Truth is fundamental to justice, and the ability to reason is critical to discovering truth. One (white) anti-racist, Macon D, has severe deficits in the fundamentals of reasoning, and consequently, he has difficulties in understanding racism and implementing anti-racist thinking. Because of his ignorance of logic, Macon D continues to systematically ignore criticisms by people of colour and remains convinced of his intellectual and anti-racist integrity. Macon D uses circular reasoning, he believes that the Law of Non-Contradiction does not apply to him, and he is influenced by the Appeal to Belief.
Truth is fundamental to justice.
Racism is more than just obvious manifestations of racial hatred, such as the KKK, Neo-Nazis, and the political right. Racism includes systemic racism, and implicit biases and assumptions that permeate and uphold our way of life. Understanding racism requires critical thinking skills to question what society teaches us, and it requires metacognitive skills to monitor and self-examine our own biases and assumptions. To understand racism, it is not sufficient to concentrate on activating good feelings within ourselves towards people of colour. Most racist thoughts are not hateful thoughts towards people of colour. Most racist thoughts are preconceived ideas built into a faulty worldview that Western society assumes to be true.
In other words, challenging racism is more than just philanthropy. Challenging racism—and challenging injustice in general—is part of a larger, epistemological project to find unadulterated truth.
Mohandas Gandhi named his autobiographical book, The Story of My Experiments with Truth, because for Gandhi, social justice is subsumed under the pursuit of truth. In the introduction to his autobiography, Gandhi writes (pp. xxvii-xxviii):
If I had only to discuss academic principles, I should clearly not attempt an autobiography. But my purpose being to give an account of various practical applications of these principles, I have given the chapters I propose to write the title of The Story of My Experiments with Truth. These will of course include experiments with non-violence, celibacy and other principles of conduct believed to be distinct from truth. But for me, truth is the sovereign principle, which includes numerous other principles. This truth is not only truthfulness in word, but truthfulness in thought also, and not only the relative truth of our conception, but the Absolute Truth, the Eternal Principle, that is God. There are innumerable definitions of God, because His manifestations are innumerable. They overwhelm me with wonder and awe and for a moment stun me. But I worship God as Truth only. I have not yet found Him, but I am seeking after Him.
I quote Gandhi, not because I believe that he was a magical Indian guru, but to demonstrate that the coupling of truth and justice is more than just idealism. Gandhi’s sovereign principle is Truth, yet his philosophy was tested in the real world and had real, practical, successful results in the realm of social justice.
In any case, I am a rationalist and an empiricist. More importantly, I believe that between a social justice activist who acts contrary to reason, and a non-activist who adheres to rationalism and empiricism, the activist who acts contrary to reason is far more dangerous. This is simply because a person who acts contrary to reason does not know what he is doing, and an activist that does not not what he is doing is in a position to cause greater harm with more enthusiasm. In contrast, a non-activist who adheres to rationalism and empiricism can be reasoned with.
Macon D is illogical.
In my previous experience, all political liberals and leftists were humanists or had humanist worldviews. They believed in science, logic, and empirical testing, over faith, intuition, and personal experience. The first liberal or leftist I ever encountered that trivialized science, logic, and empirical testing was Macon D. One would think that a person who trivialized such critical tools for determining reality would end up a political conservative, but apparently, it is possible for someone who trivializes such things to be a leftist. However, as I will show later on, this disregard for logic impedes the understanding of racism.
Macon D uses circular reasoning.
In May 2008, sometime after I had recently discovered Macon D’s blog Stuff White People Do from one of Macon D’s self-promotional comments on Racialicious, I followed a conversation to another blog called Soob. A blogger named Münzenberg questioned the soundness of white privilege and argued that it was rhetoric. I responded in the post’s comments, and then I later followed up with a post about the type of defensive behaviour that Münzenberg engaged in. Münzenberg made a response post criticizing my post, and I commented on his response post along with Macon D.
