Is Dylann Roof “White Like Me”?: In Conclusion (pt. 4)

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(Part 1, … Part 2, … Part 3, … Part 4)

In an August 25, 2013 post titled Nazi’s Can’t Do MathReflections on Racism, Crime and the Illiteracy of Right-Wing Statistical Analysis, Tim Wise attempts to counter claims of the sort which I’ve substantiated in the last entry in this series, and in the process demonstrates some innumeracy (which is the proper term for an inability to read statistics, not illiteracy—although it may be a form of illiteracy to fail to understand the difference between the meanings of the words illiteracy and innumeracy) of his own.

First, he rightly notes that the data “suggest that only a ridiculously small percentage of African Americans will kill anyone in a given year.” I’ll quote the whole paragraph, because at least on this point he’s correct, and this point is important (even though Wise would prove himself to be an inconsistent hypocrite were someone else to emphasize the same point with regards to rates of police shootings of minorities): “In 2010, since there were 42 million African Americans in the population, for there to have been 8,384 black murderers (and even if we assumed that each of these were separate and unique persons — i.e., there were no repeat offenders, which is unlikely), this would mean that at most, about 2 one–hundreths of one percent of all blacks committed homicide that year. So to fear black people generally, given numbers like these, is truly absurd.” Of course, as we will see, the rate of police shootings of minorities is even smaller than this—and if you’re familiar at all with Tim Wise, you know that there’s no chance in Hell he would apply the same reasoning towards the question of whether it’s absurd or not for minorities to fear police. So however he may apply the point hypocritically, at least right here, he’s correct.

However, he goes on to try to address the relative rates of interracial violence—and here’s where it gets truly absurd. He observes that “one could argue … that these figures clearly indicate that blacks are much more homicidal than whites. So, while the per capita homicide offending rate for blacks may be only 0.02 percent, the rate for whites is much smaller: only about 0.003 percent, or 3 one–thousandths of one percent (5,953 white murderers as a percentage of 196.8 million whites). This means that the homicide offending rate for blacks is about 6.8 times higher than the rate for whites.” He’s exactly right—that figure is clearly correct.

His counter–argument for why that’s supposedly invalid, however, is a great example of why we invented the phrase “lies, damn lies, and statistics”. He writes: “704 whites killed by blacks, as a percentage of the white population in 2010 (196.8 million) was a whopping 0.00036% of all whites who were killed by a black person that year. This comes out to about 1 white person out of every 277,000 who were killed by a black person in 2010. … 413 blacks killed by whites, as a percentage of the black population in 2010 (42 million) was 0.001% of all blacks who were killed by a white person that year. This equates to about 1 black person out of every 100,000 who were killed by a white person in 2010. In other words, although interracial homicides are incredibly rare in either direction, any given black person in the United States is about 2.8 times more likely to be killed by a white person than any given white person is to be murdered by a black person.”

This sounds like a shocking number. Blacks are more likely to be murdered by whites than vice versa!

But how could that possibly be so, when we have already established that: (1) blacks commit a greater proportion of the total violent crime in the United States (about 50% of it); and (2) they choose white victims approximately 50% of the time for most crimes, whereas white criminals choose black victims only about 4% of the time? The most obvious answer is that this statistic doesn’t reflect who is killing whom how often at all; all that it actually reflects is that the black population is smaller, so killing one white individual kills a smaller percentage of the total white population than killing one black individual kills of the total black population. As I’ll show, you’ll expect this number to be larger for blacks even if blacks both kill more in general and very frequently target whites as victims intentionally. And it will turn out that once we plug in the actual numbers, the number we would expect to show up in this formula if there is no deliberate selection of white victims is much larger than the one Wise actually finds when he plugs in these numbers from the real world. To understand that, you’ll have to compare what Wise finds with the real numbers to what we would expect to find in a hypothetical scenario where crime rates are equal across racial groups.

So to put this number back in consonance with the rest of the figures we’ve looked at now, we’ll have to pull our calculators back out again. John Derbyshire explains exactly what is wrong with Tim Wise’s supposedly shocking number—I’ll be plugging my own numbers and words into his explanation to present it in a way I consider much clearer. So, let’s suppose a population of 150,000 people (N) has 125,000 whites (W) and 25,000 blacks (B). Suppose both blacks and whites kill at a rate of 1 per 1000 (M).

The total number of black murders of white victims will then be the black potential–killer population divided by 1000, multiplied by the white potential–victim percentage of the population, which is (25,000/1000) × (125,000/150,000). This comes out to 25 × 0.833…, resulting in the final number of black–on–white murders: 20.833. Likewise, the total number of white murders of black victims will be the white potential–killer population divided by 1000, multiplied by the black potential–victim percentage of the population, which is (125,000/1000) × (25,000/150,000). This comes out to 125 × 0.166…, resulting in a final number of white–on–black murders: 20.833. Can you see what just happened? The number in both cases is the same. That’s because both (W/M) × (B/N) and (B/M) × (W/N) are the same thing as (B×W) / (M×N).

But because this same number of murders are committed by very different relative proportions of the population, the relative risks of being victimized by white or black killers are not equivalent. On the assumption of equal murder rates, one in 1200 (from 25,000 ÷ 20.833) blacks will be murdered by whites, whereas one in 6000 (from 125,000 ÷ 20.833) whites will be murdered by blacks. One in 1200 blacks being murdered by whites can be expressed as five in 6000 blacks being murdered by whites, so look what that means: if one in 6000 whites will be murdered by blacks, while five in 6000 blacks will be murdered by whites, that means that on perfectly neutral assumptions, any given black person should be expected to be five times more likely to be killed by a white murderer than any given white person is to be killed by a black murder. The fact that Tim Wise finds that, in reality, the actual statistic is “less than three times more likely” sounds meaningful if you don’t know what you’re supposed to be comparing it to in order to make sense of it. But the number he finds is actually less than the assumption that people are equally likely to murder any given individual they encounter would lead us to expect. That point doesn’t work in his favor; it works against it.

There is a very basic underlying concept that is being glossed over here.

Let’s take a given black person named Jamal. One question we could ask is whether Jamal is more likely to be die by being killed by a white murderer or a black one. A different question is what the risk is that Jamal is going to be killed by any given, particular black or white individual he encounters. Wise makes the absolutely elementary mistake of focusing on the first question while misleading us into thinking the answers holds any relevance for the second one.

I’m now going to use a terrible, no good, very bad analogy to illustrate my point—understand that I’m exaggerating here for effect to make the point as vivid as possible (and for God’s sake, I’m not saying encountering an African–American is exactly like encountering a bear). The risk that your life is going to end in a car accident is much higher than the risk that you’re going to be mauled to death by a bear, in the specific sense that far more people die annually in the United States in car accidents than they do in bear attacks. And yet, that simply has no bearing whatsoever on the question of whether any given encounter with a bear is more or less likely to kill you than any given ride in an automobile—if you’re being approached by a bear and you have the option of driving away in a vehicle, the fact that more people die annually in car accidents in no way, shape, or form makes it more rational for you to choose to sit next to the bear instead of driving away. Again, black people aren’t as dangerous as bears and most certainly all white people aren’t as safe as a car ride, but that’s still the essence of exactly the fallacy Wise is committing—he’s telling us that car rides are more dangerous than bears because more people die in them annually, and acting as if that overrides the fact that a lot more encounters with bears kill people than car rides do (compared to the number of times each happens).

The other argument Wise makes is even more clearly absurd. He argues that it’s “precisely because the black homicide offending rate is so much higher than the rate for whites (as noted above, 6.8 times higher) [that] we should expect the black–on–white homicide numbers to be much higher than they were, relative to the white–on–black numbers.”

As we saw in the last entry, we actually can in fact control for that—and we have, and a significant degree of very probably racial targeting of white victims by black criminals still remains. But even still, if a given white person is asking whether a given black or white individual he encounters next is more likely to kill him, it doesn’t matter how many black people that black individual likely kills. That’s like saying I shouldn’t drive away from the bear because, hey, he kills a lot more fish and maybe even other bears than he does people, after all, so he’s not relatively that dangerous to me—no; how many fish he kills just doesn’t bear any relevance whatsoever to how likely he is to kill me. The second problem should be fairly obvious in light of the rest of the discussion held here: murder is the one crime for which a wide majority of perpetration is within–race. Black murderers kill white victims only about 15% of the time, but black rapists choose white victims around 50% of the time. If we’re wondering whether black criminals intentionally target white victims, murder is the one crime we have the least possible reason to ask that about—so it isn’t actually a test of the hypothesis at hand at all. I’ve presented more serious reasoning in part 3 to show that a significant amount of deliberate targeting of white victims in black crime is extremely probable—and the numbers suggest that this is so for rape several times more than it is even for robbery. 

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Amongst the cases reported by the Council of Conservative Citizens—which, for the most part, merely links to reports elsewhere, as you can see in the following link—is this case in 2014 in which three black men raped a white woman in public after a rap concert in Indiana. “A witness and relative of the victim reported that she came out of the hotel and observed four black males around the victim’s vehicle and a crowd of people, further from the vehicle, laughing and observing the incident. She could hear the victim in the car screaming and telling her assailants “no.” The witness stated she attempted to help, but another male placed a gun to her ribs and told her to “shut up and watch”.

Is the CCC responsible for Dylann Roof’s actions because they reported this incident? Which is the bigger problem here: an act of gang rape, or the fact that the CCC reported it?

Despite the fact that the rate of black–on–white rape outstrips the reverse so significantly, white concern about black–on–white rape is considered intrinsically racist even though black concern about white–on–black rape is condoned to the point that even after then 15–year–old Tawana Brawley’s claims of having been raped by a gang of white men were determined conclusively to have been a hoax she invented by scribbling the words “nigger” and “KKK” onto her own legs in order to avoid punishment by her parents for staying away from home for too many days, figures like Al Sharpton and disbarred black attorney Alton Maddox (who, amongst other things, filed a demonstrably false complaint of racial bias when two white lawyers were chosen to represent a particular defendant over himself—in fact, it turned out that they had applied for the role and Maddox had not)  “still believe her” and can continue to hold forth this case as evidence of how the deck is stacked on rape for whites and against black Americans. Black upset about a blatant hoax is acceptable; white upset about reality is ‘racist’.

And so the Council of Conservative Citizens is now considered to deserve blame for Roof’s actions simply because they reported the facts that he seized upon and became angry about. Another role reversal is in order to demonstrate the hypocrisy: in late 2014, during the protests surrounding events that had recently taken place in Ferguson, 28–year–old Ismaaiyl Brinsley took to Twitter to declare:  “I’m Putting Wings On Pigs Today. They Take 1 Of Ours….. Let’s Take 2 Of Theirs …  #RIPMikeBrown … ” before shooting two arbitrarily chosen NYPD officers he had located through the traffic app Waze through their car window, execution–style. If the CoCC is responsible for Roof’s actions merely because they reported the facts which angered him, are the liberals who organized and participated in the Ferguson protests considered responsible for Ismaaiyl Brinsley?

Apparently not.

Apparently not even when the claims those protesters’ anger was centered around were finally confirmed by the U.S. Department of Justice itself to have been outright, blatant lies and it turned out to be the case that Officer Darren Wilson had in fact been defending himself from a Michael Brown who first robbed a convenience store, then jaywalked in the middle of the highway, then assaulted Wilson through his car window and attempted to take his gun when Wilson pulled up to simply ask Brown to move to the sidewalk, and finally turned and charged at Wilson after Wilson pursued to arrest a subject who was now guilty of assault and most likely even attempted murder. Once again, black outrage is condoned even when directed towards blatant hoaxes; whites who are concerned about the possibility that black criminals target white victims for acts such as rape are in the words of Tim Wise “Nazis” who should “starve themselves” and die.

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Statistics on rape like these expose curious tensions within “intersectionalist” feminism—the viewpoint, roughly, that racial and gender–based oppressions overlap to make black women the most unidimensionally oppressed members of American society and white men the most unidimensionally “privileged.”

In general, the tendency of “intersectionalist” viewpoints is to excuse minority crime as a byproduct of “oppression.” In late 2014, a Georgetown University senior was mugged at gunpoint, and in response he wrote an opinion piece for the University’s newspaper title “I Was Mugged, and I Understand Why.” In it, he wrote: “When I walk around at 2 a.m., nobody looks at me suspiciously, and police don’t ask me any questions. I wonder if our attackers could say the same. Who am I to stand from my perch of privilege … [and] condemn these young men … ?”

According to Paul Sperry at the New York Post, in Portland, “after a black high–school boy repeatedly punched his teacher in the face, sending her to the emergency room, the teacher, who is white, was advised by the assistant principal not to press charges. The administrator lectured her about how hard it is for young black men to overcome a criminal record. Worse, she was told she should examine what role she, “as a white woman” holding unconscious racial biases, played in the attack, according to the Willamette (Oregon) Week.” But it can go without saying that this kind of rationalization would not be used to excuse an assault or mugging performed by some low–life redneck piece of white trash—no matter how poor.

If a white boy from a trailer park assaulted his female teacher, smashing his fist into her face until he sent her to the emergency room, the message would still be all about male entitlement and misogyny—nevermind if that boy is effectively just as “structurally” disadvantaged as the black boy in almost every relevant way. Liberals wouldn’t do it, because he’s white and therefore not “structurally” oppressed no matter what the personal conditions of his life were actually like—conservatives wouldn’t do it, because conservatives generally don’t buy those kinds of excuses.

When we’re talking about men qua men committing crime, suddenly all the rules that just applied to minority crime change.

In most cases, when a given demographic disproportionately commits a certain crime, this is really a mere symptom of some underlying disease which society, and not the perpetrator, is responsible for; disproportionate crime rates are not something we should treat as a problem that the criminal group is responsible for, but an indication that society is failing the group in question in some significant way, allowing crime to fester by consequence. At least, this is the rule for minorities. But now, when men rape it is male culture that is the problem—even though this is exactly what no one is allowed to even consider possible about black violence.

Rape happens because “Cis male entitlement is embedded in everything in society … pop culture, media … Even while taking public transportation, you’ll always run into men spreading their legs and taking up much more room than they need.”

But when rap contains lines like “I’ll cut your face off, and wear it while I’m fucking your mother” (Black Vikings, Immortal Technique), the liberal response is that suggesting that this kind of content might play any sort of role in the black culture of violence is something only the most ignorant troglodyte could possibly consider. This writer tells us: “[Rap is simply] artistic expression … Yes, rap can be violent and angry, but that’s the nature of art.” Perhaps you think he’s right. Fine—but how the hell can anyone think he’s right and think that the feminists are right about rape being the result of nothing other than men being given ‘cultural messages of entitlement’ which need to end at the same time?! You can’t. (Actually, Immortal Technique is so popular amongst leftists that Jill Stein even talked about asking him to ber her running mate during the 2016 Green Party Presidential run: “I love Immortal Technique. He has great ideas—we need to hear from more people like him.”

Because black perpetrators commit disproportionate amounts of rape just as they do for all other crimes, these two tendencies within anti–racist, and feminist, worldviews speed towards head–on collision. Black culture has nothing to do with black rates of violence—and it’s offensive and disgusting to even consider the possibility. Yet, male culture has everything to do with male rates of rape—and it’s offensive and disgusting to even consider otherwise. But black males commit disproportionate amounts of rape. How can all three of these statements simultaneously be true? When men commit rape, it doesn’t happen (by my lights or by the lights of the feminist) because men are disadvantaged, or powerless, or deprived of and desperate for acceptance or affection and—like the black robbers that Oliver Friedfeld “understood”—after enough pain and humiliation they decide to obtain by violent force the basic human needs that weren’t given fairly to them.

Yet, when non–whites commit disproportionate amounts of violent or property crimes, the reasons just rejected in the case of rape are, by the lights of the feminist, exactly the reasons why they do so. But this way of looking at things does a terrible job of explaining why black criminals commit acts of rape just as disproportionately as they commit acts of robbery—and it does a terrible job of explaining why they choose white victims for those acts of rape more often than they choose white victims for acts of robbery—especially if we include the massive number of racially motivated black–on–white prison rapes in that analysis. How can male “culture” explain male rape even while black “culture” does not explain black rape, while poverty and oppression “explain” black robbery but not black rape? Even the most adamant liberal isn’t going to want to say that poverty causes people to rape, and thereby absolves them of moral responsibility for committing it; that it’s societyfault, and not the rapist’s. They may consider saying that for robbery—but certainly not for rape. In fact, this is exactly what they call “victim blaming” in any other circumstance. But if “black culture” explains rape, why could it not explain other crimes? And if only “male culture” but not “black culture” explains rape, why do black males commit such greater amounts of rape? This haphazardness should make it abundantly clear that the explanations that are officially designated as the requried responses to these questions are motivated by the raw self–interest of identity politics, and not any consistent desire for truth.

This isn’t half as much of a reach as it might sound to you. In 2014, a high school football team in Sayreville, New Jersey was caught in a process of hazing that looked a lot more like sexual assault: “It would start with a howling noise from a senior football player at Sayreville War Memorial High School, and then the locker room lights were abruptly shut off … In the darkness, a freshman football player would be pinned to the locker–room floor, his arms and feet held down by multiple upperclassmen. Then, the victim would be lifted to his feet while a finger was forced into his rectum. Sometimes, the same finger was then shoved into the freshman player’s mouth.” Writing at the far–left outlet CounterPunch, Judith Levine says: “If it’s true that all seven of the football players arrested for hazing in the Sayreville, New Jersey, War Memorial High School locker room are students of color, that is one more reason not to prosecute them as sexual felons. I don’t mean not to prosecute them in adult court. I mean not to prosecute them at all. … Sex offenders are harassed … do we need to lock up more black and brown kids?”

Or consider the response of Amanda Kijera, the liberal activist who wrote of her rape in Haiti: “Two weeks ago, on a Monday morning, I started to write what I thought was a very clever editorial about violence against women in Haiti. The case, I believed, was being overstated by women’s organizations in need of additional resources. Ever committed to preserving the dignity of Black men in a world which constantly stereotypes them as violent savages, I viewed this writing as yet one more opportunity to fight “the man” on behalf of my brothers. That night, before I could finish the piece, I was held on a rooftop in Haiti and raped repeatedly by one of the very men who I had spent the bulk of my life advocating for.

… I pleaded with him to honor my commitment to Haiti, to him as a brother in the mutual struggle for an end to our common oppression, but to no avail. He didn’t care that I was a Malcolm X scholar. He told me to shut up, and then slapped me in the face. Overpowered, I gave up fighting halfway through the night. … Not once did I envision myself becoming a receptacle [!] for a Black man’s rage at the white world, but that is what I became. While I take issue with my brother’s behavior, I’m grateful for the experience. … Black men have every right to the anger they feel in response to their position in the global hierarchy, but … women are not the source of their oppression; … the as–yet unaddressed white patriarchy which still dominates the global stage [is].”

So it’s hardly a stretch to imagine fault lines forming between feminists who think anti–racists aren’t being feminist enough when they fail to “profile” black men as rapists and patronizingly treat them as if they just need to be “taught” that rape is wrong, and anti–racists who think feminists aren’t being anti–racist enough when they fail to excuse black men for violent crimes when and only when those violent acts happen to be directed against women.

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It’s worth making a comparison of the relative rates of police brutality and black–on–white violence in the United States to try to put things in perspective. According to the FBI, there were an average of 14,545 murders per year across the years of  2011–2013. which comes out to an average just shy of 40 murders per day. Since African–Americans commit approximately half of those, and pick white victims about 1/5th of the time, that means there are about four black–on–white murders every day in the United States. White perpetrators commit the other half of murders in the United States, but only choose black victims about 2.4% of the time—which means there is slightly less than one white–on–black murder in the United States every two days.

According to data that does not take statistics reported by police departments for granted, but in fact calls them into question, based on data from the early months of 2015, police kill approximately 2.6 subjects per day—approximately half of which are black, which brings the number down to 1.3 police shootings of black suspects per day.

Of this number, it is unclear how many are justified or unjustified.

According to the FBI, in 2013 police were attacked by someone carrying a weapon roughly 10,000 times—2,200 of those times with a firearm. If police kill 2.6 suspects per day every day for a year, that’s still less than 1000 total killings at the end of the year. Some liberal readers may point to gaps in the data (call it the “racism of the gaps” strategy) and insist on disagreeing, but if police are killing suspects far less frequently than they’re being attacked by them, it seems safe to me to bet that the vast majority of those killings are probably justified.

However, even if we assume that every single one of them was unjustified, combining the number of police shootings of black suspects per day (1.3) with the number of white murders of black victims per day (0.48) would still give us a smaller number (~1.8) than the number of black murders of white victims every day in the United States (~4). More than twice as many black murderers are choosing white victims as the number of white murderers choosing black victims and the number of police shooting black suspects (justified or not) combined. (Meanwhile, there are 16 black murders of black victims every single day across the United States—more than eight times the number of white civilian murders and justified or unjustified police shootings of black victims combined.)

However, both of these statistics really still need to be taken account of in terms of the wider context that murder only accounts for 0.6% of the deaths in the United States in general. While there are approximately 40 murders, 4 of which are black–on–white, on a typical day in the United States, on the same day 90 Americans will die in car crashes, 110 will commit suicide, 120 will overdose on drugs, 256 will die in accidental falls or other accidents, 1580 will die of cancer and more than 1600 will die of heart attacks. If Roof is concerned about “saving the white race,” then Burger King, cigarettes, drunk driving, wobbly ladders and clinical depression are far more formidable foes than black criminals. But what goes for Roof’s underlying logic goes for “#blacklivesmatter,” too. Tim Wise is right that it’s only a tiny fraction of the black population who commits an act of violence in any given year—the only problem with that is the hypocritical inconsistency we can well know to expect should anyone say the same about racist attacks against black Americans, whether committed by civilians or police, which even combined are still yet only half the size of the fraction of black citizens committing acts of violence Wise himself has just called “tiny.” Whatever goes for the relative insignificance of disproportionate black–on–white violence goes at least twice as much for both white–on–black and police–on–black violence combined.

And it goes even more so for hysteria about mass shootings, which make up only 0.2% of that 0.6% of deaths in America. Furthermore, whites are not disproportionately likely to be the perpetrators; in fact, as with most other crimes, the case is once again in the opposite direction: non–whites are somewhat more likely to perpetrate mass shootings, relative to the population rate. Of the last 22 attacks (from early June of 2009 to the Charleston attack), 10 were perpetrated by non–whites—45% of the total, which surpasses non–whites’ 37% representation of the population across this period of time. If we go back all the way to 1982, the non–white representation of the population from 1982–present is about 28.5%—yet the non–white representation amongst serial killers is 25 out of 70, or 35.7%. The black rate, in particular, is 11 out of 70, or 15.7% (whereas the population as a whole has been roughly 12.2% black across the same period of time).

In that same chart—compiled by the left–wing Mother Jones—you can also see a compilation of statements about the perpetrators’ mental health. And it is obvious that there is a higher incidence of mental illness here than across the general population: Wiliam Cruse in 1987 “suffered from paranoid delusions. A judge found that he suffered from ‘extreme mental illness.’” Colin Ferguson in 1993 “suffered from racial paranoia and was obsessed with nonexistent conspiracies. His landlord said he had ‘delusions of grandeur.’” Nathan Gale in 2004 “was discharged from the military because he was a paranoid schizophrenic.” Jennifer Sanmarco in 2006 “was placed on retirement disability for psychological reasons. Fellow employees described her behavior as increasingly bizarre. She believed the Postal Service employees were conspiring against her.” Maurice Clemmons in 2009 “had a history of erratic, bizarre behavior. He once asked his family to get naked for 5 minutes on Sunday; he said he thought the world would end and that he was Jesus.” Eduardo Sencion in 2011 “was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia as a teenager and feared demons were out to get him.”

The association between mental illness and mass shootings isn’t a “lie”—nevermind one we only entertain for white suspects. The hypocrites who make this accusation suddenly decide that concern about mental illness is a disingenuous way to disregard a perpetrator’s words, whenever we actually do that, and then they turn around and tell us that it’s a disingenuous way to humanize and try to provoke empathy for evil white men when we do it for cases involving them. When writers like those at Jezebel speculate about “Why Most Serial Killers Are Privileged White Men”, the actual answer to that is that they aren’t—and they never have been. A better question would be to ask exactly what bias Jezebel is demonstrating when it incorrectly thinks they are and misinforms its readers into believing the same falsehood.

In any case, when Roof says “You’re raping our women”, I could perhaps consider supporting his actions had he actually been in a room full of rapists (regardless of their race)—say, had he burst onto a scene of ‘To Catch a Predator’ before opening fire. But his response was racism of the most crudely idiotic form: it is extremely unlikely that any of the three men he killed (nevermind the six women) were actually rapists, just as none of the 3000 people who died in the World Trade Center had any kind of direct responsibility for U.S. military policy. As with bin Laden, the only thing Roof “achieved” is to help to lend support to the impression that anyone who doesn’t rush to demand that all media reporting any of the facts that were involved in his transformation be shut down is inherently dangerous because they are deaf to that same distinction (even though such suspicion never spills over, in the same way, to the actions of people like Christopher Dorner, even when he has thousands of openly enthusiastic admirers).

One of the many reasons why Roof’s actions were vile and idiotic is exactly the same reason why we should all agree that if anti–American terrorism is motivated by grievances towards the brutality of U.S. military policy, it is an idiotic response to those concerns: Osama bin Laden’s actions didn’t led to Noam Chomsky being elected head of the Department of Defense or to a worldwide withdrawal of American military bases from all foreign soil; they led to the mindless reflexive jingoism of the War on Terror and an even more dramatic backlash against Islam itself, and to anyone who saw anything plausible in the suggestions of people like Chomsky at all being immediately labeled “anti–American.” There’s no more reason to demand that everyone who opposes that think every single thing Roof’s mind latched onto was illegitimate in order to oppose that than there is to demand that anyone who opposes Floyd Corkins’ attempted mass shooting repudiate the concept of gay marriage, or anyone who opposes Ismaaiyl Brinsley’s cop executions to repudiate #BlackLivesMatter. A very small subset of the American population will commit acts of violence in the name of apparently almost any ideology. And no, it’s far from clear that these people are always sane—regardless what particular ideology they might’ve happened to have latched on to.

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Only now can I finally arrive at the point I set out to make in the very beginning of this series.

After the introduction, the rest of Dylann Roof’s manifesto is racism of the most obviously, blatantly crude form. “Many veterans believe we owe them something for “protecting our way of life” or “protecting our freedom”. But im not sure what way of life they are talking about. How about we protect the White race and stop fighting for the jews.” But what shifted Roof towards this perspective?

As M.G. at Those Who Can See points out, ideology might be a red herring—any time ideology seems to be what motivated someone, there almost always turns out to be something much more personal involved. Lee Boyd Malvo gave a jailhouse interview in which he explained how “Muhammad snapped when he lost custody of his children and wanted to get back at his ex–wife.” His ex–wife, Mildred Muhammad, wrote a book titled ‘Scared Silent’ in which she explained how John Allan Muhammad ”began plotting against her after she won custody of their young son and two daughters in 2001. … [She] says her ex-husband thought if she were killed by a crazed gunman, he would regain custody of their children and collect compensation owed them as crime victims. “His end–game scenario was to come in as the grieving father,” she says.”

Similarly, Colin Ferguson’s life “was littered with dysfunction and disappointment. Son of a wealthy Jamaican family, he lost both his parents at age 20 and migrated to the U.S. where menial jobs and his marriage’s failure in 1988 sent him into a tailspin. After a work injury, he took time off to attend junior college, where his outbursts troubled peers….”

Likewise, it turns out that Dylann Roof might have gone over the edge when a black man won his girl—Scott Roof, Dylann’s cousin, told The Intercept that “He kind of went over the edge when a girl he liked starting dating a black guy two years back.”

This may or may not render my suggestion irrelevant—it may have been that, after Roof lost the girl he wanted, impotent and resentful rage would have found some form to explode in no matter what. But if it does render my suggestion irrelevant, then it renders all the leftist analysis irrelevant too, because it was this personal incident and not any true ideological cause which turned Roof into what he ultimately became.

On the other hand, the manner in which the George Zimmerman trial was distorted by the media to fit a predetermined racial lens was absolutely egregious. And it is striking that across 2008–2012, black criminals perpetrated 40% of crimes but were portrayed in the media as perpetrators only 20% of the time—that substantially more black–on–white than white–on–black crime was taking place across this period of time—including black–on–white rape—and none of these incidents got half as much coverage as the faulty narrative of the Zimmerman case did.

Yet, that faulty narrative did inspire many black–on–white revenge attacks, including a case of a man in Alabama put in critical care after being attacked with baseball bats by a group of assailants, one of whom was heard by a witness yelling: “Now that’s justice for Trayvon;”  a case where a 50 year old white man who stopped at a store in Midtown, a 94% black neighborhood on the east side of Sanford, was dragged from his car and beaten with hammers while Al Sharpton spoke on the Trayvon Martin case nearby (the author of the original Orlando Sentinel articles admitted to censoring the race of the victim on purpose, yet direct ties were found between one perpetrator and the Yahweh Bin Yahweh black power cult); a case of a group of up to thirty “teenagers” who assaulted five people returning to their cars after a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert, in which one of the perpetrators was found bragging about the attack as revenge for Trayvon on Twitter; a case of a group in Gainesville, Florida who assaulted a man who stopped a purse thief while shouting “Trayvon”; a case of two teenagers in Chicago who were charged with hate crimes after directly telling police that their attack on a random white man was revenge for Trayvon … and several more.

How many white–onblack “revenge for O. J. Simpson” violent assaults do you think there were in 1995? I searched Google for “white on black assault revenge for O. J. Simpson” and got exactly four results—the top result was from “American Conservatives of Color” where the search picked up the phrase, “the real fact of the matter is that white-on-black assault/murder is NOT an epidemic in this nation.” Interesting.

In any case, even if this doesn’t hold true for Dylann Roof, it’s true in general: what slanted media coverage of this sort does, when it ignores facts like these, is play straight into the hands of the vile sort of racism that motivated Dylann Roof. What happens is this: if you don’t talk about these facts openly, someone will. And people who want to know about those facts will then listen to those people. If decent people don’t talk about it, then people who have an agenda to seize on will be the ones who get it. And then you give those sources a fact to lead out with that is verifiable for everyone to see. You increase their plausibility. You give people valid reasons to listen to them that they otherwise would not have had. And people learn that those sources are telling them the truth about facts that you won’t. And that arms them with extra opportunities to persuade people of their agenda.

And if your response to this is to condemn all talk about those facts because only people who have agendas talk about them, you only more deeply entrench that problem even further. So, when I say that Dylann Roof was right when he said that “The event that truly awakened me was the Trayvon Martin case.… It was obvious that Zimmerman was in the right. But more importantly this prompted me to type in the words “black on White crime” into Google …There were pages upon pages of these brutal black on White murders. … How could the news be blowing up the Trayvon Martin case while hundreds of these black on White murders got ignored?” I am no more making a defense of his actions than it is a defense of the 2001 World Trade Center attacks to observe that Osama Bin Laden was correct when he said that the United States supplies a substantial amount of economic and military aid to Israel. My point is to damn the media’s coverage of these events, because you played into Roof’s perceptions by being so illegitimate in your coverage of these incidents that you legitimized the racist sources that people like Roof turned to in consequence. And it should scare you that you handed the truth over to a mass murderer by dropping it out of your own hands by handling it so pathetically ineptly.

If there is an ideological lesson to draw from this attack, it is that. If the mass media handles race–related issues this pathetically, it will thereby legitimize alternative sources. And you might not like the agenda that those alternative sources latch on to the facts you ignore or distort to try to advance—but the fact that people pushing those agendas will now be leading with what is demonstrably the truth will legitimize them in the eyes of previously impartial listeners and discredit you.

And if you don’t want to create that dynamic, and you want people to respect you therefore listen to you instead and therefore give sources with those kinds of agendas fewer opportunities to push them, then you’ll have to do a hell of a better job than that at covering the basic facts. When the only lesson the media can draw from this—this, an incident whose original spark was created by the media’s own absolute ineptitude and failure in covering the George Zimmerman case, taking skewed information directly from the defense and its propaganda team without the slightest caution or qualification or mention to readers that these were the original source—is that white peoples’ everyday beliefs are what caused Dylann Roof’s actions, in articles with titles like “White America Is Complicit” or essays that tell white people to “take responsibility” for the fact that Dylann Roof is “white like [them]”, they only further alienate everyone who can plainly see that that is all bullshit. And in doing so, they continue increasing the likelihood that the growing numbers of ordinary everyday white people who at the very least hold no conscious hatred for anyone, and who are continually, increasingly alienated by all this, will be prone to listen to alternative sources who speak to what is, to everyone who doesn’t see the world through those particular blinders, the plain and obvious truth—and then, once they have hooked the listeners you’ve alienated and abandoned with the bits of truth you’ve thrown away and allowed them to scavenge—may go on to push and develop an agenda you probably won’t like very much at all.

Mainstream and left–leaning media, if you don’t want that to happen, you need to clean your act the hell up. Simply calling the sources that pick up on the facts you’ve failed to properly address “racist” just makes you look even more like this  than you already did:

(Part 1, … Part 2, … Part 3, … Part 4)


Is Dylann Roof “White Like Me”?: Is There Evidence for Racial Targeting in Black–on–White Rape? (pt. 3)

_______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______

(Part 1, … Part 2, … Part 3, …  Part 4).

The other racially charged comment made by Dylann Roof which has received scrutiny, just before opening fire: “You rape our women….” This comment led Jamelle Bouie at Slate to conclude that “[While] it’s tempting to treat Dylann Storm Roof as a Southern problem, the violent collision of neo-Confederate ideology and a permissive gun culture. The truth … is that his fear … of black sexuality … belongs to America as much as it does the South.”

This is where the typical modus operandi of the left is often, in the words of John Tooby (speaking to Slate editor Judith Shulevitz about “Gould, Lewontin, and a few others” in 2000), to “attempt to drag the ideas they opposed under by manufacturing links to various repugnant doctrines.” If I were playing that game, I would say the following:

‘Bouie’s suggestion that some intrinsic “fear … of black sexuality” lies at the root of less than positive attitudes towards black individuals echoes the disgusting black supremacist armchair psychoanalysis of “academics” like Dr. Frances Cress Welsing, who defends the so–called “melanin theory” which says that white people are the genetically defective descendants of albino mutants of the original African race, and posits that “white supremacy” thus results from white peoples’ attempts to overcompensate for subconsciously acknowledged genetic and sexual inferiority.’

‘Amongst many other things, Welsing has written the following: “On both St. Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, the white male gives gifts of chocolate candy with nuts…. If his sweetheart ingests ‘chocolate with nuts’, the white male can fantasize that he is genetically equal to the Black male…. Is it not also curious that when white males are young and vigorous, they attempt to master the large brown balls, but as they become older and wiser, they psychologically resign themselves to their inability to master the large brown balls? Their focus then shifts masochistically to hitting the tiny white golf balls in disgust and resignation — in full final realization of white genetic recessiveness. … I have said all of the above to state that, yes, there is envy in the white supremacy culture, but it began with the white male’s envy of the genetic power residing in the Black male’s testicles and phallus. Perhaps there was also envy of the comparatively longer length of the Black phallus.”’

“Fear” of Black sexuality, Bouie? Curiously, there exists in the United States today no “fear” of Asian male sexuality. In fact, the predominant Asian male stereotype is emasculate and asexual—an article at Adios Barbie titled “Every Day Racism and You” takes women to task for their convictions in this stereotype. It opens with the story of a Korean woman’s response to the author asking her why she had never dated a Korean man: “Because I’d feel like I was dating my brother.” The author then explains that she “was led to look deeply into [her] white privilege and challenge [her] own bias as [she] realized [she] didn’t find Asian men attractive.” And she confesses that “this acknowledgment was mortifying….”

What explanation would Bouie give us for this discrepancy, if he wouldn’t endorse an answer like Welsing’s? Is it really just a coincidence that the white supremacists attempting to brainwash us all through deliberately inaccurate stereotypes in the mainstream media chose to take exactly the opposite strategy towards Asian males that they take towards Black males? Why this inconsistency? Are we really supposed to believe that white supremacists mind–controlling our culture just arbitrarily chose one strategy for no damn reason at all in the first case, and then arbitrarily chose precisely the opposite strategy for no damn reason at all in the second case? [1] The only alternative option is that this pattern is explained by differences in the patterns of black and Asian male behavior. 

Is there evidence that concerns about black–on–white rape are justified in any sense, or is there evidence that these concerns simply result from some sort of Freudian “fear … of black sexuality?” Let’s try something Bouie doesn’t appear to have done: actually ask what the data says. Under Jamelle Bouie’s scrutiny, black–on–white rape is just something “racists [use] … to defend their worst racist violence.” What Bouie has less interest in asking is how often black–on–white rape itself might, in fact, be a horrible act of racist violence. So, what does the data say?

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As I explained in a previous post, we actually have very good evidence that police arrest rates are not racially biased: the Bureau of Justice Statistics keeps information on the reports of victims and witnesses in a data collection known as the National Crime Victimization Survey. And when victims and witnesses report the race of their assailants, not only do they provide us with racial percentages that dovetail closely with those found in arrest rates, but when and where the racial breakdown in victim and witness reports differ from those found in arrest rates, victims and witnesses actually identify a higher black percentage of criminals than we find amongst police arrests, strongly suggesting that if anything, police actually arrest black criminals less frequently than their rate of commission of crimes would justify.

We can use the NCVS data to analyze interracial violence, as well.

First, before digging into all the interpretive issues and asking what it means, let’s perform the most basic calculation: what are the basic rates of black–on–white and white–on–black violence?

To listen to the mainstream media tell the story, we might expect that white–on–minority violence would be one of the most prominent categories. But in fact, we find nothing of the sort.

In 2010, the white and black populations in the United States were 196,817,552 and 37,685,848, respectively. According to the NCVS’ victim and witness reports, an estimated 320,082 whites were victims of violence from blacks, whereas approximately 62,593 blacks were victims of violence from whites.

From this, we can derive a few different baseline numbers to start our analysis out with.

Dividing the white population by the number of white on black attacks, whites committed acts of interracial violence at a rate of 32 per 100,000, whereas blacks committed acts of interracial violence at a rate of 849 per 100,000. Dividing the black rate of interacial violence by the white rate (849/32), this means that the “average” black individual in 2010 was 26.5 times more likely to attack a white victim than vice versa.

We also find it confirmed in this data that blacks, though only 12% of the population, are responsible for around 50% of all the violent crimes committed annually in the United States. Yet, not only are black perpetrators committing more violent crime to begin with, they also choose white victims for those crimes at drastically higher rates: black perpetrators of violent crimes chose white victims 47.7% of the time, whereas white perpetrators chose black victims a mere 3.9% of the time.

For rape, in particular? Of the 13,463 reported rapes committed by black perpetrators in 2010, 50.2% of these were committed against white victims—and “by contrast, the number of white–on–black rapes … reported in the NCVS surveys were so infinitesimal, that in each case whites were estimated to have accounted for 0.0% of all rapes … committed against black victims in the United States.” (Source) Of course, this shouldn’t be taken to mean that there was not a single white–on–black rape in 2010; and it isn’t supposed to. But it does imply that the numbers are extremely low—lower than 0.01%, and most certainly drastically lower than the black–on–white rate of rape.

_______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______

Now to approach a further interesting question: do we find evidence in this data that black criminals are intentionally targeting white victims? Obviously, intentional targeting isn’t the sole factor influence the relative rates of interracial violence. The population rate and therefore encounter rate (that is, the likelihood that any given white individual will encounter a potential black victim, and vice versa) is one thing we have to account for. The other thing we have to account for is the crime rate itself. One possibility is that when these are added together, they will account for the raw disparity between BOW and WOB crime completely, and the greater likelihood of black–on–white violence over white–on–black violence will disappear. The other possibility is that these factors will not eliminate the disparity—which will suggest that black criminals are in fact deliberately choosing a disproportionate number of white victims.

To see how the population rate would impact this calculation, consider a society of 100,000 people containing 85,000 whites and 15,000 blacks. In this hypothetical society, everyone commits exactly one crime with a perfectly randomized victim, so both races commit crimes at exactly identical rates without any concern for race. Whites would therefore commit 85,000 crimes, of which the victims would be 85% white and 15% black, resulting in 72,250 white–on–white crimes and 12,750 white–on–black crimes; whereas blacks would commit 15,000 crimes, of which the victims would once again be 85% white and 15% black, resulting in 12,750 black–on–black crimes and 2,250 black–on–white crimes.

So how do we control for the population rate? The most basic way is to compare the ratio of black and white members of the general population to the ratio of black victims of white violent crime to white victims of black violent crime. For our hypothetical scenario, dividing 85,000 whites by 15,000 blacks gives us the result that there are 5.6 times more whites than blacks in our population. Likewise, dividing 12,750 WOB crimes by 2,250 BOW crimes gives us the result that there are 5.6 times more WOB attacks than BOW attacks. These ratios both equal 5.6, so there is no disparity left to account for: the population rate in this hypothetical scenario fully accounts for the disparity in interracial crime that exists.

Now plugging in the real numbers: If we divide 196,817,552 by 37,685,848, there were about 5.2 times more white than black individuals within the United States population in 2010. So, nationally and on average, any given black individual is 5.2 times more likely to encounter a white individual than any given white individual is to encounter a black individual—which, at least so far, clearly is not sufficient to account for the fact that any given black individual is 26.5 times more likely to attack a white victim than vice versa.

