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defending free speech the right way: three cheers for gabriel rossman

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Recently, a UCLA conservative student group invited Milo Yiannopolous to speak at the campus. Then, UCLA sociologist (and former orgtheory guest) Gabriel Rossman wrote an open letter to the Bruin Republicans urging them to rescind the invitation, which they did. Excerpts from the letter, as published in The Weekly Standard:

The most important reason not to host such a talk is that it is evil on the merits. Your conscience should tell you that you never want anything to do with someone whose entire career is not reasoned argument, but shock jock performance art. In the 1980s conservatives made fun of “artists” who defecated on stage for the purpose of upsetting conservatives. Now apparently, conservatives are willing to embrace a man who says despicable things for the purpose of “triggering snowflakes.” The change in performance art from the fecal era to the present is yet another sign that no matter how low civilization goes, there is still room for further decline.

I want to be clear that my point here is not that some people will be offended, but that the speaker is purely malicious.

I could not agree more. Gabriel makes it clear that he is defending their right to have a speaker, but that it is unwise and unethical to invite this particular speaker. On Twitter, Gabriel also makes it clear that there was a lot of internal pressure to cancel this talk, and that the open letter was a secondary part of the story.

I want to add a few words about the defense of free speech, drawn from Gabriel’s letter. First, Gabriel avoids a common mistake – no where does he oppose the talk because he thinks that having the talk will somehow legitimize racism or undermine UCLA. Universities are hardy creatures and hosting a shock jock conservative will not have any appreciable effect on racism in the larger society.

Second, he focuses on wisdom – is this really the right thing to do? Does inviting Yiannopolous really promote truth seeking? This is the difference between hosting a “conservative performance art” event and a conservative intellectual with genuinely held beliefs that need to be debated. I think this is the difference between inviting Charles Murray – who provides evidence and is willing to debate – and Yiannopolous. One has controversial views, the other is a controversy machine. There is a huge difference.

Finally, this approach provides a broader defense of free speech and debate for all people. On a basic level, students and faculty have been given the privilege to invite who ever they want to campus. And that means some nasty people will be invited from time to time and we should support that right.

On a deeper level, we need a higher standard to decide which speech should be actively supported. If someone provides data and can treat others civilly in debate, we should be very tolerant. If someone shows a basic mastery of argument and analysis of evidence, they deserve a hearing. Conversely, if a faculty member is a scholar in good standing, we should be forgiving if they mis-speak in public.

We need to appreciate that the core of the university is not free speech.  Rather, free speech is a starting point. What real scholars do is select which speech merits a spotlight and an analysis and that’s a crucial activity.

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Written by fabiorojas

February 16, 2018 at 5:12 am

the welfare objection to open borders: i don’t buy it

In discussion of open borders and free migration, you often hear the following: Wouldn’t open borders undermine the welfare state because natives would stop voting for social programs to prevent immigrants from getting benefits?

Let me start with a point of agreement. Yes, it is true that some people will become skeptical toward social welfare programs. A famous example: When Representative Joe Wilson screamed “You lie!” at Obama during a State of the Union address, he was protesting Obama’s claim that health benefits would not go to undocumented immigrants.

However, the objection is odd from a number of perspectives. First, many conservatives and libertarians are welfare state skeptics. Thus, you would think they would celebrate immigration because it would help reduce the welfare state!

Second, the academic research on welfare program utilization tends to show that immigrants use social programs at the same as rate as natives in most cases once you account for standard socio-demographic characteristics (e.g., see this articial Hao and Kawano in Demogaphy). Thus, it is correct when people correctly point out that immigrants have higher rates of social service use, but it is also true the effect disappears when you account for wealth. Immigration per se is not associated with increased welfare state use. Poverty is.

Third, there is an ethical issue – why should people’s voting patterns determine whether someone can live in my neighborhood? To clarify the issue, let us consider the following statement:

We should not allow African Americans to come into my school because then some people won’t like schools anymore.

