Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

Sure, though it would be peppered with me asking for clarification of terms and other good stuff.

Again, my main point is not with ET.

Getting away from ET...

Take as an example the James Watson controversy. Most of the people that attacked the man didn't even read his words. Is is possible to have a rational discussion on the topic? My argument is that although there is formal freedom of expression on the subject, you cannot informally discuss it as you might get into big trouble.

The same line of reasoning can be applied to, say, freedom of expression in the work sphere: in theory you can give feedback and complain. But in practice these freedoms are very limited. With time, people start finding these restrictions normal, and that is a disaster.

by t-------------- on Tue Aug 26th, 2008 at 01:17:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
James Watson was an idiot because he based his claims on Bell Curve type rubbish that has been long discredited. The problem then comes that if he's still citing it 25 years after it was trashed, then it means that he's hanging around with unsavoury people who still cling to this. Which says a lot more about his prejudices than it does about black people.

There may be something useful to say about intelligence across populations, but it has to be evidence-based and very careful to eliminate cultural processes and migrations. So far such research has not been attempted because the methodologies invovled are too complex.

And if black people can throw up the odd Gandhi and Mandela, whilst white people keep throwing up Limbaughs and Tebbits, I'm not really sure there's a lot to establish.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Aug 26th, 2008 at 02:44:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]

James Watson was an idiot because he based his claims on Bell Curve

The issue is not with the fact that you might label him an idiot or not.
The issue is that he made a statement and suddenly was uninvited from lots of conferences and "retired". Stupid statement = massive consequences.

This is a lot about externalities:

Now forget about Watson a bit and think on any person that might have something interesting to contribute about the said topic (cognitive differences between human populations), that person might be so inclined - because of perceived consequences - to avoid addressing the issue. Even if the person decides to go forward others might be inclined to ignore the person (say, avoid publishing the opinion).

With time, people will naturally and unconsciously avoid those issues (might hurt their career, reputation, social life, ...).

There should be some tolerance for opinions that are way off the mark. Calling him an idiot, that is OK. "Retiring" and uninviting a person because of them, is too much. Not only because of the said person, but because of the consequences to us all, and the perceived freedom that we have.

PS (regarding Watson) - Irrespective of stupid comments and most probably underlying crude racism - and classism [1] - I do think that opinions like these are worthwhile considering. Unfortunately this opinion is voiced by a person that seems to be, simultaneously, a crude racist.

[1] People are so preoccupied in pointing that the guy is a racist that they seem to not notice that he is also very classist.

by t-------------- on Wed Aug 27th, 2008 at 12:05:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think we approach the same solution from different directions. My point is not that there are not possibly interesting things to say about race and intelligence (if race can properly be said to exist in a population as genetically similar as humans), but that if you're going to say such things in these politically consequential times, you need to have better evidence than Bell Curve bullshit.

Nobody has done such studies as the methodology doesn't even exist. We can argue it might be difficult to establish funding to develop such methodologies because the field has such a history of dishonest intentions that anybody would suspect the motivations involved.

But, to repeat my point, Watson was a fool, not just because he cited discredited research, but because the fact that he gave such research credibility says an awful lot about the company he keeps. And classist almost certainly comes in with that.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Aug 28th, 2008 at 06:47:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Speaking just for myself - no, you could not argue in defense of James Watson without being attacked. He was arguing that certain races are inherently inferior to others.  On the other hand, while I'm pretty pro-immigration, there are plenty of non-racist arguments one can use against it. Same goes for multiculturalism.

The informal norms which you describe are what I think of as soft political correctness, something I'm rather strongly in favour of.

by MarekNYC on Tue Aug 26th, 2008 at 03:06:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
To some extent, social control is inevitable (and even desirable): If I'm having dinner with a girlfriend's parents, I don't - for example - tell the parents that they are being obnoxious. They may be obnoxious, and I may have every legal right to tell them, but I have other social reasons for not wanting to tell them to their faces.

I think the real question is which of these informal restrictions on speech are due to illegitimate exercise of social control, or reinforces such illegitimate social control.

To take one of your own examples, I would argue that the restrictions on employee freedom of speech derive directly from the asymmetric power relation between the boss and the employee. If the boss gets mad at the employee, the employee gets fired or otherwise screwed over. If the employee gets mad at the boss... nothing much happens.

As long as such an asymmetric power relation exists, those restrictions will "seem normal." If one contends that the employer-employee power relation is unjust or illegitimate, then those restrictions are a symptom of that underlying problem. If one accepts the employer-employee relation as legitimate (or at least justified on balance), then the informal restrictions on employee freedom of speech are part of the package.

As to the other examples you've brought up, I would agree that they would probably receive a hostile reception, but I think this fact derives less from power relations than from the fact that they are filled to the brim with wingnut talking points.

If I don't know anything about someone, and he starts spewing talking points, then he has less than 100 words to convince me that he's worth listening to if he doesn't want me to write him off as a shill. If someone spends the first hundred words you hear spouting talking points, then it's likely that he a) isn't arguing in good faith, and b) is going to keep spewing (the same old) talking points.

You can call that prejudice if you want to, or you can put it down to experience with (paid and unpaid) shills.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Aug 27th, 2008 at 03:07:10 AM EST
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