Dear Bigots,

Well. So much for "the most accurate predictive engines the world has ever seen." It's Trump Time.

I must confess, I have been taking some perverse pleasure in seeing some very smug, very sanctimonious, very progressive public figures and pundits who were certain of a Clinton victory on Tuesday afternoon now losing their fucking minds. The hipsters and dreadlocked kids protesting in the streets have been feeding my schadenfreude as well. Way to get super pumped about an election 36 hours too late, douche bags. And then there's the whining about how unfair the election system is because Clinton won the popular vote while losing the electoral college. Everyone knew the rules going in. We've been doing it this way since 1824. Throw a temper tantrum over the electoral college or winner-take-all elector appointment the day before the election and I'll take you seriously; do it the day after and you're just a sore loser.

All that said, will the fleeting moments of glee which I derive from Trump's victory ultimately be worth the rapidly approaching World War III that I can only assume Trump will lead us into any day now? Probably not. But as Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj once said,

Chief among the reasons to panic if you are a latte-sipping coastal elite is the dawning realization that nearly half of the country either A) actively agrees with the more bigoted things Trump has said over the course of his campaign, or B) would take a bigot over Hillary Clinton. If you're a well-educated urban professional who subscribes to the liberal progressive ethos, fears censor from his peers, and actively thinks about self-checking his own straight white male privilege, your mind is probably blown right now.

You thought bigotry was on its way out. Sure, you had heard rumors that it existed quietly in small pockets somewhere out in the middle of flyover country, but you assumed it was too ashamed to show its face in the light of day. You assumed all of the bigots had been driven underground, leaving only their microagressions visible to your scrutinizing eye. By any volunteer P.C. police deputy's definition, great strides had been made towards equality. The strategy made sense- keep telling people what to think and say until they agree with you. Peer-pressure the bigotry out of them by establishing new norms of speech and behavior. And if you were marking progress by counting the number of times you heard a white person say "nigger" in public, then things were indeed looking up. 

And then... Trump.

But the more I think about it, the less it surprises me that we've made so much progress in the dark arts of self-righteously shaming bigots and so little progress in the arena of debunking bigotry as an intellectually impoverished ideology in the minds of those who cleave to it. You see, we've been lying to people.

We've been telling people that the reason they shouldn't be a bigot is because we're all the same. Race is only skin deep. All religions teach the same thing. Gender and race are just social constructs. Some of us have even been guilty of using the euphemistic oxymoron, "handicapable" to inaccurately describe someone who's incapable of doing something.

First off, bones only make up about 15% of our body weight on average, so that's a lot of human to dispose of (including the brain) before we get down to the alleged "same" part. Secondly... no. Incorrect. Any forensic anthropologist worth their salt would be able to tell you the race, gender, and approximate age of the skeleton without even sending the DNA out for testing.

Much of political correctness is aimed  towards preserving the illusion that there are no significant differences between groups of people which might justify different preferences, predilections, and ultimately, life outcomes. The progressive Democrat's wet dream is a Star Trek-esque future in which we all wear shiny, silver unitards and sport the same androgynous haircut. And in all fairness, that doesn't sound so bad. It seems to have worked out OK in the Star Trek universe. I hope I get to be Spock.

But here in the real world there's an ever-growing mountain of evidence which seems to suggest that our differences go a little deeper than the skin. "Different" is always a matter of perspective, definition, and degree of course, but we know that serotonin systems do not function the same in men and women. We know that men and women have different ratios of white and gray matter, we know that the hormones coursing through our veins both affect behavior and vary massively in their proportions in men and women. The genders consistently perform differently on spatial cognition tests, and in fact not only in humans, but across other mammalian species as well. Average Bone density and hormone levels vary predictably between races. I could go on ad nauseam and science will continue to find more differences every year, but I'm sure you're already getting uncomfortable.

If the facts above feel like blasphemy, that might be because the American equality construct shares many qualities with religion. It's utopian in scope and claims to fundamentally improve man's base, tribal nature. It's obsessed with outward observances, sensitive to sacrilege, and the whole thing is built upon obvious bullshit which adherents close their eyes and swallow none the less for the sake of the edifice. And like most religions, I'm sure the founders thought they were doing a good thing at the time. Concentration camps, eugenics, and phrenology made us realize that bigotry was a vice we could no longer afford to carry with us into the second half of the 20th century. We panicked. We told a little white lie for the greater good. Maybe we even bought into our own wishful thinking a bit. Imagine how easy eradicating bigotry would be if there were no differences to be bigoted against! But in our haste, in our righteous zeal, we built our dreams of a better, fairer, more equal tomorrow atop a foundation of Jenga blocks. A rationale for tolerance predicated on the denial or downplay of differences is destined to fail. If you tell people that they have to choose between pretending to enjoy watching the WNBA and being a bigot, a sizable segment of the population is going to grimace and say, "I guess I'm a bigot then. Watching the WNBA is like watching the NBA in an alternate universe where everyone has to play with a 20 lb weight around each ankle."

Admitting that different groups of people are different might seem like laying the groundwork for a bigoted society, but that need not be the case. To the contrary, acknowledging the obvious truth of difference and using that as the starting point for a rationale for tolerance results in a far more robust and convincing paradigm.

Bigotry is not a corollary of difference.

First off, while traits may differ between groups, there is often far more variation within those groups.

As the brilliant Iris Vander Pluym so perceptively illustrates with these overlapping bell curves on her blog Perry Street Palace, "So, while we can certainly say that it is true that the median height for men is 5′ 9½” and the median height for women is 5′ 4″, we cannot say that all men are taller than all women....We cannot even say most men are taller than most women. What we can say is that for vast swaths of humanity, height measurements are similar regardless of sex."

So what does it mean if men on average test slightly higher on spatial cognition tests, or if women on average test slightly higher on verbal reasoning tests? Does it mean that women shouldn't be allowed to fly airplanes or that men shouldn't be allowed to write books? Far from it. We can't even say that most men are better than most women at spatial cognition, or that most women are better than most men at verbal reasoning. When it comes to flying an airplane, for every ten men, there are probably nine women out there who have more talent and could do the job better. When it comes to writing newspaper articles, for every ten women, there are probably nine men out there who have more innate ability than they do. 

So if gender is a shabby and insufficient predictor of abilities, then how do we find out who's the best at flying, and who's the best at writing? Allow each individual to demonstrate their mettle, free of preconceived notions and let the chips fall where they may. That's how we get the top talent onto the field.

Leo Durocher knew this. Leo was the manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers and after he called up Jackie Robinson to the major league, Leo told the white team members who refused to play with Jackie,

I do not care if the guy is yellow or black, or if he has stripes like a fuckin' zebra. I'm the manager of this team, and I say he plays. What's more, I say he can make us all rich. And if any of you cannot use the money, I will see that you are all traded.

Notice that Leo didn't try to convince his bigoted players that race was a "pigment of their imagination." And Leo didn't desegregate baseball because he wanted to create an egalitarian utopia either. Leo didn't resist bigotry because he wanted his hippy Cultural Studies professor to be proud of him. Leo didn't even fight for racial equality so that his hot, politically-active upstairs neighbor with the green dreadlocks and huge boobs would blow him. No, Leo became a civil rights warrior because he wanted to win baseball games. He saw talent that could help him do that, and he refused to let it go to waste. That's all. That was his logic. Hell, Leo wasn't even a nice guy. In fact, he coined the phrase "Nice guys finish last." The same year Leo signed Robinson, Leo was suspended for an entire season by the commissioner for cheating a Detroit pitcher at the craps table. If a bastard like Leo Durocher could become a standard-bearer for equality, just imagine who else could be convinced to do so. Maybe even your racist aunt. Maybe not. I don't know. What I do know is that bigotry doesn't just harm those being bigoted against; it harms the bigot who deprives himself of the talents of the bigotee. That's an argument for tolerance that should appeal to everyone.

It's true that the advantages of letting Jackie Robinson on your team are pretty obvious. He was a sensational talent. What if the skillset that an individual or even a group of people have is harder to see? Or what if they aren't better?

Fine. Let us imagine that every member of one group were better at something than every member of another group. Fuck it. Let's say that every member of a group were better at everything. Let's say we have a group of Mother Teresa Einstein Madonna Michael Jordans. They could walk around smugly in their superiority and call us nasty epithets and we'd have just have to take it and be like, "God they're awesome." Would we be displaced in this theoretical world? Would we be unable to make a contribution? You might be tempted to think yes, but David Ricardo probably wouldn't agree with you.

And while Ricardo's groundbreaking theory of comparative advantage may seem counter-intuitive at first blush, it does make some sense on a visceral level. Imagine you have multiple children. They're individuals, so they will have different strengths and weaknesses. Some could even be better or worse than the others at everything. But your natural next step as a parent probably isn't going to be to rank your kids on a scale from superior to inferior and then start culling the weak. No, you want the best for all your children. You want them all to thrive at whatever it is that they enjoy and are good at to the best of their ability, even if they're not better at that thing than another of your kids.

The crux of the tolerance argument needs to be pointing out that everyone can be a contributor to the human project, regardless of circumstance or accident of birth. We need to show people that leaning on stereotypes instead of evaluating humans as individuals is a lazy shortcut that hurts the discriminator as well as the discriminatee. The crux of the tolerance argument cannot be insisting that everyone is the same, because it's a factless, faith-based argument.

Basing tolerance upon an embrace of difference instead of willful obtuseness to difference would also bring some common sense to public policy debates.

Have you ever heard the phrase, "Women in the US only earn 77¢ for every dollar a man makes."? I know I have. I've heard it everywhere. I've heard jokes about it from Stephen Colbert. I've listened to speeches on it from President Obama. I always see something on the news about Equal Pay Day, the day in April that shows how much further into the following year a woman would have to work before she's earned as much as a man has from the previous year.

And that sounds terrible... if you don't understand conflating variables. Or if you assume that the authorities who are relaying this information to you have done their due diligence and isolated the variable to be measured. And you could be excused for making that assumption, because otherwise the 77 cents on the dollar stat wouldn't mean anything...

Imagine my surprise when I learned about the conflating variables that aren't accounted for when coming up with that 77¢/$ figure. First off, I'll let Harvard professor of economics, Dr. Claudia Goldin explain how the .77/1 stat is calculated.

...if you took individuals in the labor force and took those who were working full-time, full-year, and took all women, took the median annual earnings of those women and took the same thing for men, and divided the two, it would be .77 or around that...

Now let's look at what isn't calculated into that stat. The number of hours worked isn't taken into account. Let me repeat that. The number of hours worked... isn't factored in to that stat. In 2014, A male, full-time employee in the US worked 8.4 hours per day on average. A female, full-time employee in the US worked 7.8 hours per day on average. And that didn't seem like a significant conflating variable to the people who came up with the .77/1 stat.

Men are more likely to pursue careers in higher-paid occupations. Do you think the .77/1 stat controls for occupational preferences? Guess again. Yes, that's right, we're treating investment banking and kindergarten teaching as "equal" work, and then pretending to measure gender pay discrimination.

Dr. Claudia Goldin has a couple decades worth of research which suggests that about 75% of the gender wage gap stems from women's desire or need for flexible working hours and a distaste for or inability to commit to evening overtime, accommodate weekend assignments, and spend extended time away on business travel. This is often a result of unpaid care-giving responsibilities at home.
The next time you hear someone say that women deserve equal pay for equal work, ask them to carefully define the "equal work" side of that equation.

But many American liberal progressives don't think about that. Why would they be hunting for conflating variables when they don't believe that variables exist among groups of humans in the first place? If we're all the same then the only possible explanations for differing outcomes are luck or discrimination. Ignoring differences makes you ask all the wrong questions and focus on all the wrong things. The gender wage gap data raises important questions- Should unpaid care-giving duties be more equally shared between men and women? Should the state subsidize care-giving? Should we encourage or incentivize girls to pursue careers in higher-paid industries? Should workplaces be more flexible? None of those questions can be addressed as long as we refuse to acknowledge that men and women do different work.

