söndag 10 maj 2015

Social Justice and Statistics

The philosophy of social justice is a direct consequence of statistics, and hence solidly scientifically backed.  I don't think people realize this, so I will try to explain my viewpoint here.

Social justice is not the only possible interpretation of the numbers, but it is a valid interpretation - a reasonable conclusion to draw from the data. I will argue that when analyzed, a piece of social statistics will lead to one of only three possible conclusions, outlined below.

Let us take an example: Consider the black incarceration rate in the United States. Black male Americans are six times as likely to be incarcerated as white male Americans. Why?

As soon as you have asked "why", you have done something very, very important. You have asserted that a statistical structure such as this has an underlying why - a reason. You have asserted that it is not random. You have asserted that a reason can be found.  That this is so is a statistical inevitability. If you flip a coin seven times and it comes up heads six times, you have good reason to suspect that the result is not random. If you flip it seven million times, and it comes up heads six million, you have fact. Fact, at least, with the same certainty that a certain particle in a lab behaves so-and-so, or that such-and-such a chemical compound reacts in a certain way. There are roughly 300 million Americans, more than enough data points to make statements about fact. So. We can be certain that there is some reason for this anomaly.

The social justice interpretation is that this is due to a system underbuilt by invisible privilege - underlying structures in society that actively discriminate against black men, that, though largely unseen by whites, pervasively and actively games the system against black men.

It seems to me that those who disagree with this interpretation instead typically call the reason "black culture" - the argument that nothing is wrong with the system at large, merely with the culture in which black males grow up; with gangs, crime, welfare, laziness. Black men are simply the result of a culture that creates criminals.

And here is where a four-year old can push the discussion further. "Why? Hey, why?" the four-year old will ask. The four-year old asks a good question.

If it is the case that a culture consisting of 40 million or so Americans raises lazy criminals, why, we have enough data points to make further assertions. So now, instead of dealing with the questions "Why are black Americans commonly incarcerated?" we are dealing with the question "Why does black culture create criminals?".

Well, maybe it is because of some kind of systematic,  underlying, invisible structure in black culture that actively lead black men into lives of crime. But culture does not exist in a vacuum. If it is only because black men are raised in ghettos, well, where did the ghettos come from? Maybe because of some systematic, underlying structure in culture...

We can continue down this rabbit hole of cultural cause-and-effect until we arrive at some true root cause, some social inequality or injustice, at which point we have - again - asserted the truth of the social justice paradigm, just at some deeper, more fundamental level. Or we can continue down it until the data points become so few, and so blurred, that it all seems like random happenstance - but "random happenstance" in these matters is people making decisions. It is true that if you flip a billion coins, you might find some pattern arising out of total randomness. If you view people's decisions as coins being flipped, sure. But to do so is to wash your hands of any choice you ever make in your life; not an unscientific viewpoint, but most certainly a cowardly one. It is to claim that all our problems are just the outcome of coin flips, and there is nothing we can do to change them. It is to claim that we are both acting without cause (as there is no underlying reason for the coin's result) and without agency (as we have no influence over it). We call this viewpoint nihilism. 

What remains? Well, there is the third, obvious interpretation: That black people are genetically more prone to crime than whites. That would certainly explain the statistical results, and it means white people can't be blamed for this outcome as they just happen to be naturally superior, law-abiding citizens.

Given only the data points that black men are more likely to be incarcerated than whites, this isn't a viewpoint that I can disprove with statistics. Which means you are entitled to believe it. You in that case have "a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement" - which is the textbook definition of racism. 

I cannot tell you not to be a racist. You're entirely entitled to that opinion. I can however tell you that if you're not on the side of social justice, you are either a nihilist or a card-carrying racist.

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