Announcements, Toleration

Psychological Harm and Free Speech on Campus

The short piece I wrote about free speech on college campuses is now available to read online (but not downloadable) here.   I like this piece alot, but I know many will disagree with various parts.  Even blogmates will find things to disagree with. I know Daniel Shapiro disagrees with what I say about the Skokie case and I predict Jacob Levy will disapprove of a big part of what I say about college campuses.
The basic idea: we should recognize that psychological harm is real and that like physical harm, it may make interference permissible, even with speech, but that this is highly unlikely to occur on college campuses because college essentially requires extensive speech and thus are places where all present should expect to hear views they disagree with and even disapprove of.
Published on:
Author: Andrew Cohen
  • Sorry to say, but if you are an adult, I am not responsible for your feelings. You are a person, not a puppet.
    For one thing, any words you hear are necessarily mediated by your own mental model. A word can be an insult to you, a rallying cry to others (think “queer” or “gay”), or neutral. Even if you perceive the word as an insult, you may respond with anger, humor or disdain.
    “What upsets people is not things themselves but their judgments about the things.” — EPICTETUS (ca. A.D. 50-130)

    You presume that a BLM or Gay pride march will cause no distress. Consider a closet gay person who feels conflicted about his sexual preferences, or someone who was victim of aggression by a black person. We can certainly discuss and analyze different reactions, but I don’t think we can rule out the possibility of psychological harm.

    You correctly mention the importance of property rights, yet suggest some “interference” or “limits” might be justified. What does that mean, if not physical force or the threat thereof? A legal framework that recognizes property rights seems hard to square with a theory of psychological harm (I’m not the owner of my body and you are not the owner of yours?). Also I don’t see how it might support such a seemingly disproportionate use of force implied by “limiting” and “interfering” with speech.

  • Sean II

    Couple problems to think about:

    1) You cite ACEs as your evidence for the reality of psychological harm.

    Problem: hopelessly confounded. That project fails to control for heredity (or any other common third cause) in the negative inputs/outcomes it measures. It merely makes a list of nasty things on the front end of life, a list of nasty things on the back end, and then assumes intuitive causation.

    Wrong. I could use that same method to “show” that liver cirrhosis is really a mechanical disease caused by repeated physical accidents. How? It’s simple: you look at the histories of cirrhosis patients and you see most of them have a significantly higher-than-average number of injuries from accidents. Viola! It must be the patients bruise their livers by means of repeated impacts.

    Of course we know the truth: alcoholism the a common cause of being accident-prone and developing cirrhosis. B doesn’t cause C but rather A causes B and C.

    This is like that, except with more letters. Most and indeed maybe all of the nasty things listed by ACE have such causes, hiding in the usual enchanted place.

    2) You picked a Black Lives Matter rally as one of your nice, safe, no-one-can-reasonably-claim-to-be-offended-by-it examples.

    Very revealing of the problem with making such distinctions.

    It it’s short life BLM has been associated with lots of actual violence. The most famous case involved 5 murders at once, but there have been many cases involving just one or two killings, plus a larger number of sub-lethal shootings. Along with that comes an impressive resume of looting, arson, and simple assault. Most of the victims being black themselves.

    You see the problem? The arrival of BLM rallies in an area plausibly predicts violence and destruction. To the extent psychological distress is real, surely it’s at its most real when people are put in fear of imminent physical violence. Surely that has a better claim to remedy than, say, being called a fat-ass.

    But this did not occur to you. The speech acts you specifically picked out as benign turns out to be one of the most distressing things that can come to visit one’s neighborhood.

    Problem: if even the nice guy conscientiously writing the thoughtful paper can make such a gross miscalculation, what hope is there – especially in light of public choice – that we might ever find a set of bureaucrats who can avoid such mistakes?

    If you’ve ever wondered where free speech absolutism came from, it came from things like this. A couple dudes sat down to carve out some exceptions. The first one said “Okay, it seems morally obvious that X is okay while Y may be forbidden.” Second guy said “Uh, what’s that now. I think it’s perfectly clear that X must be forbidden while Y is a textbook case of what must be allowed.”

    The only stable point of agreement is: allow both X and Y.

    3) All of which is to say you concede too much in the first half of your paper. In fact you’ve got it backwards:

    It would be easier to balance free speech vs harm on a college campus than it would in the society beyond. This for the simple reasons: college communities are smaller, and selected for more similarity than society at large.

    4) Nothing about the truth defense?

    Because the thing about being called a fat-ass is, it really only hurts if you are one.

    Many of the most triggering things today seem to work like that. Having the truth about the wage gap econsplained doesn’t really make women think the A Handmaid’s Tale is upon them. It’s psychologically distressing because losing arguments sucks.

    The most fanatically defended taboos usually turn out to be working in lieu of actual evidence, against ideas that have an inconvenient abundance of it.

    I’m curious why you bypassed this argument. Psychological harm may offer prima facie reason to consider restricting speech, but something like the true statement defense should be available to overcome that.

    • Cassiodorus

      I don’t think you sincerely believe your argument about BLM, unless you’re also prepared to argue “free speech” advocates are collectively responsible for the attack on the two men in Portland.

      • Sean II

        Look, I’ll make it simple: we’re talking about the validity of psychological stress as a reason to restrict speech.

        Let’s say you’re an abortion doctor. Now obviously you’ve come to the conclusion this is morally permissible, or you wouldn’t do it. And just as obviously, you’ve gotten used to the idea that some people disagree.

        Over time things have settled into a predictable routine. When you go to the work, it means driving around one of those groups of aging evangelicals who decorate abortion clinics just as surely as Italian restaurants have awnings. “Oh, I see Angry Face Agnes is here. Guess it must be Wednesday.” That sort of thing.

        Distress level: meh.

        Then one day a new group forms. Fetal Lives Matter, if you like. They’re a little different. When they show up, shit has a tendency to catch fire. Also their aim is not very good: half the doctors they accuse of performing egregious partial-birth abortions later turn out to have done only legitimate life-of-the-mom procedures. People often get hurt, and sometimes get killed at FLM events, including one case where five OBs were shot dead all at once.

        Distress level: oh shit.

        Now, what comfort is it for these doctors to hear that “most people in FLM are peaceful”?

        Doesn’t answer. All they know is: things are more dangerous than they were before, and much more dangerous when FLM comes calling.

        The precise fraction of violent people in the crowd is irrelevant, so long as there are enough to form a predictable pattern of violence.

        • Cassiodorus

          If the “precise fraction of violent people” is irrelevant, couldn’t that same rationale be applied to the “free speech” movement?

          • Sean II

            Try to see the difference between these two arguments:

            1) Belladonna and Poinsettia are both poisons. Therefore anyone who frets about belladonna must also fret about poinsettia.

            2) Most of the atoms in belladonna aren’t actually poison. Therefore no one should worry about eating belladonna.

            Now grasp the similarity: they’re both stupid.

            This stuff isn’t really that hard.

  • Theresa Klein

    The claim that speech inflicts harm via hurtful feelings is a really poor example. A much better case could be made that speech can be harmful if it creates a hostile, harassing environment, or defames some’s public reputation. To be really charitable to the campus students demanding that speech be limited because it inflicts harm, I would suggest that what they really mean is that by perpetuating racial stereotypes, for instance, minority students are put at an academic disadvantage due to the effect of racial bias on how professors will interact with them. Perhaps by offering less mentoring or emotional support.
    Say if lots of people on campus believe that women are less skilled at math and science, then it’s possible that a women going into a STEM field may find a harder time finding a graduate advisor willing to fund her research. I’d like to think that most professors in academic institutions are too intelligent to put much stock in stereotypes, but that’s the idea.
    This is the most plausible spin I can put on it. I’d still say the answer to speech is more speech, but you can make the case that perpetuating racial stereotypes is defamatory.

    The more usual argument, which is apparently what you went with here, that speech inflict harm because it offends or traumatizes the listener is really terrible. As Julian said earlier, if you’re an adult, you’re responsible for your own emotions. Irrational emotional reactions are unpredictable, which would force people to curtail a very broad category of speech – anything which might be offensive or traumatizing. That’s an enormous and completely subjective and at the discretion of the person claiming to be offended to define. Once you say that any speech which traumatizes others may be limited, you basically grant people carte blanche to limit any kind of speech, since being traumatized is a subjective emotional experience that nobody can confirm or verify. You simply have to accept at face value everyone’s claims of being harmed in this way.

    • Sean II

      The argument in paras 1&2 relies on stereotype threat, one of the better known orphans of the replication crisis.

      Meaning: that doesn’t give the students a stronger argument, it gives them a weaker one.

      The problem of verifying subjective hurt feelings is not made easier if those feelings come attached to a failed hypothesis.

      • Theresa Klein

        I’m not talking about stereotype threat. I’m talking about the objective effect of racial prejudice by others – and the social maintainance of such prejudice by the perpetuaton of racial stereotyping (for instance) – on the academic success of the stereotyped group. Racial prejudice perpetuates itself through other mechanisms than just stereotyping, it’s just an example of one way in which speech could contribute to creating a biased environment for some students.

        We have similar speech restrictions in place relateding to workplace harassment for example. Creating a hostile work environment is generally agreed to be something that objectively harms people’s careers.

        • Sean II

          “I’m not talking about stereotype threat. I’m talking about the objective effect of racial prejudice by others – and the social maintainance of such prejudice by the perpetuaton of racial stereotyping (for instance) – on the academic success of the stereotyped group.”

          The part I italicized there is pretty much a definition of stereotype threat.

          • Theresa Klein


            Stereotype threat is a situational predicament in which people are or feel themselves to be at risk of conforming to stereotypes about their social group.[1][2] Since its introduction into the academic literature, stereotype threat has become one of the most widely studied topics in the field of social psychology.[3] Stereotype threat has been shown to reduce the performance of individuals who belong to negatively stereotyped groups.[4][5] If negative stereotypes are present regarding a specific group, group members are likely to become anxious about their performance, which may hinder their ability to perform at their maximum level.

            This sounds to me like stereotype threat is about peoples subjective feelings about themselves, not about external racial bias by others.

          • Sean II

            Okay, but if you renounce stereotype threat your only retreat is into something weaker: you’re now obliged to claim the whole effect is due to direct discrimination. That’s even less plausible.

            Consider what it means in terms of your own given example. You’d have to believe things like: the ~30 point Math SAT gap between men and women, which has held steady across 40 years, is the result of direct discrimination alone.

            How? How does one give somebody a raw deal on the Math SAT? How does one do it in math class? Are you picturing something like this:

            Teacher: “What’s the square root of 2000?”

            Alice: “44.72136!”

            Teacher: “I’m sorry, sweetie. That’s wrong. Let’s try asking a fella.”

            Steve: “Um, 44.72?”

            Teacher: “Great work, bro. Gold star for you.”

            You do realize this is why the concept of stereotype threat was invented?
            It was needed to solve the problems like: the M/F math gap doesn’t change even after the suspected independent variable does. It doesn’t change in blind tests. It doesn’t change with women teachers. It doesn’t change in all-female classrooms. It doesn’t change for anything.

            Stereotype threat was born to address the annoying stability of that gap, and others like it.

            Theresa, I’m sorry, but all you’re doing here is throwing yourself back on a more primitive understanding of this issue.

            Theories like male privilege, implicit bias, and stereotype threat aren’t very good, but they are progress in the sense that the people pushing them at least admit that direct discrimination stopped working as an explanation somewhere between 1960 and now.

            Those at least are new mistakes.

          • Theresa Klein

            You’re off on a tangent. All I’m saying is that reinforcement of racial prejudice is a way in which speech can be harmful. I’m not trying to argue it’s responsible for test discrepancies on the SAT.

            And you don’t seriously think that race/gender discrimination was completely 100% eliminated throughout society in the last 40 years do you?

          • Sean II

            1) Hardly a tangent. If you argue that rude talk about a group can harm that group in non-emotional ways, it’s fair to ask how. If you say “by inspiring direct discrimination”, it’s fair to point out how implausible that it is in light of a half century’s worth of accumulated evidence.

            2) Close enough. Nearly anytime you hear evidence of “discrimination” today, it’s actually just evidence of disparate impact. Which means it’s a massive question beg. (You have to assume what’s in dispute – that all groups are the same – to get the idea that every disparity implies an act of discrimination.)

            Also in some cases discrimination has been actively reversed, so we have local experiments where it’s less than zero. This is true in university admissions and government employment, to name the two big ones.

            Fair to say: discrimination of the “I don’t like your kind” variety we set out to get rid of 50 years ago, we in fact got rid of, such that it’s now a negligible force in American life.

          • Theresa Klein

            You are seriously arguing that it’s “implausible” that blacks have been harmed by racial prejudice? Seriously? Absolutely nothing, zero, about blacks economic status is attributable to prejudice? Zero?

          • Sean II

            That question suggests an obvious get-rich-quick scheme.

            Why do you suppose no one’s ever done it?

          • Theresa Klein

            Ok then. You’re sticking to it. No black person anywhere in America has been harmed by racial bias in the last 40 years.

          • Sean II

            Why has no one used the scheme?

          • Theresa, is reinforcement of racial prejudice or perpetuation of stereotype an unjust harm, to be outlawed by the state? Or are you simply advising colleges to, out of concern for their students, deter this sort of thing?

          • Theresa Klein

            I’m not really recommending anything, other than that it should not be socially acceptable to reinforce racial prejudices. Even if there are innate differences in ability, on average, between different groups, nor everyone is average, everyone deserves to be judged on their own merits. And allowing prejudice to flourish will compound the disparity by denying those individuals of above average abilities to succeed on their own merits.

          • A. Alexander Minsky

            When making life decisions about where to live, work, send your kids to school, etc., recognizing group behavior patterns- what you would call racial prejudices- is a regrettable necessity. Life doesn’t always grant us the option of assessing everyone individually (I wish that the more mindless and dogmatic advocates of open borders would grapple with this hard teaching).

          • Sean II

            Here’s the modal argument I get in:

            Me: “Average blah blah blah as a group such and such normal overlapping distributions yada yada…”

            Them: “Oh so you’re saying yammer yammer ALL this and NEVER that and ALWAYS and EVERY something something, what the fuck?”

            Or sometimes the respond is more like:

            Them: “This one time, this one guy twaddle twaddle defied this one average, blather blather so you’re full of shit dude!”

          • Sean, is it supposed to be a very subtle thing whether in so saying you are “reinforcing racial prejudices”?

            Sometimes it should be “socially acceptable” to say such things, and other times it should not, and people like Theresa shall write complex laws regulating how this works, and sometimes you’ll be permitted to speak and other times, chastised for an incorrect violation, and there’ll be different punishments in different situations, and courts of this “etiquette” and so on.

          • Theresa Klein

            No, I’m not advocating any laws at all. I’m advocating private social sanctions, which some people refer to as “political correctness”. Apparently on the assumption that making decisions about where your children go to school necessarily entails being dicks to black people in public places , while complaining about how unfair it is that only black people are allowed to use the n word.

          • King Goat

            “which some people refer to as “political correctness””

            But which most think of as ‘not being a racist dick.’ 😉

            More seriously, it’s always interesting to me how much these group differences folks sound like far-left feminists. You want to meet some people who really like to take mean differences, conflate them to entire groups, and structure policy based on it, well, say hello to them! More men are rapists and abusers, therefore all men should be suspect and policy based on that assumption. And, they have stats on their side here: whatever mean differences exist between racial and ethnic groups on a list of ‘bad behaviors,’ the mean difference between men and women is greater. But interestingly the mostly white guys who are into group difference theory tend to sour on that stuff…But this is the history of discussions and ‘science’ on group differences, it’s drenched with motivated reasoning.

          • Theresa Klein

            Yes, it’s this collectivist thinking. To me the error in those sort of thinking is that there are infinite numbers of ways to divide people into groups – and then average those group behaviors. Why focus on race and gender?
            You could make similar generalizations about “sports fans” or “fat people”. In the end, we’re all members of an infinite number of overlapping groups, and none of us should define ourselves by, or be defined by, membership in just one or two of those.

          • Lacunaria

            I agree with you. There are lots of groupings which can provide useful correlations, but it seems to me that (in addition to historical grievances) one reason we end up talking about race and gender so much is because we are being explicitly shamed when we point out or utilize correlations with those groups. Perhaps it’s a kind of vicious cycle, like news and politics, where focus begets more focus and increased sensitivity and polarization.

          • Theresa, somehow I do not feel afraid of your haughty contempt for my views of black people or anyone or anything else. But I can see how on the margin, it may deter some people from speaking their mind.

          • Theresa Klein

            I don’t see where you get the haughty contempt for your views from. I’ve expressed some contempt for racially prejudiced attitudes. If you feel that applies to you, then that’s your perception that you fit in that category.

          • Let Smith despise Jones. Theresa appears and tells Smith that she despises him for despising Jones. Either way, contempt is felt and expressed by someone. Why then does Theresa feel justified in her emotion, and why is Smith not justified?

            In any case, political correctness is not about radically de-communizing society, so no Smith shall judge any Jones or through such judging influence Jones’ behavior. It’s about forbidding Smith to tell unflattering to Jones truths.

          • In other words, there is a difference between “apprehension of the truth” (such as “understanding”) and “judgment according to truth” (such as “wisdom”).

            Saying, “These two suck each other’s dicks,” is uttering a true or false proposition. Saying further, “Filth!” is making a wise or foolish judgment.

            I agree that one should make public judgments prudently. Minding one’s own business is a definite virtue. But no restrictions, including of shows of contempt, should be placed on expressing truths.

          • Sean II

            Well, we’ve already tried the laws and I don’t see how we could go any higher in terms of making racist a socially toxic label. Seems like that dial’s been turned up to 11 for a while now.

            This came up before, a couple threads back. Theresa said: “What we’ve got to do is make it socially unacceptable to be racist.”

            Don’t think I was alone in wondering how someone could say that with a straight face, in light of that very thing being THE major American social and cultural project of the past 50 years.

            Unless, of course, it’s a non-falsifiable circular argument. As in: “Making racism socially unacceptable will make all groups equal. We will know that racism has become socially unacceptable when all groups are equal. As of this moment, all groups are not equal. Therefore racism has not yet been made socially unacceptable.”

            That’s a bullshit fallacy, but it’s also the only save available.

            Anyone who looks at our society directly can see that racism has been one of its biggest taboos for a very long time.

          • King Goat

            “the only way to make racism even more socially unacceptable than it is now”

            Trump president, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions AG, etc. Yes, truly, this is the nadir of racism.

          • Jeff R.

            Preceded by Barack Hussein Obama and Eric Plimpton Holder, but don’t let that get in the way of your Dark Night of Fascism paranoia.

          • Sean II

            If I had to name a high water mark for American anti-racism, I’d say it was three years ago, August 2014, the first week of Ferguson.

            Hard to remember now but early sentiment ran *strong* in support of HU/DS. There were
            several days between the shooting and the release of the robbery footage, and during that interval almost everyone was saying the same things: “Tragic death, innocent child, obvious cold-blooded murder, time for big changes, etc.”

            After the video broke, a coming apart began. And it only got worse as the evidence stacked up through the fall. I don’t recall the exact number but something like 30 out of 32 witnesses either recanted or impeached themselves.

            By November it was clear the whole initial story had been a lie. And when the rioters decided to riot anyway, I think it was straw-that-broke-the-camel for some aging Boomers, including plenty of the sort who’d idolized Huey Newton back when they were in college.

            Then came Yale and Mizzou, with a few more mini-Fergusons thrown in for good measure.

            So it’s probably true we’re in the midst of a backlash now, though not a very big one.

            Really the Left could turn the tables back anytime it wants, just by taking its own rowdy youth factions in hand.

            We’re not talking about a big adjustment here: maybe have fewer felons for poster boys, maybe don’t let the shrieking Yalie stump for you, maybe save hunger striking and arson for special occasions, that sort of thing.

          • Theresa Klein

            Basically Sean decides to stick his fingers in his ears and yell “lalalalalala, I’m not listening”

          • Sean II

            Alex, can you try explaining this one to her?

          • jdkolassa

            It is, essentially, Sean’s modus operandi.

            I mean, when your goal is to argue racialism, what more can you do?

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            I happen to believe that there are average group differences in IQ between Ashkenazi Jews and all (or most) other groups. Does this make me a “racialist” or bigot or whatever with respect to all those inferior groups?

          • jdkolassa

            Yeah, I think that counts as a bare definition. The question is whether you start using that to base policy on, treating different ethnic groups differently under the law (in the public sphere) or in terms of hiring or social inclusion (in the private sphere).

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Okay, then a majority of geneticists who have studied this issue meet the “bare definition” of racialism, bigotry, etc. I think that conclusion falsifies whatever premises produced it. I would have thought ill-treatment of a group, or the desire for same, would be required. But I was just curious. Feel free to use words in whatever way you prefer.

          • jdkolassa

            “Racialism is the belief that the human species is naturally divided into races, ostensibly distinct biological categories.”

            Yeah, so what you said counts as racialism. I don’t see the hullabaloo.

            That’s the very bare definition. Note I also put in using it to base policy on; that rises to bigotry, yes, and I have absolutely no problem saying that. I don’t think anyone else would care either.

          • Rob Gressis

            jdkolassa, are you a racialist? If not, why not?

          • jdkolassa

            No. Why? Because there is only one human race, and a fairly large spread of individuals within that race.

            I also don’t, unlike some people in this forum, assume “black person; must be a crim.” To be honest, it befuddles me why not thinking this way is so difficult.

          • Sean II

            “I also don’t, unlike some people in this forum, assume “black person; must be a crim.” To be honest, it befuddles me why not thinking this way is so difficult.”

            Always a warning sign when you can’t accurately summarize the other guy’s argument, while at the same time believing you have it conclusively refuted.

          • jdkolassa

            You’re the one obsessed with looking at black incarceration rates; maybe if you weren’t, people wouldn’t get that impression?

          • Sean II

            The problem with not being able to summarize the other argument is: you think you’ve defeated an argument, when you haven’t even understood it.

            Specifically, the problem is that you defeat something other than the argument.

            Even more specifically, the problem is: you distort the argument into something you can defeat, then defeat it, and claim victory over the pre-distortion argument.

            But of course that’s a different argument. One you didn’t answer.

            Avoiding mistakes like that is what makes the ideological Turing test importantant.

            As strongly as you disagree with me, you should be able to take that test and pass it.

            But you can’t.

          • jdkolassa

            I’ll just say this, Sean: if I really cared, I might put the effort into it.

            But since you’ve demonstrated, time and time again, that you’re just a condescending douchebag, I really don’t see the point. Why bother? I see people like you all the time disassemble and say “Oh, no, THAT’s not really what I’m saying, it’s actually this other thing” and it always breaks down that, no, it really was what they were saying in the first place. All the dog-whistles, all the implications of their surface text, it was all real.

            So why bother going through all of that again? I’m here to read what philosophers have to say, not engage with your drivel.

            Continue creating your “tests” for people to “pass” and then invent new criteria as to why they failed. The rest of us just don’t care about your sad little games anymore.

          • Sean II

            You think it’s a strong argument or a weak one, which left you with only that to say?

          • Theresa Klein

            Well, you flamingly failed that one with respect to my argument.

          • Sean II

            Challenge accepted.

            Here’s your argument as best I can assemble it. No bullshit, no cheap shots, no sarcasm. Just me trying my best to summarize what I’ve heard from you on this subject.

            1) You think people are tribal by nature, so they tend to do a lot of arbitrary us vs them group discrimination. Race being one of the most prominent, and most damaging categories so used. As a result you think racism is fairly widespread, with all or most people being afflicted to some degree, and few being truly immune.

            2) You think the antidote to this is individualism. Specifically, you think the way out of tribalism is to have strong norms (as distinct from coercive laws) discouraging the use of heuristics built around immutable traits. Especially when the marker is itself something superficial, like skin color, eye color, etc. Presumably you’d also like to see a fair amount of self-surveillance to supplement the norm enforcement, with people trying hard to fight the tribal tendency inside their own minds.

            3) You differ somewhat from other people who reach similar conclusions in that you concede there might be actually be some non-trivial differences out there, but – and this is most important – you believe nothing useful can come of studying those differences (because you believe a society that takes individualism seriously renders any use of that information moot), and you believe that misuse of such information is not merely possible, but guaranteed (given the tribal tendency of humans described in 1).

            I’m sure that’s not a complete list, but I think it captures the main pillars.

