Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Fun With Stereotypes, Generalizations, and Profiling

The ideas expressed herein are written in direct response to Selwyn Duke’s piece in The American Thinker entitled Stereotyping 101. While I tend to disagree with the author’s content outright, my main purpose for this response is to challenge Bullet with Selwyn Duke’s same task here in My Pants. Content aside, I feel that the column did a poor job of laying out its argument, end-to-end, and I very much feel that Bullet might achieve the intended anti-PC result in a far more insightful, logical, and convincing manner. I’m listening. Teach me.

Selwyn Duke’s take on PC speech and text is, by far, not the only such sentiment out there for the public to consume. From Lou Dobbs’ multiple allusions to Orwellian thought to televised, impromptu debates over Don Imus’ shock jock tactics, from complaint blogs by the thousands to the “legitimate” media jumping on every brain fart and every slip of the celebrity tongue; there is no shortage of Americans out there who simply feel painted into a corner when it comes to politically correct speech.

I chose specifically to rebut Duke’s piece in that it is exemplary of the relatively insupportable arguments used to counter PC mores. It is a very typical assertion about the stereotypical. By addressing this one commonplace tack, I hope to address several.

First, I submit that politically correct speech is not, as many might portend, a restriction on speech or an enforcement of one opinion over another. I further submit that it is neither an inherently righteous practice to use terms equated with political correctness by choice or by social coercion. Politically correct speech has seen masses of people dividing into two camps as if it were a yes/no question. In one camp are folks unfairly labeled as bigots, fundamentalists, and the brain-dead simply for questioning PC. In the other camp are very similar people just as unfairly labeled autocrats, elitists, and hypocrites pursuant to them voicing insult or finding merit in PC. Substantively, PC is not as simple as a true/false scenario. It is not a pro-life/pro-choice type issue. Treating it as such close-mindedly ignores all the many and often complex shades of understanding that reside between these two extremes.

Political correctness, among other permutations, is a linguistic movement. It is one of many thousands of otherwise benign movements in language that have added richness and depth to the freedom of speech we hold in such high regard. Language is constantly reshaped and evolving. It is contorted and challenged through slang and cussing. It is enlivened and intensified through new compound words, brand names, and fictional offerings. It is diced up and constructed anew via professional telephone decorum, sales pitches, improvisation, poetic license, correspondence, legislation, contracts negotiation, commercial ads, books, words borrowed from other languages, critiques, science, investigation, humor, and a never-ending stream of expansive usage. Language is a confluence of every communication ever attempted in every form by every person who’d ever existed. Therefore, language carries with it all the strengths and all the flaws of its infinite participants. Metaphorically, language exists as an ocean of ideas shared in countless word combinations and artistic expressions. This ocean is so vast it is without shore, but familiar enough to evoke patterns, like tides and currents. Much as real tides work through the night while we all sleep, so too do immense and powerful linguistic movements usually go unnoticed.

I describe some other linguistic movements for the sake of example, here.

PC is a simple, neutral, linguistic movement like any other. It, like many, represents language’s constant penchant for self-correction and precision. Wherever there is even a modest need for proper grammar and an interest in accuracy, that’s where you’ll find this particular linguistic movement manifesting itself in conversation.

One might ask, then, why we hear about this morphology so often while others remain silent. The answer seems obvious. These are the words we use to describe people. When language drifts around correcting terms for, say, flowers, the flowers can’t answer back.

That stated, I find Duke to be a very forward and rational thinker. The referenced entry, Can We Please Define Racism? made compelling arguments that were both insightful and balanced. Perhaps this is why I was so disappointed in the methodologies used for Stereotyping 101. I took the piece to be a flimsy assertion as opposed to a good argument. Arguments can be divided into parts: premise, inference, and conclusion. These parts did not stack well.

Duke’s premise was essentially “Are the generalizations true?” Well, frankly, no. Generalizations are never true for very elementary reasons.

Firstly, if generalizations were true, the word generalization wouldn’t exist. We already use a wide, almost poetic, vocabulary to nitpick at any idea’s proximity to truth. Take the words truth, fact, accurate, realistic, exact, axiomatic, self-evident, veritable, on-the-nose, correct, right, assuredly, and precise. They are all expressions defined directly by their perceived CLOSENESS to accepted truth. Conversely, words like generalize, approximate, about, relative, estimate, abstraction, almost, and theorize are a family of expressions specifically defined by their DISTANCE from perceived truth. Their very meaning attempts to imply that no matter how closely they might approach a truth, they can never be one.

Secondly, while generalizations are, by definition, untrue, and therefore frequently false, they additionally fail the litmus test of truism because they are intrinsically subjective. Truth, itself, to whatever degree it does exist is by all means objective. Truth needs to ring true regardless of all perceivers, a practice that generalizing cannot accomplish. Objectivity wins out over subjectivity in every conflict and such is the inequality between truth and generalization.

