Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Dishonest Words

Consider first the case of "homophobia." In current usage, it is applied to any negative view of homsexuals or homosexuality, whatever its source. Thus, for instance, someone who is opposed to homosexual activity because his minister told him that the bible says it is wicked would routinely be labelled homophobic.

A phobia is an irrational fear. It is occasionally argued that the source of negative views of homosexuality is the fear that one might have homosexual inclinations, but it is a considerable stretch to claim that source for all negative views. It seems obvious that some people are opposed to homsexuality because they think their religion condemns it, some because they think it has bad consequences, and some for any of a variety of other reasons. Labelling all of them "homophobic" is a way of (falsely) implying a single cause for the conclusion--and, by doing so, attempting to stigmatize all those who hold it and dismiss all possible reasons they might have.

A second example is the term "racism." In a recent exchange here, Mike Huben referred to "racist science" in a context where it meant "(hypothetically) correct scientific research that demonstrated the existence of differences among the races" (if this is not a fair summary, I expect Mike to correct it). That was a striking definition of the way "racist" is used to mean, not "hating or despising other people because of their race" but "holding beliefs on racial subjects other than those of the person using the word." Again, that usage is an implicit argument and a dishonest one, since the implication again is that the only possible reasons for disagreeing with the speaker's views on the subject are bad ones.

The pattern is not limited to people whose politics I disagree with. Libertarians do the same thing. In our context, the question is how to label people who disagree with libertarian views, on particular subjects or more generally. The two popular choices are "statist" and "collectivist."

Both are wrong. There are lots of reasons why someone might favor the draft, or minimum wage laws, or price controls, or the war on drugs. Worship of the state is no doubt one possible reason, but certainly not the only one. Belief that what really matters is the collective and not the individual is one possible reason but not the only one. Each of those views could readily be held by someone who agreed on the whole with libertarians about values, outcomes they wanted, but disagreed about the consequences of particular policies. Most obviously, someone might favor the draft because he believed it was necessary in order to defend the U.S., and want to defend the U.S. precisely because he was in favor of freedom and thought the U.S. was much freer now than it would be if someone else conquered it.

In each of these cases, the pattern is the same. We have a conclusion that might be reached for any of a variety of reasons. Someone who wants to attack the conclusion does it by picking one reason he considers particularly unattractive and indefensible, using that reason to label the conclusion, and thus (dishonestly) implying that anyone holding the conclusion does it for that reason.

73 Comments:

At 6:00 PM, December 12, 2006, Anonymous js290 said...

Americans love labels. It keeps thing simple. Democrats or Republicans. Either you're with us or you're against us.

As a friend of mine pointed out, people will ignore facts until they understand the problem. Or, until the problem can be formulated within the context of a few buzzwords.

 
At 6:36 PM, December 12, 2006, Anonymous Less Antman said...

Semanticists like you who think words are more important than people cause all the trouble in the world.

 
At 7:17 PM, December 12, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I come here to sharpen my relatively dull mind. I thank both Mr. Friedman and "less antman."

 
At 8:28 PM, December 12, 2006, Anonymous Brad Warbiany said...

There are some honest words and some dishonest words. For example, "homophobic" is often a dishonest word, because many people who don't support gay rights have no latent homosexual feelings, nor are they "afraid" of gays.

Many times, "collectivist" can be a dishonest word, because few people who advocate for the "greater good" would go so far as to truly embrace utilitarianism as a philosophy.

But I'm not so sure about "statist". The reason I say that is not that I think these people worship the state, but that they believe that the use of the coercive power of the state is a legitimate means to the ends they seek. It's the worldview behind the statement "there oughta be a law!"... Granted, I think most Democrats and Republicans fall under this label, I think when applied narrowly (to those who would use the coercive power of the state to achieve their social ends), it isn't so dishonest.

 
At 9:13 PM, December 12, 2006, Blogger Dean said...

I think "homophobia" has come to mean what it means, unmoored from its etymology. It was more dishonest when it was first coined than it is now, when everyone knows what it means. (I think the same is true of "statist", but I hang out with libertarians, and may simply have taken it to mean what it means when they say it.)

As my parenthetical suggests, I think this "dishonesty" is more of a problem when a word comes to be used in different ways with different groups. The dishonesty can also be retained by continually changing "accepted terminology"; when I can't keep track of what the accepted term is for something, that's a klaxon for me that the word is being used more to confuse than to clarify.

 
At 9:47 PM, December 12, 2006, Blogger Anna said...

I found your blog after watching a discussion in Iceland that your father took part in in 1984. (The government run television station RUV was kind enough to post this on their website so we could see our current president humiliated on national TV). I meant to comment anyway, but your latest post relates a little bit to the discussion I just watched.
In the interview three Icelandic "scholars" question your father with what they believe to be tough questions, but you father gets caught up in correcting misquoted facts and simple logical errors. Even just doing that he is fascinating to watch. I was ashamed on behalf of Iceland to see on what level our thinking was (and is), and to think that the biggest fool out of all those "scholars" is now our president.
If people would bother to keep their facts straight and use terms correctly instead of manipulating them into meaning what suits their purpose we could have much more meaningful discussions going on in the world.
Here is the segment should you be interested: http://dagskra.ruv.is/streaming/sjonvarpid/?file=4339003

Best regards from an Icelandic student in the US and a big fan of the Friedman family

 
At 10:36 PM, December 12, 2006, Anonymous James said...

I didn't know that statist could be a term of abuse. If there is a kinder word than statist to mean someone who is not an anarchist, I'd love to use it.

 
At 2:48 AM, December 13, 2006, Anonymous Adam said...

