It's science, not math

By Razib Khan | June 24, 2012 1:30 pm

My post below elicited this response:

Here are a couple of cases which seem to defy easy classification.
A “chimera”. This is a person who has cells derived from two zygotes. It can happen if two fertilized eggs merge very early in development. The individual may appear entirely normal (there may be chimeras reading this who are unaware of their condition); but the cells in their body will come from two quite distinct origins. If the original zygotes were male and female, then the adult individual will have some cells in their body with the XY (male) chromosomes, and others with the XX (female) chromosomes. There may be no external sexual ambiguity as long as the sex organs all come from the one lineage; in general all kinds of sexual ambiguity might arise.

Second case; more common (though still unusual) is where an individual is genetically of one gender, and phenotypically of the other. This can be either an XX individual who develops with external male genitalia; or XY who develops with female genitalia. This is usually caused (I think) by excess or deficit of the appropriate hormones during fetal development.

For most people, gender is unambiguous. But there is no sharp dividing line or easy way of classifying that covers all individuals.

The examples I’m considering are entirely independent of psychology or choice. They are real physical conditions in which the conventional physical basis for determining gender becomes ambiguous.

First, I didn’t really need that lecture. My post actually linked to androgen insensitivity syndrome. And I’m aware of other forms of inter/ambiguous sex, as noted above. And of course there are species where sex, as opposed to gender, is more fluid and facultative. I’m aware of all that.

Rather, the issue hinges around the assertion that we must have a category system which covers all individuals. If that’s your criterion than the vast majority of scientific concepts are social constructions with imperfect mapping. So, for example, people should legitimately attack the Endangered Species Act as being grounded in fuzzy science (the species concept). We shouldn’t talk of planets and asteroids, where do you draw the line? And so forth.

If you assume that sex determination occurs through inheritance of sex chromosomes, the distribution above for sex diagnostic characteristics should be expected. You can generate a synthetic metric, and males and females should cluster together. But you’re going to have developmental and chromosomal abnormalities, with the latter leading to a third mode in between the male and female.

I wouldn’t make much of this argument, but I’ve encountered a rejection of the sex concept from biologists. Which begs the question: what the hell are evolutionary biologists studying then when it comes to sex? Obviously the last is a silly question, everyone knows what biologists are studying. It doesn’t matter that sex is not a concept which exhibits the perfect clarity and precision of a mathematical proof. It’s about as good as it gets in biology for an abstract category. We aren’t sure how to define life itself! That means biology in its own foundation doesn’t exhibit the stringency some require from sex.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science
MORE ABOUT: Gender, Sex
  • Peter Ellis

    Rather, the issue hinges around the assertion that we must have a category system which covers all individuals.

    Well yes – you could just say “anyone not falling into the usual pigeonholes is not allowed to compete in international sport”. That too is a social decision, and not one I’d agree with. The alternative is to work out the most morally acceptable way to fit the messy reality into a simplified social construct. For a parallel example, you could look at Paralympic athletes – how do the disabilities get categorised, and which particular group does a given individual compete with?

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #1, just to be clear, i’m not too interested in the issue of categorization in sport. rather, i think it’s pretty obvious that some people want to destroy the idea of particular categories as actionable in any way whatsoever.

  • https://twitter.com/#!/christopherburd Christopher Burd

    it’s pretty obvious that some people want to destroy the idea of particular categories as actionable in any way whatsoever.

    Yes, it is obvious. Why do you think so many people feel this way?

  • Stacy

    All of this “it’s a stereotype” thing is making me sick. Is it a stereotype that dogs have four legs? Of course dogs can be crippled and have 3 legs but does this incident change the fact that dogs have four legs? No.

    I’m a religious conservative woman and I have to warn people here that biology is starting to have a huge number of women in its ranks and gender ratio (affirmative action? women liking biology? who knows). It has more women than physics, mathematics or chemistry. And women have been following feminism like herds so that’s the given result. people talking how less than 1% of a population not having a clear sexual category and thereby no male/female? Oh please.