Duke’s premise is a two-fold disprovable notion, as above, before it even deals with some of the detailed examples meant to illustrate the point. Yet, even as it goes on to cite the case that spawned the blog entry, the common sense purpose of the example in Duke’s text refutes itself further. Referenced are alleged profiling/stereotyping entries in police training documents. The highlighted passages inform about behaviors and weapons of choice particular to ethnic groups. What jumped to my mind outright was the danger this text poses to officers of the law. It was obviously meant to protect our keepers of the peace, when instead it puts them at risk. Police MUST be so skilled and so savvy when sizing up situations in the moment, that even a split second of thought or decision can cost them their lives. An officer need take in every relevant element of her/his surroundings in order to effectuate the best course of action possible. Imagine, if you will, a police officer, during a truly split second decision, expecting a Latino suspect to pull a knife when instead the perpetrator pulls a gun. That finite miscalculation could be a life-ending mental burp. That officer, in all ways, would have been improperly trained to handle the situation, a matter of course that hinges upon a notion as short-lived as the speed of thought. Logically, if the example is meant to assert that officers are better equipped to handle calls with profiling in their training, my idea discounts that. If instead one wishes to counter me by saying these deaths never happen or that we trust our officers to be savvy despite the training text, well then the profiling language doesn’t need to be in the documents in the first place. Either way, the example is a defunct note.

I also feel compelled to point out that this particular example’s phraseology is part of Duke’s problem with carrying the argument through convincingly. The verbiage quoted smacks somehow personal. Hispanics generally do this. Hispanics tend to do that. Hispanics prefer these. Hispanics predominantly choose A over B. I didn’t think I could put my finger upon why I was so personally offended by statements of this sort, even though Duke never wrote any such thing. I know I disagree, but an articulated reason had been escaping me. Finally, I figured it out. This is the same type of language styling that hunters and trackers use to pursue wild animals. Think about it.

The Sunderbans tiger prefers to attack from behind, stalking through both water and on land, but opting not to reveal himself in open water if at all possible. This killer tends to go for a throat strike first, but will drag human prey by a limb to an invisible location before finishing them off. Without an alpha male structure Sunderbans tigers are generally rogues seeking out meals singly rather than in groups.

Language like this is used as simultaneous warning and disclaimer to educate hunters, trappers, trackers, and zoologists about the dangers of the breed while also covering one’s liability should the creature instead decide to leap from a tree or attack in a group. It’s a litany of probables profiling lesser life forms on the basis of their instincts. Humans, on the other hand, deserve not to be treated as prey or as lesser life forms, even in language, especially language that dictates, controls, or instills training for authority figures. Humans, by contrast to animals, make choices rather than instinctual judgments, thereby indicating that police profiling language structured similarly to the hunt is completely baseless. We would not use, say, the now very well recognized speech patterns that precede our ride on a roller coaster to welcome us to our MRI.

Ladies and gentlemen, we hope you’re having a great day here in New York City and welcome you to the MRI Room 12! Please keep your hands, arms, and torso completely still at all times! There are no metal objects allowed on this slide! Enjoy your scan and thank you for choosing Six Flags 51st Street Diagnostic!

How then did hunting and tracking language and speech patterns for animals get lumped onto people? While there would be something equally as tactless in both applications, the profiling language is being learned by an individual with a firearm. The insult is clear.

Duke’s premise put in a double spotlight of failure and the originating example also discounted twice over, I now move on to the inferences portion of the argument. This is where Duke normally excels with contributions and insight. As such, I must say that the following quote from Stereotyping 101 is a golden nugget of food for thought:

“While we must judge everyone as an individual, there are differences within groups but also differences among them. Thus, it makes no more sense to paint every group with the same brush than it does to paint every individual with the same brush.”

This is the inference, eloquently stated and thought provoking, that Duke thereafter tries to prove out. The piece enmeshes linkages, points of order, bold statements, and correlations into an entire matrix of support that I think falls far short of doing the job. Duke may have been better off making the statement quoted above and then leaving well enough alone. Why? Again, I can think of two reasons overall.

The first is a lesser ingredient, but an important one nonetheless. Readers should not interpret tactic as argument. An argument is a clear, concise string of related statements that hash out the conclusion in an agreeable manner. A tactic is a practice of mixing words so that the reader/listener is forced to comply either consciously or unconsciously. Everybody who has ever had a door slammed in their face knows about tactic. Everybody in this country is familiar with the number of times Iraq was mentioned in the same breath as 9/11 as a tactic. Duke’s piece, wittingly or no, contains both inference and tactic. It is the reader’s responsibility to sort the tactic out from all the assertions and then intelligently judge if what is left constitutes an argument. The Iraq-9/11 tactic is one that is used here.

