Correlation is not causation, OR: there are no racial essences, for fuck’s sake. A political fable.

[see the follow-up post too]

Once upon a time, in the magical land of Fornicalia, there was a class in society that, by virtue of visible and genetically transmitted characteristics, has been the victim of systematic discrimination for hundreds of years. Even today, this class is mired in poverty by residential discrimination (some historical, some current), leading to lousy education, crime-ridden neighborhoods, etc. Let us call that class of people the Big Ears, for, we are given to understand, it is the bigness of their ears that the society in general uses as a marker for that class that may be discriminated against.

In Fornicalia, there is some causal relationship between being poor and oppressed and religiosity. Nobody is quite sure why that is, though many of Fornicalia’s best social scientists have theories about the matter. Perhaps being victimized by piss-poor education makes it harder to reject religion. Perhaps being excluded from the community at large makes it harder to see alternatives. Perhaps the church is the only fucking nice place where strangers care about you in a crime-ridden, poor, desperate community. Or perhaps there’s a relationship between having a shitty life and turning to religion for the hope of improvement in the world beyond. (Almost like religion is some kind of drug, for the masses, or somethin’, huh?) Naturally, there are a lot of religious Big Ears.

Moreover, in Fornicalia, unlike our own, more enlightened society, religious indoctrination causes people to have socially conservative views. Not of course, invariably: there are liberal as well as conservative congregations. But many religious leaders interpret their holy texts as requiring socially conservative views. One day, there was an election in Fornicalia, and there was an unjust ballot measure in that election, one that discriminated against another group on the basis of their harmless lifestyle choices. This other group — the Zooks — likes to put their toast butter-side down. Most competent scientists in Fornicalia believe that the Zooks are genetically determined to put their toast butter-side down, and putting their toast butter-side down is very important to them. The buttering of toast is considered, in Fornicalia, an important part of one’s self-actualization. Unfortunately, the Zooks are not looked upon kindly by the dominant religious groups in the state, including those to which many Big Ears subscribe.

Unsurprisingly, in the election, many Big Ears voted for the unjust ballot measure.

After the election, many people published stupid, stupid articles to say that Big Ears are Zookophobic. The fools believed in racial essences, and their articles just replaced one form of discrimination with another, concealing the real causal processes, which lay in the oppression of the Big Ears as well as the Zooks (and the sad effect of having multiple oppressed groups in a society, cf. intersectionality literature), behind Small-Earist rants about how the Big Ears hate freedom.

Then everybody died painfully. The end.


STOP BLAMING THE BLACK PEOPLE FOR PROPOSITION 8. I MEAN IT. STOP. NOW.


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12 Responses to “Correlation is not causation, OR: there are no racial essences, for fuck’s sake. A political fable.”

  1. Mike Says:

    My beef has been this. Whenever there is under representation by blacks in some field, we’re told that racism is the cause. Not enough blacks in law schools? Racism. Not enough blacks in math? Racism.

    But when blacks are overrepresented in some field (discrimination against gays), we’re told that class/economics is the explanation. It’s not that a racial issue.

    This whole issue, then, has been somewhat amusing. Conservatives are rushing to say that race is the cause. Liberals are rushing to say that class is the cause.

    But if this were a debate on, say, why there are so few blacks in academia, each side would trade shoes.

    I do not know Truth, Paul, but I do know Consistency. If we’re going to talk about race; and use racism as an explanation for things, then we should be consistent. That requires us to look at discrimination against, and by blacks.

  2. Paul Gowder Says:

    Running out to dinner appointment, so don’t have time to address fully, but a quick note: there’s no inconsistency here. The difference between overepresentation and underrepresentation is the racial essences issue. The statement “X is done to group Y because of their race” doesn’t demand racial essences, just that the people doing the doing make decisions based on their race. On the other hand, “Group Y does X because of their race” (or the subtler version, “Look at all these homophobic Group Yers”) does require racial essences — it requires that one’s race cause something directly about one’s behavior, not mediated by what society has done as a result of one’s race.

  3. Isak Says:

    So, you would expect non-religious Big Ear to vote for oppression no more than people who are non-religious and without Big Ears.

    What would you say if someone does the stats, and discovers that this isn’t true?

  4. Paul Gowder Says:

    Isak: then I’d be concerned. I’d hope that someone also controlled for various forms of religiously-related social pressure — i.e. number of religious people among close friends, number of churches nearby, etc. [edit: and lots of other things too, like number of kids, etc.] But if that still held, then it would be time to worry (and to do lots more social science).