I didn’t know much about Macon D at this time, but that he was a white guy who started a new blog, Stuff White People Do, which I liked at the time and added to my blogroll. However, Macon D’s comments on Münzenberg’s response post shocked me with its ignorance and anti-intellectualism.
In A response to Restructure, Münzenberg, being a rationalist and empiricist who acquires new beliefs only when there is proof that supports it, claimed that he had not yet reached a conclusion on the inductive strength of the white privilege argument. Macon D asked for clarification and then responded, “Do you have to be convinced of white privilege’s “inductive strength” before you’ll discuss it as a societal problem that something should be done about?”
Münzenberg responded to Macon D’s comment:
Regarding inductive strength: White privilege is an inductive argument. It making specific observations about certain aspects of white advantage and non-white disadvantage. That is what I am to believe from what I’ve read so far. McIntosh lists 50 effects of white privilege. In scientific terms she’s making causal generalizations that can be tested.
I don’t think I know whether it has inductive strength because I haven’t sat down and tested out the inferences to best explanations i.e. working out how deep the theory is, whether it is falsifiable, whether it multiples entities beyond necessity (occams razor). I also haven’t sat down and worked out whether McIntosh’s effects work on necessary and sufficient conditions tests. Which would actually take some time for me to do. McIntosh also works her theory from an argument from analogy i.e. arguing that racial hierarchies are similar to sex hierachies. I haven’t sat down and worked out if these similarities are true in a rigorous manner.
I think to not do the above and accept the theory on face value wouldn’t meet my own personal standards. Are you saying I should just accept your theory without ever digging into it? Because really, that is up to me to decide is it not?
Although I disagreed that white privilege is an inductive argument, Münzenberg’s concerns about the inductive strength of what he assumed to be an inductive argument are perfectly reasonable. Münzenberg also added:
Macon D I missed this question of yours: “Do you have to be convinced of white privilege’s “inductive strength” before you’ll discuss it as a societal problem that something should be done about?”
Yes and if you were serious about the activist nature of the argument you would too. When people concoct theories about reality we have to be sure that those theories are inductively strong. Otherwise we waste huge amounts of money, time, and people to something that may not be fully true.
Take two examples.
Pharmaceutical products are the end product of a process of induction. Individuals have made inductive arguments about what a particular type of chemical, in tablet or syrup form, will do in a human body. When these things go horribly wrong, like effecting pregnancy in strange ways then it is the scientists who are to blame for not being rigorous enough.
Another example is war. There are some wacko theories in war. These theories are accepted by nations as inherent truth and millions of dollars are wasted (network centric warfare comes to mind), not to mentioned hundreds of thousands of people killed based on weak inductive theories (Iraq).
So if you were fully supportive of white privilege then you’d put it through the most rigorous testing available to make sure you were solving exact societal problems associated with it.
Again, this is a perfectly reasonable way to approach activism. Before implementing any kind of solution to a societal problem, one must do research into the problem to ensure that one is solving the actual problem and not working from false assumptions and worsening the problem (e.g. the 2003 invasion of Iraq as a solution to terrorism).
However, Macon D reveals that he has put no thought into his epistemic limitations, and reveals that he acquires beliefs by how much they strike him as “obvious”. Macon D responds (Münzenberg’s words are in italics):
So if you were fully supportive of white privilege then you’d put it through the most rigorous testing available to make sure you were solving exact societal problems associated with it.
No, I wouldn’t put it through such rigorous testing because I already find it quite obvious that white privilege exists, and that it has all sorts of influences on both white and non-white lives.
I don’t have to do all sorts of philosophical and analytical gymnastics to realize that the color of my skin often functions like a wind at my back, while the color of non-skin often functions as the opposite. To realize, for instance, that when I’m out driving my car, I don’t feel extra-cautious about the good possibility other people face of being subjected to harassment by a racist cop because of my skin color. I also know that my non-black name and appearance would in many cases make it easier for me to get a job.
I could go on and on, but I hope my point is clear–the existence of many such privileges in my life means I see no need to subject the concept of white privilege to rigorous testing before I’ll admit it exists.
Sadly, Macon D does not see anything fallacious about begging the question. Macon D feels that one does not have to prove that white privilege exists, because it is obvious that white privilege exists. As it is difficult to even communicate with a person who lacks such basic reasoning skills, Münzenberg could only respond with the following:
Macon D, originally this was a discussion that Restructure started and I responded too. You felt the urge to jump in on her post and then this post. Again, you and I have different worldviews about how to come to conclusions about the world. Apparently my learning process is the equivalent of the dysphemism “analytical gymnastics.” Anyway, if you have anything else too add then go ahead. If not we can wrap it up and go about our separate ways. I wish you good luck with the absolute truths that you’ve achieved without rigorous critical thinking. I’ll still respond to others who may have a problem with this post, including Restructure.
Now while it appears harmless that Macon D accepted the existence of white privilege, what is dangerous is that his critical thinking skills regarding how to come to conclusions about the world are virtually non-existent. While Macon D happens to be dogmatic about a true belief in this case, i.e., he believes that white privilege exists, in other situations, he may be equally dogmatic about his false beliefs. If Macon D happens to have some false beliefs about race, for example, and his critics ask him to provide proof for his claim, he may respond by saying that he does not have to prove his claim because it is “obvious” to him that it is true.
Macon D believes that the Law of Non-Contradiction does not apply to him.
Later on in the blog Stuff White People Do, Macon D again reveals his utter disregard for logic. In the comments of the post ask for suggestions, Macon D (a white man) responds to a criticism by Nquest (a black man) with the following:
It seems like you’re trying to pin something on me–that I contradict myself? So I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes. Consistency, I’m quite tempted to say, is the hobgoblin of little minds.
Apparently, Macon D believes that the Law of Non-Contradiction does not apply to him. Moreover, Macon D believes that the fact that he contradicts himself makes him intellectually superior to everyone else.
The idiocy of this is truly profound. The Law of Non-contradiction is such a basic axiom of logic that there is no way to respond to this astounding stupidity using logic itself, without using circular reasoning. Philosopher Allan Bloom says that the principle of non-contradiction is “the premise of philosophy and the foundation of rational discourse”.
What remains truly mysterious is how somebody like Macon D could have any serious “credentials” as an intellectual. In the comments of express amazement when non-white people see them as “white”, Macon D wrote:
Actually, it may not seem to you to be the case, but I’m not starting to figure out race and whiteness right now. I’ve been intensively working on these topics and their related problems at several levels, professionally and otherwise and in many settings, for over a dozen years now. For several reasons, though, I prefer to remain anonymous on this blog. I think if my “credentials” were known, I’d probably have an additional aura of authority that you seem to be writing about here. I wonder if Tim Wise, for instance, gets a pass for calling on non-white voices for support that I don’t, because he’s trusted as an authority in a way that’s disallowed by my anonymity.
It is extremely difficult to imagine how somebody with “credentials” as an academic or intellectual could believe that it is acceptable for him to contradict himself, and believe, further, that contradicting himself makes him intellectually superior to his logically-consistent peers. If Macon D actually has any serious “credentials”, not only has he stolen them from people of colour and women who deserve them more, but he has stolen them from other, more capable white men.
Macon D is influenced by the Appeal to Belief.
Recently, I complained about Macon D posting racist images on his blog to show that they are racist. Macon D’s reply to my complaint reveals that he is influenced by the Appeal to Belief, regardless of whether my complaint is valid or not. Apparently, whether or not Macon D takes my argument seriously depends on if other people of colour complained about it. Macon D writes:
And I don’t see a problem with using racist imagery if the point of the post is to expose the racism illustrated by the imagery–the image helps the post make its point. If more POC than just you complained, I would reconsider this method.
Appeal to Belief is a fallacy that has this general pattern:
- Most people believe that a claim, X, is true.
- Therefore X is true.
