Two Bad Ideas of the Morally (Self) Righteous

by Daniel A. Kaufman

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The spectacle of moralizers being exposed as moral cretins themselves is something that everyone who remembers the televangelist scandals of the last several decades will be familiar with. Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, Ted Haggard…, in each case it was discovered that a prominent person, who had spent a good portion of his career engaged in the aggressive moral condemnation of others, had been engaged all the while in terrible behavior himself. Today, this cadre of unpleasant, right-wing moral scolds has been joined by left-wing intellectuals from the Academy and particularly, self-styling progressive philosophers, most recently, Mark Alfano, a philosopher at the Delft University of Technology. Not only has Alfano started a petition to get a graduate student’s published paper on race and IQ retroactively removed from the journal, Philosophical Psychology, he has said that he is doing it in order to “ruin his reputation permanently and deservedly.” [1] One thing about Alfano that makes him eerily reminiscent of the Swaggarts and Haggards of the world is that morality and virtue are his big game, his primary areas of expertise and research, not to mention – and you really can’t make this sort of thing up – “epistemic humility,” research on which has landed him hundreds of thousands of dollars in Templeton grant money. [2]

What this suggests is that the tendency of moral (self) righteousness to coincide with some pretty awful personalities is deeply human, rather than something distinctive of a particular ideological viewpoint, and I wonder whether this in part explains the uncanny similarity between religious fundamentalists and woke progressives who on paper would seem to have nothing in common. But this comparison, interesting as it may be, is not my main focus. Rather, I want to explore two ideas that are ubiquitous among the morally (self) righteous, of whatever stripe, and which may somewhat explain why they behave so awfully so often.

The first is that the rightness of one’s cause justifies and even ennobles terrible behavior on one’s own part. Dr. Alfano surely knows that trying to ruin peoples’ reputations is a rotten thing to do, but because he purports to be doing so on behalf of anti-racism, it’s ok, even admirable. Rachel McKinnon cannot be unaware that cheering someone’s untimely, painful death is appalling behavior, but because she is doing it as part of a righteous struggle for trans rights – which is what McKinnon claimed she was doing after taking to social media to whoop it up over the death by brain cancer of a young, lesbian activist (Magdalen Berns), who was a vocal opponent of trans-activist politics and policy – it is not only acceptable, but a noble thing to do. After her initial Tweet that “It’s okay to celebrate, even to be happy, when bad people die” received considerable pushback even from those on her side of the issue, she went on to double down, writing “Don’t be the sort of person who people you’ve harmed are happy you’re dying of brain cancer.” [3]

The second – and it is intimately related to and entwined with the first – is that those whom the (self) righteous believe are Bad People deserve neither quarter nor pity. The idea isn’t just that The Bad deserve what they get, a kind of melancholic observation of what comes of bad Karma, but that we should put the boot in (especially when they are down) and should be brutal in doing it…and pitiless afterwards.

In adolescents, these dispositions are common and for the most part normal, though certainly something to be outgrown, as they represent some of humanity’s worst instincts. My seventeen year old daughter can be quite harsh in her judgments of those whom she dislikes or of whom she disapproves and rather coldblooded in her reactions when contemplating or confronted with their suffering, and while I know that this is normal at her stage of emotional development, I still find it sufficiently shocking to push back quite vigorously. I somewhat ashamedly remember being that way myself, as an adolescent and young adult, but with every year that passes, I become increasingly aware of my own myriad failures and shortcomings and find myself inclined to pity those whose misfortunes are the result of their own misdeeds, rather than wish ill upon them or revel when they get their comeuppance. There but for the grace of God go I. I’ve thought that. More than once.

The televangelists were a bunch of sleazy, churlish rubes, so their disgraces neither surprised nor shocked. To see philosophy professors – and especially, those whose main areas of research are in ethics and social justice – exhibit such cruel inclinations with so much glee and gusto, however, is shocking…and ugly. The proffered explanation – that some graduate student publishing a paper on race and IQ or a punk lesbian YouTuber expressing her opposition to unisex changing rooms somehow, indirectly, by way of fifteen layers of alleged causation, effects such enormous harm upon marginalized groups that the person in question must be crushed, eviscerated, destroyed at all cost – is so preposterous on its face that it comes off as little more than a cheap rationalization. And it is as clear an expression of the two (bad) ideas that we’ve been discussing that one could have.

It is one thing to condemn a person’s actions and even the person him or herself, but it is another to set oneself up as an unofficial criminal justice system and quite another to dispense one’s justice in the sadistic manner on display here. I think McKinnon and Alfano and the rest of the philosophy woke brigade are terrible actors within our discipline, and I express that point of view by writing about it. [4] But I don’t want them to be driven out of their jobs in disgrace. I don’t want them to lose all of their friends. I don’t want their already distraught intimates to see me dancing on their loved one’s grave online. I don’t want to make their kids cry.

They and the whole business just make me sad and hopeless and desperate for academic philosophy, which already was in terrible shape before these characters came along and made things even worse. My overwhelming feeling is that it’s just such a damned pity, and I use that word deliberately.

Notes

[1] https://twitter.com/messages/3505472194-1071760201089462273/media/1220073389794004998

[2] https://thesymposiummagazinedotcom.files.wordpress.com/2020/01/8877b-alfano.cv_.pdf

[3] https://medium.com/@drlouisejmoody/open-letter-to-larry-krasnoff-philosophy-college-of-charleston-john-gordon-director-how-to-c028cab5fc86

[4]  See, for example:

https://theelectricagora.com/2019/03/09/a-very-philosophical-conceit/

https://theelectricagora.com/2019/08/10/philosophys-woke-triangle/

https://theelectricagora.com/2019/09/08/philosophys-aspirant-tin-pot-dictators/

I also issued a general call for philosophers to stop doing this sort of thing.

https://theelectricagora.com/2018/09/15/just-stop-it/

 

106 comments

  1. Great piece again! I especially liked your point about how an awareness of our own character flaws tempers our retributive instincts towards others. I think the loss of this and its replacement with the cult of self love is one of the most regrettable aspects of the West’s dechristianisation for precisely this reason.
    A certain degree of pessimism about human nature seems to be conducive to decency.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Of course religious figures often do this as you yourself say, but I feel like it was an ennobling attitude for those that genuinely kept it in mind.

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  3. A couple of thoughts:

    First, that saying certain things in certain contexts systematically contributes to oppressive institutions — or, in your words, “somehow, indirectly, by way of fifteen layers of alleged causation, effects such enormous harm among marginalized groups” — is the linchpin of SJW activism and thus the hypothesis most worth discussing and researching. But one must wonder how free one is to discuss and research it.

    Second, it just struck me reading your essay — especially the bit about “setting oneself up as an unofficial criminal justice system” — that we might find another similarity between today’s (Trump-ish) right and (activist, academic) left: a distrust in institutions, especially due process.

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  4. I can’t help but think of the old adage, “Practice what you preach”. It seems the folks in your cross-hairs have very much to say about ethical behavior, etc., in general, as theory perhaps, but are so unselfaware that they can’t connect their own actions with their moralistic claims. McKinnon’s tweet shaming her targets to “Don’t be the sort of person who people you’ve harmed are happy you’re dying of brain cancer” is so oblivious to the harm she herself is likely causing that it is as if she doesn’t understand the words as potentially referring to her own actions. She fails to see herself as the target of other’s ire. The fallout of being so self-righteous is that you can’t even start to see the world from other people’s perspective. The disconnect is that we can’t see our own actions from other peoples point of view, as if only our own point of view mattered. Not a good way to conduct philosophy, let alone decent human behavior…..

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  5. An article published upon the recent death of Roger Scruton included this quote of him: “One of the great things about the conservative position is that it has always recognised that political solutions are compromises, in which as many of the contending interests as possible are reconciled with each other. It’s not to do with the righteous overbearing the unrighteous.” I hold no brief for Roger Scruton in general, but what struck me about his statement on the “conservative position” was that it was formerly true of Anglo-American politics virtually across the board.

    But, compromise requires dialogue, and as politics increasingly ossified into “morality” over the past five decades—with proponents of opposing positions claiming, Luther-like, “I can do no other”—compromise became a profanity and dialogue became moot. Post-Luther, there was 300 years of religious war across Europe, in which the warring sides’ lack of quarter or pity for one another was expressly based on their respective certitude regarding the righteousness of their respective faiths. Goodbye Athens, hello Jerusalem.