Phobia is also used to mean hatred, as in xenophobia, and repulsion, as in hydrophobic, but overall it's a good point about dishonest words, and I do think that there is a degree of dishonesty in the term homophobia, attempting to link it with true psychological disorders. I can understand your point about "statist" (I don't normally use the term "collectivist" myself), but the more I think about it, the more I think it's justified in almost all cases where a non-libertarian policy is proposed. I take statist to mean someone who thinks that the state is the first or one of the first sources of solutions whenever there is a problem in society, and rarely or never considers that state action may be worse than the problem it is supposed to correct, or that a free market solution could be considered. Unfortunately, this is the vast majority of people who advocate non-libertarian policies. The normal arguments nowadays in favor of the draft are that it instills a sense of collective nationalism, teaches discipline, self-sacrifice for the country (read, state), saves money, avoids using soldiers as mercenaries, or some such. Some argue that Congress would be less willing to go to war if their own sons and daughters were in the military, which is probably the only non-statist motivation for the draft currently advanced by a significant number of people. Essentially no one thinks that the US will be conquered if it continues to rely on a volunteer army. For the other examples it's even harder to think of a non-statist justification (maybe the war on drugs is supported in a non-statist way by many people). Your point is well taken, however, and I will try to be careful not to paint all misguided non-libertarians as statists.

 
At 4:53 AM, December 13, 2006, Blogger US said...

To (ab)use language so that it suits own ends is nothing new, but that much more reason to fight this intellectual dishonesty whereever one finds it.

Should David not already be familiar with it, I would like to draw his attention to the interesting and admirable project by Robin Hanson et al:

www.overcomingbias.com

 
At 4:59 AM, December 13, 2006, Blogger US said...

...just realized that Patri is a contributor to the site, so David probably knows about it already.

 
At 7:30 AM, December 13, 2006, Blogger Vache Folle said...

Dialogue is often a kind of argumentation. Using certain words gets right to the point and saves a lot of time. If you are going to spend a lot of time explaining why you give a crap about other people's sex lives, I'm going to cut you off with the homophobia tool. If you are going to use racialist science to make a racist point, I'm going to pull out the racist tool. Note that I use racialist for the morally neutral science of race but racism for objectionable abuses of its findings.

Statist doesn't seem insulting enough to me. I wish we had a word that would make statists ashamed of themselves. Running dog lackey, perhaps? Counter-revolutionary?

 
At 8:43 AM, December 13, 2006, Blogger Paul Sand said...

It's also interesting that 'homophobia', by vitue of its suffix, looks like it's supposed to be considered a kind of mental illness. Yet, the kind of people who sling it around as an epithet would probably be aghast at weilding other mental-illness labels that way; the whole progressive idea is that mental illness is not something the sufferer is responsible for.

But if you label someone a homophobe, a compassionate wish that your target seek professional help is usually not the uppermost thought in your mind.

 
At 10:38 AM, December 13, 2006, Blogger David Friedman said...

"Should David not already be familiar with it, I would like to draw his attention to the interesting and admirable project by Robin Hanson ..."

With whom I had dinneer two days ago, as it happens. But I haven't yet visited the new project.

 
At 10:42 AM, December 13, 2006, Blogger David Friedman said...

Dean suggests that dishonest locutions lose their power over time, as they absorb the new meaning.

The same mechanism applies to euphemisms. People replace "crap" with "go to the toilet," then replace that with "go to the bathroom" (I'm probably missing many intermediate steps) then that with some newer euphemism, in each case because the older euphemism eventually absorbed the meaning of what it was standing in for.

 
At 2:10 PM, December 13, 2006, Blogger Roland Patrick said...

annsa,

David's father exposed a lot of American politicians as fools too.

 
At 10:56 AM, December 14, 2006, Anonymous Gunnar Dofri said...

Since you mention that RÚV program...

It's amazing to see how anachronistic the leftist "heavy artillery" seems today compared to Mr. Friedman.

His arguments are valid even today, 22 years later, but one could think they were describing a modern third world country

 
At 4:34 PM, December 14, 2006, Blogger Mike Huben said...

I find it very strange that sometimes when David Friedman encounters a word usage he dislikes, he dons his dictionary dictator hat and harangues people about definitions. Even when their usage is present in dictionaries. The practice of limiting other people’s use of vocabulary is so very Orwellian. When you’re done stripping definitions from the dictionary, David, how thin will it be?

Here’s what you’re attempting, David (along with the vast array of right-wing think-tanks):

“And the most effective way to this end [bringing people to new ideologies] is to use the old words but change their meaning.... Few traits of totalitarian regimes are at the same time so confusing to the superficial observer and yet so characteristic of the whole intellectual climate as the complete perversion of language, the change of meaning of the words by which the ideals of the new regimes are expressed.... If one has not one's self experienced this process, it is difficult to appreciate the magnitude of this change of the meaning of words, the confusion it causes, and the barriers to any rational discussion which it creates...”

That’s what telling people what meanings to use is about, according to Hayek.

Now there are two things you are lumping together in your complaints that are somewhat valid. Criticizing use of an alternative meaning is not valid. But (1) unspeak (another term for language with framing: read the recent book) and (2) phatic language (in-group code words) do make reasoned discourse difficult.

For your delectation, I have a small collection of rightwing and libertarian propaganda terms which tend to be mostly unspeak, phatic, or both:

economic freedom
free market
free trade
laissez-faire
individualism
rights
private property
self-government
small government
mobocracy
government distortion of the market
authoritarian
totalitarian
idiotarian
Consensuality
democide
liberty
freedom
maximize individual freedom
non-aggression
coercion
non-coercion
life (in the Randian sense)
initiation of force
Grasping Hand
minimal government
sound science
democracy
reason/rationality
classical liberal
rational choice theory
victimless crime
inviolable private sphere

I’d recommend that you take a libertarian approach to language, David, buy a bigger dictionary, and let people use the valid definitions whether you like their usage or not. Beyond that, of course people coin new usages: that's legitimate too. Acceptance is the measure of valid usage: not pedantry.

By the way, a while ago we were discussing how disproving an alternative hypothesis does not improve the probability of an alternative hypothesis. I found a simple real-world example.

In the Monty Hall problem, your initial guess has a 1/3 probability of being right. After Monty reveals one of the other possibilities is wrong, you still have a 1/3 probability of being right. If you change, you have a 2/3 probability.

 
At 4:35 PM, December 14, 2006, Blogger Mike Huben said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 8:46 PM, December 14, 2006, Blogger John T. Kennedy said...

"Most obviously, someone might favor the draft because he believed it was necessary in order to defend the U.S., and want to defend the U.S. precisely because he was in favor of freedom and thought the U.S. was much freer now than it would be if someone else conquered it."

The U.S. is a collective and draftees are individuals, so what you just outlined is favoring sacrificing individuals for the sake of the collective.

How is that not collectivism?


The opposite of "collectivist" is "individualist", not "libertarian". If you want to call someone who favors the draft as above that's fine, but he's a collectivist libertarian - his standard is collective good.

 
At 8:53 PM, December 14, 2006, Blogger John T. Kennedy said...

Concisely: What's dishonest about calling someone collectivist because they favor sacrificing individuals for collective liberty? (Or any other collective good.)

 
At 9:52 PM, December 14, 2006, Anonymous Pete Bessman said...

This is an excellent post. That's all I've got to say about it.

 
At 10:13 PM, December 14, 2006, Anonymous Pete Bessman said...

That's semantic hairsplitting, John. Posit that it's technically correct to call someone a collectivist because they support any single collectivist measure, and not because they are infatuated with the concept of collectivism per se. Also posit --- and I think this squares with reality --- that 99% of people think that a collectivist is one who loves collectivism on principle. Finally, posit that you are aware of the ubiquity of this stance.

Given all of this, if you call a minarchist a collectivist, then you either don't care about the fact that your usage of the word is going to be misinterpreted, or you intend to dishonestly smear your opponent as a champion of the collective.

This is an ageless and tired argument. The world uses a word in one context, whilst the dictionary defines it in another. Some people insist on the dictionary definition, and continue to use a the word in a way that they (ought to) know will be misinterpreted.

I'm reminded of the scene from Clerks 2 where Randal tries to justify his use of the word "porchmonkey" to refer to lazy people --- as opposed to being a racial slur against blacks --- because he's "taking it back." As it happens, the dictionary definition and colloquial usage of the term are the same. But even if Randal had the backing of Webster, it wouldn't change the fact that his "porchmonkey for life" shirt would have the effect of offending droves upon droves of people.

Whatev.

 
At 10:19 PM, December 14, 2006, Anonymous Pete Bessman said...

One last post before I vomit and sleep, I have drunk myself completely around the bend here, so I apologize for any incoherence in the preceding. In fact, given that Ansa appears to be a sorta decent looking libertarian chick, then unless this is an alter ego of DDF --- what possibility I don't consider all that unlikely --- I'm probably in dire need of medical attention.

 
At 9:28 AM, December 15, 2006, Blogger David Friedman said...

John Kennedy asks:

"Concisely: What's dishonest about calling someone collectivist because they favor sacrificing individuals for collective liberty? (Or any other collective good.)"

In the case we are discussing, someone favors sacrificing individual liberty in order to get more individual liberty. The supporter of the draft, given his factual beliefs, could reasonably enough accuse the opponent of wanting to sacrifice individual liberty--the liberty of all the people who will be enslaved when the country is conquered.

 
At 9:33 AM, December 15, 2006, Blogger David Friedman said...

Mike Huben writes:

"The practice of limiting other people’s use of vocabulary is so very Orwellian. "

Quite literally so, although I don't think that is what you meant. I suggest taking a look at Orwell's "Politics and the English Language," an essay making very much the same sort of point I made here, although he is concerned with euphemisms ("liquidating undesirable elements") and I am concerned with the opposite.

Of course, neither Orwell or I is limiting other people's vocabulary--you remain free to use words in a way the he or I considers dishonest. We are merely offering other people reasons why they ought to avoid such uses themselves and distrust them in others.

 
At 3:43 PM, December 15, 2006, Anonymous Christopher said...

I'm in love with Annsa.

 
At 9:28 PM, December 15, 2006, Blogger John T. Kennedy said...

David,

Isn't it obvious that the standard "the liberty of all the people who will be enslaved when the country is conquered" is a collective standard?


What's dishonest about identifying collectivists by the standards they apply? Their motivation is irrelevant to the term.

 
At 9:57 AM, December 16, 2006, Anonymous Pete Bessman said...

/me waves arms in air

 
At 10:00 PM, December 16, 2006, Anonymous Pete Bessman said...

John, turns out you're flat out wrong. And David, your post has interesting implications. Details here:

http://blog.gazuga.net/?p=188

 
At 6:02 AM, December 17, 2006, Blogger Mike Huben said...

I think it’s funny, David, that you’re committing exactly the thoughtcrime you’re accusing others of.

“Someone who wants to attack the conclusion does it by picking one reason he considers particularly unattractive and indefensible, using that reason to label the conclusion, and thus (dishonestly) implying that anyone holding the conclusion does it for that reason.”

Your chosen “reason” is definitions you don’t like, and your “conclusion” is that people using them are “dishonest”.

“We are merely offering other people reasons why they ought to avoid such uses themselves and distrust them in others.”

Wow, how nobly self-effacing! I’m sure then that you’d agree with the similarly humble “all non-Krishnas are demons, and demons always lie”. Both your statement and theirs offer ideological excuses to disregard criticism: an important function for maintaining “true” (aka irrational) beliefs.

But here, again, you are doing the same thing: substituting your own definition for a valid one:

“Quite literally so, although I don't think that is what you meant. I suggest taking a look at Orwell's "Politics and the English Language…"”

My usage was as in the dictionary:
“Of, relating to, or evocative of the works of George Orwell, especially the satirical novel 1984, which depicts a futuristic totalitarian state.”
And there, the key point is that newspeak controlls the thinking of the masses by eliminating usages that allow them to think precisely. Your point is also correct, but you are misrepresenting my intended point in a way that by your own standards is “dishonest”.

“Of course, neither Orwell or I is limiting other people's vocabulary--you remain free to use words in a way the he or I considers dishonest.” You’re no George Orwell. (Sorry, couldn’t resist a Bentsonesque touch.) You are encouraging readers (not me) to deliberately misunderstand what I write and to falsely attribute dishonest intentions to me. Because communication requires people with common definitions at both ends, if people listen to you, you have silenced me just as effectively as if you’d smashed my printing press. Which of course was precisely the Orwellian intention of newspeak: one of the key points was that it rendered oldspeak incomprehensible to the masses.

And indeed, the list of libertarian terms I mentioned in my previous response (which you use freely) has rendered communication with many libertarian impossible. By your own standards, libertarians “ought to avoid such uses themselves and distrust them in others.” I await (but don’t expect) your confession.

Oh, and it would be nice if you acknowledged my probability example.

 
At 7:52 AM, December 17, 2006, Anonymous Peter Bessman said...

Mike, the problem is that the words "collectivism" and "statism," at least, are being used in ways which don't actually square with their definitions. Ditto for "racist." I'm not lying --- look it up.

www.m-w.com

The above is for Merriam-Webster online, which I take as reasonably authoritative. And it has this to say about racism:

"a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race"

That hardly squares with scientific research which indicates that black(er) people tend to have lower IQ's, vs. oriental(er) people tending to have higher IQ's.

Here's a thought experiment. Let's say --- and mind you, this is totally hypothetical --- that I do research on sickle cell anemia, and find that people of African origin have a far greater chance of having that condition than people of other origins. Is that racist? If not, then why is the IQ research racist?

As for David putting himself in a position arbitrarily immune to criticism... uh... pot... kettle... midnight...

"By your own standards, libertarians “ought to avoid such uses themselves and distrust them in others.” I await (but don’t expect) your confession."

OMGWTFBBQ

 
At 9:37 AM, December 17, 2006, Blogger Mike Huben said...

Peter, even accepting your one definition (and there are many variant definitions of racist), my usage of racist science was appropriate for two reasons. First, because I was comparing it to 19th century racist conventional wisdom in terms of the subject matter. And second because this whole Bell Curve inspired theme originates from simple racism: see the FAIR article on this subject (at http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=1271), “Racism Resurgent: How Media Let The Bell Curve's Pseudo-Science Define the Agenda on Race”. This is a simple matter of historical fact, and not subject to whitewash.

What the vast majority of disputants on this subject don’t seem to understand is that there are not really any human races in the scientific sense of the word race. Scientifically, there are populations exhibiting clinal variation. In other words, populations tend to intergrade with each other, and have interbred with each other extensively in historical times (with some notable exceptions, but those are not the African, European, and Asian populations we’re most concerned with.)

What we’re left with is a folk definition of race, having to do with superficial differences and geographic origins. And it makes as much sense as “the French-speaking race” would: unifying French Canadians, Arcadians, Hatians, French Guyanese, and the French themselves says little about their genetics in common. You might be able to say they score very low on English language IQ tests, and so that’s a “racial” characteristic of French-speakers, but nobody would credit you with saying something sensible. And so it is with “black” scores on IQ tests, whether blacks self-identify or not.

Let’s talk about your sickle cell anemia example. If I may quote from the wikipedia article, it is “still prevalent, especially among people with recent ancestry in malaria-stricken areas, such as Africa, the Mediterranean, India and the Middle East.” You’ll notice that the description is not “blacks”: that’s because genetics is POPULATION BASED, not based on folk definitions of race. Doubtless there are sub-saharan “black” populations where malaria is not endemic (such as South Africa) and the genes are scarce.

Now, is that racist? Yes, for several reasons. First, because you are making the assumption of the non-scientific notion of race. Second, because you are restricting your research about the subject by those notions of race: you would do better to either work at a genetic population level or with all the populations (including Mediterannean and Asian populations). And third, there are racist cultural presumptions that this characteristic is only a disease (in reality, it is strongly advantageous in malarial environments.)

But even though you’ve selected an example that’s almost entirely genetically determined (and thus less ambiguous than IQ), your research is racist. Racism is about folk definitions of race, and the claim that they are “the primary determinant of human traits and capacities” in your definition.
Why would population-based research be non-racist then? Simply because it doesn’t pander to the folk definition of race, and thus doesn’t enable the sorts of prejudical thinking based on race. If I focus on a particular sub-saharan population, you cannot say that a “black man” is a member of that population by merely looking at him. If I focus on all populations with sickle cell genes, you cannot say it is only “black folks” who have it: it’s a problem of whites, blacks, middle easterners, and Asians. That’s not rascist, IMHO.

 
At 12:43 PM, December 17, 2006, Blogger John T. Kennedy said...

Bessman writes:

"John, turns out you're flat out wrong."

About whether I'm being honest when I identify people as collectivists or statists? That's what's really at issue here.

 
At 1:32 PM, December 17, 2006, Blogger John T. Kennedy said...

David,

Here is a post where you wrote:

"Most taxation is not theft, it is robbery. "

Robbery is widely considered "unattractive and indefensible". Were you dishonestly mischaracterizing the motivations of anyone who favors taxation?

Or were you simply calling a spade a spade?

 
At 2:16 PM, December 17, 2006, Anonymous Peter Bessman said...

Mike, if it's a fight about the definition of the word "racist" you want, it's a fight you get. We're gonna do this deal one issue at a time, and since semantics came first in your fulmination, to tackle it at the outset would seem apropos.

My salvo is here:

http://blog.gazuga.net/?p=191

 
At 9:44 PM, December 17, 2006, Blogger John T. Kennedy said...

Bessman,

"Also posit --- and I think this squares with reality --- that 99% of people think that a collectivist is one who loves collectivism on principle. Finally, posit that you are aware of the ubiquity of this stance.

Given all of this, if you call a minarchist a collectivist, then you either don't care about the fact that your usage of the word is going to be misinterpreted, or you intend to dishonestly smear your opponent as a champion of the collective."


Given that the overwhelming majority of people consider taxation moral, and that David is aware of this, by calling taxation robbery was he dishonestly smearing the supporters of taxation as champions of robbery?

This use of the word robbery is not normal usage (unless in jest). The dictionary certainly does not define taxation as immoral.

Supporters of taxation could believe that taxation is needed to minimize the general level of robbery. I'm sure some do. But that doesn't change the fact that taxation *is* robbery.

 
At 5:58 AM, December 18, 2006, Blogger Jonathan said...

The amusing thing is that applying any kind of label to someone can be considered derogatory. The person thus labelled may react with indignation: "Who, me? I'm not a ----. I'm just normal!"

I instinctively react this way myself. I'm not really a libertarian or an atheist or a heterosexual or whatever, I'm just normal. Labels are for other people, to indicate their particular kind of abnormality. If everyone else came to their senses, they'd all be like me, and then no label would be needed...

I'm not being entirely serious here, but I think this is at least part of the reason why people tend to resent labels.

