October 1, 2005

Bennett and the linguistic turn, redux

In response to my post yesterday about intentionalism as it applies to the Bill Bennett dustup, Politechnical Institute writes:

There are two factors at work here—one, an intellectual understanding of how communication works, and two, a political understanding of how the current reality works.

First, communicators must ALWAYS be aware of how their messages may be interpreted. This is standard business and political doctrine. If this were purely about intent, it would be a non-story. I don’t know of anyone who truly believes Bill Bennett is a racist in his heart. So the big fault here on Bennett is incompetent communication. Such a crime is a major failing for a public pundit with his own radio show.

Secondly, Republicans are not allowed to comment on racial matters without toeing the politically correct line. Bill Cosby issued more direct criticism at the black community (go ahead, bash me for not using African-American) on self-reliance, education, and not blaming others for their problems- without being crucified in the media. Why? He’s not an outsider. Although Cosby’s politics have seemed more conservative the last few years, he has not fallen victim to the race traitor label applied to Condi Rice and Colin Powell.

There are several important admissions here that are worth taking up, each in its turn.  First, politechnical makes the claim that it is standard business and political doctrine that communicators be aware of how they are likely to be interpreted, which conflates the idea of practice with rectitude.  And the fact is, being aware of how your utterances may be interpreted by those who are looking to maliciously misrepresent them in a soundbite culture is a fool’s errand—one that is shown up by the very issue at hand:  Bennett was careful to note that the hypothetical in question was morally reprehensible—and in fact used it to argue against utilitarian rationalizations for moral problems (a stand that implicitly rejects statistics-based racialist arguments)—but that important qualification was left out of many media representations of his quote, which allowed those who wished to embarrass Bennett to call him out.  In this case, Bennett clearly was aware of how his words might be used, but that awareness could not prevent misuse.  For Bennett to have avoided the “major failing” politechnical identifies, he would have had to avoid the subject altogether.  And to do so is to trade intellectualism for the kind of circumspection that has the practical effect of chilling free speech.

Linguistically speaking, we have but two choices:  either insist language be ground in the intentions of its utterers, or else conclude that we must each be responsible, in perpetuity, for whatever might be done with our utterance once it leaves our control. Politechnical, it seems to me, is chosing the latter—an unfortunate choice, in that it will forever codify a use of language that demands of its users the kind of overly-self-conscious self-censorship that is anathema to the free exchange of ideas.  And if our goal is to hash out policy or to discuss potentially controversial issues, we simply must be able to do so without worry that parties invested in maintaining the status quo are allowed to silence us by assuming control over the terms of debate.

Politechnical’s thesis here is straightforward—and it matches the theses of many of those (including the White House and the Corner’s Ramesh Ponnuru) who’ve taken Bennett to task for his “impolitic” remarks.  Bennett, the argument goes, is a seasoned political operative and a professional communicator, and so he should have known that certain people—from the perpetually aggrieved to those in whose interests it is to try to smear what they take it he represents—would use his remarks against him.  Which is certainly true.

But why must an awareness of such dictate a surrender to it?

Descriptions about how communication can be made to function are no substitute for the insistence that it be made to function as it should—in a linguistically coherent way that is dependent on appeals to the utterer’s intent, and so therefore refuses to give equal weight to the whims and motivations of interpreters who wish to use their interpretations as a rhetorical cudgel (in this case, quite disingenously) against the utterer.  Each time a conservative makes such excuses for linguistic surrender in the guise of world weary linguistic pragmatism (which it is not; it is a feint toward relativism and certain pernicious post-modern ideas of language that undercut its moorings), they cede a bit more control over future debates to their opponents.

I refuse to do so.  And while I can understand why many on the left wish me to be cowed by their linguistic presumptuousness, what I can’t understand is why so many on the right allow them to get away with it.

****

update:  More here (via Terry Hastings)

Posted by Jeff G. @ 5:17pm
115 comments | Trackback

Comments (115)

  1. I have an idea – instead of putting the onus on the speaker, how about on the listener? If someone cannot understand complete, and perhaps complex, arguments, maybe they should stay out of the conversation?  To say “this is what I understand you to mean, and it upsets me”, is irrelevant if they are misunderstanding what is said.  I suppose the only solution is to dumb -down ALL national discourse so that the dumbest among us will not be offended. And, by “dumbest” – I mean Randi Rhodes.

  2. If this were purely about intent, it would be a non-story. I don’t know of anyone who truly believes Bill Bennett is a racist in his heart. So the big fault here on Bennett is incompetent communication.

    Just Damn.

    If we leave them alone, do you think there is any chance these pinheads will eventually realize they are arguing with themselves?

  3. Well, Jeff, I agree with you, but I think you’re sweeping back the tide. You’re firmly planted on the idealistic side of an idealist/realist divide. Which is fine for a theortician, but for someone who hopes to participate in political culture and effect changes from within it, one has to deal with the reality on the ground, as it were.

    I would like to see Bennett and his allies refuse to give ground, but we all know that’s not going to happen. Just look at what happened to him when people found out he liked to gamble. He was crucified. Crucified by people who probably themselves gamble, and who will admit that Bennett himself never inveighed agains gambling.

    The simple fact is that the climate of the times is one in which those on the right are assumed to be racist, and any utterance they make will be interperted, however torturously, as confirmation of that. The truth of the matter simply doesn’t matter.

    Standing fast for intentionalism, however right, will not prevent the gotcha game.

  4. I’m sorry this thread is way over my head.  Thus it offends me.  IT MUST BE TAKEN DOWN!!! 

    Seriously, perhaps politicos of all stripes love buzz words and forbidden phrases because, in the end, they are control freaks.  Maybe it really is creeping facism.  Except it is the kind that we enforce upon ourselves.

  5. Jeff,

    Doesn’t the arguement that the reader or the listener has a preset polictical or social idealogy, bear on their misinterpretation or interpretation on what they hear or read?

    I dunno just thinking out loud…..

  6. Of course, one way to greatly reduce the problems of Doctors ripping off medicare is to abort all Jewish babies. And in order to reduce drunken driving, one effective method would be to abort all Irish babies.

    Bill Bennett is a racist. I am not saying that he recommends aborting black babies. I am saying he’s a racist.