    Why, then, do so many of those supposedly espousing morality so often make what amounts to the “power” moves you describe? Your modification of “righteousness” with “(self)” seems to point in the right direction. Pop-psych explanations based on narcissistic or authoritarian personality types are largely unsatisfying (and often tautological). Jonathan Haidt’s hypotheses regarding the import of senses of purity vs. infection/disgust in people with certain profiles under the Big Five personality model, however, are much more empirically (and intuitively) persuasive, especially as there appears to be increasing evidence from evolutionary biology that such characteristics are genetically determined to a significant extent. Under that orientation, exterminating the perceived pathogen utterly must be deemed reflective of the greatest virtue. Combine such innate tendencies with an environment in which such (self) righteous positions are status enhancing, and you’re half-way there.

    Haidt’s purity/disgust analysis may also square with George Orwell’s puzzling, circa 1937, over the motives of “the intellectual, tract writing type of socialist,” in The Road to Wigan Pier: “It is often difficult to believe it is a love of anybody, especially of the working class, from whom of all people he is most removed. The underlying motive of many Socialists, I believe, is simply a hypertrophied sense of order. The present state of affairs offends them not because it causes misery, still less because it makes freedom impossible, but because it is untidy; what they desire, basically is to reduce the world to something resembling a chessboard.”

    Thanks for the article.

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  6. The funny thing is that I know Mark and he’s nothing like his online personality in person. That oddly bombastic and moralistic style is certainly worthy of criticism, and I agree that the self-righteous Sword of Justice stuff is really distasteful and potentially morally problematic all on its own. But it’s also worth pointing out that online and ‘IRL’ personalities differ greatly. I’m sure you’re aware of another Big Online Name in philosophy who fits this description…

    Anyway, I’m also interested in the details of this debate. Dan, I know you’re not a free speech absolutist, you (sensibly) endorse some kind of Harm Principle. I’m just interested in whether you think it might be triggered in this case. There is a long history of recorded, actual harms to African-Americans resulting from shoddily argued, barely scientific “explorations” of racial inferiority, publications which make no serious effort at all to canvas/evaluate the ways in which environmental/social factors can affect racial dynamics. I take it that you would not dispute that real harms can be done by such publications (since actuality entails possibility). Since you didn’t actually take a position in your post, I’m just wondering what you think, here.

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    1. Those shoddy explorations were shown defective through better explorations, not censorship. People will think about these things whether or not they are pursued within formal academia, but the attempt to shut it down will simply make it likelier that the only people who will think about this will be sleazebags with an agenda. I also question the wisdom of encouraging a utilitarian ethos within science, as opposed to pursuing truth come what may. As it happens, I think there’s a decent chance environmental explanations will turn out adequate, based on the work of Sowell on the topic, but the point stands.

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      1. “But it’s also worth pointing out that online and ‘IRL’ personalities differ greatly.”

        I’m not sure how mitigating that is these days. After all, we’re not in the era of dial-up BBS’s, when being online was some obscure niche activity. What happens on social media is, unfortunately, a big part of public life. In that context “He’s a jerk online but not IRL” is a bit like “He’s a jerk whenever he goes outside, but he’s a nice guy when he’s inside his house”.

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      2. K303: “Those shoddy explorations were shown defective through better explorations, not censorship.” Sure. And I agree that the *potential* for backlash and signal-amplification is real. But did “better explorations” really stop older racist science from appearing? Probably not. What stops these things from appearing is massive social pressure, partly driven by compassion for vulnerable groups. If we’re going to rely on empirical hypotheses about what makes this harmful stuff go away, let’s use realistic social-science. Scientific racists didn’t just say “Oh, gosh, I’ve been refuted, guess I’ll stop publishing!” It became shameful to publish their ideas, they retreated into obscurity, they died, and younger generations took their moral failures for granted. Social censorship is virtually *always* involved in the demise of harmful arguments, so if we are concerned about shoddy+harmful arguments going forward, it is unreasonable to think that the process of free inquiry, all on its own, will make them go away.

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        1. Retroactive retraction of peer reviewed, published articles in the absence of demonstrated professional misconduct will destroy the peer review process. I can’t believe you are in favor of it.

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        2. I wonder. Race science fell out in science before mass transformations in popular views about race. I suspect that, on this subject, it was the confrontation with fascism and nazism that moved things. But maybe you have in mind changes in the views of the university cultures.

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        3. I think it’s pretty clear that there are claims made by previous generations of scientific racists that no one would consider viable today on the basis of the evidence. Of course, people with bad intentions can still try to make dodgy claims that are not justified by the evidence. However, it seems absurd to me to assume that anyone who thinks there is a non trivial genetic contribution to race IQ gaps has such bad intentions and is wilfully ignoring the contrary evidence and alternative explanations. And any social censorship of those ideas on that assumption is very misguided. Ideas that aren’t engaged with won’t go away, and the social censorship will have to be constant. The effect of this is that even if environmental explanations are completely true, people will lose the ability to argue that case effectively and may become more susceptible to the ideas that the social censorship aimed to prevent.

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      3. Truths are beneficial in predicting and preventing harm, and for creating new ways to improve well-beings. So, utilitarianism implies that truths ought to be sought out as the possible benefits far outweigh any possible harm most of the times.

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    2. Re: Mark , i am only speaking of his online behavior in this instance. I don’t know him otherwise.

      As for your other question, i only am willing to entertain a narrowly drawn harm principle, in which harm to the particular person in question is demonstrable. If we ascribe harm on a purely subjective basis and use it to justify infringing on a person’s liberty, anyone can claim it. It simply is too powerful an instrument.

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      1. Thanks, Dan. But this case is by no means “subjective”, there is tons of objectively available evidence that precisely this kind of research has produced harms (indirectly of course). That’s why this seems different from the Tuvel-hysteria, where a basically novel argument was being made, and people were nonetheless utterly certain that it would produce suicides/etc.

        Anyway, I accept that your more narrow direct-harm principle is reasonable, but I do also hope that you can see that some of us concerned about this paper are just deploying a more permissive harm principle that can include well-established indirect harm for which there is lots of evidence. And this particular argument doesn’t have to be launched from a kind of overly punitive social-justice-crusade mindset.

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        1. Of course it is subjective. How is anyone going to demonstrate, objectively that they’ve been harmed by an article in Philosophical Psychology written by some graduate student ?

          As for a more permissive harm principle, i can think of few things more dangerous to a liberal society. You have no idea what you are asking for.

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        2. And in this case, given the extended arguments offered by David Wallace, I’m not convinced that those demanding the retroactive unpublishing of the piece and personal destruction are even characterizing the paper fairly.

          One casualty of our hyper ideological/partisan environment is that we no longer trust people to argue in good faith. All the more reason not to loosen the harm principle.

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          1. “I’m not convinced that those demanding the retroactive unpublishing of the piece and personal destruction are even characterizing the paper fairly.”

            Would you agree with this rewording:

            I’m convinced that those demanding the retroactive unpublishing of the piece and personal destruction are not even characterizing the paper fairly.

            There is, after all, a widespread pattern of this very thing that many have come to know and loathe; after all, if the offenders are so reckless about others’ careers and reputations, it only stands to reason that they’d be reckless in the very characterizations of the others’ positions they’re triggered by (without giving an opportunity for rebuttal, etc.).

            Since this pattern of despicable behavior is now widely known about, the next question for researchers is: how did things come to be this way, and seemingly so quickly?

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        3. @Avalonion

          I take the point that you’re not concerned with “harms” that are subjective in the sense that someone is claiming to have been damaged by the mere presence of an opinion (a “McKinnon harm”, if you like). You’re talking about arguments/research programs that have in the past informed social policy that have demonstrably harmed already marginalised groups. e.g. In the Daily Nous discussion you suggested the author of the paper alluded to the possibility of separate education streams for different races on the basis of on average IQ differences between them. We don’t need to spend too long thinking about this to realise how bad (and harmful) such an approach would be.

          Even so, I do worry that the more permissive harm principle you’re proposing would be very broad in its application. Peter Singer’s infanticide argument would in theory fall foul of that principle (giving licence to policies that harm persons with disabilities). I can also imagine conservative arguments against the welfare state also being place beyond the pale on those grounds. Much as I find both Singer’s conclusion and anti-welfare state positions objectionable, I wouldn’t want to see academic journals censoring those positions. Anyway, I’d be interested in your thoughts on how your more permissive harm principle would view those cases.