 
At 7:49 AM, December 18, 2006, Anonymous Peter Bessman said...

Given that the overwhelming majority of people consider taxation moral, and that David is aware of this, by calling taxation robbery was he dishonestly smearing the supporters of taxation as champions of robbery?

The accepted definition of "robbery" is "The act or an instance of unlawfully taking the property of another by the use of violence or intimidation." (see dictionary.com) Therefore, is David being dishonest when he calls taxation robbery, since taxation is also widely accepted as lawful?

My position is yes, that is a pretty dishonest thing to do, and not very effective to boot. If we'd all collectively drop it, I'd be quite happy, but I'm not holding my shit.

 
At 7:52 AM, December 18, 2006, Anonymous Peter Bessman said...

I'm not being entirely serious here, but I think this is at least part of the reason why people tend to resent labels.

That strikes me as plausible explanation for why labeling someone is a poor way to convince them to change their mind.

 
At 12:32 PM, December 18, 2006, Blogger John T. Kennedy said...

Bessman,

So if most people do not think taxation is robbery, and the dictionary denies that it is, then one cannot honestly conclude and say that taxation is robbery?

On cannot honestly disagree with the dictionary and the majority?

 
At 3:51 PM, December 18, 2006, Anonymous Peter Bessman said...

So if most people do not think taxation is robbery, and the dictionary denies that it is, then one cannot honestly conclude and say that taxation is robbery?

Translation: just because the dictionary/majority says X = Y, does not make so.

My response: Duh.

Too bad that's not what I'm arguing. Press start to continue?

 
At 6:20 PM, December 18, 2006, Blogger miltie said...

Mike that FAIR article was pretty weak (as is most of the garbage that FAIR puts out). It's argument basically boils down to this: The people funding (not conducting) the research for The Bell Curve were racist so the data must be garbage. Like my man Robert Anton Wilson once said, this does not amount to scientific rebuttal; it sounds more like table-pounding.

The article was weak for several reasons:

Number one:

"Credibility Gap

Media reports also treated as fact Murray and Herrnstein's claim that black IQs are 15 points lower than whites. "For as long as Americans have been IQ-tested, blacks have trailed whites by that 15-point margin," ABC's Dave Marash reported for Nightline (10/21/94). "Murray sees in the consistency of these gaps proof that intervening to raise low IQs just doesn't work."

But The Bell Curve cites as its primary sources for this assertion R. Travis Osborne, Frank C.J. McGurk and Audrey Shuey--all recipients of Pioneer grants. Osborne, who has received almost $400,000 from Pioneer, used his "research" into black genetic inferiority to argue for the restoration of school segregation (Newsday, 11/9/94).

And, in fact, even the data collected by these racists does not show a consistent 15-point gap. The studies they present show a wide range of results, ranging from no black/white IQ disparity at all to the absurd finding that most African-Americans are severely retarded. "

It looks like Murray and Hernstein were in fact right about this. See the following from the APA.

http://www.iq-tests.eu/iq-test-The-view-of-the-American-Psychological-Association-1120.html


Number two:

"Murray and Herrnstein also rely heavily on Thomas Bouchard, whose study of separated-at-birth twins has "proved" that not only is intelligence largely genetically determined, but so are religiosity, political orientation and leisure-time interests. The Bell Curve uses Bouchard to rehabilitate Sir Cyril Burt, whose twin-based evidence for inherited intelligence is now believed to be fraudulent. Their logic is that Burt's research must have been sound, because Burt's findings closely resemble Bouchard's, and Bouchard's research is "accepted by most scholars as a model of its kind."

That illustrates the sort of scholars Murray and Herrnstein associate with. More reputable researchers have raised many questions about Bouchard's work: While other twin researchers estimate that 50 percent of the average variation in intelligence can be attributed to heredity, Bouchard comes up with 70 percent. Even the twin studies that came up with more conservative estimates of intelligence's "heritability" (itself a highly dubious concept) are flawed because the supposedly "separated-at-birth" twins usually turn out to have been raised in close proximity"

Hernstein and Murray are proved right on this point as well. Once again see the APA's finding which shows that heritability of intelligence is not highly dubious.:

http://www.iq-tests.eu/iq-test-The-view-of-the-American-Psychological-Association-1120.html

 
At 6:23 PM, December 18, 2006, Blogger miltie said...

Mike that FAIR article was pretty weak. It's argument basically boils down to this: The people funding (not conducting) the research for The Bell Curve were racist so the data must be garbage. Like my man Robert Anton Wilson said, this is not scientific rebuttal, this is more like table-pounding.

The article was weak for several reasons:

Number one:

"Credibility Gap

Media reports also treated as fact Murray and Herrnstein's claim that black IQs are 15 points lower than whites. "For as long as Americans have been IQ-tested, blacks have trailed whites by that 15-point margin," ABC's Dave Marash reported for Nightline (10/21/94). "Murray sees in the consistency of these gaps proof that intervening to raise low IQs just doesn't work."

But The Bell Curve cites as its primary sources for this assertion R. Travis Osborne, Frank C.J. McGurk and Audrey Shuey--all recipients of Pioneer grants. Osborne, who has received almost $400,000 from Pioneer, used his "research" into black genetic inferiority to argue for the restoration of school segregation (Newsday, 11/9/94).

And, in fact, even the data collected by these racists does not show a consistent 15-point gap. The studies they present show a wide range of results, ranging from no black/white IQ disparity at all to the absurd finding that most African-Americans are severely retarded. "

Murray and Hernstein were actually right about this. See the following from the APA.

http://www.iq-tests.eu/iq-test-The-view-of-the-American-Psychological-Association-1120.html


Number two:

"Murray and Herrnstein also rely heavily on Thomas Bouchard, whose study of separated-at-birth twins has "proved" that not only is intelligence largely genetically determined, but so are religiosity, political orientation and leisure-time interests. The Bell Curve uses Bouchard to rehabilitate Sir Cyril Burt, whose twin-based evidence for inherited intelligence is now believed to be fraudulent. Their logic is that Burt's research must have been sound, because Burt's findings closely resemble Bouchard's, and Bouchard's research is "accepted by most scholars as a model of its kind."

That illustrates the sort of scholars Murray and Herrnstein associate with. More reputable researchers have raised many questions about Bouchard's work: While other twin researchers estimate that 50 percent of the average variation in intelligence can be attributed to heredity, Bouchard comes up with 70 percent. Even the twin studies that came up with more conservative estimates of intelligence's "heritability" (itself a highly dubious concept) are flawed because the supposedly "separated-at-birth" twins usually turn out to have been raised in close proximity"

Murray and Hernstein are right about this point again. Once again see the APA's finding which shows that heritability of intelligence is not highly dubious.:

http://www.iq-tests.eu/iq-test-The-view-of-the-American-Psychological-Association-1120.html

 
At 7:27 PM, December 18, 2006, Blogger John T. Kennedy said...

Bessman,

"Translation: just because the dictionary/majority says X = Y, does not make so.

My response: Duh.

Too bad that's not what I'm arguing."


So could one honestly conclude that taxation is robbery?

 
At 7:40 PM, December 18, 2006, Anonymous albatross said...

Mike:

This "there's no such thing as race" line is just deeply silly. Would you really accept this argument if we were talking about, say, a business that somehow managed to never hire any black people? ("But there's no such thing as race, so how can I be discriminating?")

Race is a fast observable attribute that correlates with a lot of information we might care about, such as probability of carrying two sickle-cell anemia genes, preferred foods and television shows, likely vote for president, income, IQ score, probability of having been in prison, probability of developing skin cancer and colon cancer and high blood pressure, etc.

 
At 9:43 PM, December 18, 2006, Anonymous jb said...

and how fast you run...

 
At 5:49 AM, December 19, 2006, Anonymous Peter Bessman said...

So could one honestly conclude that taxation is robbery?

Sure, but the real argument becomes one of constitutional interpretation and validity, coupled with your moral notions --- the acceptability of taxation flows from that. Put simply, for an anarchist to condemn a tax-supporting citizen as an advocate of thievery makes about as much sense as a Jew condemning an atheist for eating pork.

Looking back, I'd retract my charge that equating taxation to theft in conversation is dishonest --- really, it's more anti-social than anything else. The disagreement doesn't occur over the definition of the words involved, but on the legality of the activity of taxation --- which, in turn, hinges on the legality of the constitution. And I have no clue what you aim to accomplish with this, since it's not like some general theory of dishonest word usage has been advanced. The objections were against "statism" and "collectivism" specifically, not every libertarian locution currently in use.

 
At 6:22 AM, December 19, 2006, Blogger John T. Kennedy said...

"Looking back, I'd retract my charge that equating taxation to theft in conversation is dishonest --- really, it's more anti-social than anything else."

It's anti-social to voice an honest conclusion?

"The disagreement doesn't occur over the definition of the words involved, but on the legality of the activity of taxation --- which, in turn, hinges on the legality of the constitution."

No, I'm confident DF always thought taxation was legal.

Can one honestly conclude that taxation is legal robbery?

 
At 1:27 PM, December 19, 2006, Blogger Mike Huben said...

Albatross, I didn't say "there's no such thing as race".

What I said was:
"What we’re left with is a folk definition of race, having to do with superficial differences and geographic origins."

That unscientific definition has little to do with genetics except as spurious corellations. The reason that's so has to do with cladistics: the unscientific definition is both paraphyletic and polyphyletic.

You find corellations between any two things: the question is what they mean.

 
At 3:41 PM, December 19, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike,

What makes the correlations spurious, other than your egalitarian instinct telling you a priori that the common notion of race carries no useful information? Surely you're not just taking that as an article of faith.

 
At 5:45 PM, December 19, 2006, Anonymous Peter Bessman said...

It's anti-social to voice an honest conclusion?

Comb yo beard, I don't wanna hear that shit from you. Why don't you give me an example and then I'll tell you whether it's a dick move or not --- I'm certainly not gonna sit here and do the Noam Chomsky "Lord of the Semantics" dance to appease your fetid ass.

Can one honestly conclude that taxation is legal robbery?

WTF are we even arguing about now? See above. This is asinine.

 
At 5:48 PM, December 19, 2006, Anonymous Peter Bessman said...

That unscientific definition has little to do with genetics except as spurious corellations.

It's a world's tallest midget problem. I'd still argue that there's usefulness in recognizing midgets (and blacks) even if we can't precisely define what it means.

Even further, if you really think race is a BS concept, then you're putting a nail in the coffin for such as Affirmative Action. Now I'm all over that like white on rice, but is that really a reflection of your position?

 
At 10:00 PM, December 19, 2006, Blogger David Friedman said...

On the question of whether taxation is robbery, two point:

1. In the particular post John cited, the point I was making was not that calling taxation robbery was a rhetorically sensible strategy but that the proper term was "robbery" not "theft," since the taking was in most cases open rather than by stealth.

2. I wouldn't be surprised if there are definitions of "robbery" that require the act to be illegal; I haven't tried to search the net for different definitions. The one I found, however, was:

" - The taking, or attempting to take, anything of value from the care, custody, or control of another person or persons by force or threat of force or violence and/or putting the victim in fear."

I think that fits most taxation.

 
At 10:43 PM, December 19, 2006, Anonymous Peter Bessman said...

David,

I still think that referring to taxation as robbery in passing conversation with normals is going to earn you the same kind of look that wearing a pink tutu with lime green swastikas would. It's just bad rhetoric because, regardless of what the dictionary says, people don't see their understanding of taxation as falling under their understanding of robbery. To have a hope of getting people to see things your way, you've got to start at the beginning, with the (in)validity of the constitution. IMAO.

 
At 2:22 PM, December 20, 2006, Blogger Mike Huben said...

Once again, David is doing violence to the English language. There is nothing in his definition or usage of robbery that excludes debt collection. Even libertarians would call debt collection valid. And collecting owed taxes is just another type of debt collection, not robbery. If David has a complaint, it is with whether the taxes are owed or not, not that they are collected.

Peter is totally right of course that most normal people look at David’s ideas and think his rhetoric is crazy. They view taxes as legitimate, the way they view rents as legitimate.