          • Theresa Klein

            WRONG. I’m not talking about outcome disparities at all. I made a point that reinforcing racial prejudice in a social setting could inflict harm upon individuals. You took issue with that and then got on your hobby horse about racial differences in ability, and proceeded to argue that individuals can’t be harmed by prejudice because on average blacks are less intelligent. One thing doesn’t follow from the other. You keep responding to my points as if I’m talking about a totally different subject. You don’t seem to be willing to understand or even respond to the concept that black people are individuals, with individual attributes, and that an atmosphere in which making assumptions about people based on race is acceptable can be harmful to some individuals.

            You failed AGAIN.

          • Sean II

            I covered your commitment to moral and methodological individualism in point 2) above. Touched it again a bit in point 3).

          • Theresa Klein

            No, let me try to put this a different way. My commitment to moral individualism is NOT based on utilitarian concerns about the effect on aggregate outcomes or on society as a collective. My concern is based on the effects on individual liberty.
            To put it another way, you keep responding as if i’m arguing that justice = abs(mean(ability_i) – mean(outcome_i)) where i is the group, when what I’m actually arguing is that justice = sum(abs(ability_i-outcome_i)) where i is the individual.
            You keep acting as if I care about aggregate group differences in outcomes. I don’t care. I care about whether individuals get outcomes that are correlated to their individual merit.

          • Sean II

            “My commitment to moral individualism is NOT based on utilitarian concerns…”

            I never said it was. I never said anything like that.

          • Theresa Klein

            It’s entailed by your belief that I am motivated by aggregate outcome disparities between blacks and whites. I’m not. I DON’T CARE about aggregate outcome disparities. And I DON’T CARE about aggregate differences in ability. It’s entirely irrelevant to the question of whether individuals get treated fairly and justly by other individuals. I’m motivated principles of justice, fairness and harm in interactions between individuals, and by what sort of social norms will produce a society where people treat each other fairly and justly on an individual level. That MIGHT have some sort of effect on racial outcome disparities, but it might not. And it’s not good or bad BECAUSE it has positive effects on aggregate outcomes, it’s good or bad because individuals have, or should have, an intrinsic right to be treated justly by others. We should have a society where people treat each other fairly and justly, because that is a good thing in itself, regardless of whether it has any effect on aggregate differences in outcome among racial groups.

          • Sean II

            Never said you were motivated by that. I’m well aware you’re not a utilitarian. That’s very clear.

          • Rob Gressis

            First, I should say where I’m coming from. I’m not a racialist. I’m also not *not* a racialist. I’m agnostic on the issue because it seems to me to be an empirical issue, and I just haven’t studied the data much. Nor does there seem to be a consensus among people who have.

            Re: Jason’s links to geneticists and biologists questioning race, I’ve also seen various experts say that it’s, broadly speaking, a fairly useful concept (at least in some contexts), that “race” should be seen as a family resemblance concept that has vague boundaries rather than something that is discrete with clear boundaries, etc. So, regarding the biologists and geneticists who deny race: what do they mean by race?

            Also, do they deny ethnicity? I ask because I’m half Ashkenazi Jew, and so when my wife and I were having a baby, we received genetic counseling, and were told that children of Ashkenazi Jews were at a higher risk for certain genetic disorders, including Tay-Sachs disease, etc., which led me to believe that different ethnicities had different propensities. Consequently, it wouldn’t shock me to hear that (1) genetic propensities have something to do with what IQ score a person has; and (2) your ethnicity has something to do with this genetic propensity.

            Am I making an error in being open to both (1) and (2)?

          • jdkolassa

            I asked a geneticist friend of mine about this this morning. His response was, essentially, that there are indeed “patterns” in human biology, but that these patterns don’t match up to anything regarding race. These patterns, did they arise because of skin color? Or were they selected in different regions due to different environmental constraints? Different cultures which elevated certain patterns above others? Basically, there are things, but they’re not tied to any idea of “race”.

            Not being a geneticist myself, that’s the best I can offer, I’m afraid. For me, the answer comes down to, I guess, libertarian morals (I’ve hit a point where I’m questioning the very nature of morality, hence the “I guess” above.) I treat people as individuals. I don’t look at someone’s skin color and start thinking “Well, statistically speaking, they’re more likely to be X.” (I do that sometimes, and then I catch myself and remind myself that doesn’t work.) That’s collectivist thinking, and it doesn’t lead anywhere good. The only way for society to really work is to treat people as individuals; otherwise we get torn into “us” and “them” and things get ugly.

          • Rob Gressis

            “The only way for society to really work is to treat people as individuals; otherwise we get torn into ‘us’ and ‘them’ and things get ugly.”

            Personally, I can’t do that, at least because of my job, which is teaching: I have to select an article to assign to my students, and I have to ask myself: is this the kind of article that I think most of my students will be able to understand? Or that they will want to read? The thing is, I often have to do this *before* meeting my students. And even after meeting my students, I often don’t have very much information on which to base my decision. So I have to make decisions on the basis of generalizations and general gestalts — in my experience, most students at my university would find this too hard; or too boring; or whatever. Or: just based on this single, one-minute interaction with this student, I’m guessing that he’s going to like this class; or will find this class boring; or won’t show up again; or whatever.

            Sometimes, I’m wrong about my predictions, but I’m also sometimes wrong about my predictions when it comes to predicting the tastes of people I know extremely well, like my wife or my brother.

            Finally, I confess to making this kind of generalization: I see a young black man wearing a hoodie, with a lot of tattoos, walking towards me in a neighborhood that I know to have a high crime rate. He’s motioning me towards him. I get nervous. Is it wrong of me to get nervous? If the guy were a black man in a nice suit in a neighborhood known to have a low crime rate, and he were walking towards me, I wouldn’t be nearly as nervous, probably not nervous at all.

            Am I doing something immoral, do you think? If so, I don’t know how to train myself out of my reactions.

            And I’m not sure I should.

          • Theresa Klein

            What if you see a white man in a nice suit and a black man in a nice suit? Does the black man still make you more nervous than the white man?

          • Rob Gressis

            As you’ve described the cases, I’m made equally nervous by the black and white men in both cases. I.e., in the first pair, not nervous. In the second pair, very nervous.

          • Theresa Klein

            Exactly. Other things being equal, the black man shouldn’t make you more nervous than the white man. There are plenty of criminals of both races and we identify them by attributes other than race – the tattoos and the bad neighborhood being far more important factors than skin color.

          • In the second case, the black guy would alarm me slightly more. One reason for it is that the black guy would probably hate me more for being white.

            In any case, what accounts for the fact that a greater % of blacks wear hoodies in high crime neighborhoods than of whites? Why are there more bad black neighborhoods than bad white neighborhoods, and how might this disparity be used to craft reasonable public policy?

          • jdkolassa

            “Okay, then a majority of geneticists who have studied this issue meet the “bare definition” of racialism, bigotry, etc. ”

            Actually, now that I think about it…that doesn’t quite seem true.

            Citations, please?

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            I actually never used the word “race.” I said I believed that there was an average GROUP difference in IQ, and asked whether that met your definition. You answered “yes” that made me a “racialist.” So I said, based on YOUR answer that made most geneticists “racialists.” Do you really dispute that there is an average group difference in IQ between Ashkenazi Jews and other groups?

          • jdkolassa

            1) See my earlier response to Rob.

            2) What you’re talking about is race. You may not have used the word, but that is what you’re talking about.

          • Sean II

            Brief note about this “race doesn’t exist” business:

            Yes, it’s true a lot of scientists will actually say that. Especially in public.

            But as you seem already to have figured out, it’s nothing more than wordplay. Because in the next breath they’ll speak of “ancestry group” or “superfamilies” or “population group” or “continent of origin”, and it soon becomes obvious these terms carry the exact same freight as “race”. Continent of ancestry origin just is what we mean, when we speak about race.

            It’s not a very sophisticated verbal trick, but it works well enough on three kinds of people: journalists, non-science intellectuals, and ideologues. In other words: it’s an effective form of pest removal. Keeps the busybodies out of your lab, and out of your way.

            Meanwhile everyone is frantically studying this thing which does not exist. Race and ancestry are everywhere in bio science, from the HapMap right down to the lowliest intern presenting a case in clinic: “53 year old black female complains of numbness in her lower extremities…”

            Meanwhile 23&Me actually works, which of course it couldn’t if race and ethnicity did not exist.

            Really it’s just a massive performative contradiction. I’ma tell you “race doesn’t exist”, but then I’m gonna devise a test that can accurately detect it from tubes of spit sent through the mail.

