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November 12, 2004

Comments

Good, Edward. People who don't like the presentation of scientific theory in public school really need to consider home schooling. I'm a Lutheran, and there's no way that I'm sending my kids to a Lutheran school. If there are ways to resolve the discrepancy between a (note I said "a", not "the") strict interpretation of Genesis and the fossil record, ignoring the fossil record (or worse yet, deliberately misinterpreting it) is probably not going to win the battle with any credibility.

And evolution IS a theory. But so is practically everything that we believe that we know, including Newton's laws. And mathematics is completely made up. So if you're going to put the disclaimer on evolution, you're going to have to put it on practically everything else, too.

Which might be a good thing in the long run, but it's going to confuse the hell out of the kids.

Interesting comparison, but I think in the real madrassas they teach that the infadel needs to be killed.

Interesting comparison, but I think in the real madrassas they teach that the infadel needs to be killed.

It's meant to be a bit tongue in cheek Joe-Joe, but note that originally the madrassas were more scholarly than infidel-killing oriented...unchecked, things can, er, evolve that way.

And evolution IS a theory. But so is practically everything that we believe that we know, including Newton's laws. And mathematics is completely made up. So if you're going to put the disclaimer on evolution, you're going to have to put it on practically everything else, too.

Which nicely exposes the disengenuousness of Leo's central defense with regard to evolution.


Half of me wants to encourage the kids to think for themselves, and then ask Dr. Dino in to lecture, just to hear them laugh him out of the room.

Incidentally, my sister believes practically everything Dr. Dino says. She loaned me his whole videotape series, and I had to stop watching it. Because practically every other claim he made was flat out wrong, and the rest betrayed a fundamental misunderstanding of the subject matter. There was simply far too much wrong there to critique the entire series.

Mathematics isn't "made up", is it? There's only one place I know about where there's a real assumption to make things more interesting (the axiom of choice) - otherwise I was under the impression there's no conceivable universe in which there would be different math.

Anyway, practical solutions to Edward's point not involving beneficent billionaires are eagerly awaited in this universe.

Mathematics isn't "made up", is it?

Sure it is. If people had never been, would there be mathematics at all? I say no, therefore we made it up. Same for the law of gravitational attraction. Nature has the anvil fall on your foot; man invents a symbolic relationship to describe the phenomenon. The relationship does a pretty decent job of predicting (under most circumstances), but it isn't the phenomenon.

People used to think there could only be one geometry, too. Oops.

otherwise I was under the impression there's no conceivable universe in which there would be different math.

Classic example of where this is not the case is found in one of the supposedly least questionable branches of mathematics: geometry.

Draw a straight line 3 feet long, turn 90 degrees left, continue drawing another 3 feet, again turn 90 degress left, continue drawing another 3 feet, again turn 90 degress left, and finally draw one final straight line 3 feet long, and any where on earth you'll have a perfect square.

Not so in outerspace though, where electromagnetic/gravitational forces will leave you with an openend shape, the last point nowhere near the first point.

FIRST!

8P

and any where on earth you'll have a perfect square.

This isn't true. Close, but untrue.

Anywhere on a planar surface you'll have a square.

People used to think the world was flat - that it isn't doesn't indicate geography is made up. I can think of a universe where gravity doesn't follow Newton's law, but not one where there's no arithmetic.

Anywhere on a planar surface you'll have a square.

We'll if we're gonna split hairs, it should be Anywhere on a planar surface ON EARTH you'll have a square.

8)

I can think of a universe where gravity doesn't follow Newton's law, but not one where there's no arithmetic.

Arithmetic does seem universal from where we stand, I have to admit. But 100 years ago, most folks thought the same about geometry.

Answer me this, rilkefan:

Back in the Cretaceous, what was the state of geometry? Algebra? Differential equations?

"But 100 years ago, most folks thought the same about geometry."

Not most mathematicians. Already back in the early 1800s Euclidean geometry was under attack. And math has come a long way since then in terms of rigor and power.

Anyway, teaching Euclidean geometry isn't wrong - starting from the five axioms you get certain correct results which aren't perfectly relevant for describing our world. It would still be taught (as a simple limiting case) in places where bent space was obvious.

Slarti,

I believe rilkefan's argument is that we didn't make up those disciplines, we discovered them.

Slart - same as now. (Remember, I don't believe in categories like chairs and human beings, and ignoring that I don't believe there is thought, so algebra's reality or non-reality shouldn't depend on that stuff.) I'll grant you that the particular representations of math are artifacts and taught.

So...Green's functions were just lying buried in rubble somewhere, and we found them?

No, I don't think so. My entire point is that our entire system of mathematics is a construct devised by men. This is not to say it's not useful, or that it isn't internally consistent, or that it doesn't have (in some cases) descriptive and predictive powers.

If rilkefan's likening mathematics to archaeology, I'm going to disagree. I think perhaps it can be thought of as some huge monolith that centuries of patient brushwork has uncovered to the point that it is now, but that's an analogy, not reality.

Remember, I don't believe in categories like chairs and human beings

I can illustrate the difference between the ideas and the realities, if you'd like to engage in a little professional wrestling match.

Give 'im the chair!
- Some extra in Shrek

Edward: I believe rilkefan's argument is that we didn't make up those disciplines, we discovered them.

Which is the position of 99.99%* of all working mathematicians, at least according to the various surveys taken by the AMS.

* Figure slightly exaggerated for comic effect.

Slarti: Half of me wants to encourage the kids to think for themselves, and then ask Dr. Dino in to lecture, just to hear them laugh him out of the room.

Man, there's a name I haven't heard in aeons...

While I am all in favor of my party treating people of faith with more respect, I draw the line here. People like Terri Leo need to be ridiculed and publicly humiliated as creatively and as often as possible before they succeed in turning this country into an ignorant backwater.

Keep in mind that the Islami world used to be a beacon of culture and reason before the Wahhabists gained influence.

So...Green's functions were just lying buried in rubble somewhere, and we found them?

Metaphorically, yes. Ditto for Stokes' theorem, the Riemann zeta function, and the proof of Fermat's Last: once you accept arithmetic and the basic deductive calculus of classical logic, the rest (thanks to Godel) are inevitable consequences.

Not obvious, mind. Just inevitable.

My entire point is that our entire system of mathematics is a construct devised by men.

The representation of them (i.e. the written form) is a construct devised by men, sure. I disagree when it comes to the notion of "number", however; any periodic system, for example, inherently contains a notion of number, as does any discrete or well-orderable system. So, really, all you need is the notion of "one" and "next" and you've got all of arithmetic at your disposal.

Now it's true that we're coding those notions cognitively so that our mental representations of them are not the Platonic ideal, but that's the point: when it comes to something as primal as number (pun oh-so-very much kind of intended), I do believe that there is a Platonic ideal, an exemplary "one" or "two" or whatever that exists extrinsic to the human mind. You're free to disagree of course; it's not like I can ever prove its existence, even by the wishy-washy standards of 99.99%* of the human population who don't hold themselves up to mathematical rigor.

Now, as Feynmann noted, why this intellectual notion of mathematics (Platonic ideal or human artifice) should have any predictive power in the real world... that's a whole different kettle o' fish.

[The above is a brief excerpt of a talk I wrote but, fortunately, was never called to give, entitled "Why is 2+2 = 4?".]

* Figure here is about accurate, actually.

Metaphorically, yes.

Metaphors are precisely the opposite of what I'm talking about.

I disagree when it comes to the notion of "number", however

Where would the notion be, without the mind to do the notion-ing, if you will? Incidentally, I don't disagree that things were natural consequences of other things, I just maintain that what makes them natural consequences (and indeed, what they're a natural consequence of) is human beings.

primal

Ick. And I say that with admiration.

hmm. doesn't Goedel's incompleteness theorem figure in here some place?

"within any given branch of mathematics, there would always be some propositions that couldn't be proven either true or false using the rules and axioms ... of that mathematical branch itself" (taken from http://www.miskatonic.org/godel.html)

So, at some level, mathematics is a pure intellectual construct, not a series of discovered rules. i think.

Francis

Stephen Jay Gould: Evolution As Fact And Theory

Goedel?? Threads have gone wild on ObsWi

I though evolution was an observed process, like cell division, with adequate documented evidence to say it actually does exist. Beaks of finches in the Galapagos Island was a definitive study,IIRC.

Theorey comes in when you try to explain fossil evidence with evolutionary models, for instance, or deciding which model best fits the evidence.

The problem is of course is not with Terri Leo, but with elected or appointed officials who feel they must pay her attention.

This is not an issue I get excited about. Information is no longer controlled, and every kid has access to Darwin and ID. I have been (for brevity), an atheist since I can remember, and it had nothing to do with my education, which was mostly Catholic. We don't know why half the population believes Saddam did 9/11, but I doubt it was because good information was not available or presented to them. "Believing" is a pretty complicated activity, and we control it in ourselves and our children less than we would like to "believe".

Hey, y'all took it into epistemology. :)

I'm with Slart -- mathematics is a symbolic system whose assumptions and rules are entirely under our control. This is why we can speak of mathematical "truths" as opposed to real-world "facts". The fact that the origins and development of the system have some relationship to the structure of our brains and our observations of the real world does not mean that mathematics itself has any sort of positive ontological status outside of our conception of it. You might as well say that we "discovered" natural languages.

Just to clear things up, I don't pretend that I speak with any authority at all in the realm of math or science. I'm a lowly engineer, and hence unqualified to carry the athletic supporter of Anarch.

Nor am I a philosopher. Although I did quite well in symbolic logic, which was Philosophy 216 IIRC.

I'd read Gould's piece before, to clear up another loose end, and I agree with most of it. Except for to me, "fact" and "data" mean approximately the same thing, while for Gould it's apparently something slightly different. So I'd classify the fossil record as facts, but the theory as that-which-makes-the-facts-meaningful.

Random musings:

We can't ridicule and publicly humiliate Leo because that would be politically incorrect and we shall be accused of religious bigotry. Welcome to the new victimology.

A part of my category (my big toe, an extremity of my me-ness) collided with chairness this morning, and I hopped around on one foot shouting to various minor gods in violation of posting rules about the ------- categories. I plan on placing a constitutional amendment on the ballot in my state next time outlawing these categories whether they exist or not, and I suspect, given the ignorance of the backwater, I can demagogue its passage, especially if I attach some tax-limitation language to it.

The word "theory", as in scientific theory, is not a well-understood word in America today. Scientists and science teachers must do a better job of explaining the difference between the nature of a scientific theory and the Book of Genesis. Problem is, I personally am sick of explaining it .. again ... Plus, Leo and her ascendant populist demagogues have ended discussion.
Look, if they fall from a fifth story window and break their backs but live, God saved them. If they die in the fall, they go to Heaven because they are born-again (and you don't because you aren't). Try interjecting the theory of gravity into this discussion. You might as well teach needlepoint to reptiles. Which either proves or disproves the theory of evolution.

Thought experiments: 1) A plane, piloted by spiritual reptiles, hits your high-rise, causing an inferno, cutting off all avenues of escape. You are left with the choice of two scientific theories. The ones governing the interaction of flesh and 1000 degree temperatures and the one explaining the flight of wingless bodies through the atmosphere of a spinning planet. You pray and who wouldn't as your human spiritual impulse finds its proper moment up against the hard factual theories of the universe? You die. Or .. you survive, somehow, by a miracle (another insufficiently explained word). You dust yourself off and run for the local schoolboard and win. Your first move is to put a sticker on the science textbooks. You lose the argument, but you are now a populist, absolutist, ideological, spiritual reptile yourself, having gone through a small "h" hell. You hijack a plane and fly it into the school the night of the next school board meeting. What happened?"

2) a la Walker Percy. You're an astronaut. You successfully fly to a precise location on the other side of Mars using the entire accumulated mathematical and scientific achievements of mankind. You take a look around. You are flabbergasted. You come home, like Benjamin Braddock in "The Graduate" home from college. You're vaguely discomfited,; you begin drinking heavily; you kick the dog and yell at the kids; you cheat on your wife. One day, a Jehovah's Witness rings your doorbell and hands you a comic book. You read it. You convert. You begin ringing your neighbors doorbells. You run for the schoolboard on a platform of warning stickers re: the theories which navigated you to the precise spot on the other side of Mars, which George W. Bush has just proposed as the site for a brand-new Calvinist church. What happened?

Dr. Dino runs for President. He says what he says, but he also promises to cut your taxes, reform Social Security, and stand firm on terrorism. His opponent is John Kerry. What happens? Not to anyone here specifically, but to the country.

Leo is not disingenuous. She is utterly sincere. To believe otherwise violates scientific reality and ignores the danger she poses for the Republic. I can't prove that theory, but I believe in it religiously.

Question: Back in the Cretaceous, what was the state of the sanctity of life?

And finally, in these random but long and tiresome musings, if mathamatics (science) and the U.S. Constitution and the Ten Commandmants are human constructs, why does Leo wish to put stickers on one and carve the others immutably into big, unmovable rocks?

The answer? What is the question?

I knew that if I waited long enough, there would be a thread in which it would be useful, or at least amusing, to have a philosopher around...

Suppose we agree on the following claim about math: if there were no minds (human or otherwise), then there would be no concepts, thus no mathematical concepts, thus no claims involving those (or any other) concepts, thus no true mathematical claims (or any other true claims.) If the claim that "math is a mental construct" just means this, then math is surely a mental construct; if the claim that it's a human construct just means: it's a mental construct (in the sense just defined), and by the way, the only minds around are human, then math is a human construct. (Note that its being a human construct in this sense assumes the nonexistence of God, assuming that if God existed, he'd have a mind.)

The thing is, math is no different from any other set of claims in this respect. The claim that there is hydrogen in the world depends on concepts like 'hydrogen', and if there were no minds, there would be no concept of hydrogen either, and no claims about hydrogen, and thus no true claims about it.

Suppose we want to mark the difference between those claims (like "there is some hydrogen in the universe") which would be true (supposing they could be formulated) even if there were no minds around, and those like "it feels cold on the north pole", which would not be (since the north pole wouldn't feel any way at all without someone to do the feeling.). One way to do this would be to say: suppose we (who are, or at least have, minds) consider a universe with no minds. Would some claim be true in that universe? (We get to formulate the claim and consider its justification; but we are not to imagine ourselves actually being around in the universe feeling things etc.) The claim that there is hydrogen in the universe could be true in such a universe, since while our minds formulate that claim, and came up with the concepts involved in it, its truth or falsity does not depend in any other way on their being minds around.

In this sense, mathematics is arguably like the existence of hydrogen: we came up with the concepts, but whether, given those concepts, it is true that 2+2=4 is not in any sense up to us. Note that any claim that can be justified a priori is in this sense 'not a human construct', and thus if ethics can be justified a priori, the fact that its concepts are human creations would not show that it was in this sense a human construct; and moreover that the only sense in which it would be a human construct would be a sense in which the existence of hydrogen is one too.

We can't ridicule and publicly humiliate Leo because that would be politically incorrect and we shall be accused of religious bigotry.

We can't? Says who?

The claim that there is hydrogen in the world depends on concepts like 'hydrogen'

Except for the actual hydrogen, which although not around as a concept, you'd still have those pesky protons streaming out of the sun. Unless you want to postulate the death of the universe if there isn't anyone around to observe. Might as well argue whether gravity still works independently of our being around to notice it. Gravity and hydrogen are physical phenomena; mathematics are not.

All of a sudden I realize I'm fencing with a philosopher. So, Renee Descartes walks into a bar, and the bartender says "do you want a beer?". Descartes says, "I think not" and immediately vanishes.

Gonna have to read hilzoy's comment a few more times...but must say I'm happy to agree 100% with Slartibartfast here.

We can't? Says who?

Political correctness is meant to expand our minds, not close them. I'll be more than happy to read all about "intelligent design" as soon as there's widely accept scientific evidence it's not a secular disguise for creationism.

OK, hilzoy, I've read it three times now, but still not clear.

You seem to be arguing that "truths" exist whether or not we consider them (and then group, record, hypothesize, assert, etc. about them), but that if we do consider them, the way we do so can be right or wrong, but that in no way affects the truths themselves. They remain intact, waiting to be discovered as they "truly" are, ambivalent about our bumbling attempts to discover them.

This sounds a lot like rilkefan's argument if I've understood correctly.

hilzoy, that seems fine as far as it goes, but how do you address my viewpoint, under which, speaking accurately, there aren't claimants?

Also, re "concepts" - if I propose an algorithm which generates all concepts, can I get away from humanness here?

Slart -- I didn't intend to be disagreeing with your original argument so much as trying to find a way for you and Rilkefan to agree, though admittedly, having just reread my post, that wasn't at all clear. In any case, what you just wrote was sort of my point. You originally argued (if I understood you) that math was a human construct, since we invented the concepts, and without us there wouldn't be any math. I then said: right, but in this sense any body of knowledge is a human construct (leaving other minds like God's out of the picture for now.) Like, say, knowledge about the existence of hydrogen. Now you point out, entirely correctly, that even without us, there would be that stuff, the stuff we call "hydrogen"; it would just be unconceptualized hydrogen. But now Rilkefan can come back (not that I want to speak for him) and say: yes, but it's also true that in a universe without us, if "one" thing were joined by "two" things, there would then be "three"; it's just that no one would be counting. And so if what it takes for something not to be a human construct is: that (according to us, with our concepts) it would be true in a world in which no one was around to think about it, math is as true as claims like "there is hydrogen in the universe".

Also, re "concepts" - if I propose an algorithm which generates all concepts, can I get away from humanness here?

Where'd the algorithm come from, again?

Ok, now we're going to places that I cannot examine. Is someone the Kwisatz Haderach, here?