    How on earth does the fact that less than 1% of a population is intersexed or whatever have to do with discrediting the male/female divide? Feminists fail at math horribly. It’s called a generalization or *gasp* a stereotype for a reason. It’s not something that is true for every individual, just for most.

    It’s like saying that there is no difference between eating coffee ice cream or vanilla ice cream. Or no difference between a golden retriever dog or a german shepered. Or no difference between aqua or pink. Or no difference between this and that.

    I also have a question to liberals: since there are no differences between races, sexes, genders or the existence of God is unlikely then why on earth is homosexuality innate?

    How can you be born gay if there is no sure way to differentiate between men and women? How can you like men if men are the same as women and vice-versa? Leftists are insane. Everything is arbitrary, fuzzy or doesn’t existence excepts for gays.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    Yes, it is obvious. Why do you think so many people feel this way?

    on the broadest philosophical level i think it is:

    1) categorization leads to hierarchy

    2) hierarchy is bad

    stacy, i let your comment through, but your tone/delivery isn’t elevating the discussion. so no more follow ups like that, just present your position, and let the chips fall where they may.

  • Randall

    RK: it’s pretty obvious that some people want to destroy the idea of particular categories as actionable in any way whatsoever.

    Christopher Burd: Yes, it is obvious. Why do you think so many people feel this way?

    I honestly have no idea. Can you sketch it out? To me, it is not obvious. Without hearing your answer, my conjecture is: 1) the people who see an “obvious” need to “destroy the idea of particular categories as actionable” are some form of leftist egalitarian, and 2) as such, they are anti-science, anti-logic, and anti-rationality whenever science, logic or rationality come into play in ways that conflict with or undermine their ideology. Hence, the need to destroy certain categories (ex: male/female).

  • Revereche

    Can’t we just look at gamete production as a matter of concrete sex distinction, and abandoned social sex distinction wherever possible?

  • http://qpr.ca/blog/ Alan Cooper

    The claim that “some people want to destroy the idea of particular categories as actionable in any way whatsoever” may be true, but those people are only a small fraction of what you call leftists and even in those cases the motivations are less simplistic than you suggest.

    What many people do want is to prevent the use of categories (such as race or sex) as proxies for variables (such as employment skills) with which they may be believed to be correlated.
    (And the reason for that is to prevent unfairness to members of a category believed to have low mean value in a desired characteristic whose own value of that characteristic is high. )

    The problem is that if one believes such a correlation to exist and if the variable of interest is expensive to measure, then one has an economic incentive to use the easily observable category as a proxy (and so possibly misjudge some individuals because of their category membership).

    Thus those who want to prevent unfair use of the proxy are incented to deny the correlation and show if possible that it does not exist. But if it does exist, or if they fear that it does, they may be incented either to obfuscate or just to forbid discussion of the possibility. One doesn’t have to be anti-science to give in (perhaps even unconsciously) to an incentive to intellectual dishonesty – and indeed I am inclined to suggest that accusing all “leftists” of that requires a look in the mirror. But there is no dishonesty or anti-rationality in urging people not to dwell on the search for possible correlations which might lend themselves to unfair application. You might not agree that such restraint is a good idea (and I am sure that many “leftists” would agree with you on that), but the point of disagreement is a lot more sophisticated than what you seem to imply.

    Personally, I tend to be hopeful that an open search for true information will always eventually prove to be the best path, and that work on elucidating group differences may actually provide the tools to define and measure the relevant individual characteristics effectively and directly so that the use of categories as proxies will no longer be economically favoured. But I can also see significant risks of things going the other way.

  • prasad

    The people talking about gender being socially constructed and continuous yada yada make a self defeating argument – the most natural outcome of such argumentation is to abolish women’s sports entirely and just have common competition for everyone. That, or follow the boxing model and have separate competition for every kind of intersex group (g’luck selling TV rights).

    Practically speaking this IS a much bigger issue for women’s sports since people in your picture’s tiny “middle bump” might well have greater sporting aptitude than women in the left bump, depending on the condition. You can’t make for separate competitions for the less-fast or less-strong half of the population and then decide not to worry about the normally negligible special cases.