In the same set of paragraphs, Duke mentions stereotype, profiling, generalization, leftist agenda, biases, thought police (a menace to civilization), political correctness, diversity, and ideology. Duke interrelates these terms, and masterfully so, in such a way that the reader is meant associate them. I am supposed to conclude that political correctness and thought police are related. I am supposed to conclude that the negativity of bias is somehow similar to the positivism of ideology. I am supposed to conclude that Iraq, first and foremost, is directly responsible for the events of 9/11. This is tactic and nothing more. It is the practice of choosing the ideas one wishes to degrade and sinking them into a pool of otherwise poor associations with language that we know invoke distasteful connotation.

Philosophy 101, to parody Duke’s title, includes an exercise altogether demonstrative of this practice. Students are asked to think back to the beginnings of civilization and list ideas that might have been perceived as basic, universal opposites. Inevitably, through common sense, students list right and wrong, light and dark, on and off, good and evil, man and woman, yes and no, happy and sad, and other appropriate notions. The problem with the structure of supposed universal opposites is the result. Woman is somehow placed on a list with wrong, dark, evil, no, off, and sad. This is the very tender root of association as used, even by accident, for prejudicial effect.

I am certain that there are strong arguments to be made that Iraq’s very outlook under Baathist control had something to do with 9/11. Constantly mentioning Iraq in the same breath as 9/11, however, is not one of those arguments. It is a tactic. It is guilt by verbal association. Similarly, immersing a neutral linguistic movement like political correctness into a bath of stereotypes, generalizations, and agendas is not a supported argument. It is the exact same tactic, meant to be used in place of connectivity. I submit that Duke’s usage of all the listed terms are not connective at all, but disjointed hopes that the reader will fill in the gaps autonomously, or read without questioning. Duke’s subjective opinion of PC clouds the notion in with the very bully language that the PC movement is meant to address, to self-correct over time. It is incumbent upon the reader to sift out this tactic from the argument and decide if what is left still constitutes a valid point. In the case of Stereotyping 101, what is left is a disconnected list of highly separate talking points without any connective tissue. Those points, each standing alone, are my second foray into rebutting Duke’s inferences. Alternately said, each point on the list can be discounted of its own merit, allowing the argument itself to fall apart.

I counter some of those individuated points here.

Duke concludes with a call for people to stand up for truth in all its forms, restating the claim that there is, at least, an element of truth to profiling or stereotyping or generalizing (an element of untruth to PC). Duke seems savvy enough to draw this conclusion without supporting those who’d abuse said truths and for that I applaud. Still, the most important distinction I’d hope readers might draw between Duke’s conclusion and my own is that more than one truth can exist at the same time.

It is entirely possible, to the point of being numerically probable, that part of a whole is coincidentally true, while the whole itself is true, while the linguistic movement meant to explain those truths is factually neutral. I conclude that it is this simultaneity of legitimacies that put PC in an agreeable light, without actually being pro’ or gung ho for PC. I believe it is my allowance for multiple truths in our one reality that quashes Duke’s more singular perspective on stereotyping. While “Oriental” was once used to refer to a group of people, the word “Asian” is ADDITIONALLY TRUE. While some people in our country prefer to be referred to as “black,” those who’ve chosen the moniker “African-American” might note it is ADDITIONALLY TRUE. While many use the word “white,” the terms “Caucasian” and “European-American” are ADDITIONALLY TRUE. PC is not a question of one word verses the other. Both pro-PC and anti-PC camps fail to realize this. The pro’ side would do better not to enforce and the anti’ side would do better not to point fingers. PC, as a linguistic movement, is about language’s constant forward momentum, a momentum that can no sooner be necessitated than it can be stopped. If PC were all positive and not neutral, advocates would not have to fight for its use. The change would evolve naturally. If PC were all negative and not neutral, nobody would elect to use it. Language would jump to the next logical stage of evolution for this family of words with another, similar movement we might as well call PC2. That’s the beauty of language, all parts of language. It self-corrects. To whatever degree PC terms are currently inaccurate or hypocritical or elitist, our language will eventually correct those as well, but not if we don’t start down the road.


bullet said...

I'm working on it, don't worry.

Pockets said...

In the ever apace, go-go-go world of marriage, industry, and fatherhood, a dear relative and friend of mine (who we will call Apricot) had gotten very involved with this set of posts despite his limited time. He'd originally turned me on to the Selwyn Duke source, he'd thoroughly read my rebuttals on My Pants, and he awaits Bullet's highly anticipated piece in response. Through all this, however, Apricot also wished to debate a little. He'd started to gather some ideas in notes form and had intended to write his own full rebuttal to my Fun with Stereotypes, Generalizations and Profiling. When his time commitments overtook him, I could hear how he saddened a bit, desirous of contributing, but wondering if mere notes and strong points could measure up to that which others had already done.

Please let me be the first to say that, even in idea and notes form, the collage of counter-arguments Apricot pieced together were already worthy of their own avail. They are welcome here anytime. Bullet and I have fun with this blog and we neither require participants to pledge massive amounts of time nor to achieve new heights of the written form. All we require is insight that can stand the tests of common sense and depth.

