So, I said some things that got my friend DuWayne Brayton mad, and this caused him to write two blog posts (here and here), and now with a little time to spare I’m giving this the attention it deserves.

I’m going to let DuWayne and you, dear reader, piece together most the threads that connect what he said and what I said and what he said and what I said. If you want. I highly recommend that you give it a skip. I have not been directly addressing DuWayne’s questions, and his comments have little to do with anything I’ve said (sorry, but true). Given what DuWayne has said about what I said, I don’t expect anything I say here to assuage his concerns, because I think he’s concerned about a big giant problem that really isn’t there, and I think he’s not going to let go of that imaginary bugaboo for a while. And, I feel badly about that but there is nothing I can do. What I can do is to state what my thinking is about some of the negative reactions I saw to my assertion that the paper suggesting that carrying a firearm increases rather than decreases your chance of getting shot. (Under certain conditions.) To put it the way DuWayne describes it, the paper suggest that “…carrying a gun is of dubious value in the event of an assault. … you are more likely to be shot during an assault if you are carrying one.”

Before going one step further let me say that I think the paper in question is interesting, useful, and may be important. I also think it is imperfect and incomplete, but I have yet to see a single research paper that is perfect and complete. I’m not interested in arguing whether this paper is more imperfect or more incomplete than others. I have much better things to do than to defend some paper I didn’t write from critiques that include (but are not limited to) the rantings of gun nuts and people who don’t like Philadelphia, and in the blogosphere it is hard to separate out those arguments from others that may be more reasonable. I direct you to the comment threads referenced above for the full range of critiques of the paper.

DuWayne got mad at me because he thought I was calling him a racist. What I actually was doing was reminding him (and others) that not believing that a characteristic of some other group of humans in an experimental (including natural experiment) situation does in fact apply to you because, like it or not, you are a human too. If you are left on the island you have no different a chance of acting like the kids in Lord of the Flies than anyone else. Male soldiers in combat in war time have a degree of elevated chance of raping that is determined by the interaction of the context and your humanity. Being you does not get you out of that. You might think you are special and that the rules of humanity do not apply to you. If you were thinking that, fuck you. Stop thinking it now because you have not earned that right. OK? Have you stopped? Good, thanks. That was really annoying while you were thinking that, glad you stopped. Now on with the post.

I think Stephanie does a good job here of filling in an important part of this discussion. I’ll try to fill in some more. Let me start with a parallel case.

This is a new instance of an old story. A guy I know who was very very happy with Obama as a candidate back during the primaries and the campaign …. a liberal 60 year old white male … talked to me a lot about his thoughts on the campaign. We conversed almost every day during the whole election process, and one day he said “I love Obama. He’s so articulate.”

And he is. Obama is totaly ar-fucking-ticulate, surpassing many well spoken politicians. Articulate is a good word for Obama’s communication style for a lot of reasons. He is always connecting the context to the bits and pieces as he speaks. His talks are like well done mosaics. And when someone asks a question he is good at hooking the question up to things he’d said earlier. To me, all this connectivity and hookyuppiness goes with a nice word like “articulate” … maybe because, as a Biological Anthropologist, I am accustom to using a form of the word “articulate” to mean “the bones are still kinda stuck together where they are supposed to be” for dead things.

But you probably know that the phrase “oh, he’s so articulate” is problematic in the context of our current overarching racialized conversation. The term has been singled out linguistically as commonly used by whites to refer to blacks who appear to have the capacity of speech. It is an example, in that context, of providing a complement for a black person that you (if you are a white person) would not provide to another white person. The black person gets the complement because you are surprised that s/he knows something or can do something almost like a regular person. My friend used the word articulate in a perfectly reasonable way. But I stopped him and talked to him about the “articulate black” problem. He understood. He was both chagrined and amused, and now he knows about that little problem.

My friend was not making racist talk when he called Obama articulate. Nor does he compliment black people for not having primitive customs at the dinner table, not being illiterate, or not having naturally low IQ’s. He used a codeword wrong, by accident. And I mentioned that.

A less accidental but still often ‘innocent’ thing that happens is when people make this separation between the criminal and themselves. This artificial distinction is often overlain with race-based or class-based presumptions. It would work like this: A study is done that shows that people tend to incorrectly deploy the child car seats they use. This results in increased risks to the children. You read this study and you say to yourself “Hmm, next time I use a car seat, I better make sure I don’t screw it up.” Alternatively, you hear that there is a study that was done in Urban Philadelphia that shows that people tend to incorrectly deploy the child car seats they use. You think “hmm….” and you realize that Philadelphia is filled with some subclass of people that are not you … blacks, Hispanics, Quakers, poor, criminals, Democrats, whatever. So now you think “Hmmm. Those people. Too bad their children must suffer.” And you fail to assume that you might be making the same mistake.

In that second case, you would be making the assumption that you are fundamentally different than these Poor Urban Brownish Criminals to the extent that a study showing a basic human inability would apply to them but not to you. They are presumed to be fallible in this way, but not you. You may not even be aware of the things people are doing wrong with the car seats is, but you know, somehow, that this is a “them” thing and not an “us” thing (where by “us” I mean “you”). So you don’t even try to learn what the people in the study are doing wrong in case you can learn from it.

It may well be that there is something about car seats and humans in general that often results in a situation where the car seat gets improperly deployed. You may want to believe that it is because all those Philly people are Quakers, but it may actually be because car seats are car seats and humans are humans.

Similarly, the study suggesting that carrying a gun increases your risk of being shot can’t be rejected because of the nature and character of those other human beings, unless there is some valid reason …. that directly addresses methods and data … to do so, and even then (see Stephanie’s comments) that rejection may be invalid.

Most importantly, and this is my only point, watch out for the rejection of the other as your subaltern. It is not a cool thing to do.

DuWayne, this is not about you, and the above post is not full of details that are meant to refer to you. For instance, I don’t think you are a Quaker, or that you don’t know how to use a car seat. My message to you was simply what I just said in the previous paragraph, and what is in the title of this essay, and the whole rest of this post was providing the groundwork and the context for that suggestion. The current paragraph, the one you are reading now, is just me telling you what I’m not going to respond to because it would be a waste of your time and mine.

Comments

  1. #1 Ray Ingles
    October 13, 2009

    Minor point: I have to say that, considering Obama’s predecessor in office, “articulate” was a relevant distinguishing feature.

  2. #2 DuWayne
    October 13, 2009

    I can see where you are coming from and I can respect that, but it assumes that to make an argument like the one I was making one must see “the other” as subaltern. I am sure that there are people who do, but I am not one of those people. I am not somehow superior to anyone, nor do I see how arguing that people who are criminals introduce confounding variables would imply that I do.

    There are many people who’s actions and sometimes even lifestyles, that I find repugnant. Some even commit egregious enough actions that I find the person repugnant. But I also recognize that they have had a very different experience in life than my own. That I too have made a great many bad choices, based on my own experience in life.

    Similarly, the study suggesting that carrying a gun increases your risk of being shot can’t be rejected because of the nature and character of those other human beings…

    But that was not my argument. My argument had to do with their given profession. Cops were not part of the study. Not because of the “nature” of cops or their character, but because of what they did for a living. My argument is that people who are professional criminals should be eliminated for similar reasons.

  3. #3 becca
    October 13, 2009

    I try to consider seriously why I have the reactions to things that I do.
    *when I heard that ~3/4ths of carseats are not installed correctly, I thought “oh, I’d better get mine checked” (turns out- capable of getting a PhD in Molecular Medicine != capable of correctly installing a carseat from only the instructions supplied. also != smarter than a fifth grader, though that is neither here nor there)
    *when I heard that 3/4ths of women can misread a standard pregnancy test, I thought “wtf? are people really that dumb?”

    Now, I heard the former from childbirth educator people. I heard the later from a commercial for a delux pregnancy test.
    Did I believe the former but not the later because I think the former source is more valid than the later? Or at least less biased?
    Did I believe the former but not the later because anything associated with cars or babies I assumed I was ignorant about, but I knew home pregnancy tests are easy forms of ELISAs and I can do the ‘real’ lab versions competently?
    Or did I believe the former because the TYPE of people I think of when I think of carseats consumers (economically comfortable, safety-conscious, mature) are different from the TYPE of people when I think of as home pregnancy test consumers (economically unstable [not sure if they can support a kid], irresponsible [wrt birth control], immature)? I’d never considered this possibility until now. My god that suggests I’m pretty messed up.
    Let’s just say I’m good at ELISAs.

  4. #4 Greg Laden
    October 13, 2009

    it assumes that to make an argument like the one I was making one must see “the other” as subaltern.

    No it does not and I was not assuming it. See the parable of the guy I talked about above, who was not making an explicitly racist statement.

    I am sure that there are people who do, but I am not one of those people.

    Right. I know. I had assumed that about you.

    nor do I see how arguing that people who are criminals introduce confounding variables would imply that I do.

    The argument that they are criminals and thus their behavior in this study can’t possibly apply broadly is a potential example of lowering the other to the position of subaltern. Thus my concern about the argument.

    But I also recognize that they have had a very different experience in life than my own.

    Good thing to always remember for all of us.

    My argument is that people who are professional criminals should be eliminated for similar reasons.

    And I disagree that this is a priori a logical thing to do.

  5. #5 Greg Laden
    October 13, 2009

    Becca:3/4ths of women can misread a standard pregnancy test

    Do you know what the basis of that statement is? I’ve seen the commercial. I was wondering which of the following they meant:

    ["Tests provide false positives and negatives. Thus much of the time they can be wrong. Plus there is ambiguity in reading it. So they can be wrong. Plus people can screw it up for being dumb-asses. So they can be wrong for this reason too. It adds up to 3/4"] of [we assume it is mostly women looking at the test so we'll put the word "women" here]

    or did they mean

    [the test works fine but people often can't figure out how to do it wright about 3/4 of the time] [women] bla bla bla

    or

    [let's use the word women here so we can start an argument in 10 percent of the potential customer households, which research shows will somehow lead to our product being the one they pick]

    or what.