  • http://www.livinganthropologically.com/ Jason Antrosio

    One of the fundamental issues is that unfortunate shorthand phrasings “X is a social construction” have been wildly misused and misinterpreted. When social scientists use shorthand phrases like “gender is a social construction” they are 1) in no way denying that humans vary biologically in many different ways, or claiming that biology is irrelevant; and 2) not trying to say that these social effects are somehow not real or important; and 3) not saying that they are necessarily subject to extensive individual manipulation. Those shorthands simply indicate that many observed behavioral characteristics and life experiences are heavily influenced by social expectations, norms, and roles. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t real–they are quite real and can become biologically real as well.

    In a recent book (unfortunately at the moment very expensive), The Reality of Social Construction, Dave Elder-Vass takes a similar position:

    ‘Social construction’ is a central metaphor in contemporary social science, yet it is used and understood in widely divergent and indeed conflicting ways by different thinkers. Most commonly, it is seen as radically opposed to realist social theory. Dave Elder-Vass argues that social scientists should be both realists and social constructionists, and that coherent versions of these ways of thinking are entirely compatible with each other.

    I would argue that understood correctly, it is not just that as Razib put it “the vast majority of scientific concepts are social constructions with imperfect mapping,” but really that all scientific concepts are social constructions with imperfect mapping. Whether and how that social construction occurs is variable, and whether it matters that much to a particular scientific exploration is also variable. However, such phrasings are obviously so maddening to so many that they may need to be dropped if there is to be any useful interdisciplinary dialogue.

    I blog a bit more about Anthropology on Sex, Gender, Sexuality – as Social Constructions for an elaboration.

  • prasad

    Jason – I think part of the problem is that social scientists often play a cheeky game where they imply strong/strict social constructivism to their groupies, but then when they defend their claims before a broader/more critical audience devolve to the more banal truths. It’s a pretty unscrupulous game. I’ve experienced this more in the context of the science wars in the hard sciences (I’m thinking for example of Stanley Fish’s infamous NYT oped analogizing the laws of physics to the laws of baseball), but I think the issue is generic. In biology if anything they get away with it more, since the desire to have the strongest form of the claims be true is greater.

  • http://www.livinganthropologically.com/ Jason Antrosio

    Hi prasad,
    I’m sympathetic to your point, but here’s another way to look at it: to an internal audience that already understands the basics of why we imagine gender, sex, and sexuality to be social constructions–again without denying biological difference or saying that this makes them in any way “unreal”–then the claims can be pushed further; for an external or broader audience, it means spelling this out in more detail, or in your words devolving “to the more banal truths.” The same could be said of the kinds of arguments geneticists make to each other versus wider presentation. And I would add that it is generally the wider presentation which makes a hash of the social construction idea, thereby implying that it is unreal or a denial of reality, in some ways parallel to simplistic imaginings of genetic determinism.

    As for Stanley Fish, we are then talking about someone approaching the issues from more of a literary criticism perspective. I wouldn’t take that as representative of the social sciences, any more than I would imagine you would want me to canonize Stephen Jay Gould as representing the sciences.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    One doesn’t have to be anti-science to give in (perhaps even unconsciously) to an incentive to intellectual dishonesty – and indeed I am inclined to suggest that accusing all “leftists” of that requires a look in the mirror.

    i didn’t accuse *all* leftists of anything. if you put words into my mouth again i’ll ban you. and stop engaging in interpretation of what i write. i’ll ban you otherwise.

  • Randall

    One doesn’t have to be anti-science to give in (perhaps even unconsciously) to an incentive to intellectual dishonesty – and indeed I am inclined to suggest that accusing all “leftists” of that requires a look in the mirror.

    RE#8,

    My sentiment is that most leftist egalitarians are not anti-science and rationality in general. They only take the anti-rational stance when necessary to sustain their political and ideological positions. Intellectual dishonesty is an appropriate label for this tendency, too. While *all* leftists don’t tend toward intellectual dishonesty when things like “actionable” categories are at issue, the a priori commitment to egalitarianism is so pervasive and fundamental in left circles I think it’s accurate to say *most* of them do.

