Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Rethinking Race and Identity:II

In the history of attempts to discover the causes of human behavior, the most widespread explanations are based on the assumption that human beings do what they believe is good for them. Thus, they are construed as “rational animals” capable of recognizing the value or utility of their actions.

At the same time, however, it is obvious that human beings do not always act this way; that is, under certain circumstances people behave in ways that do not reflect their values. To account for this phenomenon, to which the Greek philosophers gave the name akrasia (e.g., Mele, 1992), several strategies have been pursued. The first strategy assumes ignorance or lack of knowledge on the part of the actor. Socrates, for example, claimed that if people only knew what is good for them, they would act accordingly.

 A similar position is held by modern economists who imply that irrational decisions reflect a lack of appropriate information (Friedman, 1976). The second strategy postulates more than one set of principles that may control human action. For example, a behaviors may occur mindlessly (Langer, Blank,& Chanowitz, 1978) or automatically; that is, without directing much attention to the utility of an outcome, a person may act the way he or she has acted many times before. Such habitual behaviors were the focus of many psychological theories in which the frequency and recency of previous executions of a given behaviour were seen as primary determinants (e.g., Hull, 1943). The third strategy has been to understand human behavior as a function of drives. In particular, basic needs that are biologically rooted, such as hunger, thirst, or  reproduction, are seen as major forces. Their strength may override considerations of utility and determine behavior in an immediate fashion.

I think one of the great "fault lines" in Western Civilisation finds its origin in the Aristotlean influence upon Western Anthropology.  This view held that what distinguishes the man from the beast is his capacity to rationalise.  Furthermore, a dividing line was drawn between rationality and it's opposite, irrationality. But what's become apparent in a growing body of cognitive science research is that there appears to be an arational layer of high order neural processing which profoundly influences our rationality, and it's the failure to recognise this cognitive process which has been the cause of much grief.

Roughly analogous to Freud's idea of the id, the arational mind is the unconscious level of information processing, which, in essence, constitutes the brain's operating system. If you think about it for a moment, before you can "see" anything. Visual stimuli from the eyes have broken down into components such as movement, form, colour, texture and pattern, all of which happens without any rational activity on the behalf of the agent. Or take walking for instance, it's a pretty much automatic activity, with next to minimal conscious input, yet the decision to move forward, needs to be interpreted and broken down into a co-ordinated series of neurological and muscular actions in order to propel oneself efficiently without falling over.

Or sexual arousal? Why does the obese woman elicit a sense of repulsion whilst and nubile one a sense of desire? The sensation of desire isn't as a result of a rational deliberation, rather the unconscious mind takes visual data, processes it, evaluates it against some predetermined erotic metrics and then elicits the appropriate response. All of which, except for the sense of desire, occurring at an unconscious level. The sexual response isn't an example of rationality, its an example of arationality. The processing of information is automatic and without conscious deliberation.

The thing about the arational mind is that its operation seem to be hardwired, or biased, toward certain outcomes and behaviours and its the nature of these biases which give us the peculiarities of our human nature. Our mind is biased to prefer the beautiful to the ugly, to nubile to obese, sweet to bitter, nonthreatening to threatening, ingroup to outgroup, and so on.  And it is these biases which express themselves onto our thoughts and it's there where we can chose to act on them in a rational or irrational manner.  The important thing to recognise is that these biases operate, by and large, unconsciously.

The other thing to note, is that high order human rationality is not present at birth but rather develops and begins to mature--for some--in adulthood. Therefore, it is in early childhood, given the immaturity of rational thought, that our subconscious "software" is visible in its most undiluted form.

It's difficult to fully appreciate the fact that understanding and interpretation of novel phenomena is made within the framework of previous assumptions of how the world works. The great breakthroughs in science being more a re-evaluation of the assumptions rather than any novel data. Einstein's theory of relativity was more than just an explanation of data results, rather it was a profound shift in our understanding of how the universe works. Likewise, the current revolution in cognitive neurosciences forces a re-evaluation of our notions of cognitive anthropology.

Which brings me to the purpose of the previous post which whose purpose was to illustrate the famous Clarke Doll experiment. For those who are interested, the experiment has been repeated many times with similar results. Faced with the experimental data, the problem for the psychologists performing the test was how to explain the the preference of both Black and White children for light coloured dolls. It' easy enough to claim that the interpretation of the result--i.e that it was a product of racism--was the result of Left wing bias, but the problem is; How do you interpret the findings when your operating model of human cognition--due to the Aristotlean legacy--only admits irrationality or rationality?

If you assume that the kids start off as "blank slates," and that the kids are rational, your only logical interpretation of the experiment is that the results are learned. i.e. Children are taught to be discriminatory.  There needs to be no left wing bias in order to interpret the result along those lines and science supports the Left.

I don't think people fully appreciate how much "blank slatism" and the rationality/irrationally dichotomy has facilitated the mass social engineering experiments of the late 19th and early 20th Century. The fundamental notion at play here is that human behaviour is all learned and none is innate, and therefore humans are capable of near infinite plasticity. In this framework, racism, like every other form  of behaviour is learned and itt's this philosophical assumption which has underpinned all the social engineering experiments of the 20th Century and its a legacy which we, in many ways, owe to Aristotle and Plato.

Back to the Doll experiment. When researchers repeated the experiment in a remote Japanese village with little contact with both blacks and whites the results there were the same.
First and foremost, Study 2 revealed the presence of early implicit and explicit race bias in our Japanese sample. These biases were robust at the earliest age tested, and were of similar magnitude to the biases exhibited by White American children. Thus, early race bias does not appear to be highly dependent on contact or exposure to outgroup members [ED]. This finding supports the notion, suggested by Study 1, that younger children’s race bias may be a general response to group-level difference, rather than a focused response to a specific outgroup.
In other words the observed behaviour is not learned, i.e institutional racism, rather, the discriminatory behaviour is innate.  (Hence the liberal mother's shock at the white childs KKK like behaviour her child in the previous video, she did not teach her child to be racist.) However, a good review of "child racism" literature shows that the concept of "race" awareness seems to only arise in late childhood. So what's going on?

What appears to be happening is, given the relative lack of development of higher cognition in children, children seem to be making their evaluations based upon innate arational subroutines which they are born with. Colour being one of the most primitive and earliest utilised method of differentiation. The "forced choice" nature of the Clark Doll experiment is forcing children to make a choice based upon pre-wired color associations and colour biases. In other words, the test is not a test about racism but a colour association test.. When forced, in an area of information ambiguity to choose, for children, color provides a cue for a response.  And the the dark=bad, light= good is an innate response seen in children and adults. Link 2: The response is arational and innate.

The point of this is that many behaviours that humans exhibit aren't necessary rational but may be consequence of arational behaviours and biases which have their origin in the genetic code. We discriminate between individuals not because of any rational reason but because our "hardware" does it automatically.