Friday, August 17, 2007

the damnable truth

We have advanced to a more tolerant and politically correct culture. We are kind to the LGBT community, believe in human rights, suffrage for women, believe that no people is genetically more advanced than another, that everything that makes us different from one another is individualistic rather than racial, due to our individual genes, backgrounds, upbringings and environments.

We have dismissed pseudo-scientific findings of the past that suggested that there was a difference and we were to act on it, such as in the matter of eugenics or in stating that black/ "negro" people had different brains or lesser intellects.

Here is what I am wondering, however:

What if one day in the future we were to advance to the point where people really could scientifically prove the intellectual superiority of one race over another? Suppose white people really were genetically wired to be smarter than black people? Then what? What happens to our carefully crafted tolerant and politically correct culture?

Do we tell the truth? Do we start teaching our children in our science textbooks about this divide?

If I am reasoning correctly, the reason that we promote and allow for the teaching of a subject like evolution, for instance, is because it is scientifically and factually based and for all intensive purposes, true. Similarly, in our public schools we do not promote teaching a creationist version of history and/or the theory of intelligent design because this is irrational and lacks a scientific foundation.

But do we act similarly in this case, this potentially inflammatory and terrible case? Do we state that in the same way that science suggests evolution is true and therefore we must teach it, science now suggests white people are wired differently from black people; we must teach that as well? Do we allow for this dangerous opportunity, something that will most probably end in racism and cruelty and the utter breakdown of respect for people from different cultures based on our supposed equality and common humanity, now proven false?

I think most of us would automatically say no. Because telling this truth leads to terrible consequences for all, a divided society, racism and intolerance, people hurting one another, etc.

But tell me, atheists- there are those of you who believe you have discovered a form of higher truth, and look down on those who are not brave enough or strong enough to discover this truth and instead cling to their religion, their moral guide. You believe science and reason support your view. But if science and reason supported a view you did not like- an intolerant, cruel view- what then? Do you believe it? Do you follow its dictates because science says so? Or do you refuse to know this supposed truth, do you pretend and perhaps lie- in order to be a better, kinder person?

And if you would be willing to follow your heart in this manner, who are you to judge the religious people who do the same?

Suppose, alternatively, that you would not do this. You believe in science and reason no matter the cost and state that this, like all other things, should and must be taught in high school and placed in the text books- because it is true. You believe we can create a respectful society that can intellectually understand that white people are racially wired to be smarter than black people, but who simultaneously don't take advantage of that. Even then...is this controlled attempt at not looking down at others preferable to the benign ignorance in which everyone believed themselves to be on the same footing?

Can it be that Colonel Jessep is actually right, and there really are times when "You can't handle the truth!"?

Are there times when we must spare the populace the truth due to the larger effects it may cause? Where something may be true, but it is not ethical to disseminate that information? If we were to one day prove beyond a shadow of a doubt, scientifically and genetically, that there are major racial differences and that white people are smarter than black people- would it be ethical to release this information?

Atheists often seem to dismiss religion as being cruel and oppressive (and can cite numerous instances where this is so, the penalty for homosexual behavior, etc.) And they suggest the reason for this cruel and oppressive behavior is because we believe in a God who tells us to do these things and we follow his laws. But, using one's intellect and reason, we realize that all people are equal and ought to be treated equally (including homosexuals, etc), therefore atheists who make use of science and reason are acting (or find it easier to act) in a much kinder manner than religious people.

So I have to wonder- what if this same intellect and reason which is now being used in order to scientifically excuse away people's actions and behavior (all very likable from not only an atheist's but from my point of view); for example, the idea that homosexuality is genetic and not necessarily a choice- suddenly switched? What if this same intellect, science and reason proved something very, very intolerant, very unattractive to our enlightened outlook, something that would lead to cruel and oppressive behavior- something like I suggested, such as racial mental superiority?

What then? How does the rational, scientific and intellectual mind respond to something like this, something proved beyond a shadow of a doubt- but nevertheless cruel and wrong on an emotional level, those same emotions this person fears to trust?

What do you do with this damnable truth? Do you hide it away? Pretend it doesn't exist? Face it, confront it, and try to ensure that it doesn't change anything- venture into the field of apologetics; "Yes, it has been scientifically proven that white people are smarter than black people but don't worry; we love you anyway!" How condescending can you be?

In fact, I now wonder- how many scientists, if they discovered any data like this, would simply refuse to release it because it doesn't fit the morals/ethics of our world and day-to-day life, our philosophy of tolerance and live and let live? Are our scientists biased? Should this data fall into their possession, would they simply ignore it or destroy it- because they know what lies in wait for them if they would dare to bring it to light, to tell the truth?

How much of science is simply recreating a popular myth, entrapping us in our own cozy beliefs? In our world, can a scientist who wishes to be taken seriously even advance a non-politically correct notion?

Doesn't this mean we've put barriers, deadlocks and gates around science, that very science which is supposed to be all about truth? But we don't want to hear a truth that conflicts with our tolerant worldview, now do we?

In which case, how does that philosophy make us- make any secular person- different from the Chareidi person who bars himself inside his insular community? He too has his gates and barriers; they are simply more obvious and at times more offensive to others, who view themselves as more enlightened. But even the enlightened ones don't wish to consider that something they hate might be truthful- who would ever entertain the idea that perhaps a stereotype could be correct? What if races, religions or nations do have certain genetic traits in common? What if those aren't all the most flattering traits?

I'm certain that someone who advanced this notion would be called a Hitler. Which just means that in some circumstances, even we, even the most enlightened, don't seem to be able to accept the truth (or the possibility thereof.) Because who would entertain this cruel and hateful possibility?

Wizard's First Rule: People believe what they want to believe.

It seems to me that this applies to all of us. To those who are putting up the obvious barriers- and also the ones who claim to have no barriers. Atheists and Chareidim alike, the majority of us all reach a point where we "can't handle the truth."

Of course, this is all hypothetical. I don't know the scientist who has proved racial superiority beyond the shadow of a doubt. But to me, it seems eminently possible that this could happen. And I wonder, where would we be then? Where would our worldview be? Our love for reason, science and truth? Our claim that we bar nothing, allow for anything when it comes to pure intellectual exploration?

Oh, I think you would find that that claim would become suddenly untrue.

There are some truths, which if they exist, are too ugly to tell.

What does the scientific mind do with a damnable truth?

I've really been wondering. I'd really like to know.

45 comments:

Anonymous said...

"We have dismissed pseudo-scientific findings of the past that suggested that there was a difference and we were to act on it"

This isnt some far off possiblity in the distant future. Its actually a highly debated topic in the scientific community today. Although many will tell you otherwise, many serious scientists who study this subject now concede the the avg 15 point iq gap between blacks and whites is mostly genetic in nature and can not be overcome.

There is profound social pressure within the academic elite that essentially demands people not talk about the issue of innate differences. The reaction to Summers' speech is one example.

Another example is Bruce Lahn who made the genetics breakthrough of the last several years when he discovered the genes called microcephalin and ASPM, which lead to larger brains and happen to be correlated with European and Asian ancestry, but gave up his research because it became "too controversial."

http://www.gnxp.com/blog/2006/06...n-to-non- iq.php

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_Lahn

Here is an article from a credible journal that discusses the difference in bone density between blacks and whites.

http://jcem.endojournals.org/cgi...stract/82/2/ 429

here is one endorsed by the APA which states that the IQ gap is mostly genetic.

http://taxa.epi.umn.edu/~mbmiller/journals/pppl/200504/2/235-2.html

Warren said...

Why does your hypothetical assume that current prejudices would be confirmed? It seems to me that you're imagining a world where science dials back to the point where Jews were equal, but blacks were not. But what if it goes all the way back to Jews being considered inferior, this time with proof? Would you submit to that? Or can you not conceive of the possibility?

Even if you can't imagine that, what if science finds a way to predict an individual's intelligence at birth. And the experts tell you that an education would be wasted on one of your children, he'll never be more than a menial worker and there's for him to agonize over trying to learn anything. Would you agree to that?

haKiruv said...

Everyone judges evidences by their own fundamental axioms, which have no proof and cannot be deduced from logic. A real paradox. Even atheists believe in a certain premise that cannot be proven. Everyone lives by faith. It's just a question of what that fundamental belief is.