Peter, to the extent that you are trying to use population genetics based theory to fit IQ measurements to erroneous ideas of populations, you are doomed to fail scientifically. It’s a category error.

Human races are BS scientifically: however, there are silly social constructs popularly called race, which all too many people take seriously. Because of those nonsensical social constructs and the bigotry that they incur, we need affirmative action. If people discriminated against some zodiacal sign, such as Libra, we’d need affirmative action for Libras. But nobody in their right mind would call Libras a race, or even hint that there was some correlation between their IQs and their genetics.

 
At 6:08 PM, December 20, 2006, Anonymous Peter Bessman said...

Because of those nonsensical social constructs and the bigotry that they incur, we need affirmative action.

If we can identify these "social constructs" for purposes of bigotry, then we can identify them for purposes of science. It is apparently a scientific endeavor to study the achievement --- or lack thereof, perhaps owing to oppression --- of those considered "black." There is no reason why it should not be scientific to gather statistical data about the IQ of those considered "black."

You can't have it both ways. Either we recognize these "social constructs," and can gather meaningful data on them, or we cannot. The issue is binary in nature.

 
At 9:35 PM, December 20, 2006, Blogger John T. Kennedy said...

David

"...the point I was making was not that calling taxation robbery was a rhetorically sensible strategy..."

Nor am I concerned with that. I'm asking: Were you were dishonestly implying anything about the motivations of supporters of taxation by calling it robbery?

If it's robbery does that mean you're saying the supporters of taxation are motivated chiefly to rob? I didn't read it that way.

Yet you say identifying someone as a statist implies they are guilty of "worship of the state". You're an anarchist; do you worship anarchy? If not, why would state worship be implicit in being a statist?

I identify someone as a statist when they prefer states to anarchy; when they assert that states are indispensible. I think it's perfectly reasonable to consider statism to be the logical complement of anarchism since anarchy is the logical complement of the state. None of this implies much about the motivations of statist.

 
At 2:43 AM, December 21, 2006, Blogger Mike Huben said...

Peter, we're getting closer to a common understanding.

Sure, we could measure IQ of a socially constructed section of a population such as Libras or blacks. And it is valid to talk about how those social constructions affect the development of IQ: for example, Libras might be sent to inferior schools in inner cities.

We can also talk about HERITABILITY of IQ. But that's population genetics, and to apply it to social constructions such as Libras or blacks is a category error: that science only applies to the scientific idea of populations. Not to "races".

 
At 10:23 AM, December 21, 2006, Anonymous Peter Bessman said...

We can also talk about HERITABILITY of IQ. But that's population genetics, and to apply it to social constructions such as Libras or blacks is a category error: that science only applies to the scientific idea of populations. Not to "races".

But what if the characteristics which allow for a particular social construction are heritable? Given linked gene theory, it then seems plausible that IQ could perhaps be tied to those genes responsible for the discerning features.

 
At 1:24 PM, December 21, 2006, Blogger Mike Huben said...

Peter, you're getting farfetched. "Science doesn't rule it out one way" is a weak battle cry. But since skin color (for instance) is produced by several genes on different chromosomes, linkage to supposed IQ genes is rather unlikely.

 
At 5:35 PM, December 21, 2006, Blogger Steve Sailer said...

Allow me to suggest a definition of "racial group" that I've found robust and useful: "a partly inbred extended family."

For a fuller explanation, please see:

http://www.vdare.com/sailer/presentation.htm

 
At 7:31 PM, December 21, 2006, Anonymous Bryan Eastin said...

In reference to the term homophobia, I think that most people use it to mean people who fear or are repulsed by homosexuals, which squares well with the American Heritage Dictionary and the meaning of the root phobia. In using it to refer to all people who object to homosexuality they are not (intentionally at least) misrepresenting these people. Their usage reflects the fact that they really believe that objections to homosexuality arise not from piety but from a gut hatred or fear.

In my circles, at least, the basic thought process is this:
"Well, there is that bit in the Bible about men not sleeping with men, but it's in Leviticus for Christ's sake. I don't see major campaigns mounted against people who eat pork, marry widows, work on Sundays, etc. In truth, they must just think it's disgusting."

It's a big world, so surely there are people who think homosexuality is not repulsive and doesn't threaten them or their way of life, but object to it strictly on other grounds. The blanket use of the term homophobic reflects the judgment that this is rare.

Tells you more about the people using the term than those it's applied to I suppose.

 
At 11:55 PM, December 21, 2006, Anonymous Peter Bessman said...

But since skin color (for instance) is produced by several genes on different chromosomes, linkage to supposed IQ genes is rather unlikely.

But it's not impossible. So I see no reason to object on principle to research into that potential link. That's the issue that I'm driving at --- not any particular conclusion.

 
At 9:10 AM, December 22, 2006, Anonymous Arthur B. said...

But it's not impossible

Yes, and the link doesn't need to be genetic. Even if the genes are completely unrelated, endogamy based on the color of skin can create and sustain difference in other genes.

How important can the difference be? Minimal I would guess if you consider the size of the groups. Should the difference matter ? Absolutely not.

 
At 9:37 AM, December 22, 2006, Anonymous Peter Bessman said...

Should the difference matter ? Absolutely not.

I disagree. If we expect to legislate for equal outcomes for all populations, when not all populations are in fact equal, then I think we're flirtin' with disaster. It's like thinking that we'll only really have gender equity if 51% of all fortune 500 CEO's are women.

 
At 12:07 PM, December 22, 2006, Blogger David Friedman said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 12:10 PM, December 22, 2006, Blogger David Friedman said...

Peter writes:

"If we expect to legislate for equal outcomes ..."

I think this is an important point. Even if there are significant differences in IQ distribution and other behavioral characteristics between races as conventionally defined, they are unlikely to be big enough to provide enough information to be useful for individual decision making. By the time you are deciding whether to hire someone, or admit him to your school, or go to work for him, you should have better information than is provided by the color of his skin.

Where it does matter is in evaluating outcomes. Pretty much whenever statistics show different outcomes by race or gender, it is reported as evidence of discriminaton; indeed, as the Harvard flap demonstrates, it can be dangerous to your career to even suggest the possibility of an alternative explanation.

But that conclusion depends on an unstated and, I think, unsupported assumption--that the distribution of innate abilities is the same between the two groups.