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          1. It would be a carte Blanche for right wing lawmakers to defund university programmes that teach about Marxism and expose students to favourable views of it, philosophers who make pro-choice arguments, etc. Have leftists become so used to dominating academia that they simply can’t see how this might backfire on them?
            I’m also curious whether Avalonian would also be morally worried about research into psychological sex differences as with race.

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        4. “I do also hope that you can see that some of us concerned about this paper are just deploying a more permissive harm principle that can include well-established indirect harm for which there is lots of evidence”

          Surely you can see that whether a paper causes harm is utterly irrelevant to whether it is true or false. Einstein’s paper on special relativity gave us through those 15 layers of causality Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Thing is, it was true. If you think the paper is false, demonstrate its falsehood. If you think it is true, but that the truths are dangerous, show how to guard against the dangers. But perhaps you do not think of yourself and other academics as scholars engaged in the discovery and explication of the truth, but as politicians engaged in the political management of the ignorant masses by dint of connotative rhetoric and moralistic display.

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        5. 1. There might be harms, but those harms can be outweighed.

          2. Parity to a government of a communist state with state atheism using ideas and theses in biology, geology, astronomy, and philosophy of religion to persecute and suppress Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and other religions within its border, by citing them as harmful, false ideas that corrupt the minds. Reductio.

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        6. “there is tons of objectively available evidence that precisely this kind of research has produced harms” – Did you read the paper? This issue is discussed at length.

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    3. “The funny thing is that I know Mark and he’s nothing like his online personality in person. That oddly bombastic and moralistic style is certainly worthy of criticism, and I agree that the self-righteous Sword of Justice stuff is really distasteful and potentially morally problematic all on its own.”

      Being bombastic and moralistic is one thing, but that’s not the essential characterization of the behavior the OP finds so despicable. (It would more fairly characterize the difference between the online and reputed offline persona of the Big Online Name you refer to obliquely above.) Rather, the “online persona” here is one of a sadistic thug. I don’t see how an online/offline persona distinction by itself can help here. When someone behaves like this online, their supposedly nice offline persona should be reconsidered as perhaps being a deception.

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  7. Avalonian,

    Re: your first paragraph:

    That’s an interesting observation. We all know, in some way or other, about the differences that might obtain between one’s online and offline personalities. But, yes, I’ve not seen a discussion about how or whether this fact is relevant to how we think about online kerfuffles and the actors who originate and perpetuate them.

    To complicate things, I’ll suggest that there’s at least three basic ways to understand the apparent difference in personalities. The difference might be falsification: the online personality is a distortion of the offline one and thus not one’s true personality. Or the difference might be revelation: the online personality is a guise in which one’s true personality, repressed offline, gets expressed. Or the difference might be manifestation: the online and offline personalities are divergent but equally authentic expressions of one’s self, the online environment neither distorting nor revealing some more genuine personality (though perhaps magnifying, amplifying or exaggerating it).

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  8. I often find myself wondering whether those on the left who issue such absolutist condemnations grew up in religiously fundamentalist households. Seems like they come from the generation that was raised during the boom in fundamentalism in the us.

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  9. I just celebrated one of those birthdays where your age ends in “0”. On the list of “things I changed my mind about during the last decade” is the idea that there’s much of a correlation between character and political leanings. During the Bush II era, I was confidant that there was (with conservatism being a symptom of poor character, of course).

    Now that I’ve interacted with more self-identified conservatives and seen more truly appalling people with meticulously progressive views, I’m no longer convinced there’s much of a connection except at the extremes (I’m happy to still assume that being a Nazi is a sign of poor character…).

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    1. There’s also what I’ve observed to be a divide between people’s overall personality and character, and a more or less objectionable personality and character when it comes to *political* matters, which seem to bring out the worst in a lot of people. (As to why that is, I have some ideas, having to do with politics being an arena where power/force are employed where people can’t/won’t agree, and people tend quite naturally and understandably to react negatively to such perceived or real power imbalances – and the hostilities here extend even to differences about how to correctly spot illicit power relations.)

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  10. As you point out above, the syndrome you describe is common in adolescence. The teenager seeks autonomy from their parents and one way to do that is to reject their parents’ mindset. Since the mindset of one’s parents has been inculcated in oneself with a special strength and force (even in the case of the most open-minded parents), one has to adopt one’s news ideas with a certain fanaticism to break free from whatever ideas one’s parents hold. In fact, given that for a young people one’s parents are part of one’s self, one is in a certain sense rebelling against oneself and to that requires lots of psychic energy, the kind of psychic energy fanatics have. If I had had the same skeptical attitude towards ideas and ideologies at age 17 as I have at age 73, I never would have become my own person.

    With time one frees oneself from one’s parents, develops a new and autonomous identity, develops new bonds (friends, partner, even one’s own children) and the need to break free from one’s parents is no longer so pressing. Finally, after the death of one’s parents, one’s attitude towards them becomes one of mourning and of loss rather than of rebellion.

    Now why does the attitude of self-righteousness and moral fanaticism last until so late in life in the people described above, why do they not go through the normal maturation process? Probably in most cases they receive a lot of positive feedback for their moral self-righteousness and don’t have much else going for them in life.

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  11. “The second [idea] – and it is intimately related to and entwined with the first – is that those whom the (self) righteous believe are Bad People deserve neither quarter nor pity. The idea isn’t just that The Bad deserve what they get, a kind of melancholic observation of what comes of bad Karma, but that we should put the boot in (especially when they are down) and should be brutal in doing it…and pitiless afterwards.”

    This relates back to the original comparison between these jerks and religious fundamentalists. But perhaps the parallel is closer with respect to fundamentalists of the distant rather than the recent past — “true believers” rather than the hypocritical clowns (televangelists) you reference. I know this is a cliche but the parallel is real: it’s the mentality of the Inquisition. These heretical ideas are so dangerous and threatening that they must be completely stamped out and the carriers and promoters of the ideas burnt at the stake.

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    1. CS Lewis had a great lube about how the worst persecutors are those who believe they do so for genuine moral convictions. Totalitarian governments often become less heavy handed as they get more cynical.

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  12. The extreme positions of both the Right and the Left take us to the perennial subjects of knowledge and the truth (the truth of knowledge?), summed up within the cursed topic of objectivity. Obviously, the morally self-righteous folk not only believe they have the Truth, but *know* that they do. And obviously they are objective!

    The notion that there is such a thing as objectivity is dubious both philosophically and scientifically, yet it is held onto as a psychological crutch with which to beat those whose views are, obviously, not objective.
    .
    While we are continually warned about the ‘post-truth’ era, not less invidious is the lure of ‘objective truth’ that has led to dictators throughout history to subjugate those who dare to disagree,

    Caught as we are between believers in their objective truth and believers in floating truths, we must wonder where we are heading. Interestingly, both sides are sure of their beliefs and are equally self-righteous.

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  13. The McKinnon quote was just awful. I don’t think the Alfano quote is anything comparable. No one should be happy that anyone is dying of brain cancer–a truly terrible fate. But destroying someone’s reputation can be merited, can’t it?

    Destroying someone’s good reputation is bad only if they’re good; that is, people only have the right to the reputation they merit. For instance (to refer to some of your own examples), if you’re a religious bigot, you should have a reputation for being a religious bigot. If the author of the article Alfano is criticizing, Cofnas, is racist, then he should have a reputation for being racist. (I feel torn about whether the Cofnas paper actually is racist, but Alfano at least thinks that it is pretty transparently and virulently racist, and thinking that would justify trying to make it a widespread belief that Cofnas *is* a racist.)

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      1. Wow, that’s big of you. I can’t say that I never wish harm upon anyone in angry moments. (Though I also wouldn’t say that I have any “enemies”, per se. It’s interesting that you nonetheless think of yourself as having “enemies”. I would have thought that an enemy is almost by definition someone one wishes harm to befall! How do you define it?)

        My point wasn’t about wishing to harm anyone, in any event; you might even feel bad for them. (Not suggesting that Alfano would, but someone might.) My point was about thinking that a racist should be known to be a racist–at least if they’re *publishing* racist tracts. Don’t you think we should more or less be believed to be what we are? I dunno, maybe you don’t.