American Rennaisance’s Color of Crime report actually commits an interesting error here. It writes, in footnote 42: “ … although blacks and whites are not perfectly integrated, and segregation varies considerably by neighborhood, the same figure [that any black person is 5.2 times more likely to encounter a white person than a white person is to encounter a black person] … applies everywhere. This is because segregation decreases blacks’ contact with whites, but it also decreases whites’ contact with blacks by exactly the same amount. Segregation, whatever its degree, therefore does not change the relative likelihood of blacks encountering whites and vice versa.”

The suggestion here is supposed to be that the relative ratio of black–encounters–white to white–encounters–black will always be 5.2, no matter what numbers are plugged in the ratio between them will always stay the same, because removing any one black individual from ‘circulation’ simply takes one black out of contact with whites, and takes the same number of whites out of contact with blacks. But the problem is that this sophomorically ignores the fact that the ratio of blacks to whites in varying areas will be different, as well—we aren’t taking a homogenous national population and then removing a single person from national circulation at a time. We aren’t shaking up a homogenous M&M’s, where we’re taking one M&M at a time out of the bag; we’re dealing with neighborhoods with varying racial compositions. So to see very clearly why what AmRen says here is false, all we have to do is consider how it would apply to a city with a black majority: in 2010, the population of Detroit contained around 588,244 black individuals, and around 123,054 white individuals. Therefore, in Detroit in 2010, a white individual on average was about 4.78 times more likely to encounter a black individual than to encounter another white individual. Obviously, black individuals will not be 5.2 times more likely to encounter white individuals than whites are to encounter blacks when blacks are the majority. And the relative percentage of blacks and whites in local populations will vary significantly across the United States—and thus so, too, will the ratio of encounters.

 However, this probably doesn’t weaken the case that encounter rates fail to account for the greater likelihood that a black criminal will target a white victim than vice versa. In fact, it probably strengthens it—and probably strengthens it dramatically, making interracial crime even more disproportionately tilted towards the black–on–white direction than the AR report’s already large estimates claim. What we really want to know or at least try to estimate is what the encounter rate is amongst the particular individuals who are committing the actual crime. And if black violence is more likely to take place in highly segregated areas in which blacks make up a greater percentage of the local population than they do of the national population (as in Detroit, where blacks make up 82.7% of the population, compared to about 12% nationally), then the issue is not that the greater likelihood that a given black will encounter a white than vice versa (which averages 5.2 nationally) is insufficient to encounter for the greater likelihood that a black perpetrator will attack a white victim than vice versa (26.5)—but that the particular blacks who are committing the violent crime—a minority of the overall black population—are more likely to attack whites even though they are less likely to encounter them than vice versa, given that criminal blacks are most highly concentrated in black–majority areas.

And it turns out that this is exactly what we see. The most violent parts of the United States are in areas with black majorities—in fact, four of them make the list of the top 50 most violent cities in the entire world: New Orleans, which is 60.2% black; Baltimore, Maryland, which is 63.3% black; St. Louis, Missouri, which is 46.9% black; and Detroit, Michigan which is 82.7% black. The top ten most dangerous cities in the U.S., with exception for these four, are Milwaukee, Wisconsin (40% black in 2010); Atlanta, Georgia (54% black); Cleveland, Ohio (53% black); Birmingham, Alabama (73.4% black); Memphis, Tennessee (62.6% black).

One of the only cities making this list in which blacks do not constitute a plurality is Oakland, California, where blacks and immigrants still compose a plurality together—Oakland is 28% black, and 25% Hispanic—and most homicides still occur in black neighborhoods; in 2006, the five year average for homicide suspects were 64.7% black, 8.6% Hispanic—and only 0.2% white, according to a report from the Urban Strategies Council. What else makes Oakland unique? “Despite its high crime rate, Oakland has fewer police officers than many other major cities”; approximately half of official estimates for what would be needed to adequately patrol a city with Oakland’s crime rate. (“A November 2011 study by the Rand Corporation found that, on average, every 10 percent increase in the size of a city’s police force led to a decrease in the homicide rate by 9 percent, robbery by 6 percent and car theft by 4 percent.”)

It would be a monumentally complex task, well beyond the length of even a series like this one, to calculate and then average the encounter rate for specific black and white criminals—probably well beyond the potential of statistical data–based analysis to even pinpoint, since we can’t actually know who any particular individual actually runs into on any given day, which depends at the very least on what stores he typically visits, what time of day he typically visits them at, who his friends and friends of friends are, and so on. But the average 5.2 figure overestimates the relative likelihood of any given black person encountering a white person than vice versa significantly.

Across the United States population as a whole, the average black person in 2010 lived in a neighborhood that was 45% black. If we use this to perform a rough estimate, then the average population of 100,000 containing notable numbers of blacks would consist of 45,000 blacks and 55,000 whites. In that case, any given black individual would on average be only 1.2 times more likely to encounter a white than a white is to encounter a black, not 5.2. And if the most violent crime is likely to occur in areas which are the most segregated, that means most violent black crime is taking place in areas where the likelihood of black–encountering–white is only 1.2 times larger than the likelihood of white–encountering–black, or less (as in the case of Detroit, where the probability shifts in the opposite direction) . The gap from there to explaining a 26.5 times higher probability of black–attacking–white than white–attacking–black is therefore even larger than the Color of Crime report suggests.

All numbers past this point will therefore be an underestimation of the full extent of black–on–white violence unless stated otherwise, as I will keep my calculations highly conservative by retaining the larger figure which we know to be an overestimation of the disparity in encounter rates between blacks and whites for all the reasons given above.

_______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______

The next question we have to ask in order to identify the extent to which the deliberate choice of white victims by black perpetrators might be responsible for disparities in interracial crime is whether the higher rates of violence amongst black suspects in general could account for it.

To see how this would work, consider a population of 15,000 blacks and 85,000 whites—and assume that blacks commit murder at a rate of 200 per 1000 while whites commit murder at a rate of 50 per 1000 (in other words, blacks commit murder at a rate 4 times higher than whites do). In a given year, there would then be 3000 black acts of murder and 4250 white acts of murder. There are 5.6 times more whites than blacks in our population, so if encounters are perfectly randomized, any member of this population is 5.6 times more likely to encounter a white than a black. Assuming that everyone is equally likely to attack any given individual they encounter (let’s call this the “no racial targeting” assumption), 638 of the white murders (15% of the total) would be against black victims (and notice that the remaining 3612 white murders of white victims needed to make up our total of 4,250 white murders is a number 5.6 times larger than the 638 white murders of black victims) while 2,550 of the black murders (85% of the total) would be against white victims (and notice that 2,250 is a number 5.6 times larger than the 450 black murders of black victims).

Thus, even though there is no deliberate targeting of white victims taking place, dividing 2550 by 638, any given white would be 4 times more likely to be killed by a black murderer than vice versa,simply because murderers make up a proportionally larger percentage of the total black population, without any deliberate targeting of white victims by black murderers. So to take these numbers, how would we control for the population rate and the crime rate together to rule out racial targeting? This scenario tells us what numbers we should find if there is, in fact, “no racial targeting.” First, the raw rate of probability that a black would murder a white instead of a white murdering a black in this scenario—the number we want to apply our controls to—would be the ratio arrived at by dividing the white population (85,000) by the number of white–on–black murders (638)—and then dividing this by the ratio arrived at by dividing the black population (15,000) by the number of black–on–white murders (2,250). This gives us 133.23 divided by 5.88, or 22.66.

We can now apply controls to this number for both racial crime rates and the interracial encounter rateto test the “no racial targeting” assumption. There are 5.6 times more whites than blacks in our population, so any given criminal on any given day is 5.6 times more likely to encounter a white than a black. And there are 4 times more black than white crimes per year. Now, when we multiply 5.6 times 4, what number do we get? 22.66. Another way of putting this is that after dividing the raw interracial crime disparity by the rate of difference in racial crime rates and then the interracial encounter rate, dividing 22.66 by the first number (4) should give us 5.6, and dividing that number by the second number (5.6) should give us exactly 1.

We now understand how to test the “no racial targeting” assumption. We need only three numbers: the “raw” rate of difference between black–on–white and white–on–black crimes, the rate of difference between the black and white crime rates, and the encounter rate (how many more whites than blacks there are in a given population, or how much more likely a black is to encounter a white than a white is to encounter a black). When we divide the first number by the second two, if there is no racial targeting, then this number should equal exactly 1. But the larger this number is than 1, the greater the likelihood is that a black perpetrator will choose a white victim even once the greater number of potential white victims and the higher likelihood that a black individual will commit a violent crime to begin with is taken account of—and the more likely it is that racial targeting accounts for much of the remaining difference. 

Now, when we plug in the numbers for 2001–2003, we arrive at the following chart: Figure 18 shows the “raw” probability that a white is more likely to be victimized by a black perpetrator than vice versa (the counterpart to our hypothetical scenario’s 22.66). In figure 19, the black bar titled “interracial crime multiple” adjusts this for the number of potential victims (in our above scenario, that would be dividing by 5.6). The grey bar, titled “overall black/white crime multiple”, represents the rate at which blacks are more likely to commit the crime in question than whites in general (in our above scenario, that would be dividing by 4); and the white bar, “their ratios”, adjusts the interracial crime multiple by the overall black/white crime multiple to finally arrive at the relative likelihood that a black perpetrator will choose to attack a white victim instead of a white perpetrator attacking a black victim, with all else held equal.

So what do we see when we plug in the real numbers? For aggravated assault, the result is barely over one, which suggests that blacks might deliberately target white victims for aggravated assault in only a minority of cases—almost all of the raw disparity is accounted for by the difference in racial rates of violence combined with the greater number of possible white victims. But for robbery, the ratio is 1.66. It will be easy for liberals to write robbery in particular off due to the fact that whites are more likely to own property to begin with—so while there is a deliberate targeting of white victims for acts of robbery, there isn’t necessarily any reason to think that this targeting is racially motivated, per se.

The chart reveals something quite troubling for the case that relative poverty is the best explanation for why violent blacks choose white victims more often than vice versa, however: the ratio of black criminals choosing white over black victims is much larger in the case of rape than it is in the case of other crimes—the number still left over after accounting for everything in the case of rape is 7.4. This is more than four times larger than the 1.66 number found remaining for robbery. In other words, black criminals are more than seven times more likely to choose a white victim over a black one even after controlling for the greater number of possible white victims contained in the population—and that’s by an estimate that likely overestimates the average criminal black person’s white encounter rate drastically—which means black criminals are at least four times more likely to deliberately target a white victim over a black one for an act of rape than they are to target a white victim over a black one for a robbery. Let that sink in: black perpetrators choose white victims over black ones for acts of rape more frequently than they choose white victims over black ones for acts of robbery.

The greater propensity of black perpetrators to choose white victims for acts of robbery actually turns out to be largely explained by the fact that blacks commit acts of robbery more frequently to begin with—which is not the case for violent acts of rape. Therefore, unless poverty is more likely to “cause” someone to commit an act of rape than it is to “cause” them to commit an act of robbery, “poverty” is no explanation for the disparity in interracial rates of crime.

_______ ~.::[]::.~ _______

Could the disparity in interracial rates of rape be accounted for by disparities in interracial relationships—the fact that black men are more likely to date white women than white men are to date black women?

Even if so, it couldn’t possibly account for anywhere close to the total racial disparity in rape. Although black men who marry only marry white women 4.6% of the time, the NCVS data tells us that black men who rape chose white victims a staggering 50.2% of the time. The rate of interracial dating could be larger than the rate of interracial marriage, in theory, if black men are much more likely to marry the black women they date than they are to marry the white women they date, or if the particular black men who date the most white women are both unlikely to commit to marriage and much more likely to commit rape—but surely this number would still come nowhere close to accounting for that whopping 50%. And there is absolutely no reason to think either of these assumptions are true, anyway.

Approaching it from another angle, we can see that in 2009, there were 354,000 marriages of black men to white women, and 196,000 marriages of black women to white men. In other words, there are only about 1.8 times more marriages of black men to white women than there are marriages of black women to white men—but there are undeniably far more than 1.8 times more rapes of white women by black men in the United States each year than there are rapes of black women by white men. In fact, there are at least 839 times more. And while 26% of rapes are committed by a current or former partner, a combined 64% are committed by friends, acquaintances, or strangers.

Furthermore, somewhere between 15 to 25% of violent rapes committed in the United States are gang rapes, and as a Bureau of Justice Statistics report observes, “Strangers accounted for nearly 20% of the victimizations involving a single offender but 76% of the victimizations involving multiple offenders (a polite euphemism for gang rapes).” We find in another BJS report that in 2008, black offenders were responsible for 52.4% of all “multiple–offender sexual assaults” (see Table 48).  However, no federal database keeps statistics on the race of victims of “multiple–offender sexual assaults”—even though they do tell us that “strangers” are selected more often, suggesting a reasonable possibility that the preference of black gang rapists for white victims could very well be even larger than the preference for white victims is for black rapists in general (obviously, the white:black ratio of strangers will almost always be larger for any given black individual in the United States than the white:black ratio of known acquaintances—in other words, any given black individual will almost always have more than 13% black friends and aquaintances). Is there a reason why race is reported for the offenders and victims in other cases, yet the statistics on gang rapes tell us the race of offenders but not victims? The race of victims of gang rape appears to be the only category here in which data on race is completely left out of the federal reports (unless I’ve overlooked it buried somewhere amongst all that data).

Until very recently, the federal crime reports classified Hispanics as “white” when they were the perpetrators of crimes—even though whites and Hispanics by the reports when they looked at victims. This policy was changed for the first time just this year (in 2015), and we now know that in 2012–2013, whites committed approximately 14 crimes per 1000 persons, while Hispanics committed approximately 18 crimes per 1000 persons. Not only was this skewing interracial crime statistics through the consequence that one Hispanic immigrant killing another became a “white”–on–minority crime, it was also inflating the actual “white” rate of violent crime. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to suspect that this may have been an intentional means of partially obscuring the gap between black and white criminality (by averaging in with whites a group with slightly higher average criminality), as well as the gap between white–on–black and black–on–white crimes (by inventing a whole new imaginary set of interracial crimes to dilute the total with). And so, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suspect that something similar might be at play with the lack of race reporting in the single case of the demographics of victims of gang rapes (even though we know that they’re far more likely to be “strangers,” who as a rule are far more likely on principle to be non–black).

_______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______

The evidence that a significant number of black rapists are deliberately targeting white victims is strong. And black rapists openly confessing to deliberately choosing to target white victims from racial motivation are hardly unheard of. Leroy Elridge Cleaver, who went on to become one of the most prominent members of the Black Panther Party (and later, a Republican), wrote a book in 1968 that was praised by the New York Times at the time as “brilliant and revealing”. In the fourth thematic section, titled “White Woman, Black Man”, he wrote: “[W]hen I considered myself ready enough, I crossed the tracks and sought out white prey. I did this consciously, deliberately, willfully, methodically … Rape was an insurrectionary act. It delighted me that I was defying and trampling upon the white man’s law, upon his system of values, and that I was defiling his women … I felt I was getting revenge. From the site of the act of rape, consternation spread outwardly in concentric circles. I wanted to send waves of consternation throughout the white race.”

There is yet another approach we can take to try to answer this question. Research on prisons finds that prison rape is in fact largely an act of black–on–white racial revenge—thus making prison rape an “institutional” form of suffering of which both whites, and men, are disproportionately likely to be the victims: “The fact remains that blacks continually and almost exclusively rape whites in prison. The evidence is based on studies conducted over the last 40 years (Davis 1968; Nacci 1978; Lookwood 1980; Starchild 1990). Why does this white victim preference prevail? Whites continue to be raped more severely and frequently and at a disproportionate rate than any other racial or ethnic group (in Gones 1967; Bowker 1980; Lookwood 9180). This racial inequality may be the largest in any violent crime committed in the United States. Rape in prison is rarely a sexual act, but one of violence, politics, and acting out power roles (Rideau and Wikberg 1992, p. 75). The act of rape in the ultra masculine world in prison constitutes the ultimate humiliation visited upon a male by forcing him to assume the role of a woman.

In American prisons, studies by sociologists suggest that more than 90% of rapes are inter-racial and may be motivated more by a need for sexual dominance over another race than by sexual passions (Starchild 1990, p. 145). Many rapes are by blacks on whites, suggesting that it is gives the lower–class black, who has felt trod upon all his life, his one chance to dominate a white person (Starchild 1990, p. 145). Consequently, the victims are almost always young white prisoners. Scacco (1982, p. 91) has also noted a disproportionate number of black aggressors and white victims in studies of sexual assaults in jails and prisons. Even if the minority of prisoners are black, the minority of victims are white (Sacco 1982, p. 91). When Lookwood (1980, p. 28) asked ‘targets’ to identify their aggressors at the time of their rape, most were black (80%), some were Hispanic (14%), and a few were white (6%).

Once again, it is clear here that population rates do not account for the disparity. “Although many causation factors have been suggested for prison rape, they are all overshadowed by the racial categories of the victims and the rapists. Prison rape has been shown throughout this study to be racially motivated by predominantly black inmates specifically against white inmates who in turn are the victims. Although more studies need to be conducted to confirm this theory, racial hatred of whites by blacks appears to be the main force driving prison rape. In fact, the US Department of Justice (1991, p. 15) noted that black (57%) and Hispanic (51%) violent inmates were at least four times more likely than white (11%) violent inmates to have victimized someone of a different race or ethnic group.

And this is true in prisons even though racial representation in the prison population comes far closer to parity than it does in the general population. When blacks are a minority of the general population, this is used to explain why black criminals end up with a disproportionate number of white victims. Yet, when blacks are a majority of the prison population, this, too is used to explain why black prison rapists end up with a disproportionate number of white victims. You can’t have it both ways. Deliberate targeting of white victims is very clearly a dramatic factor in interracial rates of rape. And why should the psychological factors confirmed to exist in the dynamics of rape inside prisons be any different when those same criminals are outside prison walls?

This, by the way, is an extremely significant finding of a form of suffering which is “institutional” in pattern which “anti–racists” don’t talk about. They advocate the idea that blacks can’t be racist, because “racism” means “prejudice plus power”—and blacks don’t have any power—as if the ability to shove your cock inside of a guy’s asshole and dominate and humiliate him isn’t a form of “power.” And as if all of that “white privilege” means shit on the inside of a cell.

(Part 1, … Part 2, … Part 3, …  Part 4).

_______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______

[1] There is, however, perfectly reasonable evidence that biology just might in fact be relevant. A 1986 study from Ross, et al. titled “Serum testosterone levels in healthy young black and white men” found that the “twofold difference in prostate cancer risk” between black and white men could be explained by the “15% higher testosterone level” in Black men found after applying controls to the originally found 19% higher level for “age, weight, alcohol use, cigarette smoking, and use of prescription drugs”.

But circulating levels of testosterone are not the only variable of interest. Many other factors, including enzyme activity and hormone exposure in utero, influence the impact of circulating hormones as well—and on these measures, too, we find generally consistent patterns in which Black subjects have the most androgenic hormone profile while East Asian subjects have least, with White subjects somewhere inbetween. A study from Ross, et al. in 1992, “5-apha-reductase activity and risk of prostate cancer among Japanese and US white and black males”, found that “white and black men had significantly higher values of 3 alpha, 17 beta androstanediol glucuronide (31% and 25% higher, respectively) and androsterone glucuronide (50% and 41% higher, respectively) than Japanese subjects”—these being enzymes that convert testosterone into the more physiologically active hormone DHT. Other studies, such as “Racial variation in umbilical cord blood sex steroid hormones and the insulin-like growth factor axis in African-American and white female neonates”, confirm that Black children are exposed to higher hormone levels in utero—this one found “higher testosterone (1.82 vs. 1.47 ng/mL, p=0.006) and the molar ratio of testosterone to SHBG (0.42 vs. 0.30, p=0.03) in African–American compared to white female neonates”.

And we know that hormone exposure in the womb has drastic impacts on future behavior: Girls who are born after congenital adrenal hyperplasia, a condition that only briefly spikes the level of hormones a developing girl is exposed to, have significantly more masculine behavioral traits despite the fact that there is no evidence that parents treat them any differently, or that there is anything different about them or the way they are “socialized” other than excess prenatal male hormone exposure. As found in a 2003 study of “Prenatal androgens and gender-typed behavior”, girls with CAH “were more interested in masculine toys and less interested in feminine toys and were more likely to report having male playmates and to wish for masculine careers. Parents of girls with CAH rated their daughters’ behaviors as more boylike than did parents of unaffected girls. A relation was found between disease severity and behavior indicating that more severely affected CAH girls were more interested in masculine toys and careers. No parental influence could be demonstrated on play behavior, nor did the comparison of parents’ ratings of wished for behavior versus perceived behavior in their daughters indicate an effect of parental expectations. The results are interpreted as supporting a biological contribution to differences in play behavior between girls with and without CAH.”

Even further, It Is Not Just About Testosterone tells us that: “Vasopressin synthesis and the aromatization into estradiol both serve to facilitate testosterone’s effects.” And “Variation in the expression of monoamine oxidase A regulates the levels of neurotransmitters responsible for impulse control, potentially suppressing testosterone’s influence over behavior.” So, guess what? “Vasopressin secretion in normotensive black and white men and women on normal and low sodium diets” found that “24-h urinary excretion of vasopressin was significantly (P<0·05) higher in men than in women and higher (P<0·05) in black than in white subjects.” Meanwhile, the version of the MAOA gene associated with extreme impulsivity is found in “5.5% of Black men, 0.1% of Caucasian men, and 0.00067% of Asian men….” And a 2010 study from Kevin Beaver, a researcher in the field of biosocial criminology, titled “Genetic risk, parent-child relations, and antisocial phenotypes in a sample of African-American males,” even found that “a crude genetic index of [five] genes predicted adult violence and criminality more accurately than a detailed measure of the men’s childhood relationships with their mothers.”

The hypothesis that hormone exposure, particularly in the womb, can influence complex human behavioral traits, including the very traits that make up our “identities” over the long–term course of our lives, is entirely politically acceptable just so long as it is used to debunk the claim that homosexuality is a choice and show instead that homosexuality probably has a “hardwired” component. It’s even politically tolerable, most of the time, when used to explain behavioral differences between men and women. It only makes the transition from “this is a plausible hypothesis, and it might even be true” to “any bigot who even considers the possibility that this might be true should burn in Hell, and doesn’t even deserve a careful argument explaining why this is wrong” when the same precise logic it’s perfectly safe and acceptable to apply anywhere else is applied to race. And that should make it abundantly clear that this is more about politics than it is about truth.

Is Dylann Roof “White Like Me”?: What Inspired Dylann Roof? (pt. 2)

_______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______

(Part 1, … Part 2, … Part 3, … Part 4)

Some writers have theorized that Roof’s action was the result of an undercurrent of racism so endemic to American society that one just can’t help internalizing it—and if someone takes it seriously enough, they’re almost inevitably going to take up arms and try to join the white supremacist race war America has been inspiring white males to wage for centuries.

In an article titled “White America Is Complicit”, a writer at Salon opines: “If you are shocked by any aspect of Roof’s story so far—including that he is being described in news outlets as “quiet and soft–spoken” instead of as a terrorist—you are not only willingly obtuse but complicit in his crime. There is a single conclusion to draw in this moment, and it is that we are here again, because this is exactly who we are. … Roof adorned his car with the same Confederate flag that once flew over slaveholding states and today waves over the South Carolina statehouse. America may be unwilling to face its history, despite a mounting pile of black bodies that forces African Americans to reckon with it daily. But Roof is more honest than those—and there are so many—whose complicity lies in looking the other way…”

Other headlines tell us how “White America Must Answer For” the Charleston shooting, or call him “The Product of a System that Has Bred Racist Hate for Centuries” and tell us that the shooting “is simultaneously representative and starkly indicative of the rampant racism structurally embedded in America, the responsibility for which, it might be argued, bears no exemption for any American, especially white Americans….” This is bullshit.

There is a far better way to address the ideological roots of Roof’s statements, and what actually inspired him.

But we’d have to acknowledge something many people are going to find quite unsavory in order to do it. To put it plainly, that fact is that Roof’s understanding of the original issue which became the grievance that motivated the development of his preoccupation with race was correct. To a degree worth exploring in detail, Roof was absolutely right about something—and it turned out to be the something that lied at the core of his entire transformation—at least as he describes it in his “manifesto.”

Those are statements that seem harsh on first glance, and I will inevitably take blowback for them (from people who write and appreciate absurd articles like those mentioned above, no doubt). But I take refuge in the fact that this article more than adequately details the facts that prove me right. Understanding the point I am actually making, and not just making recourse to turning me into some easily dispensed–with caricature, will take a little careful listening. There’s no easy way to make the point I need to make here—but it needs to be made, because it is true. And if you can calm your patellar reflexes, you just might actually learn something.

We are simply not really going to have any grasp on what could have been done about it, or what could be done to deter similar incidents, unless and until we recognize, understand, and admit that. And this no more implies sympathy for Roof’s abhorrent acts of violence than it implies sympathy for the 2001 World Trade Center attacks to acknowledge that some of the grievances against U.S. foreign policy which fueled Osama Bin Laden may in fact have been valid grievances—in fact, while it is leftists who will have the strongest taboo against the statements I have just made in the last paragraph, they have been the ones telling us all along that it is self–defeating blindness to think that Islamic terrorists merely hate us “for our freedoms”—writers like Noam Chomsky write that “They don’t hate us for our democracy, they hate us because we … have devastated the civilian society of Iraq …  they know, even if we pretend not to, that there has been a brutal military occupation, now going into its 35th year, which has relied crucially on U.S. support — diplomatic support, military support, economic support [in Israel–Palestine] … And many people may notice something else: the U.S. has criminals, internally… major criminals. Other countries are asking for their extradition, want them handed over, and the U.S. won’t do it….” Noam Chomsky says things like this, and Bin Laden reads his books, and that’s perfectly fine.  Many leftists are careful to demand we recognize that appreciating Chomsky’s points is still not a justification for Bin Laden’s actions (not even if Bin Laden himself seems to think so); but simply something we must understand if we want any chance of stopping him (and others who will be inspired by the same grievances which motivated him unless these are addressed).

That brings us to Dylann Roof.

The key paragraph of Roof’s racist manifesto explaining his transformation from someone who “was not raised in a racist home or environment” into what he became was this: “The event that truly awakened me was the Trayvon Martin case.  I read the Wikipedia article and … It was obvious that Zimmerman was in the right. … this prompted me to type in the words “black on White crime” into Google, and I have never been the same since that day. …  I was in disbelief. At this moment I realized that something was very wrong. How could the news be blowing up the Trayvon Martin case while hundreds of these black on White murders got ignored?”

In articles like Alternet’s “Dylann Roof is Not Alone”, written by Chauncey Devega of ‘We Are Respectable Negroes’, we read that: “Black America is disgusted by how media will, as it always does, depict Dylann Roof as a lone shooter with mental health issues, as they humanize him in order to put the murderous violence in some type of context. By comparison, the American corporate news media is not neutral in how it depicts white criminals as compared to blacks, Latinos, Asians, First Nations Peoples, Arabs, or Muslims.”

We’ve already taken a close look at Devega’s first sentence’s claim in the first part of this series.

Now regarding his second: in fact, a study published in early 2015 found that across the years of 2008–2012, whereas 40% of the perpetrators of all violent crimes committed were black, across 146 episodes of breaking news on MSNBC, FOX, CNN, CBS, PBS, NBC, and Univision, only 20% of the crimes reported on had black perpetrators. Black–perpetrated crimes across several recent years were in fact not overreported, but underreported.

Of course, the authors of that study inevitably try to find a moral to draw that supports the pre–existing liberal narrative which their very own data obviously undermines. They argue that it’s a problem that blacks are “invisible” on TV news because not only are they underrepresented as perpetrators of violent crimes, they’re also underrepresented as victims—Table 3 on page 32 shows that despite being 48% of the victims of violent crimes across this period of time, they were represented as victims only 22% of the time. So even though this very same author had argued just a few years earlier that black overrepresentation was a dire problem, not it’s black underrepresentation that is the problem. (I’ll eventually have more to say about the ways in which the battle for social justice is a struggle that just can’t ever be won: if minorities are overrepresented amongst military recruits, then that’s because America is using them as cheap fodder for war because we consider them expendable. If minorities are underrepresented amongst military recruits, then that’s because America doesn’t consider them good enough to fight for our country just like everyone else.)

Nevermind that this “underrepresentation” of African–Americans as victims is a consequence precisely of the combination of two facts put together: first, that African–Americans commit a disproportionate amount of the crime in the United States to begin with; and second, that so many of the victims they choose are African–American. Blacks are responsible for approximately half of almost all of the violent crimes committed in the United States. In the case of murder, approximately 85% of the victims they choose are black; for most other crimes, the number is closer to 50%. Meanwhile, only a very small percentage of crimes perpetrated by whites involve black victims (I spell out these statistics in much more detail shortly and elsewhere). Cut black murderers in half in the statistics, and blacks will actually then be fewer than 22% of the victims of murder—making black victims overrepresented here given the underreporting on cases with black perpetrators.

I may also have more to say about this study and the way its results were portrayed in the future, but for now suffice it to say that white–on–black crimes are so rare, and black–on–black crimes such a large fraction of total crime, that these numbers inevitably mean crimes with black victims were still very disproportionately likely to be displayed at least in the proportionally rare occasions that they didn’t have black perpetrators: blacks victims of violent crime became invisible when black perpetrators of violent crime did precisely because there are proportionally so few non–black acts of violence against blacks to begin with.

In any case, the George Zimmerman / Trayvon Martin case Dylann Roof’s manifesto talks about was partially responsible for that disparity in news coverage across this period of time (the case originally surfaced in late 2012, the ending of the study’s time frame)—so it’s time to take a refresher course on what actually happened in that case, and the abusively slanted way the media originally portrayed it, the consequences of which still last to this day.

_______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______

For a random sample of the general impression many hold of the Zimmerman/Martin case, Breaking Brown speaks about “Zimmerman’s history of calling 911 to report mostly suspicious black males.” This was a very prevalent belief, especially throughout the early stages of the story—Zimmerman is a wannabe cop, and he’s playing out his action hero fantasies on black people. But what does Zimmerman’s record actually show? Zimmerman made a total of 44 calls in the 8 years leading up to the Trayvon Martin incident. And just 6 of that total involved black suspects. Meanwhile, 2 of those 6 were in regards to the home invasion of Olivia Beltaran—and it was Beltaran who, while hiding in her bedroom, called 911 and described the perpetrators as two black men. Zimmerman brought Beltaran a new deadlock because hers wasn’t working, and later on two separate occasion saw the same two suspects matching Beltaran’s description. And there is evidence that Zimmerman actually had, in fact, identified the correct suspects.

In another one of those cases, “the male appeared to him to be casing Frank Taafe’s house, located at the shortcut from the main road. Zimmerman said the guy kept walking up to Taafe’s house and away from it, and he knew the guy didn’t live there. By the time police arrived, the male had left. Taaffe was out of town.” Zimmerman reported the suspect’s race in this case because “I know the resident, he’s Caucasian”—so the suspect clearly can’t be the home’s owner. Once again, race had a perfectly valid reason for being relevant. Zimmerman wasn’t obsessed with black suspects. The calls he did make about black suspects were perfectly proportionate to the number of black suspects actually committing crimes at Twin Peaks.

The media widely spread the myth that Zimmerman used the phrase “fucking coons” during his 911 call. But, “In the end, Tuchman, the audio expert and special guest host Wolf Blitzer — who was filling in for Anderson Cooper — all agreed that the word in question was “cold,” not the racial slur. … the reason some say that would be relevant, is because it was unseasonably cold in Florida that night and raining….” This also makes a hell of a lot more sense of the “it’s” that can faintly be heard preceding the sentence: “It’s fucking cold” is a much more plausible sentence than “It’s fucking coons.” It turned out that while Zimmerman never used a racial slur towards Martin, Martin did use one towards Zimmerman—and regardless of the comparative offensiveness of anti–white and anti–black racial slurs, if these would have told us something about Zimmerman’s state of mind, so they should tell us something about Martin’s.

Even more egregiously, when Zimmerman calls 911, he isn’t sure about Martin’s race—he has that famous hoodie on, after all, and it’s raining and dark and Zimmerman is somewhere behind the hoodie’d Martin in a vehicle. At 0:08, Zimmerman simply describes Martin as “a real suspicious guy.” At 0:27, the dispatcher asks: “Okay, and this guy, is he black, white, or Hispanic?” Zimmerman responds with a very clear note of uncertainty: “He LOOKS black,” in a tone that implies a following “BUT I’m not entirely sure.”  My interpretation of Zimmerman’s tone at this point is bolstered by the fact that when Martin turns back in Zimmerman’s direction and starts scoping him out at 1:00, allowing Zimmerman the first chance at getting a closer, and more head–on look, Zimmerman takes the first opportunity to (at 1:10) confirm, “And he’s a black male.”

When NBC first presented this audio, they literally edited the tape to give the very overwhelming—and overwhelmingly misleading—impression that Zimmerman brought up Martin’s race both immediately and unprompted, opening the call by saying: “He looks up to no good. He LOOKS black.” (See this YouTube video for a comparison, and skip to 1:28 to NBC’s edit first.)

Lost in all this hysteria were details like the fact that two years earlier, in 2010, Zimmerman had protested, passed out fliers to black churches, and even spoke at an NAACP meeting agitating to bring repercussions to a cop who punched a homeless black man and failed to be charged or punished for the incident despite video evidence. (“Collison turned himself in … on Jan. 3, 2011 [and] agreed to pay for Ware’s medical bills and make donations to nonprofit organizations, including the NAACP.”)

When the Zimmerman/Martin case first broke, those who were paying attention in 2012 will remember that the media heavily relied on these two photos of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, in presenting the case:


Who could possibly believe there was any plausibility to Zimmerman’s version of events—on which it was Martin who doubled back after Zimmerman to tackle him to the ground—with these images flashing at them every time the case was discussed? Without question, what we saw was a systematic pattern of lies and distortions during the early period of reporting about this case. Had the bias ran in the other direction, it would have looked like this, and few would have failed to recognize how offensively and manipulatively distorted the images were:


In fact, this comparison would have been more accurate than the photos that were actually used (though still unreasonable—photos shouldn’t be chosen to sway opinion in either direction), as both of the above photos were much more recent than the ones that were used. Suddenly, Zimmerman’s version of events would have appeared far more plausible and worth taking seriously—it might not have seemed so obvious to the public that Zimmerman must have stalked Martin straight down and shot him in cold blood.

An even more recent and realistic comparison less biased to either side might have looked something like:


_______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______

In general, the most central complaint about Zimmerman’s actions is the supposition that he followed Martin, directly provoking the final confrontation by cornering Martin down a dark road or alleyway even if he didn’t throw the first punch. Frequently, this complaint adds that Zimmerman did this against police orders that he stay in his car, which Zimmerman deliberately obeyed. So let’s take a listen to the actual 911 call and see what answers we can determine about that. From 0:00 to 1:35, Zimmerman gives his complaint that “it looks like [this guy is] on drugs or something. It’s raining, and he’s just walking around looking about … just staring … and now he’s staring at me!” In response to questions, he gives description to the dispatcher of Martin’s appearance and location.

Notably, the dispatcher never says anything about whether or not Zimmerman can, or should, get out of his car. At 1:35, we hear movement: the sound of the chime of a car with an open door, followed by Zimmerman’s car door shutting. He sighs and says with a tone of passive resignation, “Ahhh, they always get away…” At 1:45, Zimmerman is only now doing what could possibly be called “following” Martin—we can very clearly hear the sound of wind rushing through Zimmerman’s phone.

And the dispatcher continues asking questions about Martin’s location—while getting out of his car, Zimmerman says: “He’s down towards the, uh, the entrance of the neighborhood.” The dispatcher asks: “Okay. Which entrance is that that he’s heading towards?” And Zimmerman responds: “The back entrance.” Only now, presumably in response to the unmistakable sound of wind rushing through the speakers for the last ten seconds, the dispatcher at 1:54 asks, “Are you following him?” And Zimmerman responds, “Yeah.” The dispatcher replies again: “Okay. We don’t need you to do that.” And at 2:00, Zimmerman calmly says, “Okay.”

Nevermind that, as the dispatcher himself testified, this was just a “suggestion” in the first place—not so much any kind of command as a ‘we don’t need you to do that’—‘that isn’t a requirement for our purposes.’ An actual quote from the testimony: “We’re directly liable if we give a direct order … We always try to give general basic … not commands, just suggestions.” So, “We don’t need you to do that” is different than a more direct “Don’t do that.”

At 2:05–2:10, the dispatcher asks: “Alright, sir, what is your name?” And Zimmerman responds: “George.” After a slight pause, he adds: “ … He ran.” And at this point, the sound of wind rushing through the phone stops entirely. So, assuming that the wind only rushed through Zimmerman’s speakers while he was speed–walking in the direction Martin was running, and never simply when the breeze blew Zimmerman’s way, the total evidence we have for Zimmerman “stalking” Martin is a maximum 25 seconds, the full duration for which Martin was either nearly or completely out of Zimmerman’s sight. And Zimmerman actually does stop after the dispatcher informs him that following Martin isn’t necessary, even though this was not an order, nor even a request that he stop—merely letting Zimmerman know that the dispatchers don’t require him to do it. Zimmerman does in fact stop, at this point, anyway.

A far cry from the suggestion that Zimmerman compelled Martin to fight back by stalking him down into a corner.

And these distortions were not a coincidence. A report from Ernhardt Graeff, Matt Stempeck, and Ethan Zuckerman titled “The battle for ‘Trayvon Martin’: Mapping a media controversy online and off–line” investigated the “phases” of reporting on the case. After a first “act” that consisted solely of local reporting within Florida, “The second “act” of the story begins on 7–8 March, ten days after Martin’s death, when the story received a new wave of media attention from two of the national media’s largest outlets … This resurgence in interest was the direct result of efforts to publicize the story. Martin’s family was able to enlist the legal services of civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump on a pro bono basis. Crump had taken on a previous civil rights case and failed to convict, which he attributed to an inadequate media strategy prior to the trial itself (Caputo, 2012). Crump brought on local lawyer Natalie Jackson, who enlisted the pro bono services of publicist Ryan Julison. … Within a day of joining the effort, Julison attracted significant media coverage. He began reaching out to the largest national media sources (as measured by audience reach) and worked his way down until he found interest from Reuters and CBS This Morning. … Huffington Post, … an important early amplifier…, misreported that Zimmerman was white….” They conclude that “broadcast media … is susceptible to media activists working through participatory media to co–create the news and influence the framing of major controversies. … Benjamin Crump’s strategy to focus PR efforts on broadcast media with national reach was astute.

It is this kind of media network dedicated solely to bringing attention and outrage to (supposed) black victims that is lacking in cases like Dillon Taylor’s which lead to disproportionate awareness of black and white victims of police brutality (and interracial civilian violence) as a whole. Even more background on the story of how the same lawyer who later took over the Michael Brown case and invested his defense in the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” lie worked with a PR company (with a history of sleights of truth of its own) to spin their narrative fast to the mainstream media to create the distortions of truth that marked the early stages of awareness of the Zimmerman/Martin case can be found (albeit with more partisan polemic than I’d have preferred) at The Conservative Treehouse.

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So, what happened after the end of the phone call?

Zimmerman ended his phone call with police at 7:15pm.

The first officer arrived to find Zimmerman with a bloodied face next to an unresponsive Trayvon Martin at 7:17pm.

That leaves hardly two minutes for Zimmerman and Martin to encounter each other, and for the entire fight to run its course, for which we don’t have direct observational evidence. However, what we do have are very straightforward lines of surrounding evidence that make an account of what actually happened in this two minutes very clear.

One of the most relevant details produced by the prosecution’s key witness, Rachel Jeantel, was this: “I asked [Trayvon Martin] where he at. He told me he at the back of his daddy fiancee house like in the area where his daddy fiancee — by his daddy fiancee house. I said, you better keep running. He said, no, he lost him.”

We can combine that with the addresses of known locations to create a geographical timeline of events.


1 is the first location which Zimmerman gives the dispatcher immediately after beginning his phone call to 911 (1111 Retreat View Circle; the clubhouse). 2 is the approximate location at which Zimmerman parked his car, though it may have been closer to than this. (“If they come in through the gate, tell them to go straight past the club house, and uh, straight past the club house and make a left, and then they go past the mailboxes, that’s my truck”). 3 is the location at which Zimmerman ended his phone call to 911—in the 25 seconds during which Zimmerman “follows” Martin before stopping in response to the dispatcher’s statement, the distance he travels is from 2 to 3. 4 is the location of Brandy Latreca Green (Martin’s “daddy’s fiancee”)’s home, where Martin was staying. (Per the NYT). 5 is where the police arrived to find Zimmerman bloodied and Martin unresponsive.

Now, the autopsy found that the only injuries on Trayvon’s body apart from the gunshot were those on his own knuckles. The responding officer observed that the back of Zimmerman’s jacket was wet and covered in grass, consistent with Zimmerman’s account that Martin had pinned him to the ground. There were lacerations to the back of his head exactly consistent with his account that Martin was shoving his head into the concrete—call Zimmerman’s injuries minor all you want; but if his injuries were minor, he was lucky. Anyone who doesn’t think this is a perfectly valid situation in which to become afraid for your life is an idiot: it takes almost nothing (warning: violent video) to take someone out this way—a single lucky hit this way can easily kill you, render you unconscious long enough to allow an assailant to kill you by some other means, or simply leave you alive with traumatic brain injury for the rest of your life.

More importantly, Zimmerman consistently stated that he didn’t know where Trayvon Martin was, right up until the very end of the phone call at (3) when he declines to tell the dispatcher his address for that reason—and Rachel Jeantel testified that he had made it back to the back yard of his daddy’s fiancee’s house (4) when the call dropped. This means the final showdown could not have happened unless Martin doubled back after Zimmerman. The known evidence therefore does not even allow for the interpretation that Zimmerman approached Martin first. While the skin on Martin’s knuckles was broken, Zimmerman had no injuries consistent with aggressive violence. Together, all these facts make it clear that it could only have been Zimmerman’s voice screaming for help on the ensuing neighborhood 911 calls.

 All of this backs the complaint against Zimmerman up all the way back to “he shouldn’t have called the cops at all.” People who use this critique have probably never lived in a gated community. Every single entrance to Twin Lakes features the following sign, making it perfectly clear to every visitor what rules apply once inside: “We report all suspicious persons….” You consent to those rules once you walk inside.


(Part 1, … Part 2, … Part 3, … Part 4)

Is Dylann Roof “White Like Me?”: Leftist Hypocrisy in the Wake of the Charleston Shooting (pt. 1)


(Part 1, … Part 2, … Part 3, … Part 4)

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According to Vox, we should “Stop asking Muslims to condemn terrorism. It’s bigoted and Islamophobic.”

There’s a certain ritual that each and every one of the world’s billion–plus Muslims, especially those living in Western countries, is expected to go through immediately following any incident of violence involving a Muslim perpetrator. … Here is what Muslims and Muslim organizations are expected to say: “As a Muslim, I condemn this attack and terrorism in any form.” This expectation we place on Muslims, to be absolutely clear, is Islamophobic and bigoted. The denunciation is a form of apology: an apology for Islam and for Muslims. The implication is that every Muslim is under suspicion of being sympathetic to terrorism unless he or she explicitly says otherwise. … This sort of thinking — blaming an entire group for the actions of a few individuals, assuming the worst about a person just because of their identity — is the very definition of bigotry. … we should treat the assumptions that compel this ritual — that Muslims bear collective responsibility … as flatly bigoted ideas with no place in our society. There is no legitimate reason for Muslim groups to need to condemn the monsters who attacked Charlie Hebdo….

A Muslimah at the Peace and Collaborative Development Network, in an article titled I’m Sorry I Won’t Internalize Collective Responsibility,  concurs:

While politicians and Islamophobes alike continue to pressure the Muslim community into nonsensical apologies based on a homogenized identity, many Muslims have, unfortunately, internalized the narrative of collective responsibility, leading them to issue condemnations of acts of violence and terrorism based only on the fact that we share one piece of our identity.  Coupled with the ever present voice of those calling for Muslims to speak out against Muslim terrorists, those who have stepped up to this plate, have not presented a counter–narrative as they purport, but rather an internalization of the dominant narrative where Muslims are guilty until proven innocent.

Nevermind if polling frequently finds legitimate reason for concern—nevermind if 2007 Pew research finds that amongst American Muslims under the age of 30, 26% believe that suicide bombings can be justified, while 27% “decline to express an opinion” when asked how they view al–Qaeda (with an additional 5% viewing them somewhat, or very, favorably). Nevermind if in the UK, 78% of Muslims think anyone who publishes cartoons of Muhammad should be prosecuted and 62% explicitly oppose the very principle of freedom of speech.

In the most recent Pew research of worldwide Muslim support for suicide bombings, Jay Michaelson writes that: “There are approximately 1,083,021,825 Muslims in the 21 countries they polled—68% of the global total. Based on the country–by–country percentages in the Pew report, that means about 133 million support the suicide bombing or other forms of violence against civilians. Extrapolating the data—which is probably inaccurate since American and European Muslims probably support violence significantly less, while Iranian Muslims may support it more—that means about 195 million Muslims worldwide support suicide bombing and other acts of violence against civilians.”

Despite every bit of this, the default position of the left is that to even expect mainstream Muslims to denounce violence is bigotryA tolerated and respected position along that spectrum is that it caves in to that bigotry even for well–meaning Muslims to denounce violence with sincere intentions, and this should stop. Most leftists would say that a far more pressing concern when it comes to our response to acts of terrorism committed by Muslims should be to see to it that acts or even mere attitudes of retaliation do not form against other innocent Muslims in response.

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I’m not trying to raise alarmist panic about Islam; but here’s the point: if we replace al–Qaeda with Stormfront, and we replace Muslims with white people, what above represents the “anti–racist” orthodoxy becomes something we would not expect to read anywhere outside of white supremacy circles. What we’re morally required to say about violent Muslim is what we’re morally prohibited from saying about violent whites, and what we’re morally required to say about violent whites is what we’re morally prohibited from saying about Muslims.

Imagine how the results would be reported if a full 26% of young white Americans polled believed that knowingly killing innocent black civilians in the process of responding to black criminal violence could sometimes be justified—say, by police deliberately bombing an entire housing project to take out a black killer instead of doing their best to apprehend the perpetrator alone—could sometimes be justified. Imagine how the results would be reported if a full 27% “declined to express an opinion” about major neo–Nazi groups, with a further 5% having somewhat or very favorable views. Would the media be praising the tolerance of white Americans in contrast to, say, white South Africans if it was found that 81% of white Americans said that attacks on innocent civilians in defense of Christianity were never justified—whereas nearly 1 in 5 failed, for one reason or another, to agree with this—in contrast to only 72% of white South Africans?

If you were to see someone making the following statement, who would you peg them to be? What would you assume to be the ideological position they were arguing from?: “Many white people have, unfortunately, internalized the narrative of white America’s collective responsibility for acts like those committed by Dylann Roof, leading them to issue condemnations of acts of violence and terrorism based only on the fact that we share one piece of our identity. There’s a certain ritual of apology that white people are expected to go through immediately following any incident of racist violence against black victims involving a white perpetrator. … This expectation we place on white people, to be absolutely clear, is anti–white bigotry. The denunciation is a form of apology: an apology for being white. The implication is that every white person is under suspicion of being sympathetic to racist violence unless he or she explicitly says otherwise.” Where would you expect to see comments like these supported and condoned? Stormfront? American Rennaisance? Rush Limbaugh, at the very least?

But even the conservatives at had no difficulty calling Dylann Roof “pure evil.

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Yet, in contrast to all this, a simple search for the words “white responsibility Dylann Roof” gives me as a top result the following article from Psychology Today: “To admit that I’m white like Roof is to feel guilty …. But guilt is not enough. Nor are apologies. … Perhaps most painfully, it means doing the hard work of taking responsibility for Dylann Roof’s whiteness because he is white like me.” An article posted at Salon and Alternet sends a similar message—the opening words of the article’s title: White America is Complicit. The article begins: “In so many ways, the story of Dylann Roof, the shooting suspect who allegedly killed nine people in an historic South Carolina black church, is a parallel to the story of America itself.”

What would we call it if someone said, “The story of [pick any Muslim terrorist] is a parallel to the violent story of how Muhammad founded the religion of Islam itself?” Oh, right—that would be Islamophobia. Much less if that same writer continued—as the author of the Alternet piece does—to say: “But [the Islamic terrorist] is more honest than those—and there are so many—whose complicity lies in looking the other way, in denying [the history of Islam], in pretending that each new [Islamic act of violence] is an isolated anomaly.” That would be Islamophobia to the extreme.

With a nod to Aurelius Pundit, this image captures the hypocrisy rather succinctly:

Salon Tweets

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That Alternet article addresses a prevalent sentiment when it complains that “the cops were careful to take him alive, which even the most innocent of black folks cannot count on.” Not only that—but they even gave him a bulletproof vest.


And the claims generated on the witch hunt to find “white privilege” keep getting worse: this photo made the rounds on Twitter, with the caption: “white privilege is murdering 9 people and then having the police give you a bullet proof vest but not handcuffs.


Nevermind the fact that it’s clearly the left arm of the man behind Dylann in the top–left photo hanging free, not Dylann’s, apparently giving anyone the impression that his hands were free. Nevermind that in the thirty seconds it takes to load Google and type in Dylann’s name, any photo that gives you a view of his side, back, or legs would show clearly that he was both handcuffed and cuffed around the ankles:

History lesson: in October of 2002, 42–year old convicted murderer and Nation of Islam member John Allen Muhammad and his 17–year–old partner Lee Boyd Malvo planned to kill six white people per day “to terrorize the nation”, including plans to bomb school buses and children’s hospitals: “He wanted to kill a policeman, then set off a bomb at his funeral.” Over the course of three weeks, ten people were killed and three more were critically injured.

Guess what it looked like when Lee Boyd Malvo was captured by police:


No heads are cracking and no guns are being pointed at anyone in this picture.

That white thing? Yeah, that’s a bulletproof vest.

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One of the more pernicious myths—pernicious because it tries to discredit a really serious issue through its dishonesty in trying to make the issue all about race—is that we only talk about mental illness when a killer is white. This article from Alternet, for example, was titled: “It’s Not About Mental Illness: The Big Lie That Always Follows Mass Shootings By White Males.” Always—nevermind that the article doesn’t quote a single person who claimed Dylann Roof was mentally ill so we can judge what they actually said for ourselves. For my part, I can’t actually remember hearing this claim happen once until I heard sources like Mr. Chu here raving about how we “always” do it. And after asking around, I can’t find anyone else I know, even amongst my many politically oriented friends, who heard anyone dismiss Roof as “mentally ill” either. Let’s just push that to the side—I’m sure somebody said it. (Right? Sure. Whatever.)

Alright, … well, it’s time for a few more history lessons.

In 1993, Nathan Dunlap gunned down 5 people in a Chuck E. Cheese’s in Colorado to “get even” after he was fired for declining to work extra hours. The Colorado Observer tells us that “In their clemency petition, they contend that Dunlap … had undiagnosed bipolar disorder and was experiencing his first mania episode the night of Dec. 14, 1993 … ” when he opened fire. A CBS News article on “Mass Shootings and Mental Illness” discusses “Colin Ferguson [who, in 1993] killed six commuters on a New York Train.” In 2009, Maurice Clemmons murdered four police officers and continued to evade capture for two further days—“the largest number of law enforcement officers killed by one man in a single incident in U.S. history”. The Huffington Post published an article titled: “Maurice Clemmons: Mental Illness Does Cause Violence”.

At The Washington Post, we see that “Muhammad’s [the DC sniper’s] attorneys had argued that the sniper is mentally ill and that he should have been granted a competency hearing before his trial, at which he represented himself briefly.” And The Associated Press published the following headline about his accomplice: “Psychologist: Malvo Has Mental Disease.” In fact, Malvo was spared the death penalty for his part in the racist rampage because of that presumed mental disease (dissociative disorder from brainwashing). Lest I sound wholly unsympathetic to that judgment, I note that even after conviction, Malvo continued expressing what appeared to be genuine remorse for the impact that Muhammad had had on him, making genuine calls to and letters for his past victims—so it appears this may well have been the right call.

Most telling of all, the argument here is really that white racists only want to talk about mental illness when a killer is white—as a disingenuous way of humanizing them, simply because of sympathy due to the fact that they’re white—so take a look at what the white conservatives at The American Thinker did here. Guess what? When a black guy published a manifesto and went out killing, they talked about the impacts of mental illness and the consequences of psychotropic drugs! So much for that racial double standard. Even the white conservative troglodytes you’d expect to be its worst offenders aren’t guilty of it.

You may remember the rampage that began in February of 2013 when a black ex–cop, Christopher Dorner, declared “unconventional and asymmetric warfare” on the LAPD in response to his firing from the department. As one of his first actions, he shot Monica Quan and her fiancé Keith Lawrence in the parking garage of their condominium simply because Monica was the daughter of Randal Quan, who had represented him at the hearing where he reported Theresa Evans for an alleged case of excessive force—even though Randal had opposed his firing. Large numbers of leftists found this “kind of exciting,” as did the Distinguished Professor of African American Studies at Columbia University, Marc Lamont Hill, when he said “he’s been like a real–life superhero to many people. … many people aren’t rooting for him to kill innocent people; they’re rooting for someone who was wronged to get a kind of revenge against the system. It’s almost like watching ‘Django Unchained’ in real life.”

Nevermind that Dorner’s ex–girlfriend described him as “twisted” and “super paranoid” in a posting at “,” to which Dorner unsuccessfully tried to file a restraining order against her, or that the female officer Dorner claimed had used excessive force had submitted a performance review stating he needed improvement the literal day before he made the charge of excessive force, or that none of the three hotel employees who witnessed most of the event saw Evans kick the suspect in question, as Dorner had claimed—the evidence here was, at the very least, ambiguous.

It’s not as if Hill was alone in his sentiment. A number of much larger pages were shut down on Facebook in February 2013—for example, see the broken link in the third paragraph of this 2013 article—but one of the largest ones still has over 17,000 fans. The I Support Christopher Dorner page, with more than 14,000 fans, was started by someone who, according to The Huffington Post, wanted to steer the conversation away from Dorner’s mental health: “I knew that the media was going to turn this into just another ‘He’s a psycho ex–cop ex–military that went insane’ story… There is a huge underlying story of police corruption and the plight of a man that tried his best to do good and was relentlessly punished for it.”

So, talking about mental illness is a despicable way to humanize white killers, and only white killers, by making us sympathize with their plight and personal struggles, and we only do this for white killers because we’re racists who only humanize whites—except when we do it for  non–white killers, in which case we’re simply dismissing non–white killers’ valid grievances … because we are, once again, racists no matter what.

Incidentally, the word “terrorism” wasn’t applied to Dorner’s spree until it had gone a full ten days in. Similarly, when Muslim U.S. Army psychiatrist Nidal Hassan, who opposed our involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, killed 13 people and injured 30 more after extended contact with Anwar al–Awlaki, the U.S. government classified this not as “terrorism” but instead as an act of “workplace violence.” Perhaps there are reasons other than race that explain why some acts of violence are called “terrorism” and not others?

In 2010, a 43–year–old Asian man named James Lee entered the Discovery Channel building and proceeded to take hostages, carrying a handgun and wearing what he wanted observers to believe was an explosive device. His motives were revealed in a manifesto originally posted at “The Discovery Channel and it’s affiliate channels MUST have daily television programs at prime time slots … on how people can live WITHOUT giving birth to more filthy human children since those new additions continue pollution and are pollution. … Broadcast this message until the pollution in the planet is reversed and the human population goes down! This is your obligation. If you think it isn’t, then get hell off the planet! Breathe Oil! … Find solutions so that people stop breeding as well as stopping using Oil in order to REVERSE Global warming and the destruction of the planet! … Saving the Planet means saving what’s left of the non-human Wildlife by decreasing the Human population. … For every human born, ACRES of wildlife forests must be turned into farmland in order to feed that new addition over the course of 60 to 100 YEARS of that new human’s lifespan! THIS IS AT THE EXPENSE OF THE FOREST CREATURES!!!! All human procreation and farming must cease!”

Despite the obvious ideology of Lee’s manifesto, it’s safe to say no one should hold their breath waiting on the mainstream media, or Alternet or Salon, to pin even any partial blame for Lee’s action on people like Al Gore, or extreme predictions like his 2007 statement that the polar icecaps would be completely melted by 2013, a prediction which “if anything … is already too conservative.” (In fact, that prediction that was “proven to be off… by 920,000 square miles”; 2013 blew away the record for icecap growth). Suddenly, the same people raving that talking about mental illness is just a disingenuous “way to avoid saying other terms like ‘toxic masculinity’” will realize that it’s perfectly sensible to think Lee might have been both mentally unstable and influenced by environmentalist rhetoric to go to this extreme because he was hearing and interpreting all of it through a mental state that was imbalanced to begin with.

Sane people, they may perfectly well suddenly see the sensibility of telling us, don’t think holding hostages in a Discovery Channel office is a proper way to deal with global warming, pollution, and wildlife extinction, even if everything Lee said about them was correct. Suddenly, someone taking extreme actions in part due to mental illness, and latching on to a political ideology at the same time, don’t seem so mutually exclusive. The vast majority of people who care about wildlife extinction or consider pollution a serious issue still don’t go holding hostages at news stations. The vast majority of people who believe the trial against George Zimmerman was a politically motivated farce or believe double standards are expressed when the media spends months on end searching and distorting every possible aspect of this case for racism that turned out to be nonexistent (see below) while downplaying or ignoring countless more cases of black–on–white violence[1] over the same period of time still don’t think trying to initiate an all–out “race war” is a good idea. What makes the people who do these things, in either case, different? Mental illness is one perfectly reasonable possibility.

On February 10, 2015, a white man in Chapel Hill, North Carolina walked into the home of three Syrian– and Jordanian–Americans, killing them execution–style. A few early reports claimed in haste that the man, Craig Stephen Hicks, was a “Christian terrorist.” In fact, Hicks turned out to be not only an atheist whose Facebook profile photo was the LGBT–themed “Atheists for Equality” and whose Facebook cover photo pronounced in bold letters his “ANTI–THEISM,” but a long–standing fan of progressive causes ranging from “HuffPost Black Voices” to “Forward Progressives” to “The Atheist Empathy Campaign,” to Rachel Maddow and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Craig Hicks Facebook Page 1

How did the writers at Alternet respond? By stating that, that while many have “portrayed Hicks as a liberal, by reporting his Facebook likes included Rachel Maddow, gay marriage groups, Neil deGrasse Tyson and others … that relabeling is absurd on many levels, because Hicks appears to fit the psychological profile of violent extremists—regardless of their ideological stripes….” Once again: suddenly the fact that violent extremists might fit a certain psychological profile regardless of their ideological stripes isn’t so foreign to progressives.

Meanwhile, searching Google for the words “Craig Stephen Hicks mental illness” returns a mere fourteen pages of results, most of which note that Hicks’ ex–wife believed he had a mental illness (video) and add that his current wife’s divorce attorney observed that it’s obviously “not within the range of normal behavior for someone to shoot three people over parking issues,” and the rest of which either pick the terms up across unrelated articles or catch comments like one Sheikh Muhammad Arslan’s at Buzzfeed: “This douche–bag can’t get away with it because he has a “’mental illness”’ and “’issues in his oh-so-difficult life” etc.” Where in God’s name is this epidemic of white people justifying white violence by excusing it as mental illness?! 

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As happens so often, the author of the Salon piece’s interest in race isn’t merely misguided, it becomes so narrowly overemphasized that it overshadows the truth about other, highly important questions. The author writes: ““The real issue is mental illness” is a goddamn cop–out. I almost never hear it from actual mental health professionals, or advocates working in the mental health sphere, or anyone who actually has any kind of informed opinion on mental health….”

If Arthur Chu thinks mental illness is “a goddamn cop–out,” then Arthur Chu doesn’t know what he’s goddamn talking about. He worries that “the stigma of people who suffer from mental illness as scary, dangerous potential murderers hurts people every single day….” When most of us worry about mental illness in an event like this, we aren’t worrying about a diagnosis of dysthymia or social anxiety; we’re worried about extreme cases of things like psychosis and schizophrenia. And do you know who else hurts people every single day? Psychotics and schizophrenics.

A 2009 meta–analysis, “Psychosis as a risk factor for violence to others”, found that “compared with individuals with no mental disorders, people with psychosis seem to be at a substantially elevated risk for violence … [Psychosis is] significantly associated with a 49%–68% increase in the odds of violence.” A 2007 study, “Major Mental Disorders and Violence”, states that “recent longitudinal investigations reported … community violence related to [major medical disorders] … reaching 15% to 20%.” A 2010 study in Sweden, “Bipolar disorder and violent crime”, found that among 3700 individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorder, 8.4% had committed at least one act of violence, compared to 3.5% of the general population. A 2009 study in the same area, “Schizophrenia, substance abuse, and violent crime”, found that the number for schizophrenics was 13.2% (although concurrent use of drugs accounted for some of this increase).

But a 2011 study, “Mental disorder and violence: is there a relationship beyond substance use?”, confirmed that “those with [serious mental illnesses], irrespective of substance abuse status, were significantly more likely to be violent than those with no mental or substance use disorders.” A British study published in 1998, “A ten-year follow-up of criminality in Stockholm mental patients”, found that 40% of people discharged from mental hospitals had a criminal record, compared to 10% of the general population. At the same time in Finland, “Schizophrenia, alcohol abuse, and violent behavior: a 26-year follow-up study of an unselected birth cohort” was published, finding that of over 11,000 men with schizophrenia followed for 26 years, those without alcoholism were 3.6 times more likely to commit a violent crime than a member of the general population, whereas schizophrenic alcoholics were a whopping 25.2 times more likely.

The relationship of mental illness to homicide” found that 10% of all homicides that occurred in Contra Costa County in California between 1978–1980 had a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Another study, “Violence by people discharged from acute psychiatric inpatient facilities and by others in the same neighborhoods”, found that 17.4% of patients were violent in the 10 weeks prior to treatment, compared to 8.9% for the following 50 weeks after treatment. Do I still need to keep going? Are you wondering who these people are with “informed opinions on mental health” Arthur Chu apparently has so many conversations with yet?

Mental illness is a serious issue, and it does have a relationship with violence. Regardless whether it even bears any relevance to Roof’s particular case (and again, I haven’t seen even a single person seriously suggest that it did to begin with),  that’s worth being aware of, and it’s worth keeping in mind, and it’s worth looking for evidence for. The “real problems” Chu thinks it distracts us away from are, of course, rooted in Chu’s own blinkered, partisan worldview which spins cosmological narratives out of the actions of Eliot Rodgers and Dylann Roof while conveniently forgetting about those of people like James Lee, Floyd Corkins, Karl Pierson, or the DC snipers—or even 44–year–old female Professor Amy Bishop who shot and killed six colleagues execution–style after she was denied tenure at the University of Alabama for erratic behavior and inadequate research (it later turned out that an incident previously ruled to have been an accident wasn’t: it turned out she had killed her 18–year–old brother with a shotgun when she was 21).  Again, as Alternet itself knows, killers tend to fall into a particular “psychological profile … regardless of their ideological stripes … .”

Even Hugo Schwyzer, writing incorrectly about “Why Most Serial Killers Are Privileged White Men” (as I discuss later, in fact they are not), complains that “After Seung–Hui Cho killed 32 people in Blacksburg [at Virginia Tech], media attention focused on the likelihood that a Korean culture unwilling to acknowledge mental illness helped drive the young man to commit the worst mass murder in U.S. history.” Once again, when we do wonder about how mental illness impacted non–white killers, that’s because we’re racists who want to put them down, just like when we wonder about how mental illness impacted white killers, it’s because we’re racists who want to raise them up. Nevermind that the source Hugo references in the hyperlink in that sentence quotes … who’s that, again? “Dong Woo Seo, a physician at Han Byul Mental Hospital in Seoul”. Surely Hugo’s intention was to try to say something about white racial blindness, and not about what Korean physicians who treat mental illness think about how Korean culture treats mental illness?!

As the authors at The American Thinker wrote while discussing the rampage of the renegade black cop Christopher Dorner, “I’ve found that once you’ve restored your patients’ brains to healthy and normal functioning by following the diagnostic and treatment method outlined above, your patients will be doing very well without the psychobabble. People with healthy brains almost invariably find they no longer need to discuss their “issues.” It’s called the indomitable human spirit, and it’s present in every human I’ve ever treated whose brain function has been restored to normalcy….” Chu complains that “When you call someone “mentally ill” in this culture it’s a way to admonish people not to listen to them, to ignore what they say about their own actions and motivations …,” but isn’t that exactly what we should do if someone shoots up a government building and says they did it because the CIA has been following them and listening in through their microwave? Should we necessarily do that any less just because the conspiracy someone latches onto is (as in Chu’s example of John Nash) “International Jewry” instead of the CIA?

More troubling than the association between mental illness and violence is the association between mass shootings and specific psychopharmaceutical drugs—mostly the SSRIs prescribed to handle depression. As this article explains, “Moore and his collaborators extracted all serious events reports from the FDA’s database from 2004 through September 2009, and then identified 484 drugs that had triggered at least 200 case reports of serious adverse events (of any type) during that 69–month period. They then investigated to see if any of these 484 drugs had a “disproportionate” association with violence. They identified 31 such drugs, out of the 484, that met this criteria … [including] 11 antidepressants, 6 hypnotic/sedatives, and 3 drugs for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Antidepressants were responsible for 572 case reports of violence toward others; the three ADHD drugs for 108; and the hypnotic/sedatives for 97.” The fact that some antidepressants, and not others, are associated with these adverse effects even while all produce relapse from depression renders highly implausible that the correlation happens just because people with violent intentions become more capable of acting them out once the drugs restore them to a higher level of functioning: the correlation is not between relapse from depression and violence, but between violence and particular drugs, regardless of how frequently they produce relapse from depression.

Of course, both mental illness and the adverse effects of pharmaceuticals may very well be irrelevant in the case of Dylann Roof. Maybe they aren’t: he was found with suboxone, and while links between suboxone and violent behavior haven’t (to my knowledge) even been studied, a number of anecdotal reports do suggest the possibility. More importantly, even if it is irrelevant in this particular case, granting that holding concern is a racist cop–out will blind us to one very real approach that really could actually save lives in other cases. If mental illness isn’t relevant to this particular case, then say it isn’t relevant to this particular case—but if you endorse the idiotic rule that even considering it is racist, then the next time mental illness actually is entirely relevant, we won’t notice, and we’ll fail to do something about it when it actually just might have saved a few damn lives, because we’ll be too busy censoring the supposed bigotry that it would represent had we kept an eye out for it.

(Part 1, … Part 2, … Part 3, … Part 4)

The Contradictions of Tim Wise

A 2006 article from Tim Wise, What Kind of Card is Race? The Absurdity (and Consistency) of White Denial, lays out the well–known “anti–racist” author’s central thesis: white people are in a self–serving state of denial about the overwhelming extent to which rampant, systematic racism is still responsible for violently holding non–white members of society down—and therefore, by corollary, artificially propping them up—because it would threaten white peoples’ self–image to accept the self–abasing truth that their relative successes are largely the result of racism rather than any genuine hard work or achievement. A consistent underlying current of Wise’s rhetoric is that we can’t move forward on these problems so long as white people are too smug to admit that they are as severe as Wise tells us they are—and Wise apparently sees it as an important part of his mission to knock this self–confidence down a few pegs in order to pave the way for a more somber accounting of the piteous state of affairs.

The article mentions a few different studies. But I’ve found it to be a significant rule of thumb that if I ever see a long list of studies plastered together to support a point, I’m probably going to find something surprising if I spend any significant amount of time digging into any particular one of them. I’ve only done that with one of the studies on this list, so that’s the one I want to talk about now. He writes: “That bringing up racism (even with copious documentation) is far from an effective ‘card’ to play in order to garner sympathy, is evidenced by the way in which few people even become aware of the studies confirming its existence. How many Americans do you figure have even heard, for example, (…) that persons with ‘white sounding names,’ according to a massive national study, are fifty percent more likely to be called back for a job interview than those with ‘black sounding names,’ even when all other credentials are the same?”

The study he refers to is Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan’s 2004 “Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment in Labor Market Discrimination.” The importance of the study in shaping perceptions can’t be stressed enough: a search on the Web of Science database for the topic “race” in the area“sociology” and domain of “social sciences” shows that the rough average of number of citations for the top 100 studies is around 600. Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? has been cited a whopping 1,555.

What the study claimed to have found is staggering: Quoting the National Bureau of Economic Research’s summary, “In total, the authors responded to more than 1,300 employment ads in the sales, administrative support, clerical, and customer services job categories, sending out nearly 5,000 resumes. The ads covered a large spectrum of job quality, from cashier work at retail establishments and clerical work in a mailroom to office and sales management positions. The results indicate large racial differences in callback rates to a phone line with a voice mailbox attached and a message recorded by someone of the appropriate race and gender.” The study ‘indicates that a white name yields as many more callbacks as an additional eight years of experience.’” An article at Salon reporting on the study said that “[We] have a national religion… [and] it’s Denialism. … [R]acism and white privilege dominate American society. … This truth is everywhere. … You can see it in a 2004 MIT study showing that job–seekers with “white names receive 50 percent more callbacks for interviews” than job seekers with comparable résumés and African American–sounding names.”

First, a nearly universal impression (which the authors of the study and articles summarizing it have apparently done little to correct) is that the study actually kept the resumes identical, except for race. Wise repeats the assumption almost directly when he says that “all other credentials” in this study (besides race) were “the same.” But this simply isn’t true. The study explains in its section IIA on page 994 of the AER (page 5 of the study) that it “begin(s) with resumes posted on two job search Web sites as the basis for [its] artificial resumes. ( . . . ) During this process, we classify the resumes within each detailed occupational category into two groups: high and low quality. In judging resume quality, we use criteria such as labor market experience, career profile, existence of gaps in employment, and skills listed. Such a classification is admittedly subjective . . . to further reinforce the quality gap between the two sets of resumes, we add to each high-quality resume a subset of the following features: summer or while-at-school employment experience, volunteering experience, extra computer skills, certification degrees, foreign language skills, honors, or some military experience.”

Nowhere in the study was there actually indication that the resumes were kept identical except for the racial connotation of the name of the applicant—and yet this claim was repeated widely throughout the media. Indeed, the fact that “high quality” resumes were given a different addition from one of the “high quality” sets of features already proves that they were not, in fact, identical. Further, in section IIC on page 996 of the AER (page 7 of the study), we read: ”For each ad, we use the bank of resumes to sample four resumes (two high-quality and two low-quality that fit the job description as closely as possible. In some cases, we slightly alter the resumes to improve the quality of the match, such as by adding the knowledge of a specific software program.” Yet again, we see that different resumes appear in fact to have had different qualifications.  And it continues: “The final resumes are formatted, with fonts, layout, and cover letter style chosen at random.” We will come back to this later—it actually does turn out to be quite potentially relevant, once we identify the study’s other flaws.

First, we have to ask how disparate the rate of callbacks between candidates actually were. When summaries state that the study “responded to more than 1,300 employment ads . . . sending out nearly 5,000 resumes,” this seems to imply that we’re dealing with very large numbers of difference in callback rates. However, as it turns out, that just isn’t the case. The study explains on p.7 that it uses both male and female names for sales jobs, but uses female names “nearly exclusively” for administrative and clerical jobs in order to ensure higher overall callback rates. In total, of 5000 resumes, 1124 were male. Of this total, 9 racially distinct names were then used to create 575 white and 549 black resumes. If we assume these names were divided amongst the total for each race equally, this means about 62 resumes were sent out for each name. The title of the study compares “Greg” to “Jamal,” telling us that the former received a 7.8% callback rate while the later received a 6.6% callback rate. (I’ll return to the question of the selection of names for the heading of the study momentarily.) If Greg received 7.8% callbacks out of 62 attempts, this means he received 5 actual calls. Meanwhile, if Jamal received 6.6% callbacks out of 62 attempts, this means he received 4 actual calls. The actual difference between them? One call. Yet, in the statistical framing often applied to the study, that one call actually represents “almost a 20% difference” (I’ll elaborate more on the way percent increase is calculated later as well).

The situation with Emily and Lakisha is only somewhat improved. Again, of 5000 resumes, 3876 were female. If we assume the 9 female names chosen for each race were distributed equally between 1938 white and 1938 black names, this means each name was sent out about 215 times. Emily’s 7.9% callback rate would thus translate into 17 actual calls; Lakisha’s 5.5% callback rate into 12 actual calls. Now it may look like we’re finding that the larger our sample size is, the more clearly we find the purported effect—the sample size just happens to be larger for the female applicants. But here is where it becomes relevant to look at the choice by the authors of the study of which names and associated percentages to use for the title of the study; it turns out that the general findings are simply nowhere near as dramatic as the isolated examples that the selective choice of individual names would imply.

In the chart on page 19, the percentage of callbacks acquired by each name are recorded. And if we look close enough, we notice something startling: if we average five of the white female names, Emily, Anne, Jill, Allison, and Laurie together, we get a callback rate of 8.5%. If we average four of the black female names, Latoya, Kenya, Latonya, and Ebony together, we get a callback rate of 8.95%—a 5.3% larger callback rate for the African–American applicants (even though, again, this is actually only a difference of 18 total white versus 19 total black callbacks).  If we include Laurie and Tanisha, this only drops to 8.7% versus 8.3%—a difference of 19 total white versus 18 total black callbacks. Why should this be? Why this overwhelming equality between more than half of the sample size? Why should Kristen receive an overwhelming advantage over Anne—13.1% (or 28/215 calls) to Anne’s 8.3% (or 19/215 calls)? And why should Brad receive such an advantage over Todd—15.9% (or 10/63 calls) to Todd’s 5.9% (or 4/63 calls)? The difference in the callback rate within races is as large as most of the between-race differences. Why would employers prefer Jamal more than Todd? Why would rampantly racist employers like Emily less than Kenya (which is the name of a black–majority country)?! And why would they discriminate against Aisha but not against Ebony, a name that literally means “black”?!

Why would Jermaine (9.6) and Leroy (9.4)—who together have an average 9.5% callback rate—beat Todd (5.9), Neil (6.6), Geoffrey (6.8), Brett (6.8), Brendan (7.7), Greg (7.8), and Matthew (9.0)—who together have an average 7.2% callback rate—by an additional 2.3%? Pay close attention to the often visually misleading way that percent increases are calculated in studies like these. The actual difference between 9.5% and 7.2% is ±2.3%. But 2.3 is 32% of 7.2; so the percentage increase from 7.2 to 9.5 isn’t 2.3%, even though that is the actual difference between them—it’s 32%. If the baseline risk of developing skin cancer is 0.005%, and one month of daily tanning bed use increases that risk by 50%, that sounds like a lot—enough to scare most people away from considering it. But what that actually means is that a mere 0.0025% (50% of 0.005) is added to the original, baseline risk of 0.005%, to arrive at a new risk of 0.0075%—or in other words, an extra 2 or 3 people per 100,000 who use a tanning bed daily for a month. In this case, the 32% advantage for the top two “black” names over the bottom six “white” names simply represents an average of about 6 calls for each of these “black” names and an average of 4.5 calls for each of these “white” names—or in other words, one additional call for every 42 attempts. 

Bertrand summarizes the meaning of the study when she writes that: “Applicants with white names need to send about 10 resumes to get one callback. Applicants with black names need to send about 15 resumes to achieve the same result.” In fact, however, what the study actually found was that black applicants named Jermaine or Leroy apparently need to send about 10, while white applicants named Todd need to send about 20. White applicants named Neil, Geoffrey, or Brett need to send about 15. Black applicants named Kenya needs to send about 11.5. And so on.

In any case, the authors of the study themselves actually acknowledge that this is a problem for their thesis. On pp.19–20, they write: “there is significant variation in callback rates by name. Of course, chance alone could produce such variation….” And this finally returns us full circle to the opening point: nowhere do the authors actually state that they did in fact send out identical resumes with only the names changed; and their description lends itself perfectly well to the interpretation that they chose existing resumes, altered them to their discretion, and then applied either a white or black name to that one particular resume before tossing it into either a high–quality or low–quality pile (rinse and repeat for all applicants). If so, this would perfectly well explain why Brad would perform a full 10% better than Todd (or somewhere close to a 300% increase), while Jermaine performs a full 6.6% better than Rasheed, Kristen performs a full 5.2% better than Emily, and Ebony performs a full 7.4% better than Aisha: they all had different resumes. Otherwise, what could explain the shameless supremacy of Kristen and Ebony?

Thus, the actual implication of this finding would in fact be exactly the opposite of what it was universally taken to have proved: how an applicant presented themselves—whether by way of fonts, layouts, and cover styles or by way of qualifications—actually had a far more significant impact on their likelihood of being called back in response to a job application than the racial connotations of their name. Only that, or else all the findings of the study being no more than the simple result of chance alone, could explain why the variation in callback rates between names within the two racial categories was so much greater than the variation between the two categories taken as a whole.

_______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______

Some of these problems were explained to Tim Wise by A. R. Ward in a debate that took place between the two of them. The section in which Ward summarized these criticisms was published around Februrary of 2011. In January of 2012, Ward published the entire transcript of the whole debate on his website, writing: “After 5 rounds of back–and–forth I’ve decided to publish the debate for all to read. I’m still waiting for him to respond to my final entry (it’s been 9 months), and I’ll post his response if I get it.” On February 10, Ward updated the posting to link to Wise’s summary and stat that Wise’s final reply was supposed to be on the way. Yet, as of May 2015, there is not a trace that Wise has ever returned.

In fact, the summary that Wise did upload on February 9 included only the first two rounds of the debate—leaving out the part in which Wise faced specific criticisms he has never once responded to—and yet Wise accuses Ward of “perhaps needing attention, [since he] decided to go ahead and publish an incredibly partial, truncated excerpt from the debate on his site….” Wise claims that he wants the reader to “see each completed round as it currently stands, rather than just snippets intended to make one debater seem particularly absurd and the other especially bright,” and goes on to promise that “Upon finishing up my final statement, I will post his closing and then mine, for a fully completed debate.” However, Wise is in fact the one truncating the most trenchant criticisms against his own claims out of his summary of the debate—and now more than two years later, there is no indication to be found that he has ever provided the promised response.

And yet as recently as March of 2014, this study was still at the top of just five references Wise chose to employ in one of his major public speeches, where presumably he would want to restrict his choices to only the most powerful pieces of evidence to pack as much quality into a limited quantity of time possible. Having been made directly aware of the depths of the problems with this study, Wise has not seen fit to address them in any detail anywhere—despite having pledged to—and yet he still sees fit to quote this study as one of the most compelling pieces of evidence of just how overwhelmingly systematic the influence of racism is in employment in the United States today; and his rhetoric has not shifted so much as to even suggest any hint of his comprehension of the possibility that someone might not consider it so obviously overwhelmingly damning after all.

_______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______

Do we have any other evidence suggesting what the impact of distinctly black names on employment prospects might be? As a matter of fact, we do. The Causes and Consequences of Distinctly Black Names was co-authored by Steven Levitt, the white economist of Freakonomics fame, along with Roland Fryer, a black economist who after an abusive childhood involving one parent’s abandonment and the other’s physical abuse became (to quote Freakonomics itself) “[a] full fledged gangster by his teens”—but later, in 1998, graduated magna cum laude from the University of Texas at Arlington while holding down a full time job. In 2008, at the age of 30, he became the youngest African–American to ever receive tenure at Harvard. He also maintains an office at the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute.

What were the findings of this study? In brief: “(…) We find … no negative relationship between having a distinctively Black name and later life outcomes….” The data set for this study was, without question, overwhelmingly more comprehensive than that conjured by the Mullainathan study — The Causes and Consequences of Distinctively Black Names looked at birth certificate information for every single child born in California since 1961, covering more than 16 million births — that is, births of real living people, not conjured hypothetical ones. Steven Levitt, in an article for Slate, explains: “how much does your name really matter? Over the years, a series of studies have tried to measure how people perceive different names. Typically, a researcher would send two identical (and fake) résumés, one with a traditionally white name and the other with an immigrant or minority–sounding name, to potential employers. The “white” résumés have always gleaned more job interviews. Such studies are tantalizing but severely limited, since they offer no real–world follow–up or analysis beyond the résumé stunt.

 The California names data, however, afford a more robust opportunity. By subjecting this data to the economist’s favorite magic trick—a statistical wonder known as regression analysis—it’s possible to tease out the effect of any one factor (in this case, a person’s first name) on her future education, income, and health.” And with these advantages, the study found “no relationship between how Black one’s name is and life outcomes….” [1] That is the finding of the single most overwhelmingly large study of the impact of the racial connotation of a person’s name on their chance of being hired conducted on measurements of real people instead of extrapolation from fictional “résumé stunts.”

Notably, this study has been cited only 265 times, in comparison to the Mullainathan study’s 1555.

That, for the record, is “an 83% reduction” in the citation rate.

_______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______

In the time since this article was originally written, a new study has appeared (“Race and gender effects on employer interest in job applicants: new evidence from a resume field experiment”) which addresses the debates raised by these two studies directly. Specifically, they performed a “callback” study like Mullainathan’s, but when they did so this time, they corrected for the fact identified by Fryer and Levitt that distinctively black first names like “Precious” and “Tyrone” are correlated with poverty (with blacks of the same socioeconomic status, with or without these names, having perfectly equivalent life outcomes). And they did this by assigning the job applicants in their study distinctively black last names like Washington or Jefferson (up to 90% of people with these last names in the United States are black), and ambiguous first names used by both black and white Americans alike (Chloe, Ryan).

They found “little evidence of systematic employer preferences for applicants from particular race and gender groups.” They write: “Fryer and Levitt (2004) show that after taking into account the socioeconomic correlates of distinctively African-American sounding names, the large effect of these names on employer responses attenuates. Our findings provide evidence consistent with this point using newer, experimental data.” In other words, even if employers discriminate against “Precious Henderson” or “Tyrone Williams” because of the socioeconomic and cultural background their name indicates, it appears that they do not discriminate against “Morgan Jackson” or “Jordan Jenkins”.

_______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______

[1] Yes; this study does leave open the possibility that race could be a significant variable even once other correlates are subtracted from it, since the study simply didn’t address this. But my purpose here is purely to address the Mullainathan study. And the Levitt & Fryer study most certainly does that. This post is not supposed to be an analysis of anything other than what I have clearly said it is supposed to be an analysis of: the soundness of this study, Wise’s integrity in handling criticism pertaining specifically to that particular study, and the ease with which such feeble data as this study actually contained can become unquestioningly transformed into so much more than it actually is throughout the media without anyone stopping to notice the obvious.