With that, please allow me to quote in print some of Apricot’s thoughts below.

# 1: Generalization(s)

First: I disagree with your explanation & use of the word / term “Generalization(s)”.
There are two documented definitions of the word “Generalization” that contradict your argument:

Definition A:
Generalization : a proposition asserting something to be true either of all members of a certain class or of an indefinite part of that class.

Definition B:
Generalization : the process of formulating general concepts by abstracting common properties of instances.

Second: I do not understand how the statement “Generalizations are never true” can be, in fact true.

Let me give an example: “Americans will shop more on the Friday after Thanksgiving than any other day of the year,” is a generalization based on facts. So much so that this specific day has earned its own name. Though many people I know (including myself) choose not to shop on Black Friday, it is generally accepted as truth, that Americans will shop more on Black Friday than any other day of the year. The acceptance of this generalization, as stated, does not imply other unrelated information, such as “poor people will shop less than middle class people on Black Friday” or “less people were able to shop due to the increase in fuel costs”.

Now let me a draw a parallel example:
It has been my collective experience (and others too) that when driving my automobile in the Bay Area, Asian people drive much more dangerously (often to the point of causing car accidents) when compared with people of non-Asian ethnicities. The statement “Bay area people of Asian ethnicity are poor drivers” is indeed a stereotype. It is also a generalization. It is, indeed based in truth. Even if this “truth” is subjective, which I suppose it is because it’s my experiences, I don’t need statistical data to tell me what I already know. It doesn’t take a genius to be able to identify patterns of behavior. It does NOT suggest that Asians in the bay area are greedy. It does NOT suggest that Asians in the Bay Area don’t like hamburgers. It does NOT suggest that there is something wrong with Asian people or their heritage culture. It’s simply an acknowledgement that there’s a noticeable behavior in the driving habits of Asian people in the Bay Area, nothing more, nothing less. Furthermore, from a statistician and scientist’s perspective, I would be driven to find out why this behavioral pattern exists….. How do Asians in Holland drive? How do Asians in Singapore drive? Is there something different in the climate in Northern California vs. their country of origin? Is there something about Asian culture that prevents Asians from paying attention while behind the wheel? Now I’ll offer the anti-PC statement that tends to get people in trouble: Amongst Asian people, Is there a DNA gene deficiency related to the hand-eye motor function skills that prevents them from driving safely?

Third: As per your statement: “..while generalizations are, by definition, untrue, and therefore frequently false”. Even if the first half of this statement was true (which I do not agree with), this is self-contradictory statement in, and of itself:
Because “and therefore Frequently False” suggests that if generalizations are frequently false, then they also must be infrequently true. Possibly just an oversight in your written argument.

Ireland Population: 4,109,086
Luxembourg Population: 480,222
8.5x more Irish

Pockets said...

While I thank Apricot, unendingly, for both his comments and his willingness to share his ideas; I've had a few follow-ups on this discussion that I've been holding off on entering. I wanted Apricot's notes to stand alone and draw in all the attention they deserved without trying to water them down with my own opinions. Now that some time has passed, please allow me a few notes of my own.

To begin, Apricot had disagreed with my explanation and my use of the term "generalizations." I presume, as best I can from his notes, that he was referring to the portion of my blog entry that asserted that words like "generalization" are defined by their DISTANCE from the truth, not their proximity to it. I presume this because Apricot then cited two actual, dictionary, definitions for the word generalization. Sadly, I think Apricot believes these definitions prove his point. I think, rather, they accidentally prove mine instead.

I had stated, "...if generalizations were true, the word generalization wouldn’t exist...words like generalize, approximate, about, relative, estimate, abstraction, almost, and theorize are a family of expressions specifically defined by their DISTANCE from perceived truth."

Apricot's first offered definition clearly explains "a proposition asserting something to be true either of all members of a certain class or of an indefinite part of that class." It defines generalization as a PROPOSITION, not a truth. It explains that a generalization ASSERTS something to be true; it is not true in and of itself. It even furthers, in part, with laying out an INDEFINITE part of a class, not a DEFINITE one. In all ways, the first definition Apricot claims will counter my usage actually upholds my usage.

His second definition reads, "The process of formulating general concepts by abstracting common properties of instances." Well, ABSTRACTING is right there in the definition. It's the linchpin part of the definition itself. I had even likened generalizations to abstraction in my list. Again, Apricot's chosen proof readily proves out my own point.

That said, in trying to understand why Apricot thought these evidences leaned more toward his argument than my own, I realized something. He and I do not disagree on what a generalization is at all. We both use it in a similar fashion and both adhere to its actual definition.

