Thursday, April 18, 2013

This is what implementing Sam Harris's plan looks like

Sam Harris's recommendation to improve security by "profil[ing] Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim" has been implemented in France:
Black and North African railway workers were banned from working at Paris's Gare du Nord when the President of Israel visited France over fears they might be Muslim...
Unless and until Harris actually explains what he means by "anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim" we have to assume that he means what is commonly meant: dark-skinned people, or people who wear non-western attire.  I'm sorry, but that is the very definition of racist.

Once again: I am completely on board with singling out Muslims, if by "Muslim" one means people who adhere to a certain set of virulent beliefs (and not "people who self-identify as Muslim").  The problem is that there is no way to tell who these people are by looking at them.  This is a complete no-brainer.  And Sam Harris is a neuroscientist.  He of all people should know this.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

So, OK, how about the reverse: stop everyone. BUT, just happen to let those clearly not fitting any past physical appearance to the targets to pass? The goal isn't racism, the goal is to be efficient (i.e. high recall of targets and also high precision, to avoid as few unnecessary stops as possible). Yes, some/many innocents will still be stopped, due to the color of their skin, their demeanor, their dress, etc. But it WILL avoid stopping an 8 year old Asian girl, and many others. And that's a start. And yes, if some geeky looking ex-Googler does something bad, you will get stopped under this policy next time. Would you really have a problem with that?

Ron said...

The devil, as always, is in the details. What does it *mean* for someone to be "not fitting any past physical appearance to the targets"? What targets? What aspect of their physical appearance? What counts as "similar enough"? And how do you keep such a policy from degenerating into "whatever the TSA officer thinks" which is almost certain to be equivalent to: "people with dark skin or wearing funny-looking clothing"?

I'm all for common sense, but targeting "anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim" ain't it. Neither is targeting anyone who is not an eight-year-old Asian girl. I've got no problem with behavioral profiling. If they're wearing a T-shirt that says "Death to America", or have a Facebook page calling for Jihad, or even just carrying a Koran (though that would be pushing it), fine, take a closer look. But the reason you shouldn't take a closer look at an eight-year-old Asian girl is not because she's Asian or even because she's a girl but because she's eight! There is an actual causal connection between being eight and not being a terrorist, and it's pretty easy to tell objectively if someone is eight.

Will Linden said...

"have to assume that he means what is commonly meant: dark-skinned people, or people who wear non-western attire."

And because they talk furrin, and "act suspicious" in some unspecified fashion which would escape notice if they were English-speaking and white.