            (See also: Lewontin’s Fallacy. To the extent anyone bothers to make an argument from “race doesn’t exist”, it’s this utterly failed one.)

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            A sincere thanks. Yes, at that point I just didn’t think it was worth the fight. You put it better than I could, since I have never pretended this was my field. But the question just seems to be: could we by looking at a person’s DNA assign them with reasonable accuracy to a group of some sort. For example, grandparents or great grandparents came from Russia and spoke Yiddish. It seems entirely irrelevant whether we then say that such an identifiable group is a distinct race, ethnicity, community, religion, exhibits distinct genetic patterns, etc. And from the fact that prospective parents from the group I used as my example have their DNA tested to look for certain genes that code for diseases the disproportionately afflict that group, the answer plainly seems to be “yes.” Using terminology other than “race” seems like an effort to exclude the possibility of reaching unpleasant conclusions about average group differences.

          • Sean II

            Funny you should mention unpleasant conclusions.

            My own genome contains over 300 Neanderthal variants, enough to put me in the 93rd percentile (this against a very large sample). And I don’t even like cold winters!

            No joke, the 23&Me report announcing this is decorated with the silhouette of brow-ridged caveman holding a spear.

            Looking at it you wonder how many complaints they must get, but then you realize: they don’t get any. It’s in the nature of this result that anyone who clocks a high number will be European on the whiter shade of pale. That group’s doing very well in the modern world, hence not eligible to complain of things like “your speech act made me feel bad about myself”. They’re expected to take such insults on their (somewhat receding) chins.

            You see the same thing with Ashkenazi traits. This group does very well in today’s world, so it’s not immediately taboo to talk about them as a group. No one says “the science is settled: Ashkenazi heritage does not exist”. No one pretends to “have no idea what you mean!” when you speak of Ashkenazi diseases. It’s even kind of okay, sometimes, to talk about the forbidden subject of IQ (or at least it’s more okay in this context than almost anywhere else).

            Speaking of which, it’s hard to improve on the defense Steve Pinker gave for free speech, using this very example. Namely: if you try to explain the success of Ashkenazi Jews without reference to their higher IQ, people will be forced to invent other explanations. They may put it down to ruthlessness, or ethnic networking, or unmerited fortune. These ideas are dangerous too. They can fuel resentment and hate, every bit as much as intellectual jealousy can. The alternative to a dangerous truth is not always a harmless myth. Sometimes it’s an even more dangerous lie.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Yes, there has been precious little serious discussion on this thread about the value of truth. Obviously, there is a practical value with respect to propositions regarding “race,” or whatever more palatable synonym we prefer, that comes into play when we ask (for example) whether East Asians are being treated fairly in admissions to public universities. And, you make a very good point about unintended consequences that militates IMHO for a presumption in favor of acknowledging painful truths. There is also, perhaps, an intrinsic value, which I write about here:

          • jasonkeisling
          • Theresa Klein

            Is refusing to hire or serve blacks in restaurants also a “regrettable necessity”? Is telling racist jokes a “regrettable necessity”?

          • Jeff R.

            If you want to get some laughs.

            Note: kidding.

          • A. Alexander Minsky

            No one is refusing to hire or serve Blacks in restaurants. And racial/ethnic humor has its place, so long as it is done in a spirit of fun and gentleness.

          • King Goat

            It’s important to recognize what we’re often talking about when we talk about ‘group behavior patterns.’ Often we’re talking about ‘group X has a higher mean occurrence of behavior Y than group Z does,’ but this can be the case and at the same time *most* members of group X don’t have behavior Y. If you adopt a general policy based on members of group X having behavior Y you’ll be wrong more often than not.

            Look, let’s take an area where there are undeniable group differences: professional basketball performance. Its obvious that a disproportionate number of pro-level basketball players are black* (the mean of pro basketball level performance in the black population is higher than for whites). But what policy should this entail if you’re running an NBA team? Should you only consider drafting or trading for black players? Or should you just have a race neutral policy, let’s consider everyone regardless of group membership on basketball skills? If we do the latter we’ll get disproprtionately black teams, but we also wouldn’t have missed out on having Larry Bird, John Stockton or Gordon Heyward on our teams.

            * Interestingly for the non-environmentalists, there’s been a somewhat recent surge in white players due to the fall of communism and the opening up of Eastern European markets of players.

          • A. Alexander Minsky

            If you are running an NBA team you obviously want the best players, Black, White or polka dot. But can you imagine if we treated sports the same way we treat intelligence. Leftists would be charged with coming up with all sorts of reasons why, in a just society, athletic ability would be distributed more equitably. And those brave/dumb enough to argue that proficiency in sports is, at least partially, genetic would find themselves shouted down at elite universities and shunned by “respectable” society.

            Sounds like an interesting premise for a novel or Twilight Zone episode.

          • Sean II

            Intriguing idea, here’s the pitch:

            ACT 1: We open on a band of neolithic hunters, conspicuously blond haired. With difficulty they stalk a gazelle. Just at the moment one is ready to loose his spear, we see the gazelle dropped by a barrage of arrows. A rival party of hunters has poached it. They are all red-haired. They see the blonds and laugh, throwing them a shank for charity.

            We learn why through a series of brief scenes. It turns out in this world the reds are better at nearly everything. They hunt more productively, make fire more readily, wield finer tools, wear warmer pelts, get sick more rarely, heal faster, etc. There are more of them, and above all they seem happier for being in control of their world, while the blonds, few and scattered, look on with sullen envy…begging, doing untouchable jobs, even performing as fools to amuse the reds, all for mere scraps.

            ACT 2: Back among the blonds, we learn things were not always like this. Once gold-hair ruled the day, but then somehow the reds got hold of a dark magic and turned the world upside down. It is only this magic which maintains the illusion of their superiority. The blond elders know what must be done: risk everything in a war to capture or destroy the magic.

            But the reds have seen it coming. They are perfectly prepared, as if this all happened many times before. They easily repel the blond assault, and even in triumph the red elders insist on mercy and restraint: “As they are, we were. Blame not the deer for sniffing the salt, nor the fish for biting the fly, nor the blond for seeking what we have, for they do not understand it lives in us alone. They wrong us not to steal what can’t be stolen.”

            ACT 3: A red hunter is exploring a cave, when he sees a group of reds and blonds held at bay by a strange-looking warrior. He rushes to free them. But the stranger has seen this coming, too. He easily puts the red down with a spear of crackling blue light, then talks calmly to a voice on his shoulder.

            This is a penal colony, and the stranger is an intake guard. The prison has been escaped proof by means of amnesia. The convicts dropped there have their memories washed. They do not try to get away, because they do not know there is anything beyond.

            Now we pan away from the island to the home world. It’s an industrial society circa right now. Peeking around we see society inverted: the doctors, lawyers, judges, managers, etc. are overwhelmingly blond, while the dishwashers, trashmen, winos, etc. are disproportionately red.

            We end on a group or learned blond elders. The leader has the same face as the red elder we met before. He speaks very solemnly about how the blonds stole the magic of the reds, and how this invisible sorcery works to keep them ahead in so many aspects of life. He says that justice demands the magic be shared, and despite having failed to do so many times, we must keep looking for new ways…

          • A. Alexander Minsky

            Excellent idea, but I’m queasy about the idea of using “reds”. Some would equate that group with Communists, and others with Republicans. Let’s make it the blondes and the browns.

          • Sean II

            Yeah, and let’s face it: a tribe of gingers is a casting director’s nightmare.

            After you get Damien Lewis, Domhall Gleeson, and that berserker guy off Game of Thrones, you’re done and it’s time to bring in the CGI extras.

            It’d all look faker than the uncanny MILF army in Wonder Woman.

          • Peter from Oz

            Rangas are never going to take over the world.

          • Ugh. The modern world is at the same time both rude and intolerant in most repulsive and perverse ways.

          • Mr Grieves

            Suppose we have average group differences in “ability”, but variation within groups. Wouldn’t “able” members of the “low-ability” group be underemployed because it’s costly acquiring information and people are risk-averse? If that was true, wouldn’t it still be accurate for them to say they face discrimination because of their group membership, even though stereotypes would be accurate on average? It would be harder for them to find employment than similarly able members of the “high-ability” group through no fault of their own. (I’m not sure about the intuition here. Against: smokers and insurance, For: gun-owners and (effective hypothetical) gun regulation. My intuitions about these cases differ even though they’re similar to each other, and to discrimination based on on-average accurate stereotypes.)

          • Sean II

            Good thought. Information is costly (and frankly I’m thrilled to see someone not forgetting that in this context) but here’s the good news for get rich quickers:

            That shouldn’t matter, premises of this discussion granted. If Theresa is right that direct discrimination is a significant factor in present-day black economic outcomes, that means there must be lots of it. And of course abundant things are easy to find.

            If there’s really enough discrimination to explain something as big as the white-black income gap, we don’t need to be especially picky in our search. We can simply apply a strong bias in favor of black applicants, use whatever HR screening we would have anyway, sit back, and watch the money pile up.

            You see why? If the theory is right, we know this group contains a whole bunch of unjustly neglected talent. All we have to do is reverse the bias of discrimination and we’ll find that talent more often than not, at a price well below true market value.

            It’s rather like playing AK vs QJ in hold-em. You’re not going to win every hand of course, but if you keep playing that match up you will win 66% of them, and come out well ahead.

            The scheme really is fool-proof, as long as the premise is true. And you need one investor to try it, for proof of concept. After that the law against arbitrage will kick in as other firms rush to exploit this risk-free profit.

            Plus we know it works, empirically. The first factories to hire blacks in the early 1900s ran this experiment, as did sharecrop landlords before that.

            But for some weird reason, no one is doing it now. No one’s been doing it for decades. Almost as though…

          • Rob Gressis

            For some reason your discussion brings to mind vitamin supplements. So far as I know, there’s no evidence that they’re helpful with anything, and yet there a multi-billion (?) dollar industry devoted to selling vitamins to people.

            Shouldn’t this industry not exist?

            I guess it exists because people hope that the vitamins will give them an edge and convince themselves that they do (even highly informed people who know about the data do this). The marketing probably helps with this, as well as the fact that we need vitamins to live.

            It looks to me like a mass delusion. You’d think if it didn’t work people would stop taking them.

            But maybe it’s really hard to assess what works, because the human body is so complicated, and you have to compare how you would have felt without taking the vitamins to how you feel when you do take the vitamins.

            I wonder if it’s just as hard to assess how good someone is at a job?

          • Sean II

            Fair question, and as it happens one I’ve considered before:

            1) For anyone on a 1st world income, the cost of multivitamins is utterly negligible. Nothing weird about the Econ logic falling apart a bit at such trivial levels.

            2) Main reason vitamins are useless is because people on 1st world diets already get enough of what’s in them. But they do act as a hedge against gross deficiency. Hence rational in the sense of insurance. Probably why lots of MDs still take them even after encounter with the case against. Calculus:

            Cost: trivial

            Best case: prevent deficiency
            Typical case: no effect
            Worst case: harmless

            3) Can’t think of an employment relationship where the same might be said. Employees are costly, and always potentially harmful. Especially under our laws. So we should expect something closer to textbook econ rationality at this level.

            4) You’re right. In some job categories it is hard to tell good from bad. For instance, I have no idea how to tell a good high school music teacher from a bad one. All seem the same to me.

            5) But that doesn’t matter for present purposes, because there are plenty of jobs where it’s easy to tell – e.g. janitor, or phlebotomist. Not too many intangibles in the performance appraisal process there. “Does the floor look clean, yes or no?” “Did you get the red top from old Mrs. Lubkowitz without bruising her iguana-textured arms, yes or no?”

            So you just run my get rich quick scheme in an industry like that. Focus on things closer to the simple widget-making side of the performance measurement spectrum.

          • Mr Grieves

            Here’s another hypothetical case where I can imagine rational discrimination that looks troubling. Suppose society is made up of two groups: a majority group and a minority group. A workplace is more productive when everyone comes from the same group, but the reasons for this are bad. Like the work involves cooperation, but members of one group just don’t like talking to members of another group, even when they’re equally able (because they can’t talk about John Cage or Jay-Z). This should lead to network effects which limit the places someone can work based on group membership if employers make hiring decisions to maximise profits. This is economically efficient, but it looks like members of either group can complain that they can’t do work that they are otherwise suited to just because of the other group’s arbitrary preferences. Does that sound plausible? (Even if it is, whether it’s similar to any job markets will be an empirical question.)

          • Sean II

            First things first: I think Kayne makes a better opposite for John Cage. Jigga’s counterpart would be more like, maybe Philip Glass?.

            Second, yes, what you describe is plausible, and we know this because it definitely did happen in the past (e.g, mid-century auto unions).

            The standard econ argument against discrimination is the one I’ve given above, but as you know it hinges on the profit-maximizing motive of the business owner. All else equal, that motive will make things like racial or sexual prejudice a luxury, and the market will punish those who indulge such luxuries at the price of efficiency.

            But, in principle, that can be thrown off balance by third parties like workers or customers. If THEY value the luxury highly enough, it can easily be in the owner’s best interest to follow suit.

            Classic example: a theater owner in India might reduce his labor cost by 20% hiring only Muslim ushers (Hindus and Sikhs being more expensive). For him this is a matter of real money, millions of rupees saved each year. So his motivation is strong indeed, and if it’s not strong enough then his competitors have ready means to increase it.

            But let’s say most of his customers are Hindus and Sikhs, and let’s say they really hate Muslims (a stretch of the imagination, but play along). For them individual the motivation is much weaker. To each moviegoer, the difference between a maximally efficient theater and a regular one might be something like: half-price on samosas. And maybe the majority in this group hate Muslims more than they love savory discounts. Maybe they twist the calculus around so it’s no longer in the theater owner’s interest to hire Muslim ushers.

            Yes, you’re right, things like that can happen and have happened in cases we know well.

            But it doesn’t seem to be happening now, and we’d know if it was. Be really hard to hide a thing like that today. For one thing we can see how desperately schools and employers grasp at any plausible black candidate they can find. The competition for those resumes is fierce.

            People wouldn’t be doing that if the problem you describe was still a significant factor.

            BTW – it’s very refreshing to interact with someone who knows what he’s talking about, has real arguments instead of mere talking points, doesn’t get emotional, has clearly spent time studying the subject, etc.

            Can’t thank you enough for that.

          • Mr Grieves

            Well, it’s easier to imagine an action movie scored by a Jay-Z imitator so a point for Jigga as Glass, but who would make the better Ravi Shankar mash-up album? (I chose John Cage because I couldn’t resist “the 4’33 crowd” and “the 4:44 crowd” as hypothetical groups.)

            (I’m going to reply to both comments here to avoid splintering the conversation).

            Firstly, your points about employer-driven taste-based discrimination are well taken. Discriminatory employers shouldn’t be able to stay in business without accepting lower profits and the difference could be substantial. I also like the point about dispersed costs for consumers versus concentrated costs for firms!

            I can imagine some niggles about employers and discrimination based on cost technology (returns to scale and the number of nondiscriminatory employers also affect whether an employer can discriminate and not pay for it in equilibrium). This isn’t my main goal, though. I just wanted to flag that there can be discrimination in equilibrium under not-crazy-looking market conditions, and that we should weigh the evidence that these kinds of conditions hold.

            Secondly, about the evidence for taste-based discrimination, I don’t really have much to say. There’s evidence from how these firms behave, from the labour market and from some psychological studies, but I don’t know what to make of it. In silicon valley, the firms have diversity drives and are made up of people who I expect not to have discriminatory tastes. On the other hand, publicly signalling that you aren’t discriminatory is so cheap that it’s a weak source of information (also you can hide a lot in “fit”). There have been psychological studies that claim to show discrimination, but their designs don’t allow identifying taste-based vs statistical discrimination. Also, I have grave concerns about methodology in experimental psychology, and I struggle to take research in that field seriously. The demand for minorities in places like Silicon Valley seems like evidence for discrimination in favour of minorities, but I need to read more empirical labour econ to convince myself this is a general thing.

            BTW Thanks! I’m sure I’m not alone in finding your comments on this blog witty, well-considered and insightful. I specifically look for them, especially when I expect we might disagree.

          • Sean II

            1) “I just wanted to flag that there can be discrimination in equilibrium under not-crazy-looking market conditions, and that we should weigh the evidence that these kinds of conditions hold.”

            Yes, definitely. Granted without reservation. Insisting that “X can’t exist and we shouldn’t even go looking for it because some dry lab theory says it can’t…”, that’s what idiots do.