Ezzie said...

This isnt some far off possiblity in the distant future. Its actually a highly debated topic in the scientific community today.

Exactly what I was going to say. There's supposed to be a great study by a pair of people (I wish I could recall by whom) that discusses this very phenomena.

The best approach is (IMHO) one that does not pretend we are all the same, but that acknowledges the differences and innate skills we all bring to the table - and utilizes those differences wisely. Also important to remember is that while an overall population may have certain traits that another lacks to an extent, that does not translate into individual stereotypes; any individual can fall anywhere across that spread.

Interestingly, corporate America's quest for the almighty dollar may be the best example of how things should be: Whomever can help bring in the money is utilized as best as possible. Companies such as the one I work at have the greatest mix of people from what I see - while among top universities, you'll find a large % of white people at the top.

Haha - that last link from the first anon is the study I was referring to. Rushton/Jensen.

Ezzie said...

Last lines of the study are the most important for your question: "The major policy implication of the research reviewed here is that adopting an evolutionary-genetic outlook does not undermine our dedication to democratic ideals. As E. O. Wilson (1978) aptly noted: “We are not compelled to believe in biological uniformity in order to affirm freedom and dignity” (p. 52). He went on to quote the sociologist Bressler (1968): “An ideology that tacitly appeals to biological equality as a condition for human emancipation corrupts the idea of freedom. Moreover, it encourages decent men to tremble at the prospect of ‘inconvenient’ findings that may emerge in future scientific research” (E. O. Wilson, 1978, p. 52). Denial of any genetic component in human variation, including between groups, is not only poor science, it is likely to be injurious both to unique individuals and to the complex structure of societies."

Daniel said...

Chana,

Actually, there is surprisingly little genetic variation from person to person and from ethnic group to ethnic group. Every human being shares more than 99% of the same DNA.

Nevertheless, there have been certain highly controversial studies (for methods as much as results) that are brought up sometimes which seem to prove that black people have, on average, lower IQs than other ethnic groups, and that religious people have lower IQs than secular people (lots of ardent secularists quote the latter as if it proves their argument while quietly ignoring the former). Of course, IQ testing is incredibly controversial. IQ tests test certain basic language, numeracy and reasoning skills, which arguably depend on educational and cultural backgroud, and may not directly correlate to intelligence (not sour grapes; I've been tested and have a high IQ, but I can see why the tests tend to be seen as unhelpful these days).

However, for the sake of argument, let's say that it was proved, without a doubt, that, for example, Jews are more intelligent than non-Jews. How would this affect affirmative action plans at universities, for example?

Now, naturally people would react to this news in different ways, but logically, it should not directly affect policy at all. In philosophy, a fact (what is) is different to a value (what should be). Since Hume, most philosophers have argued that a fact can never directly prove or disprove a value. Even if we ignore the fact that this would mean on average Jews are more intelligent than non-Jews, not that every Jew is more intelligent than every non-Jew, even if we ignore the fact that success at university depends on the ability to work and to learn as much as it does pure intelligence, then this would still not directly affect anything, because ethical behaviour is based on values, not facts.

If university is seen as something for the most intelligent people, a way to produce X-number of highly educated people each year, then one should not have affirmative action programmes, or perhaps should even discriminate in favour of Jews/the intelligent (universities basically discriminate in favour of the well-educated at the moment). On the other hand, if university is seen as a way of adding value to students' educational levels regardless of starting point, then it could be argued that some positive discrimination is necessary to let people of all backgrounds benefit proportionately - assuming you agree the state can intervene in the educational system in that way. But these are questions of values (what you believe education is for and the role of the state in it) not questions of facts, which are merely the background data used in making decisions according to values.

Halfnutcase said...

channa, they already DO supress unpopular information. Take a look at the rest of the IQ controversy.

They use such informtation inorder to hurt gifted people for the satisfaction of regular people, dispite the fact that research says what they are doing is inexcusable and self distructive (IE they're preventing gifted kids from making the discoveries and becoming the leaders they might otherwise).