Most of us would rightfully say, “That is not the problem of Black people. We won’t keep them out of society just because some people will feel bad.” Similarly, we don’t let people’s discomfort determine whether someone from another country can go to my school or live in my neighborhood. The immaturity of others does not determine what is right and wrong.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street / Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!

Written by fabiorojas

January 23, 2018 at 5:01 am

Posted in ethics, fabio, uncategorized

markets, opportunity, and justice

At the Winter commencement at Indiana University, one of our speakers, tech business leader Fred Luddy, made a very interesting comment. Basically, he said that life in a market isn’t fair, but there are always more opportunities. I am not sure if he appreciated the depth of the remark, but if you reflect upon it, you realize that it merits a lot of reflection.

Let’s start with the typical approaches to thinking about whether markets are just forms of interaction.  The classic Nozickian position is that markets are just because they are voluntary. If you voluntarily by or sell your property or labor, then the resulting state is just. The critics raise multiple objections. For example, many people think that extreme inequality is either inherently unfair (i.e., only mild deviations from equality are acceptable) or that inequality has negative consequences (e.g., perhaps the very wealthy can unfairly influence government).

I think the most profound response to the critics comes from Hayek, who argued that the “social justice” critique of markets misses an important point. Namely,  Hayek argued that to critique the market based social order you must assume that you know what the right order is and how to make it happen, and that’s a tall order. Still, Hayek’s counter-point to the social justice leaves a lot of people, including myself, a little cold.

Why? Maybe it is unwise to believe that some mystical central planner can know the “right way” to organize society, but it does seem to be the case that the market economy tolerates a lot of things that appear prima facie unjust. A lot of people can lose their jobs through no fault of their own, such as in a recession. Or there can be persistent discrimination against certain classes of people, such as women or ethnic minorities.

In my view, this observation – that markets tolerate substantial levels of injustice – is reasonable. This brings me back to Luddy’s point. What I think he was trying to communicate, in the context of a graduation speech, is that the valuable thing about markets isn’t that they create justice. Rather, they create opportunities you can pursue after you have experienced injustice. In his speech, for example, he described how a business partner had used a stolen identity to embezzle millions of dollars – which he had to pay back to investors. There was nothing just about the situation, but the interesting thing is that he still had more opportunities and could thus move on with this life.

The big idea is that a narrow Nozickian justice and other broader forms of justice are different and that markets are actually fairly good at the former but not the latter. If all we ask if that a chain of interactions be voluntary, then markets fit the bill. If we ask that all possible consequences be desirable, or that all bad actors are relentlessly suppressed and reformed, markets are definitely imperfect. But that doesn’t mean that markets should be rejected. Rather, Luddy’s comment indicates that they have a desirable trait that may promote justice along some margins. Economic opportunities, ranging from the modest taco truck to the next billion dollar start-up, are constantly being created. For many people who experience negative outcomes, they may be a way to move forward and that’s a good thing.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street / Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!

Written by fabiorojas

December 28, 2017 at 6:45 am

why is it bad to retract non-fraudulent and non-erroneous papers?

It is bad to demand the retraction non-fraudulent papers. But why? I think the argument rests on three intuitions. First, there is a legal reason. When an editor and publisher accept a paper, they enter into a legal contract. The authors produces the paper and the publisher agrees to publish. To rescind publication of a paper is to break a contract, except in cases of fraud. The other exception is error in analysis that invalidates the paper’s claim (e.g., a math paper that has a non-correctable flaw in a proof or mis-coded data whose corrections leads to an entirely new conclusion – even then, maybe the paper should just be rewritten).

Second, there is a pragmatic reason. When you cater to retraction demands, outside of fraud and extreme error, you then undermine the role of the editor. Basically, an editor is given the position of choosing papers for an audience. They are not obligated to accept or reject any papers except those they deem interesting or of high quality. And contrary to popular belief, they do not have to accept papers that receive good reviews nor must they reject papers that receive bad reviews. Peer review is merely advisory, not a binding voting mechanism, unless the editor decides to simply let the majority rule. Thus, if editors ceded authority of publishing to the “masses,” they would simply stop being editors and more like advertisers, who cater to the whims of the public.

Third, I think it is unscholarly. Retraction is literally suppression of speech and professors should demand debate. We are supposed to be the guardians of reason, not the people leading the charge for censorship.

So what should you do if you find that a journal publishes bad, insulting or inflammatory material? Don’t ask for a retraction. There are many proper responses. Readers can simply boycott the journal, by not reading it or citing it. Or they can ask a library to stop paying for it. Peers can agree to stop reviewing for it or to dissociate themselves from the journal. A publisher can review the material and then decide to not renew an editor’s contract. Or if the material is consistently bad, they can fire the editor.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street / Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome 

Written by fabiorojas

September 21, 2017 at 4:01 am

third world world quarterly should not retract “the case for colonialism”

Third World Quarterly recently published an article by Bruce Gilley called “The Case for Colonialism (TCfC)” The article makes a few related claims, but it boils down to:

  1. Many anti-colonial movements were horrible.  (see pp. 5-6)
  2. Colonialism rests on “cosmopolitanism” and this is a a good thing. (see p. 8)
  3. Thus, when you properly consider the costs and benefits, you should rethink the value of colonialism.

I’ll address these claims below, but I first wanted to address the movement to retract TCfC – see here. Basically, the retraction advocates think the article is offensive and appalling. It may be, but that doesn’t mean it should be retracted.

The job of a journal editor is to select articles that they think advances their field and raise interesting issues. If they think “The Case for Colonialism” does so, they should not retract the article. It represents an argument they think should be debated. Retraction should not be done simply because the article is bad or offensive. Retraction should only happen if the article turns out to be fraudulent. Otherwise, if an editor thinks the article has value, let it be. Critics can write their own response. Or, if they think the level of scholarship is horrid, they can stop reading it and ask the library to drop it.

Now, what about the argument? Does colonialism get a bad rap? Let’s start with what I think is correct. I believe it to be true that many anti-colonial movements and post-colonial governments were horrible. For every leader like Ghandi, we get other leaders who, simply put, were savage killers, from the corrupt Mobutu Sese Seku of Congo to the Marxist movements of Ethiopia and North Korea, which brought mass death. So yes, the reflexive praise of anti-colonial movements often overlooks the grotesque outcomes

Here is what I disagree with. Analyses like Gilley’s often overlook the massive death brought by Western colonizers. Let’s take just one example – the colonial government in the Belgian Congo is thought to have killed 10 million people. This is murder on Hitlerian and Stalinist proportions. Belgian Congo is not an isolated case. Mass murder accompanied Western colonization in many places. Even if Gilley is correct in that colonial governments may have brought some values, it is hard to believe how they would balance out this massive loss of humanity.

Let me end on a constructive note. As written, Gilley’s article is an intellectual failure. But we can extract a valuable insight. Colonialism wasn’t about bringing the best of the West to the world. It brought the worst of the West to the world. Western culture has produced amazing things – the belief in human rights and equality and modern science. But that is not what was brought to the people of the world. If Western governments had truly prioritized the best of Western culture, then Gilley might have a point. Similarly, the critics might be right if anti-colonialists had rejected the worst of the West and brought the best of the West. Instead, many anti-colonial movements retreated into Marxism, Maoism and other ideologies that killed and impoverished millions. They should have espoused tolerance, liberal culture and markets.

Bottom line: Debate, don’t retract. And in terms of colonialism, it deserves its reputation. it was horrible. In opposing repression, we can do better than what happened in the post-colonial era.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street / Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome 

 

Written by fabiorojas

September 20, 2017 at 4:01 am

after charlottesville: the conversation continues

Written by fabiorojas

September 1, 2017 at 4:33 pm

the post-racist society vs. donald j. trump

The central tragedy of America is the treatment of non-whites. From Indian wars, to slavery, to segregation, to internment camps, to deportations, to Guantanamo, American society has often betrayed its ideals. But the American story is also one of progress, not stagnation. From time to time, change does happen and it is good.

