This is a funny story.
As far as memes go, I saw one that I thought was good, which pointed out that the affluenza teen who killed four people in his car was located in the same county as the voting mom who was recently sentenced to five years for voter fraud, for voting in the 2016 election. That would be Tarrant County, which is Fort Worth (and also where I'm headed this afternoon).
Nick S. writes: I've been fascinated by the Ezra Klein / Sam Harris dust-up last week.* I offer a handful of observations, some of which have been made by other people some of which are, I hope, original.
First, a summary of the dispute. Sam Harris has a popular podcast (and prominent atheist, but I'm personally familiar with his work). At some point he had Charles Murray on as a guest, and vox published an article (by outside contributors) talking about the problems with Murray's summaries of the scientific consensus about IQ. Harris was unhappy, and that lead to a private e-mail exchange between Ezra and Harris, which ultimately didn't resolve anything.
Recently Harris brought up the subject again so Ezra wrote a long piece explaining his understanding of the debate. Harris felt like the summary was unfair and responded with a shorter statement which included the e-mails between him and Ezra. The general reaction is that the e-mail exchange reflects better on Ezra Klein than Harris and that his decision to make it public is odd. I agree and also think that I have some sympathy for Harris' reaction, and think the whole story does raise some interesting issues. Here's what strikes me:
1) The two of them are clearly talking past each other. Harris comes across poorly in part because Ezra spends so much effort trying to politely explain his position while Harris doesn't seem to recognize that there are other issues involved beyond his own personal annoyance, but he has legitimate concerns that Ezra never responds to (more on that later).
2) Twitter is terrible. Reading reactions to tweets from both Ezra and Harris added nothing to the debate; people just tweeted support for one or the other with varying levels of snark or vehemence, but it does nothing to help identify the gaps in communication. Perhaps not coincidentally, it appears that a significant portion of Harris's animus stems from the tweet from Ezra promoting the original Vox article.
3) There is an irony to Harris's response which was noted on Reddit
[T]he thing that really stands out to me is how Sam in this case correctly understands that besides the literal words, there is also the context in which these words are said or not said. His main problem is understandably the implication of the Vox article through it's general tone and focus.
But in many other areas, especially the ones where Sam is not personally affected I think this is one of his biggest blindspots, he becomes incredibly literalist when analyzing many situations. Things like the James Damore situation or even his take on Charles Murray's book is almost exclusively literalist. He doesn't spend much time at all trying to understand the context about these situations, questioning what isn't written or why something is, he just reads the the things in question in a kind of "detached" sense and comes away wondering how so many other people could possibly have different reactions than he has.
4) Much of Harris's annoyance stems from the vox article putting his name next to the phrase "pseudo-scientific racialist speculation" (despite the article clearly not accusing him personally of that). His reaction reminds me of something that I've been thinking about for a while regarding discussions about racism and racially charged topics. Last year I saw an article on a conservative website about some well-known liberal being accused of having said something racist. The tone of the article was (a) this is a sign of how willing people are to take offense -- they're complaining about this when there are clearly worse people in the world and (b) those crazy leftists will call anybody racist. Even people on their side aren't safe, so there's nothing you can do to protect yourself.
Reading it I was struck by how much I've internalized the ideas*** that we live in a racist society, most people will say racist things occasionally, if for no other reason than it's really easy to land on a racist trope or stereotype without thinking about it, and that the appropriate response, when called on it, is to think about why it could be taken that way, own it, and apologize. This is the same reason why people are encouraged not to call somebody a racist, but to call actions or comments racist. Because, in a healthy situation, that should be the starting point for discussion, not a conversation ender. But I can understand that it takes work to get to that point. I can imagine that many people think that being called racist is (a) terrible, (b) a claim that they feel racial animosity, and (c) that the appropriate and necessary response is to immediately assert that they do not feel racial animosity, and that it is wrong for them to be called a racist. I can also imagine how that person could easily feel trapped if they respond in that way and the reaction is some version of, "you're missing the point", "you're blind to your own racism", "how can you be so insensitive as to not recognize why that was offensive", etc . . . If they feel like the question at stake isn't, "did I say something wrong" but "do people believe that I feel racial prejudice" the situation could feel Kafkaesque -- they are accused without being offered the opportunity to present evidence on their own behalf.
From that perspective Harris' reaction would make perfect sense. I think it misses the point, knowing nothing about him I am perfectly willing to believe that he doesn't feel any personal racial animosity, but that's not why people are annoyed that he provided Charles Murray a platform. I see the two of them talking past each other, and it makes me think that the whole exchange is a good example of how we, as a culture, need more practice having this sort of difficult conversation. That's part of why I find it so compelling.