Halfnutcase said...

daniel, the latter statement (that seculars have higher IQs than religious) never made sense to me. It wasn't the geniuses in my family who became secular, but the comparatively stupid ones (who are far, far, far from stupid, but when the comparison is made, they might as well be)

Infact, all the brightest people in my family are the most religious, and they'll beat the pants off any secular person you can come up with.

But perhaps judaism is different.

Larry Lennhoff said...

Most of your examples depict a fallacy I find common among those raised to think Orthodox - that the statistical is the individual.

Society can and does choose to ignore statistics. For example, sex and race based discrimination in life insurance premiums is forbidden despite the fact that statistically in contemporary America women live longer than men and blacks have shorter lifespans than whites.

(more later)

Eitan Kastner said...

As many have already said, this is a hotly debated topic. I think two good opinions can be found in Stephen Jay Gould’s “Mismeasure of Man” and Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs, and Steel.” Both are readable for someone not uber-educated in genetics and evolutionary biology and both are fantastic.

Even if science were to prove that some ethnicities and races are “intellectually superior” to others, no one is saying that that should be legislated upon. For science to work no question should be off the table – even if it leads to a dangerous place – because the more we understand in the universe the better we can fix it. Suppressing facts and research places a dead end on the path to certain discoveries.

These discoveries often exist in abstract numbers and do not apply to specific individuals. Even if it were proven that Cambodians are smarter than Uzbeks, that doesn’t mean that all Cambodians are smarter than all Uzbeks, therefore there is no legitimate way to legislate on this issue. As long as such a discovery remains in the abstract and is not misused by people with power, it should not lead to a dangerous place.

G said...

Is this not the "where do you get morality w/o religion" question stated a little more pointedly?

Anonymous said...

About a year ago, there was a new york magazine article about this phenomenon. It was called something like “the religion of science.” The article discussed how on the one hand those on the left like to depict conservatives as backwards and anti science, while at the same time the left (academic left) is doing everything in its power to impede research and progress in any area that may lead to genetic innate differences. IT gave several recent examples of this.

The policy implications would be severe. Every year the federal and local govts pour in billions and billions of dollars into the public school system for the sole purpose of closing the educational gap between black and white students. If we found that the 1SD gap between blacks and whites is in fact genetic, we would probably allocate much of those funds elsewhere.

Also, for the most part IQ exams are really not at all controversial. Psychologists and psychiatrists use results from different iq exams to diagnose and treat virtually every type of emotional or psychological conditions. Psychologists use these tests every single day. The only aspect of these tests that attracts controversy is the 15 point IQ gap between blacks and whites that shows up on every form of IQ test, across all income and education levels and throughout every region in the world.

Mordy said...

This isn't an opinion of mine, so much as me quoting something peripherally interesting. The old editor of the Forward's yearly genetics section once explained to me why Jews test as higher IQs than the rest of the population. This explanation occurred when the controversial study came out linking Jewish genetic disorders to intelligence.

She explained that Ashkenazi Jewish IQs are higher because in Europe, the most intelligent Jews in poverty got to marry into wealthy families - since there was a social premium placed on intelligence. Poverty wasn't a good lock for reproduction (or survival) while wealth was.

e-kvetcher said...

A rebuttal can be found here

Scraps said...

I think that such research would never see the light of day, as far as the general public is concerned. Our society is far too equality-focused to let something so inherently unequal become known as truth.

G said...

e-k,

Wait, so if the CuJew was debating herself then it would mean that one side might have to lose the debate. In which case she would have to admit, to her other self no less, that she was...wrong????;)

Jewish Atheist said...

Chana:

But if science and reason supported a view you did not like- an intolerant, cruel view- what then?

Unfortunately, this is not a hypothetical question for me. It's now simply a fact that people of African descent have significantly lower IQs on average than do whites. (Ashkenazi Jews, btw, have the highest average.) The question of what IQ measures, exactly, is still somewhat open, so it's not obvious that the above facts imply that one race is "smarter" than another and I'd argue that it's completely false that one race is "better" than another, because that's a moral judgement, not a scientific one. Whether the IQ differences between races are genetic is still under heated debate as well, although it's not looking good for the non-genetic crowd, in my layman's opinion.

I think my liberal credentials are well-established, but I have had to accept the above facts which I really wish were false as truth because I care most about what's true, rather than what I want to be true.

I hope that answers your question.

G said...

JA,

"I think my liberal credentials are well-established,"

I gotta tell ya', you sometimes are a little unclear in this area.

"but I have had to accept the above facts which I really wish were false as truth because I care most about what's true, rather than what I want to be true."

Would you act on said truth? Allow it to be used in real world applications?

David_on_the_Lake said...

Awesome Post...
I've thought about this alot.

There is one fundamental difference though, between the atheist and the religious. The atheist by his very definition is bound the laws of empirical and rational reasoning and thus cannot escape it and it's outcomes.
The religious person by HIS very definition has a God in the equation which changes everything. With a Deity suddenly he is no longer bound to his mortal understanding of things.

Jewish Atheist said...

I gotta tell ya', you sometimes are a little unclear in this area.

Interesting. I'd like to hear more. I know I'm less than traditionally liberal on guns and less dovish than the far left, but other than that I thought I was a good little liberal. ;-)

Would you act on said truth? Allow it to be used in real world applications?

The obvious real-world application is with affirmative action. A lot of the case for it goes away if we no longer believe that the sole reasons for lack of proportionality in admissions without affirmative action is due to prejudice, unequal playing fields, etc. I haven't come to a conclusion about affirmative action yet in light of this new (to me, at least) evidence.

I also have no idea how we could start talking about this topic as a society without large negative consequences.

Chana said...

anonymous 2:28,

Thanks so much for the information! I hadn't been aware of this formerly, so thanks for making the issue even more relevant.

warren,

Most certainly. I'm sure that science could potentially prove anything, even that, say, Jews are intellectually inferior. Which then opens the door to anti-semitism and justifying hateful crimes toward Jews, doesn't it? Which again leads me to wonder how much truth or information one can ethically disseminate to the public.

As for the second example, you're simply expanding the definition of "disease" to include mental incapacity to learn. We can already test for and abort babies who carry various genetic diseases; you're now suggesting moving it to the point where it's no longer a genetic disease such as cystic fibrosis or tay-sachs and the like but a simple inability to learn. I have no idea how I would act under either situation.

hakiruv,

Yes, that is part of what I was saying. It seems that our societal ideals of tolerance, fairness and equal treatment are based more on what we feel is right and what would work best societally to help most of us live and not die rather than what is scientifically correct.

ezzie,

Interesting idea of the almighty dollar/ capatalism being an equalizing factor. I'll have to think on it. Of course, even with that being so, each individual has such different opportunities available to them that nothing is "fair" anymore, but it's certain that the brightest people are not always the wealthiest.

daniel,

"Ethical behavior is based on values, not facts."

But where do the values derive from if not the facts? I'm quite curious as to the source of values.

And interesting suggestions as to the alternative definitions of the purpose of the university.

halfnutcase,

You'll forgive me, but as your points are based on personal experience rather than studies, I can't take them as evidence one way or another, though your point of view is appreciated.

Larry,

I'm not quite getting the fallacy/ what I'm doing wrong, so if you could further explain, that would be appreciated.

Society may ignore statistics. But I'm asking- should they? More importantly, how many people walking the streets actually know these statistics about women/ black people, etc even exist? Are we taught this in our curriculums in high school? And who determines which statistics we ignore?

eitan,

I am going to have to add those to my ever-growing list of books to read.

But you make a brilliant point. You're making a distinction between fact and legislation. You're saying that we could come up with a fact, a cruel and unkind and "not fair" kind of fact, say, that black people are not as smart as white people, but we could take no action. We don't have to legislate or discriminate based on this.

In my mind, this doesn't follow, however. Simply the idea and the knowledge of that idea is already poison, leaving aside legislation. Say that you teach this idea in a highschool curriculum. No matter what you say or what you try to teach the students, I'm willing to bet white students would differentiate between themselves and their black peers. They would act in a condescending manner and feel themselves entitled to certain rights. Even though there is no official legislation permitting this, I would argue that human nature would allow for this.

I'm arguing that this is unstoppable, that you cannot eliminate the effect once you give over this information.