Amazingly, I realized he and I actually, more deeply, disagree on the definition of TRUTH. This is a philosophical question not yet even answered among humankind, so it is no wonder Apricot and I would fail to resolve the same disparity in a quick blog entry or two. While I hope to talk about it more, my main point in this comment is to reveal that with differing philosophical definitions of TRUTH guiding our reading, it is no wonder we mistook a word defined in terms of truth to be two different animals when we actual agree.

Look forward to more comments below as I continue to address Apricot's notes.

Pockets said...

Apricot forges ahead in is notes into paragraph form, a little more clearly outlining his intent. He begins with an example seemingly meant to illustrate a tasteful generalization, one that claims “Americans will shop more on Black Friday than any other day of the year.” I hope I understand Apricot correctly in reading the explanation when I submit that he is trying to find a generalization to use as an example that is also TRUE. After all, that is the overall brickwork both he and Selwyn Duke were trying to erect, correlation between generalization and truth.

Again, sadly, if this was the intent, I fear Apricot has overlooked one important FACT in choosing this example. The example he chose is not a generalization, it is a statistic. What’s the difference? Well, first off, statistics are directly measured in actual numbers. Generalizations presume, PROPOSE or ABSTRACT random observations into sounding like numbers. Those who speak generalizations use terms like MOST and ALMOST ALWAYS when they do not really know what the count is at all. Statistics actually count what’s going on.

Secondly, unlike generalizations that stereotype people (i.e. group A is smarter than group B), the example Apricot chose is not comparing two groups of people. It is comparing that one shopping day in America against all the other days of the year. It is adding up all the actual sales for every day of the year and choosing the one that comes out on top. The example has nothing to do with generalizations about people. It does not compare one group of Americans who shop to another group who do not. It does not compare Americans to some other nation of people on the planet. It simple takes the number of sales from this day and compares it to every other day. In fact, the chosen example, in my mind, is so far off from being a generalization, I wonder if it has not been misquoted, perhaps Apricot quoting someone who’d gotten it wrong. As a statistic, it more linguistically rings true to say “Black Friday is the biggest shopping day of the year in America.”

Sure, the math of statistics includes a premise known as “percentage of error.” True also, statistics is a separate branch of mathematics because it sometimes gets its figures from a random sample or a stratified random sample, not counting each and every instance. It is important to remember in these cases that while some statistical results can be generalizations within a measured degree of error, no plain generalization is ever a statistic. Such is the same mathematical and definitional relationship when we talk about the FACT that a square is a rectangle, but a rectangle is not a square. Statistics can be generalizations , but generalizations cannot be statistics. In any case, the statistic Apricot chose is not done by random sample or stratified random sample. It’s done in actual numbers and is not a generalization.

Conclusively, if the generalization chosen as an example of “TRUTH IN GENERALIZING” is not a generalization at all and if the example chosen deals with days compared to days and not groups compared to groups, Apricot’s passage, be it still only in notes form, fails its proof. I think we are all guilty of this in polite conversation, myself included. We take something with the mathematical weight of a statistic behind it and skew the phraseology just enough to try to fit our point. I have no doubt that Apricot would always ethically refrain from doing this on purpose. Still, be the phrase a misquote of the mathematical statistic, or Apricot’s simple human oversight in trying to make a good point, I think this section of notes needs to be skipped if Apricot is to skillfully puzzle through a counterpoint.

Look forward to more comments below as I continue to address Apricot's notes.

Pockets said...

Gladly, Apricot moves forward to a second example which pleases me greatly. This one more directly deals with the nuances and gray area that’s made a mish-mosh of our debate. In his second example, Apricot seems to want to bring to light the idea that personal observations share a relationship with reality or with fact or even truth. It is almost as if he takes a stance claiming that PC language asks him to disbelieve what he has seen with his own two eyes. Bold!

I reiterate that Apricot and I seemingly disagree on the fundamentals of TRUTH. Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates would be proud. I believe TRUTH to supersede, to be outside of the self. I believe we are either wise enough to acknowledge it, or we are not. I believe that for any statement to hold true, its careful wording must hold true in every applicable case and no fewer. 20 people witnessing a car accident will all have different versions of the situation, different explanations of the “truth.” Of course, on average, not a single one of them is completely correct when recounting the tale to the police. Regardless of how each witness might explain the instance, however, something, in fact or in truth, still happened. Whether known to us in proper detail or not, that and only that would be the TRUTH and relative to it everyone else’s explanation is lesser. I underscore this in my piece when I write, “Truth, itself, to whatever degree it does exist, is by all means objective. Truth needs to ring true regardless of ALL perceivers, a practice that generalizing cannot accomplish. Objectivity wins out over subjectivity in every conflict and such is the inequality between truth and generalization.” I link that statement to another I’d written in Tag, I’m Always It reading, “Subjectivity is devoid of any tool that can ever result in real agreement and that is why it is inferior thought.”

