Okay, hello. We’re out in the yard this time, and I gotta get this done, ’cause there’s company coming, so I don’t want to be standing around here like a madman while there’s guests. (Well, I’m not standing, I’m sitting, but you know what I mean.)
Today I want to talk about frameworks and differences. But let me tee it up.
Nobody perceives reality perfectly directly.
Your perceptions are through your senses, and some are more sensitive than others, but no sense in no person is going to perceive all phenomena. (And of course perception itself can’t be objective because it’s through your messy senses, or you have measurements of a tiny part of the picture, but that’s orthogonal right now.)
But there’s another, perhaps more meaningful reason, why we can’t perceive reality perfectly directly. And this is context, and interpretation.
Your senses don’t lie, but your interpretation can be horribly, horribly flawed.
Let me tell you a quick story from science fiction.
The humans were out in space, exploring strange-to-them, new-to-them worlds.
Some other people, who actually weren’t all that different from humans, came upon the humans. And their tradition was to open their gunports as a sign of respect. But the humans took it as though the others were going to open fire. So the humans fired at the others, and actually even killed their leader. And, so, long story short, the others got very angry, and very nearly exterminated humans.
So what happened? Everyone in the encounter knew what was happening in a we’re here, that ship’s there, it looks like we haven’t met these people before, these gun ports are open, stuff like that. But no one in the encounter knew what was happening in a meaningful sense, because of the differing contexts.
So: facts, observations, measurements. All well and good. But if you don’t think about the context that you are in, you can still be utterly and hopelessly lost. (Indeed, you need meaning to orient to anything at all, in any context. Even babies figuring out object permanence are doing meaning-making work.)
And on this planet, every people in every environment is its own context. And sure we can also have meta-context (enough to share the planet peacefully), and context within context. Enclaves, if you will.
But where we need to start is ourselves, and the people who we relate to, and also the things that interest us deeply, the things we’ve come to know a thing or two about.
One night maybe a week or so ago I was on Twitter, what are the odds, and I found myself retweeting things that I actually regretted retweeting, when I looked at them again. The trap I was falling into, and probably will again, is that the opening insight is one that I so agree with, like I know it myself already, it’s just not one I felt I could speak, so I’m like yeah hit that RT button, but then I look at it again, and somewhere in the rest there’s something I deem amiss with the framework.
By framework, I mean the bits of reasoning they used to get to the insight. And now I’m going to tell you why the framework is everything. Remember “show your work” in math class? This is the more broadly meaningful kind.
So, let’s say you have a near-truth of your own, that you understand the reasoning framework around. (Now I say near-truth just to give me a chance to say that the truth that can be told is never the whole truth, like when you’re on the witness stand and asked what happened, you don’t start at the Big Bang (or Genesis, if that’s meaningful for you), even though it is part of the context. And even when we have time to tell the full tale, we’re not perfect tellers either.) The really cool thing about having a truth of your own, that you understand the reasoning framework around, is that you can apply that framework to other things and places.
Maybe. Of course just because a proposition in A is true doesn’t make the same proposition true in B. So you do really need to think your way through it, seeing if the pieces fit with what else you know about B.
If the pieces fit well, and you get meaning out of the result, that’s what I would call an educated guess. And if that guess makes a bunch of other things make sense, that’s usually a good sign.
You have to be careful, though: Garbage in, garbage out, and we’re not always at our thinking best, not even the best thinkers. And so if you go through this process with deeply (not superficially, but significantly) flawed pieces, or you didn’t actually check if the pieces fit the new context, you can come up with absolutely wild conclusions. And if it makes other things make sense? Wow! This is kind of how, I think, “conspiracy theories” work – by which I mean theories that don’t have positive evidence. They have predictive power, yet faulty premises.
For example, they’ll predict the present, and even near-term outcomes, but not necessarily long-term outcomes, because their theory that happens to fit extant facts is not going to fit future facts, because they got the agency and motivation parts wrong, with the faulty premises.
By the way, there are of course, many conspiracies. There just have to be. Good ones too. Like the Underground Railroad. But, because they are by definition hidden, it’s hard to find the real ones because of all the people looking for the fake ones. But we have found a few real ones, like the one about lightbulbs that Veritasium did a video on, which I’ll link below.