  7. I would disagree Farmer Joe,

    The simple fact is that the climate of the times is one in which those on the right are assumed to be racist, and any utterance they make will be interperted, however torturously, as confirmation of that. The truth of the matter simply doesn’t matter.

    The climate of the time is that every Republican is presumed guilty until proven Hitler by the MSM. Saying anything will get you in trouble.

    Ceding control of the terms of debate to the other side is unacceptable since they will just keep pushing until a white, Republican male can’t say anything to anybody.

    Great essay Jeff.

  8. Farmer Joe –

    I live in a less deterministic universe than you, I guess.  But I will say that your comment, while articulate and sincere, is part of the problem.  Instead of saying we can’t fight the tide, it’s too strong, realism trumps idealism, etc—that is, instead of surrendering to the current state of affairs (which are NOT the default state of affairs)—begin fighting back.

    Who CARES what “we all know.” Change the base discourse.  Each individual has to do it.  When enough do, the culture changes.

    My publishing these arguments might persuade 5-10 people to rethink how they consider what constitutes a coherent response to what they hear.  And that’s a start.

    Todd –

    Sure, people will tend to read through their own intellectual prisms; but this is precisely why we need a common ground to prevent communication devolving into willful relativism and, from their, ossified consensus narratives that define “truth.”

    That ground is intent.

  9. Yes, Jeff. Please do not give up the fight.

  10. I feel cleansed Thank you

  11. Who CARES what “we all know.” Change the base discourse.  Each individual has to do it.  When enough do, the culture changes.

    That’s fine for us. Our jobs don’t depend on whether we’re interpreted correctly or not. (Well, maybe yours does. I don’t know.) In Bennett’s case, he needs to play the game. That’s part of how his job works – and it’s something that separates effective political actors from armchair quarterbacks like me.

    It’s possible that you can create some movement towards intentionalism that will eventually “tricle up” to people like Bennett. If that happens, I’ll be very happy. I’m not going to hold my breath, though.

    Let me make an analogy. Some years back, the basketball player, Robert Parish, was caught accepting a shipment of marijuana. Now everybody knew Parish was a smoker from way back, and largely ignored it, but when he was caught red-handed with the goods, it couldn’t be ignored.

    What I really wanted Parish to do was to say, “Yes, I smoke pot. I’m not sorry, I like it, and I don’t believe it’s been harmful to me. I believe it should be legalized.” Of course, he didn’t do that. He apologized, and promised never ever to do it again, even though everybody knew he would.

    I was a little irked that he didn’t do what I wanted him to do, but in the larger view, can you really blame the guy for doing what he needed to do to keep his job, even though it contributes to a climate of ridiculous drug hysteria?

  12. Farmer Joe

    The difference is that in the case of your example the subject under consideration is illegal.  There are laws on the books that state accepting a shipment of marijuana has attached legal problems.  In the case of Mr. Bennet, no such law exists, in fact it is an attempt by one group to impose a defacto law of speech on a certain segment of society only.  It is closer to Jim Crowe law than it is to drug law.

    Rail against it, do not cede this ground.

  13. DG, I don’t see the relevance of your objection. I realize that the analogy is imperfect, but I think the relevant part holds. Yes, what he did was illegal. The only way for that to change is for prominent people to speak out. I would have preferred that The Chief not “cede that ground”, take his lumps, and make a civil disobedience thing about it. He didn’t. He chose to save his career (which – he was only a year or two away from retirement at that point, so it’s not like he would have left himself desitute or anything). I don’t blame him for that. It’s just not what I wanted.

  14. Bennett is a talk show host. Being able to discuss controversial issues is his stock and trade. It is precisely in his interests to fight this.

    Which is why pressure will be applied to those in whose interests it is to cede to outraged perception—the advertisers and sponsors.

    The game that is being played here is extraordinarily important.  And until we can break people of this world-weary resignation that “it’s just the way the world is,” then the world will most certainly follow from that resignation.

  15. FJ – Those that are affronted by Bennets comments, even outside the realm of the context they were given in, are attempting to impose a de Facto law of speech against him, and against anyone else who speaks in a way they feel is inappropriate.  The Jim Crowe analogy comes in when you realize that these same speech codes are not applied to those whom they deem to be on their ‘side’, or those to whom they have give special dispensation.

    But once again, the only way they can be outraged is to cherry pick his comment for effect and to use it in a way that is outside of the intended message of the speaker.  That makes this example even worse.

  16. Again, Jeff, I agree with you. I just don’t see it happening.

    What we’ve got here is a conflict between short term and long term intrests. It’s certainly in Bennett’s long term intrest to stand fast. It’s just as certainly in his short term intrest to cave.

  17. Nobody said it wouldn’t entail sacrifice.  But if enough of us support Bennett on principle, that affects the marketplace.

  18. Jeff

    This whole dustup with Bennett and the refusal of Bennett’s attackers to honestly deal with what Bennett actually says is NOT NEW.

    Digging a bit I refer you to how Daniel Patrick Moynihan was treated 40 years ago. I discuss this on my blog here. Quote:

    Most memorably, he [William Ryan, CORE] accused Moynihan of “blaming the victim,” a phrase that would become the title of his 1971 book and the fear-inducing censor of future plain speaking about the ghetto’s decay.

  19. What I find most pernicious about this episode is that if an individual believes that racism has negative societal consequences, creating racism where none exists causes the harm one purportedly is fighting against. 

    Racism is largely manifest as perception (one hears about more instances of racism than one personally encounters) hence false claims of racism actually creates racism and its attendant negative consequences.

  20. But once again, the only way they can be outraged is to cherry pick his comment for effect and to use it in a way that is outside of the intended message of the speaker.  That makes this example even worse.

    This is getting frustrating, because I agree with both you and Jeff. Here’s the problem:

    Political discourse is like of like humor – if you have to explain it, it doesn’t work. People who are actually predisposed to listen to someone like Bennett will hear his remark, maybe squirm a little, but ultimately understand it. People who aren’t will hear “republican” “black” “abortion”, and slot those words into their predetermined narrative, which, in the case of MSM culture means “Replublicans want to abort black children”.