The Levitt & Fryer does, however, strongly suggest one thing that changes the analysis of the question of the impact of race on employment prospects when all else is held equal: to whatever extent employers in the real world discriminate against black applicants, they must discriminate about exactly as much against black applicants named “James” as they do against black applicants named “Jermaine”—or else about exactly as little. That can offer us a meaningful empirical basis for asking whether it’s more likely that employers discriminate against “James” significantly more, or “Jermaine” significantly less, on the basis of race (as opposed to any other number of factors that might correlate with race as well as one’s name) than we would have expected. In fact, since the Koedel, et al study referred to above investigated discrimination against black applicants with names like “Chloe Washington” (a simple Google search reveals several images of women named Chloe Washington, and all of them are black—the same thing goes for Ryan Washington, with the exception of a white reporter named Ryan at the Washington Post), we already have the answer to that question.

Consciousness (XIII) — The Epistemology of Death

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Part 1.

The first fact about the near death experience worth considering is that the very existence of the experience is already incredibly unlikely, on the assumption that the physical structure of the brain “is,” or “produces,” the subjective experiences of the mind—that is, in other words, the very existence of the near death experience provides evidence against the very assumption used to rule out the possibility that near death experiences could represent something “real.” Forget the fact that these are “near death” experiences—the most basic and fundamental reason to find the near death experience intriguing is quite simply that it should be surprising to the materialist that it happens at all. The sheer fact that experiences of this type are even capable of happening at the time at which they occur, period, itself provides reasonable probabilistic evidence against the hypothesis—which throughout this series I have adamantly contended is (1) a philosophical hypothesis to begin with, not a scientific one; (2) not clearly rendered more probably true by any particular scientific facts; and (3) opposed by entirely plausible, strong philosophical arguments standing against it; and yet strikingly lacking support, giving the fervency with which belief in it is so often held, by any particular strong philosophical arguments in its defense—that first–person subjective, qualitative experience is produced by the otherwise blind motion of inert physical structures (in a brain or otherwise).

People who undergo Near Death Experiences describe them as feeling “more real than real.” And experiments confirm that memories of Near Death Experiences are indeed more vivid than memories of truly experienced events, and that recall of them looks nothing like recall of imagined memories when compared to them in brain scans. Quite plainly, if subjective conscious experiences are without exception either the product of, or identical to physical brain activity, then we should expect the subjective intensity of experience to correlate directly with the objective intensity of brain activity. Yet, in the Near Death Experience, this is categorically the opposite of what we actually see. “Cooper and Ring noted that [in ordinary waking life] a hallucination is accompanied by heightened brain activity. But their studies produced data showing that NDEs happened more often when neurophysiological activity was reduced, not increased. Sabom also found that NDEs were more likely when the person was unconscious for longer than 30 minutes; Ring found that the closer people were to physical death, the more extensive the NDE.” [1]  And other research continues to confirm that NDEs tend to be deeper—even with more reports of “enhanced cognitive powers” (such as the “enhanced powers” of memory recall during the “life review”), no less—the closer the subject is to death.

As Sam Parnia and Peter Fenwick write, “The occurrence of lucid, well–structured thought processes together with reasoning, attention and memory recall of specific events during cardiac arrest (NDE) raise a number of interesting and perplexing questions regarding how such experiences could arise. These experiences appear to be occurring at a time when cerebral function can be described at best as severely impaired, and at worst absent.” Bruce Greyson concurs: ”The paradoxical occurrence of heightened, lucid awareness and logical thought processes during a period of impaired cerebral perfusion raises particularly perplexing questions for our current understanding of consciousness and its relation to brain function. A clear sensorium and complex perceptual processes during a period of apparent clinical death challenge the concept that consciousness is localized exclusively in the brain.” That even the skeptics recognize that this is true is supported by the observation that one of the most common skeptical approaches is to argue that the near death experience actually doesn’t happen during clinical death, but is reconstructed at some other time (however implausible this suggestion may be—for reasons we will see, as well as one we already have: recall of memories of the near death experience look nothing like recall of imagined memories, and these memories consistently contain more details than memories of either real or imagined events).

_______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______


The usual skeptical approach to the near death experience is to outline physical factors that can produce experiences with vague similarities to certain aspects of the near death experience. The effects of a sufficient dose of DMT can be similar to the typical NDE, for example—so perhaps the brain releases DMT as it approaches death. Depriving the brain of oxygen can loosely replicate some features as well, as can electrical stimulation applied to the temporal lobe.

The problem however, is twofold: first, no particular one of these features comes anywhere close to being able to do more than capture vague resemblance to a small handful of the core characteristics of the near death experience; and second, near death experiences seem to be capable of happening in an extremely wide range of physical circumstances, so that any particular physical element which might be proposed to play a role in producing the experience therefore appears to necessarily be entirely lacking in some significant percentage of cases.

Most fundamentally, any attempt to explain the near death experience through physiological features will be undermined by the fact that NDEs can occur simply because death appears to be imminent, without the subject’s being physically near death at all—and when NDEs occur in these circumstances, they carry all the prototypical features of NDEs that occur when a subject is actually physically close to death. And yet, researcher P. M. H. Atwater, pediatrician Melvin Morse, ICU nurse Penny Sartori amongst many others have all documented the fact that NDEs happen in children under the age of five, and even in children as young as six months old—and in all cases, they carry all the same basic features as they do when they occur to adults. (For more on reports from children’s near death experiences, see: Bush, 1983; Gabbard & Twemlow, 1984; Herzog & Herrin, 1985; M. Morse, 1983, 1994; M. Morse, Conner, & Tyler, 1985; M. Morse et al., 1986; Serdahely, 1990).

Dr. Jeffrey Long says of his own studies on near death experiences in young children: “ … their average age was 3–1/2 years old. These are children so young that to them, death is an abstraction. They don’t understand it. They can’t conceptualize it. They’ve almost never heard about near–death experiences; have no preconceived notions about that. They certainly have far less cultural influence, both in terms of religion or anything else that could even potentially modify the near-death experience at that tender young age. And yet looking at these same 33 elements of near–death experience that I did in other parts of this study, I found absolutely no statistical difference in their percentage of occurrence in very young children as compared to older children and adults.” (On a related note, NDEs also occur to people who are struck by death—say, through sudden cardiac arrest, or being struck with a vehicle they hadn’t realized was approaching them—too quickly to have any concept of what is happening.) Facts like these would seem to render a physiological account a more plausible way of dismissively explaining the NDE than a psychological account. But yet, once again, any physiological feature which might bear some relation to the NDE will be missing from many accounts—and some accounts will lack all of them. (Similarly, while positive experiences might theoretically be explained by things like wish–fulfillment, there are both “hellish” experiences and people who simply experience the ordinary phenomenology of the near death experience as hellishly terrifying in its own right.)

Capacity to experience the NDE is not limited by personality type. In The Handbook of Near Death Experiences (2009), Bruce Greyson and Janice Holden conclude a survey of the evidence for personality–type factors in NDEs: ”[R]esearch has not yet revealed a [personality] characteristic that either guarantees or prohibits the occurrence, incidence, nature or after–effects of a near death experience.” People who have had NDEs do not differ from those who do not in terms of “‘sociodemographic variables, social support, quality of life, acceptance of their illness, [or] cognitive function (as assessed using a standard instrument, the Mini–Mental State Exam)….” And there is no correlation with prior religion or religiosity, even though “a significant correlation was found between the depth of the NDE and a subsequent increase both in the importance of religion and in religious activity.” Any psychological explanation of the NDE must face the fact that the core structure of the near death experiences is as consistent as it is despite its occurrence not being related in any way so far identified to the subject’s prior expectation.

_______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______


Blood and cerebral levels of oxygen and other gases like carbon dioxide play a major role in skeptical counter–explanations of the NDE. But reduction of oxygen levels to the brain produces confusion, and leads to impairment in memory formation (see also)—yet, as already mentioned, near death experiences are almost always experienced vividly and remembered with striking clarity. Dr. Sam Parnia notes that people whose oxygen levels fall “become agitated and acutely confused … [and] develop “clouding of consciousness” together with highly confused thought processes with little or no memory recall. … those who have NDEs have an excellent memory of the experience, which often stays with them for decades. … [they experience] the complete opposite of an acute confusional state.” Furthermore, “patients with low oxygen levels don’t report seeing a light, a tunnel, or any of the typical features of an NDE … this experience has never been reported by any other doctor or scientific study as a feature of a lack of oxygen.” Blood levels of both oxygen and carbon dioxide have been measured in NDE patients, and sometimes maintained by heart–lung machines—so we have good reason to believe NDEs have occurred in patients without abnormal levels. Although blood levels of carbon dioxide may not accurately reflect levels present in the brain, and so it is possible that this hasn’t ruled out a role for carbon dioxide; “raised carbon dioxide was an extremely common problem in clinical practice, [but] we hardly ever saw anyone have an NDE–type event. Also, there [have] been many studies … on the effects of increased carbon dioxide and these [have] not shown that it [leads] to NDE–like states.”

More importantly, the authors of a review in Frontiers of Human Neuroscience write: “In a sudden severe acute brain damage event such as cardiac arrest, there is no time for an experience of tunnel vision from retinal dysfunction, given that the brain is notably much more sensitive to anoxia and ischemia than peripheral organs … Fainting due to arterial hypotension—a common event—does not seem to be associated with the tunnel visions described in NDEs. … NDEs are not reported by patients using opioids for severe pain, while their cerebral adverse effects display an entirely different phenomenology in comparison to NDEs (Mercadante et al., 2004; Vella-Brincat and Macleod, 2007). Morse also found that NDE occurrence in children is independent from drug administration, including opioids (Morse et al., 1986). … Evidence against simple mechanistic interpretations comes also from a well-known prospective study by van Lommel et al. (2001), which showed no influence of given medication even in patients who were in coma for weeks. Factors such as duration of cardiac arrest (the degree of anoxia), duration of unconsciousness, intubation, induced cardiac arrest, and the administered medication were found to be irrelevant in the occurrence of NDEs. Also, psychological factors did not affect the occurrence of the phenomenon: for instance, fear of death, prior knowledge of NDE, and religion were all found to be irrelevant.”

Quoting from page 376 of Irreducible Mind: “Experiences often differ sharply from the individual’s prior religious or personal beliefs and expectations about death (Abramovitch, 1988; Ring, 1984). People who had no prior knowledge about NDEs describe the same kinds of experiences and features as do people more familiar with the phenomenon (Greyson, 1991; Greyson & Stevenson, 1980; Ring, 1980; Sabom, 1982). … If NDEs are significantly shaped by cultural expectations, we might expect that experiences occurring after 1975, when Moody’s first book made NDEs such a well–known phenomenon, would conform more closely to Moody’s “model” than those that occurred before that date. This does not appear to be the case (Long & Long, 2003). Similarly, a study of 24 experiences in our collection that not only occurred but were reported before 1975 found no significant differences in the features reported, when compared to a matched sample of cases occurring after 1984, except that fewer “tunnel” experiences were reported in the pre–I975 group (Athappilly, Greyson, & Stevenson, 2006).”

However, despite the fact that fear of death and religion play no predictive role in whether or not someone will have an NDE, clear differences remain for years after the brush with death between those who have had them. Writing in the 2011 book Neuroscience, Consciousness, and SpiritualityPim Van Lommel says that: “ … the infrequently noted fear of death does not affect the occurrence of a NDE either, … whether or not patients had heard or read anything about NDE in the past made no difference … [And] any kind of religious belief, or indeed its absence in non–religious people or atheists, was irrelevant ….” Yet, “Among the 74 patients who consented to be interviewed after 2 years, 13 of the total of 34 factors listed in the questionnaire turned out to be significantly different for people with or without an NDE. The second interviews showed that in people with NDE fear of death in particular had significantly decreased while belief in an afterlife had significantly increased. … [And] after 8 years … clear differences remained between people with and without NDE, … In particular, they were [still] less afraid of death and had a stronger belief in an afterlife.”

Temporal lobe seizures have been proposed to play a role on the basis that temporal lobe epileptic episodes sometimes have some superficial similarities with the NDE, but once again—temporal lobe seizures are associated with dramatic memory loss. Automatisms don’t occur in association with near death experiences, either. As neuroscientist Mario Beauregard writes, “Review of the literature on epilepsy …indicates that the classical features of NDEs are not associated with epileptic seizures located in the temporal lobes … [and] the experiences reported by participants in Persinger’s [transcranial magnetic stimulation] studies bear little resemblance with the typical features of NDEs.” The authors of Irreducible Mind: Towards a Psychology for the 21st Century write (p.396): “[The] neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield … is widely reported as having produced … NDE–like phenomena in the course of stimulating various points in the exposed brains of awake epileptic patients being prepared for surgery. Only two out of his 1132 patients, however, reported anything that might be said to resemble an OBE: One patient said: ‘Oh God! I am leaving my body.’ Another patient said only: ‘I have a queer sensation as if I am not here… As though I were half here and half there.’ In later studies at the Montréal Neurological Institute…, only one of 29 patients with temporal lobe epilepsy reported “a ‘floating sensation’ which the patient likened at one time to the excitement felt when watching a football game and at another time to a startle” (Gloor et al., 1982, pages 131–132). Such experiences hardly qualify as phenomenologically equivalent to OBE.”

The authors of the earlier Frontiers review conclude: “Anesthesia can suppress consciousness by simply interrupting binding and integration between local brain areas without the need for suppressing EEG activity (Alkire and Miller, 2005; Alkire et al., 2008). This is the reason why, in clinical practice, general anesthesia can be associated with almost normal EEG with peak activity in the alpha band (Facco et al., 1992), while in deep, irreversible coma, consciousness can be lost even with a preserved alpha pattern activity (Facco, 1999; Kaplan et al., 1999). In short, loss of consciousness can occur with preserved EEG activity, while, in the case of a flat EEG, neither cortical activity nor binding can occur; furthermore, short latency somatosensory–evoked potentials, which explore the conduction through brain stem up to the sensory cortex and are more resistant to ischemia than EEG, have been reported to disappear during cardiac arrest (Yang et al., 1997). The whole of these data clearly disproves any speculation about residual undetected brain activity as a cause for some conscious experience during cardiac arrest.”

Bruce Greyson concurs:  “In our collection at the University of Virginia, 22% of our NDE cases occurred under anesthesia,  and they include the same features as other NDEs, … functional imaging studies that have looked at blood flow, glucose metabolism, or other indicators of cerebral activity under general anesthesia (Alkire, 1998; Alkire et al., 2000; Shulman et al., 2003; White & Alkire, 2003) … [confirm that] brain areas essential to the global workspace are consistently greatly reduced in activity individually and may be decoupled functionally, thereby providing considerable evidence against the possibility that the anesthetized brain could produce clear thinking, perception, or memory. …  [And] the situation is even more dramatic with regard to NDEs occurring during cardiac arrest … In cardiac arrest, even neuronal action–potentials, the ultimate physical basis for coordination of neural activity between widely separated brain regions, are rapidly abolished (Kelly et al., 2007). Moreover, cells in the hippocampus, the region thought to be essential for memory formation, are especially vulnerable to the effects of anoxia (Vriens et al., 1996). In short, it is not credible to suppose that NDEs occurring under conditions of general anesthesia, let alone cardiac arrest, can be accounted for in terms of some hypothetical residual capacity of the brain to process and store complex information under those conditions.”

Finally, Van Lommel (in Neuroscience, Consciousness, and Spirituality): “Through many studies with induced cardiac arrest in both human and animal models cerebral function has been shown to be severely compromised during cardiac arrest, with complete cessation of cerebral blood flow (Gopalan et al. 1999), causing sudden loss of consciousness and of all body reflexes, but also with the abolition of brain–stem activity with the loss of the gag reflex and of the corneal reflex, and fixed and dilated pupils are clinical findings in those patients. And also the function of the respiratory centre, located close to the brainstem, fails, resulting in apnoea (no breathing). The electrical activity in the cerebral cortex (but also in the deeper structures of the brain in animal studies) has been shown to be absent after 10–20 s (a flat-line EEG) (De Vries et al. 1998; Clute and Levy 1990; Losasso et al. 1992; Parnia and Fenwick 2002). … Moreover, although measurable EEG–activity in the brain can be recorded during deep sleep (no–REM phase) or during general anesthesia, no consciousness is experienced because there is no integration of information and no communication between the different neural networks (Massimini et al. 2005; Alkire and Miller 2005; Alkire et al. 2008). So even in circumstances where brain activity can be measured sometimes no consciousness is experienced. A functioning system for communication between neural networks with integration of information is essential for experiencing consciousness, and this does not occur during deep sleep or general anesthesia, let alone during cardiac arrest.

_______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______


A 2013 study on death from cardiac arrest in rats was supposed to be interpreted by some skeptics as casting doubt on this when it found that EEG measurements recorded gamma waves (the highest possible frequency) in the brains of rats dying of induced cardiac arrest. This was particularly compelling because, since the late 80’s, it has been proposed that the synchronized firing of neurons in the gamma range could be responsible for how subjective experience becomes “bound”—that is, how experience unifies multiple modes of sensory input in one unitary stream of experience, despite the fact that these processes are spread out in the brain without ever meeting together at any central point that might theoretically represent ‘the place’ in the brain from which we ‘see’ all of these inputs ‘together’. However, more recent studies confirm that gamma waves are not, in fact, direct correlates of conscious perception—“most [previous] studies manipulated conscious perception by altering the amount of sensory evidence, [so] it is possible that they reflect prerequisites or consequences of consciousness rather than the actual [neural correlate of it]. Here we directly address this issue … [and results contradict] the proposal that local gamma band responses in the higher–order visual cortex reflect conscious perception.” Other research shows that gamma waves measured by EEG can represent nothing more than “miniature saccades [eye motions] instead of cognitive or neuronal processes.” (A further review of that data can be found here).

Sam Parnia notes that “After blood flow to the brain is stopped, there is an influx of calcium inside brain cells that eventually leads to cell damage and death … That would lead to measurable electroencephalography (EEG) activity, which could be what is being measured.” Other previous research already existed to confirm his suspicion, noting that EEG waves after decapitation, for example, can be “caused by membrane potential oscillations that occur after the cessation of activity of the sodium–potassium pumps has lead to an excess of extracellular potassium. … this sudden depolarization leads to a wave in the EEG.” Another review explains: “The term spreading depolarization describes a wave in the gray matter of the central nervous system characterized by swelling of neurons, distortion of dendritic spines, a large change of the slow electrical potential and silencing of brain electrical activity (spreading depression) … Spreading depolarization is induced experimentally by various noxious conditions including chemicals such as potassium….” And the rats were, in fact, killed by an “intracardiac injection of potassium chloride.” Converging lines of evidence suggest that it is entirely probable that no subjective experiences were associated with these EEG waves at all; and in any case, gamma waves have never been measured in any human subjects (much less who weren’t injected with potassium chloride) in relation to any near death experience. This was yet another case of unfounded media hype, where anything that even remotely seems to support the reductionist case gets easy publicity (to be fair, poorly reasoned points that can be sensationalized tend to get easy publicity in general—but only in the case of claims interpreted as supporting reductionism do so many otherwise intelligent people get so easily suckered in).

As neuropsychiatrist Peter Fenwick and his wife Elizabeth write in a book reviewing more than 300 near death experiences, “While you may be able to find [skeptical explanations] for bits of the Near-Death Experience, I can’t find any explanation which covers the whole thing. You have to account for it as a package and skeptics … simply don’t do that. … They vastly underestimate the extent to which Near–Death Experiences are not just a set of random things happening, but a highly organized and detailed affair.” In short, for every single proposal for any particular physiological basis for the near death experience remains it extremely speculative to suppose that it actually does play any definite role. Substantial problems and difficulties face each individual suggestion; the skeptic skirts this  by supposing we can simply combine any number of such factors ad lib to arrive at the NDE’s phenomenology. Of course, the skeptic can always say that there is no special burden to provide a specific justified explanation of the NDE, that any number of variables in any combination could conceivably be triggering the NDE in different circumstances, and that an explanation of this sort should stand as the epistemic default unless it can be categorically disproven by the realist. The playing field, on this approach, isn’t equal (and it renders skeptical counter–hypothesis unfalsifiable for the foreseeable future): the fact that we can’t positively rule out x is supposed to make it unreasonable to believe y; but if we can’t positively rule out y, this isn’t supposed to make it unreasonable to believe x. But why should this be the case?

This could only be asserted because of an assumption that presuming subjective conscious experience to be nothing more than the epiphenomenal byproduct of physical brain activity is an epistemic default due to “parsimony” in the first place—yet it is just exactly this position which I have argued is not just epistemically unjustified given that nobody has a damned clue how blind physical processes could possibly “produce” subjective first–person experience (and such mechanisms, whatever they are, may hardly be “parsimonious”); it is falsified by the fact that it would entail that we could neither think nor talk about consciousness–per–se (and despite first appearances, panpsychism doesn’t solve the problem, either). Thus, my interest is not in the question of whether a “realist” interpretation of the NDE can be definitely demonstrated to be undoubtably true on purely neutral philosophical grounds. 

No skeptical counter–hypothesis can be definitively demonstrated to be anywhere near undoubtably true, either; and the skeptic hardly proceeds from purely neutral philosophical grounds. Indeed, that he does not do so is probably the single most important point to take away from all this: skeptical hypotheses towards the NDE are not believed because of how compelling the independent evidence is in their favor; these hypotheses are believed because of the insistence, born of an a priori conviction in the truth of materialism, that some explanation of the sort simply must be true because materialism in general is. And yet, if anything could possibly count as evidence against materialism, it would be evidence like this—which is dismissed by the materialist because it isn’t compatible with materialism.

My own interest is in what one can reasonably believe. And having argued in detail that one can more than reasonably believe that consciousness is not reducible in principle to physical mechanism (but is, instead, a “bedrock” phenomena in the world all in its own right), my conclusion extends to entail that one can reasonably believe that the near death experience could very well be just what it appears to be: an experience of the separation of consciousness from the body and brain. To the extent that there is simply no compelling justification (beyond prejudice) for confidence in the philosophical idea that qualitative, subjective experience is wholly and completely reducible to physical mechanism in the first place, there is no compelling justification (beyond prejudice) for confidence that any particular reductionist explanation of the near death experience is especially likely to be true. Any insistence otherwise plainly rests not on the independent plausibility of these reductionist explanations, but instead in the a priori conviction borne solely from philosophical prejudice that some reductionist explanation must be true—with this a priori conviction in place, the fact that it is conceivable that the patient near death has some residual brain activity we can’t currently measure, or that it can’t be definitively refuted that some complex combination of factors, none of which independently come anywhere near explaining the whole experience, and each of which seem entirely lacking in at least some large number of cases, could combine in any number of ways (and no matter how combined still produce the archetypical NDE) is—for the skeptic—enough. But for those of us who reject the claim that there is sufficient justification for such confidence in this a priori conviction in the first place, it isn’t.

Of course, much of this discussion of underlying neurophysiological correlates of the near death experience rather misses the point—for even interpreting them so that these would be evidence against the reality of the experience itself merely presupposes the philosophical position in which subjective experience is solely ‘produced by’ the physical activity of the brain. What precisely do we think we’re disproving if we identify the causes of onset of a near death experience? It simply wouldn’t follow from the fact that the trigger of the event is physical that the entire experience is purely physical, any more than it follows from the fact that the trigger of a note sounding out of a piano is the motion of a hand against a key that the entire experience of sound is composed of nothing but hands and keys. A balloon is a separate ‘thing’ from the string tying it to the ground, but the balloon still can’t float away unless the string which holds it is cut—and it doesn’t follow from this that the event of a balloon floating into the air is just nothing other than an event produced by strings whenever, in general, they are cut. Nor would correlations between how high in the air the balloon has risen and how far towards the ground the string has fallen in the milliseconds proceeding the cut prove that the state of the former was a direct function of the latter—even though such correlations will always be found.

Supposing the near death experience did involve perception of something real as a result of consciousness dissociating from the body, surely the mind–body connection is such that it is in response to actual death that consciousness dissociates from the dying brain—and surely there should be some combination of physical events which can be identified as the most proximate correlates of “death.” Hence, in order to sufficiently “debunk” the reality of the near death experience, the skeptic cannot just identify what physiological event corresponds with “death”, the point at which the experience occurs. Not even this goal has actually been empirically met—yet even if it ever should be, more would still be needed to establish that this was in fact anything more than the identification of the trigger which causes consciousness to separate from the brain and undergo the near death experience. Any confident dismissal of the reality of the near death experience based on less than this is, once again, simply unjustified philosophical prejudice—unless and until some compelling general proof of materialism as a whole is put forward.

_______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______


I’ve argued already that the very existence of a near death experience is surprising on the assumption that subjective conscious experience is either identical to, or a secondary, epiphenomenal byproduct “produced” by, the objectively measurable physical activity of the brain—but the nature of the experience itself is remarkable, too. Consider the effects of psychoactive drugs, delirium, and other “hallucinatory”–type states: the subjective effects of psychedelic drugs like DMT, and Ketamine vary tremendously between experiences. Some DMT or Ketamine experiences can resemble the near death experience in certain features, but there is remarkably little consistency between any two or three experiences with one of these drugs. DMT users encounter everything from “self–transforming machine elves” to “ a multi–eyed, multi–serpent” to “an alien wasp” to “dolls in 1890s outfits, life–sized … women  in corsets … red circles painted on their cheeks …  big breasts and big butts and teeny skinny waists …all whirling around me on tiptoes. The men had top hats, riding on two–seater bicycles.” On Ketamine, John Lilly encountered “[the aliens] who manage Earth Coincidence Control, your local branch of Cosmic Coincidence Control.” Others watch “every other entity within this realm begin to connect to one another, to become one…” or see “one face … that seemed very large and its features were constantly distorting themselves … [it] screamed, at such a volume that is not possible for any earthly speaker….”

There are a handful of variations across cultures in how the details of various stages of the near death experience are ‘filled in’: in the West, NDErs are usually “sent back” while being told that they must return to life to finish carrying out their ‘purpose,’ whereas a number of Indian accounts apparently involve the subject being told there was a bureaucratic mistake and that they aren’t the person whose death was expected. But this is as dramatic as the variations between various near death experiences get—and other than that, the core features are remarkably consistent across different times and places (and even here, they still fit the form of the subject being “sent back” within the vision prior to the experience of actually returning to their bodies). Why, if nothing produces the NDE besides a coincidence of converging chemicals, do they not become as varied as experiences with drugs like DMT or Ketamine? Why does no one ever find themselves at a circus watching dancing marionettes, talking to “multi–eyed serpents” or “alien wasps” or “self–transforming machine elves,” or getting screamed at by enormous distorting faces? This comparison is hardly irrelevant given that Ketamine (or a hypothetical Ketamine–like endogenous substance as yet identified) and DMT (which is in fact produced in some amounts endogenously within the brain) have both been proposed seriously by skeptics to play a direct role in producing near death experiences.

In light of facts like these, the striking similarities between near death experiences deserve explanation just as much as any dissimilarities do. Dr. Jeffrey Long notes that “The percentage of time that people encounter deceased relatives is extremely high. It was actually 96% in the NDERF study … [and] that’s actually corroborated by another major scholarly study … The important thing is that any other experience of altered consciousness that we experience on earth, dreams, hallucinations, drug experiences, you name it; all of these other types of experiences of altered consciousness, … You’re going to remember the banker that you did business with that day or your family member you said hi to as you were walking into the house. This is what’s in the forefront of consciousness.” It is intriguing, in this vein, to note that the “dreamlets” produced in fighter pilots during periods of unconsciousness induced by loss of cerebral oxygen through rapid acceleration in a centrifuge studied in 1997 by Dr. James Whinnery “frequently included living people, but never deceased people….” Would so few people rendered unconscious by rapid acceleration ever believe in the heat of the confusion that they had died? Would the same “expectations” proposed to explain the near death experience (despite the fact that fear of death, religion, and degree of religiosity have been found to have no predictive power over who will have an NDE) not show up here? (For that matter, it is striking that even amongst the incredibly intense variety of experiences reported by users of DMT, I have never heard a single one which actually ever paralleled the stages of the “real” near death experience directly. For all the interaction with ‘alien intelligences,’ for one thing, I’ve not once heard a single report of anyone apparently encountering a deceased relative.)

Once again, there is a compelling convergence of evidence: “[P]eople close to death are more likely to perceive deceased persons than do healthy people, who, when they have waking hallucinations, are more likely to perceive living persons (Osis & Haraldsson, 1977/1997). NDErs whose medical records show that they really were close to death also were more likely to perceive deceased persons than experiencers who were ill but not close to death, even though many of the latter thought they were dying (E. W. Kelly, 2001). … in one–third of the cases the deceased person was either someone with whom the experiencer had a distant or even poor relationship or someone whom the experiencer had never met, such as a relative who died long before the experiencer’s birth (E. W. Kelly, 2001).”

If the near death experience simply results from the lucky, surprising convergence of simultaneous chemical coincidences, then correlations like these—and the consistency of the form of the experience in general—is an absolutely astounding, unbelievable coincidence. Not only are we expected to believe that the experiencing subject enters a state of profoundly heightened awareness precisely when his brain activity becomes the most suppressed, and that the consistency of the form of the near death experience is always produced by this complex cocktail of factors despite the fact that it can occur in the apparent total absence of any of them and still retain the essence of exactly the same form, with no one ever reporting the disorganized or chaotic imagery of meeting DMT “machine elves” or the President of the United States or giant, distorted screaming faces or an environment like Blade Runner or the alien managers of “Earth Coincidence Control” or the planet Gallifrey after some particular factor changes, but correlations between the depth of the near death experience—even down to details such as how likely deceased persons were “encountered”—and the actual proximity to death exist by sheer coincidence. At some point, it just isn’t clear anymore whether the reductionist explanation really would even be more “parsimonious” supposing we could somehow start out with perfectly neutral philosophical presuppositions. The skeptic is left in the position of having to defend an increasingly wide range of utterly ad hoc theoretical factors which are supposed to mix and match ad lib to produce the experience and yet, no matter how they vary or even lack some of these factors entirely, still produce almost exactly the same core experience every time (at least so long as drugs are not involved). This is quite simply a tremendous far cry from anyone actually having anything like a justified reductionist account of the NDE.

Admitting the possibility that the NDE could be just what it appears to those who experience it to be—that consciousness simply can have experiences while separate from the brain—is not less “parsimonious” than any possible materialist explanation of the experience, even if we were approaching the question from theoretically neutral grounds. “Parsimony” is a relevant consideration against admitting the existence of something ‘new’ when all else is equal; but the more mechanisms one has to add and the more ad lib combinations of them one has to defend in order to avoid admitting that that something ‘new’ is just what it appears to be, the less “equal” things actually are and the less force considerations of “parsimony” have. All else equal, admitting the existence of a new species is not “parsimonious.” Indeed, when the platypus was first discovered, early investigators believed it was a hoax: “It was plausible, [Dr. George] Shaw thought, that some punk had collected the bill of a duck and an otter or mole’s body, then shipped it off from Australia as a joke.” But the more ad hoc hypotheses these investigators had to add to the ‘hoax’ hypothesis to avoid the conclusion that the platypus was nothing other than just precisely what it seemed to be, the less plausible—and “parsimonious”—the ‘hoax’ hypothesis became. To be clear, I don’t claim that the near death experience is exactly like this; but I do claim that it is somewhere much closer to this than it is to, say, the claim that there are “fairies at the bottom of my garden” which have never been observed.

I am reminded of David Chalmers’ statement about interpreting quantum physics: “[P]hilosophers reject interactionism on largely physical grounds (it is incompatible with physical theory), while physicists reject an interactionist interpretation of quantum mechanics on largely philosophical grounds (it is dualistic).” Likewise here: Skeptics reject realist interpretations of the near death experience—a “scientifically” observed event—simply because it is dualistic; and yet they reject dualism because it is “unscientific.” Yet, it is apparent that “science” in this sentence does not mean “direct scientific observation,” but rather—and much differently—“how we prefer to interpret our scientific observations.” But exactly what are these preferences supposed to be justified by?

When circularity runs this deep, it is clear that something other than the points of the circle are doing all the work of actually holding the circle up. I recall, once again, John Searle’s admission (which I quoted here): “Acceptance of the current [physicalist] views [in philosophy of mind] is motivated not so much by an independent conviction of their truth as by a terror of what are apparently the only alternatives. That is, the choice we are tacitly presented with is between a “scientific” approach, as represented by one or another of the current versions of “materialism,” and an “unscientific” approach, as represented by Cartesianism or some other traditional religious conception of the mind.”

_______ ~.::[༒]::.~ ______

Part 2.

Suppose I know that my niece is in the hospital with a non–life–threatening condition, but I know that she is tied up with tubes that prevent her from leaving the hospital bed. My niece, Jane, has lots of friends; and I am aware as part of my background knowledge of my relationship with her that I don’t know who all of her friends are. Now, suppose that she gives me some piece of information about the hospital that she couldn’t have gotten herself, given that she has been strapped in place without moving: say, that there is a shoe sitting on a ledge outside the window on a different floor of the hospital. And suppose Jane tells me that she found this out because one of her friends, Joy, came by and told her about it.

No one has a direct record of Joy entering the hospital—but she might have simply made her way in without signing her name. I don’t know who Joy is, so I can’t independently verify (as yet) that she was in fact at the hospital that day—but I already realize I simply don’t know who all of Jane’s friends are in the first place, so I clearly can’t use this as grounds for ruling out her existence. Aren’t I justified in believing her? Unless (and until) I can independently prove the truth of some alternative means by which Jane actually came by this information, I think it is obvious that the answer is a clear “yes; of course.” Any ordinary individual would come to accept that a friend named Joy must have stopped by the hospital without any hesitation.

Suppose that rather than it being I who visited Jane, it was my brother Joe who visited her in the hospital and then relayed this story to me second–hand. Even then, don’t I still have adequate reason to accept on the basis of this information itself that Jane must have a friend named Joy, and that Joy must have come by the hospital and mentioned this random detail to my niece, whether I can independently verify these claims or not—unless I can independently refute them, or I find overwhelmingly good reason to conclude that my brother positively must be lying? Once again, I think it is obvious that the answer is a clear “yes; of course.” Most people would consider it flagrantly absurd if I were to insist that everyone involved must absolutely and positively disprove even the bare possibility that a worker at the hospital, or one of Jane’s friends whose names I already know, could even conceivably have relayed this information to Jane instead before I would simply accept that there must be a friend named Joy I haven’t met yet. Such strict standards would lead me to deny the existence of friends Jane actually does in fact have, and the occurrence of events which actually did in fact take place, on a regular basis.

The key factors in my evaluation of the truth of what I am told in this story all clearly relate to my background knowledge about the factors involved in the situation. Relevant background knowledge here includes my belief that Jane likely has a number of friends I don’t know about, my belief that Jane and Joe are generally honest people who have no reason to lie to me, and the belief that it is possible sometimes for people to visit a hospital without necessarily leaving an official record of their visit. Or that people sometimes go by nicknames that are not related to their legal names (so that “Joy’s” visit might have in fact been recorded, but under a different name—perhaps her real name is “Matilda,” and she goes by something different quite simply because she hates the name).

_______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______


But now, suppose that rather than telling me that a friend named Joy came by the hospital and told her about the shoe sitting on a ledge on a different floor of the hospital, Jane tells me that she went out–of–body during a near–death experience during her operation in which she spotted the location of the shoe (or suppose that Joe relays to me second–hand that Jane made this claim). As before, I can neither positively prove nor positively refute the claim that this actually occurred. How, then, should I evaluate the likelihood that this is true, and what (if anything) makes this situation different from the one before?

Many investigators would hold this claim to a tremendously higher standard than they would hold against the claim that someone named Joy had visited and relayed this information to Jane—they would say that if it’s even conceivable that Jane could have obtained this information some other way (or that Joe might be lying to me), I shouldn’t even consider believing it for a second, and I would be absolutely foolish to do so. What (if anything) justifies that being the case here if it is not the case when Jane tells me that it was Joy (who I have likewise never seen for myself) who told her about the shoe?

This isn’t a statement that the skeptics themselves will protest: skeptics quite simply do not put this possibility on equal grounds with the alternatives. When skeptics address near–death experiences, they generally don’t accept a need to prove that some particular alternative explanation is true—they only see the need to show that an explanation of some other kind is conceivable; whereas the proponent of the NDE explanation is expected to definitely prove that the NDE explanation is the only possible explanation for what took place. If this is justified, it can only be justified because relevant background considerations justify it. And what are these background considerations?

Once again, the background consideration here is the philosophical conviction that the blind motion of the physical processes of the brain produces subjective conscious experiences merely as a secondary, epiphenomenal byproduct. I have given my reasons for considering this conviction not only misguided but preposterous repeatedly. And yet, the only justification ever actually given in attempted support for it is the fact that, at least in ordinary circumstances, there are correlations between the objective, quantifiable state of the physical brain and the subjective, qualitative state of the conscious subject’s experience—and these are exactly the correlations which, we have seen, appear to fall apart in the case of the near death experience.

There is a correlation between the event of flipping a light switch and the event of a light bulb turning off and on—but it simply doesn’t follow that the existence of the light bulb—or the existence of light itself—is a product of (much less identical to) the motion of light switches. If we shatter a glass prism, the visible light spectrum will disappear; but it doesn’t follow that the structure of the prism is identical to the visible light spectrum—nor even that the prism “produces” it: the prism simply allows what is already present within the white light which enters it to become visible.  Pressing the keys on an organ will occasion our hearing sounds, but the air which is actually responsible for these sounds is neither identical to the activity of nor strictly produced by the keys—the keys work by releasing air which is already present inside of the air–chamber. The argument established across thousands of words throughout this series has been that the idea that consciousness and the brain are identical is plainly false without either an radical eliminativist redefinition of consciousness (false for one set of reasons) or a radical panpsychist redefinition of matter (false for another set of reasons); and the idea that consciousness is produced by the brain would have to entail epiphenomenalism (false yet again for its own set of reasons). I can only insist to readers unconvinced that the issues can’t reasonably be summarized, and it would take careful consideration of the points discussed across this series to understand why I think this is unavoidably and absolutely true: not only are there plenty of viable alternatives which account for the interrelationship between physical states of the brain and subjective states of consciousness every bit as effectively as the  “identity” or “productive” theories, the “identity” and “productive” theories are in my view absolutely definitively not in fact even potentially viable accounts of that relationship at all.

In a lecture presented to Harvard University in 1898 (which I previously excerpted from here), William James said: “Suppose … that the whole universe of material things-—the furniture of earth and choir of heaven—should turn out to be a mere surface–veil of phenomena, hiding and keeping back the world of genuine realities. … Suppose … that the dome, opaque enough at all times to the full super–solar blaze, could at certain times places grow less so, and let certain beams pierce through into this sublunary world. …Only at particular times and places would it seem that, as a matter of fact, the veil of nature can grow thin and rupturable enough for such effects to occur. But in those places gleams, however finite and unsatisfying, of the absolute life of the universe, are from time to time vouchsafed. … Admit now that our brains are such thin and half–transparent places in the veil. What will happen? Why, as the white radiance comes through the dome, with all sorts of staining and distortion imprinted on it by the glass, or as the air now comes through my glottis determined and limited in its force and quality of its vibrations by the peculiarities of those vocal chords which form its gate of egress and shape it into my personal voice, even so the genuine matter of reality, the life of souls as it is in its fullness, will break through our several brains into this world in all sorts of restricted forms, and with all the imperfections and queernesses that characterize our finite individualities here below.

According to the state in which the brain finds itself, the barrier of its obstructiveness may also be supposed to rise or fall. It sinks so low, when the brain is in full activity, that a comparative flood of spiritual energy pours over. At other times, only such occasional waves of thought as heavy sleep permits get by. And when finally a brain stops acting altogether, or decays, that special stream of consciousness which it subverted will vanish entirely from this natural world. But the sphere of being that supplied the consciousness would still be intact; and in that more real world with which, even whilst here, it was continuous, the consciousness might, in ways unknown to us, continue still. You see that, on all these suppositions, our soul’s life, as we here know it, would none the less in literal strictness be the function of the brain. The brain would be the independent variable, the mind would vary dependently on it. But such dependence on the brain for this natural life would in no wise make life behind the veil impossible.”

One way or another, the experiences had by those who approach death are perfectly compatible with James’ picture.

_______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______


One of the most intriguing elements of the near death experience are the many directly corroborated reports that, in fact, events like the one previously discussed actually do, in fact, happen. The story just told is one directly confirmed in a book published in 1995 by a first–hand witness: the social worker Kimberly Clark, who—initially skeptical—decided to look for that shoe, so as to placate the patient, only to be surprised to find a blue shoe in exactly the condition which “Maria” had claimed it was in. (Her report of the event can be read here: according to her direct testimony, the shoe was not visible from the ground, and there was no way “Maria”—“literally plugged into the wall,” she writes—could have moved. And it seems horribly cynical to resort to arguing that Maria must have seen the shoe on the ride in, and saved the observation for exploitation later). Later, Kimberly Clark became a co–founder of the Seattle division of the International Association for Near Death Studies (IANDS).

While it was true in the past that few cases of this kind were particularly well–corroborated, today there are multiple cases where first–hand witnesses have recorded their observations of such instances of “veridical perception” in print, describing the transformation of their skepticism and surprise into conviction; enough that were this an ordinary event, we would have more than accepted its reality. The only reason for skepticism remaining is an a priori designation of the probability of such an event being possible as incredibly low on the basis of nothing other than the philosophical assumption that conscious experience can be only the epiphenomenal byproduct of physical brain activity and nothing more. In another case of cardiac arrest discussed by Pim van Lommel (here), a subject was discovered lying in a meadow for at least a full half an hour prior to his arrival at the emergency room, in a state of coma and cyanosis. Yet, a CCU nurse reported that, days later, he was able to provide accurate descriptions of many of the specific, unexpected circumstances of his transfer to the hospital.

As van Lommel presents his report: “During night shift an ambulance brings in a 44–year old cyanotic, comatose man into the coronary care unit. He was found in coma about 30 minutes before in a meadow. When we go to intubate the patient, he turns out to have dentures in his mouth. I remove these upper dentures and put them onto the ‘crash cart.’ After about an hour and a half the patient has sufficient heart rhythm and blood pressure, but he is still ventilated and intubated, and he is still comatose. He is transferred to the intensive care unit to continue the necessary artificial respiration. Only after more than a week do I meet again with the patient, who is by now back on the cardiac ward. The moment he sees me he says: ‘O, that nurse knows where my dentures are.’ I am very, very surprised. Then the patient elucidates: ‘You were there when I was brought into hospital and you took my dentures out of my mouth and put them onto that cart, it had all these bottles on it and there was this sliding drawer underneath, and there you put my teeth.’ I was especially amazed because I remembered this happening while the man was in deep coma and in the process of CPR. It appeared that the man had seen himself lying in bed, that he had perceived from above how nurses and doctors had been busy with the CPR. He was also able to describe correctly and in detail the small room in which he had been resuscitated as well as the appearance of those present like myself.” (You can read the full interview here, and see a response to a skeptic’s criticisms here).

In yet another case reported in a video interview with cardiac surgeon Dr. Lloyd Rudy, a patient once again reported accurate and unusual details of events occurring prior to and during resuscitation efforts: ““it was close to 20, 25 minutes that this man recorded no heartbeat, no blood pressure, and the echo showing no movement of the heart—just sitting. And all of a sudden we looked up, and this surgical assistant had just finished closing him, and we saw some electrical activity. Pretty soon, the electrical activity turned into a heartbeat. Very slow, 30 or 40 a minute … he recovered. And for the next ten days, two weeks, all of us went in and were talking to him about what he experienced, if anything. And he talked about the bright light … but the thing that astounded me was that he described that operating room, floating around, and saying ‘I saw you, and [the other dotor] in the doorway with your arms folded, talking; I didn’t know where the anesthesiologist was, but he came running back in; and I saw all of these post–its sitting on this TV screen’—and what these were, any call I got, the nurse would write down who called and the phone number, … and the next post–it would stick to that post–it … he described that. There’s no way he could have described that before the operation—because we didn’t have any calls.”

In addition to direct studies of recall of NDE memories, cases like these all go a long way to discredit the skeptical counterclaim that near death experiences don’t really happen during periods of clinical death, but are only reconstructed afterwards. Ring & Lawrence (1993) record three other cases of “veridical perception” which were corroborated by first–hand witnesses. Bruce Greyson investigated yet another case where a patient described one of the surgeons “flapping his arms as if trying to fly.” As he summarizes: “Both the surgeon and the cardiologist in this case confirmed that … to keep his hands from touching any surface between the time he “scrubs in” and the time he actually begins the surgery, he has developed the habit of holding his hands against his chest and pointing with his elbows to give instructions to other persons in the operating room. The cardiologist confirmed that Mr. Sullivan had described this unusual behavior to him shortly after regaining consciousness following the surgery.” [3]

One of the only attempts to study these reports directly was a study performed by Michael Sabom in 1982. Initially a skeptic inspired to investigate by Raymond Moody’s 1975 Life After Life, Sabom took 32 patients who reported out–of–body perceptions during near death experiences, and compared them to a control group of 25 patients who had had one or more episode of cardiac arrest without a near death experience. He asked the NDE group to describe their out–of–body perceptions, and compared these accounts to the control group’s attempts to describe their resuscitations. If the NDE group were no more accurate in their descriptions than the control group, this would lend plausibility to the idea that these accounts could possibly have been reconstructions produced after the fact, rather than truly veridical perceptions at the time supposed.

The results? Whereas 20 out of 23 who attempted the task in the control group made at least one major error, no members of the NDE group did—and furthermore, 6 members of the NDE group accurately recorded specific unusual details, some of which were peculiar to that patient’s own personal case. For example, one man who developed ventricular fibrillation described how a nurse picked up “them shocker things” and “touched them together,” before “everybody moved back away from it.” As Sabom explains (p.98), rubbing the paddles together to lubricate them and then standing back to avoid being shocked is a common procedure. Others talked about which family members were or weren’t in the waiting room, or the type of gurney that was used to wheel them in to the hospital. A nurse, Penny Sartori, whose experiences over 17 years working in intensive care units inspired her to turn to research on the near death experience (for which she was awarded a Ph.D), replicated his findings and recorded the results in her 2008 monograph, The Near–Death Experiences of Hospitalised Intensive Care Patients: A Five Year Clinical Study.

In a 2009 study also recorded in The Handbook of Near Death Experiences published with Bruce Greyson, Janice Miller Holden finds that of 93 cases of “veridical perception” reported in the literature on near death experiences, 40 were able to be verified as corroborated by an independent witness; 40 were reported by the experiencer to have been corroborated by an independent witness who was no longer available; and only 13 relied solely on the experiencer’s report. Furthermore, of all of these cases, 86 were found to be completely accurate, 6 were only partially corroborated or had some errors; and only the one remaining case was completely inaccurate.

There may not be the type of evidence here that counts as “proof” of the kind required to completely convince a skeptic who wants to know that absolutely no other conceivable explanation is even hypothetically possible before accepting that the realist interpretation of the near death experience could be a reasonable conclusion (nothing could actually meet this burden to begin with—as a last resort, a skeptic who is determined enough can simply dismiss the validity of every report, or every witness’ credibility or memory), but there is as much evidence as we could possibly expect to have given the extent to which the phenomena has actually been capable of being studied at all—and it is certainly enough to shift things even farther in the direction of putting the skeptic in a “platypus is a hoax”–type position, as we continue to add more and more evidence to the picture which the skeptic must find some way to explain away despite the fact that the realist interpretation obviously unifies, in a single explanation, all of it.

_______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______


Individuals who are blind from birth apparently do not have visual dreams. A 1999 review of 372 dreams in 15 individuals at the University of Hartford confirmed this, while finding that those who go blind before the age of 5 are mostly indistinguishable from the blind from birth, whereas those who lose their sight around the age of 7 or later “continue to experience at least some visual imagery, although its frequency and clarity often fade with time” (those who lose their sight between the ages of 5 and 7 can go either way).

Yet, in the book Mindsight, researchers Kenneth Ring and Sharon Cooper document their studies on experiences in the blind—who report near–death experiences exactly like those reported by the sighted, apparently with the same visual content. The authors quote from a recorded interview between one of their subjects—Vicki Umipeg—and another researcher, Greg Wilson: (GW: “Could you see anything?”) Vicki: “Nothing, never. No light, no shadows, no nothing, ever.” (GW: “So the optic nerve was destroyed to both eyes.”) Vicki: “Yes, and so I’ve never been able to understand even the concept of light.” As she described her experience: “I was pretty thin then. I was quite tall and thin at that point. And I recognized at first that it was a body, but I didn’t even know that it was mine initially. Then I perceived that I was up on the ceiling, and I thought, ‘Well, that’s kind of weird. What am I doing up here?’ I thought, ‘Well, this must be me. Am I dead?’ I just briefly saw this body, and … I knew that it was mine because I wasn’t in mine.”

She continued: “I think I was wearing the plain gold band on my right ring finger and my father’s wedding ring next to it. But my wedding ring I definitely saw … That was the one I noticed the most because it’s most unusual. It has orange blossoms on the corners of it. This was the only time I could ever relate to seeing and to what light was, because I experienced it.

It seems strange to suppose that reductions in the intensity of brain activity might be accompanied at some times by a reduction in the intensity of subjective experience, and at other times by an increase; or that some damage to the eyes might damage or obliterate the subjective experience of sight, whereas death should restore it—but a dualistic interpretation of the mind–body relationship can accommodate correlations in both of these directions, whereas a physicalist interpretation requires that they be in only one direction at all times. Suppose I am sitting inside of a theater, with a screen interpreting visual data from outside the building I am in, the speakers interpreting auditory data from outside, and so on: some subtle damage to the machinery of the theater’s visual processing system might destroy my ability to “see what is outside” completely—and yet, bashing down one of the walls would, nonetheless, influence my capacity to “see what is outside” in the opposite direction.

In a 1997 publication in the Journal of Near Death Studies, Cooper and Ring provide a more succinct presentation of their research: “Of our 21 NDErs, 15 claimed to have had some kind of sight, three were not sure whether they saw or not, and the remaining three did not appear to see at all. All but one of those who either denied or were unsure about being able to see came from those who were blind from birth, which means that only half of the NDErs in that category stated unequivocally that they had distinct visual impressions during their experience. Nevertheless,it is not clear by any means whether those respondents blind from birth who claimed not to have seen were in fact unable to, or simply failed to recognize what seeing was. For instance, one man whom we classified as a nonvisualizer told us that he could not explain how he had the perceptions he did because “I don’t know what you mean by ‘seeing.’”

As would be expected if these subjects were actually experiencing sight for the first time, even those who readily classified what they experienced as “sight” expressed bafflement—or even fear. Vicki Umipeg stated to interviewers: “I had a real difficult time relating to [sight] because I’ve never experienced it. And it was something very foreign to me. … Let’s see, how can I put it into words? It was like hearing words and not being able to understand them, but knowing that they were words. And before you’d never heard anything. But it was something new, something you”d not been able to previously attach any meaning to.” Ring notes that she later used the word “frightening” to describe the adjustment, and records that she described her ability to distinguish between “different shades of brightness,” and could only wonder if this was what sighted people mean by “color.”

Not only does the perceptual experience of sight occur during near death experiences in the blind; so, too, do cases of apparently veridical perception. They write: “[I]n at least some instances, we are able to offer some evidence, and in one case some very strong evidence, that these claims are in fact rooted in a direct and accurate, if baffling, perception of the situation.” After discussing another fascinating case that turned out to lack perfect verification (but which I think one could still reasonably believe—the witness who was recovered just couldn’t recall from memory the pattern on a piece of clothing identified by the patient to confirm their report), they move on to the case of “Nancy,” (see p.22).

Nancy “underwent a biopsy in 1991 in connection with a possible cancerous chest tumor. During the procedure, the surgeon inadvertently cut her superior vena cava, then compounded his error by sewing it closed, causing a variety of medical catastrophes including blindness, a condition that was discovered only shortly after surgery when Nancy was examined in the recovery room. She remembers waking up at that time and screaming, “I’m blind, I’m blind!” Shortly afterward, she was rushed on a gurney down the corridor in order to have an angiogram. However, the attendants, in their haste, slammed her gurney into a closed elevator door, at which point the woman had an out–of–body experience. Nancy told us she floated above the gurney and could see her body below. However, she also said she could see down the hall where two men, the father of her son and her current lover, were both standing, looking shocked. She remembers being puzzled by the fact that they simply stood there agape and made no movement to approach her. Her memory of the scene stopped at that point.”

They continue: “In trying to corroborate her claims, we interviewed the two men. The father of her son could not recall the precise details of that particular incident, though his general account corroborated Nancy’s, but her lover, Leon, did recall it and independently confirmed all the essential facts of this event. …  It should be noted that this witness has been separated from our participant for several years and they had not even communicated for at least a year before we interviewed him. Furthermore, even if Nancy had not been totally blind at the time, the respirator on her face during this accident would have partially occluded her visual field and certainly would have prevented the kind of lateral vision necessary for her to view these men down the hall. But the fact is, according to indications in her medical records and other evidence we have garnered, she appeared already to have been completely blind when this event occurred. …”

And then, quoting from Leon’s account: “I was in the hallway by the surgery and she was coming out and I could tell it was her. They were kind of rushing her out. … I saw people wheeling a gurney. I saw about four or five people with her, and I looked and I said, ‘God, it looks like Nancy,’ but her face and her upper torso were really swollen about twice the size it should have been. I was still in a state of shock. I mean, it had been a long day for me. You’re expecting an hour procedure and here it is, approximately 10 hours later and you don’t have very many answers. … When I first saw her she was probably, maybe about 100 feet and then she went right by us. … somebody was, like, trying to get into the elevator at the same time and there was some sort of a ‘Oh, I can’t get in, let’s move this over a little bit,’ kind of adjusting before they could get her into the elevator. But it was very swift … She was just really swollen. She was totally unrecognizable. I mean, I knew it was her but—you know, I was a medic in Vietnam and it was just like seeing a body after a day after they get bloated. It was the same kind of look.”

They conclude the paper from pp.24–46 with a discussion of implications, asking whether apparent sight during NDEs in the blind could be accounted for by some other means, such as blindsight: “First of all, patients manifesting [blindsight] typically cannot verbally describe the object they are alleged to see, unlike our respondents who, as we have noted, were usually certain about what they saw and could describe it often without hesitation. In fact, a cortically blind patient, even when his or her object identification exceeds chance levels, believes that it is largely the result of pure guesswork. Such uncertainties were not characteristic of our respondents. … perhaps most crucially of all, blindsight patients, unlike our respondents, do not claim that they can ‘see’ in any sense. As Humphrey wrote: ‘Certainly the patient says he does not have visual sensation. …Rather he says, ‘I don’t know anything at all—but if you tell me I’m getting it right I have to take your word for it’’ (1993, p. 90). This kind of statement is simply not found in the testimony of our respondents who, on the contrary, are often convinced that they have somehow seen what they report. Thus, the blindsight phenomenon, however fascinating it may be in its own right, cannot explain our findings.”

In any case, whatever alternative mechanism one might possibly propose for these examples, all participants describe the experience as being radically unlike anything else they have ever experienced. Vicki, for example, explicitly says that there is “No similarity, no similarity at all” between the sight she experienced during her near death experience and her dreams (which she describes as containing no visual imagery). Whatever these mechanisms might be, why should they become active only when the blind patient is approaching death and their brain is in the most disrupted, disorganized state it can be besides actual, irreversible death? Once again, the skeptic can insist on finding loopholes—no matter what premise an individual wants to hold to, if he intends to hold to it against all odds, then in many cases no argument in principle will be capable of convincing him—he can simply modus tollens the premises of any argument meant to defeat that premise. Regardless of whether what we have in these cases is “proof” in the requisite sense, I think it is clear that we have still yet more evidence that renders belief in the reality of these experiences still yet more reasonable—for, once again, the skeptic must produce still yet more ad hoc hypotheses to explain away the platypus, whereas the conclusion that these experiences are simply what they appear to be can easily account for all of it at once. And on both that basis as well as on the basis of overwhelming philosophical problems facing any attempt—which so far has, by even the admission of materialists themselves [2] come nowhere near to completion in the first place—to reduce consciousness to mechanism in principleI can only conclude that belief in the reality of the near death experience is entirely justifiable and reasonable, whether every imaginable alternative explanations can be definitively proved categorically inconceivable or not—as this is simply an illegitimate standard to impose on the question of whether or not a conclusion can be considered justifiable and reasonable.

_______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______


One final supplementary point: suppose the near death experience occurs precisely when it appears to. We have good reason to believe that it does in the existence of cases of veridical perception referenced above—and these would count as compelling evidence that the experience occurs at precisely the time it appears to even if the experience were to turn out to be a pure hallucination of some sort after all; for at the very least, the hallucination would be occurring, and somehow incorporating these perceptual details, at the time of clinical death and not after. Consider the way near death experiencers so widely report being deliberately “sent back” by the figures they encounter in the experience before it’s over. If the near death experience is simply the ‘hallucinatory phantasmagoria’ of a dying brain, how does it know to build this into the narrative of the vision from a state of severely impaired near–unconsciousness in advance of the actual resuscitation? Every single person reading this knows that even our dreams don’t typically end through any sequenced narrative marking our transitioning into wakefulness—they usually just end. At most, we might be familiar with falling asleep in a vehicle and watching our dream incorporate something like a face–first trip on a branch in the woods as we snap awake in response to riding over a particularly jarring bump. But few people ever have an experience of anything like the characters in their dream explaining to them in an elaborate narrative how it’s approaching time to wake up. And this, despite the fact that (1) our brains are not severely physiologically impaired during dreaming, and (2) the process of waking is usually more or less led and managed by the same brain conducting the dream—so it should be far more capable here than in the case of resuscitation from death of coordinating the contents of the dream with reality in advance. How, then, should the brain suddenly acquire the ability to synchronize its hallucinations with reality so far in advance—with no one reporting that they came to consciousness out of a near death experience before the figure could actually finish sending them back into their bodies, mid–sentence?

_______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______

[1] Best Evidence: 2nd Edition by Michael Schmicker, which cites John C. Gibbs,
Moody’s Versus Siegel’s interpretation of the near-death experience: An evaluation based on recent research.

[2] Paul Churchland: “Consciousness is almost certainly a property of the physical brain. The major mystery, however, is how neurons achieve effects such as being aware of a toothache or the smell of cinnamon. Neuroscience has not reached the stage where we can satisfactorily answer these questions.” 

Francis Crick: “What remains is the sobering realization that our subjective world of qualia—what distinguishes us from zombies and fills our life with color, music, smells and other vivid sensations—is possibly caused by the activity of a small fraction of all of the neurons in the brain, located strategically between the inner and outer worlds. [But] how these act to produce the subjective world that is so dear to us is still a complete mystery.”

Even though these authors profess confidence (and quite definitely resounding confidence elsewhere in other writings) that consciousness is “produced” by the processes of blind physical mechanism in the brain, they confess—in more honest moments—that they have no idea “how” this could be the case. Leaving aside the arguments I’ve stood by throughout this series that this very concept is simply confused in principle, how does someone justify claiming that they know an empirical claim is true without having any idea “how?”  Making analogy with the dualist’s claim that interaction takes place is unfounded for reasons I explain.

[3] I need donations of my own here just to try to survive—but if you’re interested in finding out more about these cases, consider supporting the effort to translate Titus Rivas (et al.)’s work compiling more than 80 new verified cases of corroborated perception into English from Dutch at the International Association of Near Death Studies (IANDS).

Consciousness (XII) — From Chalmersian “Laws” to Transmigration

_______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______


Questions about the ontological status of “laws” feature prominently in many debates between atheistic and theistic philosophers. In his 1859 Treatise on Theism, Francis Wharton (the author of Wharton’s Rule of Concert of Action which states that guilt of conspiracy to commit a crime requires more parties than are necessary to commit it) writes: “The existence of a comprehensive and beneficent system of law, in fact, is the strongest evidence of the existence of a Divine lawmaker… There is a vital distinction between a causal law, i.e. one that rules the genesis of events, and an empirical law, one that merely registers their occurrence. There is a vital distinction, for instance, between the time–tables issued from period to period by the officers of an extended railroad and the systematized observation of running by even a long and accurate series of travelers. The records of the latter are open to error… let a traveler rely on the latter, and he will find that though in a mere statistical point of view the results, like empirical laws in general, are interesting as helps to the memory, and useful as the base for business tables, they are in themselves of no permanent and absolute value as indications of the future. … The results of empirical observation are, therefore, incapable of becoming permanent laws for the future.”

Emanuel Haldeman–Julius (founder of Haldeman–Julius Publications) and Rev. Burris Jenkins debated the question in a 1930 debate titled “Is Theism a Logical Philosophy?” In the negative argument, Haldeman–Julius writes: “The fundamental error is found in the theist’s habit of confusing a human law with a natural “law.” A legislature passes a law saying that after a certain date it shall be illegal to behave in a certain way, to have liquor, for instance. If you break this law, and are not caught, nothing happens except the usual next morning headache. If you are caught, you may be sent to the penitentiary. Or let us say that the people make up their minds to break the law so flagrantly that enforcement falls down and the law is either ignored or repealed. That is a human law. That implies a lawmaker, of course. But it is treacherous logic to say the “laws” of nature are the result of the will of a lawmaker. The scientific use of the word “law” as applied to nature means only this: things in nature act in certain ways — their movements are Uniform — and when you use the word “law” you merely describe how things are observed to conduct themselves.”

In the modern day, the theistic philosopher Keith Ward writes: “The existence of laws of physics does not render God superfluous. On the contrary, it strongly implies that there is a God who formulates such laws and ensures that the physical realm conforms to them.” Bede Rundle, in an atheistic response in ‘Why There is Something Rather than Nothing,’ writes that: “[I]t is wrong to regard laws of Nature as basic. That status goes to whatever it is—the characteristics and behaviour of particles, gases, and so forth—that the laws codify. Indeed, the notion of a natural or physical law, or at least the use to which this is put, is often questionable. Not because there is no place for the notion, but because those who insist on the reality of such laws tend to model them on legal laws, as if the natural variety likewise enjoyed an independence of the actual behaviour of individuals, to the point even of antedating and dictating that behavior. … it is not as if God might rewrite the laws of Nature and inanimate things, being now differently governed, would thereupon proceed to behave differently—though just some such view was in no way foreign to the seventeenth–century conception of laws of Nature as divine commands. With legal laws there is an intelligible relation between the law and behaviour: understanding a law, and having a motive to act in accordance with it, we act. Substitute inanimate bodies for comprehending agents and we sever any such intelligible tie; the law is in no sense instrumental in bringing about accord with it. … What would God have to do to ensure that atoms, say, behave the way they do? Simply create them to be as they in fact are.  Atoms having just those features which we currently appeal to in explaining the relevant behaviour, it does not in addition require that God formulate a law prescribing that behaviour. Again, the point is addressed by David Marshall Brooks, in The Necessity of Atheism: “A “law” of nature is not a statute drawn up by a legislator; it is the interpretation and the summation which we give to the observed facts. The phenomena which we observe do not act in a particular manner because there is a law; but we state the “law” because they act in that particular manner. [So] it cannot be said that the laws of nature are the result of a lawmaker….”

John Lennox writes in God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? that: “We certainly expect to be able to formulate theories involving mathematical laws that describe natural phenomena, and we can often do this with astonishing degrees of precision. However, the laws that we find cannot themselves cause anything. Newton’s laws can describe the motion of a billiard ball, but it is the cue wielded by the billiard player that sets the ball moving, not the laws. The laws help us map the trajectory of the ball’s movement in the future (provided nothing external interferes), but they are powerless to move the ball, let alone bring it into existence.” He even makes the interesting note that “the much maligned William Paley” recognized the point: “It is a perversion of language to assign any law, as the efficient, operative cause of any thing. A law presupposes an agent; for it is only the mode, according to which an agent proceeds: it implies a power; for it is the order, according to which that power acts. Without this agent, without this power, which are both distinct from itself, the law does nothing; is nothing.”

Likewise, C. S. Lewis writes in Chapter 1 of Mere Christianity, that “When you say that falling stones always obey the law of gravitation, is not this much the same as saying that the law only means “what stones always do”? You do not really think that when a stone is let go, it suddenly remembers that it is under orders to fall to the ground. You only mean that, in fact, it does fall. In other words, you cannot be sure that there is anything over and above the facts themselves, any law about what ought to happen, as distinct from what does happen. The laws of nature, as applied to stones or trees, may only mean “what Nature, in fact, does.”.” In the atheist Richard Carrier’s response to Victor Reppert’s presentation of one of C. S. Lewis’ arguments in C. S. Lewis Dangerous Idea, he writes: “The “law” of gravity … ‘is’ in every place and time where the physical conditions that manifest gravity exist.” A thousand more examples await anyone who searches a phrase like “laws lawgiver atheism Christianity.” Keep this point in mind and try not to get lost in the chaos of changing topics—the reason for it will eventually become clear: “laws” are only our descriptions of what actually existing things do. By and large, the atheist’s only option is to say that the actually existing things whose behavior are physical objects and forces themselves. The theist can (though does not necessarily) adopt a kind of idealism and say that the “agent” responsible for the law is in fact the ordering power of the mind of God—and not the intrinsic properties of physical objects and forces themselves—but to avoid this possibility, the atheist’s only option—again—is to contend that it is the intrinsic properties of physical objects and forces themselves which are actually directly responsible for the behaviors which we label, after the fact, in the terminology of “laws.”

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This won’t, perhaps, be the most efficient way for me to make the following point, but I’d like to illustrate it this way for a reason. Consider, for a moment, the Kalām cosmological argument. Kalām attempts to proceed from the premise that the Universe began to exist (supported by empirical premises acquired from Big Bang cosmology, and philosophical premises regarding paradoxes implying that actual infinites—such as an actually infinite past—cannot possibly exist in reality) and the premise that anything that begins to exist must have a cause, to the conclusion (supported by a variety of further considerations) that the cause of the Universe must be “God” (a changeless, timeless, singular disembodied mind). What are the most plausible ways out of this argument for the atheist?

Some will simply reject the argument that everything that begins to exist must have a cause—usually, this is done by arguing that the initial coming into existence of the Universe is a special case because, as Gott, Gunn, Schramm, and Tinsley write: “…time [itself was] created in that event … [so] it is not meaningful to ask what happened before the big bang; it is somewhat like asking what is north of the North Pole.” For my part, I simply cannot bring myself to find this approach even slightly plausible. It is incoherent to ask what is north of the North Pole, but it is not incoherent to ask what is above the North Pole—there is something above it even if there isn’t something “north” of it, and if someone were to ask what was “north” of the North Pole, this would, in all probability, be what they actually meant. Notice that in this statement, Gott, Gunn, Schramm and Tinsley themselves cannot escape causal language: “time,” they write, “[was] created.” While it should go without saying that the ways in which we happen to use language don’t necessarily entail any particular philosophical truths, I think in this case it reflects the fact that we simply can’t coherently think in any other but causal and temporal terms—and I can only infer that this is because in this case the idea simply is as incoherent as it would be to say that the North Pole exists with nothing “above” it (not even space?). Critics of this approach make the further point that we can easily see that it isn’t a logical necessity that all causes precede their effects “within time”—for example, Kant famously asked his readers to imagine a Universe where a heavy ball sat on a cushion from the moment that Universe came to exist: the ball would be the cause of the depression in the cushion even though the ball (or the pressure from the ball) did not precede the cushion (or the depression within the cushion) in any temporal sequence of events within that Universe—so that even if it were meaningless to ask what came “before” the Big Bang, this still wouldn’t render it meaningless to ask what caused it.

More plausibly, then, the atheist can attack the premise that an infinite past is either logically impossible or scientifically ruled out by modern cosmology. For example, on some multiverse cosmologies, a quantum void of some sort could be the “heart” of all Existence, the changeless center–point from which every contingent, changing universe is born—through quantum physical mechanisms rather than the intentional conscious acts of a God. (Note as well that the very fact that these hypotheses exist already shows that it is not unmeaningful to ask what preceded the Big Bang. We do not know that nothing came before the Big Bang—there are competing hypotheses, and the very idea that the “Big Bang was the objective beginning” scenario should be preferred itself requires the assumption that the notion is coherent to begin with. Asking what happened before the Big Bang is more like asking what is above the highest building we can see than it is like asking what is “north” of the North Pole—if the answer is “nothing,” then that is surprising, and someone who gives this answer has as much of a burden to advance the truth of the claim with a proactive argument as anyone else. If the Big Bang is truly the first moment of “objective time,” then asking what came before it may be like asking what is “north” of the North Pole—but it would have to be demonstrated that we cannot, for that, nonetheless coherently ask the equivalent of whether there is nonetheless something “above” the North Pole. We do not know that the Big Bang is truly the first moment of “objective time”—indeed, it is hard to see what empirical discovery could ever qualify as confirming absolutely that we know we’ve found the first moment of Time Itself—and part of the very question of whether the inference to that interpretation of our historical–cosmological knowledge is viable requires the premise that a state of affairs where there is nothing “above” a given point in space—nothing “before” a given point in time—is a coherent notion in the first place. If we have a priori reason to think that it is not, then that a priori consideration provides a constraint against what an accurate description or explanation will have to look like in principle.) Let me emphasize that nothing peculiar rests on this being my personal perspective on Kalām—I simply want to use it for an analogy in a point I will tie in much later.

So in any case, look what has happened here: if we take this approach, then we have concluded that the physical universe itself must be eternal in order to escape the need to explain its coming–to–be in a way that might entail the need to account for it with reference to something non–physical—even though we cannot confirm its eternality (any more than we could confirm its finality) ‘empirically.’ This is, in my view, a legitimate way of reasoning—and I think if you reject it, then you can’t escape the force of the theistic conclusions that would otherwise follow.

Once again, keep this point in mind for later as we now move on and try not to get lost in seeming chaos as the subject once again proceeds through another quite drastic change: the most plausible route for the atheist through the Kalām cosmological argument (in my estimation) is to insist that the beginning of time simply doesn’t need to be accounted for with some further explanation because it had no beginning—time is eternal, and the past is infinite. Even if my estimation of this argument is wrong, the analogy will still be relevant, because it at the very least could have come out that this would have been the most reasonable way to think about Kalām.

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Perhaps the single biggest problem with Chalmers’ philosophy is that it entails epiphenomenalism. My arguments will be to the conclusion that a much more substantialist and interactionist view of consciousness than Chalmers’ is the only way to avoid these implications. Chalmers approach to getting out of the threat that epiphenomenalism poses to the validity of his view is to argue that “what is a problem for all is a problem for none”—namely, to try to say that epiphenomenalism is a threat to the interactionist account as well, in just the same way, so it therefore poses no special problem for his view in particular. I’m going to take the liberty of stating that Chalmers is patently wrong on this point. Contra Chalmers, epiphenomenalism does pose a specific peculiar threat to his view which it absolutely does not for an interactionist view. And every fundamental issue regarding the nature of human consciousness from this point forward intimately turns on this one issue about which Chalmers is unequivocally mistaken.

“What is a problem for all is a problem for none” is a valid approach, if the reasoning underlying it is actually valid—but in this case, Chalmers’ reasoning quite plainly is not. Ironically, he realizes his own mistake within the very paragraphs in which he presents this argument—and then steps back and repeats it anyway. We’ll begin to see how significant the consequences of correcting this mistake are soon. He writes: “…All versions of interactionist dualism have a conceptual problem that suggests that they are less successful in avoiding epiphenomenalism than they might seem….” Why? Because “ … even on these views, there is a sense in which the phenomenal is irrelevant.” And what sense is that? Experience is irrelevant even on interactionism, according to Chalmers, in the sense that we can always describe a sequence of events without including experience in that description: “We can always subtract the phenomenal component from any explanatory account, yielding a purely causal component.” Thus, consciousness on the interactionist’s account has “ … a sort of causal relevance but explanatory irrelevance.” This is the sole line of reasoning on which Chalmers’ decision to commit to epiphenomenalism despite its apparent problems rests: even if consciousness does in fact play a causal role in reality, we could talk as if it doesn’t—therefore, it doesn’t matter whether our theory allows that consciousness actually does play a causal role in reality or not. And so, “the denial of the causal closure of the physical therefore makes no significant difference in the avoidance of epiphenomenalism.

Chalmers’ reasoning on this point is uncharacteristically sloppy, and mired in straightforward and inexcusable confusion. It doesn’t matter whether we can talk as if consciousness plays no causal part in reality. What matters is whether or not it actually does. On Chalmers’ view, it doesn’t. On an interactionist account, it does. With respect to the threat of epiphenomenalism, that is everything that matters (and it matters tremendously). We will see that correcting this error has deep consequences for where the lines of reasoning I’ve been defending and arguing for here (some points of which are borrowed from Chalmers or at least take Chalmers as their starting point) ultimately end up taking us.

The question posed by epiphenomenalism is whether consciousness actually is a causally relevant feature of reality—and Chalmers does not actually deny that consciousness is causally relevant on the interactionist picture of reality. He merely suggests that the “explanatory irrelevance” which he claims consciousness has on interactionism is somehow just as bad as the causal irrelevance which consciousness has on his view. But what does “explanatory irrelevance” actually mean, here? What concept is Chalmers actually using that phrase to express? It means here that we can create a story and leave a given feature out of our description. But from the fact that we can create such a story, it does not follow that this “story” actually describes reality as it actually is. I can create a story of World War II that does not mention Hitler, or anti–semitism. Does that give Hitler, or anti–semitism, “a sort of causal relevance but explanatory irrelevance” with respect to the events of World War II? (What the hell, Chalmers?)

If an “explanation” is something that actually describes realitythen consciousness cannot have “explanatory irrelevance” in spite of “causal relevance”—period. An “explanation” that does not explain why reality actually is as it actually is is no “explanation” at all. “Causal relevance” would mean that consciousness as such is, in fact, part of the reality that we want to describe. From the fact that we can create false descriptions of reality, nothing of any significance—nothing about reality as it actually is—follows. On interactionism, any true description—that is, any actual “explanation”—will in fact be the one which keeps consciousness intact. I can describe reality without referring to consciousness—but so what? I could also describe World War II without mention of Hitler, or Judaism. I could also describe the phenomenon we call “gravity” without referring to the structure of space–time—by simply restricting myself to talk about material objects, and saying for example that “objects undergo an intrinsic pull to move towards the largest object closest to them.” Does it follow from this that the physical structure of space–time itself is “irrelevant” to reality in any meaningful way on a viewpoint that takes the gravitational force as such to be one of reality’s fundamentals? Absolutely not; and the suggestion would be, quite frankly, idiotic.

On an interactionist view of consciousness, “can” I give an account of any sequence of events which leaves the causal contributions of consciousness out of the story? Sure. But will that story be true? No—and that is the only point that matters. Supposing for a moment it were true that a God created the Universe,  I “could” in that case nonetheless give an account which leaves God’s irreducibly intentional concious act of creation out of the story. Would that make God “explanatory irrelevant” to the world’s creation and would this “explanatory irrelevance” therefore be just as good as atheism? No—because my “story” would be just that—a “story”; and not a real description of why reality actually is as it actually is. If an “explanation” is supposed to actually explain why things actually are how they actually are, then assuming God created the Universe, the account which left God out would not be an “explanation” at all—so if God did in fact create the Universe, God would not be “explanatorily irrelevant” to how the Universe was created. But on Chalmers’ view, when I give those accounts of sequences of human behavior which leave consciousness out of the causal story, those accounts are true—they are accurate descriptions of why what happened actually happened. Consciousness–as–such, on Chalmers’ account, is therefore “explanatorily irrelevant” because it is causally irrelevant. And Chalmers cannot weasel out of that by simply pointing out that we could tell a story which leaves consciousness out even if consciousness were in fact part of the correct story—the fact that we “could” tell that story is irrelevant. I “can” tell a story in which unicorns replaced the role ordinarily played by either God or the Big Bang singularity in the story of the creation of the Universe. The fact that I “can” tell such a story entails absolutely nothing whatsoever about reality except that I am capable of saying something that is untrue about reality. To suggest that that is in any way comparable to the scenario in which either God or a Big Bang singularity actually did in fact play no causal part in bringing the Universe as we know it into existence in reality is a shameless piece of confusion.

_______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______


However, there is one legitimate basis—in Chalmers’ defense—for his having acquired this confusion: John Eccles, who Chalmers quotes in this section as the substantialist–interactionist example, takes some steps in drawing his account which inadvertently provide unintended support to an intuition which rests on a misunderstanding of dualism. Though Eccles himself seems not to actually commit the mistake in his own mind, he speaks in a way that doesn’t always leave this clear—and in doing so he does the public relations side of interactionism a disservice. Allow me to illustrate.

In 1989, John Eccles published a paper titled “A unitary hypothesis of mind–brain interaction in the cerebral cortex.” Much of the paper consisted of a legitimate argument showing that quantum physics allows viable room (or did given the most up–to–date knowledge of the time) for irreducibly conscious causation. But the way Eccles spoke of conscious causation is unfortunate and extremely amenable to a common conceptual confusion. He writes:   “The hypothesis has been proposed that all mental events and experiences, in fact the whole of the outer and inner sensory experiences, are a composite of elemental or unitary mental experiences at all levels of intensity. Each of these mental units is reciprocally linked in some unitary manner to a dendron … Appropriately we name these proposed mental units ‘psychons.’ … It may seem that in this intimate linkage of dendrons and psychons the new unitary hypothesis of dualist interactionism is merely a further refinement of the materialist identity hypothesis … [but] this is a mistake. Independence of existence is accorded to psychons….” It seems that this way of speaking suggests a model where psychons are analogous to dendrons at least in that they are discrete, quantifiably measurable units. And this naturally predisposes anyone trying to visualize Eccles’ “psychon–dendron interaction” on par with the mechanical type of interaction that takes place between dendrons and dendrons themselves, or between billiard balls on the very Newtonian picture of reality whose accuracy the rest of the paper denies.

On the one hand, Eccles seems to realize the hazards in his way of speaking—for he clarifies: “ Psychons are not perceptual paths to experiences. They are the experiences in all their diversity and uniqueness.”

Yet, on that same page, Eccles draws a picture of the connection between “dendrons” and “psychons.” And this is unfortunate, for it suggests yet again at least implicitly that consciousness is the kind of thing that could possibly be drawn. But anything that could be drawn would be, by definitiona physical–relational structure—and the arguments for dualism proceed largely precisely through illustrating the very fundamental insight that qualitative conscious experiences and intentionality can’t be analyzed or understood through descriptions of mechanistic operations between physical–relational structures in the first place. This makes even accidentally construing consciousness as something that could be analyzable in terms of the causal properties of discretely quantified units incredibly unhelpful—the fact that consciousness is not the kind of thing that could possibly be “graphed” in principle is exactly the very point that the dualist needs to insist until it ‘clicks’ in the mind of his opponent. While Eccles seems to have realized it, it doesn’t pervade his way of speaking or representing the principles he tries to talk about—and that lack spills over into Chalmers’ comprehension of what an interactionist consciousness would be like as well. The fact that we cannot, in principle, visualize interaction between subjective/qualitative consciousness and objective/quantitative physical structure is exactly the point Descartes emphasized to his critics all the way back then: “[the interaction problem] arise[s] merely from [critics’] wishing to subject to the scrutiny of the imagination matters which, by their own nature, do not fall under it.” Eccles simply should not have encouraged this already all–too–easy psychological tendency by trying to “imagine” (e.g., represent with images) the process of interaction even with caveats. 

All Eccles actually wanted to communicate in the section in which this drawing appears is that there is a causal link of some kind between the qualitative properties of a conscious experience and the physical states of the brain—which no one has failed to understand must necessarily be true in some way from the moment it was observed that blows to the head or intake of alcohol or bad food could alter the state of one’s consciousness. Very little is contributed to that point by speaking of “psychons” or implying even by inadvertent accident that the “psychons” composing our qualitative conscious experiences and intentionalistic conscious thoughts could actually be represented by a diagrammatic drawing of physical structures—but opportunity to emphasize something extremely crucial to the interactionist idea is lost.

Qualitatively subjective and intentionalistic consciousness is the very medium in which all our thoughts exist, and these qualitative, subjective, and intentionalistic properties are without exception the sole exclusive mode in which they have their existence. Yet, in all cases except for thinking about consciousness itself, when we turn our attention to causal relationships, we are overwhelmingly used to thinking of mechanical interactions between structures. This is exactly why getting an intuitive grasp on the mind–body problem is so hard—universal habit has it engrained in us in all other cases except this one to think of causation in terms of mechanistic procedures mediating structurally depictable forces and objects through space. However much Eccles may have tried to caveat his illustration with emphasis that it is not a depiction of mind–brain “identity”, Chalmers’ confusion is all the confirmation needed to show that Eccles—and those who defend the idea that consciousness as such is an irreducible and causally active component of reality all in its own right, in general—should go much farther to guard against these overwhelming psychological tendencies. To properly understand what interactionist dualism entails, we must guard at all times against the tendency to revert in habit back to depicting irreducibly qualitative, subjective, and intentionalistic consciousness’ interactions with the structures of the physical world by such close analogy with mechanical interactions between physical structures within the physical world. And as Eccles unfortunately slips back just far enough into this habit enough to make his explanations easily amenable to this very rampant confusion, the confusion is carried over by Chalmers who now proceeds to take the structures Eccles has used to represent the fundamentally non–structural and point out that we could have these same structures perform their structural work without their needing to be conscious at all—and this is how Chalmers ends up with the confused and mistaken conclusion that dualism does not truly provide an “out” from the threat of epiphenomenalism created by combining the premise of causal closure of the structurally depictable physical dimensions of reality with the premise of consciousness’ irreducibility to those physical structures.

Chalmers writes: “Imagine (with Eccles) that ‘psychons’ in the nonphysical mind push around physical processes in the brain, and that psychons are the seat of experience.” Already, Chalmers supposes that “psychons” are first and foremost structural entities which “push” in virtue of their structural properties—and happen to be “the seat of experience” only as a secondary coincidence. The picture Chalmers is getting—not unreasonably, given the unfortunate way Eccles chose to represent it—is that a “psychon” is really a structural sort of thing that has causal dispositions in virtue of its structure, with conscious properties somehow tagging along as an “extra” to the mechanical processes they physically engage in. Indeed, on this picture, a “dualism” of this kind would have no virtues whatsoever over materialism: why not tack those conscious properties onto material structures instead of whatever these extra ghostly structures are? But this is unequivocally the wrong way to think about interactionist dualism. Interactionism is not the idea that there is some special kind of “stuff” that does what it does in virtue of the structural kind of “stuff” that it is but which then just happens to have conscious experiences tacked onto it as a secondary coincidence—where it would have otherwise been the same basic kind of “stuff” had we taken it and had these secondary coincidental experiential properties removed. Interactionism is the idea that conscious experience itself is the “special stuff,” and that the “stuff” that is conscious experience itself interacts with the rest of the physical world in a distinct way that is nonetheless every bit as unanalyzable and basic as mechanical causation between purely structural entities themselves—remove the properties of experientiality from consciousness, and you don’t have a structural kind of “stuff” left minus a certain extra tacked on property—nothing is left at all because consciousness just is the phenomena of subjective experience. And while it appears that Eccles understands that this is not the way to think about it and he warns against taking his language as implying the suggestion that we should, his language is nonetheless incredibly hard to take as adding anything new to the picture except that very suggestion. The point that should be emphasized is that consciousness is not analyzable in terms of structure; and that it is consciousness itself—defined by the essential, irreducible properties of qualitative subjectivity and intentionality—which is causally relevant.

This is again exactly the core point addressed in the previous entry — “The Nature of Scientific “Explanation” and the Interaction “Problem”: Descartes, in addressing his opponents’ objections to idea that consciousness and the (rest of the) physical world could possibly interact, in principle, if they were different in anything like the way Descartes suggested they were, responded that the problem “arise[s] merely from [critics’] wishing to subject to the scrutiny of the imagination matters which, by their own nature, do not fall under it.” If consciousness itself is a “fundamental” entity unanalyzable in any other more fundamental terms, then conscious–physical interaction is just as ultimately unanalyzable in any but its own category—in principle—as physical–to–physical causation is at the bottom line. As James Moreland was also quoted as saying in that essay, “One can ask how turning the key starts a car because there is an intermediate electrical system between the key and the car’s running engine that is the means by which turning the key causes the engine to start. The “how” question is a request to describe that intermediate mechanism. But the interaction between [consciousness] and [the brain] may be … direct and immediate. [And if] there is no intervening mechanism, [then] a “how” question describing that mechanism does not even arise”—just as it would not arise—and could not be answerable even in principle—for us to ask something like “How does pushing the gas pedal cause it to move?” The relationship between pushing and being pushed is simply one of the most basic fundamental terms in which physical causation takes place—and this relationship is simply unanalyzable in terms of anything more basic than itself. Yet notice that when we speak of the “intervening mechanism[s]” of the electrical system structurally mediating the structural relationship between the key and the car’s running engine, every single one of our most ultimate terms will involve direct and immediate, unmediated, interactions at each step—each ingredient of our “explanation” of the intermediate steps of causation between the key and the car’s running engine will, individually, be as unanalyzable themselves as the question of “how pushing the gas pedal causes it to move.” At the core of every sort of “explanation” that we are actually capable of are terms which themselves simply cannot in principle be “explained.” The interactionist suggestion is therefore simply that mental–to–physical causation is at the bottom line simply one of the “bedrock and thus unexplainable” kinds of events that take place in the world, rather than one of the kinds which are “secondary and derivative from other bedrock terms and thus explainable through reduction to those other, ultimate terms”.

The interactionist dualist suggests that interaction between irreducible consciousness and physical structure is every bit as “basic” and direct and therefore unanalyzable in terms of anything more fundamental as the most basic ingredients of the terms of explanation of mechanical interactions between physical structures. Our inability to analyze or “explain” the nature of irreducibly conscious interaction is not like an inability to explain how a key causally connects to a car engine—it is analogous to our inability to analyze or “explain” the most basic and irreducible terms of physical causation itself, such as how the mass of an object of a given size and density causes the surrounding spacetime fabric to curve, or how an object’s velocity at a given moment causes its velocity in the very next. The only answer that is possible even in principle for these questions is to simply accept that the very terms themselves are primitive and irreducible. The dualist suggestion is thus that my irreducibly conscious intention to move my hand causes the neurological process which results in my hand’s movement in just as basic and unanalyzable a way as the other examples just given here—and this is how dualism escapes the threat of epiphenomenalism. Eccles, by speaking as if consciousness interacts with the brain through intermediating mechanisms that can be diagramatically visualized as physical structures—even if that is not what he meant—obscures the incredibly overwhelming significance of this basic and core fundamental point, and it is understandable why Chalmers ends up confused. In other words, Eccles rather inadvertently pushes the problem back a step: rather than consciousness–as–such interacting directly with dendrons, if this interaction is mediated through psychons that can be depicted in any structural sort of way, now we just push the issue back to consciousness–as–such interacting directly with psychons to achieve the effects which psychons are capable of producing on dendrons. Why include “psychons” in the middle of the picture at all, except to get around the fact that we can’t directly visualize mental–to–physical interaction in principle (which should be precisely the crucial point the dualist should have to emphasize in the first place)?!

Thus, Chalmers writes that “We can tell a story about the causal relations between psychons and physical processes, and a story about the causal dynamics among psychons, without ever invoking the fact that psychons have phenomenal properties. … It follows that the fact that psychons are the seat of experience plays no essential role in a causal explanation, and that even in this picture experience is explanatorily irrelevant.” No. We could only tell a story about “psychons” —and actually be describing “psychons”—if “psychons” were in fact performing their causal relations with physical processes in virtue of their structural properties. (And while I have objected above that that is the impression that Eccles indirectly went a long way to feed, it is not what he was actually trying to say).  But if the phenomenal properties themselves are causally active, then our so–called “story” simply is not a description of reality itself—and it is therefore no “explanation” in any meaningful sense of the word. Eccles’ unfortunate way of speaking implicitly lends itself to Chalmers’ faulty interpretation. Correcting it to throw out Eccles’ useless and misleading neologism, the entire point of the dualistic position is to say that consciousness is not a fundamentally structural phenomena which simply happens to possess “phenomenal properties” as if by accident—“consciousness” itself fundamentally is those very “properties.” Consciousness itself is just exactly the very basic phenomena of experientiality itself. Consciousness—experience itself—is what is playing the causal role, if dualism is right.

That avoids epiphenomenalism in a most obvious way that it is inexcusably purblind not to see. The premise that the structural and mathematically and spatially definable (e.g., “physical”) aspects of reality are “causally closed” combined with the premise that phenomenal and intentionalistic consciousness is neither identical to nor “composed of” mathematical and spatial structures specifically leads to epiphenomenalism by modus ponens. Furthermore, this poses an absolutely insuperable problem for Chalmers’ view of consciousness for a reason Chalmers himself explicitly acknowledges. And it is unbearably obvious, when looking at that reason, why eliminating the premise of causal closure of the “physical” eliminates the entailed conclusion of epiphenomenalism. Again, against Chalmers’ attempt to use a meaningless notion of “explanatory irrelevance” to escape the claim that his view faces the problem that it peculiarly winds up in epiphenomenalism, epiphenomenalism does specifically threaten Chalmers’ view in particular, because it follows by modus ponens from the combination of the conclusion that consciousness as such is irreducible to physical structure with the premise that interaction between physical structures is “causally closed.” And this problem ends up absolutely slicing the legs off of all of Chalmers’ further proposal from here. The only valid option that Chalmers (or anyone who follows his reasoning up to here) is left with is either to go back on all of the antireductionist arguments that got us here first place and become reductionists or eliminativists of some kind, or else drop “causal closure.”

In The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory, Chalmers writes (pp.216–217): “[There are] constraints … in generating a theory of consciousness. The most obvious is the principle we rely on whenever we take someone’s verbal report as an indicator of their conscious experience: that people’s reports concerning their experiences by and large accurately reflect the contents of their experiences. … If the principle turned out to be entirely false, all bets would be off: in that case, the world would simply be an unreasonable place, and a theory of consciousness would be beyond us. In developing any sort of theory, we assume that the world is a reasonable place, where planets do not suddenly pop into existence with fossil records fully formed, and where complex laws are not jury–rigged to reproduce the predictions of simpler ones. Otherwise, anything goes.”

But now recall the central core of my argument against epiphenomenalism in entry (IV) of this serieswhich was precisely the fact that it would render us incapable of ever talking about the qualitative properties of consciousness as such, in principle!

Quote: “In Jaegwon’s words, what the principle states is that: “if we trace the causal ancestry of a physical event we need never go outside the physical domain.” What Jaegwon Kim realized was that if we combine this claim with the realization that subjective experience can’t be reduced to or accounted for in terms of physical mechanism,  then we end up with a description of reality known as epiphenomenalism, on which—roughly—experiences more or less dangle off the edges of the world before simply falling off (I’ll explain this more in a minute). Jaegwon’s description of the state of play was thus that the choices are to either claim that subjective experience can be reduced to physical description (which is what he had, by then, saw the same compelling reasons to reject which I am outlining here), reject the principle of causal closure, or else accept epiphenomenalism….

… One of the easiest ways to explain an epiphenomenalist relationship is by example. If you stand in front of a mirror and jump up and down, your reflection is an epiphenomena of your actual body. What this means is that yourbody’s jump is what causes your reflection to appear to jump—your body’s jump is what causes your real body to fall—and your body’s fall is what causes your reflection to fall. It may seem to be the case that your reflection’s apparent jump is what causes your reflection to appear to fall, but this is purely an illusion: your reflection doesn’t cause anything in this story; not even its own future states. …

If epiphenomenalism were true, no one would ever be able to write about it. In fact: no one would ever be able to write—nor think—about consciousness in general. No one would ever once in the history of universe have had a single thought about a single one of the questions posed by philosophy of mind. Not a single philosophical position on the nature of consciousness, epiphenomenalist or otherwise, would ever have been defined, believed, or defended by anyone. No one would even be able to think about the fact that conscious experiences exist.

And the reason for that, in retrospect, is quite plain to see: on epiphenomenalism, our thoughts are produced by our physical brains. But our physical brains, in and of themselves, are just machines—our conscious experiences exist, as it were in effect, within another realm, where they are blocked off from having any causal influence on anything whatsoever (even including the other mental states existing within their realm, because it is some physical state which determines every single one of those). But this means that our conscious experiences can never make any sort of causal contact with the brains which produce all our conscious thoughts in the first place. And thus, our brains would have absolutely no capacity to formulate any conception whatsoever of their existence—and since all conscious thoughts are created by brains, we would never experience any conscious thoughts about consciousness. For another diagram, if we represent causality with arrows, causal closure with parentheses, physical events with the letter P and experiences with the letter e, the world would look something like this:

… e1 ⇠ (((P⇆P))) ⇢ e2 …

Everything that happens within the physical world—illustrated by (((P⇆P)))—would be wholly and fully kept and contained within the physical world, where conscious experiences as such do not reside; the physical world is Thomas Huxley’s train which moves whether the whistle on top blows steam or not. And e1 and e2 float off of the physical world—for whatever reason—and then merely dissipate into nothingness like steam, with no capacity in principle for making any causal inroads back into the physical dimension of reality whatsoever. This follows straightforwardly as an inescapable conclusion of the very premises which epiphenomenalism defines itself by. But since the very brains which produce all our experienced thoughts are contained within (((P⇆P))), in order to have any experienced thought about conscious experience itself, these (per epiphenomenalism) would have to be the epiphenomenal byproducts of a brain state that is somehow reflective or indicative of conscious experience. But brain states, again because per epiphenomenalism they belong to the self–contained world inside (((P⇆P))) where no experiences as such exist, are absolutely incapable in principle of doing this.

To refer back to our original analogy whereby epiphenomenalism was described by the illustration of a person jumping up and down in front of a mirror, then: it would be as if the mirror our brains were jumping up and down in front of were shielded inside of a black hole in a hidden dimension we couldn’t see. Our real bodies [by analogy, our physical brains] would never be able to see anything happening inside that mirror. And therefore, they would never be able to think about it or talk about it. And therefore, we would never see our reflections [by analogy, our consciously experienced minds] thinking or talking about the existence of reflections, because our reflections could only do that if our real bodies were doing that, and there would be absolutely no way in principle that our real bodies ever could.

The fact that we do this, then—the fact that we do think about consciousness as such, and the fact that we write volumes and volumes and volumes and volumes philosophizing about it, and the very fact that we produce theories (including epiphenomenalism itself) about its relation to the physical world in the first place—proves absolutely that whatever the mechanism may be, conscious experiences somehow most absolutely do in fact have causal influence over the world. What we have here is a rare example of a refutation that proceeds solely from the premises of the position itself, and demonstrates an internal inconsistency.

But Jaegwon Kim has identified the possible options for us: either experiences and physical events are just literally identical (which even Kim himself rejects, for good reasons we have outlined here), or else epiphenomenalism is true (which Jaegwon Kim accepts, but which the simple argument outlined just now renders completely inadmissible)—or else the postulate of the causal closure of the physical domain is false—and conscious experience is both irreducible to and incapable of being explained in terms of blind physical mechanisms, and possesses unique causal efficacy over reality all in its own right.”

It should be too obvious to need stating that supposing that consciousness itself is a causally active phenomena in the world irreducible to any others avoids the conclusion that consciousness is causally inactive (which is exactly all that is meant by the term “epiphenomenalism”). Yet, Chalmers wants to retain the principle of causal closure: “[On] the dualist view I advocate … causal closure of the physical is preserved; physics, chemistry, neuroscience, and cognitive science can proceed as usual. In their own domains, the physical sciences are entirely successful. They explain physical phenomena admirably; they simply fail to explain conscious experience.” In other words, explanations of what happens in the world—according to Chalmers—are absolutely complete without any reference to conscious experience. This can only be true if consciousness is causally inactive and therefore explanatorily irrelevant.

To avoid this implication, Chalmers wants to say that epiphenomenalism isn’t a special problem for his view in particular because the dualist faces it too. But to defend this suggestion, he says something absolutely witless: that consciousness is “explanatorily irrelevant” on the dualist’s account as well, because we can make up a story of things that doesn’t make reference to consciousness. But the difference is whether that story is correct, or not. On the dualist’s account, any such account will be false because on the dualist’s account, consciousness–as–such is a phenomena that does play a direct role in “what happens”. But on Chalmers’ account, the point is that the account that makes no reference to consciousness will be true. And that is the only difference that means anything. If by “explanation” we mean an account that actually explains why things actually do what they actually do, then if consciousness is—per interactionism—causally relevant, then it is not “explanatorily relevant”—whereas, for Chalmers, so long as he continues to holds on (as I contend he shouldn’t) to the principle of causal closure of the physical and insists (as I contend he should) that consciousness is irreducible to any explanation in terms of physical structure, epiphenomenalism follows by strict modus ponens. 

Epiphenomenalism is an absolute non–starter—not only for the independent reason explained above (that it is refuted by the fact that we demonstrably do think and talk about consciousness–as–such), but specifically against Chalmers’ own view for a specific reason he identifies: “The most obvious” assumption needed for Chalmers’ proposal for a theory of consciousness to be even slightly imaginable “is the principle we rely on whenever we take someone’s verbal report as an indicator of their conscious experience: that people’s reports concerning their experiences by and large accurately reflect the contents of their experiences.” If epiphenomenalism is true, then no one is ever capable of giving a single accurate report of their conscious experiences as such. Chalmers is committed to epiphenomenalism so long as he commits to both the irreducibility of consciousness to the “physical” properties of reality, and to the premise that those “physical” properties are “causally closed” with respect to each other. And interactionism is the way out, unless Chalmers wants to take back his arguments (which I consider resoundingly successful) against “reductive” accounts of conscious experience which try to “identify” it (one way or another) with something other than conscious experience itself—but these are the very arguments he has made his name by (and again, I whole–heartedly endorse them).

In Chapter 5 of The Conscious Mind, Chalmers actually takes these issues on directly. There are, he writes, four relevant premises to consider: “1. Conscious experience exists. 2. Conscious experience is not logically supervenient on the physical (e.g. “identical to” or “emergent from” “physical” facts about spatial–structural relationships). 3. If there are phenomena that are not logically supervenient on the physical facts, then materialism is false. 4. The physical domain is causally closed.” He explains that his own view results from the acceptance of all four premises. Again, we have already seen that this is the combination of premises which result in epiphenomenalism by modus ponens. However, in this section, he presents a subtly more developed argument for why the dualist fares no better than the materialist. Again, he repeats himself: “The deepest reason to reject [interactionist dualism as an approach to resolving the conflict between causal closure of the physical and the irreducibility of consciousness to the physical] is that [it] ultimately suffer[s] from the same problem as a more standard physics: the phenomenal component can be coherently subtracted from the causal component. On the interactionist view, we have seen that even if the nonphysical entities have a phenomenal aspect, we can coherently imagine subtracting the phenomenal component, leaving a purely causal/dynamic story characterizing the interaction and behavior of the relevant entities.” Of course, we have also seen why this is wrong: the ability to create “a story” doesn’t entail that that story would actually be correct. 

This time, however, Chalmers addresses this type of response, and proposes a counter–argument (which I have partially addressed already, but will now proceed to do so in more detail): “Various moves can be made in reply, but each of these moves can also be made on the standard physical story. For example, perhaps the abstract dynamics misses the fact that the nonphysical stuff in the interactionist story is intrinsically phenomenal, so that phenomenal properties are deeply involved in the causal network. But equally, perhaps the abstract dynamics of physics misses the fact that its basic entities are intrinsically phenomenal (physics characterizes them only extrinsically, after all), and the upshot would be the same. Either way, we have the same kind of explanatory irrelevance of the intrinsic phenomenal properties to the causal/dynamic story. The move to interactionism … therefore does not solve any problems inherent in the property dualism I advocate.” This would be a viable argument—if panprotopsychism were otherwise a viable choice. But it isn’t—for entirely different reasons altogether.

  _______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______


In Chalmers’ exploration of the options, after rejecting the reductionist approaches altogether (with arguments I wholeheartedly endorse), he reaches the conclusion that “the best options for a nonreductionist are type–D dualism, type–E dualism, or type–F monism: that is, interactionism, epiphenomenalism, or panprotopsychism.”

We’ve seen already why epiphenomenalism must, necessarily, fail. (I’ll be deducing additional reasons for this failure using Chalmers’ own premises against each other shortly—and proceeding from there to apply the same argument to an even more radical and significant conclusion.) Panprotopsychism, on the other hand, is the idea that consciousness as we experience it in the human mind emerges not from the geometric–structural and spatial–relational mechanically–causally disposing properties of physical entities, but rather from some other intrinsic properties of these entities. Now, the “pan” in “panprotopsychism” means “everywhere.” The “psychism” means “consciousness.” So “panpsychism” means “consciousness everywhere.” But “proto” means something like “precursor.” Thus, there is a distinction in theory between panpsychism and panprotopsychism. Where panpsychism says that consciousness itself must be everywhere, panprotopsychism says that merely the “precursors” of consciousness must be everywhere.

But what are the options for what these “precursor” properties might be? To return yet again to my essay (IV) from this series, “Now, the plainest thing in the world to see is that the question of whether something is an experience or not is absolutely binary: the answer is either “yes” or “no,” and there are absolutely no steps in–between the two. The question of when a pile of sand goes from being a “heap” of sand to becoming a “mountain,” for example, is one that has rough edges: at exactly which point in the process of removing singular grains of sand from a “mountain” has it devolved into a “heap?” At exactly which point in the process of adding singular grains of sand to a “heap” does it become a “mountain?” Reasonable people could disagree, and there is no objective way to determine the answer. Some questions are like this: the question of when a new “species” has evolved has rough edges, and evolution can address the transition from one species to another through the small, gradual steps that are involved without needing to bridge any fundamental gap of absolute difference between an original “species” and a second. But the question of conscious experience is not like this—the difference between something being a subjective experience and something not being a subjective experience is as absolute as absolute can get. There may be various degrees of complexity or sensitivity or detail between experiences, but either something is an experience or it isn’t.

There is no middle ground between the two—but this also means there is no ground that can be covered in any gradual steps as a means of bridging the gaps between the two. And there is, therefore, no way to proceed gradually in steps from non–experience to experience. The move from non–experience to experience, if it happens, could only happen as an extraordinary leap across galaxies which happens all in one sudden and dramatic inexplicable move. Leibniz first and most clearly described the problem inherent in this on the record in 1714: “It must be confessed, moreover, that perception, and that which depends on it, are inexplicable by mechanical causes, that is, by figures and motions, And, supposing that there were a mechanism so constructed as to think, feel and have perception, we might enter it as into a mill. And this granted, we should only find on visiting it, pieces which push one against another, but never anything by which to explain a perception.” But the “pieces which push one another” that describe Leibniz’ mill are just exactly what describe the essence of the physical entities accepted as the (and the only) basic building blocks of the universe by physicalists—and gradual, almost imperceptible additions of singular (and mechanical) grains of sand at a time are exactly the way evolutionary accounts perform their explanatory work (and the only way that they can).”

The only option for what these “intrinsic properties” might consist of is therefore consciousness itself. Thus, there is no valid way to formulate any working theory of what “panprotopsychism” could possibly mean except for it to boil straight down into fullblown panpsychism where conscious experiences which are actually, literally experienced actually, literally exist everywhere. Yet, if we take the panpsychist approach to consciousness, then as I explain in my entry (VII) to this series, we simply end up running the same process of reasoning against the relationship between the subjective mental properties and the objective structural properties of the microphysical entities proposed to have conscious experiences on panpsychism that we ran against the relationship between the subjective mental properties of the human mind and the objective structural properties of the human brain to arrive at panpsychism as a potential solution to begin with: and this time panpsychism doesn’t exist as a way out to the problems—only dualism does.

As I explain in entry (VII), the panpsychist cannot say that the subjective mental properties of microphysical entities are “identical to” the objective structural properties of the microphysical entities, for reasons the panpsychist himself already accepts. But even if he did, he would precisely undermine his own reasons for rejecting the ordinary mind–brain “identity theory” in the first place—and the panpsychist suggests panpsychism precisely as a solution to that failure. So the ultimate nature of everything must be either physical or mental (with the other standing in some extraneous relationship to the first). But the panpsychist cannot say that everything at root is mental—because this simply recreates the “Hard Problem of Consciousness” in reverse: namely, this would now leave us having to ask: how do we get physical properties from the mental? And this is every bit as incoherent as trying to imagine how we could get the subjectively experienced qualitative taste of strawberries from blind senseless particles bouncing around in some complex combination. But even if the panpsychist bites this bullet, then once again he would lose any reason to propose panpsychism as a solution to the materialist Hard Problem of Consciousness in the first place. Finally, the panpsychist can adopt the kind of panpsychism which Chalmers flirts with and suppose that the world is composed of universally “physical” entities which possess “mental” properties “on the side,” but this leads to epiphenomenalism. And it turns out that there is no way to be a panpsychist without committing to a premise that one would precisely need to reject in order not to be a reductionist of some kind in the first place. Hence, “panprotopsychism” is out too.

Of Chalmers’ three most promising options—dualism, epiphenomenalism, and panprotopsychism—only dualism is left. And interactionism actually does avoid the problems that arise on panpsychism (the only possibly viable physicalist competitor to interactionism, and the position which his defender of “the standard physical story” necessarily ends up in given the lack of sensible steps between the strict, sharp binary line between something’s either being an experience of some kind or not): it has no need to incoherently try to derive the physical–structural from the qualitative–experiential (as the idealist panpsychist would). It has no need to incoherently try to suppose that the objective/structural and subjective/experiential properties of reality are literally identical with each other (as either the “identity theorist” or the “identity theorist”–panpsychist would). And it does not modus ponens itself into epiphenomenalism—as the “property dualist” and “property dualist”–panpsychist do. Panpsychism still ends up demonstrating why the objective structural and subjective experiential properties of reality (a) cannot be supposed to be either identical to or composed of the other and (b) must necessarily interact in a direct, unmediated, and “basic” (although mysterious) way. So Chalmers’ attempt at a counter–argument to the point that interactionist dualism actually would avoid epiphenomenalism—in a way that someone sticking to “the standard physical story” can’t—because dualism would hold no virtues over panpsychism—fails, because there are entirely other reasons aside for panpsychism’s failure (although they turn out surprisingly upon reflection to be just the same exact reasons why the materialist perspectives which panpsychism proposed itself as a solution to failed in the first place). Interactionism remains the only way out of this otherwise inescapable loophole of logical quagmire, and we have arrived at it by what I previously, in an early entry called “a logical, rational, piecemeal divide–and–conquer process of elimination.” 

And with how all these other arguments interrelate established, I can move on to the more important point of this entry. First, I will adapt the points made in the first section of this entry to show yet another reason why Chalmers’ particular way of trying to make dualism “naturalistic” fails—and yet another reason why interactionist dualism solves the problems inherent in Chalmers’ attempt at an account. Then, I will apply those same points to a slightly separate issue and draw a much more radical and surprising conclusion from relatively simple premises.

_______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______


Chalmers attempts to make his dualism “naturalistic” by talking about “laws.” On Chalmers’ account, “psychophysical” laws exist in the same way that “physical laws” do. The conclusion of arguments establishing that consciousness cannot be reduced to unconscious processes is that consciousness itself is a fundamental bedrock ingredient of the Universe. Up to this point, I agree—but there is a deep and significant problem with how Chalmers tries to characterize this.

Consciousness, as both Chalmers and I agree, is fundamental. What Chalmers says next is that: “Where we have new fundamental properties, we also have new fundamental laws. Here the fundamental laws will be psychophysical laws, specifying how phenomenal properties depend on physical properties. These laws will not interfere with physical laws; physical laws already form a closed system. Instead, they will be supervenience laws, telling us how experience arises from physical processes. We have seen that the dependence of experience on the physical cannot be derived from physical laws, so any final theory must include laws of this variety….” We’ve already addressed the fact that supposing that these laws “will not interfere with physical laws” locks consciousness–as–such out of the causal nexus—and any premise which entails this result simply refutes itself. But that is not the issue I am concerned with here—the issue I am concerned with here revolves instead around how we are supposed to characterize these “laws”.

Before getting into that, however, let’s take a closer look at what Chalmers says about them in The Conscious Mind. Describing the epistemological process by which we come to understand the world, he writes: “At first, I have only facts about my conscious experience. From here, I infer facts about middle–sized objects in the world, and eventually microphysical facts. From regularities in these facts, I infer physical laws, and therefore further physical facts. From regularities between my conscious experience and physical facts, I infer psychophysical laws, and therefore facts about conscious experience in others. I seem to have taken the abductive process as far as it can go, so I hypothesize: that’s all.” I find no problem in this paragraph. “At first, I have only facts about my conscious experience”—absolutely. And the microphysical facts supposed by the materialist to constitute everything are an inference from this primary fact, not something ever primarily known—“From here, I infer facts about … objects … and eventually microphysical facts…”—absolutely. But is inferring from physical regularities to the existence of “physical laws” the same thing as inferring from regularities in conscious experiences to the existence of “psychophysical laws?” That depends—as we will soon see—on what it means to call something a “law.” It is time to recall our earlier discussion in section 1.

Chalmers’ goal is to prove that “Even if consciousness cannot be reductively explained, there can still be a theory of consciousness. We simply need to move to a nonreductive theory instead.” His unique idea is that “We can give up on the project of trying to explain the existence of consciousness wholly in terms of something more basic, and instead admit it as fundamental, giving an account of how it relates to everything else in the world.” And this project will be “naturalistic” because “Such a theory will be similar in kind to the theories that physics gives us of matter, of motion, or of space and time.” How so? Because “Physical theories do not derive the existence of these features from anything more basic, but they still give substantial, detailed accounts of these features and of how they interrelate, with the result that we have satisfying explanations of many specific phenomena involving mass, space, and time.” So far, so good—and this description so far applies to the approach I have defended in this series. But the following sentence is where the central problem begins to show itself: Chalmers believes that ”they do this by giving a simple, powerful set of laws involving the various features, from which all sorts of specific phenomena follow as a consequence.”

Thus, “By analogy, the cornerstone of a theory of consciousness will be a set of psychophysical laws governing the relationship between consciousness and physical systems. … Given the physical facts about a system, such laws will enable us to infer what sort of conscious experience will be associated with the system, if any. These laws will be on a par with the laws of physics as part of the basic furniture of the universe. It follows that while this theory will not explain the existence of consciousness in the sense of telling us ”why consciousness exists,” it will be able to explain specific instances of consciousness, in terms of the underlying physical structure and the psychophysical laws. Again, this is analogous to explanation in physics, which accounts for why specific instances of matter or motion have the character they do by invoking general underlying principles in combination with certain local properties. … There need be nothing especially supernatural about these laws. They are part of the basic furniture of nature, just as the laws of physics are. There will be something “brute” about them, it is true. At some level, the laws will have to be taken as true and not further explained. But the same holds in physics: the ultimate laws of nature will always at some point seem arbitrary. It is this that makes them laws of nature rather than laws of logic.” Finally, “ … For a final theory, we need a set of psychophysical laws analogous to fundamental laws in physics. These fundamental (or basic) laws will be cast at a level connecting basic properties of experience with simple features of the physical world. … When combined with the physical facts about a system, they should enable us to perfectly predict the phenomenal facts about the system. … Once we have a set of fundamental physical and psychophysical laws, we may in a certain sense understand the basic structure of the universe.”

It should be obvious how closely many of these statements correspond to what I have said in my own recent discussion of the “conceptual” interaction problem in entry (X) of this series—but I think there is something tremendously significant that Chalmers has handled here in a very poor and unclear way. This brings us now to the central core of the question Chalmers has handled inadequately: would “psychophysical laws” truly be analogous to the physical laws whose existence we all accept? That depends on how we characterize what it means for something to be a “law”—on what it means fora law” to be “part of the basic furniture of nature.” In what sense do we accept that these other “laws” exist to begin with? Note what Chalmers says: “[Psychophysical laws] are part of the basic furniture of nature, just as the laws of physics are.” Is he right? The statement that physicallaws” are part of the basic furniture of nature” is not even explicitly stated here, but it is an absolutely crucial assumption underlying the analogy. What does it mean to say that “physical laws” are part of the basic furniture of nature? 

Recall what we saw in the first section of this entry: theists are well–known for making the argument that if certain kinds of “laws” exist, there would have to be a “lawmaker”—God—to account for their existence. The “vital distinction” is between “a causal law, i.e. one that rules the genesis of events, and an empirical law, one that merely registers their occurrence.” The theist argues that the “laws” of nature are more than our mere recordings of what things do—that they somehow instead “rule the genesis of events” in their own right.  And what is the atheist response? The atheist doesn’t deny that “laws” of this sort would entail a “lawmaker.” The atheist rather denies that “laws” of this sort are the kinds of “laws” that our world actually has—and says that when we derive “the laws of nature,” we aren’t discovering some independent thing called a “law” that is actually “governing” the behavior of the universe; we are, instead, merely creating descriptions of what things in the world do in and of themselves, in virtue of their own intrinsic traits. So as we saw in, for example, Bede Rundle’s critique of the argument, ““the law” is in no sense instrumental in bringing about accord with it. … What would God have to do to ensure that atoms, say, behave the way they do? Simply create them to be as they in fact are.  Atoms having just those features which we currently appeal to in explaining the relevant behaviour, it does not in addition require that God formulate a law prescribing that behaviour.” But contrast this with how Chalmers himself characterizes the nature of his “psychophysical laws!”  “We can use Kripke’s image here [to illustrate what the situation is like, if dualism is true]. When God created the world, after ensuring that the physical facts held, he had more work to do! He had to ensure that facts about consciousness held. The possibility of zombie worlds or inverted worlds shows that he had a choice. The world might have lacked experience, or it might have contained different experiences, even if all the physical facts had been the same. To ensure that the facts about consciousness are as they are, further features had to be included in the world.”

If we accept Chalmers’ arguments that consciousness is irreducible to anything other than itself and is therefore fundamental in its own right, then we are precisely postulating the existence of Chalmersian “psychophysical laws” because we need the “law” to do something that the actual things in the world do not inherently do in and of themselves by virtue of their own intrinsic traits—but it is exactly for this very reason that the existence of any such “law” is necessarily impossible! Not, at least, so long as we reject the “panprotopsychist” approach, in which the emergence of consciousness would be explained by the “intrinsic properties” of “physical” objects rather than their structural/relational properties, in which case the “laws” could be construed as describing what these actual properties of actual entities do in and of themselves—but I have explained why I think that option likewise absolutely fails in 5.

These are the kinds of “laws” that would exist as “causal laws … [which] rule the genesis of events…” and would therefore require an active power behind the physical world itself which “formulates such laws and ensures that the physical realm conforms to them….” Notice what Chalmers says in discussing “[the] worry … about how consciousness might have evolved on a dualist framework….” The worry, he writes, is that “a new element pop[s] into nature, as if by magic….” However, “ … this is not a problem.” Why? Because “Like the fundamental laws of physics, psychophysical laws are eternal, having existed since the beginning of time.” And he wraps his explanation up: “It may be that in the early stages of the universe there was nothing that satisfied the physical antecedents of the laws, and so no consciousness … In any case, as the universe developed, it came about that certain physical systems evolved that satisfied the relevant conditions. When these systems came into existence, conscious experience automatically accompanied them by virtue of the laws in question. Given that psychophysical laws exist and are timeless, as naturalistic dualism holds, the evolution of consciousness poses no special problem.”

But “the fundamental laws of physics” are not “eternal”—and this is not a way that a naturalist is epistemically allowed to think about the nature of “laws!” The “law of gravity” “exists” in the absolutely derivative sense in which “it” can be said to “exist” only just so long as the actual thing we call “space–time” exists with the actual properties residing within that actual thing by virtue of which it demonstrates the patterns of behavior which we label “the law of gravity.” But there is no “law of gravity” whenever a spacetime with those actual properties is not around—cue our quotation from Richard Carrier earlier;  “The “law” of gravity … ‘is’ in every place and time where the physical conditions that manifest gravity exist.”—the “law” of gravity is not an actual thing, but merely our labels—applied after the factto the actual thing. So it does not “exist” when the actual thing which intrinsically causes those behaviors to manifest does not exist. And if we suppose that it does, we have to face the argument that a “law” of this sort could only be imposed upon the universe from outside. So likewise, “psychophysical laws” in the purely descriptive–recording sense (the only sense in which the naturalist can accept that any kinds of “laws” exist at all) cannot exist so long as consciousness is not already around for us to describe. Not unless these are the kinds of “laws” which are fundamentally and categorically unlike the other “laws” of nature in that they represent a “governing power” all in their own right!

To explore this, for a moment, even further, I quote from John Foster’s “Regularities, Laws of Nature, and the Existence of God.” Foster writes of a characterization of what it means for something to be a “law” which arguable does not apply to ordinary physical phenomena in general. But where Foster writes of the law of gravitation (which could be construed as holding in virtue of the intrinsic properties which the actually existing structure of the actually existing spacetime fabric in our world actually has), I will substitute talk of psychophysical laws—and it will be clear that Foster’s theistic construal of the nature of laws which arguably does not apply to “laws” of nature in general does clearly apply to Chalmers’ formulation of the psychophysical laws: “A [psychophysical] law of nature is a fact of natural necessity—the necessity of [psychophysical relationships] being regular in a certain way. But in exactly what sense does the relevant regularity count as necessary? Well, the first thing that needs to be stressed is that the necessity involved is not a form of strict or absolute necessity. The claim that it is a [psychophysical] law of nature that … [say, the chemical properties of opiates bring about the subjective experience of qualitative “happiness”] … does not imply the absolute impossibility of cases in which this regularity fails: it does not imply that there are no possible situations, of any kind [e.g. in Chalmers’ “possible worlds”], in which [the “psychophysical law”–like relationship between consciousness and physical states of the brain]  does not behave this way… the [psychophysical] laws of nature (assuming they exist) are themselves only contingent. The law [which speciefis that conscious experiences appear under x physical conditions] holds, let us assume, in the actual world. But we can certainly envisage worlds in which it does not; and, in being able to envisage such worlds, we can also envisage worlds in which, in the absence of this law, the associated regularity does not obtain—worlds in which there are the same intrinsic types of matter as those which feature in the actual world, but in which [conscious experiences do not appear under these physical conditions]. … Being only contingent, [psychophysical] laws of nature are not forms of strict necessity. So in what sense are they forms of necessity at all? We want to say that [consciousness appears under x physical conditions because it has] to. But how are we to construe its having to if there are [possible worlds] where … [it doesn’t]?”

Foster writes here that giving a ‘naturalistic’ account of such “laws” is problematic because they are contingent—they “could have” been different. For a case like gravity, this argument can be undermined by saying that once the intrinsic nature of matter as it actually is in our actual world is what it actually is, and once the intrinsic nature of the fabric of spacetime in our actual world is what it actually is, there is nothing for a “law” to add to the picture. Therefore, no constraint is imposed on the world from outside—the “law” of gravity is fully explained by features contained fully within the actual entities within the actual world—and can therefore be wholly accounted for by giving an explanation of how matter and spacetime came to possess the actual intrinsic properties which they actually do within the world, with no additional explanation of how this “law” is imposed upon that world from without necessary. But the kinds of “laws” which Chalmers proposes here would require additional explanation after all the actual properties of all the actual things in the actual world have been described (and that is exactly the reason why Chalmers thinks he needs to posit them!) It is unbelievably ironic, in this context, that Chalmers borrows the vocabulary from Kripke of speaking about God having more work to do He writes, for instance: “In general, if B–properties [first–person subjective facts about qualitative experiences] are merely naturally supervenient on A–properties [third–person objective facts about physical states] in our world, then there could have been a world in which our A–facts held without the B–facts. As we saw before, once God fixed all the [facts about physics], in order to fix the [facts about qualitative conscious experiences] he had more work to do.” Indeed, these actually are exactly the kinds of “laws” that could only be “fixed” by an outside force demanding that the universe behave in this way and not that despite the entities already existing within the universe simply doing so in virtue of their own intrinsic traits—exactly the kind which have always led to the inference to a “lawmaker”—God—in traditional theistic thought.

_______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______


But suppose you accept everything said up to here. And suppose, to try to come to terms with this scenario and remain as “naturalistic” as possible, you come to accept some kind of multiverse scenario on which a mechanism is responsible for bringing the contingent laws of nature about (or perhaps only the “psychophysical” laws since “laws of nature” in this sense still don’t exist at all)—with the particular form these laws end up taking being explained in terms of the details of whatever this mechanism is. Thus, we can have “laws” imposed on the world from outside—but this “outside” is, itself, another ultimately “physical” blind mechanism. Without considering the whole further extensive background of issues underlying this approach (even at 13,000+ words, I am striving for as much brevity as possible to get to the point!), allow me to assume for the sake of argument here that such an approach is otherwise plausible. The problem then would simply become pushed back yet another step—all the way to the origins of the universe itself.

Suppose we program a computer to blindly and randomly generate mathematical functions. With x’s and y’s and numerical values as the available ingredients on the left hand of the equations, we’ll get plenty of x’s and y’s and numerical values as “outputs” on the right hand of the equations. But once again, no equation that results from this kind of mechanistic process will ever produce anything like “x• y – 9(x + y) = {the subjective sensation of qualitative blue}”. How could it? The ingredients simply aren’t there in blind mechanism for specifying anything other than more blind mechanisms—and this is exactly the starting point which the “naturalistic dualist” took for his starting position to begin with, so it’s not a premise he can consistently just up and suddenly do away with here.

Per the “naturalistic dualist’s own starting premises,” this still can’t be a way out. Whatever mechanism of quantum fluctuations at the core of the multiverses generates universes, per the very premises the “naturalistic dualist” started out by accepting it would have to be capable of knowing what consciousness is in order to specify consciousness within its mechanisms—in other words, it would necessarily have to be conscious (if the anti–reductionist arguments succeed, then you can’t even infer the existence of experiential facts from any number of “physical” facts)—it would have to be more like God than a blind, unconscious quantum Singularity. Hence, even if we could accept a naturalism on which “laws” are truly “ordering powers” in their own right, imposed upon the Universe from without (in some quantum void at the center of the multiverse, say), a blind mechanism for the generation of these “laws” still couldn’t account for a “law” which specifies a relationship between otherwise blind mechanisms and something that is neither identical to nor composed of blind mechanisms at all. To make dualism properly “naturalistic” will require some other approach.

The naturalist can’t have “laws” of this sort at all; and yet, even if he could, he still couldn’t account for how the laws would specify consciousness in particular within their equations if the “lawmakers” were blind mechanisms lacking consciousness—for exactly the same reasons the anti–reductionist arguments pushed him to hypothesize the existence of “psychophysical laws” in the first place. Only God could account for the existence of “laws” of this kind of sort in the first place; but even if some sort of multiverse–generator could account for them, the “multiverse–generator” would still once again have to be something more like God than a mechanism to account for how “laws” of this general kind could possibly specify consciousness within their equations specifically.

_______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______


There is however one incredibly ironic but simple approach which I think obviously works.

And that is to suppose that “psychophysical laws” are “empirical laws” which merely consist of us “registering the occurrence” of actual events in the world between actual entities, and not “causal laws” which “rule the genesis of events” and are actually causally “instrumental in bringing about accord with themselves.” How?

By supposing a substantialist view by which rather than the psychophysical law bringing it about that under x physical conditions, y phenomenal property is contributed to a conscious experience, “the psychophysical laws” are just our descriptions of what things do in and of themselves in virtue of their own intrinsic properties and traits—which necessarily has to entail that consciousness itself is already a fundamental thing within the world and the so–called “psychophysical laws” are not actual  “things” in the furniture of the world—consciousness itself is; the so–called “laws” are just our after–the–fact descriptions of what we observe of its behaviors in relation to the world.