    I’m a new reader here and open to counter-arguments and other perspectives if people have them.

  • prasad

    While *all* leftists don’t tend toward intellectual dishonesty when things like “actionable” categories are at issue, the a priori commitment to egalitarianism is so pervasive and fundamental in left circles I think it’s accurate to say *most* of them do.

    You could sed s/leftist/people/ really. It’s a pretty generic human desire to want normative desiderata to influence factual considerations no? I guess the substantive part of this is the idea that for most liberals egalitarianism is important.

  • prasad

    @Jason – I was using him as an example of the move, not calling him a social scientist :)

  • Karl Zimmerman

    14 -

    I would argue that all values, at their core, have some degree of irrationality to them. For example, presuming there was no communicable disease, why not eat the dead corpse of your family pet, or indeed, your family members? On a rationalist basis, at the very least you will save yourself some money.

    Public policy itself can be rational, insofar as it should examine data and determine what the best course of action is. However, the underlying values can’t be established through logic. It’s pretty easy, based upon existing data, to argue that single payer or other nationalized/regulated health systems can provide an equal or better mean level of care as the U.S. system, at roughly half the price. But you need to come at the discussion with the value that health care is a human right in order to be moved by the data.

    Similarly, anti-tax arguments on the right only have salience if you believe that taxation is fundamentally robbery by government that should be minimized. If you don’t believe that, you can just look at all the data which compares tax system structure and levels to economic growth, and make a determination. Assuming, of course, you think economic growth itself is important, which is also a value judgement.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    but really that all scientific concepts are social constructions with imperfect mapping.

    you need to qualify this always though i think. it’s tiresome, but a lot of people confuse the conceptual flexibility and normative inflections of physics, biology, and political science, to give you a rank order/spectrum. even within biology abstract fields like evolutionary and ecological domains have more philosophical/interpretative issues of social construction than molecular genetics (you do have issues in molecular genetics, e.g., what is a gene?, but these are more peripheral semantic issues than debates which strike at the heart of a field, e.g. what is a species?).

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    I would argue that all values, at their core, have some degree of irrationality to them.

    yes. or, more precisely, even ethical systems which presuppose rationality start out with unjustified priors. but the problem occurs when people start to fudge the facts which must be sifted through their ethical analytic systems. to give a left example: gender equality is a normative preference of the cultural left, and i believe they consciously or unconsciously downgrade the real and substantive nature of sex differences which they have to overcome to enforce a vision of equality of outcomes. to give a right example: in modern american social conservatism heterosexual lifelong monogamy is an ideal, but quite often the exponents of these viewpoint try and discount the real obstacles to the realization of this lifestyle (running all the way from obligate homosexuality to the reality that in the pre-modern past a 50 year marriage was not very likely because of higher adult mortality rates).

  • April Brown

    Stacy – curious about why you pose the phenomenon of women in the biological sciences as a something we should be warned about. Also didn’t understand most of your other arguements, but mostly I’m curious if there’s a trend among religious conservatives to be worried or offended when women study biology.

  • http://www.livinganthropologically.com/ Jason Antrosio

    Hi Razib @18, thank you for the reply. I absolutely agree about the need to qualify that statement. I tried to do something like that in my next sentence about variability, but it was too much of a shorthand. Obviously a huge qualification is always going to be whether what we are trying to describe cares at all about the concept and classification. Pluto doesn’t care whether it gets to be a planet, but men and women may care quite a lot, especially if it results in disqualification for the Olympics. Obvious point, to be sure, but it’s one of the things that makes social science tricky.

  • Randall

    #15,

    You could sed s/leftist/people/ really. It’s a pretty generic human desire to want normative desiderata to influence factual considerations no? I guess the substantive part of this is the idea that for most liberals egalitarianism is important.

    Well, I’d put in this way.

