Activism, BLM, Politics, Spotlight

Black Lives Matter and the Mechanics of Conformity

The death of George Floyd in May, circulated in a bystander’s excruciating video clip, reignited furious and sometimes violent protests demanding reforms to address police brutality against ethnic minorities. According to the Center for Police Equity’s 2016 report “The Science of Justice,” black Americans are disproportionately affected by the amount of force used against them by police, such as being tasered. Additional investigations have found that black suspects are more likely to be manhandled, pushed to the ground, handcuffed, threatened, or pushed against a wall during a police interaction than their white counterparts. Bias against the black community appears to extend in all kinds of directions, from the courtroom to the maternity ward, where black women are 10 times more likely than white women to have their newborn baby taken from them if they test positive for an illicit drug.

The apparently inequitable use of force against ethnic minorities, meanwhile, has unleashed a torrent of emotion and allegations against police departments across the United States in the wake of Floyd’s death, spurred on by celebrities and activists alike. Actress Julianne Moore and actor Aaron Paul joined other celebrities in a short film made in conjunction with the NAACP to protest “systemic bias.” Moore beseeches viewers to understand that, “Black people are being slaughtered in the streets, killed in their own homes,” to which, Paul adds: “Killer cops must be prosecuted, they are murderers. We can turn the tide, it’s time to take responsibility.” In an earlier celebrity video entitled “23 Ways You Could Be Killed In Black America,” Pharrell Williams, Alicia Keys, Rihanna, Chris Rock, Pink, and a litany of other celebrities describe 23 cases of black lives lost to police shootings in different scenarios, and demand “radical transformation to heal the long history of systemic racism so that all Americans have the equal right to live.”

Perceptions and data

But, for all their zealous advocacy, celebrities and protestors alike are reluctant to acknowledge or discuss the nuances of the empirical literature on the racial biases they are protesting. As part of an effort to quantify racial bias in police killings, a 2016 study in the journal Injury found that black Americans are not more likely to be injured or killed by police than white Americans during traffic stops. And, despite the general finding in the Center for Police Equity report that police officers use greater force against black suspects, it also found that blacks are no more likely than whites to be subject to lethal force. In fact, it found that white people face a higher risk of being killed during an arrest. Researchers have also turned their attention to shootings, in particular. An early study provides some evidence of a racial disparity, but not in the expected direction—it found that police fire more bullets at white than black suspects.

Things get even weirder when we try to probe psychological biases in police officers. Under multiple intense psychological simulation experiments carried out at Washington State University, police were found to exhibit a propensity to fire on white suspects faster than black suspects, and were also more likely to shoot unarmed whites (these experiments measure split second differences in reaction times that the researchers believe are not susceptible to conscious control). However, it is the work of economist Roland Fryer that has attracted the most attention and discussion of late.

Fryer emerged from a troubled past—he was abandoned by his parents and left to fend for himself on the street before becoming the youngest person in the history of Harvard to achieve tenure. Fryer has observed that, “A single bullet—which weighs about .02 pounds and is 10mm long—can end a life, erase a pension, or change the image of those who are sworn to serve and protect.” On the back of an earlier study that found unarmed blacks are at higher risk of a police shooting than unarmed whites, Fryer and his team came up with a more complete dataset and used an innovative methodology of comparing police interactions in which no shots were fired to those in which there were. His study arrived at a different conclusion. “The results are startling,” writes Fryer. “Blacks are 23.5 percent less likely to be shot by police, relative to whites, in an interaction.”

An obvious question arises—if black people are more likely to be roughly treated during an encounter with police, how is it possible that they are less likely to be killed? When a female Chicago police officer was beaten by a black man in 2016, she was asked in hospital by her superintendent why she didn’t draw her weapon and defend herself when she could have done so. “She looked at me and said she thought she was going to die, and she knew that she should shoot this guy. But she chose not to because she didn’t want her family or the department to have to go through the scrutiny the next day on national news.” While a white death at the hands of a police officer rarely makes headlines, a black death is likely to incite immediate media coverage, outrage, and protests or riots that last for weeks or months.