Again, Bede Rundle: “Newton’s laws can describe the motion of a billiard ball, but it is the cue wielded by the billiard player that sets the ball moving, not the laws. The laws help us map the trajectory of the ball’s movement in the future (provided nothing external interferes), but they are powerless to move the ball, let alone bring it into existence.” Likewise, psychophysical laws can describe how consciousness (the subjective stream of intentionalistic thought and qualitative experiences) relates to the rest of the world, but these “laws” are merely our descriptions of consciousness itself—just as the “law” of gravity is merely our description of how the fabric of space–time itself actually behaves, not in virtue of ‘orders’ from some external law, but in virtue of the intrinsic, tangibly existent properties of the actually existent fabric of space–time itself. This clarification of the nature of “laws” can—ironically—save us from the entailment of inescapably theistic conclusions in the case of consciousness just as much as it can in the case of something like gravity. The only reasonable position can be that the “laws” are our description of what the thing which we call “consciousness” does—rather than the reverse, implied by Chalmers’ equivocations around the idea of “law,” that “consciousness” is our label for what the laws” somehow force to happen.

_______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______


At least, that could work for what we might call the “day to day” operations of consciousness. Once a given stream of consciousness is already in place, we can say that a “law” is merely our description after the fact of how “the conscious self and its brain” themselves interact in virtue of what they themselves intrinsically are. But this brings us back to why the problem Chalmers responded to earlier—“how [might] consciousness [have] evolved on a dualist framework…[?]”—was problematic to begin with: “did a new element suddenly pop into nature, as if by magic?” The problem should now be somewhat more obvious: if the Hard Problem is real, then consciousness is neither “identical to” nor “composed of” (a relationship which could also be labeled with phrases like “emergent from” or “reducible to” which appear to describe a different kind of relationship, but do not; and merely label the same relationship somewhat differently) mechanical procedures which lack consciousness. If that is so, then nothing about the evolution of these mechanical procedures themselves can account for why the entire stream of consciousness suddenly “pops” into being as a “new element … as if by magic.” Nothing happens, in any physical terms, during the series of blind mechanical events between a blind, unconscious sperm making contact with a blind, unconscious egg and carrying out a mechanical procedure by which DNA mechanically directs the program of building a physical input–output system which could possibly explain why subjective streams of qualitative experience suddenly appear—if Chalmers is correct up to here (and I think he is, and defend that position elsewhere), nothing about the mechanical programming of DNA as a structural, physical entity can explain why that mechanism in virtue of its mechanistic properties brings about a conscious being instead of a human zombie who is just as unconscious as the original sperm and egg, or the microparticles making these up, themselves—and that’s exactly why we thought we ought to consider postulating a new type of extra, additional “laws” to account for why consciousness does appear to begin with. Again, this follows from precisely the same anti–reductionist arguments which we took as our very starting point in the first place: just as the blind mechanism of particles coursing through space cannot be literally identical to or constitutively compose a first–person–subjective qualitative experience, so it follows from this very same exact starting premise that they cannot possibly be said to bring the entire stream of  first–person–subjective qualitative experiences into being in virtue of what they intrinsically are, in and of themselves—not unless, contra the core starting point of Chalmers’ entire position, conscious experiences and intentionality can be given a “deflationary” explanation and there is no “Hard Problem” after all.

But any “law” of the kind necessary to bring about subjective streams of qualitative experience (and intentionality) in this situation would, once again, be equivalent to a law that says “every time the 8 ball falls into the left corner pocket, an orange angel is born in a newly created Heaven”—it would propose to “connect” events which by all admission simply have no intrinsic connection in virtue of what the entities related by this “connection” actually are in and of themselves—by the very same exact premises that got us here in the first place. Recall Bede Rundle once again: “Newton’s laws can describe the motion of a billiard ball, but it is the cue wielded by the billiard player that sets the ball moving, not the laws. The laws help us map the trajectory of the ball’s movement in the future (provided nothing external interferes), but they are powerless to move the ball, let alone bring it into existence.” Or, if it does, then that can’t be the kind of “law” whose existence the “Naturalist’s” worldview can with any plausibility allow him to accept.

So it goes, likewise, for consciousness: we couldn’t possibly have that sort of “law” exist in such a way that it itself, as a “law,” as an actual thingruling the genesis of events” as an “operative power” in its own right, could suddenly bring streams of consciousness into existence under particular conditions (which in virtue of what they are in and of themselves have no intrinsic power to do such a thing at all (where this is precisely the reason we saw the need to posit this kind of “law” to begin with)), unless a conscious “lawmaker” who “formulates such laws and ensures that the [world] conforms to them” were our explanation for the origins of such a “law.”

However — recall the atheist response to the Kalām cosmological argument which I endorsed as by far the most plausible: what was our most effective option for avoiding the argument that an explanation for the origins of the physical universe would require God? We did it by denying that it is necessary for time to have had an origin—by denying that either cosmological science or philosophical paradoxes render the idea of an infinite past—whose existence we, notably, cannot “empirically” confirm!—invalid or implausible. The same approach is available here.

The same approach which the atheist plausibly takes in the context of the cosmological argument—making the inference to the empirically inconfirmable conclusion that the Universe’s temporal past (defining “Universe” in such a way that it may include much more than our four–dimensional region of it which appears to have formed at the moment of the Big Bang) must be eternal—can be used here to avoid the kinds of “laws” that only God could account for as postulates to account for the coming–into–existence of uniquely individual streams of experience.

What would the approach entail in this context? It would entail that when we speak of the “psychophysical laws,” in particular, which specify the conditions in which a unique stream of consciousness comes to beeven in these cases we still are simply creating descriptions and labels after the fact about how consciousness itself—in virtue of the actually existing traits of the actually existing phenomena of consciousness itself—inherently behaves.

In other words, it would have to follow that we are not identifying a “law” which, by its own “ruling” power, brings that conscious stream into being—but for any actually–existing consciousness to interact with the rest of the physical universe at the moment at which a given physical organism and stream of consciousness begin the process of interaction—the stream of consciousness itself would have to already pre–exist as an already actually–existent phenomena in order that it could be a thing whose behavior our “laws”—which are not antecedent powers but merely consequent descriptions of phenomena themselves—consequently describe. And notice, too, that the same implication would follow with respect to any “psychophysical law” which described the cessation of a stream of consciousness upon biological death of the brain: nothing in these physical events themselves could possibly intrinsically account for the cessation of that stream, any more than the 8 ball falling into the right corner pocket could intrinsically account for a blue angel in an alternate dimension dying. Thus, we could not possibly have the kind of law which would specify that the stream of consciousness must in fact cease at death, either—not without a “lawmaking” God.

If: •(1) Laws which truly “govern” rather than merely describing the behavior of Nature—particular when such laws are supposed to include subjective consciousness as parts of their equations—cannot exist without a conscious “Lawmaker”, And •(2) Consciousness (first–person subjective qualitative experiences and intentionalistic thought) cannot be reduced to blind physical mechanism (and panpsychism is not a way around the need to get consciousness from blind physical mechanism), then it follows from these two simple premises that: either (A) God exists, or else (B) the stream of consciousness is eternal. For my part, I cannot find any way to plausibly or coherently reject either (1) or (2). This leaves me in the rather awkward position of having to either take an option I find literally incoherent, or else face up to accepting either (A) or (B). Yet, ironically, it seems to me that (B) is where the only salvageable attempt to make dualism “naturalistic” inevitably ends up. Ironically, this turns out to be exactly the worldview mentioned inadvertently in some of the opening stages of this series—that held by Samkhya–type schools of Hinduism, or by the somewhat more personalist varieties of Buddhism, in which there is a kind of mind–body dualism which allows for the possibility of reincarnation—without theism. Is it possible these actually plausible worldviews?

Now that the groundwork has been laid, get ready for this series to finally start getting truly “crazy.”

Consciousness (X) — The Nature of Scientific “Explanation” and the “Problem” of Interaction, pt.1

[Note: Also a crude rough draft that eventually needs more refinement than this.]

When we say that scientific analysis of a given physical phenomena “explains” it, what is it that we mean? Let’s take the analysis of the behavior of “water” in terms of chemistry as a paradigmatic example. When we speak of the behavior of “water”, we have in mind such phenomena as the fact that an object of sufficient density placed on the surface of water, for example, will “sink.” Now, to give a scientific “explanation” of this phenomena is to say that molecules of H2O bond together quite loosely, so that when collections of molecules more tightly bound come into contact with it, these more tightly bound molecules are capable of slipping through the gaps of space between molecules of H2O. [1]

Now, how then are the properties of H2O to be explained?  Once again, the behavior of H2O must be “explained” in terms of the structural properties of the composing entities one level down: in this case, atoms. And how are the properties of atoms to be explained? Once again, … you get the picture. Physical explanations work, in essence, by ‘zooming in’ on any given phenomena and going one level of reality ‘down’. Eventually, however, it stands to reason that we’re going to have to find the “rock bottom”—the unit which is, finally, indivisible into anything other than itself. For some time, we thought that these would be atoms—“atoms” were given the name, in fact, precisely because they were believed, at first, to be indivisible. However, we later discovered that they were divisible into the particles we call protons, neutrons, and electrons—and with the advent of quantum physics, we discovered that these were even further divisible into the categories of particles known as fermions (a category which includes quarks) and bosons. Currently, fermions and bosons are regarded as “elementary particles,” which means that we don’t know yet whether they represent “rock bottom” or are composed of any more basic particles or not—but for now, until we find something more basic, we can only assume that they are, in fact, rock bottom.

But suppose, as we investigated the properties of water, it had turned out that atoms themselves were simply the “rock bottom”—that atoms themselves had in fact been the ultimate, most indivisible thing in existence. Would that be ‘weird?’ Suppose it turned out that it was H2O. Would we feel like there was some mystery left over that we simply hadn’t, and couldn’t yet, explain about the world? How long would that continue to ‘bug us’ before we would give up and accept that H2O is ‘as far down as it goes?’ We can go even further with this thought experiment: what if it had turned out that the “rock bottom” thing was simply water itself? To say that water itself was the “rock bottom” thing underlying the behavior of water would simply be to say that no matter how much you try to divide water up, all you would get are still yet more units of water. Suppose that had been what we discovered. Would we be unsatisfied? Would we feel that something was fundamentally missing in our ability to use scientific investigation to understand the roots of the properties of water? I think it’s obvious that we would. We would be missing the only kind of “explanation” that science as we know it allows! We would just have to take the way water acts completely for granted, and there would be nothing else left for us to say about it to elucidate anything about “why” it behaves as it does. That would leave us in a particular kind of state of ignorance.

Yet the point we have to realize is that a world in which our ultimate “explanation” of the behavior of water simply did in fact have to stop with water itself is ultimately no different from the world we are in. The notion that the fact that water divides into units of something other than “water” (molecules), and that these units (molecules) divide into units of something other than “molecules” (atoms), and that these units (atoms) divide into units of something other than “atoms” (protons, neutrons, electrons)—and so forth—makes any of it less ultimately inexplicable is simply an illusion. We don’t understand the ultimate nature of our world any more than we would have if water itself had simply turned out to be the most indivisible thing composing “water”—and at least so far as scientific investigation can take us, we never will. Science can explain the relationship between the properties that a given physical entity has and the properties of the component entities that make that first entity up—but whatever the ultimate properties are, they can’t, by definition, be “explained” in this same way. And this is just as true whether the most basic entities are quarks, atoms, or even “water” itself. In the world where the most indivisible units of water turn out to be water, “Why does ‘water’ do what it does?’ remains a mystery. In the world where it turns out to be the case that water divides into more primitive units, which we call molecules, “Why does ‘water’ do what it does?” acquires an answer—but only at the expense of leaving us with the question, “Why do molecules do what they do?” which now remains every bit as unanswerable as the question “Why does ‘water’ do what it does?” was in the last world. And in the world where it turns out to be the case that molecules are divisible into more primitive units, which we call atoms, “Why do molecules do what they do?” acquires an answer—but only at the expense of leaving us with the question, “Why do atoms do what they do?” which now remains every bit as unanswerable as the question “Why do molecules do what they do?” was in the last world, and as “Why does ‘water’ do what it does?” was in the world before it.

The point here is much deeper than the mere fact that we can keep asking “why?” indefinitely. The point is that we naively assume that scientific explanation gets us further into “understanding” reality than it actually does. The ultimate situation we are in with regards to understanding reality in any of these scenarios ends up staying essentially exactly the same. If something turns out to be composed of divisible parts that have different properties from the composed whole, then we can “explain” how the properties of the pieces at the lower level necessarily result in the properties that we see at the higher level (e.g., we can learn that the properties of H2O molecules dispose them towards forming weak molecular bonds, and we can explain that these bonds necessarily result in a substance that things can “sink into” as groups of other molecule slip between these gaps even though nothing “sinks into” individual molecules of H2O). And we satisfy ourselves that this counts as some meaningful clarification of the nature of reality itself.

But what we fail to take account of is that if we postulate that all “explanation” must be of the properties of some whole in terms of the differing properties of some underlying compositional parts, then we eventually reach the “rock bottom” behind which there is no underlying compositional part—no matter what. And no matter when we reach this point, the situation is ultimately no different than it would have been had water itself simply been the thing that could not be divided into any more basic units than “water.” I expect that most of us generally feel that if we had been in the world in which “water” was not divisible into anything more basic than “water”—where these most basic parts were clear, wet, allowed other objects to “sink” into them, etc.—and looked, felt, and behaved exactly like the “water” we observe—so that the only thing left for “science” to do was to catalogue the behavioral properties of the same “water” anyone can see with his naked eye, and there was no room for “science” to clarify anything else—that this would be a world in which we “understood” less about the physical reality around us.

But why should the fact that water just so happens to divide into parts with different properties from water itself render our “understanding” of the nature of physical reality any deeper? We still can’t explain the behavior of those parts. If we think that what explanation consists of is reducing the terms of one event seen at one level of “zoom” into the underlying terms of another level, then eventually we reach the level that is supposed to be the one explaining all the rest—and once we get to that one, we‘re simply going to have no idea why it behaves the way that it does.

Scientific accounts can allow us to explain a in terms of b, and b in terms of c, and c in terms of d, … but once we get down to z, we have to stop there and take the behavior of z for granted and accept that z must necessarily remain absolutely unaccounted for. This is really not fundamentally any different from the situation in which a is explained in terms of b, and b in terms of c, and c in terms of d … but at d, we have to stop there and take the behavior of d for granted and accept that d must necessarily remain absolutely unaccounted for. And it isn’t really fundamentally any different from situation in which we simply have to take the behavior of a for granted and accept that a must necessarily remain absolutely unaccounted for. The only real differences between these scenarios are “How big are the most indivisible pieces of reality?”, or “How many times can we zoom in and find parts that individually have different properties from the thing we’re zooming in on?” But no matter how big the indivisible pieces are, and no matter how many times we can zoom in, the best answer “science” can give about the ultimate nature of physical reality is:

John R. Ross, in his 1967 Constraints on Variables in Syntax, tells a version of a story in which: “After a lecture on cosmology and the structure of the solar system, William James was accosted by a little old lady. “Your theory that the sun is the centre of the solar system, and the earth is a ball which rotates around it has a very convincing ring to it, Mr. James, but it’s wrong. I’ve got a better theory,” said the little old lady. “And what is that, madam?” Inquired James politely. “That we live on a crust of earth which is on the back of a giant turtle.” Not wishing to demolish this absurd little theory by bringing to bear the masses of scientific evidence he had at his command, James decided to gently dissuade his opponent by making her see some of the inadequacies of her position. “If your theory is correct, madam,” he asked, “what does this turtle stand on?” “You’re a very clever man, Mr. James, and that’s a very good question,” replied the little old lady, “but I have an answer to it. And it is this: The first turtle stands on the back of a second, far larger, turtle, who stands directly under him.” “But what does this second turtle stand on?” persisted James patiently. To this the little old lady crowed triumphantly. “It’s no use, Mr. James—it’s turtles all the way down.””

Scientific “explanation” of the nature of the physical world is “turtles all the way down”—right up until we suddenly reach the bottom turtle, and find that this one—the one on which all of the others are resting—is simply floating in mid–air, bearing the weight of all the others with the help and support of nothing. This is, quite plainly, no less mysterious than the case in which the only thing we ever had to begin with was a single levitating turtle. In fact, finding more turtles resting on that bottom turtle doesn’t make the question of the levitating turtle less mysterious—it makes it more so, because it not only keeps the question of how the turtle is levitating intact, it adds the question of how all these other turtles could be resting on a levitating turtle with nothing holding up the whole lot of them..

Now, the philosophical position I’ve been striving to give comprehensive defense to throughout this series has been that consciousness—the first–person subjective stream of qualitative experience and intentionalistic thought which we all experience the world exclusively in and through—can neither be eliminated, nor called “identical to” anything other than itself, nor “built into” the physical world along the lines of panpsychism, nor considered causally “epiphenomenal” with respect to the external world. This process of elimination entails that consciousness is therefore both something as fundamentally different from other physical phenomena as gravitational forces are from strong nuclear forces, and yet something which nonetheless somehow causally interacts with at least some of those other forces.

In physics, gravity and the strong nuclear force are called “fundamental forces” because they appear not to be reducible either to each other or to any other more basic kinds of force. In other words, when we come to these four kinds of forces, we have to accept that this is simply the point where we must be resigned to say: “shit do what it do”—because there is simply in principle nothing else that can be said. And as we saw above, even if two or more of these kinds of force are reducible to something else, then this can only be in terms of some other kind of force which will now have to be the “basic” one which we cannot in principle provide any account of, beyond simply cataloging what it does and then taking this catalog for granted as a primitive observation about how the world operates. In other words, no matter what the details are, at least something has to be “basic” in the sense that it is both irreducible and ultimately inexplicable (because there is nothing more basic which it can be explained in terms of—that is, “reduced to”).

Furthermore, given our current state of knowledge, we think that there are at least three or four such “basic” kinds of irreducible forces operating in the world. Even if this state of knowledge should eventually be overturned, and all four of these forces united into description in terms of some other singular underlying force, this still suffices to show that it is not inconceivable that there should be more than one “basic” kind of irreducible force, which are different in fundamental ways and yet still causally interact with each other within the same singular universe.[2]

Now, the “interaction problem”—the question of how a “nonphysical” mind could interact with a “physical” world—is often taken to be the most disastrous, fatal problem for this kind of position. There are more subtle and complicated forms of the “interaction problem” which I may discuss later, but in its most basic form the “interaction problem” aims to reject dualism by simply expressing incredulity that things that seem to be defined by such different kinds of properties could possibly interact with each other, in principle.

Part of the problem here is simply linguistic: when we discovered that electromagnetic forces were not reducible into terms of atomic interactions, but instead a whole new fundamental category of kinds of things in the world all their own right alongside atomic forces themselves, up to that point in history our definition of what it meant to be “physical” was encompassed by the properties we had noted by observing interactions between atomic particles. When we included electromagnetism into our account, however, we didn’t call electromagnetic forces “nonphysical”—even though it is plain to see that there is in fact a sense of the word “physical” in which electromagnetic forces are “nonphysical!”—rather, we expanded our definition of what it means for a thing to be “physical.” Why shouldn’t we do something similar here? The very word “dualism” itself reinforces the notion that this is off–limits, of course, suggesting as it does a “du–ality”—an etymological root which implies a specifically two–fold distinction—between “things” which are “physical” and “things” which are “non–physical.” But why think of this in terms of “du–ality?” Why not think of it in terms of plurality? In other words, why not think of it as the phenomena of consciousness and consciousness’ capacity to interact with other parts of the world standing right alongside the phenomena of gravity and gravitational forces, right along side atoms and strong and weak nuclear forces, and so on, all as equally irreducible categories of ‘kinds of things the world turns out to contain’ in their own right? Why not think of a multitude of phenomena existing and interacting within the world, each containing different fundamental properties, some overlapping and some not?

The problem with providing a clear definition of what it means for a thing to be “physical” without creating a straw notion of physicalism is often taken as a hurdle against attempts to refute the philosophical position of physicalism—but it is just as much a hurdle against attempts to establish it as a true position over and against alternative positions which could reasonably be called “dualistic”: a definition of physical must suffice to rule out the possibility of dualism turning out to be true in a non–question begging way every bit as much as it must suffice to rule out the possibility of physicalism turning out to be true, and physicalists rarely if ever perform better at this task than dualists. If the physicalist asks the dualist how to define “the physical” such that consciousness couldn’t be a “physical” process without begging the question, then the dualist has every right to turn exactly the same question around and ask the physicalist how to define “physical” such that irreducible consciousness couldn’t possibly qualify as “physical” and therefore be allowed to exist, in the way that the dualist believes that it does, without begging the question.

But it should be clear to see, in any case, how thinking of the phenomena of consciousness in this way renders the “problem” posed by standard forms of the “interaction problem” moot. When it comes to any “basic” irreducible force or phenomena in the world, the question of “how” it does what it does is always, in principle, necessarily mysterious. How does the gravitational force cause objects to gravitate towards large bodies in space? If your answer is that large bodies in space create curvature in the fabric of spacetime, then the question simply becomes: How does a large body in space cause the fabric of spacetime to curve? Again, the point is not merely that we can keep asking “Why?” forever. The point is that there necessarily must be some actual point at which the only question left to ask literally has no conceivable answer other than “that’s just how we observe that phenomena in the world behave”—at which point the Why–asking must stop because it cannot, in principle receive an answer—and the only open empirical question left is just simply, “When have we reached that point?”—“Is this the inexplicable rock bottom, or does rock bottom lie somewhere further?” And we reach this point necessarily any time we talk about the most basic actions and behaviors and properties of the most basic kinds of forces and entities in the world—whatever they may turn out to be.

In other words, the kind of account which the physicalist demands the dualist give to justify the claim that interaction between consciousness and the physical world could occur is one that no one can give for any phenomena in the world whatsoever—yet, if consciousness is indeed itself just such a “basic” phenomena, this is exactly the situation that should be expected. As James Moreland writes, “One can ask how turning the key starts a car because there is an intermediate electrical system between the key and the car’s running engine that is the means by which turning the key causes the engine to start. The “how” question is a request to describe that intermediate mechanism. But the interaction between [consciousness] and [the brain] may be … direct and immediate. [And if] there is no intervening mechanism, [then] a “how” question describing that mechanism does not even arise.”

The problem with this “intuitive” version of the “interaction problem,” I think, quite simply results from the fact that we can’t take a third–person view on someone else’s consciousness and visualize their subjective intentions playing a causal role in their ensuing physical behavior, in the way that we can at least visualize one billiard ball bouncing into another from the third–person point of view. Yet, I think Descartes himself adequately addressed this version of the problem all the way back in 1912: “At no place do you bring an objection to my arguments; you only set forth the doubts which you think follow from my conclusions, though they arise merely from your wishing to subject to the scrutiny of the imagination matters which, by their own nature, do not fall under it.” In other words, we can’t visualize conscious streams of experience existing in any way from the third–person point of view. And the key issue underlying this fact is one that is universal to all positions in philosophy of mind whatsoever—it is, in fact, exactly what makes consciousness seem mysterious in general, no matter what metaphysical view we take towards its ultimate nature: namely, physical properties as such and conscious experiences as such seem wildly unrelated no matter what “theory” we suppose for understanding their relationship.

If the world, at root, is a causally closed process of physical properties following patterns of inert cause and effect on other physical properties, then why the hell should experiences even squirt out of that epiphenomenally? How the hell does anyone ever get the idea in their heads that that in any way doesn’t face an “interaction problem?” It just postulates that the interaction goes in a single direction: from the physical to the experiential. But either interactions between the physical and the experiential can happen, or they can’t. If they can’t, then epiphenomenalism is ruled out as a conceivably true option every bit as much as dualism. And if they can, then there is no reason in principle why dualism couldn’t be true. So anyone who thinks it is even conceivable that epiphenomenalism could be true—and many physicalists are willing to grant that it could be, as a last resort—has no valid recourse to this “intuitive” version of the “interaction problem.” Whether we can only walk across it from left–to–right or we can walk in either direction we choose, a bridge is a bridge. And if we can walk across a bridge from left–to–right, then there can’t be any reason in principle why we couldn’t conceivably walk across it from right–to–left. It’s as if the physicalist who considers the possibility that epiphenomenalism might be true is an atheist who finally goes so far as to say, “Alright, God exists. But God can look into our world from His—we can’t ever travel over to His, in principle! So there still can’t possibly be a Heaven or a Hell!” Would anyone ever consider calling this “Atheism, Or Something Near Enough?”[3] Wouldn’t we think it was demonstrating something about the inherent weakness of atheism itself if atheists were, in any significant numbers, finding themselves compelled to retreat to this kind of position?

What we’re actually dealing with here is simple bafflement upon trying to imagine the two phenomena interacting. But is the idea of your subjective experience of the qualitative taste of a strawberry in and of itself playing a causal role in your later description of what the strawberry tasted like any more difficult or bizarre to imagine than the idea of a series of blind physical particles moving in space literally composing a subjective experience of the qualitative taste of a strawberry? I don’t think so. The intuitive weirdness of interaction can’t be any reason to weigh the scales against dualism if every picture of how consciousness and the physical relate we could possibly imagine is overwhelmingly weird to intuition. We especially can’t do so if we arrived at the hypothesis of dualism by a process of elimination composed of a series of arguments in which we found deductive reasons to reject alternative attempts—which is how do it. (So even if my reasoning in those steps turns out to be flawed at some point, those are the steps around which the whole issue pivots—and the “interaction problem” simply contributes nothing new that is important to the question.)

When I observe the properties of gravity, I take it for granted as a brute fact that a given equation describes the relationship between the mass of an object and the gravitational force it exerts—and how gravity causes an object to move remains inexplicable in principle. If I later discover that this works by objects influencing the curvature of space in proportion to their mass, then I take it for granted as a brute fact that an object of a given mass influences the curvature of space in a given degree—how an object of a given mass causes space to curve remains inexplicable in principle. It is, again, not simply that we can keep asking “Why?” indefinitely and eventually have to stop simply in order to move on to doing something with our knowledge—it is that knowledge itself necessarily reaches a brute stopping point in principle as soon as it arrives at the most basic behaviors and properties of the most basic entities that there are, and it simply remains an empirical detail to be fleshed out what these are. 

Supposing I suggest that the first–person subjective phenomena of consciousness itself is one of them, and supposing I suggest that it is a brute fact about consciousness that it possesses the property of intentionality—of being intrinsically “reflective of” or capable of “representing to itself” or “directing itself towards” an external world—and that as one of the “basic” actions of consciousness, subjectively created and experienced intentions can influence my objective physical behavior—then so long as I do not try to visualize this in terms that would only be appropriate for mechanical interactions between blind physical particles in the first place, there is simply no real conceptual problem here—the fact that intentions influence behavior should be treated as a basic data of first–person awareness in just exactly the same way that the mass of a physical object creates gravitational forces by  influencing the curvature of the surrounding space should, and I no more need “an account” of how the former happens in order to be fully justified in believing that it does than I do in the case of the latter.

And herein lies one significant dialectic difference between interactionism and “identity theories,” etc.: the fact that there is a relationship between physical states and experiences—from the looks of things, in both directions—is a direct datum of experience. The claim that the physical brain composed of parts which are non–qualitative, non–experiential, and non–intentionalistic generates or is identical to consciousness itself (qualitative experience and intentionalistic thought) is not. So first, we do not have the same prima facie justification for believing that the production of consciousness by the brain happens (or that consciousness is “identical to” the physical brain) that we have for the fact of interaction in the first place. But second, the physicalist does not have the option of making these “brute fact” posits in the same way that the dualist does—the very definition of the physicalist claim is that the physicalist himself rules this option out: quite simply, consciousness is not a “basic” entity within the physicalist’s scheme—and it therefore cannot be said to possess “basic” properties. So the physicalist actually holds a burden of “explaining” the appearance of consciousness in a way that the dualist does not—because according to physicalism, consciousness is a secondary, derivative phenomena—which therefore according to the physicalist scheme itself must in fact have an explanation in some other terms—hence the Hard Problem. Thus, there is simply no special burden on the dualist to provide an account of interaction—just as there is no special burden on someone who proposes that gravitational forces are the curvature of spacetime to explain how an object’s mass ‘causes’ spacetime to curve. There is a burden to motivate dualism—just as there is a burden to motivate the claim that gravity does in fact work by causing curvatures in the fabric of spacetime—and I think that this burden can be met (as it can for gravity).

Notice that this is exactly why the gravitational force itself is currently considered to be a “basic” fundamental force in the universe, and why science places the burden squarely on whomever wants to propose a “theory of everything” that reduces gravity to some other more basic force: the claim that gravity is reducible needs to be demonstrated before we can be justified to believe it. And until then, there is simply no a priori reason to suppose that it has to be—no a priori reason that gravity can’t just be the “basic” phenomena itself—so we can’t assume that a “theory of everything” will necessarily succeed until someone actually spells out the details of how the forces we know and currently consider fundamental reduce to some other. This is the most reasonable way to think—yet it is a rule that we violate flagrantly when it comes to consciousness, usually with appeals to some notion of “parsimony.” But—rightly—no one reasons in the same way when it comes to gravity. No one says that it is more “parsimonious” to assume that a “theory of everything” that reduces gravitational forces to some other more basic force must be true. Certainly, no one does so even because the notion of discrete matter interacting with space interacting with time is too weird to accept. The burden is squarely upon the “reductionist” to actually perform the work of demonstrating how gravity “reduces.” And until then, we rightly assume that it doesn’t (pending further notice of an actual proof of how it does.)

When the physicalist supposes that consciousness is not in fact a basic phenomena, and instead of being analogous to the brute existence of the gravity as a basic, fundamental force is instead analogous to the behavioral properties of water, which exist solely in virtue of the very different behavioral properties of molecules of H2O (which water could be described equally as either “identical with,” “emergent from,” or “reducing to”), thus does in fact create a burden of providing an explanation of “how” consciousness appears in the course of this process—because the physicalist himself is the one making the supposition that consciousness appears through some intermediary process. The mechanism of its appearance must therefore be explained—because the physicalist himself, if he is not an outright eliminativist (or panpsychist), is the one supposing that there is a mechanism mediating the process whereby ingredients which are not conscious go through some process to somehow become conscious which should, therefore, be explicable. Immediately, it is not clear how these unspecified mechanisms (which somehow produce something radically unlike themselves in kind, per any definition of the physical and the experiential besides that of the panpsychist who supposes that consciousness utterly pervades the physical world or that of the eliminativist who supposes that no one actually has any subjective experiences or intrinsically intentional states at all) are supposed to be more “parsimonious” than the posit that consciousness itself is simply fundamental—just as it is clear that a “theory of everything” is not a priori more “parsimonious” than the posit that gravity itself is simply fundamental. Especially so when we have no idea what the supposed mechanisms are, how they work, or how they could even conceivably relate the terms of items so radically different (per everyone but the panpsychist or the eliminatist’s definition).

But this opens up an even further, an even stronger argumentative possibility that does not exist against the posit that consciousness itself is a “basic” phenomena in the world: namely, that we might pose a successful argument to defeat the claim that such a mechanism could ever in principle succeed to do what is claimed for it, for all the reasons summarized here and explained in more detail in essays (IV)—(VII) of this series—in short, because if the physicalist posits that all that the world contains at root is mechanism, then this supposition is incapable in principle of predicting anything other than further mechanisms—and a description of the qualitative nature of subjective experience and the intentionalistic nature of conscious thought simply can’t be built up to through descriptions of the mechanisms that happen to accompany experience and thought (a summary this brief can’t come anywhere close to doing the argument justice), any more than there is some special way of drawing lines on a flat two–dimensional canvas that can build up to a fully–fleshed three–dimensional object. In just the same way that the very nature of a three–dimensional object includes a category—the third dimension—that can’t be “reached” in principle through the two dimensions provided by the canvas’ surface, so consciousness includes categories (subjectivity and intentionality) that can’t be “reached” in principle through the mechanisms provided by the physicalist’s ‘objective’ blind mechanical processes. But comparatively, there is no reason in principle why interaction between consciousness and the physical world cannot occur—the question asks something that commits a category error within the very question, essentially similar to asking how an object’s velocity at one moment causes it to keep moving through space in the next moment—and draws its intuitive force simply by asking us to imagine interaction in an inappropriate way: from the third–person perspective, which is exactly where the dualist suggests that consciousness cannot be seen in the first place.

Relocating the act of imagining to the first person perspective, there is no intuitive problem: I set an intention to move my hands, and they move. This is just as direct a piece of data in my immediate awareness as any data about any external phenomena like gravity could ever possibly be. Justifying the claim that conscious experiences and physical particles are “identical” would take a lot more than simply insisting that we can’t visualize that sort of interaction taking place from the third–person stance—when the whole core of the dualist insight to begin with is precisely to see that the entire phenomena of consciousness can’t be found “from the third–person stance” in the first place. If the inability to visualize a process is enough to defeat a position in philosophy of mind, then my arguments against physicalist views become even stronger, because so far as it is they’re based on positive arguments that we can’t visualize mind–brain “identity” because the claim is incoherent for principled reasons. If all it takes for a successful argument is difficulty with visualization, then these other arguments go well beyond the burden required of them, and physicalist views would be all the more disqualified at exactly the same time by the same stroke.

The second part of this post will discuss a refined version of the argument against the possibility of interaction which presents a much greater threat—and indeed, may be the one and only real empirical threat that dualism has ever actually faced. In his discussion of his view of the problem interactionism poses, Dennett devotes just two sentences to this aspect of it, though I consider it by far the most significant: “A fundamental principle of physics is that any change in the trajectory of any physical entity is an acceleration requiring the expenditure of energy, and where is this energy to come from? It is this principle of the conservation of energy that accounts for the physical impossibility of “perpetual motion machines,” and the same principle is apparently violated by dualism.” This line of argument actually attempts to take specific principles which seem well justified by our scientific observations of the world and argue that interactionism seems to require that we haphazardly violate them. A premise like this could actually provide well motivated grounds for offering specific empirical reasons why a “naturalistic” approach to understanding the nature of human consciousness and the relationship between the “mind” and the brain cannot be “dualistic” which go beyond mere verbal sleight–of–hand through question–begging definitions of terms like “natural” and “physical.”

We’ll see in a future post how this much more troubling version of the argument fares.

  _______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______

[1] This is a simplified example, since only one illustration is needed for the purpose of demonstrating the underlying point we’re discussing here.

[2] See here for an overview of scientific attempts to achieve this. There is no currently plausible grand unified theory—grand unified theories attempt to unite electromagnetic with strong and weak nuclear forces, while leaving out gravity—the goal of a “theory of everything” which incorporates gravity into the analysis presently seems even more implausible to achieve. It may eventually happen; but again, there is simply no a priori reason to assume that it necessarily must.

[3] The materialist–turned–epiphenomenalist Jaegwon Kim’s book is titled “Physicalism, Or Something Near Enough.”

New EP: “In Appreciation of Limits”

A lot of this recording is rough, as I’ve been too rushed to really sit down and perfect any of these songs, so I allowed a fuck of lot of small errors to stay in and this is basically a way–more–lazy–than–I’d–prefer “first take”.

Honestly, once the first track starts getting weird and too quiet, … just skip to the third.

The first track starts with a brief 40 second sample illustrating my basic style of song–writing: simple guitar parts that overlap in interesting ways to create something that feels more intricate than the sum of its parts. I like the parts to be simple enough that I can hear them all individually, but mesh together in a way that makes listening to all of them at once a more involved, meditative sort of act. Eventually (if the urge strikes) I may expand that basic template into a more developed song. I really, really love the feel of it and I’m probably going to expand on it whenever I get a decent chance to sit down and really work it out. (For now, I’m sending my recorder across the country ahead of me before I take off on my own journey to where it’s headed.) The rest of the track after that 40 seconds verges into an alternate tuning transcription on acoustic guitar of The Weeknd’s “The Town” (actually, when I recorded the brief demo, I didn’t realize this was on the rest of the track. So that’s why the volume is screwed up—and now I’m out of CD–R’s. I’m sorry. You can hear it well with headphones, though.)

The next two tracks are a two–part series that starts with an … industrial beatbox? intro and then verges into a creepy, slightly Azam–Ali–inspired vocal–backed spoken word drawn from something I found I had written a long time ago and couldn’t for the life of me remember anything about (I’m guessing I was probably ridiculously high when I wrote it down). The second part takes the template of the rhythm from the spoken word and transforms it into an acoustic instrumental. (At which point it sucks way less)

I’ll be posting more “EP–style” collections of a few short songs like this at a time in the future.

Listen here: In Appreciation of Limits

Is the War on Drugs Racist? The Surprising Truth Behind the Black Curtain of History

What about the drug war? The notion that the drug war in particular is especially racist is one that is widely accepted across the whole political spectrum. Michelle Alexander, author of ‘The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness’ writes that “The drug war was motivated by racial politics, not drug crime … [it] was launched as a way of trying to appeal to poor and working class white voters, as a way to say, “We’re going to get tough on them, put them back in their place”—and ‘them’ was not so subtly defined as African–Americans.” Articles in Time Magazine tell us that “black youth are arrested for drug crimes at a rate ten times higher than that of whites. But new research shows that young African Americans are actually less likely to use drugs and less likely to develop substance use disorders, compared to whites….” Even Ron Paul, known for a series of newsletters containing statements like “Carjacking … It’s the hip-hop thing to do among the urban youth who play unsuspecting whites like pianos,” believes it. Quote: “ … minorities are punished unfairly in the war on drugs. … blacks make up 14% of those who use drugs, yet 36% of those arrested are Blacks and it ends up that 63% of those who finally end up in prison are Blacks. This has to change. … We need to repeal the whole war on drugs.”  [1]

Yet, we saw in the last post that there is very good reason to believe that, whatever the ultimate cause, African–Americans are not arrested disproportionately to their numbers in other crimes. Contrary to popular impression, drug policies are responsible for very little—relatively speaking—of the disparity in incarceration rates between whites and blacks. The fact that incarceration rates for crimes involving drugs correspond so closely to these general incarceration rates should, in and of itself, immediately make us skeptical of the claim that African–Americans are imprisoned so disproportionately here. (It will turn out that a surprising hell of a lot is simply wrong about the data underlying this claim.) Stephan and Abigal Thernstrom, in the 1997 America in Black and White: One Nation, Indivisible – Race in Modern America provide us with some of the relevant numbers: “In 1980, before the antidrug crackdown, African Americans were 34.4 percent of the inmates in federal prisons, and 46.6 percent of those in state penitentiaries. By 1994, their share of the federal prison population had risen only slightly, to 35.4 percent. Among state prisoners, the black proportion rose three points between 1980 and 1993 to 49.7 percent.”

They continue: “The black prison population would be smaller, but not much smaller, if the drug laws were different—if, for example, crack and powder cocaine were treated identically. But a calculation made on data for prisoners newly admitted to penitentiaries in thirty–eight states in 1992 indicates that if the percentage of black men serving drug sentences had been reduced to the figure for white men, the black proportion of the total would have fallen from 50 percent to 46 percent. Again, not a trivial difference, but hardly a monumental one. A similar calculation done for prisoners in federal facilities yields even less of a difference; we could have made the proportion of black males sent to federal prisons for drug offenses in 1994 identical to the proportion among white males by setting free just 855 African–American men, a mere 3 percent of those sent to a federal penitentiary that year.”

The charge that the criminal justice system as a whole is racist, then, simply cannot hang on the rate of arrests for drug use—at worst, drug arrests are an exception to an overall pattern of racially disproportionate arrests which are justified by the racial proportions of crime. But critics who argue that the criminal justice system as a whole is racist almost always extend this argument to the racial breakdown of arrests for crime in general as well, and as we saw in the previous post, this claim is put down by the fact that victim and witness reports—who have every possible reason not to lie—indicate a larger racial disproportion in rates of crime than are suggested by police arrest rates. The fact that critics who make charges of racism are wrong in the case of all other crimes should make us skeptical of the notion that this is the sole case in which they suddenly have it right, and the fact that the racial proportion of arrests for drug crimes so closely matches the corroborated proportion of arrests for other crimes should instantly make us skeptical that this is the sole case in which the same rates of arrest are suddenly so wildly disproportionate.

  _______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______

But before we get into the statistics, a timeline of relevant history is in order.

In 1956, the white Reverend Norman C. Eddy of the East Harlem Protestant Parish “opened a store–front drop–in center and a clinic where addicts received a physician’s services, referrals to hospitals, assistance in job searches, psychological counseling, and legal assistance for those facing criminal charges.”

Quickly, the EHPP became overbooked: “with a staff of three … the EHPP storefront recorded visits from 2,175 individual users (or 5 percent of the nation’s addicts, according to FBN statistics).” Faced with these prospects, the EHPP joined with five other programs to become the New York Neighborhoods’ Council on Nacotics addiction in 1959—and after successfully lobbying state government for additional hospital beds and after–care programs for detoxified users, went on to help pass  the Metcalf–Volker Narcotic Addict Committee Act signed by Governor Nelson Rockefeller that allowed addicts arrested for possession to choose in–patient treatment in a state hospital rather than jail. [2] Yet, despite their efforts, “A study of a single block (100th Street between First and Second Avenues) that followed residents over four years found that one–third of the sixty teenagers interviewed in 1965 had become heroin users by 1968.” [2] A staggering half of the entire nation’s addicts lived in New York State by the end of 1963—almost 23,000 of the nation’s 48,000. [3]

Over time, it became more and more apparent that these social programs weren’t resolving the problem. As black citizens continued to take the brunt of the impact of social dysfunction from rampant drug abuse, the tone—driven by black backlash against what was considered to be a failed liberal approach to addiction and crime, and police apathy towards the plight of black victims of crime and drug abuse—became increasingly militant. I draw here as one of my primary sources particularly of citations of newspaper clippings that can’t be found online from Michael Javen Fortner, the African–American Assistant Professor and Academic Director of Urban Studies at the Murphy Institute at CUNY SPS. Many of these will be taken from his The Carceral State and the Crucible of Black Politics: An Urban History of the Rockefeller Drug Laws, which “examines how African American mobilization for greater public safety in Harlem shaped the evolution of narcotics–control policies in New York State from 1960 until 1973,” objecting to “prevailing theories [of the origins of the drug war which overemphasize] … the exploitation of white fears … or the political strategies of Republican political elites,” and “ignore the ‘invisible black victim.’”