    It’s stupid and reprehensible, but no amount of explanation, clarification, or even repeating of the whole remark will affect it. Look at the number of people who really, really believe that Bush said that Iraq is an “immanent threat”. We all know that’s not what he said, but huge swaths of people believe he said it, even though they actually saw with their own eyes, him say the exact fucking opposite.

    The only – ONLY – thing that’s going to change this is the demise of the MSM. Which, thank goodness for blogs. Even that might not work.

    TW: “Race”. You can’t make this stuff up.

  21. Nobody said it wouldn’t entail sacrifice.  But if enough of us support Bennett on principle, that affects the marketplace.

    Yeah, but it’s a long, long, hard uphill slog.

    TW: “Short”. Not.

  22. FJ

    Don’t think I am attacking you, because I’m not.  The alternative to what you suggest, which is for those speakers on the right to be very careful about this sort of speech, is to saturate the market with it, so that it becomes inescapable and people are forced to face it.  I think that is the better solution.

  23. The bottom line is if the person I am trying to have a discussion with gets to decide what I am saying, we aren’t having a discussion, he is talking to himself.  There is no political discourse there.

    And bbbustard, you aren’t very bbbright, are you?

  24. The alternative to what you suggest, which is for those speakers on the right to be very careful about this sort of speech, is to saturate the market with it, so that it becomes inescapable and people are forced to face it.  I think that is the better solution.

    Hey, I would be a happy, happy camper if that were to happen. I’m not holding my breath.

  25. Damn Jeff, all this philosophy stuff makes my head hurt! I think that agree with your point as far as I understand it.  If the receiver of a message can interpret it anyway he or she likes without any concern for what the sender intended, then communication is impossible.

    I am sure that the people that have inspired these series of posts are not actually interested in communication, however.  They seem to believe that they know the true thoughts of the person that they are attacking, even unconscious ones that the speaker/writer is actually unaware of himself.  Of course, on the off-chance that they do have that telepathy thing down, maybe they could teach the rest of us so we can eliminate these misunderstandings.

    My word is remember.  Remember, GAY COCK!

    Bill

  26. Hey B moe Insults are not great arguments. I do apologize if my post was difficult for you to understand.  I was trying to point out that many groups would be offended if a similar comment were made about them.  Please, be honest.  If I said that a way to improve the average of IQs in this country was to abort any baby that you might have, wouldn’t you be offended?

  27. It behooves you to understand Bennett’s argument before you attack it, bbbustard.  You don’t, which is why you aren’t arguing with anyone here.  You’re simply outraged to be outraged.

  28. Whoa now, abortionists have the perception that babies in the womb are parasites and it is perfectly normal to rid the body of such dis-ease.

    Every person of every race should be offended by such ugly RACISTS words used to divide our country, yet it is okay because it’s legal and well, Bill Maher doesn’t want to deal with the Fucking mess he has made.

  29. Seriously, Jeff – you might be right. Maybe I do not understand Bennett’s argument. I do think a lot of different goups would be offended if similar comments were made about them. I definitely don’t understand how this demonstrates my lack of understanding.

  30. I do think a lot of different goups would be offended if similar comments were made about them. I definitely don’t understand how this demonstrates my lack of understanding.

    Because you are conflating what the argument means and says with your ability to understand it.

    You are saying that Bennett is to blame because you haven’t taken the time to follow his argument, which argues that utilitarian policy based on complex problems is morally dangerous, and uses a an example that hammers home just how morally reprehensible such arguments can become when taken to their “logical” extrememes. 

    But with that, I’m off.  Much to do today. Back later.

  31. understand Bennett’s argument before you attack it

    This is really what we’re talking about, isn’t it? Of the people who oppose Bennett, there are three types:

    1) People who understand his argument and disagree with it.

    2) People who understand his argument, and are interested in twisting it in order to present Bennett badly to others.

    3) People who don’t understand his argument, but know that Republicans are teh suXX0R

  32. Hey B moe Insults are not great arguments

    I wasn’t arguing with you, I was ridiculing you.

  33. This recalls the animosity against Huck Finn all over.  The book describes the hypocrisy and negative effects of segregation and prejudice yet is on the bad list because it uses the infamous N word.  It is impossible to second guess the poorly educated left about how they will react.

  34. Calling Bennett a racist shows that the definition of “racist” certainly has slipped in this country.  Does he say that whites are better than blacks or that blacks shouldn’t get equal treatment under the law?  No, he simply argues against a hypothetical situation using blacks.  Friggin’ racist. 

    If you’re a Republican, make sure that you never talk about black people.  It will only get you in trouble.  That’s the message being sent.

  35. I definitely don’t understand how this demonstrates my lack of understanding.

    Because you’re purposefully ignoring the context and complete content of Bennet’s statements.

  36. What we probably should be discussing is the difference between race and culture.  It is not denigrating (oh fuck, is that word allowed?) the black race to point out that inner-city black culture is hyper-violent.  Only someone completely ignorant of hip-hop and all that gangsta shit could argue otherwise.

  37. All I’m going to disagree with today is the notion that The Cos got off scot free. He was widely hailed on the right and center, but a lot of the left accused him of apostasy.

  38. The argument as I understand it here is the “hijacking of language”.  That is, the utterer, whose intent is clear to him, must defer to the receiver the interpretation of that intent.  Once the receiver “hijacks” the utterer’s intent, and is possibly offended, the utterer must do penance.  It is a “no win” proposition for one speaking.

    What is demoralizing to me is that even those defending Bennet’s intent are apologizing for the words he uttered.  This is in the same context as those who uttered “There’s enough blame to go around” re Katrina.  The same damn thing.  As if the only way you can morally support Bennet is if you are willing to concede that he “poorly phrased his argument”.  You must add some caveat if your argument is to have any merit. 

    Imagine, if you will, that those words that Bennet uttered came from the mouth of David Duke.  Would there be any ambiguity about the intent?  Why should there be any ambiguity about Bennet’s intent?

  39. For bbb’s help here is how Brad DeLong distills Bennett’s reductio ad absurdum argument .

    Bennett did not “concede” that “aborting all African-American babies ‘would be… morally reprehensible.’” That was his point. His caller said: “Abortion is bad because it has worsened the financing of Social Security.” Bennett says: “Stay focused. We’re anti-abortion not because we think that abortion is a means that leads to bad ends like a higher Social Security deficit; we’re anti-abortion because abortion is bad; make arguments like ‘abortion is bad because it increases the Social Security deficit’ and other people will make arguments like ‘abortion is good because it lowers the crime rate’ and we’ll lose sight of the main point.”

  40. Listening to the phone call in question again, I can see Jeff’s point. I don’t however think it is as clear as Jeff seems to.

    Bennett was speaking with a caller who wanted to speculate as to the effect of abortion on the solvency of the social security system. He basically responded that such speculation was dangerous. He mentioned the Freakonomics analysis of the crime rate. He then brought up the ‘aborting black babies speculation’ as another example of how risky such logic could be. But he then went on to say that maybe the caller was right; that clearly generations subsequent to the baby boomers are smaller, and that abortion is a part of that.  He then thanked the caller for his “very thoughtful point”. So how bad does he really think such speculation is? It’s not so clear to me.  It is clear to me that my condemndation of the guy based on such evidence was unfair.

  41. I agree wholeheartedly with your underlying point, but take issue with the criticism of those who (seriously) take issue with Bennett’s remarks.  Much of the defense of Bennett has been based on the assumption that his detractors are, perhaps, horrified that he would suggest lowering crime rates by aborting black babies. No intelligent person who heard/read these remarks in the full context would believe that he was seriously, immodestly proposing a new eugenics program. 

    Rather, much of the outrage is the assumption underlying his statement that blacks make up the majority of criminals in the US, when, according to the DOJ, blacks and whites each contribute equal percentages of criminals to the criminal justice system each year (40% respectively).  In other words, aborting every white baby in the US would result in the same reduction in crime as black babies. 

    I, personally, don’t believe Bennett’s INTENT was racist.  But, I also suspect that he, like many Americans, subconsciously associate crime with race, and by singling out blacks in his obviously rhetorical statement did make an demonstrably incorrect racial assumption.  The point, of course, is that, all things being equal, he could easily have made his point without relying on racial stereotypes.

  42. uh…MP? Maybe I’m misunderstanding due to your phrasing

    if whites and blacks each “contribute” 40% to the criminal justice system, but blacks only make up 15% of the population…what was Bennett doing “subconsciously”??

  43. MP

    I don’t want to seem impolite, but the figures I remember seeing from time to time do show a higher percentage of black people being convicted of crimes. Would you check your source and let me know.

    I could misread what you wrote and think that both blacks and whites are each 40% of those in the criminal justice system. If that were so, then the lower total black population would mean that they have a disproportionate share of the people in the criminal justice system.

    Please check and let me know which is correct.

  44. Darleen and TedM are really proving how racist this argument is. MP was very clear. Maybe I can make it clearer, although I would guess his commenter’s attempts at twisting are intentional.

    Assume that there about million crimes a year in the U.S. MP states DOJ figures indicate that 400,000 of those were comitted by whites, and 400,000 were committed by African Americans. Thus if you abort the babies of either group, crime would be decreased equally.

  45. I do think a lot of different goups would be offended if similar comments were made about them. I definitely don’t understand how this demonstrates my lack of understanding.

    Arguments are hard.  Lots of big words.  And I can’t even pronounce redcutiocirjhsoir ad asbsurdupejd.  See- I can’t even spell it.

    Better I make sure every knows how truly fucking stupid I am and scream that Bill Bennett is a racist.

    And Shakespeare used funny words, and I say it is fault I don’t understand him.  And math uses these funny symbols and rules that I haven’t bothered to learn.  Why dont mathemeticians make it easier for me to understand them?

  46. Jeff writes:

    Linguistically speaking, we have but two choices:  either insist language be ground in the intentions of its utterers, or else conclude that we must each be responsible, in perpetuity, for whatever might be done with our utterance once it leaves our control. Politechnical, it seems to me, is chosing the latter—an unfortunate choice, in that it will forever codify a use of language that demands of its users the kind of overly-self-conscious self-censorship that is anathema to the free exchange of ideas.

    The number one cause of confusion is the difference between what a person meant to say and what they actually said. We all know people who say ‘turn right here’- are they meaning to turn (in an unstated direction) in this location, or to turn in the right-hand direction (at some unstated location)? Don’t know. Not enough context provided by the speaker.

    In this case, the speaker is the media, not Bill Bennett. It is the nature of the media to live on soundbites.

    Then you have the inherent inflammatory nature of the comments- combining race and abortion is not for the faint of heart.

    Bennett should have been aware of the potential for controversy held by his comments. It’s indeed unfortunate that certain people (conservatives) cannot discuss these kinds of issues without malignant motives being assigned to us, but that, is the reality on the political ground.

    Finally, I’m not trying to codify anything- it’s the way things already are. If anyone has any ideas for improving the situation, I’m all ears. (just like Perot)

  47. If the objections to Bennet’s comment went along the lines of:

    “Bills comment implied a belief that blacks contibute a disproportioante share to the crime rate and pointing that out during this time of racial sensitivity was not useful to binging everyone together”

    Would everyone be happy?

  48. And I admitted that the condemnation was unfair.

    John, can you, do you actually read before attacking?

  49. I wasn’t attacking you, I was just venting.  Your phrase just caught my eye.

    I will now, though.  Try to take a minute and figure out the difference between ‘crime rate’ and ‘total number of crimes committed.’

    You will find that enlightening.  Well, probably not.

  50. You know, this is all much simpler than you are pretending to make it.  Bennett was playing to the cheap seats.  He knew exactly what reaction he would get. He would piss off people with any sensitivity to the issue of race and crime. And he would duly inflame his fellow travelers.  I love how Bennett does this perfect bit of race baiting, and you folks turn around and call anyone who calls him on it a race baiter. Talk about projection! As I wrote in an email to Glenn Reynolds, this makes you both intellectually dishonest and a little nuts.

    Now truly, move on.  You have talked yourself into a corner.  Bennett–again, degenerate gambler that he is–is not worth your time.

    You know, in my day, people who pretended to be moralists and turned out to be degenerates, were heaped with scorn.  Not only are you failing to heap this loser with scorn, you are twisting yourself in a knot trying to defend him.

  51. geez, bbb, I’m glad your crystal ball has a direct line into MP’s head to know this

    I also suspect that he [Bennett], like many Americans, subconsciously associate crime with race,

    really means

    if you abort the babies of either group, crime would be decreased equally.

    ‘Course, if MP’s 40% figure is right, and what he said is really what he said, then the association any association that 15% of the population contributing 40% of the crimes is not necessarily “subconscious” or “racist.”

  52. Sometime when you’re a little more coherent, perhaps you could explain the difference between venting and attacking.

    In the meantime, please note that neither Darlene, TedM, nor myself used the words ‘crime rate’. If you want to make a point, I wish you would try to make it. Why just rant irrelevantly?

  53. CharlesG

    “degenerate gambler”…hmmm. Me thinks you are of the moral absolutist/perfectionist/fundamentalist persuasion.

  54. bbb

    Darlene, TedM, nor myself used the words ‘crime rate’.

    Geez, I just asked about the relationship between 15% of a population committing 40% of the crime…

    No “crime rate” there, eh?

  55. For BBB’s benefit: An exerpt from Bennet’s comment

    “… if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down.”

  56. Hi Darleen,

    Sorry, but I am just being literal.  Bennett’s gambling problems are well documented.  This makes him a degenerate.  Look it up.  It especially makes him a degenerate by his own high moral standards.

    By the way, the fact that the rightwing fails to see the irony in Bennett’s degenerate behavior is hilariously funny.  It’s akin to being told that Rush is a junkie.  I mean, who woulda thunk it?

    Speaking of Rush, this brings me to another obvious point.  Talk radio hosts say calculating, inflammatory things all their time.  That is their M.O.  I am sure Bennett thinks is is hilarious that people have seriously taken up his cause.  He was bloviating, and he knows it.  Why don’t you?

    Charles

  57. I’m having a tough time here. Darleen, MP’s exact words were “In other words, aborting every white baby in the US would result in the same reduction in crime as black babies. “

    I did not need a crytal ball to think that he was saying “.if you abort the babies of either group, crime would be decreased equally.”

    It is the same thing. Psychic Abilities not required.

  58. Sorry Darlene

    Neither of the figures that you mentioned are about the “crime rate” The crime rate is the number of crimes committed per the population. The crime rate is not about whether the those who commmit crimes are animal or vegetable.eh?

  59. CharlesG

    Did Bennett’s children go hungry? Did he rob people for his gambling? I don’t happen to believe engaging in a legal adult activity with one’s own money makes one “degenerate.”

    Oh… I know because only conservatives are hypocrites

    Why is this? Because you can only be a hypocrite if you violate standards that you promote or judge, and liberals rarely promote or judge personal behavior. Their moral preoccupations almost exclusively concern social positions. Liberals judge people by their positions on global warming, not by how they behave.

    You dismiss Bennett as a human being because he gambled while being conservative. No matter whatever good he has done in his life, his moral bank account is now overdrawn so he deserves no defense even if wrongly accused. You put him on the moral plane with OJ and the Menendez brothers.

    That, sir, the refusal to understand gradations of “sin” (even if one actually believes gambling is a “sin”) makes you a fundie.

  60. Shorter Charles:

    It’s BECAUSE OF THE HYPOCRISY!!!

    Which of course is a failure to live up to a standard.  Others in political life choose to avoid the “H” word by having no standards.  Given a choice, I prefer that we have standards, even though we fail to live up to all of them all of the time.

    As for talk show hosts saying inflammatory things, yes, they do.  Of course, in this case, Bennett made an argument to point out that the argument was morally reprehensible. To pretend otherwise is bloviating.

  61. Sorry Darlene

    Neither of the figures that you mentioned are about the “crime rate”

    Jaysus on a Pony, bbb has to be drawn an effin’ diagram about someone pointing out the relationship between two numbers!

    AND MP himself got Bennett’s quote WRONG and ran with it coming up with his increduality that ANYONE would “subconsciously” associate blacks with crime (even when they commit a DISPROPORTIONATE amount of it).

    lordy, it’s not even five and I’m going to hunt down a drink. Something with lots of tequilla I think.

  62. You know, this is all much simpler than you are pretending to make it.  Bennett was playing to the cheap seats.  He knew exactly what reaction he would get. He would piss off people with any sensitivity to the issue of race and crime. And he would duly inflame his fellow travelers.  I love how Bennett does this perfect bit of race baiting, and you folks turn around and call anyone who calls him on it a race baiter. Talk about projection! As I wrote in an email to Glenn Reynolds, this makes you both intellectually dishonest and a little nuts.

    Now truly, move on.  You have talked yourself into a corner.

    Ah. You wrote it in an email.  So it must now be true. 

    Carry on.

  63. Darlene

    Enjoy your drink; It sounds like you need it. We are really not speaking the same language today. Maybe another time.

  64. There are few people I dislike more than BB. That said, it is clar that abortion does lower crime. Many who have babies that ought not to become mothers are better off when those potential babies are aborted. After all, women who should not for a variety of reasons have babies, have them and the babies are not raised properly. Abortion sorts this out. Alas, BB referred to the black community, to which the same medel applies, but listeners focused on Black rather than the proposition. And so BB got his butt kicked. Ah, well, that pompous guy could use it.

  65. bbbustard

    It’s really simple regarding the crime rates.  It’s about proportion of the population.  The statistics merely say that blacks make up 15% of the population of the US and 40% of the imprisoned.  Whites make up 70% of the population and 40% of the imprisoned.  The 40%, when applied against the blacks is against a smaller pool of people.

    Hope that helps.

  66. How is this Bennett thing different than the Trent Lott situation?



    “I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either.”

    Lott didn’t specify WHICH problems, but everyone assumed that he meant racial problems. Why was it ok for pundits to pile on Lott, but not on Bennett?

    =darwin

  67. bbb

    I took a nice cool shower instead (it’s still 95 degrees out). Let me try this:

    I’m the successful owner of a business selling widgets. Successful enough I have two warehouses to supply my retail business. Warehouse A has 70% of my employees while warehouse B has only 15%. Looking over the books I discover something alarming about the pilferage at the warehouse level. 40% of it is occuring at A and 40% of it at B. Being the totally utilitarian owner that I am, more concerned about the bottomline and all, I make the decision to shut down warehouse B. I halve my pilferage by eliminating only 15% of my employees. Yippee. Little fuss, little muss and none of those icky moral issues.

