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Category: Culture

The best that has been thought and written and why these ideals are difficult to meet.

March 8, 2010 | 39 Comments

England Invents New Kind of Inequality

A female named Harriet Harman at England’s Equalities and Human Rights Commission has discovered a new method of producing inequality under the law.

She has codified this method—England’s version of a legal patent—in a Parliamentary procedure called an “Equality Bill.” England, like many European countries, has proudly led the way in producing unequal treatment under the law for its citizens in the name of “Equality.”

The law mandates that organizations consider the “impact” of their policies on “minority” groups. This method of inequality was, of course, already well known. Harman’s genius was to insist that any group which holds distinct beliefs can form their own minority. To quote: “A belief need not include faith or worship of a god or gods, but must affect how a person lives their life or perceives the world.”

Harman gave “vegans” as an example of a new minority. A “vegan”, she said, is a person who “eschews the exploitation of animals for food, clothing, accessories or any other purpose and does so out of an ethical commitment to animal welfare.”

Lest you feel this is arbitrary, the Daily Mail reports that “[a] spokesman from the commission explained: ‘This is about someone for whom being vegan or vegetarian is central to who they are. This is not something ‘thought up by the commission’.”

Incidentally, it should be pointed out that no human can be a complete vegan in practice. It is impossible for a human to eat without both directly and indirectly killing animals. Many small animals—insects, worms, mice, and so forth—are killed both in the planting and harvesting of the vegetables vegans eat. The fields also provide a food source for many animals, and they in turn provide a food source for various predators. Thus, the very act of planting a crop causes the death of many animals.

In any case, the classification of minorities covers “any religious belief or philosophical belief” or and even “a lack of belief.”

Among the many anticipated successes of this new law will be the banning of dress codes (which might discriminate against transsexuals) and the outlawing of “ladies’ nights” at pubs.

That’s the news, now the analysis.

A minority group is defined as a set of humans who share a belief that is “central to who they are.”

Now, a set—in mathematics, anyway—can include just one, or even no, members. In the name of “equality”, then, England must admit that any belief, even if it is held by just one person, as long as that belief is “central to who they are.”

Technically, this must also be true for a belief that is (currently) held by nobody. I won’t insist on this definition, but examples of easily frightened bureaucrats anticipating protected beliefs are too easily brought to mind.

The law will require that organizations consider how their policies might adversely “harm” minorities. The law doesn’t say “harm”, but that, of course, is what it will amount to in practice. No minority sues for redress against advantages.

Inequality before the law arises because it is the minorities that get to define the “harm” they are caused. It is they who get to decide what actions are considered negative and discriminatory. This follows logically. It cannot be, for instance, the bureaucrat who codifies what counts as harm (for minorities consisting of at least one member), because it is the minorities who define themselves.

Thus, to be consistent, England must allow any individual to claim minority status. She must also allow each individual to define what he considers harmful behavior directed toward himself. And England must write regulations to disallow that harm, whatever it might be. Thus, it must guarantee unequal treatment under the law.

This is obviously insane.

There must have been some lone soul at the Equality Commission who realized this, because he put out that “scientific or political beliefs such as Marxism and fascism would not be covered.”

“Whew!” thought opponents, “At least we won’t have renegade bands of Hitlarians or other militant socialists running around. They’ll be disallowed to claim minority status.”

Maybe so. But if that’s true, the Commission is saying that it knows certain beliefs are verboten, which is equivalent to saying it knows which beliefs should be encouraged. That is, the Commission is saying it has a complete moral code, and that its moral code trumps any other, including those codes that are completely independent of government, such as religious codes.

This is a point of elementary logic. If the Commission can create a minority, it is they who are making the moral judgment of what is good and what bad. Either they must let every behavior claim equal status. Or they must discriminate.

Thus, the Orwell-named Equality Commission guarantees inequality. Since equality is nowhere to be desired, this is fine. But the evidence is that the Commission will discriminate against anything that is traditional in favor of whatever is not. And that is silly.

March 7, 2010 | 50 Comments

Do only the less intelligent write papers about theists being less intelligent?

There are some new statistical papers floating around that conclude that the more intelligent among us tend to be atheists.

An equivalent, but more enjoyable, way of stating this is that dumber people tend to be theists. It must be fun for degree-holding atheist journalists to report these matters, since it flatters their degree-bred sense of superiority.

Which doesn’t follow. That “superiority”, I mean. It would if it were true that atheism is morally superior to theism. But morality is logically independent of intelligence (empirically, the evidence goes both ways; and since 1789, intellectuals have little to boast of, morally).

Point is, any study, or any reporting on such a study, that seeks to correlate intelligence and theism should remain mute on the subject of morality. But that’s not the case in the reporting and comments on our two articles (here and here)

The first study was authored by Satoshi Kanazawa, an “evolutionary psychologist.” Evolutionary psychologist spend a lot of telling us what we already knew (women hate philandering mates) or by telling us things that are false or misleading. Such as this statement by James Bailey, who said, “The adoption of some evolutionarily novel ideas [like atheism] makes some sense in terms of moving the species forward.”

Bailey also says that it’s the more intelligent that usher in novel ideas. This is unhelpful because, while it is true that every advance by definition requires a “novel idea”, every setback does, too. And since setbacks are more common than advances (is atheism a setback?), are intellectuals, on average, an evolutionary disadvantage? Maybe: see below.

Anyway, Kanazawa thinks atheism is a novel idea, and says that higher IQ people tend to support it. But Kanazawa’s study employs poor statistical methods. Here’s the problem.

Many do not come to atheism by reasoned thought about the existence or not of God. Most people do not engage theologians about, say, the strengths and weaknesses of the ontological argument.

As acknowledged in our second study by professor David Voas, they come to it through culture,. Fresh college students meet not-so-fresh students and stale professors who share a common belief that theism is stupid, and that belief comes from the blind following of tradition. Most new students, as is human nature, adopt this belief of their associates and superiors. To say it another way, they begin to blindly follow a different tradition.

But, since it is higher IQ kids who attend college and who are exposed to the culture of atheism, it makes it more likely that students, rather than non-students, who will become atheists. Atheism and IQ will show a positive correlation, but what is missing is the causation. There will also be a correlation between “degree of liberalism” and IQ, which Kanazawa also tracked, and for the same reason.

If you object to that, it is probably because you have forgotten that for most of history people with high IQs were theists, and that it was those with the highest IQs who contributed the most to theology. Arguments for or against the existence of God have not changed much through time, but culture has. It is thus more plausible that culture and not intellect is what drives belief.

Kanazawa is not silent on causation. He says that theism causes “paranoia.” He strung these English words together, “It helps life to be paranoid, and because humans are paranoid, they become more religious, and they see the hands of God everywhere.” Each of those words is English, but their ordering is gibberish.

Is he implying that theists are mentally ill and atheists not? Kanazawa would not be the first to argue that theists are insane, but he may be the first who attached a p-value to that belief. Or is he merely saying that humans are cautious because the future is uncertain? No, because he can’t resist the disparaging, and false, remark that theists “see the hands of God everywhere.”

Bailey takes a subtler view. He claims that, regardless whether a novel idea is good or bad, holders of novel beliefs, who tend to be smarter, attract more mates. His argument is thus a version of the theory that some women like bad boys. There is no proof of his theory, of course, and it is difficult to test because it is difficult to quantitatively define “novelty.” For one, ideas do not have to be liberal to be novel, even if the predominant culture is conservative.

Even Kanazawa himself is aware that his own argument is on thin ice. For example, he acknowledges that nowadays “[m]ore intelligent people don’t have more children.” This is true.

So I wonder: does he realize that this empirical truth negates everything else in his study?

March 1, 2010 | 16 Comments

Winter Olympics Medal Trends

The 2010 Winter Olympics are over and the USA came out on top with the highest medal count at 37. Germany was next at 30, followed by Canada at 26.

Lost in those numbers is any measure of difficulty. Gold medals are lumped together with Silver and Bronze. And we lose any indication of the overall challenge: more competitors mean more challenging games. For example, if there were only three countries competing, then coming in third place is no great distinction.

The overall number of medals is also a floating marker. This is because the number of games included in the Olympics has been increasing.

So I decided to plot a few pictures to have a better idea of what is happening.

The first is a shot of the number of games in competition. In the first Winter Games in 1924, there were only 16 sports. This fell by two in the next two meetings, but then gradually rose to a full 86 in the 2010 games.

Winter Olympics Number of Games by Year

The rate of increase was roughly the same, barring the interruption of World War II, up until about 1984, when the pace quickened. About 9 new medal-games were added each time. The addition of new games has slowed down lately: from 2006 until 2010, only 2 games were added. Still, if this pace continues, the 2022 meeting will host about 100 games.

The number of countries that participate in the games has also been increasing. The proxy for this is provided in the next picture, which shows the number of countries that won medals in each of the meetings (I don’t have the number of countries that did not win any medals).

Winter Olympics Participating Countries by Year

About the same rate of increase that we saw in the number of games is present in the number of countries winning medals. This shouldn’t be too surprising: the more chances of winning something, the more likely we’ll see more countries winning at least one medal.

There have only been six countries that have participated in all 21 Winter Olympics since 1924: Austria, Canada, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and the USA. Germany rates a special mention: it did not participate in 1924 or 1928, but has since then; although it did, at times, have a split personality.

The next picture shows how the old hands have performed through time. It shows the percent of medals won. For example, in 1924, Norway won 4 Gold, 7 Silver, and 6 Bronze, or 17 total. There were 48 medals awarded (to all countries) in that year, and Norway took 35% of them, clearly placing it on top: the next best country was Finland with about 22%.

Winter Olympics Percent medals won by countries by Year

The Norwegians have continued to do well through the years, coming out on top in many of them. Their performance, like the other countries shown, has been decreasing, but that is function of the increasing number of countries participating.

