November 6, 2013

More Trolleymania: Dave Chapelle's white friend Chip

For the study on why liberals are more ardent to make an omelet by cracking Chip Ellsworth III's skull than cracking Tyrone Payton's, see my new column in Taki's.

A reader writes:
Hi Steve, 
Great work lately.  I've been following your 'throw the fat man' series with enjoyment as I've tried to make similar claims for years that impulsive moral decision-making should not be expected to be a test of purely abstract reasoning, and that the fat-man test in particular doesn't test whether people really make large moral distinctions between passive and active efforts.  
My view has always been that the facts of the scenario tend to stimulate instinctive or culturally-conditioned reflexive responses that generate subliminal hesitations and tribal preferences. 
So, when the examiner says 'throw the big fat man off the bridge', he thinks that stands for the abstract example of 'kill a random human, that we assume is sure to stop the train', but the examinee feels, just below the state of conscious awareness, 'Push a big fat man?!  That's really dangerous!  I might fail, and he pushes me instead, without even saving the trolly - that's the worst of all worlds!' 
Since the 'moral function' often manifests itself in the form of post-facto rationalizations for reptilian-calculations of self-interest, it's not hard to get people to try and piece together a string of words which 'justifies' their failure to intervene on the basis of asserted 'moral principles'. 
But as with you, the typical response of people who really want to believe in the meaningfulness of this scenario is that either I, or these people, are just unable to think abstractly, or are making ridiculous 'not real enough' criticisms of an abstract test.  

One skill tested by IQ tests is the ability to de-contextualize, to move from the concrete to the abstract. But the older I get, the more interested I am in re-contextualizing, moving from the abstract back to the concrete. History is an old man's game.
I noticed that analogy to Newton's laws on your site, but of course, the analogy is false.  Newtonian mechanics posits idealized assumptions to draw conclusions about abstract natural laws.  But experiments in moral psychology are making abstract assumptions about the workings of the human mind, which are not like natural laws of Physics.  They are putting the cart before the horse and assuming away psychological tendencies that have major impacts on the responses of the study participants. 
So, to test my theory, I have often proposed to people who quote the 'throw-the-fatty' examples at me, that they rephrase the question with different characteristics of the individual to be thrown. 
So, rerun the test with 'throw the old fat woman', or 'throw the fat black child', or 'throw the wheelchair-bound invalid', or 'throw your favorite celebrity', or 'throw Obama', or 'throw an Asian communist'.  For progressives, or open-borders advocates, I would suggest 'throw Steve Sailer' - who happens to be a large male like in the original scenario - but I imagine that one would get a great deal of enthusiasm for active intervention and explanation of moral justification.  
This has proven persuasive to my interlocutors on several occasions.  And it's made me permanently skeptical of results from the field if they don't apply some kind of control or test for the impact of these sorts of variations.

Meanwhile, in the current issue of The New Republic, Thomas Nagel ruminates on a new book about the Trolley Problem by Joshua Greene called Moral Tribes.


Henry Canaday said...

“Strangely enough, however, man’s development takes him farther and farther away from association with this fellows, seems to condemn him more and more to live with what is dead rather than with what is alive. It is not merely that he dwells in cities and associates with machines rather than with plants and animals. That indeed is but a small and relatively unimportant part of his isolation. Far more important is the fact that more and more he thinks in terms of abstractions, generalizations, and laws; less and less participates in the experience of living in a world of sights, and sounds and natural urges.”

“April . . .Day of the Peepers,” Joseph Wood Krutch

Anonymous said...

To end a war, you have two choice.

1. Dropping a nuke and killing 100,000 men, women, and children.

1. Taking a club and bashing the skulls of 100,000 men, women, and children one by one.

In both cases, 100,000 will die.

But while many may opt for 1, few will for 2.

We like it 'neat', not 'messy'.

Anonymous said...

People like to use buffers.

In the trolley case, switching the tracks puts the blame on the trolley whereas pushing the fatty makes the pusher the killer.

It's like a gang boss or president orders the hitmen or military to carry out the killings.
So, even though those who gave the orders are really responsible, the blood is on the hands of those who did the actual killing.

