Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Prevailing Doctrinal Assumptions, Part IV

While I'm on a racial tangent, I'd like to point out a key assumption that underlies many discussions about social science and justice (assumptions akin to the ridiculous notion that freedom and equity are somehow necessarily inversely proportional). This came to mind when I was reading Chomsky's Radical Priorities.I have to give it to conservatives and fascists: they know how to make a catch 22. When they spout garbage about how blacks or Latinos or Native Americans are as a race intrinsically more likely to commit crime or be less intelligent or whatever, they are performing a social science sleight of hand trick. Let's assume, for the sake of discussion, that things like IQ and SAT scores were culturally universal and at all effective indicators of a justly defined intellect or merit (in reality, they fail at ascertaining even the narrow issues they test, and are not good tests even in theory), and that things like race or gender were at all easy-to-define concepts. A good social scientist would still avoid comparing X race and Y indicator of intellect because both concepts are so massive and unwieldy; instead, they would compare some kind of correlation between melanin in the skin and brain development (and even that would not be nearly as useful as one would expect). Of course, the two assumptions are false, so the discussion becomes far worse.But here's the catch-22. For me to argue that their tests are false (say, to say that blacks actually have higher I.Q.s or somesuch) or even to widen the definition of what we're looking for (say, to argue that their study ignores creative intellect as opposed to traditional rational intellect) is to confirm the idea that, were the fascist dude right, blacks would somehow be deserving of inferior treatment. In debate, we relied on "Even if" statements like nothing else, and this is one case where it's the only way out.Even if it was true that blacks or Arabs or Jews were somehow genetically distinct in a way that we may view as negative, it would no more justify oppression or violence inflicted upon them then the fact that some people are not as good at math would justify placing them in concentration camps. Of course, the studies these white trash morons cite are not only false, but are obviously devoid of any empirical content or rational citation. Even when a test or a speaker says something positive or at least neutral (say, "There's no evidence that blacks are less intelligent"), a racialized background can re-interpret evidence until 2+2=5. If Bill Cosby directs his comments at his racialized perspective of black communities, white conservatives can take his comments to mean that whites suddenly get a Get Out of Jail Free card and are perfectly justified when they cross Go and collect two hundred dollars, even though the opposite would be the import of Cosby's comments.This problem also stems from classist assumptions: Namely, that it's appropriate to reward people for innate ability. I don't see why that's at all appropriate from either a good policy or a social justice standpoint. Rewarding me for being more intelligent and thus able to bullshit my way through tests with an A encourages me to have bad study habits, not good ones. It also isn't fair to those kids who are working their asses off to get a good grade. Now, I happen to think the discussion is somewhat moot, because this is not a society ruled by the intelligent. Paris Hilton has quite a bit more potential impact than I may ever have, but I'd be hard pressed to call her smarter. Bill Gates is no Einstein or even Bertrand Russell, yet who has billions of dollars? Whenever MSN or Newsweek writes a ridiculous article about the attitudes of entrepeneurs, what is always showcased is a combination of ruthlessness, calculated apathy and obedience, cynicality, and a willingness to stomp out others. But if I could choose a society where people would be judged by their character (their effort, their generosity, their ethics) and would be apportioned decision-making power as such or a society where people would be judged by innate ability or learned ability, I would choose the former without thinking, on basis of human rights and liberty, equality, solidarity and efficiency, roughly in that order.


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