Author: Max Hyams

Paul Manafort and Systemic Bias

As we navigate the world, we attempt to understand the structures that surround us. And often, because we struggle with complexity and uncertainty, our putative knowledge comes packaged in neat and tidy descriptions of societal phenomena, invoked with a high degree of epistemic confidence. Rather than indulging explanations rife with qualifiers and disclaimers—for example, “System X is Y in areas C, B and Q but not in D and F”—we defer to absolute, uncompromising narratives that allow for the staking of moral high ground. In order to sustain these narratives—and, by extension, our moral certainty—singular cases are adduced as definitive proof of system-wide descriptions, inapt analogies are drawn, and relevant/countervailing facts are elided. In discussions about racism in the U.S. criminal justice system, the dynamics are no different. The 47-month sentence received by Paul Manafort, former campaign chairman for President Trump, has provided fodder for bias theorists. According to their account, the U.S. criminal justice system has two-tiers: one for those with white collars and white skin and another for those with blue collars (or …

Truth and Disfavored Identities

In public discourse, an opponent’s identity and experience can matter more than their arguments. For instance, if you are a philosopher who supports the use of torture in a narrow set of circumstances on utilitarian grounds, you would not want to find yourself debating the ethics of such a position with a victim of torture. The optics of such a debate would be horrible, and in the minds of many observers they would place the philosopher at a decisive disadvantage no matter how careful or well defended his arguments happened to be. In the same way, whole groups of people consigned to the bottom of the identity politics grievance hierarchy are saddled with a similar handicap, often in situations far less contentious than the debate over torture. On Saturday in Washington DC, a group of Catholic school kids fell victim to this presumptive logic. The progressive media ran with a story that confirmed their intersectional priors and, in the process, damaged their credibility, established an unsustainable precedent, and unwittingly affirmed President Trump’s demagogic “Fake News” …

The Folly of a Racialized Criminal Justice Reform Debate

In the wake of the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown and the subsequent upheavals in Ferguson, Missouri, a number of political pundits implored Americans to engage in a “national conversation about race,” particularly as it pertained to racial disparities in the criminal justice system. These exhortations were understandable. America has the highest rate of incarceration in the world and—in state prisons—blacks are incarcerated at five times the rate of whites. America has a well documented history of subjecting blacks to police brutality, and reform advocates will often claim that this racially motivated mistreatment persists today. Well intentioned activists seek to rectify this state of apparent racial injustice. However, almost four years after Ferguson, no federal legislation has been passed. While several states have enacted meaningful reforms, the system as a whole remains unaltered. What explains this failure? By all reasonable accounts, we have had the demanded ‘national conversation’ about race in the intervening years since Ferguson. Apparently, and perhaps predictably, that discussion has been unproductive. Race as a Distraction and Means of Alienation After high-profile incidents …