Tuesday, June 30, 2020

I Will Remember Ricky Ray Rector

I've always been very proud of the fact that I came out in support of gay marriage before it was cool.   I have been correspondingly chagrined at my failure to speak out sooner and more vociferously about the shameful and systemic mistreatment of people of color, and black people in particular, in the U.S.  For what it's worth, I hereby confess my sins, acknowledge my white privilege, and announce my advocacy for reparations.  No, I never owned slaves.  None of my ancestors ever owned slaves.  But there is no question that I have received preferential treatment because of the color of my skin.  Cops don't harass me.  Prospective employers don't look at me sideways.  I have shared in an inheritance of wealth that was built in no small measure on the backs of of the forced labor of black people that the descendants of those laborers have not shared.  My undeserved share of that inheritance is in and of itself a wrong that needs to be set right, notwithstanding that I had no direct hand in bringing it about.

There.  I said it.

Now, as the first step in my atonement, I would like to bring to your attention a name that should be remembered alongside that of George Floyd and Breona Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and Trayvon Martin and the dozens and thousands of other black people who have been killed because they were black.  That name is Ricky Ray Rector.  His name is conspicuously absent from this web site despite the fact that he was killed by a white man because he was black.  The reason his name is almost completely unknown is because the man who killed him was Bill Clinton, 42nd president of the United States, while he was governor of Arkansas and still a candidate for president.  Conservatives don't remember Ricky because they do not mourn his passing, and liberals don't remember him because the Clintons are as sacrosanct to them as Donald Trump is to conservatives.

Ironically, Donny and Billy have an awful lot in common.  Both are narcissists.  Both are rapists.  And, apparently, both are racists, or, at the very least, willing to play to a racist audience for political gain at the cost of innocent lives.  And, I must grudgingly concede, both are political geniuses for being somehow able to get black people to support them despite making a show of courting ant-black racist sentiment.

So as part of my penance I pledge to keep the memory of Ricky Ray Rector alive.  I will remember how he ordered pie for his last meal, and then didn't eat it because he wanted to save some of it for later.  I will remember how I supported Bill Clinton, the man who personally oversaw Ricky's execution despite the fact that Ricky was clearly not mentally competent because no one was gonna Willie-Horton him, God damn it.

I will remember these things.  I don't know if by remembering them I will sleep better or worse.  But I hope that by remembering them I will be able to look at myself in the mirror when the morning comes.

35 comments:

Don Geddis said...

Ricky Ray Rector doesn't seem like a clear example. He was not an innocent victim. He was a terrible person, who did terrible things. Politics may have played a role at the very end, but he was lawfully convicted of capital crimes and sentenced to execution, long before Clinton ever got involved. You have to stretch the story quite a bit to get to a claim that Rector died because of white racism against blacks.

Ron said...

> Ricky Ray Rector ... was a terrible person

He was... until he put a gun to his head and blew out his frontal lobe. After that he was mentally incompetent.

Don Geddis said...

Agreed, but he was sentenced for crimes he committed while still competent. The usual "incompetent" legal defense is that the person was not "responsible" for their crimes, because they couldn't distinguish "right" from "wrong" in the moment. (And thus: "punishment" provides zero deterrence effects.) This was not the case with Rector. He was aware of what he was doing, when he did it. So the usual "mentally incompetent" defense is not especially relevant. (Nor was ruling that out under Clinton's control anyway.)

You can try to turn it into another argument, and say that he became a "different person" after the failed suicide, so that the "person" that was executed was not actually the same "person" that committed the original crimes. That gets into complex questions of continuity of identity.

But in any case, we've gotten quite far from a claim that this is an example of white racism.

Maybe at best you can say that Clinton had the power to intervene and stop this legal proceeding, but because the political benefit of executing a black murderer was convenient for him, he chose not to intervene (and indeed, celebrated and highlighted it). And maybe it wouldn't have been as "useful" for Clinton, if Rector hadn't been black.

But Rector being lawfully sentenced to execution in the first place, does not seem to have been especially racially motivated.

Ron said...

@Don:

You should read this. It is quite clear that RRR was mentally incompetent, had no idea what was happening to him, and that Clinton had him executed as part of a deliberate and on-going plan to position himself as tough on crime and draw attention away from the Gennifer Flowers scandal. And it worked. And it worked in no small measure because Ricky Ray was black. No, Ricky Ray is not the ideal poster child for systemic racial discrimination. But if you're going to question that he was a victim of it you might as well start questioning whether George Floyd was targeted because he was black. After all, there is no actual evidence for it. Maybe officer Chauvin would have knelt on Floyd's neck even if he was a white guy in a business suit. Maybe Geroge Zimmerman would have killed Trayvon Martin even if he looked like a Mormon missionary. Maybe maybe maybe.

For any individual instance of a black man being killed at the hands of a white authority there is almost always a way to explain it away. It is extremely rare for a white authority to kill a black man in full view of the cameras while shouting, "Die, nigger!" Its kind of like climate change: you can't definitively ascribe any particular incident to systemic racism just as you can't ascribe any particular extreme weather event to climate change. But pointing to Ricky Ray's prior bad acts as if that justified killing him when he was clearly mentally incompetent is missing the point of Black Lives Matter just as badly as those who respond by saying "all lives matter." Yes, of course they do. But if you think that's *relevant* at this juncture in history, well, I just don't even know what to say. The most charitable interpretation I can come up with is that you didn't think this through.

Don Geddis said...

@Ron: "It is quite clear that RRR was mentally incompetent, had no idea what was happening to him"

Yes, I agree, that's pretty obvious. By the time of the execution, this was a child-like creature. But that fact by itself doesn't make the morality of the outcome as obvious as you suggest.

"Clinton had him executed"

That's not appropriate language. The justice system had him legally executed. Clinton ("merely") failed to exercise his discretion to commute his sentence. That's not quite the same thing, for example, as the George Floyd case of overt causality in the death.