In the case of gender the assumption is not only unsupported but highly unlikely a priori, given the logic of evolution; males and females are both selected for reproductive success, their roles in reproduction are different, hence we would expect different distributions of abilities and behavioral characteristics to be optimal for the different genders.

In the case of race there is no similar a priori reason to expect differences but, pace Mike's arguments, which I continue to find utterly unconvincing, no a priori reason to reject them. If the differences do exist, then the conventional deduction from observed differences in outcomes is unjustified, at least until we know enough about the size of the innate differences to tell if they are likely to be responsible.

 
At 7:35 PM, December 22, 2006, Blogger John T. Kennedy said...

"If the differences do exist, then the conventional deduction from observed differences in outcomes is unjustified, at least until we know enough about the size of the innate differences to tell if they are likely to be responsible."

Would legislating equal group outcomes be justified if there were no such differences between groups?

 
At 10:02 PM, December 22, 2006, Anonymous Peter Bessman said...

Would legislating equal group outcomes be justified if there were no such differences between groups?

WWJD?

 
At 10:42 AM, December 23, 2006, Blogger Mike Huben said...

David, your evolutionary arguments remind me of an Econ 101 freshman who proposes that markets are the solutions for everything because he’s learned of Pareto Efficiency. No concept of macroeconomics, no knowledge of economic history, no econometrics background, no concept of what the research shows, no concepts of market failures: just a few general principles to reason by.

And given that ignorance, the freshman could declare that he finds some economic arguments, even those of Nobel Laureates, “utterly unconvincing”, full of “unsupported assumption[s]”, etc.

Researchers have been looking HARD for differences in innate abilities such as IQ for a long time. Finding differences due to culture, nutrition, and other aspects of upbringing has been trivially easy. Obvious differences such as primary and secondary sexual characteristics have also been trivially easy to identify and explain genetically, developmentally, and physiologically. This is a big hint that your “a priori” reasoning will not give us a reliable answer.

“males and females are both selected for reproductive success, their roles in reproduction are different, hence we would expect different distributions of abilities and behavioral characteristics to be optimal for the different genders.”

Now that’s an example of freshman-style logic about evolution. What’s wrong with it? The big fallacy is that this statement gives us no reason to expect a difference in any one specific characteristic, such as IQ. We know there are plenty of characteristics which just plain don’t differ. Indeed, almost all innate differences would have to be rooted in the X and Y chromosomes, which have very small portions of our genomes.

It’s equally fallacious to slide in the unstated assumption that these are innate genetic differences, rather than cultural/developmental/environmental differences, which also can modify reproductive success, and which also tend to be passed down to children.

The other fallacy in the statement is the assumption (for IQ) that different roles in reproduction would benefit from different IQ’s. An “unstated and, I think, unsupported assumption”. Now, that’s also assuming IQ means something (which is a debate we don’t need to reopen here right now.) But if we examine something more definite, such as ability to do mathematics, it is not clear that mathematical ability at the level tested today played any role in natural selection of our ancesters: indeed, it’s considered a major mystery just why we have such advanced abilities at all.

In conclusion, I view David’s opinions as more contrarian than scientific. If I were to argue for the existence of fairies, I’d have to use exactly the same sorts of scientism, “logic”, and arguments that David has. And I’d whine about how scientists consider it taboo to discuss fairies, despite the lengthy and fruitless search for evidence, despite the repeated historical frauds, ignoring the fact that there are excellent supported explanations for the supposed influences of fairies. Anybody who’s familiar with the skeptical literature should recognize the symptoms of woo that David’s exhibiting.

 
At 12:32 PM, December 24, 2006, Anonymous Peter Bessman said...

David, your evolutionary arguments remind me of an Econ 101 freshman who proposes that markets are the solutions for everything because he’s learned of Pareto Efficiency. No concept of macroeconomics, no knowledge of economic history, no econometrics background, no concept of what the research shows, no concepts of market failures: just a few general principles to reason by.

Why in the world you expect anyone to listen to you after that puzzles me.

 
At 7:00 PM, March 17, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike Huben Typed:

"The other fallacy in the statement is the assumption (for IQ) that different roles in reproduction would benefit from different IQ’s"

Mike, Where, but in your own mind does David make the assumption "that different roles in reproduction would benefit from different IQ’s"

 
At 1:14 PM, November 05, 2011, Anonymous Eric H said...

"For your delectation, I have a small collection of rightwing and libertarian propaganda terms which tend to be mostly unspeak, phatic, or both:"

"economic freedom..."

This is a mostly excellent list. However, one of the most frustrating things about Mike's style is that he makes statements like this without any sense that he or his fellow travelers do exactly the same thing. He could say, "I don't like code words used by anyone and have written about it generally here [insert URL], but since this is a mostly libertarian blog, I will illustrate with phrases you use," but he doesn't and as far as I can tell, never has. He is unable to turn his analytical engine on himself or the pro-state left (PSL) at all.

I qualify "excellent" with "mostly" because some of those phrases are just as apt to be used by the PSL and some of them are used by such a small cross-section of the people Mike follows that the brush stroke is overly broad. Here is a list of PSL terms that more or less corresponds to Mike's list:

Economic justice
Regulated market
Fair trade
Democratic control
Community-based
Basic Rights (in the sense of economic and/or positive rights)
Public interest
Public oversight
Legislative process
Transparency
Policy
Plutocracy
Koch Brothers
Market failure
Economic incentives
Authoritarian (yep, both lists)
Totalitarian (both)
Fascist
Communitarian
Public hearing
Solidarity
Corporate control
Justice
Democracy
Maximize Public good
Social contract
Fairness
Special interest
Redistribution
"life (in the Randian sense)"?
Balanced interests
Corporate greed
Smart policy
Settled science / peer-reviewed science
Democracy (both)
Reason/rationality (both)
Progressive
Social contract theory
Police state
General will
For the children
Public safety
Will of the majority
Social justice
Smart growth
Sustainable
“The people” (plural as opposed to singular, see Arendt on revolution)
Advantage

Also, to Mike's list (at least so far as it applies to conservatives), I would have added "liberal media" and correspondingly to the other list, "Fox news".

 

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