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        1. I don’t wish people to be deprived of their livelihoods or relationships or their friends and family to suffer because I disagree with them or think they are bad people, no. That’s what the essay is about.

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        2. I would also add that especially in cases like this, I wouldn’t be so sure that I was correct in my judgment of the other person to be willing to unleash reputation destroying forces upon him so easily and with such glee.

          I would say that beyond hard-hardedness and self-importance, the people who do this sort of thing also lack a healthy sense of self-doubt.

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          1. “A healthy sense of self-doubt”. That is lacking in so many and what’s worse, in so many in positions of power and influence, probably because people with a healthy sense of self-doubt tend not to be power-hungry.

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          2. The people who do this sort of thing, like Alfano, *are* power-obsessed; specifically, with controlling the ethos and politics of the discipline. This is why the arguments and rationales are so transparently, laughably disingenuous. Hence my point in the essay, re: “15 layers of alleged causation.” They want to suggest that publishing an article in some journal that hardly anyone reads is akin to leading a KKK rally, in terms of the harm it effects.

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          3. Actually I was thinking of political leaders. Trump obviously lacks a healthy sense of self-doubt, but so does Sanders and so do Warren, Buttigieg and Biden. You have to be a bit messianic to want to be president of the U.S. or in fact, of any country larger than Luxemburg.

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          4. So, I agree with your second point that you better be *damn* sure of yourself before you set out to tarnish someone’s reputation. I am suspicious of Confas’s piece (because he talks so much about races rather than populations) but certainly not confident enough in my suspicion to do what Alfano has tried to do. I mean I’m also not an expert in the area and I guess Alfano is more of one. But I definitely think that self-righteousness is a risk with these types of issues and that it clouds our moral vision.

            So maybe that’s your only criticism of Alfano ultimately–that you don’t think Confas’s piece is racist, or at least, not clearly racist in the way that warrants Alfano’s actions against him. If so I have no objection. I was raising questions merely about the idea that it’s never okay to want to ruin someone’s professional reputation.

            Do you really recognize NO exceptions to this……? If I discovered that a well-respected colleague of mine was LITERALLY a neo-Nazi, with a swastika flag in his basement study and a bunch of harshly anti-semitic screeds published under a pseudonym….. Then yeah, I would want people to know this about him. I admit I don’t have Alfano’s personality and I wouldn’t be spreading the word in the way he is spreading it. But I would probably *reach out* to someone *like* Alfano and tell him and be grateful if he spread the word in that way!

            You said: “I don’t wish people to be deprived of their livelihoods or relationships or their friends and family to suffer because I disagree with them or think they are bad people, no.”

            This fictitious neo-Nazi colleague of mine–I wouldn’t want them to starve in the streets, or even to lose family or friends. And I wouldn’t see why any of those things would have to follow. But if innocent family did suffer (because the colleague lost his job under ignominy), I would view that as a really sad and unfair consequence of something that was still a necessary act.

            In the same way, I feel terrible for kids whose parents are taken off to prison. And maybe 9/10 of these prisoners don’t belong there, and our prisons system could be infinitely more civilized and humane, and we could all as a society be doing more for kids whose parents are incarcerated. But the fact is that SOME people really are dangerous and need to in prison at least for a time, and if their kids cry when they’re taken away, that’s a really awful and unfair consequence of something that is still necessary.

            I don’t think of myself as a particularly angry or vengeful person but maybe I am relative to the average philosopher? (Or just philosophers commenting this post?)

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          5. I didn’t say such things might not sometimes be necessary. I said people should not set themselves up as private criminal justice systems and should not be gleeful in someone’s downfall, regardless of merit. Alfano did both.

            I’m really surprised that this is such a difficult concept to communicate. Perhaps it demonstrates the extent to which we have become vengeful and vindictive people. You routinely hear people reveling gleefully about men being raped in prison as a kind of extra punishment for whatever it is they were incarcerated for. I find all of it very distasteful, in general, and absolutely appalling in people who spend a lot of their time working in ethics and virtue signalling across social media.

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          6. And I don’t think being damned well sure of oneself is enough. There is a reason why we don’t permit vigilantism, no matter how “damned sure” people are.

            No one appointed you (one) a policeman, judge, jury, or executioner. Condemn all you want. Publish your objections. But once you start trying to harm others for what you perceive are righteous reasons, you are over the line, as far as I’m concerned.

            I am sick and tired of these self appointed moral policeman. They are destroying not just our discipline but our society.

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    1. “people only have the right to the reputation they merit” — If one assumes that ‘reputation’ is a well-defined and useful term, that there is easy access to the fact of the matter, that reputation is a simple and easily calculated function of very limited number of factors, and has a well-defined scope, and that everyone’s beliefs about a person’s reputation are reliable, at least as a start, that there are well-defined, easily identifiable communities relative to which reputation can be established or measured. I do not think any of that is true. And right as against whom?

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      1. If it’s not even a well-defined or useful term, etc., then why all the dismay about someone wanting to ruin someone’s reputation? I mean, I’m actually not totally sure myself what Alfano meant, but I assume he meant, “I want to spread the word that this person is the sort of person who defends virulently racist ideas.” You might disagree that there’s a *sort* of person who does that–you might think both racist and anti-racist people can do that–and in that case I can see thinking it’s unfair of Alfano to try to tarnish Confas’s reputation.

        [Btw, I reiterate that I’m not sure Confas’s paper is racist. I feel torn about it. I’m just saying that it doesn’t seem crazy or wrong to me to want a virulent racist to have the reputation for being a virulent racist.]

        Right against whom: I guess I actually mainly meant it as a negative rather than a positive right–that is, I meant that we have a right against others–all others–that they not spread *falsehoods* about us to other people. So, if Confas is not a racist and especially if his paper isn’t racist, then he has a right not to have Alfano trying to convince other philosophers that he is. But if he is a racist, and perhaps even if his paper is racist, then I don’t see how he is being *wronged* by Alfano saying that he is. I think we have a right not to be lied about, but I think we also have the right to shout the truth (ceteris paribus).

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    2. “(I feel torn about whether the Cofnas paper actually is racist, but Alfano at least thinks that it is pretty transparently and virulently racist, and thinking that would justify trying to make it a widespread belief that Cofnas *is* a racist.)”

      (1) By an appropriate principle of transitivity (this may not be the best word here…), what does this say about the journal editors? Why isn’t Alfano going after them? What if this is some kind of sick power play against an individual more vulnerable than a journal?

      (2) “Racist” is the new crying-wolf, so charges of it should be treated with that much more skepticism. People are growing – well, *are* – sick and tired of the strawman-and-destroy approach run rampant. (Wherever did these people get the notion that this approach was acceptable? It doesn’t happen in a vacuum; compare with the new “diversity statement” lunacy for the UCal STEM hiring/promotion process.) Look (*carefully*) at, e.g., how Google’s culture of misrepresentation of shaming, as James Damore called it, came back to misrepresent and shame him – making his very point for him – for his having good-faith arguments which the company itself solicited (i.e., about whether it is possible to achieve a male-female *numbers parity* in the CS professions). If there is a body of research showing a statistically-average-but-nonetheless-individually-diverse difference between “races” (racialized categories?…), is this body of research racist? Because that’s what you have to indict along with those who dare to reference the body of research. How can that end well?

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  14. Confas. Brilliant man. Debating Kevin MacDonald, a racist and anti-Semite no other respected academic bothers to debate. And then Edward Dutton!
    Yes it’s true: Mankind Quarterly is peer reviewed. Richard Lynn!

    “What is called for here is not genocide, the killing off of the population of incompetent cultures. But we do need to think realistically in terms of the ‘phasing out’ of such peoples…. Evolutionary progress means the extinction of the less competent. To think otherwise is mere sentimentality.”
    Maybe you should look up the Pioneer Fund too.

    The whole thing is embarrassing.