"And it worked in no small measure because Ricky Ray was black."

Yes, agreed. Clinton was a political opportunist, who saw that he could use Rector's life as a pawn in his own political ambitions. And part of the value, to Clinton, was that Rector was black. I agree with you.

"you might as well start questioning whether George Floyd was targeted because he was black. After all, there is no actual evidence for it"

That's a very, very important point, that I think you're passing by far too quickly. There is a problem with militarized police encounters with civilians. But is there actually a current epidemic of US racist cops killing innocent black victims? The actual data says no. (E.g. Sam Harris: podcast and transcript.)

"Maybe Geroge Zimmerman would have killed Trayvon Martin even if he looked like a Mormon missionary."

Probably not. That one seems to have more direct racial evidence.

"Its kind of like climate change: you can't definitively ascribe any particular incident"

Yes, exactly. It is completely inappropriate to take an individual hurricane or heat wave, and say, "look! there's climate change!". That is failure of careful thought: it is motivated reasoning, availability bias, confirmation bias, etc. That's not how to carefully think about climate change! You need instead to look at careful worldwide data over years, examine complex weather models, etc.

The objective data on racist cops does not support the current BLM zeitgeist. I would assert that your highlight of Ricky Ray Rector is similarly emotionally appealing but logically sloppy.

"But if you think that's *relevant* at this juncture in history"

Now you're talking politics. I'm well aware of the current political climate. I'm well aware that there is a cultural demand for empathy and compassion and "doing something". I had thought you were also interested in exploring objective truth, on the side. For objective truth, you need to set aside emotion, and look at the evidence.

If you're not interested in doing that, then I apologize for wasting your time.

Ron said...

> Now you're talking politics... I had thought you were also interested in exploring objective truth

Those are not mutually exclusive.

You are missing the forest for the trees. Everything you say is true. There is no "current epidemic" of U.S. racist cops killing innocent black victims. What there is, and has been for 400 years, is *systemic* and *institutionalized* racism and concomitant discrimination against black people (and others of course, but mainly black people). That discrimination has taken on various forms over the years, from slavery, to Jim Crow, to voter ID and stand-your-ground laws today. It has morphed and mutated, but it has not gone away. And I am among the beneficiaries of those 400 years of systemic discrimination, and, like it or not, so are you. The details of the example I happened to pick to make this point are completely irrelevant. I could have pointed to Willie Horton himself, where the situation is even more black-and-white (pun very much intended). Horton was quite literally the poster child for the Bad Black Man. It's not about whether or not it was *justified* to make him the poster child for the Bad Black Man, it is about the fact that there *exists* a poster child for the Bad Black Man, but there is none for the Bad White Man. The closest you could come is Charles Manson, but he's considered an anomaly. Horton is an archetype.

Likewise, Rector was made into a political pawn by Bill Clinton *because he was black* and it cost him his life. It *doesn't matter* if his execution was justified, though the fact that it clearly was not does help to drive the point home. What matters is that Clinton *used* Rector *because* he was black.

This systemic racism is woven so deeply into our psyches that white people are often completely oblivious to it. There is a very subtle racist trope in the text I just wrote. I myself didn't even realize at the time I wrote it that it was there. I only noticed it as I was proof-reading, and I decided to leave it in to make this point. Can you spot it?

P.S. Since you're on about "objective truth", this:

> he was sentenced for crimes he committed while still competent

is true, but irrelevant. In order to be legally tried the accused has to be competent *during the trial* and Rector was not. Yes, he committed murder. But then he blew his brains out. And then he survived. And then he was railroaded. And all of that is irrelevant because systemic institutionalized racism is real and ongoing. That is the objective truth.

Don Geddis said...

I disagree with your framing. (Well, not necessarily "yours" alone; it's of course the framing of the current cultural moment.) I don't think you have analyzed history correctly, nor the current state of human interactions, nor the sorts of wise policies that are most likely to improve things going forward into the future.

But I understand that's not what the current (culture-wide) discussion is about; it's instead about empathy and compassion and anger and injustice. So perhaps in this case, discretion is the better part of valor.

Ron said...

> I don't think you have analyzed history correctly

Really? What part of history do you think I got wrong? Surely you're not denying there is a history of systemic institutionalized racism in the U.S.?

> But I understand that [the current state of human interactions... wise policies] is not what the current (culture-wide) discussion is about;

That's *exactly* what it is about. Or at least that's what it *should* be about. It's certainly what my post was about, or at least what I *intended* it to be about.

> perhaps in this case, discretion is the better part of valor

Or perhaps you need to consider more seriously the possibility that you have missed the point?

Let me respond directly to the only substantive criticism you have raised:

> The objective data on racist cops does not support the current BLM zeitgeist. I would assert that your highlight of Ricky Ray Rector is similarly emotionally appealing but logically sloppy.

1. Exactly what "objective data" are you referring to here?

2. I chose Rector as an example precisely *because* he is emotionally ambiguous. He really did commit murder, or at least the body in which the remains of his mind resided did.

3. Even if I concede that Rector is a terrible example, do you seriously dispute my actual point, that there is a history of systemic racism in the U.S., that societal disparities caused by that history persist today, that you and I are the beneficiaries of this disparity, however unwitting, and that all this still needs to be addressed and somehow made right?

Ron said...

@Don:

Let me just ask you straight out: do you think that anything that I've said here is anywhere in the remote vicinity of an actual problem? If so, how would you characterize that problem, and what do you think should be done to fix it?

Don Geddis said...

[part 1/2]

@Ron: I essentially suggested "let's just agree to disagree -- and drop it", but apparently that isn't your preference.

"Exactly what "objective data" are you referring to here?"