    They make specious arguments to serve left-wing political goals, the social outcomes they want based on their normative judgments about the importance of egalitarianism compared to other values. Often, the specious arguments include ignoring or minimizing scientific findings, using bad logic, or disingenuous reasoning. In some cases, also, the specious arguments are given in conjunction with personal attacks on people doing work with the potential to undermine public support for left political objectives.

    In this respect, looking for ways to justify their normative values or, in the realm of prescription, what they want to believe is true, they’re no different than most people. I agree. But, this particular discussion having to do with the male/female distinction, at least not the aspect of it that interests me, does not concern most people. With this issue, we are dealing with a position associated with egalitarian leftists, people who seek to “destroy actionable categories.”

    What triggered my interest in this exchange was Christopher Burd declaring with such confidence that the need to destroy categories is so “obvious” it explains why “many people” see a need to do it.

    Do people on the right behave the same way? Of course. I don’t, however, see people who don’t believe in evolution as particularly relevant. They have no influence beyond their own communities and cultural milieu. Leftist egalitarians, in contrast, exert substantial influence on society. Their positions and arguments, because they are so influential, deserve (IMO) what might called extra “strict scrutiny” to see if they stand up or crumble when challenged by people with different perspectives.

    That’s how I shake out on it. Everyone does this, but my own personal preference is to focus on those who do it and have influence. On many issues that means leftists.

  • Peter Ellis

    @13 Razib, I don’t see how you can think Alan Cooper @8 put words in your mouth at all, given that you never used the term “leftist”. I think he was combating the absolutist statements being made by Stacy @4 and Randall @6.

    Overall I agree with the thrust of Alan’s argument – that the primary impetus is to prevent sex being used as a cheap and inaccurate proxy for the variables that should be considered. For example, when looking to hire firefighters, a gender ban is wrong, but tests for physical fitness and lifting capacity are fine.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #23, fair point. in the future commenters must make their comments clear in whom they are addressing. otherwise, i may engage in false positive bias.

  • Randall

    # 23,

    For the record, I didn’t make any “absolutist” statements either. Did I refer to *all* leftists in #6? No. In fact, in looking back at my phrasing in #6, I speculated that people taking the position were “some form” of leftist. I thought it was clear based my use of the word “some” that I recognize there are many forms of leftism.

  • jd

    Randall,

    I do not think your view of the “Left” as you have presented here is very accurate. There are certainly some groups that are decidedly anti-science when it comes to vaccines, New Age healing, and the sort, but they are a much smaller group than you seem to indicate and are not at all indicative of liberal people in general. While I would say it is true that liberals do tend to think a just society would reduce inequities between people, that does not mean they are blind to very real differences between groups of people. There is a difference in supporting the idea that everyone should have a fair shot and should not be prejudged to have certain beliefs and abilities simply on the basis of their sex or skin color (more indicative of a liberal view) and saying that there are no differences between people, which is what you are implying liberals think. What you see as intellectual dishonesty seems to be more a misunderstanding of liberal views as filtered through your conservative bias than reality for most liberals.
    You claim to say that those on the right can act with intellectual dishonesty, but then you dismiss the ones that do out of hand because you say those who don’t believe in evolution are not relevant and hold no influence. In this I can categorically say you are amazingly incorrect. Those who do not accept evolution actually make up a significant portion of the Right. Razib has shown data several times that show this. They also hold a lot of influence in public schools, as is clear to anyone who has to deal with public schools on a regular basis or pays the slightest attention to the education news. As an example, I point you to the Texas Board of Education, run by a creationist. I could provide you lists of hundreds of other school boards that have creationists as members and chairpeople. Beyond that, have you listened to anything said by the Republican candidates this year? All but one of the candidates expressed anti-evolution sentiments. Surely you don’t claim to say the entire Republican leadership is irrelevant?

  • Karl Zimmerman

    The point needs to be made that the Supreme Court tends to be the ultimate arbiter of gender relations in the U.S. in terms of law, not so much our elected government, and certainly not the extreme elements of the cultural left. Indeed, I cannot think of any governmental action, or even Supreme Court ruling, which one could argue wrongly set a precedent of functional identical nature (as opposed to legal equality) of the genders. The closest I can think of is maternity leave being considered discriminatory in the U.S. unless it is also given to men.