Where'd the algorithm come from, again?

The hydrogen created it.

{backing out of a discussion that's now way over my head}

ps this whole "truth existing" thing gives me the heebee-jeebies. Things that exist come into existence and leave it...

The blind man sent to slay the dragon sun
Killed truth instead. The world's eternal noon
Bled green upon the scry; in in and loon.

Alas, I am way, way out of my depth here. My line of reasoning, if you can call it that, is some melange (heh.) of the following:

1) Math is a construct because it has no physical properties at all. It's an idea, not a thing.

2) Unless I've missed something (not that this is wildly improbable) mathematics as we know it has not been proven to be the only self-consistent way of describing reality. Therefore, it's a construct.

3) If people were not around to develop mathematics, the development of mathematics would not occur. Therefore, it's something we made up. As opposed to a meteorite, which monkeys probably don't believe in but can kill them just as dead.

If my reasoning is starting to fall apart, it's because we're taking a path far away from my comfort zone.

Seems to me we've moved far, far afield from the subject.

The fact is our conservative bretheren seems to be launching a jihad against our educational system.

Sorry (sniff.) -- Rilkefan: if I understand you, the algorithm would get away from humanness; and the argument works in a world without claimants so long as you can make sense of a hypothetical mind to assess the truth of claims.

Edward: the general point is something like this. We have concepts which we have made up, like "tonsillitis" or "nerf ball" or "hydrogen" or "four". If, when we ask which of these are 'human constructs', we mean: which of these concepts would be around if there were no people (or other minds), the answer is: none of them, since it takes minds to make a concept.

But if instead we ask: in a world with no people, would it still be true that there is hydrogen?, and if by this we mean: suppose WE ask about that world, would the stuff we call hydrogen be there? the answer is: yes. The concept is a human construct; the existence of the stuff we call "hydrogen" is not. Nerf balls are different: in a world with no people, there would be no nerf balls.

What about numbers? Well: if we, with our mathematical concepts, ask: would mathematical claims be true in a world with no people?, the answer is: yes.

I wouldn't go so far as to say "our conservative brethern" Jadegold. This is a fundamentalist Christian issue (and while the largest percentage of them are conservative, I believe something like 22% or more are not).

It's a belief that the Bible should be taken literally, and that if it indicates the world's not old enough for evolution to be true, then damn it, evolution must be wrong.

"Sorry (sniff.)"

I hope you didn't have to take a little, uhh, stimulant break to keep interested in the conversation...

I have trouble with the idea of "mind", or giving minds special status among other persistent patterns or what-have-yous. Oh well.

I wouldn't go so far as to say "our conservative brethern" Jadegold. This is a fundamentalist Christian issue (and while the largest percentage of them are conservative, I believe something like 22% or more are not).

I think you're splitting a pretty fine hair here, Edward. I'm not sure if I've ever encountered a liberal fundamentalist who suggested the Dems needed to jettison evolution in favor of creationism or its latest incarnation, ID.

And evolution isn't the only issue; global warming, same sex marriage, stem cells, sex ed, etc. are getting the same treatment.

Moreover, is it not conservative parties who campaign on policies assaulting science? My suspicion is the GOP is doing the requisite groundwork to allow agendas to trump science.

Edward, congrats on a very good post.

Indeed we are creating Madrassas in some of our schools because they are, whether directly or indirectly teaching people to hate. They have such a narrow construct of right and wrong, a rather fundamentalist world view that leads to intolerance of the bulk of humanity on this planet.

As far as the fact that the Madrassas abroad teach students to kill, our so-called Christains (what some are now referring to as "Christianists" like "Islamists") are already killing via the death penalty which is anathema to Christ's teachings.

Enjoying this thread. Just popping in to recommend Karl Popper ( 1 | 2 ) to those who are interested in the handling of this issue by one of the foremost philosophers of science...

My suspicion is the GOP is doing the requisite groundwork to allow agendas to trump science.

Separate issues. One is supressing science that doesn't agree with your political/economic agenda, the other is suppressing science that disagrees with your religion. And those on both sides of that cross over between Blue and Red.

My father is a Democrat fundamentalist Christian. Never voted for a Republican presidential candidate in his life. Believes strongly in big government, closing up tax loop holes for the rich, not fighting unnecessary wars, etc., but also believes the Bible should be interpreted literally. Believes more God, not less God, is needed in schools, goverment, etc.

Bottom line is, there's a broad spectrum out there, and being as specific as possible is the best way to discuss all these issues. You can be against Bush, but still for questioning evolution in children in public schools.

Not saying that's a logical combination, just one that exists.

Slart: Oh, we can. I'm just saying the conversation has shifted because lots of folks will say so.

Metaphorically speaking, this conversation has changed much like the conversation about terrorism on American soil changed after 9/11, if you will. It's kicked up a notch and folks in caves have my alert status at orange. Where's yours? Probably much lower on the color scale because you're a logical, rational human being. I'm not. And neither is Leo.

Jadegold gets it.

Some choice mockery, rather xian-friendly.

John, get with the program - post-election we're back to yellow.

excellent stuff rilkefan...favorite bit:

Oh, and Revelation, too. There's a bad ending worthy of Stephen King ("love thy neighbor so I can come back and incinerate him"? Rewrite!)

How Jesus went from a being gentle Shepard to the Terminator (first one) always bothered me too.

And from the Wikipedia entry on Popper comes my word of the day: Fideism.

While the centrality of issues of faith and its role in salvation make fideism of this sort an important issue for Christianity, it can exist in other revealed religions as well. In Islam, the theologian Ghazali strikes a position similar to Tertullian's fideism in his Talafut al-falasafa, the "Incoherence of the Philosophers." Where the claims of reason come into conflict with revelation, reason must yield to revelation. This position drew a rejoinder from Averroes, whose position was more influential in Thomist and other medieval Christian thinking than it was in the Islamic world itself. Ghazali's position of the absolute authority and finality of divine revelation became the standard of orthodox Muslim exegesis.

