Imagine Being Wrong

I felt myself wince recently when I wrote “I imagine that if I were a racist.” I realized that I’m not supposed be able to imagine being a racist. Even though a most folks in history have believed, often reasonably given their evidence, that races differ substantially on important qualities. And even though historians, sociologists, etc. regularly study and understand racists.

Apparently one is supposed to believe that racists are so obviously and extremely crazy that it is impossible for a reasonable person to see things from their point of view. Pretending to believe this signals to your associates confidence in your shared anti-racist position, and so is a signal of group loyalty.

But it seems a bad habit to get into, if you want to believe the truth. No doubt many positions are hard to understand, at least without some practice and preparation. Being rational in disagreements is hard exactly because it is so much easier to see one’s own reasoning than to imagine the reasoning of others. And we have only a limited ability to overcome this barrier. But to go out of your way to make it hard to see things from another’s view, that suggests one is more interested in showing loyalty than in discerning truth.

GD Star Rating
loading...
Tagged as: ,
Trackback URL:
  • richard silliker

    Being wrong is okay.

    Being right for the wrong reasons is a real kicker.

    What have being rational and the ability to reason have to do with each other?

    • http://grognor.blogspot.com/ Grognor

      Why is being wrong okay?

      I can’t think of any good justification for it.

      If you want to justify it because people simply tend to be wrong a lot and there’s nothing you can do about it, that’s status quo bias. I’d rather never get questions of fact wrong ever again.

      • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

        What if someone paid you millions to write stuff that you knew to be wrong. Would that be a “mistake”? Or would it be a smart and savvy business decision?

        What if your friends treated you with more respect if you treated people who were enemies of your friends with disrespect?

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com Stephen R Diamond

        What if someone paid you millions to write stuff that you knew to be wrong. Would that be a “mistake”? Or would it be a smart and savvy business decision?

        “Rationalist” Eliezer Yudkowsky has a “solution” to Newcomb’s problem that involves pre-emptively making himself incapable of appreciating the logic of the one-box argument. So even among a sect of “rationalists,” “instrumental rationality” is pursued when it conflicts with epistemic rationality.

  • http://hearfeel.com Jon Biz

    “What have being rational and the ability to reason have to do with each other?”

    IMHO, the more complicated the idea, the more likely people disagree about it. Being able to reason (ie – examine the merits of opposing ideas), period, is an important part of achieving rationality. Being able to reason with others, while requiring social and communicative skills, rests on the ability to reason with yourself.

    When ‘reasoning’ with others involves pointing out irrationalities inherent in >their< reasoning skills, that's not reasoning: that's education. Which is why one doesn't discuss politics, religion, or how and when to apply the meta-golden rule with strangers.

  • Miley Cyrax

    Coming fresh from the Marginal Revolution Duke Affirmative Action thread, I find this to be a rather timely Hanson post.

    Person A calling Person B racist often times is just Person A signaling moral superiority over Person B.

    Another use of terms such as “racist” or “sexist” is an attempt to shut down the discussion when it touches upon people’s delicate sensibilities.

    White people arguing for affirmative action, and thus against their supposed self-interests (supposed because AA actually hurts Asians much more than whites) can also be a form of signaling, kind of like the Peacock’s tail and the Handicap Principal. That is, “My status is so high and my morality is so tight that I argue against my own self-interests!”

    • Miley Cyrax

      A rather conniving white person would know this, and thus argue for AA knowing that it’s a status booster for himself, with no real impact on his welfare from the detriments of AA (the burden of which will be shouldered much more by Asians).

  • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

    Actually this is completely wrong. To understand someone you need to be able to emulate their thinking, that is to be able to articulate how they arrived at their conclusions, what supposed “facts” they used, and what type of argument (valid or not) that they used to reach their conclusion. Only if the path of “reasoning” can be understood can the person who has that “reasoning” be understood.

    The inability to understand the “other” is exactly and precisely what it is that makes someone a racist, or any other kind of bigot. Not being able to understand someone triggers xenophobia via the uncanny valley.

    http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/2010/03/physiology-behind-xenophobia.html

    It is absolutely necessary for a bigot to not understand the object of his/her bigotry, because then the bigot can use faulty reasoning to justify from imagined “facts” why the object of bigot’s hatred is so deserving of that hatred. The hatred comes first, the rationalization using bogus “facts” comes after.
    Your last sentence is absolutely correct.

    “But to go out of your way to make it hard to see things from another’s view, that suggests one is more interested in showing loyalty than in discerning truth”.

    Not so much showing loyalty, but adhering to a delusional world view. If the facts lead to a conclusion that causes unacceptable cognitive dissonance, then the only option is to deny reality.