In 1961, Mark T. Southall, member of the Urban League and NAACP, tells a Democratic Party hearing that “[Harlem] is slowly and surely becoming a cesspool of the dreadful narcotics racket … Churches are constantly being robbed by addicts … Ministers and other citizens of the community are being mugged, beaten, and robbed by addicts, who also are guilty of rapes, pickpocketing and many other crimes, daily and nightly.” [4] In 1962, the Reverend Oberia Dempsey led a seven–week drive to “Urge the president to mobilize all law enforcement agencies to unleash their collective fangs on dope pushers and smugglers … urge Governor Rockefeller to also push a similar crackdown … [and] spur Mayor Wagner and Police Commissioner Michael Murphy to turn loose the city’s police … [on] narcotics dealers.” [5] In 1968, Dempsey (who “always carried a .32–caliber pistol … even in church”) recruits “volunteers from among retired policemen, guards and others who had been trained and held pistol permits” to take immediate action to repel “pushers.” The theory that activists like Dempsey were ‘uncle Toms,’ Fortner writes in “‘Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone?’: Rev. Oberia Dempsey and His Citizen’s War on Drugs”, cannot explain his movement’s “grassroots character … the petitions signed by thousands, the marches and rallies, the letters to editors, appearances at hearings, town halls, and emergency meetings.”

An article published by Ebony in 1970 discusses State Senator Waldaba Stewart’s support for “groups in Harlem … known as Black Citizen Patrols. The no–nonsense groups have served notice that “we’re going to have to keep the heat on every spot that’s well–known as a dope drop. … we document an area as a drug drop. Then we turn our report over to the police. If nothing happens, … we barricade the place … Our last step is to have citizen arrests made by our members who are off–duty black policemen.” Similar articles over this period of time include “Harlem Vigilantes Move On ‘Pushers’” published in the Chicago Daily Defender in Jun. 23 of 1965, and “Addicts’ Victims Turn Vigilante” published in the New York Times in 1969. [6]  The Black Liberation Army ran a campaign to “Deal with the Dealer” by identifying the “hangouts” of prominent drug dealers and manufacturers and raid them. [7] In some cases, drug dealers were killed—both Assata Shakur and Hubert Gerold Brown, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, were involved in trials related to underground attacks on drug activity in black communities.[8] A New York Times report warned in 1968 that Harlem “could become a community of gunfighters, reminiscent of the Old West, if the law failed to protect black citizens from outlaws.”

 _______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______

In 1970, the Congressional Black Caucus took one of its first formal actions when the 12 black members of the U.S. House of Representatives met with President Nixon under that name, presenting him with a document which outlined 61 recommendations they requested the President consider—an opportunity the members had requested since the year previous when the organization was first founded as the “Democratic Select Committee,” and which they obtained only after having taken the dramatic and unprecedented step of boycotting the President’s State of the Union Address. In the document, they wrote: “We strongly urge that drug abuse and addiction be declared a major national crisis. … Since organized crime is the principal distributive mechanism of hard narcotics, we urge that Justice Department manpower for investigation and prosecution in that area be substantially increased.”

 That same year, Congress passed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, containing the Controlled Substances Act—“the legal foundation of the government’s fight against the abuse of drugs and other substances… regulating the manufacture and distribution of narcotics, stimulants, depressants, hallucinogens, anabolic steroids, and chemicals used in the illicit production of controlled substances.” Of the ten African–American representatives in Congress at that time, three of the five who voted (Robert N. C. Nix, Sr.; George W. Collins; and Shirley Chisholm) voted ‘Yea.’ (John Conyers and Bill Clay voted ‘Nay.’ William Dawson, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Charles Diggs, Gus Hawkins, and Louis Stokes abstained.)

Ironically, it was in 1972 that a group composed mainly of white conservatives recommended the legalization of marijuana. Governor Raymond P. Shafer, chairman of Nixon’s National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse (created by the Controlled Substances Act) wrote in the final report that “Neither the marihuana user nor the drug itself can be said to constitute a danger to public safety … [T]he criminal law is too harsh a tool to apply to personal possession even in the effort to discourage use. … The actual and potential harm of use of the drug is not great enough to justify intrusion by the criminal law into private behavior, a step which our society takes only with the greatest reluctance.” Public support for legalization remained under 20% for the most part until 1993, and so far as I can tell there was no significant African–American advocacy either within or outside of Congress for the measure.

However, 1973 was the year a very different law that was established in the State of New York—which did receive widespread and notable support from a large chunk of African–Americans, leaders and public alike—marked a significant historical turning point in the history of the war on drugs. In 1962, it had been New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller who signed the Metcalf–Volker Act in response to the petitions of the Reverend Norman C. Eddy and others, allowing arrested addicts to choose in–patient treatment in a state hospital over jail. Rockefeller had taken office expressing staunch opposition to “[conservative] extremists [who] feed on fear, hate and terror … [and] have no program for America—no program for the Republican Party … no solution for our problems of chronic unemployment, of education, … or racial injustice….”

But in December of 1965, Rockefeller had begun holding meetings with “Harlem officials and a follow–up closed session with an influential group of Negro leaders” to discuss the rising drug problem. In a unity of middle– and lower–class black interests, these “influential group[s]” included members of the St. Philip’s Episcopal Church whose “members were considered ‘the better element of colored people’” [10] as well as members of Salem Methodist, which was described as refusing to cater to “the tastes of the black bourgeoisie.” [11] Less than a month later, when Rockefeller delivered his message to the opening session of the legislature in the new year, his tone had changed: now he spoke of the need “to act decisively in removing pushers from the streets and placing addicts in new and expanded state facilities for effective treatment, rehabilitation, and after care.” [12]

So in 1966, he passed the Narcotic Addict Rehabilitation Act which allowed, for the first time, for addicts to be compulsively treated if they had been accused of a crime (and allowed magistrates to compel treatment in a civic center even if they had not)—but even a year after this bill had apportioned the state with $75 million for the creation of rehabilitation centers, the complaints and problems continued. In 1967, residents sought meetings with the Police Commissioner Howard R. Leary, complaining that drug–related crime “forced merchants to close their shops early and brought armed civilian patrols into the streets”—while very clearly blaming “addicts for the purse snatchings, the muggings, the burglaries and the beatings.” [13] Still in 1968, the pastor of Harlem’s Second Friendship Baptist Church estimated that “90 percent of the people refuse to come out at night … even on Sunday…” in fear of drug–related violence. [14]

After analyzing homicide data from 1950–1980, Charles Murray writes that “it was much more dangerous to be black in 1972 than it was in 1965, whereas it was not much more dangerous to be white.”  Then, as now, the majority of victims of minority acts of violence were minorities themselves: “In New York City, seventy percent of the victims of homicides, muggings, and narcotics pushers were African Americans and Puerto Ricans.” [9] In 1970, “Thirty three percent of nonwhites identified drugs and crime as major issues while only 18 percent of the entire sample [skewed by that 33% of nonwhites] mentioned either drugs or crime”. [15] And in 1973, 71% of blacks favored life sentences without parole for “pushers.” [16]

One of Rockefeller’s closest aides and speech–writers, Joseph Persico, tells the story on pp.142–144 of The Imperial Rockefeller: A Biography of Nelson A. Rockefeller of how, in 1972, Rockefeller encountered William Fine, the president of a department store and chairman of a rehabilitation program whose son struggled with addiction, and asked Fine to visit Japan to learn why the nation had one of the world’s lowest addiction rates. In his response to Rockefeller, Fine wrote: “The thing that impressed me most of all is the single minded conviction they have that public interest is above human rights when it comes to an evil. … the human rights of those who get involved in narcotics, or push narcotics, are brushed aside—quickly, aggressively, and with little or no recourse…It is incredible to me that they have had such success, but then, it really all comes down to what people are willing to give up to get, and the Japanese, obviously, were willing to give up the soap box movement on human rights in order to rid the public of the evil abuses of drugs.”

And so it came to pass that in 1973, Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s drug laws were passed in New York, marking a dramatic change in the history of the “war on drugs”—they were the first to promote harsh penalties and mandatory minimum sentences for possession. As this insightful paper notes, “Governor Nelson Rockefeller did not root his campaign for harsh new drug laws in the politics of white racial backlash. Instead, he championed the laws by publicizing their endorsement by several African American community leaders from Harlem”—such as those covered by the articles in Ebony magazine in 1970 and the Chicago Daily Defender in 1965. Whereas the paper notes that “… liberals and Democrats were equal partners in embracing and promoting law and order in the 1960s and 1970s and creating the laws that led to mass incarceration,” the Wikipedia entry lists libertarian economist Murray Rothbard, conservative public intellectual William F. Buckley, and “many in law enforcement” (along with civil rights activists) as some of the most notable opposition.

In fact, when William F. Buckley held debate against the war on drugs in 1991, his opponent in the debate was Charles Rangel—a black Democrat representing Harlem. In the debate, he asks Buckley: “Why is it that when we talk about this drug problem … you put on blinders, and you find … one of the things that is not working … Why do you just say ‘legalize?’ Why don’t you talk about education? If we were not making progress in the Middle East, because the Army was not moving forward, but the Air Force was actually doing a tremendous job, would you say ‘eliminate the Army?’” Later, in 1989, Rangel was profiled by Ebony magazine, where he was called a “front–line general in the war on drugs”—and the article quotes him as condemning what he called Nixon’s “lackadaisical attitude” towards drugs.

The response of Glester Hinds, the head of Harlem’s People’s Civic and Welfare Association, to the new law? “I don’t think the governor went far enough … his bill [should include] capital punishment because these murderers need to be gotten rid of completely. Yet because of the bleeding hearts that we have, the legislators try to be pacifistic in having laws that do not work.” When NYU Law School Professor and former staff attorney for the NAACP Leroy D. Clark spoke against the measure, he acknowledged that he spoke against a large percentage of the black community: “…[We] must be vigilant and keep our eye on what may be someone’s hidden agenda … I ask for a restraint, which our communities now do not feelbecause they feel the community is being immobilized by the addict.” [17]

As Michael Javen Forner writes in Invisibility and Imprecision in the Historiography of Mass Incarceration, “Although blacks constituted 14% of New York City’s population in 1960 and around 19% in 1970, they constituted a disproportionate share of deaths due to drugs, representing anywhere from 50% to 60% of all such deaths from 1960 until 1973. In fact, this rate dips below 50% only after the passage of the drug laws in 1973.”

_______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______

A key thread running throughout much of black sentiment across these periods of time was that society’s demonstrations of racism were in its not giving enough of a damn to do something to stop the epidemic because it didn’t care enough to do something to help black victims—exactly the opposite of how the situation is viewed today. In 1970, an Ebony magazine piece covering grassroots efforts to fight drug use in black communities begins by noting that Mothers Against Drugs—“which urges community people to record the names, addresses, and license plate numbers of known traffickers, suppliers, and pushers” sends this information directly “to the district attorney’s office”—spitefully skips over local police because they believe resentfully that police “simply don’t care about drugs in black communities.“ 

It opens in the first paragraph with this quote from a grieving mother: “You know the best way to deal with the dope problem? Get as many white kids on it as possible! The best news I’ve heard in a long time is that more white kids are getting hooked on heroin. If I had the money I’d buy it and give it to them free!” 

The Knapp Commission provided some empirical support for this perception when, in 1972, it investigated police corruption and concluded that the biggest problem was with the “overwhelming majority … who accept gratuities and solicit five– and ten– and twenty–dollar payments … but do not aggressively pursue corruption payments.” The report noted that: “At the time of the investigation certain precincts in Harlem … comprised what police officers called “the Gold Coast” because they contained so many payoff–prone activities, numbers and narcotics being the biggest.”

 _______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______

The story still wasn’t over.

The late 1970’s and early 1980’s saw the rise of crack cocaine, and a rise in drug–related crimes once again came with it.

Alfred Blumstein and Joseph Wallman write in their 2006 volume, The Crime Drop in Americathat “A focus on New York City is easily justified by its bellwether role in national drug and violence trends and its hugely disproportionate numeric weight in those trends” In chapter 6, “The rise and decline of drugs, drug markets, and violence in New York City,” (pp.164–206) the authors document that the epidemic in New York City “peaked” between 1987 to 1989—when 70% of all arrestees tested positive for either crack or powder cocaine in urinalysis. Across the fifteen years between 1960 and 1975, there were an average of just 1,066 murders per year. But from 1975 to 1986 when the law was passed, there were an average of 1,941 murders per year—almost twice as many. “U.S. Sentencing Commission statistics show that 29 percent of all crack cases from October 1, 2008, through September 30, 2009, involved a weapon, compared to 16 percent for powder cocaine;” and it is plausible, especially in light of all the other facts listed here, this association was also true in the past.

In 1982, the Congressional Black Caucus released the “Black Leadership Family Plan for the Unity, Survival and Progress of Black People.” The document, penned by civil rights icon and DC representative Walter Fauntroy—who led the prayer at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s funeral—includes criticism that “diminished drug enforcement increases [black youth’s] vulnerability to drug abuse” and warns that the “incidence of crime in black communities is increasing because of intentional and unintentional failure on the part of law enforcement agencies to provide adequate protection”—finally urging police, once again, to “increase drug enforcement efforts.”

Ta–Nehisi Coates, in The Beautiful Struggle: A Father Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood discusses (on pp.29–30) his own recollection of the time period: “When crack hit Baltimore, civilization fell. Dad told me how it used to be. In his time, the beefs were petty and stemmed from casual crimes. … The bad end of a beef was loose teeth and stitches, rarely shock trauma and “Blessed Assurance” ringing the roof of the storefront funeral home. … The world was filled with great causes … But we died for sneakers stitched by serfs, coats that gave props to teams we didn’t own, hats embroidered with the names of Confederate states. I could feel the falling, all around. The flood of guns wrecked the natural order.” In 1987, two veteran civil rights activists, Reverend Hosea Williams and comedian Dick Gregory, began a 40–day fast camping alternately outside the White House, U.S. Capital, and New York Stock exchange to protest drug abuse and “send a telegram to President Reagan asking him to commit more Federal money to the fight against drug abuse.” In a later, 1986 speech, Fauntroy declared that “Drugs—and now ‘crack’—are indeed the source of threat to all civilized society and each of us must accept 100% of the responsibility for eliminating this threat in our midst….” And it was in 1986 that the first major piece of federal drug war legislation, The Anti–Drug Abuse Act, created the well–known 100–to–1 crack–cocaine sentencing disparity.

Returning to America in Black and White, the Thernstroms write: “Critics of the war on drugs … allege [that this policy was] blatantly racist, because crack tends to be used by blacks and powder cocaine by whites. If so, it is certainly peculiar that the Congressional Black Caucus backed the law, and that some of its members proposed even tougher penalties on crack. They knew that crack was much more common in black neighborhoods than in white ones, and that more blacks than whites were likely to be incarcerated as a result of the change. And in fact, that was precisely their reason for supporting the legislative change: a conviction that it might reduce the havoc on the streets where their constituents lived.” Of twenty–one black members of Congress at this time, seventeen are listed here as co–sponsors of the bill: Charles Hayes1, Alton R. Waldon, Jr.2, Mitchell Parren3, Charles B. Rangel4, Harold Ford, Sr.5, Julian C. Dixon6, William H. Gray III7, Mickey Leland8, Mervyn M. Dymally9, Major R. Owens10, Edolphus Towns11, Alton R. Waldon, Jr.12, Bill Clay13, Cardiss Collins14, Ronald Dellums15, Louis Stokes16, and Walter Fauntroy himself17. Only Gus Savage, Alan Wheat, George W. Crockett, Jr., and John Conyers fail to make the list—whether by ‘Nay’ or abstention is unclear.

The years of 1975–1986, as previously noted, saw an average number of 1,941 murders in the State of New York per year. But by 1995, the number had returned closed to the previous rate—1177—and has continued falling since then, with an average between 1995 and 2014 of just 634 murders per year. In fact, the years 2013 and 2014 both saw a total of less than 328 murders each.

 What happened?

Franklin Zimring, professor of law and chairman of the Criminal Justice Research Program at the University of California at Berkeley, discusses the rise in crime experienced during the second half of the 1980’s, and the drop in crime experienced during 1990–2000 in The City That Became Safe: New York’s Lessons for Urban Crime and Its Control. Notably, Zimring is no “law–and–order” conservative—his 2003 book The Contradictions of American Capital Punishment notes that the death penalty has been most actively used by the same states in which the most lynchings historically occurred. The City That Became Safe argues against the infamous “broken window theory,” advanced by conservative social scientist James Q. Wilson, that harsh treatment of low–level offenses was responsible for drops in crime across this periods of time. He critiques James Q. Wilson’s claim (on pp.83–87) that an increase in youth would lead to proportionate increases in crime.

He also argues (pp.90–99), correlating hospitalizations and deaths from overdose with changes in the known street price, that overall use of cocaine appears to have remained relatively constant [Update 4/20/2016: However, see this footnote] across the period of time in which New York City’s crime drop took place. Yet, he notes (pp.91–92) that “The peak rates of drug–involved homicide occurred in 1987 and 1988”—the same year that 70% of arrestees were found to test positive for cocaine—“and the drop in the volume of such killings is steady and steep from 1993 to 2005. … The volume of drug–involved homicides in 2005 is only 5% of the number in 1990.” Meanwhile, whereas 70% of arrestees in the late 1980s tested positive for cocaine, by 1991 (see table 2 on page 14) this number hit a low of 62%—and in 1998 it had fallen all the way to 47.1%. By 2012 (see figure 3.7 on page 45) this number fell even further to 25%.

What happened here? Why would drug use amongst arrestees fall if drug use as a whole remained constant? Zimring has an important answer: “If I’m a drug seller in a public drug market and you’re a drug seller in a public market, we’re both going to want to go to the corner where most of the customers are. But that means that we are going to have conflict about who gets the corner. And when you have conflict and you’re in the drug business, you’re generally armed and violence happens. … Policing … [helped drive] drug trade from public to private space. … [this] reduced the risk of conflict and violence associated with contests over drug turf. The preventive impact [of these policies] on lethal violence seems substantially greater than its impact on drug use. … [And] once the police had eliminated public drug markets in the late 1990s, the manpower devoted to a special narcotics unit [whose funding had increased by 137% between 1990 and 1999] dropped quite substantially [and yet the policies’ impacts on homicide rates remained].”

Critics of the drug war often imply that drug–related violence is a result of the criminalization of drugs creating black markets. The history of New York seems to suggest exactly the opposite: drugs created drug–related violence and turf wars; and the existence of these is exactly why black victims of drug–related violence agitated originally for increased penalties towards drugs.

Furthermore, this fact gives us one reason minorities may be legitimately arrested in disproportionate numbers for possession of drugs even if total rates of use are in fact constant: minorities are disproportionately involved in public drug trades where violence and turf wars are more likely to occur. In decrying James Q. Wilson’ “broken window theory,” he emphasizes another important way that drug policy impacted crime: “Marijuana was not a priority of the New York City police, yet they had a huge number of public marijuana arrests. Why was that? That was because they were only arresting minority males who looked to them like robbers and burglars and they used as a pretext the less serious crime arrest to find out whether the particular person they were arresting had a warrant out for a felony and was a bad actor. … The good news is that drug violence went down tremendously. There are a couple of different ways in which the police department measures the number of killings associated with drug traffic in New York; both of those measures that they use are down more than 90 percent so that the streets themselves have been changed, people can walk there, and the number of dead bodies associated with illegal drug traffic has gone way, way down.

Regarding marijuana arrests, Zimring notes that “While the gender distribution of marijuana users is close to 50–50, the gender distribution of arrests is 93% to 7%”—which parallels the disproportionately male gender distribution of crime. In other words, the gender distribution of marijuana arrests and the gender distribution of crime parallel each other in the same way that the the racial distribution of marijuana arrests and the racial distribution of crime do—and no one ever assumes that “stop and frisk” policies are an expression of anti–male, or misandrist, gender bias. Zimring concludes: “This is only circumstantial evidence that the police are going after robbery risks, but it is conclusive evidence that they aren’t trying to go after marijuana as a threat to the quality of life.” Indeed, even critics of these policies acknowledge that “Marijuana stops are more prevalent in precincts where… “high–crime area” justifications are more likely to be reported….” Critics may be right that marijuana stops are only a “pretext” for the real reasons for the arrest—but the real reasons just might be valid suspicion of crime, which correlate with race simply because different racial groups do in fact commit different proportions of the total amount of crime, and not bias on the basis of race alone—no more than the policy’s gender imbalance proves that it is a simple pretext for targeting men simply because society despises masculinity. If drug arrests take place on valid grounds of suspicion of criminal behavior, then this may, in fact, be one valid reason for the racial percentages of drug arrests to exceed the racial percentages of drug use even if the former is in fact disproportionate to rates of personal use. 

 _______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______

That brings us to the question of the policies known as “stop and frisk.”

On Tumblr, the author of ‘Racism Still Exists’ gives us the usual story—black people are stopped and frisked disproportionate to their representation of the population, and that disparity is all it takes to reach a conclusion of racism: “Black people comprise 26% of the city, but they are 52% of those who are stopped.  On the other hand, White people are 47% of the population, but they are only 9% of those who are stopped.” What goes ignored in this comparison is, as usual, the actual murder and crime rate—quoting Heather MacDonald: “Blacks are 66 percent of all violent–crime suspects, according to the victims of and witnesses to those crimes. Blacks commit around 70 percent of all robberies and about 80 percent of all shootings in the city. Add Hispanic shooters, and you account for 98 percent of all shootings in the city. Whites, by contrast, were only 5 percent of all violent crime suspects in 2011. According to victim and witness reports, white suspects commit barely over 1 percent of all shootings and less than 5 percent of all robberies.” Thus—once again—the actually relevant comparisons suggest that it is whites who are “victimized” disproportionately to their actual representation of the crime rate. If we call a suspect who is unlikely to actually be involved in a crime an unjustified suspect, then there are in fact statistically more unjustified white suspects than there are unjustified black suspects inconvenienced by “stop and frisk” policies.

The author also tells us, citing this New York Times article, that “In Brownsville, residents stated that they were frequently stopped and or ticketed for entering their own or friends’ homes in public housing because they did not use a key—but that was because the front door lock was broken.” Of course, Brownsville’s demographic is 76.7% black and only 2.6% white. But the author fails to mention that Brownsville ranks 69th out of all 69 boroughs in New York for murder. Kensington, a borough in Buffalo, has the lowest murder rate and has a similar racial demographic spread: 82.3% black and only 11.5 white. Yet just 2% of the population of Kensington is stopped and frisk, compared to 29.1% for the population of Brownsville. The chart on page four makes it clear that Brownsville has the highest, and Kensington the lowest, stop–and–frisk rates of all boroughs in New York. Once again, this corresponds exactly to the murder rate across New York, which is highest of all in Brownsville and lowest of all in Kensington. The rate does not increase in Kensington because it has a higher proportion of black resident—it falls, because it has a lower rate of murder and crime. (Intriguing note: Jewish neighborhood watch groups called Shomrim are known to conduct patrols in Kensington, and coordinated a 5000–person volunteer search for a missing boy in coordination with police in 2011—then sought and successfully found his killer.)

During the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, police apathy towards minority victims of minority crimes was the target of accusations of racism. Today, we see that police enthusiasm, too, is unacceptably racist. But if “stop and frisk” policies work, then their primary beneficiaries are, in fact, minorities. Just as minorities commit a disproportionate amount of the United States’ crime, so too are they disproportionately the victims of it. Heather Macdonald writes: “Blacks, for example, constituted 78% of shooting suspects and 74% of all shooting victims in 2012, even though they are less than 23% of the city’s population. Whites, by contrast, committed just over 2% of shootings and were under 3% of shooting victims in 2012, though they are 35% of the populace. … Minorities make up nearly 80% of the drop in homicide victims since the early 1990s.”

Do “stop and frisk” policies actually work? In The City That Became Safe, Franklin Zimring notes that there were, at the time of his writing, no studies that adequately controlled for the other policies he documents which changed across the same period of time. Today, however, Colin Lubelczyk writes: “The only study that explicitly poses the question “Does stop and frisk stop crime?” was an unpublished paper by Robert Purtell and Dennis Smith that relied on monthly precinct level data from New York City from 1997 to 2006. After controlling for a large number of variables including the effects of hotspots policing, Purtell and Smith found that stop and frisk helped reduce robbery, burglary, murder, and grand larceny … While other researchers have looked into similar questions as the one posed by Purtell and Smith, they do not isolate stop and frisk as a variable and instead combine its effects with other police strategies like 1) firearm reduction, 2) hot spots policing, and 3) order maintenance policing.” As Heather MacDonald concludes, “To be sure, thousands of innocent New Yorkers have been questioned by the police. Even though such stops may have been justified given the information the officer had at the time, they’re still humiliating and infuriating experiences. But if the trade–off is an increased risk of getting stopped in a high-crime neighborhood versus an increased risk of getting shot there, most people would choose the former.”

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In his discussion of claims that mass incarceration is ‘the New Jim Crow’ in “Racial Critiques of Mass Incarceration: Beyond the New Jim Crow,”  James Forman, Jr.—son of civil rights leader, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and Black Panther member James Forman; maternal grandson of 1960s investigative journalist and active Communist Party member Jessica Mitford—writes, “One of Jim Crow’s defining features was that it treated similarly situated blacks and whites differently. … But violent crime is a different matter. While rates of drug offenses are roughly the same throughout the population, blacks are overrepresented among the population for violent offenses. For example, the African American arrest rate for murder is seven to eight times higher than the white arrest rate; the black arrest rate for robbery is ten times higher than the white arrest rate. Murder and robbery are the two offenses for which the arrest data are considered most reliable as an indicator of offending.” His purpose here isn’t to point a finger at drug arrests per se so much as it is to discuss the phenomena of “mass incarceration” on its own terms, but he goes on to distinguish drug arrests from arrests for all other crimes: “Because the [Jim Crow] analogy leads proponents to search for disparities in the criminal justice system that resemble those of the Old Jim Crow, they confine their attention to cases where blacks are like whites in all relevant respects, yet are treated worse by law. Such a search usefully exposes the abuses associated with … the drug war,” although “it does not lead to a comprehensive understanding of mass incarceration.”

Yet, we have seen several reasons to be skeptical of these claims: first, the percentage of minorities arrested for drug–related crime is not different from the percentage of minorities arrested for violent crimes in general—and as we saw in the last entry, “Are African–Americans Disproprotionately Victimized by Police?”—and as Forman Jr. agrees—we have overwhelming reason to believe that these arrest rates are in fact not the result of racism, but simple direct response to the percentage of crime African–Americans actually commit: victims report a higher percentage of African–American perpetrators than are arrested by police. It would be incredibly strange, then, if drug arrests are the sole category in which African–Americans are suddenly disproportionately arrested. If racism is the cause for this disproportionality, then why aren’t African–Americans arrested disproportionate to their actual crime rate for violent crimes? Why would this racism suddenly appear in the sole case of drug use, and vanish as soon as a black person burglarizes a home (as we saw in the last entry, “victims tell police that 45 percent of the perpetrators were black, but only 28 percent of the people arrested for that crime were black”)?

Furthermore, it was African–American victims themselves who historically led the most notable efforts to increase the attention law enforcement gave to the epidemic of drug–related crimes, and underlied the most significant historical changes in public drug policy—and racism was then alleged on the basis that law enforcement, and white society in general, didn’t give enough of a damn to do anything about them because they weren’t having to deal with the consequences. 

Where have we gone wrong?

The problem is this: we’ve acquired our estimates of who uses what drugs how frequently by self–report.

Self–reports are notoriously inaccurate. People often have incredibly poor memories—oftentimes, they’re even dishonest. Frequently, they report what they want to believe instead of what actually happened. Reliance on inaccurate self–reports of dietary intake is, in fact, one reason that dietary recommendations are so often contradictory over time. 60% of people who call themselves “vegetarian” ate a hamburger within the last 24 hours. A 2015 paper in the International Journal of Obesity writes of the reliance of self–reports in obesity research that “[The data] are so poor as measures of actual [energy intake] and [physical activity] that they no longer have [any] justifiable place in scientific research.” In an announcement from 17 members of the American Society for Nutrition titled ‘Self-report–based estimates of energy intake offer an inadequate basis for scientific conclusions,’ the authors write that “the magnitude of the bias may even have increased in recent years”—“motivated,” as they put it, “by social desirability:” in other words, because people say what they want to believe. And people apparently want to believe that they’re eating less now even more than they did in the past. Other research finds that people with a “diagnosed medical condition” are much more likely to overreport their meat intake—a fact that may have caused meat intake to become more associated with illness in epidemiological studies than it really is by sheer statistical fluke. Women were even found to be more likely to under–report their meat and calorie intake than men (a fact which had been studied elsewhere).

We shouldn’t take self–reports about diet naively for granted. In fact, many argue that we should recognize that they’re damn well outright useless—and it is even well–documented here that demographic characteristics such as illness and gender influence an individual’s accuracy in reporting. Why should we take self–reports for granted in the case of drugs?

In fact, we have studies establishing that demographics correlate with accuracy in self–reported drug use as well.

A 2008 “Comparison between self-report and hair analysis of illicit drug use in a community sample of middle-aged men” determined that “Discrepancies between biological assays and self-report of illicit drug use could undermine epidemiological research findings. … Male participants followed since 1972 were interviewed about substance use, and hair samples were analyzed …. Self-report and hair testing generally met good, but not excellent, agreement. Apparent underreporting of recent cocaine use was associated with inpatient hospitalization for the participant’s most recent quit attempt, younger age, identifying as African–American or Other, and not having a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder. … African–Americans in comparison to Caucasians who were urine positive were about 6 times less likely to report cocaine use when other factors are controlled for.” 

A 2005 study, “Race/Ethnicity Differences in the Validity of Self–Reported Drug Use: Results from a Household Survey,” found “evidence that compared with other groups, African Americans may provide less valid information on drug–use surveys. The findings suggest that African American respondents had significantly lower concordance rates. … Mediation was found in one model (cocaine) for one variable (SES), which may suggest some limited support for the cultural deficit model. Nevertheless, the finding that SES was not a consistent mediator of underreporting … [and] in general, none of the theories of mediation received strong support from this evaluation. Overall, the results replicate and extend a growing body of research suggesting that African Americans under–report substance use on surveys.” The 2005 study, in other words, found that even socio–economic status did little to diminish the impact of race in mis–reporting drug use on surveys. But as far as the raw numbers “without mediating effects entered, compared with African Americans, Hispanics have two and one–half times the odds of providing concordant responses … and Whites have over 25 times the odds of providing concordant responses.”

In fact, the findings of these study weren’t even new. All the way back in 1992, a study found that “ … intravenous drug users who were black or whose primary drugs of choice were injected cocaine and crack were more likely than other groups to misrepresent their current drug use status.” In 1994, a study of “The validity of drug use reports from juvenile arrestees” found that “Race/ethnicity [was] the most important predictor of cocaine use disclosure among those testing positive for this drug.” Yet, “Comparing the validity of self-reported recent drug use between adult and juvenile arrestees” finds that “adult arrestees are even more inclined to underreport their recent use of illicit drugs [than youth].”

And even beyond variability in the accuracy of self–reported drug use, The Department of Justice notes an important fact about variability in the self–reports themselves—it turns out that (in 1995) even if black and white respondents did in fact admit to using drugs at equal rates, they weren’t admitting to using the same amount of drugs“Among black drug users, 54% reported using drugs at least monthly and 32% reported using them weekly. Such frequent drug use was less common among white drug users. Among white users, 39% reported using drugs monthly and 20% reported using them weekly.” The pattern can still be found in the data from 2011 (chart taken from here), where the race ratio of admission of illicit drug use in lifetime begins at 17 whites for every 15 blacks—drops to 14.9 whites for every 15 blacks when considering admission of drug use in the past year—and finally inverts to 9 whites for every 11 blacks when admission of drug use in the past month is considered. The 2011 data doesn’t mention admission to drug use in the past week, where the ratio would likely invert even more so. And these are the same reports we have good reason to believe African–American respondents less frequently report accurately to in the first place.

If self–reports are a terrible way to estimate actual rates of drug use, then, do we have anything better?

It turns out that we do. While also imperfect, one of the most reasonable methods that we do have of estimating the racial breakdown of drug use in the general population is by looking at data on the racial breakdown of admissions to hospitals—and subsequent medical reports in cases of death—for illicit drug use, which data is recorded each year by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In 1994, reports found that amongst white patients admitted to emergency room visits in cases involving drug use, 14% mentioned the use of cocaine, while 8.4% mentioned the use of heroin, and 6.8% mentioned the use of marijuana. Amongst black patients, these numbers change to a whopping 54.5% for cocaine, 18.4% for heroin, and 10.7% for marijuana. Numbers for Hispanic patients are inbetween the white and black rates for cocaine (26.5%), more similar to black patients’ reported menton of heroin (18.7%), and more like white patients’ reported mention of marijuana (6.2%). Across the years of 1988–1994, an average of about 33,000 white emergency room visitors mentioned use of cocaine per year. Meanwhile, in the same years, an average of about 59,000 black emergency room visitors mentioned cocaine. Very crudely, if whites were about 75% of the population and blacks were about 12%, for a population of ten million this would mean that about 0.4% of the white population of 7.5 million and about 4.9% of the black population of 1.2 million were using cocaine—more than a tenfold difference. 

For heroin? An average of 18,000 white visitors per year mentioned it, compared to 17,500 black visitors. Plugging our simplified numbers back in, this would mean about 0.24% of the white population and about 1.46% of the black population used heroin across this period of years—more than a sixfold difference. An average of 11,250 white visitors mentioned marijuana, compared to an average of 8,250 black visitors—0.15% of the white population versus 0.688% of the black population—a 4.5 times larger percentage of the black population. In 1995, medical examiners in cases of death reported cocaine (see table 42) in 32.8% of deceased whites, compared to 69.6% of deceased blacks. Cocaine was reported in deceased Hispanics by medical examiners inbetween the white and black rate, at 55%; but heroin was highest for deceased Hispanics of all, at 56% (compared to 44.3% for deceased whites and 43.8% of deceased blacks). Across the years of 1987–1995 (see table 43), the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Program found that an average of 33.3% of white arrestees tested positive in urinalysis for cocaine, whereas an average of 62.6% of black arrestees did.

In 2011, we can update these statistics to the following (with the caveat that in about 15% of emergency room visits, race is unknown): Of 505,224 ER visits for cocaine, 185,748 (36.7% of total) were white and 236,089 (46.7% of total) were black—a 27% increase. Altogether, of 1,252,500 ER visits for illicit drug use (including alcohol), 634,593 (50.7% of total) visitors were white, and 384,317 (30.7% of total) were black—a much larger black–white ratio than the 12%–77% ratios African–Americans and Caucasians respectively compose of the general population. While it is difficult to nail an exact estimate of the racial breakdown of drug use throughout the general public with these numbers, they are most certainly better than rates of self–report, and they most definitely indicate that rates of drug use are in fact higher among African–Americans in general (and for cocaine in particular). Yet, even if African–Americans are simply more likely to use drugs in irresponsible ways resulting in medical problems or death, this too would suggest a very high probability that these individuals are likely using drugs in more generally dangerous—as well as publically visible—ways that would either justify, or help explain, why a higher percentage end up arrested.

Methamphetamine is one drug for which the vast majority of self–reported use, arrests, and hospitalizations are of white users—just 5.6% of black visitors who were admitted to emergency rooms for drug–related issues mentioned it in 1994, for example, compared to 70% of white visitors. In fact, this relatively corresponds to the rates of arrests for methamphetamine: “In 2006, the 5,391 sentenced federal meth defendants [nearly as many as the 5,619 crack defendants!] were 54% white, 39% Hispanic and 2% black.” Furthermore, “the federal methamphetamine–trafficking penalties … are identical to those for crack.  [Yet] no one calls the federal meth laws … anti–white.”

According to a 2011 report to Congress on the impact of mandatory minimum policies on federal sentencing, “Approximately two–thirds of the 23,964 drug offenders in fiscal year 2010 were convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty. More than one–quarter (28.1%, n=4,447) of drug offenses carrying a mandatory minimum penalty involved powder cocaine, followed by crack cocaine (24.7%, n=3,905), [and then] methamphetamine (21.9%, n=3,466)…. The application of mandatory minimum penalties varies greatly by the type of drug involved in the offense. For example, in fiscal year 2010, a mandatory minimum penalty applied in 83.1 percent (n=3,466) of drug cases involving methamphetamine.  Crack cocaine (82.2%) and methamphetamine cases (83.2%) had the highest rates of offenders convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty.” If racism were the cause for the crack–powder cocaine sentencing disparities—which we have already seen is historically misleading anyway—why would racist policymakers turn around and then institute equally severe penalties for a drug overwhelmingly used by whites? The report further notes that “The average sentence for methamphetamine offenders who remained subject to a mandatory minimum penalty at the time of sentencing … was 144 months, which is the highest average sentence for any drug type.” Even further, “Black methamphetamine offenders convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty and subject to the mandatory minimum at sentencing had the lowest sentences, on average, of any racial group (131 months)”—compared to 143 months for whites. Methamphetamine would seem to be an excellent case study for testing whether we treat drugs like cocaine more seriously as an excuse for jailing African–Americans, or simply because we treat hard drugs in general seriously—regardless of who uses them most.

_______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______

[1] It should go without saying that the question I am interested in here is not whether the drug war is an effective policy in general—only whether it’s enforcement is, either in intent or in practice, “racist”. One could perfectly well accept the conclusion that the drug war is not “racist” and still believe that its repeal would be beneficial for black and white Americans alike—I take no position on this question here, except to note that the commonly cited “decriminalization” policies in Portugal treat drug use as a non–criminal, medical health issue, but did not decriminalize drug dealing (in drug policy debates, this is in fact the definition of the word “decriminalization;” but this technical distinction is typically lost on the general reading public, and frequently left unexplained in articles addressing the subject).  Furthermore, correlation–causation questions are also more complicated than often assumed where the question of what impacts Portugese drug policy changes have had per se is concerned.

[2] Smack: Heroin and the American City by Eric C. Schneider, p.130–131; p.133

[3] “Organized Crime and Illicit Traffic in Narcotics,” Hearings before the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Government Operations, United States Senate (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1964), 760.

[4] “Mark T. Southall, Leader in Harlem,” New York Times, 30 Jun. 1976, 35; “Mark Southall Dead, Former Assemblyman,”New York Amsterdam News, 3 Jul. 1976, A1.] Amongst his requests was “mandatory prison sentences for convicted dope pushers….” [“Southall Hits Drugs In Harlem,” New York Amsterdam News, 16 Dec. 1961, 13.

[5] “Dempsey Gratified in His Anti-Dope Drive,” New York Amsterdam News, 1 Sept. 1962, 23.

[6] “Harshest in the Nation: The Rockefeller Drug Laws and the Widening Embrace of Punitive Politics,” by Jessica Neptune

[7] Sundiata Acoli’s August 15, 1983 testimony in United States v. Sekou Odinga et al., in Sundiata Acoli’s Brinks Trial Testimony, a pamphlet published by the Patterson (New Jersey) Black Anarchist Collective, p. 21.

[8] Kes Kesu Men Maa Hill, Notes of a Surviving Black Panther: A Call for Historical Clarity, Emphasis, and Application (New York: Pan-African Nationalist Press, 1992), p. 71; Dhoruba Bin Wahad, interviewed by Bill Weinberg, “Dhoruba Bin Wahad: Former Panther, Free at Last,” High Times 241 (September 1995), < HIGHTIMES.COM > Mag. html > [Accessed January 12, 1999]; Assata Shakur, op. cit., pp. 162-72; Clayborne Carson, in Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995), p . 298.

[9] Jack Newfield, “My Back Pages,” Village Voice, January 18, 1973

[10] Gilbert Osofsky, Harlem: The Making of a Ghetto: Negro New York, 1890–1930 (New York: Harper & Row, 1996), 115.

[11] Cary D. Wintz and Paul Finkelman, Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance, vol 1. (New York: Routledge, 2004), 272.

[12] “Excerpts from Governor Rockefeller’s Message Delivered to the Opening Session of the Legislature” New York Times, 6 Jan. 1966, 16.

[13] Earl Caldwell, “Group in Harlem Ask More Police,” New York Times, 4 Dec. 1967, 1.

[14] Homer Bigart, “Middle-Class Leaders in Harlem Ask Crackdown on Crime,” New York Times, 24 Dec. 1968, 46.

[15] Richard Reeves, “Survey Confirms Politicians’ Views of Attitudes of Ethnic-Group Voters,” New York Times, 25 Oct. 1970, 1.

[16] Maurice Carroll, “After Crime, Big Issues Are Prices and Fares,” New York Times, 17 Jan. 1974, 36; David Burnham, “Most Call Crime City’sWorst Ill,” New York Times, 16 Jan. 1974, 113; Nathaniel Sheppard, “Racial Issues Split City Deeply,” New York Times, 20 Jan. 1974, 1.

[17] Leroy Clark, “What Does Civil Liberties Mean in the Drug Context?” Amsterdam News, January 13, 1973.