Wikipedia rocks.

Shepard = Shepherd

Conceivably apropos: ABC allegedly to air a story saying Matthew Shepard's death wasn't a hate crime.

The was the world. Then we came. And we named everything. We gave everything a name. Soon we'll be gone, and the world will be quiet again.

popper vs wittgenstein...I'll take witt

John, that's the nicest compliment I've gotten in a while. Not sure it's all that accurate, but it's the thought that counts, after all. Even if thought is just a human construct.

rilkefan, funny. It's hard to do satire well, and that was well done (while, simultaneously, bleeding rare).

Yermum, thanks for the links. I'm going to have to give them some serious attention.

ABC allegedly to air a story saying Matthew Shepard's death wasn't a hate crime.

No, muggers always leave their victims tied to posts to die.

Scott Peterson is guilty...not that I care, I just like getting the "news" out there first.

"popper vs wittgenstein...I'll take witt"

Do you really think you have to pick one or the other? It it weren't for that stupid Wittgetstein's Poker book, there wouldn't be a dichotomy at all. Wittgenstein explored the relationship between philosophy, philosophical systems, and Truth. Popper was primarily a consequentialist. Whether or not philosophical systems and principles had any relationship to Truth, they had demonstrable outcomes on human beings, and systems like open societies and the scientific method are provably superior to the alternatives in their consequences for humanity.

Which is worse? Killing someone because you hate them, or killing someone because you want their money?

Slart, I think "made up" is simply the wrong choice of words in that it implies a certain arbitrariness.

Now if I say there's Jennifer Connelly sitting next to me admiring my lucid prose - that's made up. If OTHO an engineer is planning a bridge and in the process resorts to mathematical calculations, they better be pretty tightly correlated to the facts in the physical
world, coz otherwise the whole thing is going to fall apart.

I think the confusion about these matters mostly arises when philosophers start to ask over the top questions about the truthfulness of theories, rather than viewing them as semiotic tools that help us cope with the world.

our laws say the latter, I say the former.

Killing someone because you hate them, or killing someone because you want their money?

Is that the question? Isn't the question whether or not we believe they didn't act out of hate for his sexual orientation? Revisionist history at this point won't help the victims of gay bashing. As Romain Patterson, one of Shepard's close friends, noted:

"You just don't kick someone in the crotch over and over again unless you have a real problem with their sexuality," she says.

How much more severely can you punish someone for murder than the most severe penalty on the books? If you're arguing for the death penalty in this case, Edward, I'm going to agree. If you're arguing that his murder was more egregious than a slew of other torture-killings that don't fall under any imaginable hate-crime laws, I disagree.

Now if I say there's Jennifer Connelly sitting next to me admiring my lucid prose - that's made up.

Just for the record, I would have been willing to accept, as a working hypothesis, that Jennifer Connelly was sitting next to you admiring your lucid prose. I have no reason to think otherwise (actually I had no idea who she was), no bridges are at risk, and it makes the world seem a better, sweeter place. This is totally different from accepting it as proven that she's there, and also from refusing to accept it as disproven should you be unable to introduce us when I visit.

That's all by way of saying that I don't understand people who regard a scientific worldview as antithetical to religion, or even to magic. There are awesome miracles, terrifying mysteries, and an endless stream of gobsmacked wonderment easily accessible right in my back yard. Not just unharmed, but enhanced by empiricism. That's what I consider a sound basis for theology -- if I settled for mere dogma I'd just be cheating myself...

"Isn't the question whether or not we believe they didn't act out of hate for his sexual orientation?"

It could be, but it's worth remembering that hating someone for their sexual orientation isn't illegal. It makes you a small, loathesome person and destroys your happiness for no good reason, but it isn't illegal.

I think it's one of those cases where you go in divining motive and end up losing the forest for the trees. Whether or not a murderer killed someone over marital infidelity, or because he was gang banging, or because the victim was gay, or because the victim was black, or because the victim wrote a movie denigrating your religion. . those are questions for historians and sociologists and the commentariat, not the criminal justice system. This is what matters to the criminal justice system: you killed someone and you didn't have a good reason for it, and that's the way it should be. The murder statutes are not the place to make statements about the rightness or wrongness of particular beliefs.

Everyone who commits an unjustified murder (not self-defense) is doing it for a terrible, unjustifiable reason. Sometimes homophobia is that reason. Sometimes raw greed. It doesn't matter. They're all bad.

We should be going out of our way to get references to homosexuality out of the criminal code, not the other way around.

we consider motive in our criminal code already--not just intent, motive. I didn't get that post above backwards--in many states, committing murder for "pecuniary gain" is one of the "aggravating factors" that can lead to a sentence of death.

Most people don't seem to object to it one little bit except in the context of hate crimes. Then suddenly it's a free speech issue.

Ok, that brings up another question: should one receive a harsher penalty for killing someone out of black hate, or killing them because you think their meat might make a decent sausage?

And no, this isn't exactly as flippant as it sounds. IMO, Shepard's killers should be put to death. There's no reason, again IMO, to make serious crimes "special" because they were committed out of intolerance. Now, cross-burning I can see coming under hate crimes, because otherwise it's maybe littering and arson. Torturing and killing a guy because he's gay shouldn't buy you a stiffer penalty than torturing and killing a guy because you're into that sort of thing. Once again, IMO.

Slartibartfast,

Now, cross-burning I can see coming under hate crimes, because otherwise it's maybe littering and arson.

Cross-burning would be making a threat of harm from where I sit - a tad murky but I do believe the Supreme Court agrees with me (for once!)

Edward,

"You just don't kick someone in the crotch over and over again unless you have a real problem with their sexuality," she says.

I don't mean to be crass or insensitive here, but kicking a guy in the crotch is an unreasonably effective way of inflicting suffering. Reading more into it alone seems quite dubious.

Re the earlier topic, Kevin Drum blames liberal media bias in part.

kicking a guy in the crotch is an unreasonably effective way of inflicting suffering. Reading more into it alone seems quite dubious.

I disagree. Just as there is a difference between hitting someone once in the face, and pounding a person's face 'into a pulp' as they say, there's a difference between one kick and repeated kicks. I fairly certain that they weren't logically thinking of ways to inflict suffering, but rather trying to destroy something that threatened their self-image.

I fairly certain that they weren't logically thinking of ways to inflict suffering, but rather trying to destroy something that threatened their self-image.

That very well may be the case regarding Shepherd. I just don't think repeated kicks to the crotch, in and of itself, points to any particular motivation... which has to be the most bizarre contrarian point I've ever bothered to make here.

One of the reasonings behind hate crime laws is pretty straightforward: hate crimes are aimed at and harm not just the immediate victim, but the class of which they are a part. They are the closest thing to terrorism that we usually have domestically: it intimidates and terrorizes an entire group of people through a crime committed against one or few of them.

As someone upthread mentioned, we already consider intent in sentencing and prosecution. It is hardly new or controversial; intent can make the difference between manslaughter and first degree murder. When someone opposes harsher penalties for crimes committed out of hate for someone's race or orientation or what have you, I tend to think that either they have prejudices against that group they may or may not be aware of, or their opposition to hate crimes laws is simply not well-reasoned.

What Catsy said. Especially that very pithy observation about the original meaning of terrorism.

We don't have a justice system and we never will. What we have is a legal system in which justice is a (frequent? occasional?) by-product. Legislation that deals with intent is error-prone and there's no way around it, but perfect is the enemy of good enough, and good enough is as good as it gets. Ever.

I agree that when you get to the level of murder, being motivated by bigotry seems like a less meaningful distinction, because if you're immoral enough to kill....

though lynchings still retain a certain horror. It may be the means of death as much as the motive.

At the level of vandalism, it seems like more of a moral difference. At the level of assault too--beating up someone because he's gay or black or Jewish seems much worse to me than your run of the mill barfight--even if one person is clearly the agressor in the ordinary barfight.

Though awfully late I do want to take the opportunity to agree with slartibart about the math issue. If you have to use imaginary numbers to make a working model it seems the only likely interpretation...

Dutchmarbel (thinking about schroedingers cat too)

When someone opposes harsher penalties for crimes committed out of hate for someone's race or orientation or what have you, I tend to think that either they have prejudices against that group they may or may not be aware of, or their opposition to hate crimes laws is simply not well-reasoned.

Two kinds of people: those silly enough to present a two-kinds-of-people argument, and those who aren't.

If you have to use imaginary numbers to make a working model it seems the only likely interpretation...

Not to mention hypercomplex numbers.

Not to mention hypercomplex numbers

*I* didn't mention them ;-)

My spouse studied mathematics and says that a real mathematician (only a small percentage of the students) must be so creative that math should be considered part of the Arts.

Not to mention hypercomplex numbers.

How surreal.

Two kinds of people: those silly enough to present a two-kinds-of-people argument, and those who aren't.

Or, alternatively, two kinds of people: those who bother to address the meaningful substance of an argument, and those who seize upon the first excuse to avoid doing so with a facile, irrelevant snark.

It's a valid observation. If you disagree that opposition to hate-crimes laws is grounded in either prejudice or a lack of thinking it through properly, feel free to explain why. This just makes it sound like you don't have an argument.

Catsy, I probably agree with you on hate crimes, but I'd have suggested you phrase your earlier comment not as "my opponents are bigots or thoughtless" but more as "I haven't seen any counterarguments that I find reasonable". I would guess that although e.g. Slart disagrees on ways to address hate crimes is as outraged by them as you are, and he's not thoughtless (though he's unaccountably wrong on many politicized issues...) So I think his snark shows some forebearance, and he will defend his position if asked less aggressively.

OK, let me take on the substance of the argument, since I also reacted negatively to the "if you disagree with me you're a bigot or an idiot" charge:

it intimidates and terrorizes an entire group of people through a crime committed against one or few of them.

This could be said for any murder that wasn't "personal." Weren't the residents of DC terrorized by the sniper killings? If you hear about random murders in your neighborhood, aren't you terrorized by them? One could argue that a murderer who shouts racist/sexist/homophobic slurs in the act is terrorizing fewer people than the random murderer, since those who don't fall into that particular category don't feel so threatened.

we already consider intent in sentencing and prosecution

Yes, but only to establish the degree of culpability (self-defense/accidental/negligent/heat of the moment/premeditated). If you punish someone x amount extra because of what he said when he killed his victim, doesn't that basically equate to punishing him x amount just for what he said, or what he thought?

I agree with someguy that the idea of "hate crimes" makes more sense in the case of vandalism -- e.g., painting a swastika on a synagogue wall is different in kind than simply painting random graffiti on the same wall, as the first is a threat, while the second is merely a nuisance. But when the threat becomes action, I don't see a difference in kind between the bigoted murderer and the random murderer.

This (that it was a hate crime) could be said for any murder that wasn't "personal."

I disagree with this. I think it would be hard to classify a hate crime of someone who decided to assassinate all white males listed in the Fortune 500. What distinguishes a hate crime (at least in my opinion) is that it aims at a minority that has had to deal with discrimination. I realize that this is hard to write into a law, but my understanding of hate crime legislation is to offer an extra measure of deterrence for crimes that could serve as signals for increased harassment of minorities. Given the shameful inability of the US to take earlier and proper action on lynching, I tend to view hate crime legislation as an acknowledgement of that legacy. While it may be very difficult to draft appropriately worded legislation, that is a different problem from standing against the motivation of hate crime legislation.

lj, your insertion misrepresented my quote -- it should be:

This [that it is terrorizing] could be said for any murder that wasn't "personal

Your counterexample would be quite terrorizing to those targeted, if the threat was credible.

to offer an extra measure of deterrence for crimes that could serve as signals for increased harassment of minorities.

