A Tudor-Style Home in Hartford, CT
When I was a baby-faced teenaged boy, I was in a department store and a sales clerk asked, “Can I help you, ma’am?” Talk about humiliating! When I responded in my teenaged-boy voice, the clerk realized his mistake and was as embarrassed as I was.
I was recently in a jewelry store where I wanted to buy a semi-custom item. I described what I wanted and asked the woman behind the counter, “Would you be the one to help me with that?” I cringed because I knew she was probably thinking, “He would not ask a man that question. It’s only because I’m a woman that it enters his head that I might not know what I’m talking about.” Of course, that was not the case. I didn’t know if she was a sales clerk or an actual jeweler, so I had to ask the question before I rambled on and wasted both our time.
Now imagine that for your whole life people have assumed you are less than you are, just because of your race. That was the case for retired professional Major League Baseball player Doug Glanville, who is African-American.
As a successful man with a full career after 15 years as a baseball player, he had plenty of money and lived in one of the “nicer” neighborhoods in Hartford, Connecticut. One day he was shoveling snow in his driveway. Here is his account of what happened next:
A police officer from West Hartford had pulled up across the street, exited his vehicle, and begun walking in my direction. I noted the strangeness of his being in Hartford—an entirely separate town with its own police force—so I thought he needed help. He approached me with purpose, and then, without any introduction or explanation he asked, “So, you trying to make a few extra bucks, shoveling people’s driveways around here?”
Last month, a commenter dropped this interesting nugget:
God’s existence implies accountability’s existence…
More broadly, our discussion was about whether morality can be grounded in a non-theistic framework. I thought yes; he thought no. For him, God is what makes the “moral code” real, objective, absolute and authoritative. Fair enough, and his position has been the position of most people throughout recorded history.
But let’s look at recorded history. I will argue that my commenter hit the nail on the head when he said, “God’s existence implies accountability’s existence,” but accountability is not the same thing as morality — at least not what most of us mean by morality.
There is a story that a high-level Russian official visited America during the Reagan presidency and was shown the abundance of goods in American stores. He was astonished at the bountiful display and how it compared to the meager offerings in his home country.
“Who planned all this production?” he asked.
“Nobody,” his hosts replied. “People just decide for themselves what they want to produce and sell.”
He thought they must be concealing something. “No, seriously. Tell me: what authority is behind all this?”
“We assure you, this did not come from a central plan. People are free to go into business as they like and produce what they want, and what you see on the shelves is the result.”
Does your intuition tell you that computers can’t develop intuition? If so, then you might want to reconsider in light of this week’s news.
Computers have been better at chess since Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov in 1997, but this week Google’s AlphaZero, a general-purpose artificial intelligence (AI) absolutely crushed the reigning computer champion, winning 28 games out of 100 and drawing the rest (no losses at all). It did not win because it computed faster or with a better brute-force algorithm. It won by having better chess intuition than any human. And it developed this intuition all on its own.
I wrote the first four parts of this series a year ago, but something I recently read in How to Think brought the subject to mind again so here is another way to separate the internet’s wheat from its chaff:
Rule #5 – Does the website engage with the best arguments of its opposition?
In a chapter of How to Think titled Repulsions, Alan Jacobs warns that animus toward our opposition “disables our ethical and our practical judgment.” We have such an emotional investment in believing that they are wrong that we harp on their weakest arguments and ridicule their most loony representatives.
As the controversy over Confederate monuments played out this year, I came to believe that Muslims had it right: don’t render an artistic likeness of anyone, least of all our heroes, lest we slip into idolatry.
If we had followed that principle, we would still have the dispute over whether General Lee was a good man, but there would be more room to be honest because all sides could admit that he was good in some respects but flawed in others. A statue makes the issue more black-and-white: either we pull the statue down, or we leave it up. Nobody wants half a statue. And the statue itself is only going to portray the general in a one-sided manner, most likely in a noble pose on a stallion.
If you want to find the truth, then the most dangerous place for you to be is in a group that already agrees with you.
This is particularly true if membership in that group is based on shared thinking, such as the sort of church where you must all recite the same creed, the faculty of a school where there are written or unwritten expectations for what you will teach or publish, or a political party whose “platform” you must support.
The reason is obvious, isn’t it? As Alan Jacobs says in his book, How to Think,
…the pressures imposed on us by Inner Rings [of people who control such groups] make genuine thinking almost impossible by making belonging contingent on conformity.
He continues with the solution: