Author: Vincent Harinam and Rob Henderson

Why White Privilege is Wrong—Part 2

Many people enjoy invoking race as an explanation for all sorts of things. It is a shared pastime for both the far-left and the far-right. The media expend vast sums of money and effort to ensure we don’t escape discussions about race as something that is or should be important. This vocal minority of political extremists and news broadcasters has directed our attention away from more powerful causal explanations that underlie group outcomes. Perverse incentives for these two groups have made race a more a prominent feature of our lives. As a consequence, white privilege has become the favoured explanation for differences in group outcomes among many educated people. But unintentional or otherwise, by attributing success to white privilege, affluent individuals who invoke this mistaken idea thwart the ambitions of those who are seeking success but who are also lacking in privilege. If we want to not only understand differences in group outcomes but also mend them, then we need a more robust and less ideological framework. The Pitfalls of One-Thing-ism   The presumption that …

Why White Privilege Is Wrong—Part 1

“White privilege” is a term often invoked as a causal explanation for the success of whites relative to other groups. But the problem with white privilege isn’t its assumptions about racial discrimination, but its causal disposition. White privilege suffers from a bad case of mono-causality, or “one-thingism” as Jonah Goldberg puts it. Rarely does a single explanatory variable account for a complex phenomenon. Instead, complex outcomes are best explained by a confluence of factors. In the case of white privilege, there are a number of variables which, together, better explain differences in group outcomes. Moreover, there is a bevy of countervailing evidence that calls its validity into question. This is not to suggest that racial discrimination cannot or does not play a role in differential outcomes. Nor is it to suggest that privileges do not exist in some form or another. Where you live and who your parents are can be privileges. But to posit white privilege as the only or a predominant explanation for differences in group outcomes is, based on the empirical evidence, …

Conformity: The Power of Social Influences—A Review

A review of Conformity: The Power of Social Influences by Cass Sunstein, NYU Press, 176 pages (May, 2019) “It’s often a good idea to adopt the practices and beliefs of the people around you. For one thing, the people around you aren’t dead. If you do what they do, you might continue not being dead as well.” -Steve Stewart-Williams You’re sitting at a machine. A serious-looking experimenter holds a clipboard nearby. In another room, there is a man with electrodes attached to his arms. You ask questions, the man responds. For each incorrect answer he gives, you press a switch, delivering what you believe are increasingly higher voltage electric shocks. The man cries out in pain, shouting about his heart condition. You express concern, but the experimenter tells you to continue the experiment. You have probably heard of this well-known study as the Milgram Experiment. Prior to the study, Stanley Milgram had asked 40 psychiatrists to estimate how many participants they thought would continue to the end of the experiment, delivering the final 450-volt shock. …

What Doesn’t Kill Us Brings Us Together

The Danish existentialist Søren Kierkegaard once suggested that the appeal of the human experience resided not in comfort and complacency but in struggle and self-discovery. And indeed, human history is defined by a cycle of calamity and collective growth. Though crops may fail, settlements may flood, and diseases may spread, humans reconsolidate and rebuild. Science and technology have softened the sting of manmade and natural disasters. But such advancements have reduced the impact of key social stressors. They have curtailed flashpoint events which bring us together. One consequence of this is outrage culture.  In the absence of legitimate calamities, we create artificial ones. We argue that evolved psychological adaptations dictate this need for a shared sense of difficulty. Outrage culture is simply the calamitization of the mundane. It is a process by which group solidarity can be lazily achieved by combatting non-existent crises. Whether it’s an actor fabricating a hate crime, journalists inflating the menace of a boy in a hat, or academics creating blacklists, our outrage satisfies a deep desire to unite in overcoming …

Blame Modern Life for Political Strife

It’s hard to argue against the comforts of modernity. Avocado toast, fiber optics, Roombas. What’s not to love? Technological innovation and trade liberalization have yielded prosperity and stability. Poverty, infant mortality, and global hunger have fallen. Human development, life expectancy, and food production have risen. Compared to our ancestors, we’re the glitterati. But there are always tradeoffs. While urbanization and personal accumulation have enriched the West, they have also produced a culture of narcissism and illusion of time scarcity. This self-preoccupation and feeling of lost leisure time has reduced our participation in civic organizations. We’re engaging less with one another. And as a consequence, societal trust has dissipated. This has inhibited the development of common interests and shared identities, prompting a return to an archaic tribalism which prioritizes salient features over ideological values. You People are All the Same Imagine you were speaking to someone you’ve never met. Both of you are separated by a dark curtain to conceal appearances and voices have been distorted to obscure genders. The first and only thing they mention …

Political Moderates Are Lying

Cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead once suggested that we should “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Mead is largely correct. Change is wrought by those willing to lead or force others toward it. Which is why we are skeptical that most people truly believe every position they express. Especially in public. Do most people legitimately disagree with one another? Or are they merely conforming to supposedly dominant ideas?  Though there are legitimate disagreements, we contend that modern American political tribalism has been artificially inflated by group-based conformity. That is, the moderate majority’s submission to the demands of dedicated partisans has created a mirage of polarization. Most Americans are not impassioned ideologues, neither coopted by Soros nor swayed by Koch. According to a May 2018 Gallup poll, 43% of Americans considered themselves “Independents” while 26% and 29% considered themselves “Republicans” and “Democrats,” respectively. In fact, it wouldn’t be entirely inappropriate to characterize the average American as a disinterested political observer. A …