In my eye, one of the biggest transformations of American society was the de-legitimization of racism in the 1960s. Following a century of eugenics, Jim Crow and all other manner affront to human dignity, the Civil Rights movement managed to create one of the first modern societies where racism began to lose its legitimacy. Not only did African-Americans have their rights returned to them, but the culture around race started to shift as well. For the first time, it was no longer appropriate for public figures to openly disparage American blacks, and many other groups as well.

A while ago I called this new culture “the post-racist society.” Not because I believed race or racism were gone. But rather overt racism was illegitimate. You could be racist, but it had to be expressed in dog whistle politics. It was a submerged belief in the mainstream of American life. My belief in the post-racist society was initially shaken by the rise of Trump. For the first time in decades, a serious contender for the presidency was openly racist. My belief was shaken once again when he won.

But later, as I surveyed the evidence on how Trump rose to power, I realized that the death of post-racist society was greatly exaggerated. For example, Trump won on an electoral college fluke, not because a new nationalist majority propelled him to power. Another key piece evidence. Estimates of the GOP primary vote indicate that 55% of GOP voters preferred someone other than Trump (see the wiki for the basic data). Yes, there is a nationalist and racist strand within the the GOP and Trump essentially dominated that vote. But a causal reading of the GOP primary map shows that Cruz dominated the mountain states and split the Midwest. If you look at the vote tallies in many early states, Trump was winning with vote totals in the low 30% range. Not exactly a resounding victory.

After entering office, there has been no groundswell of nationalism or racism in this country. For example, approval ratings for Trump have been horrid and have sunk to historic lows. Obama’s approval barely dipped below 40% in the Gallup polls but Trump’s is already in the 30% range and has stayed there. Trump is not riding a giant groundswell of nationalism or expressing the outrage of a working class left behind. Rather, he’s an electoral accident propped up by the most recalcitrant elements of the Republican party.

Trump’s limited support in the American polity raises some interesting questions. If only 35% of people approve of Trump (mainly racists and loyal Republicans), then what is everyone else doing? As with many political things, a lot of people have sat out. But we are seeing other parts of the political system slowly respond to Trump.

Perhaps the most insightful example is Trump’s statement that he would ban transgendered individuals from the armed services. The response? The military essentially just ignored him. Just think about that. Another example – after Trump’s statements about the murder of a protester in Charlottesville, conservative GOP senators slowly criticized him and CEO’s started resigning from key committees. Then, of course, there is the disintegration of the GOP consensus in the Senate.

There is the usual resistance from the left that accompanies any Republican administration. I am sure that the events in Charlottesville will continue to mobilize people and surely Trump will offer the left more to be appalled at. His actions will likely sustain the groups behind the Women’s march and the march for science, as well as Obama era groups like Black Lives Matter. And of course, white supremacy groups have seen Trump’s election as a chance to come out of the wood works, which will trigger push back from the left.

One might attribute Republican softness and left resistance to Trumpian incompetence. Perhaps it wouldn’t exist with a more smooth, but equally racist, Republican politician. Maybe. But here’s another hypothesis – people in general aren’t ready to completely ready to ditch the post-Civil Rights cultural agenda. Segregation is not on the table and popular culture has not reverted to a stage where racial slurs are permissible. Black face is not on TV and will not be any time in the near future. We live in the world of Get Out, not Birth of a Nation.

So when white nationalist politicians, like Steve King or Trump, emerge in the GOP, they reflect the will of a sizable, yet limited, constituency. But that group is big enough to win elections in some rural areas, like Arizona or Iowa, and enough to push through a candidate in a split field. At the same time, it doesn’t indicate a slide back to the middle ages.

Does that mean that people should “just relax?” No. Rather, it means that it is possible to defend the post-Civil Rights social order. It is there and it is, haphazardly, pushing back. We need to do what we can to help it out. It’s hard, but it has to be done.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street / Read Contexts Magazine – It’s Awesome! 

Written by fabiorojas

August 16, 2017 at 5:10 am