2019 was a 30-year low for police shootings (in LA). There are about 50-60 million annual "encounters" in the US between police and civilians. There are about 10 million annual arrests (down from 14M in the 1990s). About 1000 civilians die from being killed by the police each year. Most of that 1000 involved civilians with weapons. About 50 unarmed people are killed each year by police. "Unarmed" doesn't mean "innocent": most of those involved unarmed people attacking armed cops, where the rules of engagement allow police the use of lethal force.

Of the 1000 civilians killed each year, 25% are black and 50% are white. (Blacks are 12-13% of the population.) Blacks also commit 50% of the murders in the US. Most violent crime is black-on-black crime. Black and Hispanic cops are MORE likely to shoot black or Hispanic suspects than white cops are.

There are some terrible videos being published (availability bias, confirmation bias). They represent examples of the small fraction of 50 unarmed deaths by cop out of 50 MILLION annual encounters. Each of these is a one-in-a-million kind of event.

The data simply does not support the narrative, that a major problem in society today is racist cops killing innocent unarmed black men.

Don Geddis said...

[part 2/2]

"do you seriously dispute my actual point, there is a history of systemic racism in the U.S., that societal disparities caused by that history persist today, that you and I are the beneficiaries of this disparity, however unwitting, and that all this still needs to be addressed and somehow made right?"

There is clearly a past US history of system racism, yes. (Slavery, segregation, Jim Crow laws, etc.)

That history leading to current societal disparities is FAR less clear. Many subcultures (in particular, Jews and Chinese immigrants) have thrived in the US ("model minorities"), DESPITE widespread mainstream dislike and discrimination. Over generations, the tools out are available: strong nuclear families, focus on education and hard work, save more than you spend, sacrifice for your kids, trust in your own people, etc. Racial discrimination is a barrier, yes -- but not an insurmountable one.

The "beneficiaries of this disparity" I have an even harder time with. Slavery is not a wise economic policy (even aside from the moral evil). Most people imagine that the South got "rich" off the backs of slave labor, and that's why southern white people are rich today, and the black descendants "deserve" the rewards from their own ancestor's labors.

But that's not how economics actually works. Adopting slavery is not the path to wealth. Economics allows for "lose-lose" scenarios, where BOTH sides are worse off. Of course the black slaves had a terrible experience. But the North didn't have slaves ... and was far, far richer. (Yes, the North differed in many other ways too.) The basic story is that EVERYBODY lost from slavery, both morally AND economically. In a counterfactual world without any slavery, the South would have (eventually) wound up much richer.

Does it "still need to be addressed"? That's a complicated question. Legal barriers to black achievement are gone, and in fact have very clearly gone the other direction. Most legal mentions of race are in order to provide reverse discrimination, quotas, that sort of thing. The Asian population at Berkeley and Harvard have been suppressed, and the black population increased, compared to what the numbers would have been if race were not a factor. In almost every area of the law or government, it is either neutral or an advantage to be black.

Now, individual humans still have preferences, for friends and business associates. And those preferences are not race-neutral. But it is the nature of humans to be "tribal". They seek identity, and "in" groups and "out" groups. Everyone does this: minorities just as much as whites. It's culture, language, food, sports, dialect, etc. It is self-identity.

You have to find a way to get along, without imagining a fantasy society composed of entities that are not actually humans.

As to "somehow made right", now you've slipped into emotion and offense and justice, and are no longer talking about objective truth and policies with a positive cost/benefit analysis. People will do what they want, because they want to do it, and it makes them feel good. People feel wronged, and want a gesture of goodwill. I accept that.

Don Geddis said...

@Ron: "Let me just ask you straight out: do you think that anything that I've said here is anywhere in the remote vicinity of an actual problem?"

Straight out? No, I don't. I don't see "an actual problem" in the things you've written in this post.

"If so, how would you characterize that problem, and what do you think should be done to fix it?"

If you were to ask me about a problem to fix, the problem I would focus on is the underperformance of black achievement, compared to the potential available in the US.

But the path to actually fixing that, does not run through a narrative of "victimhood". That model gets to learned helplessness, and fights over redistribution. That is not a path to long-term success.

The actual solution to the real problem involves learning the lessons of those populations of humanity that have managed to crawl out of the Malthusian trap. The 1800's industrial revolution. China, in the 1970's, etc. Forget about "justice". Forget about "who is to blame". Forget about past history. Forget about current wealthy and powerful people who hate you. All of that is unfortunate ... but it doesn't need to stop your success.

Stay in school. Don't have kids as teenagers. Don't have kids out of wedlock. Fathers raise their children. Don't get involved with drugs, or crime, or guns. Build equity. Spend less than you earn. Respect and obey the police. Work very, very hard.

That is the real solution, to eventual black success. All of this BLM outrage about justice, while understandable and even justified, is actually not helpful. It's putting the focus and effort on the part of the problem that will not lead to long-term success.

Ron said...

@Don:

Again, I don't disagree with anything you have said. But you seem to imply that the macroeconomic losses caused by slavery somehow ameliorate or negate or are mutually exclusive with the socioeconomic disparities that it caused. Yes, slavery and Jim Crow left everyone worse off. But this is *irrelevant* because the macroeconomic losses were (and are) still disproportionately borne by blacks.

And yes, it is true that many minorities have been discriminated against and have managed to overcome that. But no other minority was legally enslaved for 250 years and legally discriminated against for another 100. That is not an irrelevant detail that can be simply swept under the rug.

Finally, yes, it is true that violence against blacks is much lower than it used to be, but just because there are fewer lynchings now then there used to be doesn't make the lynchings that remain OK. And it's not just about the lynchings. It's about the *harassment*. The killings are what make the news and stoke the passion, but underneath the (admittedly rare) killings is a vast submerged iceberg of
harassment and other effects of systemic discrimination. For every black man who is killed after being stopped for "being suspicious" there are dozens, perhaps hundreds, who are harassed but don't die and so we never hear about them unless they happen to produce a viral video. This happens all the time to black people, hardly ever to white people.

Publius said...