  68. Darwin –

    I’m not a fan of Lott’s—and in fact I criticized him recently for the way he acted during Katrina—but I defended him at the time of his Thurmond remarks on the same grounds. I think he intended those remarks to be flattering and wasn’t thinking specifically about the Dixiecrat days. 

    However, in Lott’s case, his own history of questionable associations made the charge that he was nodding to that racist past more tenable.  Still, I don’t believe he meant it that way.

  69. Damn man, is it “Semi-literate, Social Retard Day” or something?  Where the hell did all these pinheads come from?

  70. Maybe bbbustard will understand the flaws in his argument if we spell it out more explicitly. Yes, if whites commit 40% of crimes and blacks commit 40% of crimes, aborting all white OR black babies will reduce the total NUMBER of crimes committed in the next generation by 40%.

    BUT—very important proviso here—aborting all black babies would also reduce the entire population in the long run by around 15%, so the crime RATE would decrease—15% fewer people committing 40% fewer crimes means roughly 30% fewer crimes per capita.

    Contrariwise, aborting all white babies would reduce the entire population in the long run by roughly two-thirds, while only reducing total crimes by 40%. One third as many people committing 60% as many crimes means roughly 80% MORE crimes per capita.

    To conclude, aborting all white babies would not have the same effect on the crime rate as aborting all black ones, it would have the opposite effect.

  71. Let us hypothesize a fictitious country of 1 million people.  In this country there are 10,000 crimes committed per year, for a crime rate of 1%.

    Now, of these 10,000 crimes 4000 are committed by memebers of race A and 4000 by members of race B.

    However, race A has only 150,000 people, while race B has 750,000.

    Race A, on the average, is responsible for 4000 crimes, but has only 150,000 members.  Each member of race A accounts for 0.0267 % of the crime of the crime rate. (0.0267 / 100 * 150,000 = 40)

    Race B, on the average, is responsible for the same number of murders, 4000, but there are 750,000 of them so each member of race B accounts for 0.0053 % of the crime rate. (0.0053 / 100 * 750,000 = 40)

    Consequently, aborting one member of race A, on the average, reduces the crime rate five times as much as aborting one member of race B, all else being equal.

    This is what most of us understood Bill Bennet’s hypothetical to mean.

    However, some of the people here are saying that since A and B commit an equal number of crimes, you would get the same results by aborting either race.  What they leave out is that you’d have to abort five times as many of B as A to get the same effect.  They are trying to confuse the issue, by saying equal numbers of crimes are committed by each race.  Well, suppose half of all crimes were committed by a race that had only one person, and the other half committed by all races combined.  Would you get “equal results” by aborting every race equally?  It depends on your definition of “equal results”.

    I would respond to their argument with, why don’t we abort all of them and have no crime?  Because that is where their logic is taking them, as a consequence of their reluctance to admit that one race, on the average, commits far more crimes per person.

    At any rate, it is not racist to point out that race A commits crime at a higher rate per person than race B does.  It is not equivalent to saying that members of race A are more likely to be criminals.  If A as a race is committing proportionally more crimes, it could be that there is a smaller percentage of criminals (compared to B) who commmit far more crimes than the typical B criminal.  You can get the same statistics we have now if the percentage of law-abiding A are much higher than B, but what few A criminals there are commit far more crimes, per criminal, than B criminals do.

    In other words, one race may have fewer bad apples, who are much worse than the more numerous bad apples in the other race, and still get the same statistics.  For the real races ad crime rates we have this is not true.

  72. Dr Weevil put my point much better.

    Going back to my example, if we get rid of all of race B we still have 6000 crimes per year, but now 75% of the population is missing.  So the crime rate of 1% increases to 2.4% ((10,000 – 4000) / (1 million – 750,000)* 100%).

    However, if we get rid of race B, we still have 6000 crimes per year, but now the population is only missing 15%.  So the crime rate of 1% decreases to 0.7% ((10,000 – 4000) / (1 million – 150,000) * 100 %).

    In each case the reduction in the absolute number of crimes is the same–but that is not what we were talking about, we were talking about crime RATES, the number of crimes per person.  But some people here are trying to confuse the issue.

  73. In other words, one race may have fewer bad apples, who are much worse than the more numerous bad apples in the other race, and still get the same statistics.  For the real races ad crime rates we have this is not true.

    Or one race may have a sub-culture that glorifies crime and violence above all else, and skews the numbers to make the rest of the race look bad.  But we can’t discuss this because people don’t understand the difference between race and culture, and someone might misunderstand and think we are rascist.

  74. Hi Darlene,

    Actually, I don’t dismiss Bennett as a human being. I am sure he is one.  I dismiss him for being a degenerate.  He is one.  Look the word up in any decent dictionary.

    And he is not a hypocrite not for being a “conservative” and then gambling.  He is a hypocrite for being a self-appointed expert on morals–all the while being a degenerate gambler. (You do know he had bestsellers on this, etc.?)

    Did his family go hungry?  I have no idea.  Ask them.  Does even legal gambling contribute mightily to other crimes?  It most certainly does.  Actions have consequences.  Most “conservatives” know this.  If Bennett were intellectually honest and a conservative, we would know his gambling has enormous consequences.

    As to Jeff’s lighthearted, and, well, lame, attempt to rebut, I guess that means he is conceding my point. 

    This is all so silly.  Bennett says a patently stupid thing, and you all screw yourselves into a pretzel trying to defend him.

    I think if you all consider yourselves conservatives, find some real ones–and decent ones–in the public sphere that you can be proud of and support.  Bennett is not one.

    Charles

  75. No, Charles.  Your argument was pathetic and didn’t deserve a serious answer.  You believe Bennett’s a racist. Fine. I think that makes you intellectually dishonest.  But my post wasn’t about that. 

    Besides, it’s Saturday. And I’m not going to let trolls ruin my Saturday.

  76. Bennett says a patently stupid thing, and you all screw yourselves into a pretzel trying to defend him.

    Mmmmmmm.  Pretzels.  Should go well with your moldy logic.