Researchers have hypothesized in an article for Criminology & Public Policy that the apparent “reverse racism” bias of police shootings reflects law enforcement fear of the consequences of a minority death, “the underlying causes of the reverse racism effect is rooted in people’s concerns about the social and legal consequences of shooting a member of a historically oppressed racial group. We believe that this, paired with the awareness of media backlash that follows an officer shooting a minority suspect, is the most plausible explanation.” The study on police shootings published by the National Academies of Sciences includes another finding that may make sense in this light—black police officers are more likely to shoot black suspects than white police officers are, perhaps because white officers will be subject to increased scrutiny following a fatality. The authors of the study conjecture, “The disparities in our data are consistent with selective de-policing, where officers are less likely to fatally shoot Black civilians for fear of public and legal reprisals.”

Before proceeding further, it’s important to emphasize caution on over-interpreting the anti-white findings of recent scholarship. The evidence on racial differences in police killings is not unambiguously settled; scholars continue to argue over the minutia of data collection and statistical techniques, and Fryer himself has warned against drawing strong conclusions at this stage: “Are there racial differences in the most extreme forms of police violence? The Southern boy in me says yes; the economist says we don’t know.” But uncertainty is sufficient to set off alarm bells about the Black Lives Matter movement among those who adopt a sceptical approach when evaluating knowledge claims. “There’s so much we don’t know,” says author Sam Harris in a recent podcast, “And yet, most people are behaving as though every important question was answered a long time ago.” Harris, known for his staunch atheism and critique of faith-based religion, asks some troubling questions about the Black Lives Matter movement by pointing out that it disguises empirically fragile claims with absolute conviction and then stonewalls any attempt to examine the evidence: “Like most religious awakenings, the movement does not show itself eager to make honest contact with reality.”

While doubt prevails among those familiar with the data on policing killings, faith-based inerrancy seems to invigorate activists to the point where discussion becomes futile. When video journalist Ami Horowitz tried to engage with Black Lives Matter activists he found they had virtually no familiarity with the data on police killings and no desire to know about it. “I can’t, I’m getting angry, I don’t want to talk anymore,” said one activist in response to Horowitz’s attempt to discuss the evidence. Another said, “Your data can go and suck the same dick you’re gonna suck.” Another rebuffed Horowitz by demanding to see his sources but then refused to look when he attempted to produce them on his phone. Yet another resorted to conspiracy theorizing, suggesting that any study conflicting with the sentiment of Black Lives Matter must be some kind of academic plot.

Much of this isn’t surprising given what we know about the psychology of political activists. After subjecting more than 10,000 people to knowledge-based questions about the state of the world, the late researcher Hans Rosling found that, on average, activists had a less accurate picture than the general public of the very issue to which their activism is devoted. In his book Factfulness he reports, “Almost every activist I have ever met, whether deliberately or, more likely, unknowingly, exaggerates the problem to which they have dedicated themselves.”1 Those with the most unrealistically dire and pessimistic view of any issue are those most likely to be motivated to do something about it. As Rosling points out, this makes activists the last people we should go to for an accurate understanding of the cause for which they are campaigning.

The informational cascade

It might seem incredible that conformity could manifest in the absence of supporting evidence, but the phenomenon of scientifically groundless belief enjoying mass acceptance is hardly new. In his paper “The Blind Leading the Blind,” David Hirshleifer describes a process of informational cascades, by which beliefs can spread through a population. Because it is costly in time and effort to master evidence involved in a variety of issues, most people base their beliefs on what others believe rather than on primary evidence, on the assumption that others are well informed. A snowballing effect then occurs as the validity of a belief increases along with the number of believers. The end result may be that everyone assumes that everyone else knows what they’re talking about: the blind leading the blind.

And, as likeminded people surround each other, the more resistant they are to discrediting information. Leon Festinger describes this process in When Prophecy Fails, but the most eloquent description comes from Adolf Hitler’s architect and Minister of Armaments Albert Speer, who spent decades in prison after the war attempting to understand how he had allowed himself to become swept up by the delusions of the regime he supported:

… in normal circumstances people who turn their backs on reality are soon set straight by the mockery and criticism of those around them, which makes them aware they have lost credibility. In the Third Reich, there were no such correctives, especially for those who belonged to the upper stratum. On the contrary, every self-deception was multiplied in a hall of distorting mirrors, becoming a repeatedly confirmed picture of a fantastical dream world, which no longer bore any relationship to the grim outside world. In those mirrors I could see nothing but my own face reproduced many times over.2

Just as sticks propped against one another are kept upright by mutual inter-dependence, false beliefs may acquire spurious validity in the public square from the confidence engendered by their popularity. When one is brought up in a society where everybody practises a religion, there is scarcely any reason to question that religion, even though it may have no contact with reality at all. Over the past few months, I’ve asked friends and acquaintances if they believe in an epidemic of killings by police, and if so how they came to believe this. I tended to receive answers such as “everyone knows,” or “literally nobody disagrees.” These are the words of believers who have relied on cues from their peers to form the belief.