It's Not My Fault

@Ron:
> I hereby confess my sins, acknowledge my white privilege, and announce my advocacy for reparations.

Confirmed.

Who, exactly, would qualify for reparations?


>Both are rapists.

No.

>And, apparently, both are racists,

No.

>Trayvon Martin and the dozens and thousands of other black people who have been killed because they were black.

Trayvon Martin was not killed because he was black. He was killed in self-defense by Zimmerman because he attacked Zimmerman and started pounding Zimmerman's head against the concrete sidewalk.

>I will remember how I supported Bill Clinton, the man who personally oversaw Ricky's execution despite the fact that Ricky was clearly not mentally competent because no one was gonna Willie-Horton him, God damn it.

Bill Clinton's "I'm not soft on crime" initiative also including staging a photo of him in front of blank prisoners in chains at the Stone Mountain Correctional Institution in Georgia.

Don Geddis said...

@Ron: "I don't disagree with anything you have said."

Great. I appreciate that we're (mostly) on the same page.

"the macroeconomic losses were (and are) still disproportionately borne by blacks."

I think I disagree with the "and are" part. There were no long-term gains from slavery. And the current wealth of southern whites (or the US as a whole) did not (primarily) come from slavery. I do not agree that macroeconomic losses from the (slavery) past have much to do with current black (lack of) wealth. (The cultural impact of slavery is a different story: blacks acquired a culture that prevented them from achieving future success, yes. My assertion is that BLM continues to be a misguided extension of this kind of culture, and will similarly fail to enable blacks to achieve their potential in the future.)

"That is not an irrelevant detail that can be simply swept under the rug."

I'm open to the argument. But I'm not just going to assume the conclusion. I totally agree that the past history has created the current culture, and I believe that the current culture is preventing modern black achievement. But if you somehow changed the culture, today, then that past history wouldn't matter.

"just because there are fewer lynchings now then there used to be doesn't make the lynchings that remain OK"

I agree with you. The search for justice is never complete. The cop who killed George Floyd should be (and is!) prosecuted for murder.

At the same time, this is not on the critical path to correcting black underperformance. This is a rare event, and not a significant reason that black achievement is so far below mainstream America on almost every metric you can measure.

"This happens all the time to black people, hardly ever to white people."

And blacks hate Koreans, and Christians hate Jews, and lots of people hate Muslims. And everyone hates Tom Brady and the cheating Patriots. It's a bummer, and by all means fight to make progress to a future color-blind society. I'm with you.

But: (1) it is fantasy to believe that you can eliminate these deep tribal feelings in humans; (2) it doesn't really matter (to success! -- but yes, it does to justice) because strong culture can overcome this friction, and any racial group has the current opportunity for modern success even without eliminating racism.

If you want success, then work directly on success. Working on racism in order to achieve future success is neither necessary nor sufficient.

Ron said...

> There were no long-term gains from slavery.

Why do you think that is relevant? Suppose one day I decide to burn down your house instead of going to work. Do you think I should get a pass on the arson charge because it cost me a days' wages and so I'm also worse off than if I hadn't burned your house down? (BTW, that is *quite literally* what happened in the Greenwood massacre.)

> this is not on the critical path to correcting black underperformance

I vehemently disagree. Go back to the arson example. The day after I burn your house down, I go back to work, but now you have to rebuild your house. What is more, even after you have rebuilt your house, you now have to live in fear that I might burn it down again. I've already done it once with impunity, why not again?

BTW, it is far from clear that I don't come out ahead here even though society as a whole might come out behind. Suppose that you and I are colleagues competing for a promotion. If I burn your house down (or even if someone else does it for me), society's total wealth is reduced but my personal wealthy may increase because I now face reduced competition. This is the problem with the prisoner's dilemma: defectors actually do come out ahead when they play against cooperators. Under institutionalized racism, whites get to defect with lower penalties than blacks.

> it is fantasy to believe that you can eliminate these deep tribal feelings in humans

My goal is not to eliminate them. My goal is to make them sufficiently unfashionable that *acting* on them, or even giving them voice, is no longer considered acceptable behavior. I know that racists will never go extinct. I'll settle for them not being able to show their face in public.

Don Geddis said...

@Ron: "Why do you think that is relevant?"

Well, that was specifically a response to this line in your original post: "I have shared in an inheritance of wealth that was built in no small measure on the backs of of the forced labor of black people". I don't think it's quite so obvious that you have received inherited wealth that was created by slavery. This is often the kind of argument that is used when arguing for reparations, and I don't think the argument is very solid. But perhaps this is a minor point.

"Do you think I should get a pass on the arson charge"

No, of course not. People that commit crimes should be prosecuted. But that isn't what we're talking about, so I find the analogy to be unfairly inflammatory.

"The day after I burn your house down ... you now have to live in fear that I might burn it down again."

That's where I strongly disagree. Today is not "the day after" slavery. Modern crime and police statistics show that you do not need to live in constant fear of arson today. That isn't what is actually happening in the real world today.

"I've already done it once with impunity, why not again?"

Because it is no longer 1840 or 1921. Today is different than past history.

"society's total wealth is reduced but my personal wealth may increase"

I strongly disagree with your intuition about economics. You're telling a story about middle ages inherited wealth, or liberal fantasies about dividing up the pie. In the modern world, the vast majority of wealth is created, not extracted from others. I completely reject your notion that a strategy of trying to keep part of the population poor, has any significant chance (over the long term) of you coming out wealthier. That's simply not how wealth creation works.

Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs need a wealthy population of customers, in order to get rich themselves. You can't get money from people who don't have any.

"Under institutionalized racism"

This is past history, not modern America.

"I know that racists will never go extinct."

I feel that you are radically underestimating the problem. The problem is not that most people are "nice", but there are a few "bad apples" that are "racists", and we want to shame them. That much has already happened. It is already not acceptable to be a public racist in modern society.