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      1. Cofnas [2015] Science Is Not Always “Self-Correcting”. Fact–Value Conflation and the Study of Intelligence quotes a number of philosophers and scientists including:

        In Freedom Evolves, Dennett (2003) says regarding critics of hereditarianism:

        I don’t challenge the critics’ motives or even their tactics; if I encountered people
        conveying a message I thought was so dangerous that I could not risk giving it a fair
        hearing, I would be at least strongly tempted to misrepresent it, to caricature it for the
        public good. I’d want to make up some good epithets, such as genetic determinist or
        reductionist or Darwinian Fundamentalist, and then flail those straw men as hard as I
        could. As the saying goes, it’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it. (pp. 19–20)

        One can read this as Dennett being charitable to those attempting the ruination of reputation. Cofnas sees this as a consistent pattern from the 1970s onward.

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        1. I guess you haven’t read the paper.

          Research on group differences in intelligence: A defense of free inquiry
          Nathan Cofnas
          https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09515089.2019.1697803

          Abstract:
          In a very short time, it is likely that we will identify many of the genetic variants underlying individual differences in intelligence. We should be prepared for the possibility that these variants are not distributed identically among all geographic populations, and that this explains some of the phenotypic differences in measured intelligence among groups. However, some philosophers and scientists believe that we should refrain from conducting research that might demonstrate the (partly) genetic origin of group differences in IQ. Many scholars view academic interest in this topic as inherently morally suspect or even racist. The majority of philosophers and social scientists take it for granted that all population differences in intelligence are due to environmental factors. The present paper argues that the widespread practice of ignoring or rejecting research on intelligence differences can have unintended negative consequences. Social policies predicated on environmentalist theories of group differences may fail to achieve their aims. Large swaths of academic work in both the humanities and social sciences assume the truth of environmentalism and are vulnerable to being undermined. We have failed to work through the moral implications of group differences to prepare for the possibility that they will be shown to exist.

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          1. I, at least, have read the recent Cofnas paper. I find it reasonably cautious in its claims, and am not surprised it found publication. Recent papers from the UK BioBank include such as Hill et al
            https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-019-13585-5
            where the abstract reads:

            “we identify 30 (29 previously unreported) independent-loci associated with income. Using a method to meta-analyze data from genetically-correlated traits, we identify an additional 120 income-associated loci. These loci show clear evidence of functionality, with transcriptional differences identified across multiple cortical tissues, and links to GABAergic and serotonergic neurotransmission. By combining our genome wide association study on income with data from eQTL studies and chromatin interactions, 24 genes are prioritized for follow up, 18 of which were previously associated with intelligence… in modern era Great Britain, genetic effects contribute towards some of the observed socioeconomic inequalities.”

            There are other papers that look at within-UK geographic distribution of polygenic risk scores for IQ and educational achievement. It seems to me that these are just as inflammatory as studies on US racial groups. Such findings require ordinary scientific debate, and ordinary academic philosophical debate about the strengths, limits and consequences of such findings, not demands that journals not publish them.

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        2. Quotation from Dennett(?):

          “I would be at least strongly tempted to misrepresent it, to caricature it for the public good….”

          From the guy who touts the Rapoport Rules for fair criticism, I guess he knows whereof he speaks? (ref: https://www.google.com/search?q=dennett+rapoport+rules) (Does Dennett go on to say after what’s quoted that despite the strong temptation, he would take his own Rules medicine however bitter it tastes?)

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      2. I’m confused as to what your point is here. What’s the connection between the fact that Cofnas debated these people and the quote below?

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      3. Confas is having a polite debate with racists; that’s the equivalent of having an polite debate with Holocaust revisionists. The issues themselves are another matter. I’m all for free enquiry, but academia is not the apex. Again: Mankind Quarterly is peer reviewed.

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        1. So what is the relevance of this to the essay I wrote? Do you believe that even bad people should be ruined? Left friendless? Their loved ones’s made distraught? I don’t. And I think the desire for it — especially in cases like this — reflect much worse on the person wishing these things than on the target him or herself.

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          1. I replied twice –once quoting the abstract to Confas’ paper– and you’ve refused to publish it I suppose because you want separate his interests from your own. But yes careers are ruined. How is David Irving’s career these days? The careers of academic race theorists are pretty much dead as a result of their arguments. The exception is Charles Murray, who’s slippery enough that many people ignore the fact of his friends and sources, including, of course, Richard Lynn.

            Alfano’s problem is cheap oratory and moral grandstanding. Confas’ problem as others have pointed out is equally cheap condescension and evasion.

            But yes, academics who preach racial genetic hierarchy should be barred from teaching required courses. Any school would be opening itself to lawsuits. Are you wiling to argue that an open racist can be a fair judge of coursework? Let them teach electives and go on with their ‘research’. Tenure is a formalism, like freedom of speech. Both are worth defending, but that’s realism, not idealism.

            Again, academia is not the be-all and end-all of intellectual life. By definition it’s a safe space, removed from the world, and it protects its own. There are plenty of people who’s careers were ruined, or were never even possible, because they were Jewish, black, non-white, colonial subjects, female, homosexual, etc. etc. Academia isn’t above politics: it IS politics. Mankind Quarterly is peer reviewed. And it’s garbage. Saying that is not an attack or a defense. It’s a description. If publishing there is bad for your career, that’s how it goes.

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          2. I think Confas is wrong, but I think this can be critiqued without any demands on the journal that published his essay. Alfano’s failure to engage the argument and instead go self-righteously ballistic is misguided and raises questions concerning his own moral theorizing. Confas’ principle argument is that we should not allow politics to prevent scientific research that might reveal something we’re unhappy with. There are two lines of response to this, given the specific issue involved: 1) the very category of “race” no longer has viability among many evolutionary and genetic researchers; 2) even if it had, then it might very well be the case that it would be better to set aside such research as Confas defends than risk potential social harm. Choice 1 integrates well with the Analytic tradition; choice 2 requires considerably greater savvy and subtlety. Either could open the door to a possible discussion and debate that would be quite interesting – so why close off such choices into the cul-de-sac of silencing what may have been a wrong-headed, yet undeniably well-argued essay?

            The Mckinnon quote, on the other hand, is simply unforgivable.

            Nonetheless, I remain a little ambivalent here. “Do you believe that even bad people should be ruined? Left friendless? Their loved ones’s made distraught?” My brother-in-law was a drug-addicted criminal thug who beat my sister, beat and raped his children, threatened and manipulated my mother, destroyed every gift he was given to ameliorate the poverty to which he had reduced my sister and my nieces and nephews. The damage he did resonated years after he finally died. And when he died, I danced. I didn’t wish further harm on my nieces and nephews (all of whom became petty criminals themselves), because they had suffered enough. But when my eldest sister died – I danced again, because she had never admitted the wrong he had done, and in which she participated. :”Do you believe that even bad people should be ruined?” Oh, yeah; in spades.

            The real trouble is knowing what “bad people” are really, what makes a person so vile that the very question of their existence becomes problematic – a very real question, it is at the heart of the problem of capital punishment. We prefer not to discuss that problem with any reference to the schadenfreude of revenge and moral reckoning; yet by not doing so we ignore the heart of it.

            A common parlor game question of the ’70s was to incite a protracted debate over the question, ‘if you could go back in the past and shoot Hitler when he was still a boy, would you do that?’ I never participated in the discussion, my answer was simple – ‘Yes, twice.” Having later written a rhetorical analysis of Mein Kampf requiring a year’s research, this judgment hasn’t changed, and indeed is well-re-enforced. .

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          3. I profoundly disagree, EJ. We provide medical care to captured enemy soldiers who minutes earlier were trying to kill us. Even Nazi soldiers. I understand your instincts in the case you describe, but they are not our better ones.

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          4. Dan while I tend to agree with you, I wonder whether this dislike of vengeful instincts doesn’t lead to a rejection of retributive justice. After all justice is supposed to be a good thing, but it sounds like you’re saying retribution is not a good thing.

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          5. I am ambivalent about retribution. And I most certainly would not be gleeful about an execution or other such thing, regardless of its deservedness.

            My concern here is twofold: the taking upon oneself the task of administering this sort of justice; the attitude of glee in doing it. I find both disturbing and ultimately unacceptable.

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          6. seth edenbaum writes: “The real trouble is knowing what “bad people” are really, what makes a person so vile that the very question of their existence becomes problematic – a very real question, it is at the heart of the problem of capital punishment.”

            Let’s substitute “professional/career death” for “capital punishment”. As far as I’m concerned, the only criterion should be intellectual honesty or lack thereof. If there’s any good evidence that someone pushing (e.g.) actually racist ideas in bad faith, by (e.g.) ignoring literature/studies/science counter to it, that’s at least a first strike. Seems like one strike is all the cancel-culture ever “needs” in order to level the career-ending verdict. No opportunity for correction, etc. (which I believe is part of the OP’s point)?

