The Comprehension Gap

The logo for the organization Reading Is Fundamental

I feel it is obligatory to write about the whole Google memo thing; it’s all everybody is talking about anyway, so why not chime in?

“Because enough is enough, Alex!”

Ah, but I think you’ll find my take to be slightly different than your average customers’.

(See what I did there? It’s called foreshadowing).

So the memo, what some are calling an “anti-diversity screed” and are characterizing as “arguing that women are not biologically fit for tech roles.”

Which begs the question: did these outlets even read the memo, or are they lying about it?

You see, I am not here to discuss the contents of the memo, or its now-fired author James Damore, or even discuss what this means to the future of the American workplace–if you want to read a good article about all that stuff, check out Lord Adeonistake on the whole controversy.

I’m not even here to talk about the media: I do not expect honesty from them, nor do I expect them to be particularly intelligent enough to grasp what the memo actually said, which can be boiled down thusly:

The gap in representation in STEM fields does not stem from sexism, but from the AVERAGE PREFERENCES women make when choosing an occupation, some of which are driven by biological differences between men and women, and Google’s strategy of using discrimination to promote women, and certain other groups in general, does more harm than good.

That’s it. The author wanted more women to be working in STEM fields generally, and at Google in particular–in fact, he sounds like a fan of diversity (this is where reading comprehension comes in: did people just skip that part, or ignore it?). The memo is not “anti-diversity”; it is more “anti-Google’s current diversity policies, which he claims are not producing the desired effect, and are in fact causing more harm than good.”

A picture of the outside of Google headquarters

That’s a bit more nuanced, right? It’s not as good for clickbait, though. And you’ll notice that I am neither attacking nor defending the contents of the memo . . . I’m just trying to set a baseline of understanding so we know what we are talking about. It’s like in a formal debate or an informal argument: both sides need to be sure that they are talking about the same thing. Remember when that used to be important?

And yet, people want him drawn and quartered. People are frothing-at-the-mouth mad. You may find the contents of the memo offensive or distasteful–and that’s fine–but I certainly hope you at least read and understood what it actually said.

More shocking, to me at least, is this:

So many people seem to lack both a basic understanding of statistics and of basic reading comprehension.

And many of these people went to college.

This is what disturbs me the most. Continue reading “The Comprehension Gap”

Hatred and Revenge

Hate fist

Must we hate?

If it’s our obligation to fight for what we believe in–to fight for what is right–how are we supposed to drum up the passion? Isn’t hate the best way to do this?

Fighting is by definition nasty. But there comes a point in everyone’s life where they have to do it. So you’d better fight to win.

What does this matter? You’re never going to change most people’s minds, right?

True. But consider:

  1. You might be able to change some people’s minds; and
  2. You still have to live with people whom you disagree with, and real-estate is limited.

Familiarity and proximity breed contempt, and fighting is inevitable. Fighting, by definition, is nasty, but if you’re going to do it, you’d better fight to win.

Fighting is a necessary evil, and when engaging in a necessary evil, it needs to be mitigated to the greatest extent possible.

But there is danger in assuming malice and evil on the part of your opponents. If you view opponents as subhuman, you’ll do anything to them. Anything.

Hanlon’s razor is the name of this philosophical tenet: You shouldn’t assume malice when carelessness or stupidity will suffice as explanations.

I take that a little further. Most people believe that they are doing good when they fight for something or hold a particular position. Doing good is a much more sustainable motivation for most people than hatred and anger.

The trick comes, however, when the results of one’s positions are verifiably proven to be harmful. At that point, continuing to push for them may very well be the result of malice.

The trick has to be to fight for and against ideologies, not people.

On Fighting In General

For Christians like me, this might be a conundrum. The natural impulse–the natural necessity–to fight, to stick up for ourselves, is in direct conflict with the teachings of Christ.

Or is it?

As Jason Berggren puts it using the story of the adultress as an example, Jesus was the most judgmental person ever:

[T]he religious people in a specific town tried to entrap Jesus so they could find a reason to kill him. What they did was trick a woman into commit adultery, caught her in the act, and brought her to the town square to stone her (of course, the first question is, where was the guy?). In his brilliance, Jesus answers the religious people with, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” With that, they all dropped their rocks and split.

But did you know Jesus judged the woman after all that? That’s right. The last words Jesus said to her was, “Go and sin no more.”

This shows that He did stand up and fight back, or be willing to fight back, too. And turning the other cheek was a prohibition against personal revenge, not a call for meek submission in the face of all aggression.

Love the sinner, hate the sin, right?

There’s also that little bit about vengeance being God’s domain and no one else’s.

So the problem isn’t fighting per se–just war theory, after all, was taught by St. Thomas Aquinas.

The issue is with hate. Whether it’s war or politics, I argue that hatred, though a natural human inclination, is counterproductive.

In art, it’s a different story. Sometimes hatred can produce fantastic art (Pink Floyd’s late-1970s catalog is proof of this, as is most of Nine Inch Nails’ recorded output). But life is different.

I think most problems occur when we have malice in our heart. Continue reading “Hatred and Revenge”

Everyone Must Be Right: Why You’ll Never Change Minds

Lately I’ve been fascinated with why people so rarely ever change their minds.

First, the undeniable truth is that if you want to change the world, go into entertainment. 

That said, since most of us won’t, we’re stuck with arguing over the Internet or at a bar. 

When it comes to things like religion, political affiliation, or even who’s the best basketball player ever, we all think we’re right. This is obvious; if we didn’t, why ever hold any opinion?

But suppose everything is not subjective. Suppose there is discoverable, proveable fact and reality.

Let’s define “truth” simply as something that undeniably is. Gravity, for example, and not something being true just because a judge says it is

If you’re presented with undeniable evidence to the contrary of what you believe, wouldn’t you change your mind?
The answer, of course, is no.

Let me rephrase that: the answer, of course, is hell no! 

But why? This is what’s been bugging me lately. 

We so seldom can change other people’s minds, no matter how good we are at persuasion. Now, we have to make a distinction between different conclusions based on the same facts, and situations where the facts only point in one direction.

If someone has a gun pointed at you and says, “I want to kill you,” you reach a different conclusion at your own peril. Yet even impending death isn’t enough to change minds, as we see again and again. 

We all know America is divided; it’s a boring cliché at this point. But surely we could agree on existential threats and how to keep ourselves safe from them?

Again, say it with me now: hell no!

The recent mass murder in Orlando at the Pulse gay club, perpetrated by at least one militant Islamic barbarian, really got to me. It bothered me more than other terror attacks. After some contemplation, I think I know why: 15 years on, and with all of the warning signs, people literally shouting from the mountaintops that they want to kill us, and our leaders still can’t keep us safe.

Even more distressing, about half the country thinks said leadership is doing a wonderful job! These monsters want to throw gays off of buildings and many Americans are arguing in favor of throwing our borders open even wider.

How? Why? How can rational, good, decent people think this way? Are they simply not rational, good, or decent people? Or is their sense of self-worth really that bound up in their politics? If you’re wrong, you’re wrong, right? What’s the big deal?

It can’t be that easy. But I can only conclude that there are only two types of people:

  1. Those who have some objective standard against which they measure their behavior in reality.
  2. Those who think that they create their own objective standard.
  3. Continue reading “Everyone Must Be Right: Why You’ll Never Change Minds”