The problem is worse than that. Everybody is tribal. Everybody feels more comfortable, around people like them, who share culture and language and taste in music and food and in-jokes and sports teams. The formation of in-group and out-group loyalty is far deeper than you are suggesting.

For example, have you looked into the Robber's Cave study? Forming in groups and out groups is a core part of human psychology. What is often called "racism" in modern America is often "just" tribalism, being expressed with a coincidental racial marker. Tribalism isn't something that you have a hope in hell of eliminating -- and you do it too (as we all do).

Ron said...

> Today is not "the day after" slavery.

Let me change the story a little bit then: suppose my father burned down your father's house (and was never punished for it). So while we were growing up, I got to go to school while you had to spend your days helping to rebuild the family home. Now I have an education and you don't, and so my economic situation is significantly better than yours. Do you think in that situation that I owe you anything?

Today is not "the day after slavery" but the effects of crimes like slavery are measured in generations, not days. There are people alive today who grew up under Jim Crow.

Don Geddis said...

"Let me change the story a little bit then"

Yes, that's more interesting, and I'm not sure what my answer would be to your new hypothetical. And I maybe even agree with your story, in the real world, through perhaps the 1960's. But it has been half a century since then, time enough for multiple generations. Even if I agree with you that the effects last generations ... that is no longer a good explanation for the current situation.

My claim is that, in the modern world, the influence of personal choice (and current culture) dominates the discrimination that remains in society. (Which is not to say that current racism is zero!) There is sufficient opportunity, and mobility, that a motivated black US citizen has the ability (on average) to achieve success. The lack of measured success is far more due to individual (or cultural/group) choices, than it is due to current racism or even due to the legacy of racism in past history. Those are not good explanations for current black underperformance. (Except for the possibility that past history helped shape the current culture.)

I support and agree with your effort to fight and shame current racists. My prediction is that, even if you were to succeed, it would have little effect on average US black outcomes.

Publius said...

Hey, let's just buy their votes!

@Ron:
>Let me change the story a little bit then:

The problem with analogies is they're only useful if the two situations being compared are analogous -- which they rarely are.

A better analogy to reparations would be that your father burned down the house of Don's father. Don and his father had to live in a lean-to while Don helped his father rebuild the house after school. Then Luke comes into town to sell the harvest from his farm, and Don demands that he give up some of his grain to compensate for your father burning down his house.

A truer analogy would be your father burned down the house of Don's father. Some years later, you were running for elected office and needed Don's vote. So you decided you could buy Don's vote by paying him from the public treasury (obviously you think little of Don's intellect, as you figure you can corrupt him with cash to support your radical political ideas).

The whole concept of "white privilege" is intellectually vacuous and not useful. My father grew up in a family so poor the State twice removed the children from the family and placed them in foster care. Later, he was wounded by shrapnel in Korea and suffered permanent disability in his left arm. Is that an example of "white privilege"?

Or how about my children's pediatrician. His parents were Holocaust survivors. The families of both his parents were murdered in the Holocaust. His parents met at a refugee center and emigrated to Texas with nothing and started a new life. Is that an example of "white privilege"?

Just who would pay these proposed "reparations"?

Just who would receive these "reparations"?

The whole artifice of "white privilege" and "reparations" is just a false construction for democrats (now communists) to justify buying votes by using money from the public treasury.

Perhaps we need a "Manhattan Project" to end racism. We'll put together a lab filled with top--yet racially, gender, and sexual orientation diverse--scientists to develop a racism vaccine. This vaccine will then be administered to "white people" (need to define that) and end racism forever. Do you think that will solve the problems faced by the black communities in the United States?

Ron said...

> My prediction is that, even if you were to succeed, it would have little effect on average US black outcomes.

Do you realize that that is an incredibly racist statement?

Your prediction notwithstanding, I think it's an experiment worth conducting.

Peter Donis said...

@Ron:
there is no question that I have received preferential treatment because of the color of my skin. Cops don't harass me. Prospective employers don't look at me sideways.

I don't think this is "privilege", because "privilege" implies that it isn't something you have a right to. You do. Everyone has a right to be treated this way. Everyone has a right to be judged, as Martin Luther King said, on the content of their character, as shown in their actions, not on the color of their skin. I deplore the fact that the United States of America has not lived up to this ideal for everyone, but I don't think calling it a "privilege" helps; I think it makes the problem worse, because it implies that it isn't a fundamental civil right.

Ron said...

@Peter:

> I don't think this is "privilege"

This is not the time to quibble over terminology. The point is: because I have white skin, I'm better off than my peers with black skin, and this unequal outcome is a direct result of the color of our skin and not justifiable on any rational grounds. Whether you attach the label "privilege" to this state of affairs or not changes nothing of substance and merely serves to distract from the seriousness of the situation.

One of the many things that needs to happen before we can finally move beyond this is for white people to stop whitesplaining to black people how they chose the wrong nomenclature to attach to their cause. White people need to accept the term "white privilege" despite the fact that one could legitimately pick a few linguistic nits over it, not because it's 100% accurate, but because it's what black people have decided to call it. Quibbling over "white privilege" is no different than insisting that "all lives matter." It's not wrong, but it misses the point so badly that anyone who says these things should be ashamed of themselves.

Don Geddis said...

@Ron: "this unequal outcome is a direct result of the color of our skin and not justifiable on any rational grounds"

That's not quite true, unfortunately. Let me ask you an easier question: is it fair that teenage boys have higher car insurance rates than middle aged women? If you're running an insurance company, it is abundantly clear in the data that a male driver less than 20 years old is vastly more likely to experience a future chargeable accident than other drivers.

And yet, the higher price for some particular individual male teenage driver has nothing to do with that particular individual's choices or behavior, and is completely out of their control. Is this a problem in society, or not?

Legally, we have decided that it is ok to use this particular predictive information for differential pricing -- but it is not ok to use similarly predictive zip code information for the same purpose. That's a choice, but a complex one based on values, not necessarily a "rational" one.