And I would also suggest that those interested in a broader perspective check out Michael Smith’s video, which is about why it’s so important to be memetically literate. And by memetics he means ideas that have a life of their own as they circulate through humanity, like currents and waves in an ocean.
Little digression: An internet meme like I CAN HAS CHEEZEBURGER or VTEC just kicked in yo, or about a million bajillion political ones1each fantastically flawed in its own brilliantly obtuse way, these are memetic artificats. Memetic circulation makes and uses the artifacts, but because the memes are in us, too, it’s larger than just the artifacts. It’s a real living system. You could even say a mind virus, but you can have good memes too, like “be excellent to one another”, “be true to yourself”, “share the truth”. And memetic is meant to be to genetic, what meme is to gene.
Anyway, let’s get back to frameworks. So across the memetic landscape we have thousands and thousands of frameworks, and some are better than others. Some of them have good pieces but no natural context, and some have a context, perhaps a contingent rather than a natural one, but rotten pieces instead of good pieces. Maybe this, maybe that.
And here’s the really dark part, and I have John Vervaeke of UofT to thank for this one. People don’t think outside the framework. It’s not only hard to think outside the box, you probably don’t even see that it’s a box! He has a really good illustration of this using the 9 dots problem, and I’ll link you right to that part of his lecture as a pinned comment.
So what do you do when you come across a framework that you deem to be flawed?
Well, you can just ignore it. Sometimes it’s even actually just bait anyway.
And you may want to take the time to say that you appreciate that they’re coming from a good place, no doubt they care about the implications of what they’re arguing for, and it makes sense to them. This might give your words a better hearing.
But what you must NOT do is reason using their terms. Because when you do that, you will actually just sound like someone mad at the internet shouting nonsense.
So don’t use their words and reasoning, use your own. You must say something they haven’t heard before. Of course it’s got to be good and true and make sense. Basically you build your own alternative framework, with good pieces, fitted to the context as best you can. And don’t act like it’s perfect, but do tell it to them. And if they’re hostile, then get out of Dodge and mute the conversation if you have to.
Dare I give an object-level example?
Okay, so nobody said these exact words to me, the words I’m going to say right now. They may have been said, but I don’t think they were said to me. So just imagine a statement like:
Affirmative action is anti-racist, so if you’re against affirmative action you must be racist.
Your response, if you dare to make one, must not include the words:
Because, if you use any one of those, now you’re standing on their framework, as rotten or as ill-fitting as it may be, and they will place the rest of the pieces right on top of you, and then you, my friend, are a heretic. (And you know what they used to do to heretics. I mean, I prefer cancel culture to burn-at-the-stake culture, but…)
Not that I’m saying to go use this new term I’m coining in a debate, but I think a better term for affirmative action and other things of its kind is assimilation activity. We are the org. Resistance is futile. We will all be the same. Inside and outside. We will all be beige. No one will be distinct. Race isn’t real. Genes aren’t real. Sex isn’t real. Culture isn’t real. There is only us. We are the org.
See, here’s the thing. Our differences are more than the color of our skin, the texture of our hair, the shape of our eyes, our height, and our ability to win the Boston Marathon (by the way, the last American who won was born in Eritrea). So if you just reduce it to the skin, or any single thing, you erase the other differences between people, between people in a group, and between groups of people.
And these differences are somewhat malleable, to be sure – values and political ideas and even religions will shift, and even though consolidated schools are an affront to nature, some schools are still better than others, but there are also differences that are deeper, because they’re in your blood.
And I’m not well-versed in genetics, or genomics, or epigenetics, but I can tell you this: We can’t have it all. For example, for humans in general, our richly sensitive color vision comes at the expense of our sense of smell. Dogs took the opposite trade.
And I think, lurking somewhere within our makeup, are trade-offs about different kinds of intelligence.
Just for now, picture you’re creating your character in a game. You’re given only so many points to distribute to various abilities and sensibilities. It’s a zero-sum game, so what you put into stamina you can’t put into speech. And if you want to max both of those, you have to exclude other things.
The type of intelligence that IQ measures, or attempts to, is specifically a logical intelligence. This is the kind that is useful for reasoning, philosophy, mathematics, science. And if we look at which groups have the highest IQ, what do we find?
Well, we have the famous paper “Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence” by Cochran, Hardy, and Harpending. Ashkenazi meaning the Ashkenazi Jews, from which came Albert Einstein. I’ll link it below. And it’s not just Einstein. According to a study performed by Cambridge University, 21% of Ivy League students, 25% of the Turing Award winners, 23% of the wealthiest Americans, 38% of the Oscar-winning film directors, and 29% of Oslo awardees are Ashkenazi Jews. I don’t mean like they go to Synagogue necessarily, just that they’re Ashkenazi Jews as a matter of blood.
So all this leads us to two possibilities, and I’ll leave it for you to decide for yourself which is true:
1. Ashkenazi Jews really are that smart
2. Ashkenazi Jews are smart enough to cultivate the impression that they really are that smart
And, and this is widening things way beyond single groups here, almost too far to be useful, but it’s all that I can find right now, in the US, individuals identifying themselves as Asian generally tend to score higher on IQ tests than Caucasians, who tend to score higher than Hispanics, who tend to score higher than African Americans. (Although it should be said there was greater variation in IQ scores within each supergroup than between them, meaning that it’s not like all the Asians are all up here and all the African Americans are all way down here, no no no no no no, not at all.) A HandWiki article on race and intelligence (surprised that got by the censors!) refers to the Encyclopedia of Diversity in Education. I’ll link those too.
Now, I’m not saying all this to justify racial discrimination. No, racial discrimination is what the universities are doing when they take away a seat from a Korean-American with good grades and give it to, let’s say a person of a don’t-call-it-a-privileged color, with less good grades.
This seems unfair, doesn’t it?
I agree that it was worse before. Much worse. Across my timeline there came a letter dated August 5, 1959, from the director of admissions at Emory University: “Acknowledgement is made of your letter of July 30, enclosing your application for admission to our School of Medicine. I am sorry I must write you that we are not authorized to consider for admission a member of the Negro race. I regret that we cannot help you.”
Very bad, I think we all agree on that. (And, if I may also say, a few generations ago there weren’t as many realistic options for women as there are today. My cousin tells me in her day you could be a teacher, a nurse, or a secretary, and that was about it.)
But that letter was 63 years ago. I think it would be disingenuous to claim that nothing has changed. Indeed, I would say that now AA is actually more unfair to the people in the groups, be it gender or race, that these legalized discrimination systems nominally ‘favour’! Because now every smart and capable woman or non-white person that would earn a place anyway is now tainted with the possibility of merely being an equity admission or equity hire. At the very least, it stirs up unnecessary resentment, because these are competitive, zero-sum games.
Anyway, being of Scottish heritage that I am, it’s all very sad that we might not be the smartest people on the planet, so we’ll just have to settle for being the most beautiful. Not that I am Rob Roy or Robbie Burns or indeed Robert Frost (whose mother was Scottish), I’m just saying.
And having lived in Canada for almost all my life, one thing I never realized that the US, especially the southern US has, is historically black colleges and universities. North Carolina A&T for example. Ronald McNair, class of ’71, was a physicist, and flew on two space shuttle missions. He was the second African American in space and the first Baháʼí. Unfortunately he perished in the Challenger disaster.
I think it is entirely appropriate that we have institutions that specialize in education for particular groups, suited to their own tastes and needs. Now they don’t have to be exclusive for those groups, if they don’t want to be, like maybe you can go to North Carolina A&T as a white person or to Halifax’s own Mount Saint Vincent University as a male. You just have to keep in mind you’re not the priority, you’re a guest.
And, I would also say that these institutions should, in kindness, have limits to how many guests they take in, if indeed they take any, just as you don’t generally invite the whole town into your home all at once. (Like Irish wakes aside, of course.) Because if a historically black college or a women’s university ends up teaching more non-blacks or more men, they lose the plot. The guests take over the house and become the residents. Obviously you don’t want that. So if a black or women’s institution of higher learning sets their guest limit, at, I dunno, 10% of their total enrolment, I think that could be a good tradeoff between ensuring blacks and women have access to competitive, leading-edge education, while also fostering ties to other communities. I would also say to women that are worried about men being in traditionally women’s schools: You outnumber them. I think you can keep them on their best behaviour, as long as you get along with each other.
Meanwhile, the mainstream universities, obviously they should drop their quota systems, at least with regard to domestic students. With foreign students it’s a little more complicated. In my country, the universities can only charge domestic students so much, but can charge foreign students almost anything they want. So foreign students have become a bit of a cash cow. Indeed there is a giant recruitment industry that encourages young people in places like rural India to leave their farming families behind and struggle in Canada working service industry jobs nobody wants, and nominally ‘studying’ things they actually can’t comprehend because the medium of instruction is English. Oh, to be sure, there are millions of excellent, highly-educated English speakers in India. No question. There are also millions and millions and millions and millions of less excellent speakers.
So, sorry universities, but if I’m in charge the first thing I do is eliminate the differential fee, because – and I apologize to Hindus in the audience, but I’m talking to universities here – your cash cow needs to die. In fact, it’s not even a cow. It’s not sacred, because it’s not a symbol of life. It’s Moloch. It’s the digital ledger of quintillions of dollars in a dormant computer on a barren, lifeless world. Universities are supposed to be about knowledge! You’re just bottom-lining everything! What the heck?
But, I’m not saying that we should fund the foreign students either, because the government can keep the wheels of exploitation going just as easily as the universities. No, what we do is we fund domestic students only, therefore universities who take in foreign students must do it because of the excellence of the foreign students, because they’ll actually be less lucrative than domestic ones. And also we go back to allowing foreign students to work only on campus, if even that, and only part time, because this is just for pocket money, and the universities should be giving the most brilliant foreign students full ride scholarships anyway. We have to break the pipeline into the service industry and make our service industry actually have to recruit Canadians in order to survive. Yes, your sandwich will cost more, but everything about it will be better. Happy Canadian making your sandwich – ethnic group doesn’t matter here, I include Indo-Canadians as well – versus a despairing foreign student wishing they’d never left home working 60 hour weeks under the table just to survive. There is no cheap sandwich without horrible externalities in labour, food quality, or both. Eating out is fundamentally expensive, and the costs have to be borne one way or the other.
The people who are already here need to be grandfathered along, and able to live and work and study under the rules in effect when they came to Canada. Even if it was a corrupt bargain with false pretences all around, it was still a bargain, and it should be honoured. But, I would support an opt-in buyout program, where we forgive their debts and send them home, maybe with a little money to help their families, because I think to some extent they are the real victims here. And maybe some or even many of them do want to stay here, happy in spite of the hardships they have endured and are enduring, and they should be able to avail themselves of the opportunity to do so.
Now – and here I’m talking about other OECD countries, the first world in other words – for other OECD countries, I think we could have different rules, and indeed we should work towards educational, labour, and personal mobility. It could take a form like an EU lite lite lite lite lite but without trying to have a common market, which is where the EU’s roots are. Certainly we should at least have educational, labour and personal mobility with the UK, Ireland if they’re cool with it, Australia, and New Zealand. I suppose also France, given that this used to be New France and that there are French-speaking peoples all over the place even to this day, so that’s okay too just as long as France isn’t having another Reign of Terror this week. They’re on their fifth? republic now. Just sayin’.
Anyway, that was a big aside, but as a takeaway I think we should support people as best we can, in ways that are helpful to them. And we should not be unhelpful. Like we shouldn’t look at Africa, see that it doesn’t have a space program, and try to convert Maasai warriors into rocket scientists. And even just providing the opportunity to go to school is pernicious, because in so doing you are taking the children away from their traditions. There might be ethical ways to do it, but if a people is at relative peace with the peoples around them, like there might be disputes but not like genocide or anything, maybe we should err on the side of leaving them alone. If I may make a Star Trek analogy, it’d be kind of like a weak Prime Directive, just within Earth.
And so, inasmuch as we are willing to accept that groups of people have differences in preferences, not just performance, we should be okay with, for example, walking into a library and observing, “wow, there’s a lot of women working here, guess they must like library work.” Maybe don’t actually say that out loud, but you know what I mean.
Also, just because white people are doing stuff white people like, it doesn’t mean they’re orienting themselves around what in English we would call My Struggle.
I think that’s all I need to say for now. I could say more. I’m too small and boring to be cancelled. But all in good time. It’s not solely my task, nor is it my sole task, to help humans find meaning conducive to human flourishing. We just need to spread love and truth in our own way, and the cream will rise to the top. (Or whatever you associate with goodness, especially if you’re from a group that doesn’t keep the gene for digesting milk into adulthood.)