traits, including sexual strategies.

a case against free speech (not)

In today’s LA Times, a sociologist and legal scholar makes the case for restricting hate speech, on the grounds that not doing so subjects the “disadvantaged members of our society to shoulder a heavy burden with serious consequences.”

But she makes no mention of the fact that freedom of speech laws have actually protected the disadvantaged throughout our nation’s history. In fact, the first to suffer when speech becomes restricted are the disadvantaged, because they, by definition, lack the power to defend their rights of expression.

For example, during the Civil Rights Movement, black Americans were actually sent to jail for protesting segregation. The basis for which they were jailed was that they were in violation of speech restrictions! Some were even arrested for offenses as banal as praying on the steps of the Albany City Hall. One of those individuals you may have heard of, his name was Martin Luther King.

A year or so later, King and other movement leaders were ordered by Birmingham Sheriff, Bull Connor, that they were not allowed to engage in “parading, demonstrating, boycotting, trespassing and picketing,” or even “conduct customarily known as ‘kneel-ins’ in churches.” According to the ACLU, “It was King’s violation of this injunction that landed him in prison for the stint during which he wrote the famous “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.” (See the ACLU article in the comments for more examples of egregious violations of constitutionally protected speech during the Civil Rights Movement.)

The professor who wrote this opinion piece is presumably aware of this history, but she leaves it out of her argument here. We are left to suppose that she has faith that a system which regulates “hate” (an ambiguous word on a good day) would only ever do so in a way that upholds her own (biased/political) definitions of what that word means. The very fact that she is making this argument amidst a Donald Trump presidency is baffling to me. But I guess nothing can be that surprising on the Internet.

I conclude with a quote from the article from the ACLU, “If we don’t stand up for the First Amendment when racist speech is censored, it is the weak, the powerless, minorities, and those who seek change who will be hurt most in the end.”

how to raise a feminist son

How to Raise a Feminist Son?

Jason’s version

If you read The Upshot in the New York Times, congratulations, you are well on your way to raising a feminist son.  If you read The Upshot and articles about how to raise a feminist son speak to you, congratulations, you are several steps ahead of the average on your way to raising a feminist son.

Why that is?

Because children tend to take after their parents.  In other words, about half of who you are, assuming you were not raised in abject poverty, appears to be a result of what your parents passed down to you in the form of genes.  This is on average mind you, and of course the amount in which you are who you are because of your parents varies depending on the trait being measured.  But, as a whole, it is safe to say that about half of who you are comes from your genetic stock.  And assuming you and your spouse are more alike than different (which tends to be true), and assuming you are both staunch feminists, your boys already have an unfair advantage over boys raised in a more traditional household.

But here is the interesting part.  What science shows us is that the rest of who you are doesn’t seem to come from what your parents taught you, or how your parents raised you.  In social science they call that the “shared environment”, or what is common between yourself and your siblings.  But shared environment (or nurture) is not the only kind of environment.  The other kind of environment is called the non-shared environment, or experiences that are not shared between siblings.  And here is what’s crazy (and totally uncontroversial among the experts):  non-shared environment seems to matter far, far, far more than shared environment.  In other words, outside of what got passed down to you by your parents (your genes), what your parents taught you or how they raised you (assuming they didn’t physically abuse or starve you) seems to matter only an incy wincy bit.

What’s an example of non-shared environment that you can work with?  Apparently, peer group, among other things.  Children tend to want to fit into their peer groups more than they want to fit in with their parents.  And that makes sense, given that parents tend to love their children no matter what, while rejection from a peer group is quite traumatizing.  This is why children of immigrant parents adopt the native language and host country accent to the chagrin of culturally proud parents.  For more on this I recommend The Nurture Assumption, by Judith Rich Harris (because you don’t want to take my word for it).

But in the end, if you want feminist children give them feminist friends.  I make no gauntness as to outcomes (especially if your spouse is a raging MRA), but I can promise you that it’s based on the best available evidence about what makes us who we are.

Otherwise, you can disregard what I say and continue to pretend that 2.8 million years of evolution seems to matter only a distant second as to whether you gave little Johnny an opportunity to play with dolls when he was two.

clear and present danger

In a speech yesterday at the 2017 International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore, Defense Secretary James Mattis called North Korea a “clear and present danger” to the world. In general, I don’t have any problem with that at face value. North Korea does pose a threat to global safety and security, and their reckless antics must not be ignored.

But I do find it peculiar that, of all the many ways to describe North Korea, Mattis invoked a legal term, “clear and present danger”, that was established by the Supreme Court as a test for determining when and where the government may impose restrictions on what would otherwise be Constitutionally protected speech. Basically, the Supreme Court set forth guidelines that for 1st Amendment rights to be overruled, there must be a “clear and present” danger that such speech will result in “imminent harm.” Think “yelling fire in a crowded theater.”

In general, the “clear and present danger” test helps to strengthen speech protections by making it more difficult for the government to prosecute speech it deems undesirable, and that’s a good thing.

But according to the ACLU, during the era of McCarthyism, the clear and present danger test was severely weakened when the Supreme Court fell prey to the “witchhunt mentality” and held that “speakers could be punished if they advocated overthrowing the government — even if the danger of such an occurrence were both slight and remote. As a result, many political activists were prosecuted and jailed simply for advocating communist revolution. Loyalty oath requirements for government employees were upheld; thousands of Americans lost their jobs on the basis of flimsy evidence supplied by secret witnesses.”

Thankfully, 1st Amendment protections were strengthened in 1969, when the Supreme Court “struck down the conviction of a Ku Klux Klan member, and established a new standard: Speech can be suppressed only if it is intended, and likely to produce, ‘imminent lawless action.’ Otherwise, even speech that advocates violence is protected. The Brandenberg standard prevails today.”

As it pertains to National Security, the ACLU explains how the government has “historically overused the concept of ‘national security’ to shield itself from criticism, and to discourage public discussion of controversial policies or decisions.”

As to whether the “clear and present danger” terminology has been used in this case to set the stage for legal battles to come is, at this point, anyone’s guess. However, it is not a leap to see how an administration so adverse to transparency, and so hostile to criticism, may want to exploit “national emergencies” to reassert its right to engage in censorship of speech it deems is dangerous or weakens its ability to defend the interests of this country from enemy actors, both foreign or domestic. Of course, what “weakens” an ability of a government to carry out its constitutional duties is open to interpretation, and its up to the citizens of this country to stay vigilant lest we fall victim to the dark shadows of censorship.