    I’d honestly argue they have far less effect on modern public policy than the religious right, to counter Randall in particular. The extremists who seek to “destroy actionable categories” have about as much influence on U.S. gender policy as Noam Chomsky has on foreign policy.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    All but one of the candidates expressed anti-evolution sentiments.

    what did romney say about it this this year? he defended evolution in 2007 pretty robustly.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    The point needs to be made that the Supreme Court tends to be the ultimate arbiter of gender relations in the U.S. in terms of law, not so much our elected government, and certainly not the extreme elements of the cultural left.

    true enough, but the courts often tend to follow/solidify elite consensus. e.g., the warren court was in many ways a reflection of change in the post-world war 2 liberal consensus. the taney led court before the civil war really seems to just be a culmination of the process toward stripping non-whites of any pretense toward citizenship in the USA in the generations after the founding.

    The closest I can think of is maternity leave being considered discriminatory in the U.S. unless it is also given to men.

    this is an interesting point, because the courts still exhibit bias (correctly IMO) for women being the “primary care giver.” on the other hand, it seems that the bias should be far stronger for maternity leave, because of the biological connection (breast feeding) between mother and child during that first year.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    two points

    1) creationism isn’t a big issue on this blog because it’s settled, and only of purely cultural interest. i ban creationists when they “out” themselves, because i’m not interested in discussion with such trash on biological subjects (i don’t mind if my accountant is a creationist, obviously)

    2) the ‘blank slate’ tendencies of the left are IMO without merit, but they’re not as crazy prima facie as creationism. it turns out that empirically they are wrong. also, there is sloppy ‘hereditarian’ science out there that needs critique. my problem is two-fold

    - some leftist critics basically push the critique to insane levels of skepticism, which is totally out of keeping with the standards they impose in other domains (e.g., are they so skeptical of sociological pronouncements?)

    - there is the level of personal insult and animus which comes out that gets on my nerves. one problem with me not being a “standard conservative” is that i don’t have a “tribe” that has my back (when i report stuff about social conservatives being stupid i naturally get attacked as a liberal). that’s one of the best things from group conformity i can see, you have people who will defend you from insults by throwing insults back. ultimately i don’t mind being attacked, because most humans behave like retarded animals anyway, so who cares if a monkey throws shit your way? :-) we all die anyway, so i don’t particularly miss having shit-eating monkeys swarming to my defense constantly when the “other side” goes after me. it’s only the internet, i have friends in “real life” :-)

  • Randall

    # 26,

    re: Your second paragraph. Fair points. State and local influence, and especially the ability to get presidential candidates to take their views seriously, shows they have the ability to exert influence well beyond what I implied. Still, while I’ll have to look at RZs data, my impression based on my knowledge of national political dynamics is they mostly have influence on their own local “turf,” rural areas and red states.

    Nationally, I think I can sustain the position that their influence while not as non-existent as I implied is still pretty trivial relative to left/liberal influence. If you look at the religious right for example, they haven’t succeeded in 40 years on their signature issue, greatly restricting abortion. Roe v Wade came down in ’72 or ’73, and they haven’t been able to do anything about it despite having a Republican in the WH for most of that period, and a Republican Congress for good stretches, too. If you want an example of a segment with grossly exaggerated influence on national public policy, the RR is a great example.

    Now, contrast that with the influence of the left/liberal position on gender/sex. To look at one policy example, affirmative action policies for women exist throughout the private sector, the public sector at every level (local, state and federal), and they exist not just on “blue” terrain but from coast-to-coast east/west/north/south.

    For the record, I sympathize with select conservative positions. But, I am not religious, a philosophical conservative or a Republican. I use terms like left, right, conservative, liberal, etc. even though they’re problematic out of convenience to make basic points and move on. Everyone does this. But, at a blog like this one, I tend to assume everyone knows about the fallacies of composition, division, and over-generalization and is on guard against them even if they don’t say so in every comment with a generalization, or some “shorthand.” I am as well.

  • jd

    ‘I tend to assume everyone knows about the fallacies of composition, division, and over-generalization and is on guard against them even if they don’t say so in every comment with a generalization, or some “shorthand.”’

    I would agree that rational, thoughtful individuals are aware of this. The problem as I see it is that most people are not rational or thoughtful. It is all too easy for a generalized label to become the all-encompassing “truth,” even for intelligent, rational, thoughtful individuals at times. Everyone has this tendency. Only some of us recognize this, fewer actively try to limit this in our thinking and no one succeeds all the time.

    I would wager that no one who reads this blog on a regular basis would fall completely into the stereotypical Left/Liberal/Right/Conservative camp. Which is why I have always been more comfortable talking about individual issues and dislike discussions of the Right does this or the Left does that. Ultimately, I find them unhelpful and hamper real progress on actual issues. The political morass in the US (not that the US is alone in this, just the one I am most familiar with) is what we get when people are focused on labels more than they are on resolving problems.

  • Karl Zimmerman

    Randall -

    I’m sorry, but you’re just wrong here.

    While the Religious Right has not been successful, state laws skirting around the federal ban in some manner exist in many states, including parental notification, 24-hour waiting periods, and mandatory counseling. In addition, private-sector harassment has successfully eliminated abortion services in wide swathes of the country, such that in over half of the states in the U.S. 90% or more of counties offer no abortion services. Yes many of these counties are rural and have few doctors in general, but in other cases abortionists have literally been chased out of their communities with death threats. Three states are down to only one clinic, and Mississippi recently passed a law intended to force its last clinic to close. Admittedly, as you said, this is “home turf” but it’s still a ton of influence.

    On the other hand, most affirmative action policies were put into place during the 1960s and 1970s. In the past 20 years, states have passed several initiatives banning affirmative action (Prop 209 in CA in 1996, Initiative 200 in WA in 1998, Proposal 2 in Michigan in 2006, and Proposition 107 in Arizona in 2010, to only name four). Although the zeitgeist in the U.S. is still broadly pro-diversity, I’d say AA as a policy has passed its high water mark.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    Although the zeitgeist in the U.S. is still broadly pro-diversity

    yes, but conservatives (elite) are pro-diversity too. one way you can judge who has ‘won’ a debate is a shifting of the terms. on some cultural issues the left has won, because the ‘right’ position is already what the left would have been happy with a generation or so ago. OTOH, on some issues (e.g., lots of economic ones) the right has won, as the left has conceded all the high ground and is only fighting rearguard actions. in general it seems that *broadly* the cultural/social left and the economic right have been making gains over the last generation.

  • http://qpr.ca/blog/ Alan Cooper

    Sorry Randall, re#25, I think I misread your use of “as such” in ” …some form of leftist egalitarian, and 2) as such..” I was reading it like “some form of dog and as such a carnivore” – with the implication being that *any* form of dog will be a carnivore rather than like “some form of mammal and as such a carnivore” – where the “such” refers only to the particular form.

    However, despite misreading (or at least erroneously suspecting) your intent, I did not actually accuse even you of “accusing all” leftists. All I actually said was that *if* you (or anyone else) were making such an accusation it would merit some self-reflection. And I am now happily convinced that you were not.

  • Randall

    Alan, re#35, It looks like I misread you too, and for that I apologize. I enjoy dialog in comment sections, but the medium facilitates misunderstanding and people “talking past” each other. We read fast, type off-the-cuff (or I do) and are stuck with problematic categories like liberal, conservative, left, right, etc. until better options come along. Next time a dispute around this issue comes up, I will probably discuss it in terms of “people who believe in egalitarianism versus those who don’t” and just leave left/right out of it.

  • http://llamasandmystegosaurus.blogspot.com Doug

    It doesn’t “beg the question.” It raises the question. Begging the question is something completely different. It means assuming the thing you are trying to prove.

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Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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