    The problem with trying to understand someone is that you need to have a pattern of their thinking process, how they arrived at their understanding, inside of you. To do pattern recognition you need a facsimile of what it is you are trying to recognize.

    This is the source of Nietzsche’s warning “That if you gaze too long into the abyss, the abyss gazes back into you.” When you look at something, your background pattern recognition neuroanatomy self-modifies to be able to perceive what it is you are looking at. To perceive the abyss, you have to have a piece of the abyss inside of you.

    This is why some people deny reality, so they can adhere to their delusional world view.

    To be able to be a non-racist, you need to be able to perceive and understand racism. To correct racism in yourself, you need to be able to perceive it. Being able to think like a racist is not the same as acting like a racist. Thoughts don’t have a moral value, only actions do.

    • Scott H.

      Shortened: only true racists can’t imagine what it would be like to be racist.

  • Faul_Sname

    I propose a new term: racistist: one who dehumanizes and shuns racists because of their upbringing and beliefs.

    Seriously, though, excellent post. To say that racists are factually or morally wrong is one thing, but unless you think there is something fundamentally wrong with racists, they probably come to their viewpoints the same way you came to yours.

  • Ari T

    Imagine there’s no opinion
    It’s easy if you try
    No bias below us
    Above us only truth
    Imagine all the people living for today

    Imagine there’s no disagreement
    It isn’t hard to do
    Nothing to kill or die for
    And no dishonesty too
    Imagine all the people living life in peace

    You, you may say
    I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one
    I hope some day there’s no bias
    And the world will be as one

    Imagine no politics
    I wonder if you can
    No need for lies and deception
    Better institutions
    To make best of the world around us

    You, you may say
    I’m signalling, but I’m not the only one
    I hope I didn’t have to
    But the world is what it is

  • Tangurena

    Apparently one is supposed to believe that racists are so obviously and extremely crazy that it is impossible for a reasonable person to see things from their point of view.

    You are correct about it being a sign of group loyalty, but this “those other guys are totally bonkers” is one of the major themes running through modern politics (and the discourses about modern politics). Being incapable of imagining what the other folks are thinking, or even why it might be a consistent, logical position for “those other guys” is one way of dehumanizing “those other guys”.

    This polarization is what will (in my opinion) drive the US into a tribal society. I think we’re heading there now.

    • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

      Feeling that “those other guys are totally bonkers” is a sure sign that you are a racist/bigot.

      If you are unable to understand someone the way they understand themselves and substitute anything else for that understanding then you hve dehumanized them and taken away their self-agency.

      • George Weinberg

        So It take it that you absolutely rule out the possibility that any individual or group could be completely bonkers? I hope you can forgive the bigotry, but that’s totally bonkers.

  • arch1

    I felt myself wince recently when I wrote “I imagine that if I were a racist.” I realized that I’m not supposed be able to imagine being a racist.

    I agree with your conclusion, and think that this has serious negative consequences wrt racism and beyond (for example, this significantly hampers efforts to address terrorism in the long term).

    (That said, the wince alone doesn’t seem to justify your conclusion, even anecdotally; FAIK it could simply have been your gut reaction to the thought of being a racist, as opposed to imagining being a racist.)

    But to go out of your way to make it hard to see things from another’s view, that suggests one is more interested in showing loyalty than in discerning truth.

    Yes but what seems more widespread to me is acts of omission – people simply refraining from publicly trying to understand others’ views. It’s as if, around every sufficiently abhorrent position P, there is a penumbra of related ideas (including alas the notion that P might be worth understanding, for any of a number of reasons) which are extremely difficult to communicate effectively – low success rate and very high cost to the communicator – and people have by and large figured this out, and act accordingly.

  • josh

    Especially true since the racists are substantially right.

    You write:
    “Even though a most folks in history have believed, often reasonably given their evidence, that races differ substantially on important qualities.”

    If it was reasonable then, what new evidence do you think has overturned this? Have you ever heard the term “the fundamental constant of sociology”? Don’t feel bad, most people haven’t.

  • http://theviewfromhell.blogspot.com Sister Y

    “Patty Keene was stupid on purpose, which was the case with most women in Midland City. The women all had big minds because they were big animals, but they did not use them much for this reason: unusual ideas could make enemies, and the women, if they were going to achieve any sort of comfort and safety, needed all the friends they could get.

    “So, in the interests of survival, they trained themselves to be agreeing machines instead of thinking machines. All their minds had to do was to discover what other people were thinking, and then they thought that, too.” (Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions)

    I would love to see a map of the space of culturally required beliefs for different groups.

  • Neutral Observer

    Is racism

    A) racial hatred, animosity, unfairness, whatever negative feelings and actions toward members of other races

    or

    B) mere recognition that races differ substantially on important qualities (like men and women do) but not treating anyone differently based on their race

    If it’s A, then what is B called?