    (Mike, also, for “essences,” read “intrinsic powers of causation”)

  5. Mike Says:

    Paul: Then what causes white to discriminate against blacks? The white person’s whiteness? Or something else?

    I view discrimination as basic in-group/out-group problem. White discriminate against out-groups – blacks. Blacks discriminate against gays because gays are an out-group (score one for puns!).

    Within the white community, gays are viewed as less of an out-group than they are in the black community. Just as, years ago, blacks were viewed as more of an out-group to whites than they were a while ago.

    Blacks just have some catching up to do in accepting gays.

  6. Phoebe Says:

    “My beef has been this. Whenever there is under representation by blacks in some field, we’re told that racism is the cause. Not enough blacks in law schools? Racism. Not enough blacks in math? Racism.

    But when blacks are overrepresented in some field (discrimination against gays), we’re told that class/economics is the explanation. It’s not that a racial issue.”

    How about incarceration rates? The over-under-representation question is not the issue.

    What is the issue is the following: we shouldn’t blame any group, particularly a minority group whose membership is not voluntary, every time members of said group act disproportionately one way or another. Blacks were statistically more likely than whites to have voted Yes on 8? Could be, but that does not mean some organized entity ‘the blacks’ talked things out and came to a particular conclusion. Whereas ‘the Mormons,’ a voluntary group, may well have done so.

    This came up constantly with suspicions that ‘the Jews’ would ‘ruin’ the election. Investigating the historic relationship between ‘the Jews’ and ‘the blacks’ (or, more to the point, the evolution of the relationship between Jews and the political left), one could come up with reasons why ‘the Jews’ might have gone with McCain (which of course didn’t even happen, but anyway)…but these explanations fail to account for individual choice when voting. The ‘real’ reasons for a person’s vote may be more or less offensive, more or less thought-out, than the one we might expect for Mr. Jew or Mr. Black. Anyway…

    This is long enough already. Point being, there is no collective black responsibility for Prop 8, any more than there’s collective Jewish responsibility for whichever Jews voted for McCain. It’s not that blacks had good reason to vote as they did, or that Jews had good reason to vote as they might have, but that you don’t get to pick being black or Jewish, so while you may be responsible for defending your kind when attacked, you are not responsible for your group’s disproportionate representation in unfortunate voting decisions.

  7. Mike Says:

    we shouldn’t blame any group, particularly a minority group whose membership is not voluntary, every time members of said group act disproportionately one way or another

    If we’re going to claim that race exists and that it explains some sorts of behavior (e.g., that whites qua their whiteness discriminate against blacks), then let’s be consistent.

    How about incarceration rates? The over-under-representation question is not the issue.

    Right. That’s a great example that strengthens my point. Because it casts blacks in a bad light, we say that blackness is not the cause of crime. It’s poverty.

    But when blacks are under represented, we claim that it’s the discriminator’s whiteness that causes the person to discriminate against the black person’s blackness.

    you don’t get to pick being black or Jewish, so while you may be responsible for defending your kind when attacked, you are not responsible for your group’s disproportionate representation in unfortunate voting decisions

    That’s a double standard. Why should I accept that?

    I am white and male. Attack either demographic. I don’t care. I won’t defend white males because attacks about what whites and males do somehow flows to me. Those attacks don’t. Yes, white males, in general, behave in such-and-such ways that I may disagree with. So what? I am my own person.

    I’ve transcended my own race and gender. I have no racial or gender loyalty or “white pride” or anything else. I exist as me.

    And while I may be in some ways be a product of my race and gender, I do not bear true faith and allegiance to either.

  8. Phoebe Says:

    There’s not a lot of sympathy out there for “white males” who claim to have “transcended” their race and gender.

    That said, there’s really no double-standard here. What I’m drawing attention to is the difference between feeling responsible for the behavior of a religious or political group to which you choose to belong, and to a racial or ethnic one to which you don’t. There are ‘reasons’ to hate Jews or blacks, if by reasons one means that members of these groups are disproportionately represented in Behavior X that one might find distasteful. However, it is unjust to hold all blacks or all Jews responsible for some collective crime, as, in nearly all cases, one does not choose to be black or Jewish, nor does one have much of a chance at society believing them if they claim they’ve opted out. Even if I, a Jew, dislike Behavior X, disproportionately done by Jews, I should nevertheless fight discrimination against Jews, if only for the selfish reason that whether or not I behave in X way, the anti-Semite accuses me of X-ing. It’s not “pride,” it’s self-defense. And claiming yourself as an exception is a poor strategy of self-defense, in that it contributes to the very discrimination you seek to fight.