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        2. He had a polite debate and refuted them. Which is far more valuable than what most academics are doing in response to people like that. And I don’t see why it would be wrong to debate holocaust deniers/revisionists and to refute them. Both Dutton and Macdonald have a significant following and portray themselves as scholarly outsiders, with some measure of success, so I can see the merit in taking them on, especially in the current climate of scepticism of institutions and expertise.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. these people think it’s much better to have an impolite debate — or better, no debate at all, just cursing and teeth-gnashing and personal destruction — because that way, you signal to your peeps how virtuous you are.

            In other words, they are a bunch of juvenile, self-important grandstanders.

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          2. I think it’s important to have a one-stop-shop, public refutation for popular conspiratorial views. Popular Mechanics has a handy response to trutherism; Gerald Posner has a thorough response to JFK conspiracy theorists; and Cofnas has a response to Kevin McDonald. Kevin McDonald really is pretty influential. He’s basically the guy behind white replacement theory. And no one has tried to refute him, except Cofnas.

            The fact that Cofnas thinks that IQ differences between blacks and whites has a partially genetic basis–and I’m not sure he thinks this, but from what I know of him, it’s quite likely–probably makes him *more* persuasive to people who are on the fence about anti-semitism than otherwise. (Think about it like this: whom would a climate skeptic likelier believe: Al Gore, or Rush Limbaugh if the latter came to believe in global warming as a man-made phenomenon?)

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          3. Seth, it can serve their interests but it often won’t, especially if the person debating them has familiarised themselves with their opponent’s tactics. But I see no reason why ignoring them is less likely to backfire. I doubt many people would start to respect McDonald’s views if their first exposure to them was via Cofnas’ criticisms, which are totally devastating.
            And it’s simply not true that followers of people like that don’t change their minds based on argument. Some won’t, but others will, even if not immediately and even if there has to be something else that happens that helps shift their perspective. It’s worth noting that Cofnas himself used to accept some of McDonald’s ideas when he was younger and changed his mind on the basis of both personal experience and more systematic evidence.

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        3. Seth,

          Parity with the cases of Socrates and Galileo. If you support the suppression of modern cases of research, then by parity, you also support the suppression of past cases of research, unless you have a double standards.

          What Alfano is doing is akin to calling Cofnas to be burned at the stake for being a heretic and his writings be burned as heretical.

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          1. He shouldn’t be burned at the stake any more than David Irving or Richard Lynn should be burned at the stake.
            The lies of confidence men should be treated as lies. Spurious defenses of race science should be called what they are

            Your faith doesn’t interest me. And intellectual life is bloodsport or it’s nothing. It amuses me no end that academics who call other academics charlatans accuse others of trying to damage careers.

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          2. Seth, whatever you think of the importance of IQ and it’s heritability it’s ridiculous to suggest that anyone who takes the wrong view on this is lying for some sinister reason, and even more ridiculous to equate them to holocaust deniers. You come across as an ideologue who can’t accept the possibility that there are reasonable, honest people who disagree with you on this. For all your bluster about the alleged biases of anyone who thinks that biology is relevant to race, you seem remarkably unaware of how hysterical your own biases have made you, and you speak as though the bias and incentives are all on the other side, which is completely false.
            Also there’s no hypocrisy in someone ‘calling someone a charlatan’ and ‘accusing others of trying to damage careers.’ Dan hasn’t tried to ruin Alfano’s career, as criticism on the basis of publicly observable behaviour is not defamation, and Alfano has explicitly said that he wants to ruin Cofnas’ career for ever, so its bizarre to call it an accusation.
            Seriously, youee being rather silly.

            Liked by 1 person

  15. Daniel. I wholeheartedly agree with your analysis here.

    I see the movement to punish ideas and people who some find distasteful not only profoundly anti-intellectual, but also in the long-term dangerous. At least insofar as one might think that dialogue is required for generating minimally acceptable solutions to complex political problems.

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    1. Philosophy professors and their fans refuse to read text for subtext. Taking people at their word is one of the first rules of the field.
      When I read Murray I read him not as a man who’s made logical mistakes, but as a racist. I read his words in the context of the social world he’s chosen to join. I’ve read Confas the same way. I see the slipperiness of his language and I intuit intent. I judge the language and I judge the person.

      A man who states “I’m a feminist!” may very well be a sexist. His behavior will trump his claims. “Some of my best friends are Jews” is a famous example of a statement that’s taken to be a cover for anti-Semitism. The statement is taken as suspect.

      Two links I’m fond of using in arguments like this:

      https://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/professor-raymond-klibansky-324529.html
      https://ndpr.nd.edu/news/money-and-the-early-greek-mind-homer-philosophy-tragedy/

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      1. Okay, well good luck with that. I’m sure your ‘intuitions’ are a wellspring of truth. You have much more to lose socially from espousing Cofnas’ views than those of Stephen Jay Gould, and you know this. In light of this, making such strong claims about ulterior motives on his part, and implicitly downplaying the biases and incentives that we can, if we are being consistent, attribute to many whose arguments and research inform your judgment, is obviously unreasonable. The fact that you can’t see that you’re leaning on an implausible asymmetry of bias between environmentalists and hereditarians is staggering to me.

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      2. Claim: ‘Philosophy professors and their fans refuse to read text for subtext.

        Response: Not continental philosophers, though.

        Claim: ‘Taking people at their word is one of the first rules of the field.’

        Response: Here is why that is:
        1. I (we) presume good faith (lack of malice) because I do so on a daily basis in interactions with people I meet: bus drivers, cashiers, etc., so for consistency, I apply the same standards here. This presumption is defeasible, however. What about you? What do you think of people you meet on a daily basis?

        2. I withhold malice because of cost-benefit analysis. Malice is socially costly. This is why we should presume the honesty of harassment victims such that we believe that he/she actually believes his/her claims. What about you? Do you harbor malice on a daily basis toward others? If not, what makes you so special and different from others?

        3. Ad hominem circumstantial, appeal to motive, poisoning the well, and bulverism would make inquiry very difficult to be done.

        Claim: ‘When I read Murray I read him not as a man who’s made logical mistakes, but as a racist. I read his words in the context of the social world he’s chosen to join. I’ve read Confas the same way. I see the slipperiness of his language and I intuit intent. I judge the language and I judge the person.

        Response: This is hermeneutics of suspicion. This is why the Tuvel affairs occurred. This hermeneutics is inaccurate because:
        1. Cost-benefit analysis doesn’t support it, per above.
        2. Positing subtexts is usually unnecessary for identifying intents behind actions, and thus not parsimonious. So, it usually falls to Occam’s razor as would a ghost as explanation of a murder scene. When this razor is concerned with hermeneutics, it is called ‘Hanlon’s razor.’ Also, read the bottom of the page of you second links (the Notre Dame review); you would see that the book’s thesis is an unparsimonious speculative explanation.

        3. Combining the two points above, hidden motives aren’t usually the best explanation for actions. What about you? Do you look for subtexts on a daily basis when you meet people?

        Regarding the reliability of explaining an action (finding the intent behind it): A person’s intention is in his/her mind and only he/she has a direct access to it (the same is with quaila). Other people only have an indirect access to his/her intent (and his/her mind) via the behaviors that he/she displays. Thus, when there are many intents that can explain the same acts, the observer’s hermeneutics is underdetermined. So the accusations of malice can be mistaken. One must also be aware of human’s susceptibility to attribution errors involving hermeneutical mistakes, such as fundamental attribution error (ex: Someone ran, hit me, and just continue to run without apologizing, the initial reaction of me, who was hurt by the impact, would be that the person is either rude or intentionally hit me in order to hurt me, but upon reflection, it is also likely that he/she was just in a hurry to catch something that he/she cannot afford to miss.) (ex: Concluding a person’s laziness from his/her unemployment).

        Most people use Hanlon’s razor, perhaps unknowingly, when they both, feel that they are able to and are actually able to, use their phones while waiting for a bus at daytime, looking at the screen instead of left, right, front, back, not worrying if someone is going to come and hurt them while their attention are toward their phone. Doing the same at nighttime is a bit more risky, but I think that most people still find doing so safe enough. Hanlon’s razor also requires presuming the absence of malice for each person who crossed into the United States illegally. It requires attributing his/her crossing(s) to the search for a better life and opportunity in the United States rather than to the desire to harm people by committing violent crimes, until enough evidences indicate otherwise.