    The only thing patently stupid about this discussion is that people openly admit that Bennett is not a racist, openly admit that they don’t think he is a racist, openly admit that he was not advocating aborting all black babies, and openly admit that he finds the idea of aborting all black babies (and in Bennett’s case, all babies) to be morally reprehensible, BUT…

    Bennett should apologize anyway because some people are fucking idiots who may have been offended.

    In my book, that is patently absurd.

  77. Sorry Darlene, I think that you actually need more than just the shower. Go with the tequila. The fact is that if you were to abort all white babies you would reduce the crime rate. more than if you were to abort all black babies. By aborting white babies: The total number of crimes would be the same than if black babies were killed. But the total number of people would be less. The crime RATE would be higher. What is happening here is that your determination to prove that a black baby is statistically more likely to commit a crime by the time he dies than a white baby is, has destroyed your ability to think. Jeff was, perhaps correctly, saying that Bennett’s comments were meant to demonstate where illogical speculation could take you. You guys seem to be defending the basis of the illogical speculation

  78. Sorry Darlene, I think that you actually need more than just the shower. Go with the tequila. The fact is that if you were to abort all white babies you would reduce the crime rate. more than if you were to abort all black babies. By aborting white babies: The total number of crimes would be the same than if black babies were killed. But the total number of people would be less. The crime RATE would be higher. What is happening here is that your determination to prove that a black baby is statistically more likely to commit a crime by the time he dies than a white baby is, has destroyed your ability to think

    You might find this tutorial for 5th and 6th grade math helpful.

    It covers fractions, including that tricky denominator thingee which is just KICKING YOUR ASS.

  79. bbbustard, either you are deliberately distorting what is being said here, or you are too stupid to understand it.

    Nobody here is trying to prove that black babies, taken as group, are statistically more likely to commit crimes than white babies.  That is a fact that you yourself have admitted, it does not admit of proof because it is true.

    We could argue about why it has to be that way, or if it would continue to be that way if the number of abortions went up.

    But you yourself cannot deny a fact you have already admitted.

    What you are trying to say is that we WANT it to be that way because we are racists or something–but that’s something you made up, you can’t get it from anything that was said here.

    Ergo, either you misunderstand what you read or you lied about it.

    Stupid or dishonest, take your pick.

  80. Hi John,

    I never suggested he was in favor of aborting blacks.  Bennett was race baiting by tying crime and race together.  The context (abortion) was additionally provocative, but he was specifically playing to cheap seats when he tied race and crime together.

    Charles

  81. The fact is that if you were to abort all white babies you would reduce the crime rate. more than if you were to abort all black babies. By aborting white babies: The total number of crimes would be the same than if black babies were killed. But the total number of people would be less. The crime RATE would be higher.

    You are gonna need alot of Tequila to make any sense out of that.

    I do have to admire the boys tenaciousness though, reminds me of a dog I used to have chasing cars.

  82. for CharlesG anyone actually having the nerve to talk about morals (as in holding value A might be better than holding value B) is a “self-appointed expert on morals” and woe be unto them if they are anything less than godlike in their personal lives.

    They had even be better than Jesus Christ, seeing how even Jesus sinned a time or two.

    I’m sure even He is a ‘degenerate’ according to CharlesG.

  83. bbbustard, I agree that fractions are giving you trouble.  I worked it out already.  Why don’t you take my numbers, put them in a calculator, and see if the math adds up.

    Let me repeat it for you, since you are so stupid.

    Race A, has 150,000 people out of 1 million and commits 4000 crimes out of 10,000.

    Race B has 750,000 people out of 1 million and commits 4000 crimes out of 10,000.

    The crime rate is 10,000 / 1 million = 0.01 = 1%.

    Remove race A.  The population without race A is 850,000, the crimes comitted without race A are 6000.  The crime rate is 6000 / 850,000 = 0.0067 = 0.7%.

    Remove race B instead of A.  The population without race B is 250,000.  The crimes committed without race B are 6000.  The crime rate is 6000 / 250,000 = 0.024 = 2.4%.

    I know the math is hard, bbbustard, and you might not get it, but mathematicians assure me that 2.4% is greater than 1% which is in turn greater than 0.7%.

    So, it is proved then.  If a smaller race commits the same number of crimes as the larger race, then the crime rate INCREASES if you remove the larger race and DECREASES if you remove the smaller one.

    But fifth-grade math may be too much for you.  Go over it slowly a few more times and you’ll get it.

  84. Hi Jeff,

    I love it when bloggers get challenged and hide behind the charge “troll.” This is a pure ad hominem attack, nothing more or less.  If you are going to try to respond to my argument, at least use a shred of logic.

    At the end of the day, you have taken up the cause for a pathetic little man.  And you have done it poorly.

    Really, find someone more worthy of the effort.  Bennett is a buffoon.

    Charles

  85. maybe Charles G should use some logic himself.  He has cited no evidence in suport of his contention that Bennett was deliberately race-baiting.  He offered no evidence whatever of his intentions.  I guess he must be psychic or something, if he can’t point to any actions of Bennett’s that support his contention, he must have some kind of access to Bennett’s thoughts.

    Charles, can you see into people’s minds?  What part of a horse am I mentally comparing you with right now?

    Oh, you don’t have psychic powers?  You say Bennett was race-baiting because…. why exactly?

  86. Do you really “love it,” Charles?

    Thing is, you haven’t challenged me. You’ve said you believe Bennett is a racist and insisted I’m intellectually dishonest for disagreeing. YOu offer nothing but your assertions. I provide an extended series of linguistic discussions.

    But I’m off to an Octoberfest party. Let me know when you’re ready to challenge me for real.  Because up ‘til now, all we have is your willingness to badger Glenn Reynolds with an email laced with ad hominems, and the baseless assertions you’ve left here that don’t address my arguments at all.

  87. Charles

    The context was a discussion of the book, Freakonomics and Bennett was being Swiftian in his remarks, even to pointing out how morally reprehensible and absurd a proposition as “aborting black babies” would be regardless of how it affected crime rates.

    That you deliberately distort his clear quote and then attribute all manner of vile motives with your only very weak substantiation of such motives—ie he committed the unforgiveable sin of gambling, THEREFORE a hypocrit, THEREFORE an obvious racist—speaks a lot more about you than it does Bennett.