So, once you resolve the car insurance problem for me, then naturally I need to ask the currently relevant followup: blacks are 13% of the population, but commit 50% of the murders. What is the appropriate "rational" response that the police (or employers) ought to have, given this data? This isn't a rhetorical question. I'm honestly asking. What is your actual answer?

Don Geddis said...

@Ron: "Do you realize that that is an incredibly racist statement?"

First, I completely disagree with your characterization. I never said anything about blacks being fundamentally inferior. In fact, if I were "king of the blacks", and had absolute power, and could order people around and they would follow my orders ... then I would similarly predict that I could make my loyal black population be superstars in modern society (by following my recommended choices to improve their human capital).

It has nothing to do with racism, with any feeling that blacks are inherently inferior. Instead, it is about properly assigning causation: modern white racism (in my opinion) is not what is causing black underperformance -- even though that racism exists. I put the causation elsewhere.

How is that "racist"?

But the problem with your statement is even worse. I am making claims about how the world actually works. I'm attempting to make true scientific statements about the nature of reality. Truth can't possibly be "racist". You may not like the truth. But the only reasonable response is questioning whether my statements are true or false. Calling a search for truth "racist" is just a conversation stopper, and I'm honestly offended that you would stoop so low.

Peter Donis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter Donis said...

@Ron:
This is not the time to quibble over terminology.

Correctly characterizing the treatment you (and I) have received as a fundamental right is not "quibbling over terminology". It's a necessary step in getting to the right solution. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to have our fundamental rights respected don't owe anyone an apology for that. But we do owe all of our fellow citizens the duty of holding the government accountable for respecting everyone's fundamental rights.

Ron said...

> blacks are 13% of the population, but commit 50% of the murders

Yes, that is true. The question is: which way does the causality run?

> I never said anything about blacks being fundamentally inferior.

That's not the only form that racism takes.

Let's go back to your original statement, the one I claimed was racist:

"My prediction is that, even if you were to succeed [in eliminating all forms of racism], it would have little effect on average US black outcomes."

So while you didn't explicitly say it, you are claiming that *none* of the effects of systemic racism are the cause of black underachievement. OK, so what *is* the cause then? Well, you wrote earlier:

"My claim is that, in the modern world, the influence of personal choice (and current culture) dominates the discrimination that remains in society. (Which is not to say that current racism is zero!) There is sufficient opportunity, and mobility, that a motivated black US citizen has the ability (on average) to achieve success. The lack of measured success is far more due to individual (or cultural/group) choices, than it is due to current racism or even due to the legacy of racism in past history. Those are not good explanations for current black underperformance. (Except for the possibility that past history helped shape the current culture.)"

Your use of parentheticals is telling. It implies that you acknowledge that racism is *potentially* a causal factor, but that *in point of actual fact* it is not. This inference is supported by the fact that you predicted that eliminating racism "would have little effect on average US black outcomes".

So if racism is not a significant causal factor, what else could it possibly be? AFAICT you are saying that poor outcomes for blacks is entirely due to poor choices made by black people of their own free will. That's a racist statement. This is not to say that it is *false*. But it is racist. The question of whether or not something is racist is *completely independent* of whether or not it is true. Many racist statements are in fact true. Black people are generally better basketball players than white people. That is simply an objective fact. It is also racist. Racism and truth are orthogonal. (Note that racism and prejudice are also orthogonal, though it is important to note that they are often *correlated*.)

So, with all that in mind, let's revisit this:

> I never said anything about blacks being fundamentally inferior.

Why not? On what rational basis can you possibly ascribe poor black outcomes to poor choices but not to fundamental inferiority? Has someone done a study that somehow teases out these two causal factors? How would you even design such a study? How could you possibly show that the genes that produce black skin don't also produce brains that make poor choices?

Don Geddis said...

@Ron: Now you're blurring words to lose all significant meaning. At this point, you really need to actually define what you mean by the label "racism". Surely when you accused me ("Do you realize that that is an incredibly racist statement?"), you intended it as an insult, something for me to be ashamed about.

But now you write this: "Black people are generally better basketball players than white people. That is simply an objective fact. It is also racist." I no longer have any idea what you think "racist" is. Nor, in particular, why anyone should be ashamed of (your kind of) "racist" thoughts and speech.

You seem now to be referring to any observation that any human feature might be correlated with (the social concept) of "race". So presumably, even just gathering information about average US incomes of blacks vs. whites vs. Hispanics vs. Asians is "racist", in your mind. Perhaps we should call it "Ron-racism".

In that case, we need to back up a step. What is wrong with Ron-racism? Why shouldn't people engage in it? Especially in the specific example when they are seeking real truths about the world?

"you are claiming that *none* of the effects of systemic racism"

I explicitly said "little effect", not "none". And you even quoted my words.

Moreover, I opened the door for a very strong effect: racism (and slavery, in particular), may very well have shaped modern black culture, to the detriment of current black outcomes. But the causality runs through the current choices, not through the past history or current racism.

"AFAICT you are saying that poor outcomes for blacks is entirely due to poor choices made by black people of their own free will."

Yes, but I suspect that you misunderstand "free will" as well. People's decisions are a product of genetics plus environment. Upbringing and culture have a lot to do with choices that are made. This is why I am (mildly) arguing against BLM: I believe it leads to a culture ("victimhood") that results in more people making poor choices.

But there is no "free will" that is somehow separate from your physical brain.

"That's a racist statement."

So what? At this point, you need to start defending why Ron-racism is even a bad thing.

"On what rational basis can you possibly ascribe poor black outcomes to poor choices but not to fundamental inferiority? ... How could you possibly show that the genes that produce black skin don't also produce brains that make poor choices?"

I had no comment on the "why" of the choices, and there are plenty of other good candidates (such as culture, e.g. "acting white", BLM, glorification of violence and promiscuity, etc.). But maybe average group IQ of blacks, as a population, is lower, and maybe that matters too. It's actually not that important to me. Whatever the truth is, is what the truth is. I completely reject your claim that actual truth is "racist", in any shameful way. We all need to deal with the world as it actually is, not as you wish it were.

My point is that blacks have far more power than BLM "victimhood" suggests. It actually is within the power of individual choices, to have dramatic influence on outcomes. If we changed the culture of the national narrative from one of blaming racists, to instead one of encouraging self-responsibility, my prediction is that we would have far more success in improving actual black outcomes.

Ron said...

> At this point, you really need to actually define what you mean by the label "racism".

Let's go with the Wikipedia definition:

"Racism is the belief that groups of humans possess different behavioral traits corresponding to physical appearance and can be divided based on the superiority of one race over another."

> Surely when you accused me ("Do you realize that that is an incredibly racist statement?"), you intended it as an insult, something for me to be ashamed about.

An insult, no. Something to be ashamed of, yes.

But let's first be clear about what I accused you of. I accused you of making a racist statement. I did not accuse you of *being* a racist. Those two things are distinct. Doing a bad thing does not make you a bad person.

> blacks have far more power than BLM "victimhood" suggests

That may well be, but it's irrelevant. The question of whether blacks have more agency in this matter than they are choosing to exercise is orthogonal to the question of whether whites have more responsibility than they are willing to admit.

> the causality runs through the current choices

Indeed it does. So consider this: imagine that you're hiring someone for a job. You have two candidates, one black, one white. They are prima facie equally qualified. So, being a good Bayesian, you adjust your prior based on your belief that blacks generally make poor life choices and hire the white applicant. This all seems a perfectly rational thing to do, well grounded in reason and evidence.

Now consider the effect that your decision has on the black applicant who didn't get the job, especially if she comes to learn that the *reason* she didn't get the job is not because of any poor choices that she actually made, but because you applied sound Bayesian reasoning well grounded in data and concluded that she was *more likely* to make poor choices because she was black. How do you think that would make her feel? What kind of impact do you think this might have on the actual choices she makes? Do you not see how this might *cause* her to make "poor choices"? What exactly is the point of working hard if the end result is going to be that she doesn't get hired because of the color of her skin, notwithstanding the sound reasoning behind the decision?

Now consider the same story, but this time it's not *you* making the hiring decision, it's *me*. And I hold you in high regard and am inclined to believe that things that you say are true. And since you told me that black people make poor choices, I believe it too. So I also hire the white candidate on what appears to me to be sound reasoning and evidence.

Now multiply that by tens of millions of good white Bayesians all looking to each other for advice and guidance on how to make good hiring decisions.

Don Geddis said...

@Ron: "groups of humans possess different behavioral traits corresponding to physical appearance"

I agree with this part ... but only "on average", not for any particular individual.

"based on the superiority of one race over another"

And I strongly disagree with that part. There is no "superiority of one race" in anything that I've said.

So, are my comments "racist", or not? Is your comment about basketball players "racist"? I don't think it follows the definition you now are proposing. I don't think you're being consistent. You're just throwing out a thoughtless insult. You have not been consistently applying this new definition.

"Something to be ashamed of, yes."

I completely reject your claim that I should be ashamed. I stand by my original statement (that eliminating racism would not eliminate black underperformance), and I am neither ashamed of it, nor do I believe that I should be ashamed of it. (Nor do I believe that it is "racist".) I assert that you're wrong about all of this.

And I resent that your intellectual disagreement with me, has lowered you to claiming that I should be "ashamed" of my views.

"Doing a bad thing does not make you a bad person"

Fair enough. But I also reject that I've done any "bad thing".

"The question of whether blacks have more agency in this matter than they are choosing to exercise is orthogonal to the question of whether whites have more responsibility than they are willing to admit."

Yes. I agree. So what? That doesn't contradict anything I've ever said. From the beginning, I said that I support the effort to reduce or eliminate ("real") racism.

"So consider this"

I noticed that you refused to answer the direct questions that I posed to you. (E.g. how should police respond to blacks committing 50% of the murders? Propose an actual policing policy, please.) But I will nonetheless answer your questions, even though you won't do me the same courtesy.

"You have two candidates, one black, one white. They are prima facie equally qualified."

I hope you realize how unrealistic your scenario is. In the modern US, blacks get hired (or admitted to Harvard) with worse objective qualifications. Average Asian student SAT scores at Berkeley are far, far above average black student SAT scores. That is what is currently happening in the real world, not your hypothetical scenario.

"Do you not see how this might *cause* her to make "poor choices"?"

Yes, of course I see that. Lots of things cause people to make poor choices. It is still the case that if somehow they could be convinced to make good choices instead, the vast majority of this problem would go away.

"Now multiply that by tens of millions of good white Bayesians all looking to each other for advice and guidance on how to make good hiring decisions."

I totally understand the situation. Your failure is that you believe this is key to black underperformance. It isn't. At least, the hiring decisions themselves are not. Jews faced this too. So did Chinese laborers. It turns out that Bayesian evidence-based policies like you describe (or even actual pure racism!) won't stop communities with good human capital decision making from succeeding -- even if the racism remains.

As I said from the beginning: in the modern US (different from slavery or Jim Crow), eliminating (remaining) white racism towards blacks is neither necessary nor sufficient to result in black achievement. It's a problem, and a moral evil, and should be worked on. But not to the exclusion of the actual changes that would in fact make a real difference.

Publius said...

Atheists Can't Help But Be Racist

@Ron:
>This is not the time to quibble over terminology.

Words mean things. How a problem is described is important. The Left knows this and utilizes it as a political tool frequently. An inaccurate or misleading label or categorization is a method to try and drive political change that is unrelated to the true problem. "Black Lives Matter" is specifically a misdirect for a communist political movement, one which includes a convicted terrorist as one of its officers.