Or as Joseph Stalin said, "We wouldn't let our enemies have guns, why should we let them have ideas?"

g,

I think I actually asked a lot of questions within the post. That's one of them, but also I'm thinking that we've all got our limits and our gates, even atheists, even those of us who don't like the really obvious gates that more religious elements (such as the Chareidim) put up. I'm trying to identify with other people and seeing how they could think and realizing that I'm much more similar than different, after all.

anonymous 9:02,

Fascinating! I will have to try to find this article. Do you recall which New York magazine featured it? I would love to read it.

mordy,

Interesting, I recently read that it was because of occupational selectivity (Jews were limited to certain occupations, mostly money-driven, as opposed to peasants, who could work the land and were mostly farmers.) The occupations they were limited to necessitated the honing of those mental skills.

e-kvetcher and g,

I'm surprised that this seems to be the first time you've noticed that I do this. This is exactly my method of learning. I assert something because I think it is true, then learn other ideas or am exposed to other books or people who challenge that assertion or assumption, then have to rethink and reevaluate. I don't think it's as simple as a right or wrong answer, however. There is so much that is situational or dependant upon other/ outside conditions that it is limiting and unecessary to resort to rights and wrongs.

scraps,

Yes, that is the conclusion I am inclined to draw as well.

Jewish Atheist,

In that case, seeing as you have to do this yourself, it seems to me that you and your colleagues should all be able to understand the dilemma of religious people, who are accepting facts that they really wish were false because they believe that God gave the Torah to them.

The majority of people nowadays would prefer the Torah did not say that people engaging in homosexual behavior would be put to death, but they believe this to be a truth and accept it even though they really wish it were false.

I know you can argue the legitimacy of belief versus science, and do so effectively; I am simply noting the similarities between us and how when it comes down to it, there are many of us who believe what we must in the name of truth- and wish we didn't have to.

These ideas are especially similar because neither you nor I act on this information during this point in time- I'm sure you don't discrimate toward black people and I certainly don't walk around yelling hateful things at homosexuals.

I guess what I'm going for here is the realization that we are all so similar- much more similar than we would at first care to accept.

Jewish Atheist said...

Chana:

The majority of people nowadays would prefer the Torah did not say that people engaging in homosexual behavior would be put to death, but they believe this to be a truth and accept it even though they really wish it were false.

Interesting comparison!

e-kvetcher said...

I guess I find it hard to figure out what you're saying because there's a lot of hypotheticals in your post and those are hard to argue against.

But in general, I find the whole religious vs atheist thing to be distracting from the question. In my mind there are groups of people that need to know the truth no matter how uncomfortable and there are groups of people who would rather not know if they are going to be miserable when they find out the truth. Often the latter group is much bigger than the former. Once again I don't think it has to do with religion - that is just a special case.

We can play hypotheticals all day long. What if we found out that the State of Israel engaged in a massively covered up genocide against the palestinians in 1948. Should we disband the state since it was founded on genocide?

But hypotheticals aside, we know that even when confronted with facts, peeople often will not wnat to face the truth. Look at Germany in the '30's. Many people know what was happening to the Jews, and knew it was wrong, but chose to ignore it...

Daniel said...

Chana,

"But where do the values derive from if not the facts? I'm quite curious as to the source of values."

That's one of the big questions in philosophy! My understanding is the values are informed by the facts, but they can not be deduced directly from them.

Actually, earlier this week, I was trying to think of every conceivable reason why it's bad to murder, if you could be certain no one would ever find out (before you start worrying, this came out of a discussion I had with you! This idea may end up as part of a post on my blog about my personal religious journey), and I could not find one which was not based on a value judgement, not a fact. I have not got time to list them all and how I got to them, but it is things like God/Torah/revealed law, human rights, the sanctity of life, the importance of the individual, the rule of law, the public good... none can actually be proven scientifically. You can't put human rights in a jar. Some are informed by facts (societies where basic human rights are not respected are generally not nice places to live - but then you have to define 'nice'). The best you can say is "well, I wouldn't want people to treat me like this", but then you have to argue why behaving hypocritically is bad even if no one could ever find out, because it is another value.

Hmm, did I mention that away from Judaism, I tend towards solipsism?

Holy Hyrax said...

I don't think you need to go far to see the outcome of something like this. Remember the whole controversy when the Harvard University President said that perhaps the reason more woman are in engineers is because of some differences in the human brain? They were all lined up to have him burned at the stake.

G said...

"I also have no idea how we could start talking about this topic as a society without large negative consequences."

Sounds alot like a certain religion I know :)

Jewish Atheist said...

Sounds alot like a certain religion I know :)

Unlike them, I'm not saying we shouldn't do it. You'll notice that I didn't politely ignore this post.

Ezzie said...

Actually, earlier this week, I was trying to think of every conceivable reason why it's bad to murder

There's a book about that as well; we take it as a given that murder is wrong save extreme circumstances, but it's possible (the book argues probable) that prior to religion, this was not the moral standard whatsoever. As it was explained to me, one example is that goods were scarce, and the competition to get those goods incredible. Killing to keep one's family alive was not just an option, but a necessity: Even a noble one, a higher sense of morality. (I wish I had actually read the book myself to explain better.)

Ezzie said...

Unlike them, I'm not saying we shouldn't do it. You'll notice that I didn't politely ignore this post.

...but it makes it all the more clear why one could argue strongly for the idea that not everything need be discussed.

Chana noted above something which I find distasteful, but plausible: "Which again leads me to wonder how much truth or information one can ethically disseminate to the public. " One can make the argument either way about what is more moral: Truth with terrible consequences, or lies with positive ones.

Larry Lennhoff said...

I'm not quite getting the fallacy/ what I'm doing wrong, so if you could further explain, that would be appreciated.

The idea that because something is true in aggregate, it should be enforced on the individual level. In Orthodoxy gender roles are a good example - because halacha says that women in general are like this or that, rules are generated that forbid them from not being like this or that. No one proposes making legislation to require unsupported objects to fall - if such laws are needed it is an indication that the 'laws' are in fact not true.


Society may ignore statistics. But I'm asking- should they?

In many cases, yes. It depends on which statistic and in what context they are to be ignored/recognized.

More importantly, how many people walking the streets actually know these statistics about women/ black people, etc even exist? Are we taught this in our curriculums [sic] in high school? And who determines which statistics we ignore?
I certainly learned these facts in high school. That may be because these laws were getting passed when I was in high school. I think the fact that contemporary women have longer lifespans than contemporary men is well known - people just tend not to think about the consequences.

And in these particular cases I do think laws forbidding using the statistics are fair - to use them undermines the whole 'pooling risk' concept behind insurance. This is also a powerful reason for supporting national health insurance, but let's save that for another time.

Who decides? Melech HaMoshiach, the Sanhedrin Gadol, the Gedolim, or l'havdil the free market, the people and/or their representatives, whoever normally decides such things.

Jewish Atheist said...

Chana noted above something which I find distasteful, but plausible: "Which again leads me to wonder how much truth or information one can ethically disseminate to the public. " One can make the argument either way about what is more moral: Truth with terrible consequences, or lies with positive ones.

Which explains why rabbis will tell skeptics one thing in private but not own up to it in public, I guess. I wonder exactly how much lying the gedolim do because they think the masses can't handle it. Do all the prominent MO rabbis really believe Moses wrote the entire chumash? I'd be shocked if they did.

Chana said...

Ezzie and Jewish Atheist, I don't know where you're going with this, but I'd prefer not to have things said in my name that I did not say.

I think Rabbis need to be honest and consistent in their approach and beliefs and I don't think the consequences will be "terrible" if they did that and stuck to one consistent story.

I am asking about an issue that could potentially affect the entire world when I suggest that science/ reason could allow for a situation where people are proven genetically inferior or superior to one another. The consequences of this truth are not comparable to the religious situation you have brought up (which indeed, merely suggests cowardice on the part of the Rabbi.)

We all agree that some information is privileged (I don't have information that could compromise CIA/ FBI investigations, for instance.) I am asking you who determines this and how we go about determining this- a criteria.

Jewish Atheist said...

Chana, I certainly wasn't trying to put words into your mouth.

I cannot agree with this: The consequences of this truth are not comparable to the religious situation you have brought up.

If the truth about Orthodox Judaism were more commonly known by the Orthodox, many more people might go "off the derech." To me, that's not nearly as bad as racism, but to the rabbis, it's a disaster.

G said...

"Unlike them, I'm not saying we shouldn't do it."

Right, you would do it...excpet you have no idea how! You think OJ is any different?

"You'll notice that I didn't politely ignore this post."

Fair point.

Ezzie said...

If the truth about Orthodox Judaism were more commonly known by the Orthodox, many more people might go "off the derech." To me, that's not nearly as bad as racism, but to the rabbis, it's a disaster.

The question here is not just whether truth should be withheld, but information in general that can be harmful - true or not. Sometimes getting into endless debates serves no purpose other than to confuse; it doesn't (sometimes can't) lead to definitive conclusions.

Ezzie said...

One can make the argument either way about what is more moral: Truth with terrible consequences, or lies with positive ones.

I shouldn't have used this line immediately following the other one, I see how that made it confusing as to what I meant.

Anonymous said...

Chana,
Your post implies that our current tests and measurements of intelligence are completely reliable and fail proof. However, that is a debatable point. Our current IQ test is biased by very the nature of the way in which one takes it. Someone who has never taken a test, or has never attended school, will already be at a disadvantage compared to those who are used to taking tests. In Israel, the army is working to create a new kind of intelligence test for Ethiopians, simply b/c Ethiopians are so culturally unprepared to take the current test in place. It may be true that certain minorities have lower IQ's then whites, but let’s not assume that the IQ test is a fail proof indicator of intelligence levels.

Larry Lennhoff said...

Your post implies that our current tests and measurements of intelligence are completely reliable and fail proof. However, that is a debatable point.

Chana raised a hypothetical question - what if in our quest for truth, we uncover facts that we wish were not true? How do we deal with those facts? It is the other people on the discussion who seem to think the Bell Curve and other such works are definitely on to something.

G said...

"I am asking you who determines this and how we go about determining this- a criteria."

I'm guessing the old Prime Directive is no good here?
The needs of the many far outweigh the needs of the few or the one.

Rea said...

Chana,

A "Sword of Truth" reference, nice!

jackie said...

Chana, I love the new banner comic!

Irina Tsukerman said...

There's no need to go so far. We have much less drastic and yet no less controversial examples right now - the debate over whether men and women are equal in every way (biologically speaking) and should have equal opportunities in all respects. I'm not going to go into the detailed history of the attempts to pass Equal Rights Amendments, but suffice to say, you can imagine what people on each side of the divide are saying.

Then there's the infamous controversy over the former Harvard president Lawrence Summers (a famous economist), who suggest in an open forum that the reason there's an overwhelming majority of men in exact sciences may be due to biological factors. (Instead of giving reasonable science-based arguments for why he is wrong, he was called a chauvinist/sexist and eventually driven out).

eem said...

Chana-
Have you read Thomas Kuhn's "Theory of Scientific Revolutions?"

ilan said...

"Also important to remember is that while an overall population may have certain traits that another lacks to an extent, that does not translate into individual stereotypes; any individual can fall anywhere across that spread."

"These discoveries often exist in abstract numbers and do not apply to specific individuals. Even if it were proven that Cambodians are smarter than Uzbeks, that doesn’t mean that all Cambodians are smarter than all Uzbeks, therefore there is no legitimate way to legislate on this issue. As long as such a discovery remains in the abstract and is not misused by people with power, it should not lead to a dangerous place."

Gattaca, anybody?

Larry Lennhoff said...

Another comment - the facts do not mandate what we do about them. Even if it can be shown that 'blacks' (however you define that group) have a lower average (median? mean?) IQ than 'whites' (however you define that group) the question then becomes what to do about it.

One possible response is to increase the amount of money being spent on remedial education targeted at blacks - after all, our response to special education students is not to throw them out on the street. Another response is to throw out all anti-discrimination laws in hiring on the grounds that people have perfectly rational reasons to discriminate against hiring black people. I don't think that reaction is supportable even if the premise regarding black intelligence is true.