This line of “reasoning” is fallacious because the fact that many people believe a claim does not, in general, serve as evidence that the claim is true.
Whether or not a claim X is true does not depend on how many people believe in X (unless X is about people’s beliefs, opinions, cultural preferences, etc.). Moreover, if a person P makes claim X and belongs to a racial category R, the truth of X does not depend on how many people who belong in R (who are not P) believe in X. The soundness of a person’s claims does not depend on the beliefs of other people in the same racial category.
When I asked why Macon D needed some “critical number” of POC to say the same thing before he even considers the argument, Macon D replied (my words are in italics):
Why does Macon D need some critical number of POC who say the same thing before he even considers it a valid argument?
Because if it’s an argument I’ve never heard before, I’m not going to believe it just because one person said it’s true.
That Macon D’s “reasoning” is based on the Appeal to Belief is unmistakeable. Macon D automatically rejects claim X because the number of people who believe in claim X is too low. Macon D’s “reasoning” has the following pattern, which is just another version of the Appeal to Belief:
- Few people believe that a claim, X, is true.
- Therefore, X is false.
This line of “reasoning” is fallacious because the fact that few people believe a claim does not, in general, serve as evidence that the claim is false.
Once again, Macon D is unable to recognize that his reasoning is fallacious even when somebody (especially a person of colour) ridicules it. Macon D comments in response to my rhetorical question (my words are in italics):
WTF does my race have to do with whether my argument is valid?
Because what we were talking about was racism.
Unfortunately, Macon D believes that if claim X is about racism, then the race of the person making the claim is relevant to the validity of X. Not only is this idea racist, but more importantly, it is completely illogical. The truth-value of a claim is independent of the qualities of the person who makes the claim.
After Macon D argues against the strawman argument that “one should believe a black person because he is black and talking about race” in an attempt to refute my criticism, Macon D replies (my words are in italics):
No, you should listen to his damn argument and use your critical thinking skills to determine if it’s logical and makes sense.
Okay, but go back to the original “method” under question, the posting on my blog of racist images to make points about racism. You questioned that. I did “use my critical thinking skills,” and determined that I disagreed with you. But I also acknowledge that my white blinders might be getting in the way, preventing me from understanding the differing perspectives of non-white people; so I wrote, if more non-white people complained, then “I would reconsider this method,” that is, listen to their argument, use my critical thinking skills, etc.
So no, I’m not suggesting that I believe what a POC says only because they are saying what most POC say.
Sadly, Macon D acknowledges his “white blinders” only nominally. Instead of using critical thinking skills to compensate for his “white blinders”, Macon D relies on non-logical, social pressure—which tends to be most effective on people who lack critical thinking skills—to keep him on track. In other words, Macon D relies on people of colour to persuade him with “numerical advantage”, and if this social pressure is successful, Macon D would credit himself as a white-blinder-acknowledging individual for reconsidering the argument from a person of colour. Apparently, Macon D believes that common human foibles—such as being influenced by Appeal to Belief, Appeal to Popularity, and the Bandwagon effect—are an anti-racist effort on his part to compensate for his “white blinders”.
(Additionally, in the above comment, Macon D argues against yet another strawman argument. Macon D replied under the assumption that I accused him of believing what a POC says only because she is saying what most POC say. However, what I ridiculed was that he automatically rejected an argument based on the race and quantity of the arguers.)
Macon D misunderstands racism because he has poor reasoning skills.
Clearly, Macon D has severe deficits in the fundamentals of reasoning, which may be the cause of his difficulties in understanding the complexity of racism, accounting for his white bias, and dealing with criticism. Understanding the fundamentals of reasoning is a basic skill that is necessary for any kind of serious intellectual thought, yet Macon D, for some reason, assumes that racism can be understood without proactive critical thinking and metacognitive monitoring. Until Macon D reevaluates and improves his ability to reason in general, it is unlikely that he will make any progress towards breaking out of his white-supremacist worldview.
- Common White Fallacies when Dealing with People of Colour by Restructure!