  88. Dr.W, let me applaud your “real numbers” example.  (I was going to try the same thing, but you beat me to it.)

    After reading some of the education blogs, I’m beginning to realize how many people there are out there who have trouble sorting out “story problems” (horrors!) that have “percentages” in them (eek!).  And the difficulty here is that you have to understand the math to grok what Bennett was saying.

    Exercise for the reader:  If 80% of NBA players are black, and blacks are 20% of the population, demonstrate that you can increase the percentage of the population who are NBA players if you kill all the white people, but not if you kill all the black people.  (Actually, this hits a limit if the number of NBA players is large, and if the dead players get replaced.  So pedants should assume that the number of NBA players is <1% of the total populace– before they start killing people.)

  89. Jeff,

    Don’t forget I also called you nuts.

    Have fun killing some brain cells tonight.

    Charles

    p.s. My argument stands.  If you answer it, I will answer back.

  90. Darleen,

    Sorry, but when I realized you had been quoting World Net Daily, I wrote you off.

    Good luck in life.

    Charles

  91. If we could get Pat Buchannan to say “even if killing all the Jews in America would result in much smaller rates of white collar crime, it would be wrong”

    Then we could defend Pat too.

    Here is what Bill should have said: “even if ending drug prohibition would significantly reduce crime and murder in America, it would be morally wrong to do it”. I’d bet he could get a lot more support for that statement. Even the President would have to get behind that one.

    Magic word: chance

    What is the chance he would do it?

  92. Charles G says his argument “still stands”.  But he never argued, he just asserted.

    Will you post your brain-scans of Bennett any time soon, or do we just have to take it on faith you can see into his mind and know that he intended the opposite of what he said?

  93. You want a serious response Chuck?  Make a serious assertion.

    Bennett was race baiting by tying crime and race together.

    Explain.  Is it your contention the crime rate among blacks, particularly among young urban males, is not disproportionately large?

    The context (abortion) was additionally provocative…

    Is he responsible for the context?  Should he have just hung up on the caller then?  Are we not allowed to discuss abortion out loud?

    but he was specifically playing to cheap seats when he tied race and crime together.

    Again, explain.  What exactly do you mean by cheap seats?  I assume you mean the uninformed, but I will give you the chance to explain yourself before I blast you for being a pompous buffoon.

    You want a fight, fine, tell me exactly what the fuck you are trying to say and I will be glad to accomodate you.

  94. John Cole never fails to disappoint.  Neither logic nor truth shall ever enter a post of his. John, if you were to read what you linked to, you would know that if the numerator (number of crimes committed) goes down equally, and in one case the denominator is decreased a little (aborting black babies)and in one case the denominator is decreased a lot (aborting white babies), then the latter has a higher rate. I’ll try to make it simple for you.Lets say that there’s a crime rate of 4 out of ten. Four crimes committed in one year against 10 people. Now you reduce the number of crimes committed. (because of abortion)There are only 3 crimes committed. But because of abortion there are fewer people. If you were to abort black babies the number of people goes down from perhaps 10 to 9. If you abort white babies then the number of people goes down more, from perhaps 10 to 6. So if you abort black babies you have a crime rate of 3/9 (1/3), but if you abort white babies you have a crime rate of 1/2.  John, which fraction is a “higher crime rate.” I only argue this point because I don’t want to work in Darlene’s warehouse, nor in Shrikeangels land of illogic. I’d like to live in a land of honest discussion, but I think that I visited the wrong site.

  95. It seems to me that Bennett went for the reprehensible choice to focus on ‘black babies’ because he was looking for the reprehensible example.

    Of course he could have said we could abort all white babies and reduce the crime rate. It would be true, I believe, if you took out any huge chunk of the population the crime rate would go down.  But he didn’t choose to say white because he was going for a minority group because he was looking to make the argument that it is morally reprehensible.

    The condemnation I’ve seen falls into a few categories.  One is that it is wrong to associate black people and crime.  Well, of course it is on an individual level– but we could have an honest discussion about inner city crime and race, could we not?  At some point?

    The other condemnation I’ve seen is that he is using crime rates and the criminal justice system is itself racist.  Well, we could have that discussion at some point too, couldn’t we?

    And finally, the condemnation that he is just stupid for not being aware and sensitive to how his statement would sound ‘in the current environment’.  As far as I can tell, the current environment has lasted about 40 years.  Which is precisely why we never have either of the two above discussions.  Or many other discussions we could be having.  Even Bill Cosby was considered very controversial by some, a ‘race traitor’ by others.

    If we give over language to those that make it their business to be outraged, we won’t get past the constant outrage. 

    Excellent posts, Jeff.

  96. CharlesG

    For gawd’s sake…I was quoting from Dennis Prager..that column having run in SEVERAL places but that was the working link at the time.

    Come on, oh great intellectual one, let me hear you call Prager a ‘degenerate’, too, with nothing more than—horrors—his column ran in a place you don’t like.

    Here’s a quote that Prager is fond of repeating

    There are only two races in the world, the decent and the indecent

    I think I know which one you belong to, CharlesG.

  97. Well, two can play at this game.

    Charles G clearly knew what he was doing when he made assertions he didn’t bother to back up and called them argument.  You see, he was really trying to discredit critics of Bennett by making obviously unsupported statements that would be associated with critics of Bennett, since he is pretending to be one.  That way all the people in the cheap seats would not listen to other critics with substantive criticisms.

    And then other people come here and try to attack Charles G for doing what they know perfectly well works for them! 

    Oh, wait, I didn’t cite any evidence in support of any of those assertions.  Well, my argument still stands.

  98. I don’t want to work in Darlene’s warehouse

    As if I’d employ you in the first place…

    and certainly not to keep the books.

  99. Charles G,

    In yesterday’s thread it was determined that Bennett was definitely a liar.

    Hardly any one had anything good to say about him as a person.

    Still no proof he is a racist.

    Magic Word: wrong

    Bill Bennett may be scum but it would be <b>wrong</a> to say he is a racist without further proof. Not all scum are rasists.

  100. B Moe,

    Google “playing to the cheap seats” and get back to me.

    No, wait.  Take a basic Shakespeare class and get back to me.

    Charles

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