Monday, April 29, 2019

Real Caring Requires Thinking More than Feeling

Caring looks different sometimes from what we immediately think it should look like. That will be true when we look at many issues, for example:

·         Economic inequity
·         Borders
·         Gender dysphoria
·         Healthcare
·         Affirmative action
There’s a way of looking at these and other issues that is the quick gut version of caring. And then there’s a way of looking at the same things, with a little further thinking, to see whether the quick gut version will really help. Because, if it doesn’t, then real caring requires something else.

This concept came up in a couple of things I was listening to this weekend—Jordan Peterson debates, again. In a debate with Slavoj Zizek, titled “Happiness: Capitalism vs. Communism," Jordan Peterson (on the side of capitalism) says this:
Jordan Peterson in "Happiness" debate
screenshot from here

If you’re actually concerned that the poorest people in the world rise above their starvation levels, then all the evidence suggests that the best way to do that is to implement something approximating the free market economy.
In other words, all that stuff about fairness, or getting rid of inequality, because you care about the poor—that doesn’t work. He provides data:

The one thing you can say about capitalism is that, although it produces inequality, which it absolutely does, it also produces wealth—and all the other systems don’t. They just produce inequality.
So, here’s a few free market stats: From 1800 to 2017 income growth, adjusted for inflation, grew by 40 times for production workers and 16 times for unskilled labor, while GDP rose by a factor of about .5 from 1 AD to 1800. So, from 1 AD to 1800 AD it was like nothing. Flat. And then, all of a sudden, in the last 217 years there’s been this unbelievably upward movement of wealth.
And it doesn’t only characterize the tiny percentage of people at the top, who, admittedly, do have most of the wealth…. [The absolutely poor at the bottom are] getting richer faster now than they ever have in the history of the world.
And we’re eradicating poverty in countries that have adopted moderate free market policies at a rate that’s unparalleled. So, here’s an example. One of the UN millennial goals was to reduce the absolute rate of poverty in the world by 50% between 2000 and 2015. And they defined that as $1.90 a day. Pretty low, you know. But you have to start somewhere. We hit that at 2012, three years ahead of schedule.
And you might be cynical about that and say, well, it’s kind of an arbitrary number. But the curves are exactly the same at $3.80 cents a day and $7.60 a day. Not as many people have hit that, but the rate of increase towards that is the same. The bloody UN thinks that we’ll be out of poverty, defined by $1.90 a day, by the year 2030. It’s unparalleled.
Do you really care about getting the poor out of poverty? Because we know how to do that: free markets.

In a different debate—this one was a Jordan Peterson/Sam Harris debate in Dublin, moderated by Douglas Murray, which I reviewed via a response by commentator Chris Kohls on his Mr. Reagan podcast. The debate was on the efficacy (or harm) of religion, but Harris failed to engage on that. So there was a diversion to other themes, which includes our main theme for today:

There’s just as much error on the side of empathy as there is on the side of too little empathy. And that’s a hard thing for everyone to learn, because empathy feels so good. Like, if you feel mercy towards a suffering child, that is kind of an indication that you’re an ethical person. But that’s not the basis for complex and sophisticated foreign policy.
from left, Jordan Peterson, Douglas Murray, Sam Harris
in the Dublin debate, as reviewed by Mr. Reagan podcast
screenshot from here

Jordan Peterson was talking about borders, which I’ve heard him talk about elsewhere. But this is an excellent way of thinking about them, so I’ll share this version:

Borders exclude and privilege those within the borders. Yes. OK, now let’s take that seriously. Now, part of the seriousness is, poor innocent children are hurt at borders. That happens all the time. OK, the question is, are you willing to give up the borders?
Now let’s think about what borders are. Your skin is a border. And you’re prejudiced in protection of your skin. For example, you won’t just sleep with anyone; you reserve the right to keep that border intact. Right? And to be choosy about the manner in which it’s broached. You likely have a bedroom; it probably has walls. You have clothing. You have a house. You have a town. You have a state. You have a country. And those are all borders. It’s borders within borders within borders within borders. And you need those borders, because otherwise you will die. So we could not be too hypocritical about the damn borders. We don’t know how to organize fragile things without putting boundaries around them.
You see that in Genesis, right? As soon as people realize that—I’m sneaking in a little religion here, in case you didn’t notice—as soon as people realize, they become self-conscious. They wake up and realize their vulnerability. The first thing they do is manufacture a border between them and the world. And we need borders between us and the world.
 And we pay a bloody price for borders. And I say those words very carefully. We pay a bloody price for borders, and it’s often in the price of other people’s blood.
And so, then, the question might be, well, how should you conduct yourself ethically in a world where other people are paying in blood for your borders? And the answer that I’ve been trying to communicate to people is, get your damn house in order. Bear as much responsibility as you can. Act as effectively as you can as an individual in the world. Because then you can justify your privilege. You can justify your luck and your good fortune. And maybe, within the confines of your border, you can be more productive and useful than you would be in the absence of borders altogether.
You do what you can where you can. You don’t say, “I want to feel good about that poor suffering child at the border, so I’m going to insist that the whole country gives up that border.” Meanwhile, who cares what happens to the property owner right there at the border, or anyone else who is harmed by the lack of a border? And, for that matter, what does getting rid of the border do to help the poor suffering child there? It’s not a certainty that getting rid of the border would even help her.

We don’t really have room today to cover all the other issues on that list. But we can briefly cover a couple of them.

Gender Dysphoria

It might make you feel good to say, “I care about that poor person who was born a male but thinks he/she is a female.” OK, but it isn’t self-evident that the best treatment is to get the whole world to support that person in their self-deception. No matter how elaborate the costume—which could include hormones and surgery—the body will still be a male body, with male DNA in every cell. What could have been a reproductively fertile body could be rendered permanently infertile. Isn’t it worth considering whether there is another, maybe better, solution? Especially since outcomes for those who have transitioned are not very positive (suicide as high or higher, body dysphoria continues), and since many have overcome the dysphoria without transitioning, and many who have transitioned have regretted taking that drastic step.

It may be that the best way to care for that individual is to actually care for them individually, and get them the support and treatment that will do them the most good. That very well might include mental health therapy to deal with the gender dysphoria or confusion first. Certainly waiting would be a better way to deal with children—the majority of whom are likely to outgrow the problem by adulthood.

Affirmative Action

It might make you feel good to care about a student from a minority group that suffered discrimination in the past. But it isn’t self-evident that the best solution is to give that student special treatment, in college admissions, for example.

It might be that a black student scores relatively well on exams, showing he would do well in just about any state school, but would be well below the mainstream or even the bottom of students at an Ivy League school. Do you help that student by putting him in an environment where he’s not likely to thrive? High dropout rates among blacks given affirmative action shows it’s not a kindness. They’re also like to choose an easier major, avoiding STEM fields, where they would have done well enough to follow a good career path, if they’d gone to a good-enough college instead.

Malcolm Gladwell tells a story in David and Goliath, that illustrates this. A young woman black woman excelled in science and math in high school. She chose to attend Ivy League Brown, instead of University of Maryland. But it turned out to be overly competitive, and she struggled, coming to believe she was stupid and incapable, because she was comparing herself to even smarter students, and ended up giving up her lifelong science dream for an easier field.

Gladwell then says this about affirmative action:

Affirmative action is practiced most aggressively in law schools, where black students are routinely offered positions in schools one tier higher than they would otherwise be able to attend. The result? According to the law professor Richard Sander, more than half of all African-American law students in the United States—51.6 percent—are in the bottom 10 percent of their law school class and almost three-quarters fall in the bottom 20 percent. After reading about how hard it is to get a science degree if you’re at the bottom of your class, you’ll probably agree that those statistics are terrifying.[i]
Derryck Green, of Project 21, talks about the results of affirmative action in a recent PragerU video; the segment is from about 1:40 to 3:50, but you can watch the whole five-minute video below.

To summarize, we all need to take a clearer look at caring. Stop killing with kindness. Doing something  that looks like caring in order to make yourself feel good about how virtuous you are is called virtue signaling. Instead, try stepping back from the immediate emotion, and thinking through the specific case, or the full range of possible consequences. And then do a rationally kind act. And do that act yourself—instead of pushing, or even requiring, others to do it.

[i] Gladwell, Malcolm, David and Goliath, p. 91. The statistics he references are from Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It’s Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won’t Admit It.

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