            We can avoid being idiots simply by remaining open to empirical evidence.

            Unfortunately for the person I was originally arguing with, that evidence lately points one way: old school arbitrary discrimination is not a big factor in present day economic outcomes. Certainly not big enough to explain anything as big as the black-white gap.

            Very briefly: a) we almost never catch anyone doing it, b) the gap doesn’t vary from place to place, and c) the gap hasn’t shrunk over time.

            For direct discrimination to explain here, one has to believe some patently crazy things: a) that discrimination is utterly pervasive and yet almost perfectly hidden, such that it leaves no trace apart from the impact disparities themselves! b) that blue state cities are just as racist as red state rural areas, and c) that the country is just as racist in 2017 as it was in 1967. Indeed, slightly more since the income gap has actually widened a bit since then.

            Honest people on the left understand this perfectly well. That’s why they now make their case using concepts like institutional racism, implicit bias, white privilege, stereotype threat, etc. None of which would have been needed if direct discrimination was still at hand in sufficient quantity. It isn’t, though. Not even close.

            2) “In silicon valley, the firms have diversity drives and are made up of people who I expect not to have discriminatory tastes. On the other hand, publicly signaling that you aren’t discriminatory is so cheap that it’s a weak source of information…”

            Yes again. One of my favorite examples is AirBnB. Faced with the charge that black lodgers were being frozen out of the network, they had one simple fix: remove the photo requirements from profiles.

            They did no such thing, fearing (quite rightly) that people would flee the service if that heuristic were taken away.

            What’d they do instead? Hire Eric Holder as their equity czar. Which sure looks like an attempt to signal problem solving without actually solving the problem.

            Of course this is not actually proof of arbitrary discrimination. Because there are at least two reasons why hosts might disparately avoid black guests, and only one of them is arbitrary preference. The other is actual behavioral difference, as predicted by marker.

            Which reminds me: probably the single most dodged piece of information in this whole debate is: blacks do it too. Black hosts also avoid black lodgers. Black drivers avoid black fares. Black waiters show preference for white diners. Black cops stop, search, and arrest blacks out of proportion to their share of the census. And so on.

            Don’t believe I’ve ever heard even a halfway plausible explanation for how arbitrary discrimination might explain that.

            3) “Also, I have grave concerns about methodology in experimental psychology, and I struggle to take research in that field seriously. The demand for minorities in places like Silicon Valley seems like evidence for discrimination in favor of minorities, but I need to read more empirical labour econ to convince myself this is a general thing.”

            Okay, but in this case you don’t really need experimental psych. You can just observe the thing directly.

            SAT bump numbers are a classic example. What kind of score gets an asian or a white kid into X University? Okay, now what kind of score for a black kid? But of course that discrimination breaks the wrong way, to explain the thing we’re trying to explain here.

            Same goes for hiring. Law offices, for example, have certain unwritten cut-offs in terms of tier and class rank (many applicants, few jobs, one has to narrow the pile somehow). And guess what? That discrimination also cuts the wrong way. For any given office, you’ll see black applicants getting actively recruited from tiers and ranks that wouldn’t have gotten anyone else a callback.

            Med schools and residency programs are especially voracious. They’ll take underserved candidates with MCATs and Step scores that would be regarded as grounds for rejection even in a legacy.

            And so on. This stuff isn’t hard to see. It’s hard to hide.

          • King Goat

            “If the members of group X are undervalued on the labor market, you simply hire them and harvest the difference between their true productivity and the artificially low price others are willing to pay. ”

            Here’s the problem with this argument: in the middle of actual Jim Crow it would have been absolutely true that the average black potential employee for skilled jobs would be less qualified in many ways (less training, education, social capital) precisely because of discrimination. Of course drawing on that, or employers recognition of the fact, to argue there was no discrimination as the root cause of the different plight of the average black worker would be silly.

          • Jeff R.

            That is true, but I think it would also be fair to say that northern firms did exploit the undervalued black labor of the south, hence the Great Migration. So I think I would say someone did try Sean’s get rich quick scheme, which actually did work pretty well for a time…and then came the 1960’s.

          • Theresa Klein

            To get back to this discussion, yes, some people do try to exploit the “get rich quick scheme”, but now that we have minimum wages (a significant reason for which was to *prevent* blacks from undercutting the wages of white labor), and we also have EEOC regulation which checks for things like wage disparities, you can’t actually pay blacks less than whites, and get away with it. Not that it doesn’t happen – just like it’s unrealistic to believe that discrimination against blacks doesn’t happen. So I have no doubt that discrimination happens AND people do take advantage of it to make a profit AND not enough of them are doing it to completely eliminate the wage and employment gap – because there is still a significant amount of discrimination. All of these things can be going on at the same time as the market is never actually in a static equilibrium.

            Moreover, not being employed is far from being the only way in which blacks can be harmed by racial prejudice. I personally think that network effects are a big problem. Black professionals have a harder time networking and finding successful mentors, because whites prefer to socialize with whites. Black professionals like doctors, lawyers, and dentists have a harder time finding clients because whites prefer to work with whites, so they have a smaller pool of possible clients. Network effects advantage whites without any overt discrimination taking place.

          • Jeff R.

            This is all true, but I would add a few caveats:

            1. Black professionals probably do have a harder time finding white clients, but this is likely offset to some degree by having an easier time finding black clients.

            2. I’m not sure the impacts here are huge. Once you control for education, a lot of the black-white income gap goes away. Here’s Roland Fryer: The odd-numbered columns present racial differences on our set of outcomes controlling only for age. The even-numbered columns add controls for the Armed Forces Qualifying Test (AFQT) – a measure of educational achievement that has been shown to be racially unbiased (Wigdor and Green, 1991) – and its square. Black men earn 39.4 percent less than white men; black women earn 13.1 percent less than white women. Accounting for educational achievement drastically reduces
            these inequalities – 39.4 percent to 10.9 percent for black men and 13.1 percent lower than whites to 12.7 percent higher for black women.6 An eleven percent difference between white and black
            men with similar educational achievement is a large and important number, but a small fraction of the original gap. Hispanic men earn 14.8 percent less than whites in the raw data – 62 percent less than the raw black-white gap – which reduces to 3.9 percent more than whites when we account for AFQT. The latter is not statistically significant. Hispanic women earn six percent less than white women (not significant) without accounting for achievement. Adding controls for AFQT, Hispanic women earn sixteen percent more than comparable white women and these differences are statistically significant. Labor force participation follows a similar pattern. Black men are more than twice as likely to be unemployed in the raw data and thirty percent more likely after controlling for AFQT. For women, these differences are 3.8 and 2.9 times more likely, respectively. Hispanic-white differences in unemployment with and without controlling for AFQT are strikingly similar to black-white gaps.

            Black men in the NLSY97 are almost three times as likely to be unemployed, which reduces to twice as likely when we account for educational achievement. Black women are roughly two and
            a half times more likely to be unemployed than white women, but controlling for AFQT reduces this gap to seventy-five percent more likely. Hispanic men are twenty-five percent more likely to be
            unemployed in the raw data, but when we control for AFQT, this difference is eliminated. Hispanic women are fifty percent more likely than white women to be unemployed and this too is eliminated
            by controlling for AFQT. Similar to the NLSY79, controlling for AFQT has less of an impact on racial differences in unemployment than on wages


            These aren’t insignificant gaps he discusses, but they aren’t the end of the world, either.

          • Sean II

            See my reply to Theresa’s latest above. Each objection easily dispensed with, but at some point you just have to take the express elevator.

            Namely: no one makes this argument anymore.

            We have an entire industry dedicated to studying the gap, but the theory Theresa is pushing has been without significant support for decades.

            The Left says racial inequality comes from implicit bias, stereotype threat, white privilege, institutional racism, etc. Even they gave up on direct discrimination long ago, for the very good reason they stopped finding evidence of it. That’s why they invented forms of racism which require no evidence.

            The Right says it comes from legacy effects of past discrimination, culture of poverty, bad schools, bad parents, collapse of morals, etc. Not a good argument at this point, but not brazenly ridiculous either.

            Libertarians think the gap has a lot to do with hair braiding licenses, while borrowing a’la carte from the other sets.

            But guess what no one believes, who seriously studies this subject?

            That old-school direct discrimination is prevalent enough to explain much of anything. Because it isn’t.

          • Theresa Klein

            They might have an easier time finding black clients, but it’s nevertheless a smaller pool of possible clients. It’s harder for any business to survive if it has a smaller market. Just facts of economic life.

          • Sean II

            1) “…you can’t actually pay blacks less than whites.”

            Sure you can. The easy way is to create tiers – Widget Maker I, Widget Maker II, etc. – and limit eligibility to some seemingly heavily correlated factor, like education. Then no one will ever make a prima facie case against you. Or if you don’t like that, just locate your business somewhere whites aren’t and pay uniformly low wages. That’d work fine, and the real estate will be cheaper too.

            2) “…because there is still a significant amount of discrimination.”

            Nope. Once again: nearly all the evidence for discrimination today is merely evidence of disparate impact. Not remotely the same thing.

            3) “I personally think that network effects are a big problem. Black professionals have a harder time networking and finding successful mentors, [and clients]…”

            Innumerate nonsense. There simply aren’t enough people in this category to explain much of anything. There are, for example, 42,000 black doctors in the entire United States. The denominator on black labor statistics is 42,000,000. That’s a tenth of one percent. Add in lawyers, you get two tenths of one percent. Add in architects, accountants, financial planners, etc. and maybe you could eek out one percent.

            What happens in this narrow margin is simple irrelevant to the kind of huge numbers we’re talking about here.

          • Theresa Klein

            Sean, all of this stuff about aggregates is entirely beside the point. My point is about individuals being harmed, not about aggregate effects on the relative economic success of blacks and whites. It’s possible for the *average* economic success of black people to be unaffected by discrimination AND for *individual* black people to be harmed by being treated like “average black person”. You keep returning to aggregate effects as if you have a problem thinking about black people as individuals.

          • Sean II

            Funny thing about social science: you’re supposed to use aggregates.

            Individual stories are called anecdotes. Generally frowned upon, unless that’s all you have to go on.

            Don’t try to pathologize the concept of sample size. That’s just silly.

          • Theresa Klein

            A total non-answer. Apparently individuals don’t exist to you. You realize that methodological individualism is essentially the root of libertarian philosophy. And yet, you refuse to even respond to the concept that black people might be individuals and that it might be unjust to treat individual black people as if they were all identical to the mean.
            Are black people all just a big aggregate mass to you? when you interact with a black person in public do your eyes glaze over and all you see is “average black person”, or do you see that person as an individual?

          • In the academic environment, suppose a certain stereotype is, in fact, true. Is it one of those things that “are true, but you shouldn’t say it,” because saying it makes things worse? Is it ever permissible to say it? When?

          • Peter from Oz

            ”… stereotype threat was invented”
            That is about all you need to say.
            As each barrier to equality has been removed and equality of outcome has not occurred the equalistas have had to invent new ways in which ”racism” is to blame.
            Eventually they will learn the difference between race and culture, but I often think that is a vain hope.

      • Peter from Oz

        Cruel, but fair.

        • Sean II

          Funny, that’s what it says on my family crest.

          • Peter from Oz

            Honi soit qui mal y pense

    • Jeff R.

      The “his speech traumatized me” thing is indeed a big swing and miss. The author spills a lot of ink theorizing about various principles of speech and harm when the reality is the motives of the people brandishing this line are entirely cynical and getting them to adhere to any sort of principle in this realm is a fool’s errand.

  • For my part, I was surprised by how weak a case was made here. In my reading of it, all this article establishes is that if speech is harmful, someone can form a legitimate ethical grievance against that speech, even if that grievance is legally impotent.

    Okay, uh, does anyone disagree with that?

    “If soup is proven to contain some amount of poison, a case can be made that it can be confiscated! …but not a decisive case…”

    • Farstrider

      Agreed. And the ethical grievance is exercised via more speech.

  • I don’t see who can deny that psychological harm is real. You most correctly point out, however, that “people can be hurt without being wronged.” Not all harm to Jones by Smith must be unjust.

    The issue is, then, if Smith has hired a hall or put together a blog and is airing his opinions that are really hurtful to Jones, whether Jones can sue him for this and lawfully stop him from speaking.

    I don’t think so.

    Who, for example, owned the roads on which the Skokie Nazies were going to march? If the local government did, it seems to have been its prerogative to allow or forbid it. But if the marchers had arranged with private road owners to march on their property, I see no case for repression.

    Of course, students don’t own colleges which can set up whatever rules they want. So, I like your defense of “free speech” on campus.

    (Also, a speech act is not primarily a material act, such as of emitting sound waves, but a formal act, i.e., an act of conveyance of information. Angels are said to communicate telepathically without using any material medium. Presumably, however, one angel can still offend another.)

    • HuffPo interprets the Skokie affair as “one of the truly great victories for the First Amendment in American history.”

      It’s amazing in our corrupt age that government courts sometimes still rule reasonably.

      Note a detail: “Initially, the Nazis sought to march in a totally different community in Chicago, one with almost no Jewish population. But they were denied a permit.” It’s indeed up to the government to issue permits for unusual uses of its property. The courts ruled that the reasons for rejection submitted by the villagers were spurious. But I think the gov’t could have denied permit to them in Skokie for _any_ reason whatsoever.

      First Amendment = _Congress_ shall make no law abridging… It does not prohibit the _Skokie_ government from making such laws.

      • A. Alexander Minsky

        A tad off the immediate subject, but the leader of the Nazi organization petitioning to march in Skokie went by the name of Frank Collins. His real name was Frank Cohn, and he was, wait for it, Jewish.

        • Sean II

          Question: if someone tried to run that guy over with a Dodge Diplomat on the grounds that “I hate Illinois Nazis”, how would the Southern Poverty Law Center describe it in their press release?

          A: “Frank Collins was a Jew, targeted for what he believed.”

      • Salem

        It’s true that the First Amendment only bound Congress when first written. For example, Connecticut had an established church until 1818. But then the 14th Amendment was passed, which states in relevant part:

        “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

        As a result, the state of Illinois is obliged to respect your freedom of speech, and so is the town of Skokie whose government the state of Illinois created. The way that the 14th amendment made the Bill of Rights applicable against the states, not just the federal government, is referred to as “incorporation.” This is also why the city of Chicago can’t ban handguns (2nd), California state police need a warrant to search your home (4th), Texas can’t execute the mentally disabled (8th), etc.

        Unless the 14th amendment is repealed, you are quite wrong that the government of Skokie may ban people from public roads because they don’t like their message.

        • Yes, I knew the 14th Amendment will be brought up. Then Skokie was a “victory” of the 14th and not so much the 1st Amendment.

          My first post was not a constitutional but property rights analysis, Rothbard-style.

          The reply in which I cite Huffington Post is well-supplemented by your point, Salem. The courts could only be involved in the first place because of the 14th.

        • The 14th amendment actually seems strange. For the bill of rights is strictly speaking unnecessary. The powers of the fed gov are limited to those listed in the constitution. The constitution does not say: Congress shall regulate speech including abridge it when it feels like. By that very fact alone, Congress cannot abridge speech it at all.

          At the same time, from the point of view of the fed constitution, the states are unlimited and can do anything not explicitly delegated to the feds. Each state has its own state constitution; it can prohibit the state gov’s interference with speech if the people of that state want it. Or not.

          So, the 14th essentially made the bill of rights, the first 10 amendments, up and apply to the states. This is arbitrary, why just those? Further, consider Amendment 17 which concerns the elections of US senators. _That_ can’t meaningfully be applied to the states at all. What exactly are “the privileges or immunities”?

          It seems like a potent centralizing trick, letting the feds override state and local authorities (including state constitutions, state courts, etc.)

          No wonder HuffPo likes it.

  • Disqus keeps deleting my comments as spam. What is going on?

    • It is ironic that this should happen on a post about free speech!

  • Peter from Oz

    Why use the political term ”rape survivior” rather than the correct ”rape victim”?
    That seems to be part and parcel of this silly idea that we can ban speech on the subjective say so of the auditor.
    The whole point about laws and rules is that they cannot be arbitrary or subjective. They need to be clear and objective.
    In any case, those who claim to be offended and therefore to have suffered harm, are often if not mostly using that offence as a weapon to harm others.
    Therefore, the first question is not whether snowflake suffered harm or whether snowflake is trying to gain an advantage or to harm another. If either is the case, then the student trying it on should be punished with the utmost severity.