Informational cascades are then reinforced as they interlink with our psychological biases and other social mechanisms. I recently saw a particularly vehement Black Lives Matter supporter berating another in an online community forum for the crime of remarking that “all lives matter”: “Black Lives are getting snuffed out of this world by the very law enforcement officers who swore an oath to protect them… All Lives Matter can get fucked as far as I’m concerned.” When I asked her how she came by this belief, she cited “the countless videos that people are uploading of innocent black people suffering at the hands of law enforcement officers.”

The availability cascade

In the 1960s and 1970s, the behavioural scientists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman began studying the mental shortcuts that inform our psychological judgements, and termed one of these shortcuts the “availability heuristic.” Tversky and Kahneman found that the ease with which specific instances of a thing can be recalled, the more likely we are to overestimate the importance and frequency of that thing occurring. “People tend to assess the relative importance of issues by ease with which they are retrieved from memory,” writes Kahneman in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow. What is in our memory, he argues, “is largely determined by the extent of coverage in the media.”

Research carried out by Sarah Lichtenstein, Paul Slovic and Baruch Fischoff bears out this view. For example, the media pays a disproportionate amount of attention to deaths in tornados and accidents of all kinds compared to deaths by diseases such as asthma or diabetes. Lichtenstein and her colleagues found that people believe that accidents are 300 times more likely to kill someone than diabetes when in fact diabetes kills four times as many people as accidents. Tornadoes are thought to kill more people than asthma, even though asthma kills 20 times as many people. The implications of this availability heuristic and our media saturation of black deaths in police hands should be obvious. If the disproportionate media attention paid to tornadoes makes them seem hundreds of times more dangerous than they actually are, what are we to expect from the massive amount of media coverage devoted to black deaths at the hands of law enforcement?

“These videos will keep coming,” warns Sam Harris, “And the truth is, they could probably be matched two for one with videos of white people being killed by cops.” But why aren’t they? The media chooses to disproportionately report on black deaths for the same reason police officers have allowed themselves to be assaulted rather than fire their weapons at black attackers. Black deaths are far more likely to incite newsworthy protests and condemnation. Anger and civil unrest follows a black fatality because there is a widespread perception that an epidemic of black killings is occurring, a perception in turn influenced by our availability heuristic due to disproportionate coverage of black deaths in the media following earlier outrages.

In other words, the public and media have been amplifying one another in a self-reinforcing loop that economists Cass Sunstein and Tim Kuran call an availability cascade—media reporting influences the public, who communicate the idea among themselves and demand greater coverage from the media, which in turn influences us through the availability heuristic, producing further numbers of believers and greater demands for media coverage, and around the circle goes until everyone has wound themselves into a panic. Historical examples of panics caused by the media and public amplifying one another include epidemics of diseases, epidemics of drug use, and environmental scares. Informational cascades are one of the underlying mechanisms driving availability cascades—the more people who start believing in something the more that other people are convinced to believe the same.

Activists and journalists may not realize that they are catalysing an informational cascade when they make certain claims. As Sunstein and Kuran note, “they themselves are subject to the availability heuristic as much as everyone else, and the fact that they move in circles within which the claim seems to be believed may have convinced them about the existence of a tremendous risk.” In their foundational 1999 paper, Sunstein and Kuran note that public hysterias engendered by availability and informational cascades can begin with a kernel of truth that is then misunderstood by the public, or misrepresented by the media: “The information will often contain grains of truth, but it may also harbor biases, even outright fabrications.”

For instance, Pulitzer Prize finalist Ruth Marcus writes in the Washington Post that black men are “two and a half times more likely than white men to be killed by police.” This figure reflects the fact that the black population makes up 14 percent of the American population but 34 percent of fatalities at the hands of law enforcement. While these figures are correct, important context is missing. White Americans are twice as likely to be killed by police as Asian Americans after adjusting for population benchmarks, but this doesn’t reflect racism against whites—it reflects differing rates of criminality among whites and Asians.

Because white Americans are more likely to commit crime than Asian Americans, they are twice as likely to interact with police and to be killed while doing so. Black Americans are seven times more likely to commit murder as white Americans, and the majority of murders and robberies in the United States are carried out by black Americans even though they are a minority. Thirty-five percent of police officers are killed by a black offender. As Roland Fryer and other scholars are aware, levels of criminality are independent variables that must be controlled to determine the dependent variable under discussion—police violence motivated by racism. “Of course, black lives matter as much as any other lives,” wrote Fryer some years ago, “Yet, we do this principle a disservice if we do not adhere to strict standards of evidence and take at face value descriptive statistics that are consistent with our preconceived ideas.”

Susceptibility to informational and availability cascades varies according to an individual’s preconceived beliefs, levels of knowledge, intuitions, visions, values, and desires. Sunstein and Kuran call this arena of heterogeneous receptivity to influence an “availability market.” Just as buyers in an economic market vary in their receptivity to new and unproven products, in an availability market, people with different preconceived ideas vary as to whether or not they will “buy into” unsubstantiated beliefs. Catholics are far more likely than anyone else to buy into fantastic reports of a weeping statue of Mother Mary, and as Hans Rosling found, political activists are more likely to buy into radical claims that support their already systemically pessimistic beliefs.

The reputational cascade

So, poor reporting influences public opinion wherever preconceived visions provide an availability market for certain beliefs to grow. This increases the number of believers which gives rise to further informational cascade effects as those believers increase the influence on others, and so on. The public and the media may then become less willing to publicly challenge ascendant beliefs due to a social mechanism called a reputational cascade. Reputational cascades behave like informational cascades but the underlying motivation is different—people publicly embrace the beliefs of others out of social necessity rather than genuine belief. As a consensus emerges, the burden of justifying one’s beliefs falls on those who dissent from the prevailing orthodoxy, and as the prevalence of a belief grows, the costs of dissent increase causing a snowballing effect of preference falsification (publicly lying about what one really believes).

In Sunstein and Kuran’s framework, public figures may constitute a lucrative availability market due to their increased sensitivity to the reputational cascade. Over the past few months, we’ve seen corporations and businesses around the world trip over themselves to declare their support for Black Lives Matter, change the name or branding of their products, and even fire employees who have publicly dissented. Meanwhile, mayors, house speakers, and a prime minister have fallen to their knees in a gesture of support for the movement (without explicitly endorsing any of that movement’s claims). Celebrities and politicians may declare their allegiance to the cause owing to reputational concerns, but their voices, amplified by the media, increase the availability of the belief to others who may assume that their opinions must be properly informed and well supported if they are prepared to declare them in public. Before long, the idea that an epidemic of racially motivated police killings is underway has become an unchallengeable article of faith. Informational cascades and reputational cascades feed into and reinforce one another—both increase the number of people publicly confessing to a belief and thereby exert more influence on others to conform.

As hysteria rises and people everywhere become alarmed or pretend to be alarmed by whatever the imagined crisis is about, Sunstein and Kuran point out that historically the media systematically suppresses reasoned commentary by experts in the relevant field and may even give more attention to “gimmicks” that further inflame panic. According to Kahneman, “Scientists and others who try to dampen out the increasing fear and revulsion attract little attention, most of it is hostile: anyone who claims the danger is overstated is suspected of association in a heinous cover-up.”

Sendhil Mullainathan is one of Harvard’s most distinguished economists. Renowned for his work on racial discrimination, Mullainathan has argued in his own breakdown of the evidence that black deaths do not appear to be the result of a racial bias in policing: “What the data does suggest is that eliminating the biases of all police officers would do little to materially reduce the number of African American killings.” Mullainathan, however, does not appear to have been invited onto television to explain why Black Lives Matter activists have their facts wrong. Instead, activist children are paraded across our screens to tell us how afraid for their lives they are, and to instruct us in the reforms required of law enforcement.

The consequences of hysteria

Hysterical, unsubstantiated claims produced by availability cascades, such as the Love Canal toxic waste incident, may have driven scientific inquiry to reveal details that otherwise wouldn’t have come to public attention for decades. Perhaps the hysteria of recent months will incentivize scientists and governments to work harder on understanding police brutality—or perhaps it will destroy the scientific enterprise in this area. Historical evidence indicates that blacks really were targeted in police killings in decades past and that media and public amplification of the issue is part of the reason that this is no longer the case. Availability cascades, in other words, can arise from legitimate concerns and raise awareness to produce valuable change.

Difficulties arise when the social networking effects of a cascade continue once the problem at issue has been brought under control. Left unrestrained, they can get completely out of hand. The sudden conformity produced by an availability cascade can result in reflexive demands for urgent government action without any proper discussion or consideration of trade-offs, consequences, or even necessity. “The resulting mass delusions may last indefinitely,” write Sunstein and Kuran, “and they may produce wasteful or even detrimental laws and policies.” In the wake of George Floyd’s death, we have heard urgent calls from the media and the public to investigate and even abolish police departments, a sign that delusional beliefs have been allowed to run amok.

Investigations into alleged police misconduct are obviously important, but not when conducted in response to the histrionic demands of uninformed activists. A recent 50-page study examined the effects of investigations into police forces on crime. It found that most investigations are followed by a reduction in levels of crime, but with one important exception. If an investigation into the police force occurs after a viral media storm due to the shooting of a black suspect, the effect is a significant decrease in policing and a catastrophic increase in crime. The paper warns, “If the price of policing increases, officers are rational to retreat. And, retreating disproportionately costs black lives.”

Homicide rate in Cincinnati before and after investigation into police following a viral shooting. Devi, T., Fryer, R. (2020). Policing the Police: The Impact of “Pattern-Or-Practise” Investigations On Crime. National Bureau of Economic Research.

The researchers measured crime in five cities after a black death at the hands of law enforcement caused a media storm and an investigation. They estimated that 900 additional deaths, most of which were black, were due to a withdrawal of policing, and that homicide rates remain higher for years before returning to baseline levels. So, under present circumstances, and contrary to the declared aims of the Black Lives Matter movement, we should prepare for an increase in black deaths—just not at the hands of the police.

 

Editor’s note: an earlier version of this article contained the sentence “National Academies of Sciences published the findings of its investigations into police shootings in 2019, and cautiously concluded that white people are at greater risk of being shot during a police interaction relative to all other ethnicities.” This sentence has been removed because the investigation has been retracted by its authors. The investigation was also published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, not the National Academies of Sciences. Quillette regrets the error.

 

Matthew Blackwell is an Australian writer and graduate of the University of Queensland where he studied economics and anthropology. You can follow him on Twitter @MBlackwell27.

References:

1 Rosling, Hans, Rosling, Ola, Rosling, Anna, Factfulness, Flatiron Books (2018).
2 Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich, Orion (1970)

Comments

  1. This is an excellent and thought provoking article. I hope it might become required reading in Secondary schools across the English speaking world.

    From the article:
    “Almost every activist I have ever met, whether deliberately or, more likely, unknowingly, exaggerates the problem to which they have dedicated themselves.”

    This is such an apt description of so many reactionary ideas from both the left and the right… This article reminds us of how important it is that knowledge claims be made with both precision and the weight of evidence. Otherwise, these claims ring hollow and become little more than a harangue. The Black Lives Matter movement runs the risk of cheapening all black lives when they refuse or reject evidence that runs contrary to their narrative. Ultimately, their chaotic social religion will be proven to be a faith in false gods, weak idols and corrupt prophets… Articles like these remind us that self-serving social movements can easily doom themselves without the weight of reason to back them. BLM as a political movement may take a bit longer to die on the vine but with any luck, it will be as relevant as Occupy Wall Street… now that was a movement for change!

  2. Great article- well formulated and structured. Also, thank you so much for including a link to the 50 page Roland Fryer study on the effects of viral incidents on proactive policing- I had heard about it, and watched a panel podcast in which its results had been summarised, but had yet to find a copy and fully intend to peruse its findings in detail.

    A couple of things literally leapt out of the page at me. “As Rosling points out, this makes activists the last people we should go to for an accurate understanding of the cause for which they are campaigning.” So true. This shows whilst activists might serve a useful role in highlighting causes for concern, for the broader public, they are worse than useless in suggesting potential policy prescription. In this case, a more informed diversity of viewpoint should be sought in attempting to tackle the root causes of crime.

    In his paper “The Blind Leading the Blind,” David Hirshleifer describes a process of informational cascades, by which beliefs can spread through a population.” This reminds me somewhat of the events depicted in the Colin Firth/ Reese Witherspoon movie Devil’s Knot in which a which a deeply religious community coming to terms with a horrific incident involving three young boys collectively blamed Satanism and the pernicious influence of Heavy Metal.

    So, under present circumstances, and contrary to the declared aims of the Black Lives Matter movement, we should prepare for an increase in black deaths—just not at the hands of the police.” It may be with a sense of sympathetic schadenfreude that I say, I’m glad I’m not the only one beginning to feel a bit like a Cassandra.

  3. Might want to re-write that sentence, Mr. Blackwell.

  4. Excellent article, seemingly aimed at the bullseye of the Quillette crowd. I would be curious if there are any QCers that are woke enough to engage in refuting the validity of this article. I say that because the article greased my own confirmation bias, and as such, know its’ conclusion was ‘one sided’. If it is accurate, which I think it is, in data interpretation and fact presentation, then it was just ‘accurate’, however, not ‘one sided’.

    Again, I would love to see a QCer tell me how I am ‘missing the boat’ on this article vis a vis BLM in general.

  5. “Almost every activist I have ever met, whether deliberately or, more likely, unknowingly, exaggerates the problem to which they have dedicated themselves.”
    Substitute the word "journalist" for "activist" and you have The NYT, WAPO, Atlantic, CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, CNN, MSNBC and the holy hell that is blue check Twitter and Facebook.
  6. I’m pretty sure Ta Neshi Coates and other of his ilk calculated how much praise and gratification he’d get by criticizing urban black culture, and said “Screw it” and switched to “Gimme!” It’s certainly a better strategy to use with white liberals who, see themselves as ‘saviors’ of black people, people who are magically different, and unbound by the same principles as everybody else.

    I’ll give you an example; a woman I know works for Canada’s biggest landlord, one of the biggest in N. America, the city of Toronto. She looks after facilities and directs maintenance, that kind of thing. One day the complex she works at, which houses some handicapped people, got brand new laundry machines, the instructions were posted on the wall but labels in braille were not put on the machines right away, as they were being made elsewhere. Sure enough, a complaint was made by a resident, whom few suspected was ‘blind’ and who described himself as ‘partially sighted’. She told him what was going on, and offered to get someone to help him with his laundry. This wasn’t good enough, he was offended by the “disrespect” shown to him and made a claim with the provincial Human Rights Tribunal, a quasi judicial outfit, for $50,000 for them ‘hurting his feelings’. The aforementioned woman was named in the complaint, and completely freaked out. A lawyer advised the managers that this ‘blind’ individual was known for scamming co-ops and city facilities and a simple statement of what happened told to the Human Rights Tribunal would probably be enough to have the claim dismissed. She quit her job rather than make the statement. Why? “The defendant was BLACK!” she cried, staring at me like I was a monster. Sure enough, the housing authority settled with this black person for a tidy sum. This is one of the reasons it’s billions of dollars in debt.

    I haven’t seen this woman since before covid and probably won’t after, she posted on Facebook that “White silence is violence” and I disagreed, saying “Only violence is violence” and she unfriended me. This is the mindset you’re dealing with in any unionized public service, black people know this. Large numbers of black individuals have been hired to manage units in Toronto Housing Corp. often with no vetting whatsoever, this has lead to endemic corruption, gangs openly sell drugs from seniors apartments which the “borrow” for this reason. Gang shooting are a regular occurrence, but police are discouraged from investigating because the protagonists are black, and holding them to account is “racist”. And on it goes…

  7. All of this so-called activism will ultimately result in a much less safe and prosperous community for black folks. I believe the vast majority of blacks just want a safe environment with law enforcement doing its jobs and local businesses thriving. How can this ever be achieved with “activists” coming to their community and effectively destroying them? This is not an exaggeration. Black communities are being destroyed because law enforcement is not going to be there to stop crime. Businesses leave. People stay locked in their homes all day. Then, liberals devise “solutions” to the problems they create by suggesting the entire black population relocate to the suburbs where it is safer and conditions are better. Please stop to consider this carefully. Instead of making existing black communities safe, the goal is to move the residents away from the dangerous neighborhoods. The neighborhoods are dangerous thanks to liberal activists! On top of this, when white people move into black neighborhoods, bringing jobs and safety, the activists protest the whites “gentrification”! Don’t we have to ask ourselves whether all of this “activism” is not really intended to harm blacks as opposed to helping them? How does any of this benefit blacks? These communities never come back after looting and rioting!

  8. I became aware of a new concept today called “wokefishing”. It seems to be related to the self-reinforcing bias mechanism. It goes like this. Two people engage in mating rituals where they both seem to be on the same page politically and morally. But then one partner starts to express beliefs that are not “woke” and so that partner is deemed a wokefisher. The idea is that they lured in the woke partner with a faux progressive personality. In one example the nonwoke partner expressed the belief that wage disparity statistics were being misinterpreted and so he was deemed a wokefishing immoral person.

    The moral of the story is that if you get into a relationship and then start to question your beliefs, for example, read a Roland Fryer study, then you might get labeled a wokefisher. I agree that you should be upfront with your skepticism when courting a person, but sometimes people change beliefs. We go through stages where doubt creeps up and we are cognitively dissonant. This is a natural process for everyone of every political persuasion. I don’t think it is healthy to create a new term for people who change their beliefs. It stigmitizes the act of being critical of one’s own assumptions.

  9. I concur with the others who’ve commented – this is a great article.

    After subjecting more than 10,000 people to knowledge-based questions about the state of the world, the late researcher Hans Rosling found that, on average, activists had a less accurate picture than the general public of the very issue to which their activism is devoted. In his book Factfulness he reports, “Almost every activist I have ever met, whether deliberately or, more likely, unknowingly, exaggerates the problem to which they have dedicated themselves.

    I think the same fate almost always befalls well-established activist movements. They form to address legitimate problems and face intense resistance from more reactionary elements of society. If the movement garners enough popular support to enact legislation and/or change the public consciousness, it makes real progress toward its goals. Instead of celebrating this progress, activists often deny that it took place in order to maintain a sense of urgency for their cause. Some of this may be the result of self-deception – they genuinely believe that the problem is as bad as it ever was – but some of it almost certainly derives from self-interest. If the movement falters, so goes their power and financial support. In order to maintain momentum they exaggerate any remaining problems by distorting the evidence and making fanciful claims. Some examples of this process:

    The Civil Rights Movement
    The problem: Widespread discrimination against blacks in every part of society
    The progress: Racism is greatly reduced and many blacks take advantage of new opportunities to achieve success; problems remains, especially in inner-city urban areas of concentrated poverty
    The pivot: Racism is no less pervasive, it’s simply changed forms (e.g., micro-aggressions). All disparities are caused by discrimination and systemic racism; it’s racist to suggest that blacks (and self-destructive subcultures) are partially responsible for their own failures.

    The Gay Rights Movement
    The problem: Gays and lesbians suffer widespread discrimination and are forced to live “in the closet” or suffer severe consequences
    The progress: After decades of struggle, marriage equality is finally achieved, and (thanks to a recent Supreme Court decision) sexual orientation becomes a protected class under civil rights law
    The pivot: The struggle continues with trans people. It’s not sufficient to respect the right of trans people to live their lives as they see fit (as J.K. Rowling does). One is vilified as a “transphobe” unless one accepts absurd claims about gender and uncritically supports an “affirmative” approach to kids who are diagnosed with “gender dysphoria.”

    Feminism
    The problem: Legally speaking, women are second-class citizens and lack many of the opportunities afforded to men
    The progress: Women gain the right to vote; coverture is abolished; sexual assault and harrassment are recognized as serious issues; access to birth control and abortion is established; etc.
    The pivot: Despite the fact that women now exceed men in some arenas (e.g., college attendance), Western society is depicted as an oppressive “patriarchy.” Obvious and undeniable biological differences between the sexes are denied, and discrimination is automatically assumed if the balance of males and females in different professions does not exactly reflect their proportion of the population.

  10. BLM is clearly a religious group whose actions are based on feelings and perceptions, not measured fact.

    This is true of Protestantism, Catholicism, Judaism, etc. The only difference is that in the U.S. there is a clear wall between these religions and the state. This is not the case for BLM.

  11. When the contest is between facts and hysteria, hysteria usually wins, at least in the short term, and often in the long term. How about “hands up, don’t shoot”? Witnesses interviewed by Obama’s own Justice Department did not substantiate that claim. The entire myth began with Michael Brown’s buddy. His lie, amplified endlessly by the media, has become gospel for millions of people. And I imagine it will still be gospel in 2120. Social media has a huge hand in all this conformity. It speeds it up and magnifies it immensely. We were stupid enough before cell phones, but now we can be even stupider, and faster than ever.

  12. Indeed. The line between journalist and activist has become blurred beyond recognition.

  13. I think you meant “off-key caterwauling.”

    Here’s an astonishingly blatant example of a movement which has jumped the shark (or in this case, the whale), featuring one Ashleigh Shackelford – who describes herself as “a queer, nonbinary Black fat femme writer.” Not only does she tell an audience of mostly white participants that they’re incurably racist “demons,” she has the audacity to ask for PayPal donations at the same time. Please pay me for telling you how awful you are. This is a anti-racist version of BDSM with Shackelford as the amply-endowed dominatrix. Beyond parody.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5keqoXCIrq0
  14. While I don’t find anything to disagree with in Matthew Blackwell’s article, it seems all a little too
    ‘Ivy League’ and stretching too far for ‘scientific creds.’
    It seems to me this is territory that has been well covered in Extraordinary Popular Delusions, and The Madness of Crowds by Charles Mackay as well as The True Believer by Eric Hoffer. There are insights to be had here from Alexander Solzhenitsyn as well in his description of the arc of evil. BLM and antifa are homegrown terrorist organizations and the application of
    such highfalutin concepts as “Informational cascades” and “availability heuristics" adds nothing
    but jargon and and obscures the evil we are witnessing.
    This problem that is expressed in outrage over blacks killed by police, who more often than not are resisting arrest, is but a thread in a larger social fabric.

    I think Blackwell’s jargon obscures this issue. The language he uses suggests it’s a society
    wide phenomenon, and not a small, easily identifiable part of society that is colloquially the Loony Left.
    This BLM police brutality, lying about data and ignoring reality is but a thread in a larger social fabric of the
    complete breakdown of ‘being in touch with reality’ by the Left. We are witnessing in this movement, in the rioting and in Congress the logical working out of an extremely infantile ideology: Progressivism.
    Progressivism flies under the banner of Collectivism. It is the American version of Communism/Fascism/Socialism. It actually is anti American, anti Individualism. It is at odds with America, the way our country was founded and her founding principles. It has to go.

    Blacks are 13% of the population and responsible for 35% of violent crime. That is a huge problem, a cultural problem, a social problem and no one but blacks are responsible for it.

    Until Blacks accept their own agency, nothing will change. And they will never accept their own agency as long as infantile white Progressives run in to protect them from the consequences of a black culture that glorifies rap violence, misogyny, rape, brutality and criminal life styles. That’s not the totality of black culture but it is a major part and the most visible part. And the white Progressive media in this country does everything it can to shut up the eloquent voices of people like Shelby Steel, Thomas Sowell, Larry Elder, Walter Williams and others who are turned by that media into clowns and Uncle Toms in order to silence their council to that very black agency. What the media does deserves a special rung in hell!

    The best thing whites could do for blacks is insist on charter schools, insist that the money follow the child and not force them into dead, decaying educational institutions that are corrupt and rancid from top to bottom.

    And the best thing most of us could do is slap the hell out of infantile white Progressives (Hollywood celebrities, Congress et al) who fantasize about life and expect nothing less than 100% or no deal. They are like the Palestinians in that regard. School choice won’t save every black child but saving 10% is better than condemning them to forever be estranged from the larger society. And I expect more like 80% could be saved. And the saving would not infantalize them but simply open doors (charter schools) that would give them the opportunity to gain the tools they need to step out on the American stage without government handouts. (And of course, every child should be able to attend charter schools. The time is long overdue to put an end to the institutionalization and unionization of public schools that follow their own interests and pay scant attention to the child’s needs for learning)! Charter schools, Pod schools, Home schools all do far, far better than the current corrupt institutions and there is no reforming them. The corruption is built into their very nature.

    So, there are positive things to be done. Disabusing BLM activists of their delusions is the first thing and the media can be counted on for no help here as they feed their delusions. Let’s start dealing with the massive amount of crime originated by black males. Let’s start supporting those voices in the black community that want to join American culture and middle class life and not destroy it. Let’s stop taking the Collectivists of any stripe in any way that suggests they have something positive or constructive to offer. They don’t. There is a bug in their psychology that renders them incapable of telling the truth, of dealing with reality and of being anything but destructive. Let’s look to the future and stop pretending that ‘public schools’ are anything but government run warehouses with little of educational value. And let us insist that Blacks accept their own agency and stop playing games with notions of reparations and blaming others. Let’s have the courage to shut down the race baiters and race hustlers and close off that avenue as an excuse. Every person who stands up and says I love this country and what it stands for, our Constitution, the rule of law and I will play by the rule of law will find a home in at least half the country.

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