A person killing a pig and eating it is no different from a person who buys pork/ham in the sense that both are engaged in the consumption of a killed animal.
But the one who did the actual killing feels more 'responsible' and 'guilty' than the one who bought the meat killed by others.
The buyer feels relatively clean since he relied on the buffer of the slaughterhouse industry.

Many people who buy veal will not be able to kill a calf. But in buying the meat, they are in effect taking part in the killing of a baby cow. But since they had others do it, they feel innocent.

Shabbat goys are very useful buffers to the likes of AIPAC.
Pentagon, gentile presidents, and US soldiers get the blame, but those who really push the button don't feel responsible.
No wonder that Israel wants US to handle Iran. Use the buffer.

Anonymous said...

Throw Nerdy under the public school bus?

Whiskey said...

Steve on my nook and cannot link, but see Fjordmans report at gatesofvienna dot net today.

Short version, two Norwegian Whites a couple, get home invaded by a bunch of Africans and write a column saying they and ALL Whites deserved it. For being White.

Oh and ace of spades site has excerpts from the Boston Globe article saying Whites deserved to get blown up for "failing" the Tsarnaevs

Anonymous said...

Regardless of what Liberals say, they'd rather push blacks out of cities to live with wasps who make for better neighbors.

Liberal wasps may say they favor saving blacks, but how many people in Vermont are really willing to sacrifice their own kind for the sake of blacks in Mississippi or Detroit?

Big Bill said...

"Shabbat goys are very useful buffers to the likes of AIPAC."

In fairness to the Jewish Nation, the shabbos goy is not "told" to do anything that would be a violation of Shabbos.

Instead, when she hears that her Jewish master is cold, she reacts instinctively to turn the furnace on and thereby warm him--an act which her Jewish master cannot do for himself without violating Jewish law.

Henry Canaday said...

M. Night Shyamalan spoke at the Local Lefty Bookstore tonight on his new book, “I Got Schooled: The Unlikely Story of How a Moonlighting Movie Maker Learned the Five Keys to Closing America's Education Gap.” The format was a Q&A with Chris Matthews.

Quick impressions:

He comes from a family of doctors and had ten years of Catholic schools.

The racial gap arises from poverty, inequality and the discouraging message black kids get from the world outside schools. But schools must close it.

He says five things must be done in order to close the gap. You have to do all five together, or they won’t work. He never actually got around to listing the five but apparently they include good teachers, proactive principals and a strong ‘prescriptive’ school culture.

His spent four years visiting schools and looking at evidence, so his conclusions are “evidence-based.”

Shyamalan talks very, very fast. He is just as confident of his conclusions as Melimda Gates was a few years ago when she told the LLB audience that better teachers would do the trick and as Diane Ravitch was a few weeks ago when she told us the public schools are fine, but we must reduce inequality. But he talks much faster than Gates or Ravitch.

Yes, Shyamalan is show-folk. Steve understands these people better than I do. I haven’t been able to talk that fast since I was in high school and didn’t know anything.

Anonymous said...

Interesting about trolley studies:

Anonymous said...

The real way to pose the question is to then ask if *you* were the fat man who could stop the train by jumping, would you do so. If you wouldn't jump yourself, you have no right to make that decision for the fat man.

Alternately, what if you pulled the fat man over the bridge with you, which would increase the odds of getting the fat man to fall and of stopping the train? Again, if you aren't willing to do that, you have no moral right to make the decision for him. You would, however, make an excellent congressman.

Dennis Dale said...

Dave Chapelle is so full of sh-t. But he's way more aware, apparently, than Chris Rock. On stage Chris is like blue Bill Cosby, trying to shame black Americans into getting their act together. Then you see him in interviews and he seems to accept every shibboleth uncritically.
Whereas Dave finally got his own jokes. I've seen hardly any of his old show, but there was this bit about what if the racial proportions were reversed in MTV's Real World. The lone white guy is humiliated, his girl is turned out, his father stops by and gets stabbed, and he can't get his rest for work tomorrow because his roommates are up partying all night. When he complains by pleading "what's wrong with you people?" he's put on trial (he said "you people") and kicked out, because his black roommates don't "feel safe" with him in the house. Pure genius.
Dave was so freaked out by his epiphany he fled to Africa to be comedically cleansed by that vacuum of good cheer, Lauren Hill.