There's something to this, but the key is that it makes sense only when there's a propensity for said increased harassment in the larger community. It's similar to the case of anti-discrimination laws, which restrict individual liberty (e.g freedom of association) because the accumulation of discriminating choices creates undue hardship for a class of people (e.g. one employer rejecting a black applicant is not such a big deal, every employer in a community doing the same is a problem). Is the potential for incitement from bias crimes high enough to justify the restriction on freedom of speech? Probably in certain communities, for certain classes of people; probably not in all communities nationwide for all historically disadvantaged classes of people.

Yes, but only to establish the degree of culpability (self-defense/accidental/negligent/heat of the moment/premeditated).

No, culpability is a peripheral issue. We try and ascertain motive and intent because society recognizes a person who plans and plots to murder someone is a greater danger to society than someone who kills in the 'heat of the moment' or as the result of negligence or accident.

kenB My apologies, the misrepresentation wasn't intentional, it was just to try and give a little more substance to 'that'. I'm not quite sure what the difference is between 'a hate crime' (if we define it as a crime targeted at a minority group that takes advantage of previous attitudes of discrimination) and a 'terrorizing', so if you could talk about the differences you see a bit more, I'd appreciate it.

Your counterexample would be quite terrorizing to those targeted, if the threat was credible.
So the fact that something like this hasn't (to my knowledge) happened suggests that there is a place for hate crime legislation for crimes beyond graffiti and cross burning. I'm not sure what prosecutions have taken place and what the current state of play is, but I could see crimes such as assault and battery have their penalties increased precisely because the victims were chosen because they were members of minorities. And if those crimes escalated into killings, the penalties should reflect that we want to strongly discourage crimes that perpetuate problems of racism, probably more so than we want to discourage random killings because those, by definition, could not be discouraged.

Is the potential for incitement from bias crimes high enough to justify the restriction on freedom of speech? Probably in certain communities, for certain classes of people; probably not in all communities nationwide for all historically disadvantaged classes of people.

Which makes the task of the drafter of such legislation so difficult. I think that there are quite a few crimes that are committed out of seriously problematic sense of misogyny, but I don't think they could be included in hate crimes.

But just because it is very difficult to draft these laws, I don't find that a compelling argument against them (not saying that you have suggested this, but much is made of the 'increased protections' that such laws afford)

One argument against hate crimes is that it affords one group more protection than other groups. This is true, but I'm wondering if we can draw a parallel to rape laws, which (I think) afford special protection to women.

My impression is that those often supporting law and order issues are sometimes the same as those who feel that the notion of hate crime legislation irrelvant. I find this a bit of a mental disconnect for me, so I would be interested in counter examples.

If you disagree that opposition to hate-crimes laws is grounded in either prejudice or a lack of thinking it through properly, feel free to explain why.

Nope; your premise. Feel free to substantiate. Or, you know, not. If you've dismissed the totality of reasoned discussion on this issue (including some in this very thread) to reach your two-kinds-of-people conclusion, you're not likely to be able to read any elaboration of my position, either, without concluding that I'm either a bigot or stupid.

Update:

Or both.

mmph. Catsy's phrasing rubbed me the wrong way too but I chose to ignore it because the substance of the post struck me as strong and worth pursuing.

Specifically, I disagree with lj that targeting F500 members would not be a hate crime. In fact, it's reveals exactly why the conflation of terrorism with hate crimes struck me as important.

Targeting F500 members would be terrorism in its original sense, if done by (e.g.) an anarchist. It's an almost canonical example of the tactic -- a deliberate effort to intimidate all members of a group by means of violence against some of them. All you need is a group in which membership is public knowledge, and another group which has reason to intimidate them. When the target group is substantially larger or has the prevailing monopoly on use of force we tend to call that terrorism. (This includes any de facto preferential protection of law, which at heart relies on force of arms). When neither group has a systemic advantage, or the aggressors have it, we tend to call it a hate crime... But they both use the exact same sociopolitical logic.

So terrorism is just hate crimes writ large. And kenB's DC sniper example fails on those grounds. To the extent that we can divine intent at all, it's pretty clear that there was no particular group being targeted. There's no subtext to back up the idea that the point was to intimidate the target group such as it was (greater DC area residents? folks who drive? What do you suggest?) and no aggressor group (PTSD victims? angry black men? idle teenagers?) to reap the benefits when a couple of their members managed to intimidate said target group.

And Slart, please don't interpret Catsy's blanket dismissal of all anti-hate-crime arguments as necessarily calling you stupid. Not only was it prefaced with "I tend to think," which pretty much puts it in the bounds of local rhetorical etiquette, but buying into it at all just allows as how maybe one or more poorly reasoned arguments make the arguer a stupid person. If that's Catsy's dogma then it's his loss, not yours.

Of course if that is the price of being grievously wrong now and then, I guess I'll go sit in the stupid people's corner where all the fun is ;-)

I usually wind up there by accident, radish, which is altogether less comfortable.

Nope; your premise. Feel free to substantiate. Or, you know, not. If you've dismissed the totality of reasoned discussion on this issue (including some in this very thread) to reach your two-kinds-of-people conclusion, you're not likely to be able to read any elaboration of my position, either, without concluding that I'm either a bigot or stupid.

False premise.

If we read what was actually posted, we get:

When someone opposes harsher penalties for crimes committed out of hate for someone's race or orientation or what have you, I tend to think that either they have prejudices against that group they may or may not be aware of, or their opposition to hate crimes laws is simply not well-reasoned.

My emphasis added.

Thus, we don't have the choices of bigot, stupid, or both. Instead, the choices are much broader and more nuanced than you attempt to portray.

BTW, it's a rhetorical ploy being employed by red state GOPers with much success these days.


radish,

I guess I agree with you -- I was using the word "terrorized" in a more generic sense of "being freaked out", but you're right that terrorism is connected with a message to be delivered, and there is no message in a random crime.

However, I'm not convinced that all bias-related crimes carry a message. Assuming that we can defend the extra punishment for hate crimes based on their threat to other members of the group, shouldn't it require intent on the criminal's part to send that message? Maybe it does, in fact -- I don't know much about current hate-crime laws. But the mere fact that person A assaulted person B because person B was gay/black/etc. doesn't necessarily mean that person A meant to threaten other gay/black/etc. people. And if one argues that other gay/black/etc. people may feel threatened by it even in the absence of a clear message, I'd go back to my point that people can feel threatened by random crimes as well.