  6. #6 DuWayne
    October 13, 2009

    And I disagree that this is a priori a logical thing to do.

    Does that mean you also believe that cops should not have been eliminated?

  7. #7 Greg Laden
    October 13, 2009

    Does that mean you also believe that cops should not have been eliminated?

    Don’t be a jerk. You don’t agree with my statement, you think it is dumb. Therefore you ask me if I also would think some other dumb thing. I’m on to you Brayton!

  8. #8 DuWayne
    October 13, 2009

    I was honestly not trying to be a jerk. I also don’t think your statement was dumb, I just happen to disagree. I was really just wondering, because in the thread that originated this whole debacle, there were people who said things that would imply that including cops would be valid.

    I am one of those people. I don’t think it is valid, but I can see why one would say that it is. I asked more as a measure of consistency than anything else.

    Seriously though – I really do not think that your position is dumb. You have often said things I do not agree with. You have also said things that annoy me, or even make me rather angry. You have said things that make me think – whether I ultimately come to agree with you or not. And of course you have said many things that I agree with completely.

    You have, to my recollection, never said anything that was dumb.

  9. #9 Greg Laden
    October 13, 2009

    You have, to my recollection, never said anything that was dumb.

    Ha! You should listen more closely!!!

    But seriously, no, I don’t think including cops as cops is good. If there was such a thing as a person who has a job as a cop but was a civilian without any copiness in the sample that would be a tough call, but it would have to be someone on vacation or something.

    It’s a little like looking at driving skills and including what happens over on the race track at the same time you are doing your study.

  10. #10 daedalus2u
    October 13, 2009

    When we were trying to get pregnant, my ex would use pregnancy tests like they were going out of style, every day when there might be a hint of a possible positive result. Even before her period was due. Many of those tests were quite hard to read, a slight color change, but not a clear positive. Once we saw what a true “positive” was, it was pretty easy to tell that the others had not been true positives.

    I certainly knew how to do the test right, my ex could certainly read the instructions properly and follow them correctly, she simply couldn’t wait until the proper time. Easily 3/4 of the tests she used were done improperly because they were done too soon. It had nothing to do with being “dumb”.

  11. #11 Coriolis
    October 13, 2009

    Without knowing all the previous discussion, in this argument by itself I think you’re trying to keep this a bit too simple.

    In principle one can do the study of chance to get shot while having a gun vs. chance without having a gun in a number of different situations (different cities, countries, etc.), and the results could very well be different. It could be different cultural norms, different reasons why people would have guns, etc. One could easily imagine that in a society where the main reason you have a gun is being a criminal would lead to much better correlation between having a gun and getting shot as opposed to a society where many people hunt with guns.

    In both cases, it could simply be that the correlations that you found in one culture does not apply to another, and someone might correctly claim that.

    I remember recently I read about a study done on a isolated society in (if I remember right) Madagascar. They found that children of women with many partners were more likely to survive than those that didn’t. Which is opposite of the standard “explanation” of western cultural norms where we assume that for men being promiscuous is “naturally” advantageous whereas for women it is better to find a steady man.

    Of course that’s not to say that the inherent “but I’m special” thinking doesn’t exist (it certainly does), but there are other reasons to think that the conclusions of a certain study do or don’t apply to your own situation.

  12. #12 Joshua Zelinsky
    October 13, 2009

    I used to think that the entire thing about the use of “articulate” as a racially charged term was ridiculous. Then I read Live and Let Die and completely changed my position. Anyone who thinks otherwise should just read Fleming’s description of black people and one sees immediately why this is a reasonable concern.

  13. #13 DuWayne
    October 13, 2009

    This has now spawned my shortest post ever…I didn’t know I could be so short winded.

  14. #14 Greg Laden
    October 13, 2009
  15. #15 DuWayne
    October 13, 2009

    Holy crap, that is an expensive book…Not a text book, not new and NO copies for under twenty bones.

    I am trying to remember why I have picked that up, but I am pretty sure I got it from the library once. It will have to wait until next semester – there was one copy at $19.99, but that was only “acceptable” condition, which in my experience usually means “beat to hell.” Not that I have time to read it now anyways – I have two of the recommendations from your colleague on the brain thread and little enough time for pleasure reading (though I am considering working neuro-evo into a topic for my psych paper this semester)…

  16. #16 Greg Laden
    October 13, 2009

    Just keep checking the used market, this book gets assigned a lot as a text.

  17. #17 JefFlyingV
    October 13, 2009

    You should be able to purchase Live and Let Die trade paperback, for around 5 bucks at the half price bookstore franchise used book store. If you go internet Yahoo you’ll get screwed everytime.