    It is not unjust to hold, say, Republicans responsible for their behavior, as one chooses to be a Republican (on account of approving of their behavior) and may leave at any time.

  9. Mike Says:

    There’s not a lot of sympathy out there for “white males” who claim to have “transcended” their race and gender.

    One who has transcended doesn’t need sympathy, as sympathy is simply a form of collective validation. The same is true of glory or pity or any other collective judgment.

    It is not unjust to hold, say, Republicans responsible for their behavior, as one chooses to be a Republican (on account of approving of their behavior) and may leave at any time.

    Eh, in our two-party system, is this really true?

    To be politically viable, one sort of has to pick a side, right?

    I take it from your posts here and on your own blog that you are a Democrat. Should you feel responsible for the nut jobs on Kos, or the anti-Semitic Democrats? Even if we substitute liberal for Democrat, we can find a strong anti-Semitic sentiments among liberals (esp. if we look at liberals in France).

    I’d say it’s wrong to hold you responsible for such views, since you’re not a Democrat (or liberal) because of the anti-Semitism. You’re a Democrat or liberal for other issues. And those issues are important enough that, given our system, you join an imperfect amalgamation.

    So I don’t think, if I were a Republican, someone should “hold me responsible” for George W. Bush’s unjust invasion of Iraq that lead to the death of almost a million civilians. Or that a Democrat should be held responsible for Barack Obama’s support of infanticide.

    Each party is a cluster of interests and issues. So both parties are going to have evil.

    If we lived in a system where there were multiple parties, your point might be true. In the U.S., though, you’re either a member of one of two parties – or you’re irrelevant.

    Now, it might be *most* moral to choose irrelevancy. That’s a pretty complex issue, though.

  10. Mike Says:

    In any event, to the extent anything I say suggest that one should hold any black person responsible for Black America’s votes: I repudiate such statements. (I’m pretty clear that nothing I said suggested that a black person should be viewed as a bigot because 70% of blacks voted in favor of Prop 8. In case it’s not, consider that a clarification.)

    I’m not going to see a black guy and think, “You must be a homophobe, because 70% of ‘your people’ voted against Prop 8.”

    I evaluate each person on his or her merits. People don’t ask to be born a certain way. And it’s not even accurate to say that people choose to be part of various groups. Sure, upper class culture is “voluntary.” But someone born into that culture didn’t ask to me. Should I hate a given upper class person because the upper class tends towards racism? Should an upper class person be forced to say, “I hereby resign being upper class?”

    So I don’t think the voluntary/involuntary dichotomy is so obvious.

    In any event, there is no need to look at his race or gender. I’ll find some other reason to hate the person. ;)

  11. Phoebe Says:

    This seems to have turned into a ‘you’re wrong on the internet’ refutation of what I just wrote–I could have been clearer and given better examples, but my overall point holds. So, if this helps…

    Forget the word “sympathy.” People will roll their eyes when a white man claims to have transcended race, as they will when a Rockefeller claims to have transcended economic status. Which is understandable, because to be non-white is to think about race, and to be female is to think about gender. Not in all cases, and not in an ideal world, but that’s how our society tends to operate. If you’re constantly being reminded of your difference…

    And forget the example of “Republican” as a category you can opt out of. Binary situations cause problems, fine, how about another example: goths, as in, people who dress vampire-ish and listen to goth music, whatever that may be. In a world of endless mainstream and subcultural options, every goth chose to be a goth. So if Person A learns that goths voted Yes on 8 (which I doubt, but this is irrelevant) says, ‘I hate goths,’ this is discrimination, unfair to the many anti-8 goths out there, and so forth, but it’s fundamentally different from dumping on blacks or Jews, because it’s hating a chosen identity.

    None of this is implying that you advocate condemning individuals for group membership. It was clear that’s not your point at all, but thanks for pointing it out once more!

  12. Mike Says:

    but it’s fundamentally different from dumping on blacks or Jews, because it’s hating a chosen identity.

    Depends on if you view black or Jew as color, race, ethnicity, religion, or culture. If it’s a cultural and there are various behaviors associated with the culture, then blacks and Jews can indeed choose their identity.

    In fact, some suggest that black is a culture and not just color. Thus, blacks who don’t act “black enough” (whatever that means) are Uncle Toms.

    So, again, I think the issues are more complicated; and that the dichotomy is not as clear as you suggest.

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