Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Can't We All Just Get Along?


Joking aside, it seems like the past couple decades we have been moving somewhat backwards [globally] with regards to how we see and treat people that are different than us.  Some of this is fairly obvious racism like the Trump campaign and many of the hard right parties in Europe (mostly anti-Muslim, particularly Muslims from the Middle East).  But it's more than that, there seems to be less and less willingness for people to perceive others as human and worthy of respect (yes, this often includes me).  In the US there is also a lot of "Ideaism" in that people who don't agree with my position are not just of a different opinion or even not just wrong but are also bad people.

While I will still maintain that a vote for Trump in the last election can only be explained by racism or stupidity (no, there are no other reasonable explanations, if you are trying to find one, you're most likely to get back to stupid).  But, and this is somewhat counterintuitive considering my personal feelings about education, stupid doesn't mean bad.  In fact I think that most people in most things are stupid.  We do stupid things all the time, and just because someone happened to vote in a manner that I would say is not stupid, doesn't mean that their reason for the vote wasn't stupid.

I actually do understand how good people could for Trump--they vote in a stupid fashion for stupid reasons.  That doesn't make them bad people inherently any more than someone who tells you that 7*7 = 42 is a bad person.  I'll admit that I think that the fraction of Trump voters that are good but stupid is pretty small (the fraction that is stupid is high, but I think a lot of those people have more hate than not).

All this said, there are positions that are objectively harmful to others and, therefore, not just wrong but bad, and so you do still run into issues of how to treat people as human who don't reciprocate.  I'm really not sure how to.  Tyler Cowen put up a quick note in support of Black Lives Matter.  The comments are overwhelmingly racist (including one calling him a race traitor, lots of comments about black people being inherently criminal and inherently less intelligent, and arguing that segregation was good for black people--yes, people actually said and defended all of those things in the comments).  Cowen's post and position really shouldn't be controversial.  But how do we react and respond to the very racist response seen in the comments to that post?

Calling them all racists (which is true) doesn't help, and for people outside the debate it seems like name calling which is problematic, as name calling is perceived as an indicator of a weak position.  On the other hand, trying to use more conventional argument (citing statistics, and studies, and explaining why they are racist without necessarily explicitly calling them racist) makes the arguments seem to be on level ground--this is a big problem that occurs when scientists "debate" creationists, creationism is emphatically not science.  Ignoring it also problematic as it means that the dominant side heard is the racist one.

So how should a decent, intelligent person respond to positions (or individuals) that really are horrible?  I'd like to think that pointing out facts and saying that racist positions are racist would do it, but we know that it doesn't, in part because it is remarkably easy to get people to strongly believe things that are demonstrably not true.  So should it be ignoring and letting the noise pervade?  Or name calling and making it seem there isn't a rock solid counter argument?  Or countering legitimately and making people believe that factually challenged and racist opinions are on near-equal footing?

No comments: