Saturday, 19 October 2019

Anti-white rhetorical technique

The claim is sometimes made that it is impossible for black people to be racist, because racism is an exercise of power, and white people have all the power.

This is nonsense, and obviously so. Of course it is possible for a black person to assault a white person for no reason other than his race. Racial bigotry does not have to be complicated.

The specific claim that racism is always an exercise of power is as wrong as the claim that rape is about power (instead of sexual pleasure and the evolutionary imperative towards reproduction). Racism can be simple bigotry.

The specific claim that white people have all the power in a nebulous "structural" way is false. Power is not held by "white people" as a class. One white person can have less power than one black person.

The claim that only whites can be racist is really a rhetorical technique to get white people to shut up and accept racism against them, whether it be personal bigotry and violence, or a political attempt to take money and property from white people as a class, or "positive discrimination" and "affirmative action" against white people.

Publicly identifying it as purely a rhetorical technique and not a serious idea robs it of some of its power.

Anti-men rhetorical technique

The claim is sometimes made that men should not be allowed to speak about women's issues. Only a woman can truly know what it is like to be a woman, because of her lived experience. Knowledge and empathy/imagination are deemed worthless.

The same claim is made regarding race.

One wonders what is the point of women explaining to men what it is like to be a woman, if men will be incapable of understanding, and are not allowed to make any use of such knowledge.

An implication of this is that women should refrain from opining about masculinity and men's issues.

This style of thought is pernicious because anything can be deemed a "woman's issue" and men told to shut up about it, even if it concerns them. For example, whether a woman has an abortion or not concerns and affects the father, who may wish to keep the child, or who may not want to keep and pay for it.

This is really a rhetorical technique, and its aim is to tell white men to shut up. It is an attempt to define the terms of debate to make them completely one-sided. Publicly identifying it as purely a rhetorical technique and not a serious idea robs it of some of its power.

Ignore bad people's emotions

When resolving a dispute, one should not give much weight to someone's expressed emotions. One can pretend to be upset as a way to getting what one wants. Trivers' theory of evolutionary self-deception says that the most effective way to fake being upset is to really be upset. That is the purpose of emotions: a person is motivated by their emotions because those emotions are real.

So a third party mediator should not try to distinguish between a person who is faking an emotion, and someone really experiencing it.

When Larry Summers gave a speech about differences between men and women, an MIT biology professor Nancy Hopkins said "I felt I was going to be sick", "my heart was pounding and my breath was shallow", "I just couldn't breathe, because this kind of bias makes me physically ill". She had to leave the room because otherwise "I would've either blacked out or thrown up."

Hopkins was clearly deliberately trying to damage Summers career, and genuinely experiencing these emotions.

A person claiming to experience these emotions likely really is experiencing them, and that's unfortunate, but such behaviour should not be rewarded and reinforced.

Politicisation and legalisation of manners

Manners are about not making other people feel uncomfortable. The rules of manners are voluntary and negotiated -- maybe you want to make someone feel uncomfortable. Sometimes it might be impossible to avoid making one person uncomfortable without making another person uncomfortable.

There is a trend in political correctness aim to replace voluntary manners with power.

A transexual might make the novel claim that it is bad manners to call a male-to-female transexual "he". Someone who disagrees may refuse. Both parties are free to disassociate from the other. (What if they are not free to disassociate, for example colleagues? Whose rule of manners should be followed? The socially normal one, of course, whichever that is.)

What if someone claims it is bad manners not to remember to use her bizarre pronouns (per, em, xyr, vis)? Clearly this is not reasonable disagreement, but an attempt to impose claims about manners as an exercise of power. The sole purpose of the novel claim about manners is to exercise power.

One could publicly campaign to try to make one's novel claim about manners considered the default, correct choice, in a dispute between colleagues mediated by a Human Resources department. This is the politicisation of manners.

One strategy is to enlist the power of the law: to make it illegal not to obey bizarre whims about pronouns. This is the legalisation of manners: to make what was previously the voluntarily negotiated norms of human interaction, a matter for the law.

It is good manners to refer to a male-to-female transexual as "she", even though "she" is not really a woman. Good manners does not require "she" should be allowed to compete in female sporting events.

Friday, 26 July 2019

The Gettier Problem, Relativism, and Bayesianism

A naive definition of knowledge is "justified true belief". To have knowledge, you must believe something. That belief must be true otherwise it is not knowledge. And it must be justified. If your beliefs are true by accident, it is not knowledge.

Edmund Gettier came up with a thought-experiment to criticise this definition. You look through a window and you see your friend Bob sitting with his back to you in an arm-chair. You believe "Bob is in the room". But in fact the figure in the armchair is an effigy, not Bob. However, Bob is in the room, hiding behind a curtain. Your belief is justified and true, but it does not appear to be knowledge. It is true by luck. The justification and the truth are not connected.

The probabilistic view sidesteps the Gettier problem. Beliefs are probabilistic. You see the effigy and you increase your subjective probability that Bob is in the room. But you know you could be wrong. You also believe that the figure in the chair is Bob. You could make bets about it. As it happens, you win the former bet but lose the latter bet. Tant pis.

Relativism is the bizarre view that truths are relative to people, that there is no objective reality regarding certain issues. For example, the belief that a Bob is in the room is true for one person but not for another. This view is rarely thought through by the few who hold it, but probabilism sidesteps it, by clarifying that two people can hold different beliefs based on the evidence they have seen and their priors, but beliefs must be testable by objective reality to qualify as beliefs. Under probabilism, it is meaningless to have a belief you cannot bet on - you need some way of deciding the bet!

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Laplace's rule of thumb

Laplace's rule of succession is only a rule of thumb. The idea is that since probabilities cannot be zero or one, if one has seen a hundred white swans and no black swans, one should not assign a probability of 100/100=100%. Instead, one assigns 100/101 = 99.01%. n/n+1, not n/n.

This is more sensible than assigning 100% because it is open to the possibility of error, and makes it possible to change your mind. If your prior probability is zero or one, no amount of evidence can change your mind according to Bayes' theorem.

However, in the real world, events are rarely exclusive. There are many alternatives to a hypothesis. We should not assign equal probability to the alternatives. For example, if you had only seen five white swans, there might exist red, green, blue, orange or black swans. According to a naive version of Laplace's rule, we would expect a random swan to be white with only 50% probability, assigning 10% each to red, green, blue, orange and black.

Clearly, a more sensible prediction for the colour of a random adult swan in Europe is more like 99% white, 1% black and close to zero for red, green, blue and orange, even if you have only seen fifty swans in your lifetime.

Popper versus Bayes

Popper thought he could turn inductive science into a deductive process. We only see white swans, so we form a theory that all swans are white, but we might turn out to be wrong. The theory can never be proved. Aha, says Popper, but it can be disproved. If we see a single black swan, that disproves the theory.

The problem is that one can never be sure of evidence. Perhaps the evidence is wrong and the theory is correct. One man's modus ponens is another man's modus tollens. If I receive reports of black swans from Australia, maybe the reports are wrong, for a variety of reasons. Maybe all swans I have ever seen are in disguise. Maybe I am in the Matrix.

Another criticism of Popper's method is that his deductive claims are not very useful. If it is true that "not all swans are white", this does not help me make predictions. Such a statement says nothing about the probability that a given swan is black of white.

David Stove showed that criticisms of inductivism, that it doesn't live up to deductive standards, are misguided. They beg the question by assuming "deductivism", that only deductive arguments are valid. In fact, inductive arguments can be useful, with evidence supporting a conclusion despite not logically entailing it. Perhaps inductivism should be renamed "probabilism", or "Bayesianism".

The correct epistemology is Bayesian: knowledge is probabilistic. A correct epistemology covers everything: science is a subset of it. You don't have different epistemologies for different things. Therefore the practice of science should be probabilistic. What makes science special, then? It involves techniques of "epistemic hygiene" to increase our confidence in our beliefs. By carefully designing experiments, and using good statistics, we can increase the probability of a hypothesis by reducing the probability of alternative hypotheses.

Bayesianism makes one hyper-aware of the infinite number of hypotheses.