But the mere fact that person A assaulted person B because person B was gay/black/etc. doesn't necessarily mean that person A meant to threaten other gay/black/etc. people. And if one argues that other gay/black/etc. people may feel threatened by it even in the absence of a clear message, I'd go back to my point that people can feel threatened by random crimes as well.

This is unclear to me kenB. I'll try it backwards to help illustrate why.

If we accept that people feeling threatened by "random crimes" is something we just can't do anything to help them with, for your parallelism to work, the first crime against a person B would have to be "random." As you're saying it was "because person B was gay/black/etc." however, I'm not sure how you can consider that random.

If we accept that people feeling threatened by "random crimes" is something we just can't do anything to help them with,

I wasn't saying that. My original point, in response to Catsy, was that people in general feel threatened by random crimes, so why should bias crimes be punished more just because they make certain classes of people feel threatened? Then following on radish's post, I acknowledged that it seemed sensible to give extra punishment for crimes that are specifically intended as a threat to others, since in that case, the extra punishment is based not on the criminal's beliefs or speech, but on his actual acts. But ISTM that the bare fact that a criminal is motivated by bias is not enough to say that he has sent a message of terror to other people who share that characteristic.

I guess in a nutshell, what I'm asking is, say the DC snipers were only targeting a particular minority, but in other respects they did exactly the same thing. Do you think that they'd be deserving of even more punishment in the second case (assuming, of course, that it was actually possible to punish them more)? If so, why?

A bad aspect of hate crimes laws: innocent racists are more likely to be wrongly convicted.

"they make certain classes of people feel threatened"

Think the point is hate crimes are directed at groups in society that are especially vulnerable because of discrimination - that hate crimes are part of a pervasive system of disenfranchisement from society.

3 Q.: Were lynchings especially repugnant? Is our society sufficiently egalitarian that such considerations aren't relevant? Is there a point when measures to enforce egalitarianism impede it (by e.g. causing resentment among the majority or supporting a culture of victimhood among the minority)?

kenB, yeah, it's murky any way you cut it, and where exactly it should be cut is a very tough call, but if you don't cut it somewhere you can't discourage it at all. DC area residents felt threatened by the snipers, but there was no subtext; no de facto conflict with another group to make it a hate crime. Reasonably strong group identities on both sides are required in order for anybody to figure out the "unspoken" meaning of the attacks.

Other attacks clearly have these unspoken subtexts -- sometimes they're subtle and sometimes they aren't. Even if you do go back to the "people can feel threatened by random crimes" point you're still stuck with deciding, at some point, "okay this is where we draw the line."

Examples: Are South Central gangbangers an aggressor group with respect to the respectable citizens group? Sure. Heck yeah. As long as you draw the line far enough back. Then you wind up viewing "initiation shootings" as a message ("we control this territory") to a group with a terribly vague identity ("respectable citizens"). It is such a message, as any gangbanger will tell you, but a statute that addressed it that way would be so diluted as to defeat its own purpose. By the same token, if you insist on an explicit (burning cross, spray paint, etc) message before someone can be convicted of a hate crime/act of terror, you just give the KKK an incentive to take peoples' wallets instead of burning crosses. Because the parties involved get the real message whether or not it's mentioned at trial.

Thornier, more personal example: I was shocked and horrified in 1986, when I heard that NOW had filed a RICO action against anti-abortion orgs. My then-girlfriend was thrilled and elated. I was nervous about the precedent (though my then-worst fears have of course been replaced with far worse ones -- RICO prosecution of groups that advocate civil disobedience seems like pretty small potatoes nowadays).

If you look at the raw evidence OR was very clearly a criminal conspiracy. And the spirit of US jurisprudence (as well as my own preference!) was clearly to protect the likes of the clinics from the likes of the bombers. And in this context RICO was being used more or less as a substitute for a hate-crime law. So was OR targeted correctly? Wrongly? Where do you draw the line? How do you draw the line? What if NOW was unable to file actions like that and it's members decided that the only way to fight back was to "terrorize" members of OR? Should that be treated differently from a gang war in South Central? Etc etc...

kenB: But ISTM that the bare fact that a criminal is motivated by bias is not enough to say that he has sent a message of terror to other people who share that characteristic.

In the simplest sense I agree with that, but it's the kind of problem that can only be solved on a case-by-case basis. Like 1st degree vs. 2nd degree.

Were lynchings especially repugnant?

I'd be inclined to accept the idea that the lynching of a black person by white people is an express threat (but that a skinhead shooting a black person is not, absent some other signifying act).

Is our society sufficiently egalitarian that such considerations aren't relevant?

I'd say that the answer varies by region and community, and it will depend on the attitudes of both the minority and the community as a whole. Which seems like kind of a shaky foundation for criminal law.

Is there a point when measures to enforce egalitarianism impede it

Almost certainly, but it's hard to know at what point the bad effects outweigh the good. Not strictly relevant, but did anyone else see the posts on Volokh regarding the deleterious effects of race-conscious admissions to law schools? It's a very interesting lesson in unintended consequences.

Been a really interesting discussion.

Almost certainly, but it's hard to know at what point the bad effects outweigh the good. Not strictly relevant, but did anyone else see the posts on Volokh regarding the deleterious effects of race-conscious admissions to law schools? It's a very interesting lesson in unintended consequences.

I think that if we are at a point where we are worried about unintended consequences, we are no longer arguing about whether we need hate crime legislation, we are discussing how we need to implement such ideas.

I realize that making the comparison to anti-lynching legislation is inflammatory, but I would also note that the argument that hate crimes must be controlled regionally is precisely the same argument made in the debates against anti-lynching by Southern senators.

BTW, I didn't realize that the Senate had passed an apology for its failure to enact anti lynching legislation.

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