    I’m a total pacifist and a friend of every human and animal on Earth, but based on evidence I’m also a B. Just like I recognize men and women are different, I also recognize people from different places in the world are different, and remain different after relocation, and their offspring remains different too, not only in appearance. Does that make me bad? Could this belief lead to evil?

    • Miley Cyrax

      The definition technically should be A), but the cultural left has expanded it to cover B) as well.

      If you acknowledge the potential for there to be average cognitive and/or behavioral differences between population groups, you’re called a racist.

      If you acknowledge that men tend to find black women less attractive on average, you’re called a racist.

      If you don’t support the funneling of opportunities and resources from Asians and whites to blacks and latinos, you’re called a racist.

      If you don’t support illegal immigration, you’re called a racist.

    • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

      Neutral Observer, you need to come up with an objective definition of “race”, or it becomes self-fulfilling bias.

      The only definitions of “race” that actually exist are social. If you look at the genetics of different populations, there are not genetic differences that fall along what are considered the social “racial” divisions.

      If you substitute the term “social group” for “race” in your statement, does it mean the same thing?

      The unstated premise is that the differences in the social groups that are observed are due to fundamental (i.e. genetic) and immutable differences in those groups. There is no data that demonstrates this is correct. All the data seems to indicate that it is false.

      • http://shagbark.livejournal.com Phil Goetz

        “The only definitions of “race” that actually exist are social. If you look at the genetics of different populations, there are not genetic differences that fall along what are considered the social “racial” divisions.”

        This is a myth. It has no basis in reality. It is a myth that many prominent scientists have signed their names to, but it’s still a myth.

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com Stephen R Diamond

        Phil Goetz,

        This is a myth.

        Citation?

      • lemmy caution

        This article has a discussion of what Phil Goetz means:

        http://www.goodrumj.com/Edwards.pdf

        Wikipedia has a good overview:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Race_%28classification_of_humans%29

      • http://shagbark.livejournal.com Phil Goetz

        Thanks, Lemmy. I hadn’t seen that article, nor any specific citation. I just know that different genes are in linkage disequilibrium in different ethnic groups. If you do a genome-wide association study of anything and stratify the subjects by race, you get stronger results than if you don’t – more so than can be accounted for by the smaller sample sizes.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com/ Dain

    “Have you ever heard the term “the fundamental constant of sociology”? Don’t feel bad, most people haven’t.”

    +

    “I would love to see a map of the space of culturally required beliefs for different groups.”

    Accordingly, I typed “fundamental constant of sociology” into Google and the entire first page was made up of alt-right type sites, apart from Megan McArdles’s blog.

    • josh

      That’s because Steve Sailer uses the term sometimes, and he is a bit of a hub. It originates from a pseudonymous social scientist who goes by La Griffe du Lion. One thing to consider, however, that I think detracts from your point, is that “the fundamental constant” is one of the essential ordering principles around which a group naturally coalesced. The belief was prior to the group. Hell, the “alt right” group, loose structure that it is, is only a few years old.

  • http://www.tiac.net/~sw Steve WItham

    I remember once being ashamed at being assumed a racist.

    Right now, thinking of imagining being a (type A) racist is like thinking of admitting other nasty assumptions, reactions, attitudes and behaviors I have. Usually I shut them out right fast but sometimes I can muster the serenity to face one such thing for a short time, in private.

    I feel alienated by the part of the culture that seems to think the solution to hatred, say, is to just not be that way. It baffles me. Like, “blip, Not hate? Okay. blip” Is something supposed to have gone on in there?

    Type B is politically incorrect and yet I can’t imagine being ashamed about admitting the possibility. But finding out that I was *too* willing to believe some particular claim might be embarrassing. That is, more embarrassing than I would expect feeling about believing an arbitrary scientific claim. Of course, such a willingness might have an impact on how I treated people, as opposed to, say, which vitamins I took.

  • http://www.tiac.net/~sw Steve WItham

    Being ashamed of imagining being bad could be a symptom of a map/territory confusion. Maybe our brains have trouble making map/territory distinctions. Maybe that explanation covers a lot of the same phenomena that the signaling explanation does. We act “as if” because we’re not all that clear on the difference.

  • Lila

    I winced when you wrote that too, because I really hate it when people say/imply that they’re not racist/sexist/classist. Of course you and I are all of those things. And the first step to becoming less prejudiced is admitting that you are.

  • Pingback: jlpsquared

  • anonymous coward

    Can you define racism in a way so that you can say “Blacks are more likely to contract diabetes than whites” without being racist? How about schizophrenia?