5) Part of what's at stake, which Harris doesn't seem to acknowledge, is the question of who gets to frame the debate and what gets included or excluded. How much context is needed, when delving into a complicated subject, or is it okay to pick one element and focus on that? In the back and forth Harris says both, "[M]y desire to speak with Murray was not based on a prior interest in the genetic basis of intelligence--much less a fascination for racial differences in intelligence. Rather, it was out of my growing concern over how fraught our conversations on politically charged topics have become." He also notes that, "We didn't spend much time on social policy" and, by implication, that wasn't his interest either. It's his podcast and, even in two hours, it isn't possible to cover everything. It's understandable that he had certain interests that he wanted to follow up on. At the same time, other people do care very much about Charles Murray's policy positions, and that doesn't go away just because it isn't what Harris wanted to talk about (as Ezra wrote in on the of the e-mails, "What people asked, post-Middlebury, was that there be debate on these issues. This is debate.") Harris isn't obligated to respond to every critic but part of what's so frustrating about the exchange is that Harris never acknowledges that he can't just limit the conversation to his personal concerns, even after Ezra explicitly raises that issue.
I'm struck by this comment in Harris's e-mail, "If Flynn is right, then the mean IQs of African American children who are second- and third-generation upper middle class should have converged with those of the children of upper-middle-class whites, but (as far as I understand) they haven't."*** That attempts to frame the issue in a way that sweeps as much of the context for the discussion aside as possible. Charitably one could read this as Harris saying that there is some worthwhile nugget in Murray's claims but it also feels like it exemplifies the hope that historical perspective should not be required as part of the discussion, which isn't a reasonable thing to ask.
6) Finally, a minor point, but one I haven't seen mentioned. Assuming that Harris wants some sort of apology from Ezra, people seem to gloss over the fact that he didn't write or directly edit the article, and that is important in shaping his response. I've had a couple of instances in my work in which I've told a client that one of their requests was impractical and they contacted my boss to see if they could get a different answer from him. It made me genuinely angry if my boss didn't back me. I remember feeling like, "even if you think I've made a mistake your first response should be, 'I'm sure Nick had a good reason for saying that, but I'll check with him to make sure I understand.'" Because I did have a good reason and if my boss said something ambivalent (or told the client flat out that we could accomplish the request) that would undermine me immediately. That, after the exchange, Ezra lets the authors of the original piece write a follow-up defending and clarifying their position seems like exactly the right thing for him to do as a manager.
* Post-script: as of last Friday it looks like the two of them will try to schedule a joint podcast.
** in part due to discussions on unfogged.
*** Ezra responds to that point, reasonably, by noting, "we know, for instance, that African American families masking $100,000 a year tend to live in neighborhoods with the same income demographics as white families making $30k a year, which is a reminder of how far our society is from offering equality even as incomes rise." One could add other reasons why Harris's example doesn't accomplish what he wants -- to provide a sample in which African-Americans would be unaffected by prejudice.
Heebie's take: I enjoyed Nick's analysis. Also i can haz prominent atheist? (I suppose I could have just corrected the typo like a normal person.)
This article was worthwhile partly because in reading it I learned where that one mural that forms part of like 50% of tinder etc. profile pictures. Well, actually, there's probably more than one because I've never noticed the artist's info in the corner, but whatever.
Anyway, it sounds dire.
1. The teacher walkouts in Kentucky and Oklahoma are giving me all sorts of fuzzy feelings for their courage and dedication.
2. The Sinclair media group hiring the RT reporter to produce that creepy propaganda segment that every anchor had to read is giving me chills.
These are strange times we live in.
Mossy Character writes: Abigail Nussbaum at LGM:
Post-Cold War, the need to associate The Good Guys with values like freedom and democracy -- however much the original association was a feel-good fantasy -- quickly faded away. And so the Culture novels' preoccupation with the question of how and whether to do good feels positively old-fashioned.[...]It's for this reason, I think, that the later, post-9/11 Culture novels -- Matter (2008), Surface Detail (2010), and The Hydrogen Sonata (2012) -- aren't actually about the Culture but about neighboring civilizations to it, in which it plays a supporting role at best. It's as if Banks realized that the story he'd been telling all those years was no longer suited to the world he was living in, and couldn't quite work out how to square the difference.While she likely is right about Banks' thinking, I think she couldn't be more wrong about the continued relevance of the books. Since we didn't have a capstone post, I'll also link all the threads here.
Planning threadThe Culture: defending Utopia.Drone names: intelligent artificeIdeology: Consider PhlebasDoctrine: The Player of GamesCulture Club: Sex, Gender, The Unspeakable, That Sort of ThingResolution: Use of Weapons