        Continental philosophers and continental feminists probably inherited this suspicious hermeneutics from literary criticism, and ended up thinking that “everyone is Jesus in purgatory” (https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/EveryoneIsJesusInPurgatory) as a result. Psychoanalysis is also based on this hermeneutics

        Now for parity cases:
        1. Why shouldn’t I be suspicious of you and look for subtexts behind your words? Why shouldn’t I also suspect you of personal malice against those you criticize? What is so special about you?
        2. A Christian creationists can accuse biologists and atheists of being Christophobic with intent to suppress Christianity and its spread. They can claim examples of past Roman persecutions, and modern persecutions in the Middle East and China. Also parity with Muslim creationists, Hindu creationists, and Native American creationists (such as Vine Deloria Jr.), and these three groups can claim that modern science is a form of western imperialism.
        3. Local natives claiming that the opposition to FGM is an instance of cultural imperialism, while feminists see FGM and its preservation as s form of misogyny and patriarchy. (now one can also replace ‘FGM’ with ‘hijab wearing’)
        4. Seeing scientists’ disdain for alternative medicines as racist, imperialist, and classist. (also, one can replace ‘alternative medicine’ with ‘astrology,’ ‘life force,’ ‘spirits,’ and other stuffs shaven off by Occam’s razor)
        5. Explaining the jet trails using chemtrail conspiracy theory

        Some relevant keywords:
        siege mentality, assumption of continuity and universality of oppression, race card, sex card, religion card, ad hominem (circumstantial), poisoning the well, alleged infallibility of the oppressed, the then-oppressed becomes the oppressor, category traitor, false consciousness, heads in the sand, WAKE UP!, woke, red pill, the French Terror, Blackstone formulation, presumption of innocence, giving the benefit of the doubt, fundamental attribution error, frustration, self-serving, self-esteem, pride, ingroup-outgroup (othering), imagined community, compassion, collective responsibility/blaming, conspiracy theories, shill Gambit, New World order, hidden meaning, psychoanalysis, critical theory, zero-sum power play, hasty generalization, availability heuristics, presuming good faith, Hanlon’s razor, Occam’s razor

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    1. Since half of my replies aren’t being published it’s not worth continuing.

      Confas:
      “In a very short time, it is likely that we will identify many of the genetic variants underlying individual differences in intelligence. We should be prepared for the possibility that these variants are not distributed identically among all geographic populations, and that this explains some of the phenotypic differences in measured intelligence among groups.”

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      1. The problem with “race science” is the denial of the possibility that some form of hereditarianism is true by “the left” plus the engagement of some very shady people like Kevin McDonald on the right in it. I am sorry to paint “the left” in broad strokes, but unfortunately a lot of people find it necessary to point out their leftwing credentials in this debate and how hereditarianism attacks their moral core. Turkheimer goes even so far as to claim that a certain ethical principle prohibits even entertaining hereditarianism as a hypothesis.

        It also attracts a certain audience, so that the small community that openly entertains the possibility of hereditarianism is tainted and appears wholly racist. Even someone like Jensen, truly on the left, is then easily declared a rightwing fascist. It is a serious failure of the left to deny that race differences in IQ, which exist, can be partly explained by genes, even though the evidence is mounting. Not conclusive but very suggestive, so much so that it is simply unwarranted to allege that research in this direction is often driven by racism. I predict that philosophy and psychology will look very badly in hindsight in their decade-long denial of a very realistic possibility

        Let me pose this question: What would change if it were shown that there really is a genetic basis for the difference in IQ between ethnicities? If the IQ gaps between Blacks and Latinos and Whites and East Asians and Ashkenazi Jews were due to genes?

        Would it justify certain policies/policy changes? It depends. Programs like head start that aim to benefit primarily Black youth would probably be defunded, but head start is already not working. The outcomes fall short of what was expected. Perhaps a focus on tradeschools would be more beneficial in building up Black middle class. It also shows how elitist the thinking behind the drive for academisation is. You did not attend a college? You are worthless! We had this problem in Germany, lots of underemployed mediocre academics now, whilst tradesmen climb up the financial ladder! Embracing hereditarian thinking does necessarily mean withholding social programs but it can mean that certain programs have a better chance to be effective. Imagine realizing in twenty years time, when we know (that is my bet) via genetic research that hereditarianism is broadly true, how much we failed a subpopulation by prescribing a certain medicine that could not work and hampered other more effective efforts!

        What is worst, is the insinuation that hereditarian thinking must lead to genocide! If you really think that below cognitive ability is a reason to be enslaved or even killed, you are just like a Nazi. Hell, in case of the Jews all the evidence pointed in the other direction, yet they were exterminated! If anyone thinks that racism disappears if the claims of racists are not true, he is beyond naive!

        Perhaps these people should ask themselves under what circumstances they allow for abortion and whether below average intelligence or even intellectual disability play a role, because I suspect for most people (including leftists) it does.

        And then we get to read this pathetic piece from Pittsburgh’s Dietrich at dailynous. Well, if Cofnas’ demand was unnecessary and not at all brave, why then are people like Noah Carl kicked out of the academy? Bunch of hypocrites!

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    2. You’re exhibiting what’s called “low information rationality” Read the history of the people involved in these debates. Read the history of scientific racism. It’s not pretty.
      And by the way Confas’ global warming piece is a hoot.

      The hermeneutics of suspicion is a requirement of intellectual life. And Tuvel’s piece was absurd. A defense of transracialism is nonsense of stilts. That fact that people who make fun of postmodern theory actually defended it shows the absurdity of academic philosophy: all of it.

      And if you want to talk about the transgender fetish read this:
      http://review.antiochcollege.org/sacred-androgen-transgender-debate-daniel-harris

      Like

      1. Claim: ‘You’re exhibiting what’s called “low information rationality” ‘

        Response: Parity to scientists using Occam’s razor to shave off the supernatural. Believers in the supernatural are indeed claiming that scientists are missing out on the ultimate truth.

        Claim: “The hermeneutics of suspicion is a requirement of intellectual life”

        Response: Any evidences of this? This hermeneutics is not empirically supported as I have shown above. Also, you’re making special pleading for double standards between public life and intellectual life despite no reason for the separation.

        Claim: Read the history of scientific racism.
        Response: So nothing has changed? Oppression is eternal and universal? Catholics would love this argument.

        Claim: That fact that people who make fun of postmodern theory actually defended it shows the absurdity of academic philosophy: all of it.
        Response: No, I am not defending postmodern theses. I am merely defending the chance of postmodernists to make their case as I oppose suppression of dissenting ideas.

        Claim: And Tuvel’s piece was absurd. A defense of transracialism is nonsense of stilts.
        Response: Evidences? Anything other than your guts feeling? More like ‘if a thesis is offensive, then it is false’ fallacy; parity to religious creationists offended by evolutionary biology. I don’t agree with Tuvel’s thesis but I oppose the treatment she received.

        Claim: And if you want to talk about the transgender fetish
        Response: No, I don’t believe that transgender is fetish.

        I have written a lot more above here and below here, and you has only responded to a fraction of it.

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  16. (Months ago, I tried to post most of these on Daily Nous’s comments section but Justin Weinberg prevented me from doing so.)

    To Avalonian, Swaggart, Bakker, Haggart, Alfano, McKinnon, etc.:

    There are three main problems with preventing certain views from being debated and prioritizing confirmations of popularly, deeply held beliefs as a goal of research over discovery and finding out what are true and what are not.

    1. The problem of lost benefits:
    If we avoid searching for truths, then how can we know about and predict potential harms (hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, asteroids, drought, famine, diseases, injuries, etc.) and create the technologies to avoid them (weather forecast, machines, medicines, Green revolution, etc.)? Of course, technologies can also be used to cause more harm than the amount only allowed by the lack of such technologies (swords, firearms, bombs, nuclear weapons, etc.), but in the end, they would only cause harm if someone chooses to use them for that purpose. Nuclear power has been controversial from the time of its first harvest, but one cannot deny that it has supplied immense amount of energy for our use, the number of nuclear accidents are very low, another global war is being deterred by it, and there are feasible plans for sealing nuclear wastes away from us and the future generations (provided that we are committed to carrying out these plans). The world’s human population is currently more than any past population in history. Life expectancy has rose significantly.

