Dec 142015

From the opinion page of the Wall Street Journal:

Whatever you think of IQ tests and their surrogates, they do measure the knowledge component that can contribute to success.  (They do not so much measure the effects of environment and motivation, but these three parts of successful achievement are intertwined.)  And the differences between the median results of Americans of European, African, and Far Eastern ancestry are well established.  In particular, the African median is one standard deviation below the European, which is below the Far Eastern.  It is not racist to repeat this finding or to use it when devising social policy.

We may usefully work to determine why these differences exist and to make them disappear.  But it is simply irresponsible to play like they don’t exist here and now.  As the article points out, the national policy of race preference in college admissions does indeed irresponsibly assume this, with long-lasting damage to the socioeconomic standing of the African component of the American population.  The problem extends to other policies.

It is worse than useless, it it extremely damaging to assume that all people are blank slates with equal potentials.  There is a normal distribution, a bell curve, in all things human.

Dec 132015

For those who may think we’re all the same, I offer the following vignette.  It was part of a presentation by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), given in 1989 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, when I was in training to sell spare parts to the Royal Saudi Air Force.  I subsequently served two years in Riyadh.

How do people resolve disputes?  Not everyone employs the same methods.

Let’s say you have a neighbor, and one day, to your surprise, you come home to find he has erected a (very nice) fence one meter into your property.  He has taken your land!  What do you do?

First, probably, you pay him a visit to call his attention to the error and ask him to move the fence.  He blows you off.

Second, you go to a respected mutual friend and ask him to intercede for you.  He does, and your neighbor blows him off too.

Third, you engage a lawyer and go to court.  Unfortunately, the court does not help.

Fourth, in absolute desperation, you tear down the fence (and wait for your neighbor’s response).

Now let’s reverse the roles and say that your neighbor is an Arab.  What would he do?

First, probably, he will tear down your fence.  (You erect it again, stronger, electrified, etc.)

Second, he will send a respected mutual friend to negotiate.  Let us say you blow him off.

Third, he will resort to the law.  They do not help.

Fourth, he will reluctantly come talk to you directly.  As all negotiations are zero-sum, someone will win and someone will lose.  If he loses, he also loses face in the community.  He doesn’t want to take this risk, but he has no alternative now.  He much preferred dealing with you via direct action or through proxies.

CAIR offered this story as illustrative of the way things work in Saudi Arabian society, to prepare us for what we would face in the course of daily business.

Dec 102015

The words “fascism” and “terrorism” are used a lot these days.  Their meanings – perhaps never very precise – have been extended to the point where they are essentially meaningless.  The residuum of meaning in “fascism” is “I don’t like you or what you do or say”, with implied but definite reference to Hitler, and in “terrorism” is “any violent act”, with implied reference to famous and very nasty acts by very evil people in the past, and usually applied by the victim to gain attention and sympathy.

This is not a new problem.  Devin Foley on the Intellectual Takeout blog notes that George Orwell wrote about the meaning of fascism in 1944 and quotes the article.

As I understand the original terms, fascism has to do with a totalitarian system, with the twist that the economy remains in private hands while being under the total control of the state.  Terrorism has to do with acts of violence committed by a small, unpopular group in an effort to change the government.  They might attack the government directly, but almost always attack soft civilian targets, to convince the people to change their government.  When I use these terms, I try to stick with these definitions.  You might consider something similar.

Disclaimer: I do not support Mr. Donald Trump.  I say this in case anyone thinks I’m actually defending him, to whom “fascist” is often applied.  If it comes down to him or The Honorable Ms. Hillary Rodham Clinton, I’ll have to abstain.