Canada has been doing better, gradually improving since 1980. Sweden is sinking, as is Finland. Austria can’t make up its mind. Germany is decreasing slightly (that flat line in the middle joins the old and new Germany). The USA is improving.

Still, that picture is confused by the increasing number of competitors. The next picture attempts to adjust for that by weighting the percent medals won by the number of countries that won at least one medal. For example, Norway’s 1924 35% when there were only 5 other countries in competition can be compared with Norway’s 2010 8% when there were 25 other countries winning medals.

Winter Olympics Index medals won by countries by Year

This changes the situation some. The USA and Canada now show more dramatic improvements. Norway is still holding it own, as is Germany (same problem of East-West missing years). But now Sweden’s and Finland’s demise does not appear imminent. And Austria looks to be improving.

If there is great, overwhelming, I-can’t-stand-not-knowing interest, I can link to plots for more countries. Just let me know.

February 28, 2010 | 6 Comments

Berkeley Day of Action Planning Meeting (Student Riots)

On Friday night, students at the University of California at Berkeley rioted to protest budget cuts and tuition increases. Several local businesses were damaged; a Subway was firebombed. There was also “dancing in the streets.” Another Day of Action is set for Thursday, March 4th.

A planning meeting was held yesterday. (Thanks to reader Beth Wolk for the tips.)

“We’re all here now, Brian. The Berkeley Anarchists Alliance already passed out agendas to everybody.”

“Good,” said Brian. “OK, everybody. Let’s take our seats. First, Amisha has a report from Thursday’s demonstration.”

“Thanks, Brian,” said Amisha as she turned to the crowd with her fists thrust forth. “Wohoo! We taught those who teach us lessons a major lesson!”

Amisha was encouraged by various shouts and exhortations. Somebody yelled, “They don’t know who we are!” Amish said, “The good news is that we destroyed a Subway with our firebomb, plus broke windows on over six other businesses. Capitalism is in its death throes! All these evils corporations—and all corporations are evil—all they can do is to take. This time we took from them!”

Several flashes lit up the podium. “That reminds me. I have pictures on my iPod of when Kevin organized the pizza throwing at the police. Marza has set up a Facebook page where everybody’s pictures are uploaded. And don’t forget the After-Riot party at Starbucks later tonight when we’ll celebrate our victory and go through the photos. Good luck on Thursday, everybody!”

Amisha stepped down. The mood in the room was ebullient. Several people were sharing photos they had taken on their smartphones. As Brian was retaking the podium, somebody showed him one. He mock winced and laughed as he addressed the crowd.

“OK, people. The pizza throwing was good, but maybe next time we could go with the rocks as we had originally planned. Dana just reminded me,” Brian smiled and indicated the fellow who showed him the picture, “of what pizza sauce does to Nike Shox Sayas. They’re not cheap!” Everybody laughed.

“Besides, I was sure I saw one of those fascist police eating one of the pizzas!” More mirth. Somebody shouted, “Let them eat rocks!” This was answered by, “We’ll bust their teeth!” and similar commentary.

“I’m sure we’re all feeling good about what we accomplished. But now we have to ensure the details for the upcoming Day of Action are settled.”

Brian glanced over his agenda. “The first thing we need to know is why we’re doing this. They’re trying to take our education away!” Applause. “If these budget cuts are approved, we’ll no longer receive the free money and tuition that we deserve.” Stronger applause. Somebody began passing out Anchor Steams. One made its way to Brian, who took a sip before continuing.

“These educators and politicians just don’t understand what we already know. They don’t know anything. They should be shown that everybody is equal. They need to be forced to see that if we’re not given free or reduced tuition then we can’t be given our degrees.

“Now, I’ve already been told that the Berkeley Lesbian-Gay-Transsexual-Transgendered-Transspecies Legion will be at Thursday’s Action with their award-winning puppet show. The African-American Separate But Equal Alliance will be there to make sure the media knows that the people in power are racists. And this will surprise you. A delegation of Radical Progressive Professors will be there on our side!”

The crowd politely applauded. The gesture of the professors was appreciated, but some disliked spoiling the purity of the event with academics. They were part of the problem, many felt. Some professors, after all, still insisted on holding students to the outmoded hierarchies of white male, patriarchal capitalism with its insistence on logic, evidence, and quantitative measures of ability. It was rumored that some even refused to give all their student As!

Still, it was a good sign that professors were finally seeing the truth. As this realization spread, the applause grew louder and more insistent.

Brain spoke. “Thank you. OK. Have I forgotten anything? Oh, right. Remember to bring bandannas and hats—Artie over hear got a box of them from Walmart.” Artie waved. “You can’t be too careful, so wear them especially if you’re going to go up against the police.” He took one from a box and held it up as if it were a flag. “This time we’re really going to show them who we are!”

He allowed the cheering to subside. “Remember. We want to avoid violence if we can. But if these fascists try and stop us, then it’s their own fault if somebody gets hurt.” Brian raised his clenched fist. “To our victory!”

The meeting ended. See you Thursday.