Re: science off the unbeaten Path

From: Tennessee Leeuwenburg (
Date: Thu May 12 2005 - 18:28:04 MDT

Okay list,

I wasn't sure whether to just send this back to David, or to copy the
list. It has moved off sl4 core topics to being, well, a critique of an
argument about moral equality. I have sent it to the list in case
David's view is representative of the majority, or indeed merely some
others. I'm happy to take it offline, or just stop, at any time. List
mod, feel welcome to contact me about this.

>>Reading into his sentences, he is saying that we are morally better off
>>treating people equally, even though they may be different in this
>>To offer some defense of this position, even though none was reported,
>>one might presume that highlighting the differences between people can
>>lead to unwarrented judgements about them, even though the differences
>>might be real. The argument is twofold: one is psychological, one is
>How does it help society to 'downplay' differences when the full truth is
>required to have a fully informed opinion when making decisions? Recently I
>read in the paper that 50% of the Canadian Federal income tax payers paid
>less than 5% of all the income tax collected. We have a socialist party
>(NDP) that insists on telling everyone that companies and wealthy people
>aren't paying their fair share. My point is that it is politically
>incorrect to talk about the % contribution to our national coffers by the
>lower half of our population, so people in general have no clue who is
>paying the bill.
There are three kinds of lies: Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics.

If you can't see that society doesn't make decisions that are either
fully informed or based off the full truth, then you will indeed fail to
see why it's important to downplay differences. Society is the mob, it
is pop culture and informally made decisions. It's important, because
the majority is powerful. Ignore the outside world at your peril - they
won't go away just because you can't see them.

For example, which 50%? The top, or the bottom in terms of income? Is it
pointing out that the richest 50% aren't paying their fair share, or it
is pointing out that the contribution of the poorest 50% isn't worth
much of the total?

Is the socialist party referring to their conception of "fair", or yours?

>The idea of treating people equally in whatever context, even though they
>are obviously not equal, sounds exactly like the underlying principal behind
>socialism. Socialism has never worked in our world on a large scale because
>it doesn't consider the fact that people's productivity is greatly
>influenced by motivation. If the differences are artificially lessened then
>the incentive for the less productive is also lessened and people are less
>likely to do any better. Some pressure is required for people to do their
>best, even if those same people would prefer not to experience the pressure.
You clearly have an agenda here. Nobody that I saw was suggesting that
people be treated equally regardless of context, nor is that what the
underlying principle behind socialism is, nor does your claim about
about differences and incentives follow from any reasoned position, it's
just a claim.

>Very often I have read that women earn much less than what men do. This
>could be because women are discriminated against when it comes to their
>salary or any number of other reasons. Without public discourse on why
>these differences occur, we can't know in any real way if the difference is
>just or not.
Such public discourse does occur. Would you like examples?

>To look at history and say that differences have been badly used so we
>shouldn't look at differences, is burying your head in the sand. Although I
>agree that discrimination has been unjust at times in the past, that doesn't
>mean that all discrimination is bad. Isn't it ok to discriminate against
>brain surgeons that have only operated on frogs? If you have 1 position and
>10 people have applied then some discrimination must to used to select just
I don't follow your argument here. It *looks* like it make sense, but on
further analysis, it doesn't.

Your claim about what I am saying : That differences generally have been
so badly used that we should never take notice of them.
This is neither what I said, nor what I meant.

Your example : Isn't it okay to discriminate against brain surgeons that
have only operated on frogs?
Answer: Yes, but only because we also have the knowledge that frogs are
not like humans, and that we assume being a good brain surgeon requires
practical experience. If we were wrong about those things, we would
*also* be wrong to discriminate against brain surgeons that have only
operated on frogs. You are making an argument against something that is
not my position. My position is that difference are only worth taking
into consideration if we *understand their context* and you are ignoring
that aspect of my argument.

>Businesses make budgets so that as their economic year progresses, they can
>see the differences (plus/minus) between the year they have predicted
>(budget) and reality as it happens. The reason for this is to highlight the
>differences and investigate and take action to remediate the consequences of
>that difference. Analyzing the differences is normally the best way to
>identify problems and discover new information. To avoid looking at
>differences takes away one of the best learning tools humans have.
This is very true. They are operating on the "where there's smoke
there's fire" principle. But, as you say, the undertake a process of
analysis to identify problems and discover new information. They do not
naively accept the smoke as a necessary fact, but look further into its
cause: fire. Accepting gender difference as being a necessary difference
is to accept smoke as an inevitable reality. If you look at my original
argument, you will see that I said:

"Contextual: Such biases are often self-fulfilling prophecies.
Concluding that gender bias is genuinely *caused by* gender, as opposed
to being an incredibly complex issue, is a mistake. For example, a man
who exhibits male biases may be a genuinely biased person, but this may
not be a necessary bias. Bayesian reasoning proceeding on the evidence
of the bias alone, will fail to capture the truth of that. As such,
there are some kinds are evidence which are bad to include in your
decision-making if you don't have a proper understanding of them."

>There is no way to stop most people from coming to conclusions that are not
>based on the facts and an accurate look at the differences.
Of course not. Individuals have free will. But you can influence it easily.

>Stupid people
>will believe stupid things no matter that you hide the truth or not. The
>question is whether the truth and the differences will be discussed by all
>the others or not.
Now you're just absolving yourself of responsibility. Stupid people
don't always believe stupid things, and I.Q. is no guarantee of a
sensible position. Largely, stupidity is responsible for many things,
but other psychological factors are responsible for many more.

Claiming this is just a way of saying "well, it's not *my* fault that
they emphasise the difference". That may come as cold comfort when the
revolution comes, so to speak. One has to play both roles - critic of
truth, but also pop psychologist. Ignoring the mode of existence of most
people is just a retreat from the problem, not an answer.


This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Wed Jul 17 2013 - 04:00:51 MDT