Ed said...

Anonymous 3:08, in the veal example you cite, the calf has already been slaughtered and the veal is already in the store. In the modern economy, consumers don't put in orders for animals to be slaughtered, meat sold in stores is just not fresh. If someone comes and buys the veal, its the equivalent of a vulture coming and eating an already dead body.

Now there is the argument that you should not buy the veal, because if no-one bought the veal, there wouldn't be any economic incentive to torture and kill calves (this is eseentially Kantian ethics). But pragmatically, your refusal to buy veal has no effect on the veal market at all unless done as part of an organized boycott. Also are you so sure that the torture of calves is done for the consumer market? Maybe people just like to torture calves and use that as an excuse.

(personally, I don't eat veal and try to avoid factory farmed foods because the knowledge of how the food is produced dampens too much any pleasure I might take from eating them. But I think consumers tend to be held responsible too much for the capitalist economy, the dominant part in which is played by capital)

Auntie Analogue said...

In today's super-connected society, I think the trolley scenario question would be better posed thusly:

"If you saw someone who could choose push a fat man off an overpass to stop an out of control trolley from running over ten persons in its path, would you capture how the incident plays out on your cell phone camcorder?"

The follow-up question? Simple:

"Would you upload your video to YouTube?"

Anonymous said...

@Dennis Dale

Bill Cosby never "tried to shame black Americans into getting their act together" in his act. He did that in a speech (the "Moon Pie" speech) long after his retirement. His act was apolitical and he made sure not to step on too many toes.

Steve Sailer said...

Cosby himself spent much of the 1970s hanging out at Hef's Playboy Mansion.

That said, I know an actor who was a regular on The Cosby Show in the late 1980s. He's a good guy and he is adamant about what a good role model Cosby was for him.

FredR said...

"there was this bit about what if the racial proportions were reversed in MTV's Real World... Pure genius."

I watched that skit the other day and it struck me as incredibly nasty. The blacks are stereotypically violent, lazy, drug abusers, but the white guy is pathetic, fit only to be robbed of his money and his woman. I don't see the genius in this ghetto nihilism. I don't really know Chappelle's mental state, but if he was disgusted with himself for having made this sketch, it was a proper reaction.

Jehu said...

The abstraction of these questions pretty much assumes a utilitarian frame. We try to recontextualize them because we are NOT utilitarians. Accordingly, we don't accept their frame. Our moral intuition, such as it is, is duty based. Who the fat man is matters, as does who is on the trolley.
Dropping the nuke saves a tremendous amount of psychological trauma on your soldiers. Even the Nazis understood this, which is why they moved from 'mass retail' killing to a more 'industrial' approach. If they'd have had a bunch of Hutus available, they wouldn't have needed anywhere near as much infrastructure.

Anonymous said...

This isn't far removed from reality:

Dennis Dale said...

Bill Cosby never "tried to shame black Americans into getting their act together" in his act.

Not what I said. Rock's act implicitly does what Cosby's occasional outbursts do. But you raise an interesting comparison: Rock's scathing social commentary on stage and bland public commentary is reversed in Cosby, whose act is bland and whose public pronouncements (occasionally) are scathing.
Of course we're talking about a couple of speeches here by someone afflicted (or is it blessed?) by Sailer's "elderly Tourette's".

Still, I think we need to stop humoring this universal obliviousness to the implications of observation. For instance, public figures might bemoan black academic underachievement in one breath and in the next rail against professional underrepresentation, as if the latter isn't explained by the former but rather by some nefarious, stubborn culture of discrimination. The schools are producing too few qualified black professionals but the disparate proportion of black professionals prove business discriminates against blacks!

I've come to think of it as intellectual stove-piping.

Anonymous said...