The whore pipes up again

— and if you think we’re being too harsh on P. J. O’Rourke, recall that this once-funny man himself used to stigmatize sex-work in a “scathing critique of the American system of governance from a conservative perspective”. We won’t get into the semantics of whether O’Rourke has become a loathsome perverter of true conservative principles or whether Conservatism Inc. has been whoring itself out in lockstep with PJ, so that he can still legitimately claim to be a spokesmanthing for the movement.

What prompted this post was the Reason podcast interview with O’Rourke — and in particular, his use of (a variant of) the phrase “We are a nation of immigrants” (henceforth: WAANOI). Now PJ is certainly not the first or last tool to parrot that tired cliche, nor are we the first to point out its sheer inanity. Charles Cooke did a decent job of that, but he was too gentle. His piece was titled “The Trouble with the ‘Nation of Immigrants’ Argument”, but calling WAANOI an ‘argument’ is already being exceedingly charitable. It’s not an argument any more than “Hitler did that too” is. Look: in some vacuous sense, all nations are nations of immigrants, unless you arbitrarily fix some historical year zero. Second, what else are we a nation of? Mammals, featherless bipedals, hairless apes?  And what profound insight follows from that observation? Indeed, as Cooke pointedly asks: fine, WAANOI, but “So what?”.

An argument would be a claim along the lines of “We must accept some/many/all refugees because it is the decent thing to do” — in which case WAANOI is completely irrelevant. A different argument might examine the effects of massive third-world immigration on jobs and the economy. After all, an elected government’s main responsibility is the welfare of the citizens who voted it into power. The two arguments might even engage in a wrestling match, acknowledging each other’s basic validity while vying for victory. WAANOI has no place in that arena!

So if you find yourself spouting boilerplate or quoting poems or invoking zeroth amendments, remember this: P. J. O’Rourke did that. Do you really want to end up like P. J. O’Rourke?

PSA to Sam Harris

Sam Harris is more or less exactly the sort of ideal opponent outlined in this blog’s inaugural post. In a recent (highly recommended!) chat with Gad Saad, the two discuss, among other topics, the merits of academic research concerning population-wide differences in human IQ. Saad adopted an ars-gratia-artis stance, while Harris questioned the motivation and societal benefits of such research.

Now PTT’s judgement falls squarely in the pursue-knowledge-wherever-it-leads camp, but it so happens that HBD research, and IQ disparities in particular, are of immense and immediate social import. The point is so embarrassingly obvious that I am at a loss to explain how it could have eluded the two impressive thinkers. Anyhow, the glaring omission calls for a PTT Public Service Announcement:

Research into IQ disparities is extremely relevant to the legal theory of disparate impact, whereby a policy is judged by outcome-based racial quotas, even if no discriminatory intent is alleged. Certainly the validity of this legal theory is at least partly contingent on the relevant IQ distributions, as well as other attributes, such as propensity for violence.

PTT would even be willing to cut a deal with the disparate impact adherents. We would be willing to compromise our freedom of association absolutism in exchange for outcome-based quotas that are required to be in line with on the most up-to-date HBD research. For example, if a position calls for an IQ level of over 140, then relative proportions of accepted applicants should be measured against the over-140-IQ — rather than the general — population. Engage in all the bean-counting you want, but respect Science!

[To be clear: we are principally against any sort of bean-counting or other restrictions on freedom of association. The compromise above is offered in mala fide, with the full expectation that the other side won’t take it.]

The old copy-paste

Perhaps the most tragic falsehood promulgated by economic theory is the idea that people everywhere are mutually interchangeable agents. [Update: that’s not a fair characterization of economic theory, see comments.] That other falsehood of them being rational agents — well, there’s a whole cottage industry centered on knocking it down, Nobel prizes and all. But try to speak out against the former falsehood, and you’re in crimethink territory.

Hyper-rational stupid-smart people fall for for this all the time. “Copy and paste from Singapore’s healthcare setup.  Copy and paste from Estonia’s e-government setup.” When Eliezer Yudkowsky gives that as a response to a hypothetical King of the World to-do list, we can write it off as comedy. When the Atlantic suggests that What’s Wrong With American Schools is Not Enough Equality — just copy-paste from Finland, guys! — we are well into farcical (and even tragic) territory.

PTT not being a data blog, I won’t bother looking up the number of Finnish teachers annually assaulted by their students. The US numbers tend to kind of, er, hit you in the face — but don’t you dare talk about it, racist. And I’ll bet the Finnish numbers, whatever they are, are negligible by comparison. So sorry to disappoint you, o Brahmins from the Atlantic: copy-pasting from ethnically homogenous Finland won’t solve America’s diverse problems. Taking the red pill is a necessary starting step.

PTT Sailer watch

As far as anti-Semites go, Steve Sailer is a rather benign one. I have never seen him advocating any specific actions against the Jews, either at state or individual level. An admirer of the Jewish State’s supposed ethnocentric concern for its core Jewish citizenry (if only!), he (reasonably) wishes that some of Little Satan‘s survival instinct would rub off on Satan’s big brother, and (not unjustifiably) faults large chunks of American Jewry for its double standard on Jewish/Gentile nationalism.

Sailer occupies that rare intellectual ecosystem where he has no natural enemies. Oh, he’s got enemies all right, but these are mainly point-and-sputter types — who prefer to question his motivation for relentlessly studying something as “problematical” as HBD rather than his facts — before invariably dismissing him as a racist. A modern racist being someone who is winning an argument against a SJW, Sailer tends to win the majority of these by forfeit. He is well out of his opponents’ intellectual league; they occupy an ecosystem several evolutionary rungs below his. Few dare engage Sailer on the substance, and PTT is proud to be among the few.

We don’t fault Sailer for disliking Jews per se. What would an intellectual response to that look like, anyway? We shall, however, point out a couple of instances where an undeniable animus is clouding Sailer’s otherwise lucid reasoning.

One particularly salient such moment was during Sailer’s instrumental role in exposing the UVA rape hoax. Steve’s linking to an obscure blogger was apparently what had gotten the ball rolling (or, to mix metaphors, unraveling). Along the way, Sailer began to expound upon the role played by glass in the fabrication. Part of his exegesis was illuminating, such as the connection between Sabrina Rubin Erdely and Stephen Glass. Not one to quit while he’s ahead, Steve went on to hallucinate a parallel between the wampeter broken glass and Kristallnacht. Now it’s true that some Jews are in a perpetual state of the-Cossacks-Nazis-are-coming paranoia (although they would be wise to recalibrate their threat radar). But there is zero evidence that “anti-Gentilic malice” played any part in Erdely’s motivation. What — an unscrupulous, progressive (pardon the pleonasm), feminist SJW journalist desperate for a narrative-confirming story featuring a Great White Defendant wasn’t a sufficiently cogent explanation? Pretty weak, for a man who coined the term “Occam’s Butterknife“.

Sailer’s other occasional hobbyhorse is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On this issue, Sailer finds himself on the side of the dyed in the wool antifas, who ordinarily wouldn’t take a squat on the same acre as him. What’s more, he displays none of his usual subtlety or nuance. On more than one occasion, Sailer has likened the Jewish return to their ancestral homeland to a Japanese invasion of Southern California. The comparison is so inept, so bizarre, that I will just leave it without commentary. A man of lesser intellect might be forgiven for such a crude blunder, but at Sailer’s IQ level, this can only be the product of enstupidating animus.

Conjunction fallacy II

And a follow-up on the follow-up. Here is an idea for how to quantify the conjunction fallacy experimentally. Present the subjects with the standard “Linda” story:

Linda is thirty-one years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in antinuclear demonstrations.

But now, instead of asking them to choose the more probable outcome from the two standard options, (1) Linda is a bank teller (2) Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement, why not ask them to select from a longer list:

  1. Linda is a bank teller.
  2. Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.
  3. Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement and had a lesbian experience in college.
  4. Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement and had a lesbian experience in college and owns cats.
  5. Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement and had a lesbian experience in college and owns cats and is overweight.

What is the conjunction size at which the subject begins to realize that increasing the specificity of the outcome is making it less likely?


Conjunction fallacy

Following up, I’m going to hazard a psychological explanation of the conjunction fallacy. When presented the choices, “(1) Linda is a bank teller (2) Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement”, here is what I think happens in the subject’s mind. Upon encountering (2), I conjecture that the subject re-interprets (1) as “Linda is a bank teller and not active in the feminist movement”. There must be some clever experiment to verify this empirically. If this is what’s actually happening, then whatever is faulty is not the probabilistic reasoning. Of the two (new) conjunctions, (2) could indeed well be more probable.

I suspect that untrained people’s poor performance in probability stems from a more basic incompetence in logic. Ask a random adult, “What’s the opposite of ‘always’?” I’ll bet most people will blurt out, “Never”. Now there’s the issue of how one interprets opposite, which I take to mean logical negation. In that case, the correct answer is not always rather than never. Setting this up as a clean experiment is a bit of a challenge. Using my wording with “opposite” invites criticism on the grounds of ambiguity. Using the more precise “logical negation” might be judged as technical and arcane. If anyone can phrase the question in a way that’s both natural and unambiguous, I’d be curious to know.