Apricot’s notes, on the other hand, seem to rely largely upon the notion, “Well, it’s true to me,” or “That’s how I saw it.” This is a surprising stance for Apricot to take, as years of discussing and debating have shown me that he demands other people NOT take this road in discussion. Apricot generally shows himself to be an objective thinker over time, which again, makes me wonder if he is dabbling in this subjective concept anew, or if, instead, perhaps his objectivity all along has really been an aspiration to objectivity and not objectivity itself. While I will not try to presume one way or the other, in this instance, Apricot actually admits to being subjective. That hole is dug.

So, starting from square negative one, Apricot chooses an example of Asian or Asian American drivers in the Bay Area. He has seen, on several occasions, drivers fitting that description operating vehicles in a manner that he perceives as dangerous. I’m going to take that as fact, not TRUTH, fact. Given that fact, Apricot explains.

Apricot admits this to be a generalization. I agree.

Apricot admits this to be a stereotype. I agree.

Apricot claims, “I don’t need statistical data to tell me what I already know.” You might be surprised, but I also agree. A person does not need the statistics on how much it rained this year compared to previous years to know that this year was a heck of a lot wetter or drier. People do not need data to tell them what they already KNOW. They need data to tell them when what they THINK is incorrect. Therein is the trick. In the absence of data, how do you know that what you know is what you “know” or if it is simply what you think (and might be wrong about)? You don’t! Look, for every dangerous driver who Apricot looked at and saw was Asian, the observation had no control group to draw the stereotypical conclusion that Asians are poor drivers. (Not to mention, “poor” is again subjective.) He may have had enough personal data to say that those particular drivers were poor drivers, but Asians in general? No control group, no comparison, no real data. What am I talking about? For every good driver Apricot ever passed, he’d have no reason to peer into their windows and mark their ethnicity, no reason to count them or to remember them. That would be the control group. For all Apricot knows, the Bay Area might prove the greatest bastion of Asian drivership world-over. He’s judging the whole by the part. He’s making the observations, yes, but he is making them in a void. He’s claiming that because he’s seen this hold “true” on certain occasions, there has to be an element of this in a greater truth. It is exactly this practice I talked about when discussing stereotype. “Ignorant to environmental or cultural reasons why any two of the same culture might partake in a practice askew from the perceiver’s culture (DATA), the perceiver makes her/his observation in a vacuum. That’s the stereotype.”

Apricot continues, “It doesn’t take a genius to be able to identify patterns of behavior.” Again, I agree. We all know of our spouses their habits, theirs faults, their talents. How many of us are geniuses? No, it doesn’t take a genius to recognize a pattern and therefore a pattern in behavior. However, it does take BEING PRESENT. Apricot was not there to see a pattern in behavior. Apricot was there for the very few seconds he spent concerned or in danger and then never saw that driver again. Patterns in behavior are witnessed over time in an individual, not in a truncated and uncollected group. Apricot is taking one second of one person’s life and collecting it together with a completely different second in a complete different person’s life and calling it a pattern and a group. I think that’s a stretch. I cannot discount that he is seeing what he is seeing. But, there seems to be a logical disconnect between what he’s witnessed and the conclusion he draws. Rather than starting from a place of neutrality and asking, “I wonder how we could figure out which cultural group has the greatest difficulty with road tests or the greatest collective number of accidents and infractions,” and then searching for POSSIBLE causes, Apricot is starting from a place that states “Asian drivers are poor drivers, dangerous drivers, deficient drivers. I’ve seen it and wonder why it is.” Not only is this both highly subjective and an opposing vector from which logic usually launches, it is the only rationale of our two that verbally disallows the existence of good Asian drivers. At best that makes the statement somewhat inaccurate. At worst we are dealing in the nastier prejudicial unconscious. Knowing what I know of Apricot, it is neither. I’m only guessing, but it seems to me a very strong desire to jump over the logic he holds so dear, start with the conclusion, and experiment with supporting the assertion in new ways.

I can, of course, allow him that for the fun of debate. If I’m right about him, it’s actually kind of cool, an amusing challenge. Nonetheless, if we are going to play around on the outskirts of forensics and just shoot for plain old fun, well I cannot ignore one less frequented tactic in debate…the light and laugh-worthy hypocrisy of the debater. Knowing we keep this blog anonymous, I feel no remorse in bringing up a few giggly facts about Apricot’s own driving skill, all with smiles, of course. I have personally witnessed him drive a car with his knees, just feet from a cliff, whilst looking for a particular CD in the back seat. I have heard him recount a tale, himself, about his unattended car rolling toward the edge of a different cliff in the Marin Headlands as he ran on foot to try to stop it. He’s one of only three people I know to have actually hit a telephone pole, the others being the good company he, himself, had kept, his brother and his cousin. I have personally been present as he continued driving, the two of us holding a new mattress on the roof of his car, BY HAND, after some of the twine snapped. Though securing the mattress again didn’t seem important enough for which to stop the car, we did take the time to drive through the McDonald’s drive-thru still holding the mattress BY HAND to the roof. Though not his fault, I was also present in Apricot’s car on a day we learned a new definition for the phrase, “proper braking distance,” as an icy road suddenly dislodged a complete trash can, filled with garbage, from beneath the SUV in front of us, thereby lodging under Apricot’s Oldsmobile just a few feet behind. I have seen, much to my personal humor, Apricot leading a caravan of 14 cars, pulling all of them over to the side of the busy highway as he realized he’d left the oven on at home. Behind the wheel, he’s run from the police in New England when he didn’t do anything wrong, though, admittedly, I had something to do with that. Call it wild youth or truly bad luck, but to flip the script a bit, I wonder what the community of Asian drivers in the Bay Area think of Apricot’s ethnic group based on his own driving. Then I’d wonder if what they think is TRUE.