    The only morally justifiable limits to research are when the means for researching involves harm and when one of the knowledge found would very likely enable any adult to carry out hard-to-deter physical destruction causing massive loss of lives (but then the researchers can try to keep that knowledge a secret), and that is why today we try to limit use of non-human animals in clinical research, avoid the use of human subjects in medical experiments except in clinical trials involving drugs that have already been tested on non-human animals, and providing consent forms to be signed by participants in experiments. Nuclear physics didn’t provide the exact details on how to make hydrogen bombs (there are detailed approximations, but the exact details are kept as government secret for security reasons). Computer science only provide the basic knowledge which someone can choose to use for building smartphone and the Internet or for identity theft and hacking into self-driving cars. As these examples have shown, the potential for harmful uses is not enough for justifying not doing certain research when there are also potential for beneficial uses of its results.

    2. Problem of parity:
    If being offensive is enough to justify shutting down an area of inquiry, then we might as well ban teaching evolutionary biology, geology, and cosmology in schools, burn textbooks in those disciplines, and shut down any scientific research which has the potential to produce conclusions contradictory to claims written in the Bible so that no Christian would be offended.

    Also, there are more potential harms involved here than just offending believers. Allowing their sacred scripture to be contradicted would damage their proselytizing (or evangelizing) mission that they believe is necessary for saving people from damnation in the afterlife as it would be harder to convert non-believers if their scripture is contradicted. It would also cause some Christians to leave the faith as a result, and it would give a government a justification, whether sufficient or not, to suppress Christianity in its territory in order to protect its citizens from “corrupting” influence from a (believed-to-be) false belief system (this was the justification used by the Medieval Catholic Church to suppress religious groups which they perceived to be heretical and burned heretics and heretical writings) and preventing people from wasting their time doing things for false fear of hell and false hope of salvation. For example, consider a government of a communist state with state atheism using ideas and theses in biology, geology, astronomy, and philosophy of religion to persecute and suppress Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and other religions within its border, by citing them as harmful, false ideas that corrupt the minds. By parity, this potential harm would justify suppressing research in biology, geology, archeology, astronomy, and philosophy of religion.

    3. Problem of the status of ethics and political philosophy:
    Social justice advocates, what is your moral theory? And what do you have for justifying it beyond the faith level? What is your theory of justice, and what do you have for justifying it beyond the faith level?

    It is true that the usage of the terms ‘human rights’ and social justice’ is very common nowadays, but many people of certain denominations and religions would still reject the latter term and many moral philosophers would still reject the existence of the former. There are also also still immense disagreements on which are human rights and which aren’t Why are you progressives exempted from having to justify and defend your moral claims? Any political ideologies and beliefs about which actions are moral and which actions are immoral and about what is just and what is unjust, if the holders do not justify them and defend them when challenged, would simply be unjustified beliefs, in other words, faiths (doxastic ventures), no different from a religion.

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    1. Well, the original question was if a philosophical journal should retract a peer-reviewed paper because it’s about a delicate subject, and if the reputation of the author should be ruined.
      The answer is no, I think.

      But now that you mention it: “what if” IQ was partly inherited?

      A decent society would avoid the creation of a culture of low expectations, not only in the IQ-disadvantaged group, but also in society as a whole.

      It would also be a great opportunity to bust the IQ-myth. If I look at my own organisation, I’m certain that I would beat every member of the top level management – with one exception – in an IQ test. Which is great, but they are top level management, and I’m not. And I know why: they’re much better at managing a complex organisation than I would ever be.

      If I look at the people who studied physics with me, the cleverest students are not the ones with the best career.

      IQ is vastly overrated. For most occupations, above a not necessarily very high level differences between IQs become details.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. “A defense of transracialism is nonsense [on] stilts. [my typo]
      Response: Evidences? Anything other than your guts feeling?”

      Again –and from aside from the obvious– maybe you should look up the history of orientalism and philo-Semitism, and the history of fetishes for the other. “I love negroes. They’re so much more natural than white people!” etc.
      It’s a kind of bigotry, turning other groups, cultures, into objects of worship.

      And fyi, there’s a long history of homosexual misogyny

      –“Ah, Therese!” he exclaimed one day, full of enthusiasm, “if only you knew this fantasy’s
      charms, if only you could understand what one experiences from the sweet illusion of being no more than a woman! incredible inconsistency I one abhors that sex, yet one wishes to imitate it!–

      de Sade “Justine”

      https://nplusonemag.com/issue-30/essays/on-liking-women/

      Imagine an article titled “On Liking Black People” How would that play out?

      I’m done with this. It’s getting silly.
      Goodbye.

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      1. So, you wouldn’t deal with Tuvel’s argument. You would assume that Tuvel’s argument fails and then proceed to speculate why she would make such an argument. In other words, bulverism.

        You don’t have to reply to this if you don’t want to.

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  17. Dan,
    well, as I say, I’m ambivalent. I go back and forth. On my better days I agree with you completely,; on not so good days I go back and forth on the issue. But my real point was that, on my not good at all days, I respond like many others do, and that such responses form the bases of practical and political decisions, as well contributing to define our sense of ourselves – for good or ill.

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  18. Maybe there are just topics which shouldn’t be investigated. Not that research into them should be legally banned, of course not, but that there are ethical reasons against do researching about them.

    Truth does not trump all other ethical considerations.

    In the 3rd book of the Genealogy of Morality Nietzsche talks about the will to truth and points out that finding the truth does not always bring us happiness or a better life. Perhaps in the interests of social peace we’d be better off not looking into some subjects.

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      1. I’m also temperamentally included against not seeking the truth. A therapist once labelled me a “truth terrorist”, but one can imagine the social unrest that would arise if this kind of research were to be generally accepted. For the record, I know absolutely nothing about genetics.

        I understand that you’re concerned about witch hunts in academia and in society in general. I share your concern.

        As you’ve probably seen in the media, Chile has been going through a period of social unrest and political polarization, and you see almost the same fanaticism at work as you point out in the U.S., people (who often are quite leftwing by normal standards) being labelled “traitors” and “sell-outs” by radical groups in social media and in very unpleasant potentially violent personal encounters.

        Liked by 1 person

          1. Here’s a very short video (1:48 minutes) in Spanish where a radical mob attacks Congressman Gabriel Boric. Boric is surely as radical as Bernie Sanders on the issues, but he committed the mortal sin of negotiating an agreement with all other parties in congress, including the far right, for a plebiscite on a new constitution to replace the current constitution, which is the product of the Pinochet dictatorship. The agreement is not utopia, but it is the best chance that we’ve ever had to have a constitution drawn up by a constituent assembly, which will be elected by popular vote, the constitution that they draw up then to be ratified by yet another popular vote. That is, Boric negotiated a great deal from the point of view of democracy and from any reasonable leftwing position, yet, as you can see, he is insulted, called a “sell-out”, told he can never again walk the streets safely, beer is thrown on him, his baseball cap is knocked to the ground, etc.

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    1. I would argue that dyeing and curling your hair, wearing dark makeup and calling yourself a black person does not make you a black person. It makes you a fantasist. You’re free to disagree, to believe what you want to believe. Rationalists rationalize. That’s the foundation of all theological argument.

      I’ll remind you again that philosophers hate history. History is evidence. I have evidence on my side. I know induction is imperfect and you dream of perfection, but all you have is wishful thinking. “Assume a can opener” “Assume a virgin birth”
      Dreben after Lieberman: The history of nonsense is scholarship. I’m with the scholars.

      Now I’m out for good.

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  19. Seth,

    How do you know that they are confidence men. How do you know that ALL of them are confidence men? How do you know that they are lying instead of merely being mistaken? Why the hermeneutics of suspicion? And why, if you are so suspicious of their motive, shouldn’t they be suspicious of yours too? What is so special about you?

    Parity with a non-believer accusing religious proselytizers of being liars using confidence tricks to convert people, reductio.

    Parity with Christian creationists accusing evolutionary biologists of being Christophobes who engage in spurious defense of evolution science; reductio.

    And, what faith are you talking about? It is people who make moral claims and justice/injustice claims without theoretical foundations who are the ones having faith.

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