To those who insist that every gender gap must be indicative of gender discrimination, I like to point out a few gender gaps that even the most devout gender equality activists seem to have no interest in closing- the longevity and incarceration gaps. Women live, on average, more than five years longer than men. The prison population in the US is over 93% male. Either men make different decisions than women do and/or are biologically different from their female counterparts... or they are purposefully being locked up and pushed into early graves on a massive scale based upon their gender. Both theories could be true, but what you can't do is pick the "I guess men and women are just different" hypothesis every time you encounter a gap disadvantageous to men, and then go with the "it's an insidious gender discrimination conspiracy," theory every time you come across a gap disadvantageous to women. Cherry picking in that manner would be, after all, gender discrimination.

All this should not be interpreted to mean that sexism does not actually exist. It does. But you will find out precious little about it if all you do is look for statistical gender gaps without controlling for confounding variables.

In a similar vein, I also lose my goddamn shit when I hear talk about such-and-such an industry or company having a "diversity problem." I often find myself screaming things at the TV like, "DON'T YOU DARE END THIS FUCKING REPORT WITHOUT TELLING US WHAT PERCENTAGE OF THE HIGHEST-QUALIFIED APPLICANTS WERE OF THE RACE/GENDER YOU CLAIM IS BEING DISCRIMINATED AGAINST, YOU LAZY JOURNALIST FUCK!!!!!" But the report always ends without mentioning what percentage of the highest-qualified applicants were of the race/gender the journalist claimed was being discriminated against. And then my landlady knocks on the door and tells me to keep it down or she'll file a noise complaint. In my defense, it's a pretty important variable to control for. If 50% of your highest-qualified applicants are Hispanic and 5% of your workforce is Hispanic, then I would agree that you probably have a "diversity problem," and by "diversity problem" I mean someone in HR is a tobacco-chewing, white-robe-wearing, George Wallace racist, and obviously proud of it. It should be easy to spot him. Just walk into HR and look for the guy with a Confederate flag office chair and a copy of Mein Kampf being used a paperweight in his "out" tray. 

But if 5% of your highest-qualified applicants are Hispanic and 5% of your workforce is Hispanic, then I would say you probably don't have a "diversity problem," even though 17% of the US population is Hispanic. The fact that only 5% of your highest-qualified applicants are Hispanic might raise some other questions; some much more pertinent questions related to themes like education, opportunity, and more specifically your company's reputation for inclusion. And these are exactly the questions we could be spending our public discourse time budget on if we weren't so busy making Cat in the Hat-level simpleton declarations about "a lack of diversity," without bothering to so much as isolate the variable being measured. Once again however, if your rationale for tolerance requires you to squeeze everyone into identical shiny, silver unitards and pretend you can't see the differences between people, then you aren't looking for variables to control for. You're doing quite the opposite in fact; you are willfully ignoring variables to control for.

We are running out of time in which to relocate the rationale of tolerance to firmer and higher ground. Genetic research continues unabated since the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003. Functional Neuroimaging machines are only increasing in resolution, and multiple large-scale efforts to map the human brain are under way. We are going to find out about some physiological differences between races and ethnicities that most of us are afraid of, and the more bigoted among us are absolutely going to crow over. And it won't just be one race lording it over the others, because each gender and every people group will focus on the things they have some slight statistical advantage in. White people will think the KKK was right all along when it comes out that Caucasians have a 5% higher incidence of some cerebral fold that makes you 1% more likely to be better at delayed gratification. The New Black Panther Party will see a surge in membership after it is revealed that 2% of people of African descent have a genetic mutation that makes them 4% better at time-constrained spontaneous problem solving. The Chinese will look down on us all because they have a 3% higher statistical prominence of some suite of genes that makes you 3% more naturally gifted at playing a musical instrument. People will say to themselves, "Why were we supposed to be tolerant again? Something about race only being skin deep? Well that's been thoroughly debunked now, so... RACE WAR!!!!"

Let's base tolerance on something that's actually true. Let's base tolerance on an embrace of differences instead of difference denialism. Let's base tolerance on comparative advantage and employing individual evaluation instead of applying sweeping statistical generalizations to individuals. Then we might actually have a shot of getting to that future Star Trek utopia. And I get to be Spock. Don't forget that.

Sebastian Braff


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