Look forward to more comments below as I continue to address Apricot's notes.

Pockets said...

I have to thank Apricot for his next note:

“As per your statement: ‘..while generalizations are, by definition, untrue, and therefore frequently false’. Even if the first half of this statement was true (which I do not agree with), this is self-contradictory statement in, and of itself:
Because ‘and therefore Frequently False’ suggests that if generalizations are frequently false, then they also must be infrequently true. Possibly just an oversight in your written argument.”

This was NOT an oversight on my part. I did choose those words quite particularly. An untruth and a falsehood are not exactly one in the same. I meant to both point that out and to account for them in my argument. It is similar to the idea that something that is untrue is not necessarily a lie, even if spoken. “Lie” implies intent to deceive while “untrue” could mean that a statement is a misstatement or a misinformed statement with no intent to deceive at all. “I saved a bus load of kids from certain doom,” is usually a lie, but “Bob saved a bus load of kids from certain doom,” can either be a lie or an untruth depending upon if the speaker believes the content or not.

In the same way, an untruth and a falsehood are slightly different. An untruth is the negative result of a philosophical proof and a falsehood is the negative result of a logical proof. I could philosophize that there are NO purple swans in the world, even if that statement is untrue, but it could also separately and logically prove to be a falsehood if somebody gathered all the known swans in the world to show me. Sometimes, including in the case of defining “generalizations,” despite this minor disparity in words related to TRUTH, the results are the same. Generalizations happen to be philosophically untrue and therefore frequently disprovable via logic or simply false.

So, I do not thank Apricot for having pointed out an oversight, though I respect the leeway he gave me. There is no oversight. I very much do thank him for pointing out that I dubiously failed in making this clear to the reader.

Look forward to more comments below as I continue to address Apricot's notes.

Pockets said...

Apricot had made additional notes as to Irish population verses Luxembourger population, I think, in hopes of contradicting what I’d written, “Ireland ranks number two in the world in per capita alcohol consumption next to Luxemburg…which begs the question, what mass mental shortcomings are at work for the [drunkard] stereotype NOT to have been applied to Luxembourgers?”

This is a keen device Apricot has chosen. It is simple, numerical, statistical. I might have sooner chosen the Irish-American population verses the Luxembourger-American population to make the same point as the stereotype is quite new world in its origins, but those numbers are similar, percentage-wis,e to the ones Apricot found.

I don’t know what the argument was going to be. I am only guessing that Apricot was going to assert that if a person SEES more Irish-Americans at all and therefore SEES more Irish-American alcoholics, than say German-American alcoholics, the stereotype, while not an inevitability itself, if existing will inevitably be more readily applied to one group over the other, despite data.

This ignores a number of things. First off, it completely ignores the fact that Selwyn Duke’s stats are PER CAPITA, not raw numbers. There is a difference. It’s the difference between saying, “There are visibly more drunks in Ireland than most places on Earth,” and instead saying, “Per capita, there are two drunken Luxembourgers to every one drunk, Irish national.” We like to choose which math the stereotype applies to so as to serve our own mental perceptions rather than letting the superior math dictate what conclusions we draw.

Secondly, Apricot’s and Duke’s chosen numbers would, in argument, fail another important facet of the debate, WHERE the numbers are applied to support the stereotype. All three of us are trying to apply the numbers here in America. All three of us are talking about the possibility of truth in stereotype here in the U.S.A. All three of us are Americans talking about America. Yet, the numbers chosen to support their arguments are from Ireland. Even if one could somehow parley those figures into some kind of obstinate proof of Irish susceptibility to drink, no mention or allowance is made for how or why that is different here in the states. The numbers are just assumed to be the same so that the stereotype can be perpetuated.

Here are a few numbers that should have been included if we want to talk about the U.S.A. If Luxemburg is number ONE on the list for per capita alcohol consumption and Ireland is number TWO, where is the U.S.A.? We are number FORTY. That’s all Americans, not just Irish-Americans. Layer onto to that the fact that, according to the last census in 2000, Irish-Americans constitute about 10.8% of the total U.S. population and you are then talking about only 10.8% of the people it took to achieve 40th place. Rounded off, that’s Irish-Americans drinking the equivalent per capita of the nation that ranked in 152nd place. Now layer onto that the additional fact that NOT every Irish-American who consumes alcohol has a problem with alcohol and the no-brainer fact that at least some Irish-Americans (like Benedictine monks) do not consume alcohol at all, and that figure per capita drops even further. The point being Duke and Apricot start with the preconceived notion that there is something to a tale about those of Irish decent over-imbibing and then they look the world over for numbers to justify the assertion. The problem is the stereotype is being used here. The generalization is laughed about and joked about here in our country. Irish-Americans themselves sometimes even falsely believe this to be an accurate description of their own people. Nonetheless, no allowances are made for the fact the U.S. of A., if nothing else, holds the hope of overcoming, of being different. No difference is allowed in Duke’s numbers between Ireland and America. When we apply the actual difference, we see that the difference is not just slight, but extreme. It is a whole different world. It’s the difference between 2nd place in alcohol consumption and less than 152nd place. It’s huge! A debater cannot ignore it.

I may have indicated a prejudicial force that drives us to apply a stereotype unfairly to a group outside of core data, but presuming that foreign statistics somehow apply to local interests in order to support a stereotype is the last ditch effort of the desperate. I almost wanted to believe Apricot when his notes indicated to me that what we SEE more of is somehow one component of a greater truth. I wanted to understand that numbers can quantumly shift to reveal this in a way I had never thought about before. In the end though, if the numbers we chose to support what we see, even most often, are enumerated from a group of people we’ve never even had contact with, it outrightly shows a LACK of TRUTH in the application of the stereotype. The argument winds up NOT being supported at all. If anything, by failing to find accurate stats from the group too which the stereotype is applied, it shows the stereotype should not be applied there in the first place. They’ve made my argument for me.

Look forward to more comments below as I continue to address Apricot's notes.

Pockets said...

So, I’ve come at Apricot pretty hard. He wanted a little debate and I didn’t want to fail his expectations. I’m sure, in reading it all back to back, some will think I’ve torn into him. Others reading it back to back will judge me as wrong by the volume of text it takes to rebut and not by my actual content. In any case, I only wish to articulate the provable logic and the provable philosophy behind a neutral linguistic movement like PC. These are by no means the only thought structures that can apply to such a concept and I welcome all comers to enlighten me.

For all the stances I had to take in order to counter Apricot’s notes, notes that would have surely been far more difficult, if not impossible, to counter if they had been laid out as classic Apricot arguments, the fact still remains that I admire a number of things he tried here.

While I tried to employ cross logic against what Duke had inferred was unerring logic and even challenged Bullet to affix tighter logic to the issue, Apricot took the debate to the philosophical. Even moreso, he was unafraid to speak in that gray gap where arguments can disappear between logic and philosophy. That’s not an easy road to chose. I am not yet convinced, but I certainly see him treading where others dare not go.

What’s absolutely fantastic about Apricot’s thought process is the desire to make TRUTH a function of practicality. He’s shown pragmatism and insight all while keeping it down to Earth. Eggheads have been arguing for all of written history over the shape of TRUTH and Apricot thumbs is nose at many of them, perhaps even me, by noting that extended debate on the subject has only served to elevate the matter beyond practical use. The debate has started overlooking some of its roots, some of it’s key components. See, while those 20 people perceiving the car accident will all have different tales and the 8 people in the film Vantage Point will have 8 different points of view, our general acceptance that NO ONE PERSON will have the completely proper story has discounted one important possibility. Philosophically, it is possible that one person, just a regular person, despite all her/his shadows of mental perception, gets the story absolutely right just once. It is possible that the shape of the story they’ve perceived just accidentally matches up 100% with the greater truth of the occurrence, even a greater truth we cannot see. It is possible for somebody to sit in a living room and say, “Today, two asteroids the universe knows as Stellafots and Plucky, collided for the first and last time leaving residue each on the other at 8:05 a.m. eastern standard time,” and for that to be absolutely correct, even though nobody was around to see it. It is a longshot. It would be extremely rare, rare to the degree of musing over the extents of human potential, but it is philosophically possible. Once shown as possible, just one person for one second, you have to multiply the possibility by all the seconds in all the lives of all the people who will ever live and that possibility starts to seem like a very common and frequented probability. It starts to seem like you could use that rare possibility in your everyday life. It starts to seem like how you perceive what you see, even if you’ve been wrong a million times over, somehow will ring true regardless of lofty ideals and debate.

It’s almost as if Apricot shoots for these particular debating strengths in hopes of being that rare person in that rare moment just once before he dies. That, I wish I had.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that in the 6 years since this was discussed, new statistics now put Ireland, specifically, as 15th place in modern day alcohol consumption. Has the stereotype changed any along with the statistical change? http://www.mainstreet.com/article/lifestyle/food-drink/15-drunkest-nations?page=5