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E-Pluribus | June 23, 2021
Red flags and due process, neuroscience and free speech, and CRT and its cousins.
A round up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Jacob Sullum: The Biden Administration's Model 'Red Flag' Law Belies the Justice Department's Avowed Commitment to Due Process
Given that public safety is a primary role of government and often one of the public’s main concerns, it’s natural and right that politicians wish to satisfy that concern. But as Jacob Sullum writes at Reason, proposed solutions for public safety issues can conflict with privacy and other Constitutional concerns, and, in the case of red flag laws, may also be promising something on which they cannot deliver anyway.
Red flag laws, which 19 states and the District of Columbia have enacted, are commonly portrayed as a way to stop mass shootings. The Biden administration has described such legislation as a response to "the gun violence public health epidemic." Attorney General Merrick Garland likewise declares that "the Justice Department is determined to take concrete steps to reduce the tragic toll of gun violence," and he says the model red flag legislation is one of those steps.
This gloss is more than a little misleading. A 2020 RAND Corporation review found no scientifically sound studies indicating that red flag laws prevent either mass shootings or violent crime generally. It found "inconclusive evidence" that they prevent suicides, which the available data indicate is the justification for a large majority of gun confiscation orders.
The DOJ thinks requiring that petitions come from law enforcement agencies, a rule aimed at filtering out unsubstantiated complaints, unnecessarily limits the lifesaving potential of red flag laws. It recommends that authorized petitioners also include family members, defined as parents, spouses, children, or siblings of the respondent; household members, which would include housemates and cohabiting girlfriends or boyfriends; "dating or intimate partner[s]"; health care providers; and officials at schools the respondent has attended within the preceding "six months," "one year," "two years," or "other appropriate time period specified by state law," plus "any other appropriate persons specified by state law." Depending on the state, that last category may include additional relatives, employers, co-workers, former housemates, ex-spouses, and former dating partners.
The rationale for such an expansive list of potential petitioners is that it empowers people who know the respondent to obtain a red flag order quickly, without having to satisfy police that their concerns are justified. But eliminating that filter while allowing petitions by a wide range of possibly hostile or sincerely mistaken relatives, intimates, and acquaintances magnifies the risk that people will lose constitutional rights even though they pose no real threat to themselves or others.
Read the whole thing.
Freya India Ager: The Neuroscience of Intellectual Openness
Despite the title, Freya India Ager goes easy on scientific jargon and details in his effort to persuade readers that recognizing how our minds work could go a long way towards mitigating the polarization that can occur around fundamentals principles such as free speech. Recognizing our own tendencies and mental traps can help us pay more attention to what we say and how others might perceive it when we are willing to grant our ideological opponents that same consideration we would like from them.
In debates over the role and limits of free speech, different sides of the political spectrum often appear to be perceiving alternate realities. While conservatives can’t understand how civil discussion can make someone feel unsafe, progressives can’t comprehend how somebody could tolerate hateful speech. For instance, when Christakis asked the Yale protestors, “If you don’t believe that I can ever understand what you’re saying to me, then why do you stand here demanding to be heard?” one student screamed back, “Because we’re dying.” This kind of hysteria seems completely detached from reality. But perhaps the student was acting consistently with her map of the world: one that is ordered into rigid categories, sees only power and subjugation and perceives threats separated from their context?
In many ways, modern society has come to be ruled by the left hemisphere: intolerant of nuance and ambiguity, intent on categorising people at the expense of social cohesion, and now—with the ubiquity of social media—increasingly confusing a virtual reality, devoid of depth or context, with the real world. Doidge concurs:
aspects of modern life and activities, such as the modern workplace, and our computer technologies, are now also neuroplastically exaggerating and reinforcing left hemisphere functioning, at the expense of the right … This leftward shift is also one of the reasons adults feel battered, wired, and often treat themselves like, or are treated like, machines, and often feel devitalized, and out of touch with feelings, and meaning in their lives.
While both sides of the brain are necessary for healthy mentalising, the two are not equally valid. Sequential, logical analysis leads us to the truth: giving us, McGilchrist argues, “results that approximate far more closely to—which in fact confirm the validity of—the right hemisphere’s way of understanding the world, not that of the left.” While the left hemisphere is crucial to an important intermediary process—taking in the more complete picture from the right and unpacking it—it can’t lead us to the truth on its own.
Read it all.
Chris Ferguson: What’s wrong with critical race theory and its cousins
Even as “Critical Race Theory” takes up more and more space in the public conversation, its meaning, or perhaps more to the point what people mean when they use the term, becomes less and less clear. Chris Ferguson, who by his own account has “historically been critical of conservative culture wars,” believes that CRT’s problems are largely of proponents’ own doing.
My perception is that CRT suffers from several weaknesses that limit it as a teaching foundation. First, it’s not a theory in any scientific sense, as it offers no criteria by which it might be falsified as a scientific theory should. Indeed, CRT proponents often appear largely incurious of data that conflicts with their worldview. Second, CRT proponents often appear hostile to any critique, which can be aggressively framed as racist or as an expression of white fragility. Even criticisms from people of color are sometimes framed as outgrowths of “multiracial whiteness.” Third, as noted above, there is little evidence CRTish education helps and good reason to think it hurts though more open science data is needed. We need more transparent data from schools on how widespread CRTish concepts are being employed and good open science research on their potential impact on kids.
My second concern is the widespread use of ad hominem, motte-and-bailey responses (when proponents of extreme views retreat to anodyne opinions such as “We only want to teach racism is bad!” when criticized), and reverse the burden of proof (“Well how do you define CRT and what evidence do you have against it?”) in the defense of CRT-based education. These are all strategies employed by weak theories, not strong ones, which generally welcome replication and criticism.
Are conservative politicians using CRT for culture war leverage? Sure. But for once, I think they’re onto a real problem. Further, criticisms of CRT hardly come only from the right, but are also common among liberals and centrists, including teachers who have stood up to these approaches. The organization Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism is a bipartisan and ethnically diverse network devoted to challenging the intrusion of ideology in education. Efforts to cast opposition to CRTish ideas as a “conservative” bugbear is itself a dog-whistle invitation to partisan ideological conformity.
Read it all here.
The US government has apparently seized dozens of news websites linked to Iran, a move sure to raise questions of national security versus press freedom:
The Supreme Court says the school in the swearing cheerleader case went too far in punishing off-campus speech: