Murderism and Racism

From Slate Star Codex: Against Murderism

This was a fairly labyrinthine article, necessitating a belated response owing to the complexity of the matter.

Second, by this definition, many racist things would be good. Suppose some tyrant wants to kill the ten million richest white people, then redistribute their things to black people. This would certainly challenge white supremacy and help minorities. So by this definition, resisting this tyrant would be racist. But obviously this tyrant is evil and resisting him is the right thing to do. So under this definition, good policies which deserve our support can nevertheless be racist. “This policy is racist” can no longer be a strong argument against a policy, even when it’s true.

Would it help blacks? Let’s assume that as a consequence of the 10 million richest white people dying, the economy fails and the black unemployment rate rises to 100%, so killing the tyrant may actually help blacks.

Google dictionary defines racism as:

prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.
“a programme to combat racism”

the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.

According to the definition above, the tyrant example does not work. Second-hand or indirect racism [ 3. Definition By Consequences: Anything whose consequence is harm to minorities or promotion of white supremacy, regardless of whether or not this is intentional.] is a stretch.

As Scott says, racism is kinda like pornography: hard to define but you know it when you see it, although the term has become so encompassing as to be almost meaningless.

A classification system I devised differentiates between high, low, and medium levels of racism.

High-level: intentional, racially-motivated aggression (such as black-on-white racism, which is far more common gets far less media attention than white-on-back racism).

Medium level: Reverse racism such as affirmative action that discriminates against whites. The reason why it’s not high level is because of intent and that’s it’s not as aggressive as high-level racism. Although affirmative action is intended to help blacks, it has a consequence (assumed to be unintentional) of denying admission of better-qualified whites (but Asians are also sometimes discriminated). In the decades following California’s Proposition 209 that prohibits “state governmental institutions from considering race, sex, or ethnicity, specifically in the areas of public employment, public contracting, and public education,” support for affirmative action has declined among the left.

Low-level: indirect and second-hand racism, stereotypes, prejudices, and unintentional adherence to normative values. Prejudices can be likened a ‘low-level’ form of racism which involve internalized beliefs. Then there is the issue of ‘institutional racism’, which is a more subconscious, insidious, unintentional form of systemic discrimination.

Examples such as Jim Crow are the most complicated because it involves an admixture of all levels, as well as institutional and unintentional discrimination (following orders). I would put it somewhere between high and medium-level.

Of all the examples, the one about ‘Eric’ is the hardest:

Eric is a restauranteur who is motivated entirely by profit. He moves to a very racist majority-white area where white people refuse to dine with black people. Since he wants to attract as many customers as possible, he sets up a NO BLACKS ALLOWED sign in front of his restaurant. Is Eric racist?

The example does not work, because under current law denying service to blacks is illegal. But if it were legal, it’s not racist, because Eric is motivated by profit, not perceived racial superiority. This is similar to the ‘Eichmann defense’ in that Eichmann while on trial argued he was not antisemite but rather he was following normative conventions/orders (his defense failed and he was executed).

Fourth, by this definition, it becomes impossible to assess the racism of an action without knowing all its consequences. Suppose the KKK holds a march through some black neighborhood to terrorize the residents. But in fact the counterprotesters outnumber the marchers ten to one, and people are actually reassured that the community supports them. The march is well-covered on various news organizations, and outrages people around the nation, who donate a lot of money to anti-racist organizations and push for stronger laws against the KKK. Plausibly, the net consequences of the march were (unintentionally) very good for black people and damaging to white supremacy. Therefore, by the Sophisticated Definition, the KKK marching the neighborhood to terrorize black residents was not racist. In fact, for the KKK not to march in this situation would be racist!

By that logic Bull Connor was a civil rights hero. Weird how that works sometimes. For example, Hitler being a Zionist because of the creation of Israel as consequence of WW2.

I think Scott is getting wrapped up in second-hand racism and consequentialism. If the KKK starts assaulting black people (although black-on-white crime is far more common), it’s not a stretch to call such actions racist, even if indirectly such actions may help blacks in the long-run.

After the London attacks, I heard someone ask “Do you have to be a racist to want to restrict immigration from Muslim countries? Or can you just be really worried about the terrorism risk?”

Such prejudices can be justified given that virtually all recent acts of terrorism in Europe have been committed by Muslims, but even without such justification, prejudices are not the same as racism, and everyone probably prejudiced in some way.

If racism is defined as differences in outcomes between groups, then it’s possible for groups to be both oppressed and the oppressor. Some on the left argue that black socioeconomic underachievement is due to institutional racism by whites, yet white academic achievement and income lags that of East Asians:

So who are the racists here? The same Black-Hispanic-White-Asian disparity is observed regarding academic achivement, too. But blacks tend to outperform whites and Asians in jumping and sprinting and are overrepresented in many professional sports–is this due to systemic racism? But attributing biology, not systemic racism, regarding differences in athletic performance does not elicit nearly as much condemnation as attributing biology to differences in socioeconomic and academic outcomes. Kenyans win marathons because they they are tall, thin, and have a high RBC count? Not racist. But African Americans lagging academically due to low IQs? The theme for the left is that race is a tool to advance a specific political/ideological agenda, and any attempt at scientific or social inquiry of race that falls outside of this agenda is called ‘racism’.

Even the Flynn Effect does not refute this, given that the black-white achievement gap has persisted despite gains for both groups, and this holds for all socioeconomic levels.

It’s not racist to observe that blacks excel at sprinting and marathons, and are over-represented in professional sports such as Football and Basketball. It’s also not racist to say blacks have certain physical characteristics that allow them to excel at these sports. But then how does IQ in regard to black academic achievement and income become racist? It’s not racism; rather, someone finds a specific fact and or observation about a specific group of people, offensive.

But then the left may argue that society uses such intellectual differences to justify discrimination, and that therefore the mere observation that blacks have a lower IQ than whites is racism. But Charles Murray in The Bell Curve emphasizes that variance between individuals is greater than between groups. Second, an empirical observation does not imply discrimination. Blacks having a lower IQs than whites and blacks being discriminated because they have lower IQs, are entirely different things: the former is an observation; the latter is an action.

But except in maybe the most deranged serial killers, it’s never pursued because of an inherent preference for murder. Most murderers would probably prefer not to have to kill. If the drug dealer could protect his business equally well by politely requesting people stay off his territory, that would be much easier. If the soldier could win his war without bloodshed, so much the better for everybody. Murder is an effect of other goals – sometimes base, sometimes noble – and the invocation of “murderism” only serves to hide these goals and conflate different actions into a single meaningless category.

That’s why ‘murder’ and ‘kill’ are distinct words. ‘Murder’ implies a wrongful death; ‘kill’ means it was unintentional or justified. A train kills, not murders, someone who steps on the tracks, being that the train doesn’t have sentience and thus cannot express intent. Is a drug dealer justified to kill someone who encroaches on his turf? By most conventions of morality, no, so it’s a murder, not a killing.

But there’s actually a lot of really good scholarship on this exact situation, and it helps provide a different perspective. It starts like this – a while ago, criminal justice reformers realized that mass incarceration was hurting minorities’ ability to get jobs. 4% of white men will spend time in prison, compared to more like 16% of Hispanic men and 28% of black men. Many employers demanded to know whether a potential applicant had a criminal history, then refused to consider them if they did. So (thought the reformers) it should be possible to help minorities have equal opportunities by banning employers from asking about past criminal history.

The actual effect was the opposite – the ban “decreased probability of being employed by 5.1% for young, low-skilled black men, and 2.9% for young, low-skilled Hispanic men.”

In retrospect, this makes sense. Daycare companies really want to avoid hiring formerly-imprisoned criminals to take care of the kids. If they can ask whether a certain employee is criminal, this solves their problem. If not, they’re left to guess. And if they’ve got two otherwise equally qualified employees, and one is black and the other’s white, and they know that 28% of black men have been in prison compared to 4% of white men, they’ll shrug and choose the white guy.

Is this racist? Is this “statistical discrimination”? Describe it with whatever word you want. The point is that they have understandable motives (don’t hire criminals to take care of the kids), accurate beliefs, and in their shoes you might do the same. More important, once you give them the tools they need to solve their problems without racial discrimination – you let them see applicants’ criminal histories – they have no further desire to discriminate and your problem is solved.

This is one of the strongest parts of Scott’s essay and is why he’s so popular. He disabuses a notion that many on the left hold as ‘good’ and shows how it backfires, hurting the very people the left tries to help. It’s a powerful rhetorical technique…Milton Friedman does it when discussing how regulation backfires, David Friedman does it, and the Freakonomics economist Steven Levitt has had a lot of success with it.

“Are you saying that anti-Semitism literally plays no role in their theory about the Elders of Zion”? Again, call it what you want. I’m saying that by totally ignoring the anti-Semitic aspect, I was able to successfully treat this guy with Seroquel, whereas if you tried to read him Elie Wiesel books, he’d still be in that psych ward today.

Another knockout passage. Scott puts aside his own biases to do what is best for his patient rather than make the patient ‘check his privilege’, which obviously would not help.

I’m saying that when an area of the country suffers an epidemic of suicides and overdoses, increasing mortality, increasing unemployment, social decay, and general hopelessness, and then they say they’re angry, we counter with “Are you really angry? Is ‘angry’ just a code word for ‘racist’?” I’m saying we’re being challenged with a moonshot-level problem, and instead we’re slapping our face with our own hand and saying “STOP HITTING YOURSELF!”

Excellent. The mainstream left prefers to patronize, if not outright belittle their opponents, whereas rationalists such as Scott listen rather than dismissing such anger as ‘irrational blind racism’. Scolding and belittling the ‘outgroup’, rather than listening, only emboldens the outgroup’s cause against outsiders imposing their values on them. Liberal elites such as John Oliver and Stephen Colbert fail (or at least refuse) to realize that their condescending, smug rationalizations of their self-anointed moral and intellectual superiority only gives the very people and groups they mock on their shows reason to hate them (the liberal elites) even more, creating a feedback loop.

People talk about “liberalism” as if it’s just another word for capitalism, or libertarianism, or vague center-left-Democratic Clintonism. Liberalism is none of these things. Liberalism is a technology for preventing civil war. It was forged in the fires of Hell – the horrors of the endless seventeenth century religious wars.

Except the whole French Revolution thing…Wars of religion are horrible, but so too are wars against religion.

Liberalism is one set of rules (or heuristic), but not the only one. Rather, it has more to do with a common set of rules (some biological and others based on law and religion) that everyone agrees to. Liberalism (if we mean by The Enlightenment) is a relatively new development relative to the duration of civilization itself. Every great empire in history didn’t need ‘Enlightenment liberal values’ to be self-sustaining and peaceful.

Another heuristic is the NAP–‘bad’ beliefs are allowed provided they don’t constitute aggression. What defines aggression is a much harder question. Physical aggression is easier to answer, but verbal and written aggression is harder. A utilitarian argument is that if someone who yells ‘fuck Muslims’ in a public space derives x units of utility, but such action subtracts a total of 3x utility from the three Muslims within earshot, then that constitutes aggression. A consequentialist argument is that regardless of utility or free speech, a society that condones such behavior is worse-off than one that doesn’t.

How about eugenics. Couldn’t that be considered racist because blacks have lows IQs? Not necessarily. Consider pedophilia–there is some evidence to suggest it’s biological, but regardless, due to the externalities on society by pedophiles, it’s treated as a crime regardless of race. Likewise, individuals with lows IQs, regardless of race, also impose externalities in the form of excessive welfare usage (beyond the optimal point), crime, and general social and societal decay. Even if a program or a law has a disparate impact on a certain group, that doesn’t mean it’s racist, just as it’s not racist that blacks excel at marathons and sprinting. The reason why affirmative action fails in this regard is because, by definition, it’s race-based, whereas programs such eugenics that are intended to promote total general welfare, are not.

To summarize, racism as it’s commonly understood in the historical context (not the much more recent SJW context) means action and malicious intent, not an inconvenient biological reality and or unflattering observation about a specific group. The only guarantee is that this issue will remain a hotly contested one for a long time.