@Ron:
>One of the many things that needs to happen before we can finally move beyond this is for white people to stop whitesplaining to black people how they chose the wrong nomenclature to attach to their cause. White people need to accept the term "white privilege" despite the fact that one could legitimately pick a few linguistic nits over it, not because it's 100% accurate, but because it's what black people have decided to call it.

Nice made-up word there, "whitesplaining," to try and summarily dismiss criticism of your irrational position. A political power tool, not an intellectual or reasoned argument. Also what evidence do you have that "it's what black people have decided to call it" -- are you speaking for all black people now? Or are you speaking for a radical fringe who is trying to stoke racial tension in order to achieve your radical political agenda?

@Ron:
>The point is: because I have white skin, I'm better off than my peers with black skin, and this unequal outcome is a direct result of the color of our skin and not justifiable on any rational grounds.

Really? How do you determine who is your "peer"? Do you know of any black peers who are worse off than you, or are you just assuming?

The United States is the least racist country in the world. It's unlikely that any peer of yours would fail to succeed due to racial bias. Now, idiocy still exists, so further improvements are still possible.


@Don:
> blacks are 13% of the population, but commit 50% of the murders

@Ron:
>>Yes, that is true. The question is: which way does the causality run?

Causality is nonsensical for a race descriptor variable. Consider:
race(black) --> higher murder rate
higher murder rate --> race(black)

A higher murder rate can't cause someone to be black.

Many correlates of crime have been discovered. Crime can be correlated against numerous measures and attributes -- biological; race, ethnicity, and immigration; early life experiences; adult behavior; physical health; psychological traits; socioeconomic factors; geographic factors; and weather, season, and climate! Some correlated factors are more suitable for intervention to try and reduce criminal behavior; the success of such interventions will depend on how causal the factor is to criminal behavior (indeed, one way to determine causality is to manipulate the factor and see if it affects criminality). There about 50-60 factors that have shown correlation to criminal behavior.

Publius said...

Racism vs. Truth, Stereotypes

@Ron:
>Let's go with the Wikipedia definition:

Not a very good definition: "Racism is the belief that groups of humans possess different behavioral traits corresponding to physical appearance and can be divided based on the superiority of one race over another."

I would amend it to "Racism the false belief that ..."


@Ron:
>That's a racist statement. This is not to say that it is *false*. But it is racist. The question of whether or not something is racist is *completely independent* of whether or not it is true. Many racist statements are in fact true. Black people are generally better basketball players than white people. That is simply an objective fact. It is also racist. Racism and truth are orthogonal. (Note that racism and prejudice are also orthogonal, though it is important to note that they are often *correlated*.)

You need to look up what "orthogonal" means.

Truth cannot be racist, as it is not false.

Your statement about blacks and basketball is a stereotype, not racism. It is also false, as there is a hidden variable that explains who goes to the NBA. The hidden variable is living in ghettos. In the early 20th century, the best NBA players were Ossie Schetman, Nat Holman, and Sammy Kaplan -- the children of european Jewish immigrants who were then living in city ghettos.

Now, if you split anything into two parts, you can identify differences between them -- differences that are "statistically significant." If you analyze IQ by race, you find a one-standard deviation between whites and blacks. Blacks are more likely to have the B+ blood type. The 2R allele of the MAOA gene is present in 5.5% of Black men, 0.1% of Caucasian men, and 0.00067% of Asian men. The 2R allele has been shown to increase the likelihood of committing serious crime or violence. As an atheist, these facts might lead you to make a value judgement between the races. To Christians, these facts are irrelevant -- everyone is a child of God, made in His image, and are equal before Him.

Publius said...

It's the Environment, Stupid

@Don:
> I never said anything about blacks being fundamentally inferior.

@Ron:
>>Why not? On what rational basis can you possibly ascribe poor black outcomes to poor choices but not to fundamental inferiority? Has someone done a study that somehow teases out these two causal factors? How would you even design such a study? How could you possibly show that the genes that produce black skin don't also produce brains that make poor choices?

Just because you can't think of a rational basis for poor black outcomes other than "fundamental inferiority" doesn't mean that such a rational basis doesn't exist.

You're clearly making the fundamental attribution error. The only explanation you can think of is that of biological inferiority.

You fail to consider the possibility that blacks aren't inferior, but many of them live in bad situations/environments. You can study this by comparing whites and blacks living in the same situations.

What Don is suggesting is building skills within the black community to overcome the negative, reinforcing aspects of the bad situation they are living in. People in bad environments develop bad behaviors, and they create a social hierarchy to value and reinforce those bad behaviors. Individuals can overcome that if they have the skills and resilience to resist it. One way to build resilience is via . . . . . . religious faith.

@Ron:
>. So consider this: imagine that you're hiring someone for a job. You have two candidates, one black, one white. They are prima facie equally qualified.

Never happens. No two people are ever equal.

@Ron:
>So, being a good Bayesian, you adjust your prior based on your belief that blacks generally make poor life choices and hire the white applicant. This all seems a perfectly rational thing to do, well grounded in reason and evidence.

This is just stupid. A black candidate presenting with appropriate qualifications for the job has demonstrated, by achieving those qualifications, that the candidate has made good life choices in the past. Your "bayesian reasoning" is not at all rational, nor grounded in reason or evidence.

Ron said...

@Don: FYI, I am planning to reply to you, but passions seem to be running high so I want to make sure I'm not running off the rails. Towards that end, I've solicited a sanity check from another person, but they haven't responded yet.

@Publius:

> You fail to consider the possibility that blacks aren't inferior, but many of them live in bad situations/environments.

Not only did I not fail to consider it, I specifically pointed this out. The question is *why* do many of them live in bad situations/environments. I say it is in large part because they were first enslaved for 250 years, and then systematically and overtly discriminated against for another 100, and then systematically but more covertly discriminated against for another 60, bringing us to the present day.