CLARITY ISN'T US: What would the correct answer be?


Clarity loses again: Dear friends, how about it? What was the correct answer to the question that survey posed?

Do you agree with the following statement? What would the correct answer be?

“White Americans today are not responsible for discrimination against Black people in the past.” 

If you were asked to state your view, would you agree with that statement? What would the correct answer be?

Full disclosure! Drawing on the work of the greatest logicians, we've already given you the correct answer. According to the leading logicians, the exchange should go like this:

QUESTION: Are White Americans living today responsible for discrimination against Black people in the past?

CORRECT ANSWER: I'm not sure what you mean.

According to the greatest logicians, the person who poses a question is responsible for speaking with clarity. And in this case, these scholars all say, it's hard to know what that question actually means.

For example:

Presumably, no "white American" living today could be held criminally liable for various crimes of the past. Presumably, that isn't what that fuzzy question is intended to mean.

Literally, though, the question does ask something different. The question asks if "white Americans" living today are responsible for past discrimination, whatever the various parts of that question might mean.  

How about it? Are "white Americans" living today responsible for past discrimination? Presumably, it all depends on what the meaning of "responsible for past discrimination" is!

Obviously, you can't exactly blame "white people" living today for the way Donald Trump's father refused to rent apartments to African-Americans back in the 1960s. But the questions asks something different:

The question asks if "white people" living today are "responsible for" such past behaviors. But what do we mean if we say that the answer is yes? In what way can such people be judged or held to be "responsible?"

If such people are deemed to be "responsible" for such past acts of discrimination, what will turn on this rather fuzzy assessment? What will those people now be expected or required to do? More specifically:

What the heck are we talking about when we agree to respond to this question?

As we noted last week, we're speaking about that (rather fuzzy) statement because of Jennifer Rubin's recent column for the Washington Post. Also, we're speaking about that fuzzy statement because of a recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), a presumably well-intentioned public interest group. 

Somehow, people at the PRRI believed they could quantify the racism of the Others. They assembled a list of eleven statements, then asked several thousand respondents if they agreed with each.

Here are the first three statements on the list. You can see all eleven here:

Do you agree with these statements? 

White Americans today are not responsible for discrimination against Black people in the past.

White people in the U.S. have certain advantages because of the color of their skin.

White supremacy is still a major problem in the U.S. today.

Based upon published numbers the PRRI doesn't explain, it looks like 72 percent of respondents agreed with the first of those statements. By way of contrast, it looks like only 26 percent of respondents agreed with this, the final statement on the list:

Racial problems in the U.S. are rare, isolated situations. 

Only 26 percent of respondents said they agreed with that statement. That said, do you know what counts as a "racial problem" when you're asked to respond to that statement? Almost surely, different respondents had different ideas about what they were being asked.

In our view, our nation's brutal racial history is the source of all sorts of major problems and injustices in our nation today. That doesn't mean that we would know how to respond to the bulk of the fuzzy statements the fuzzy thinkers at the PRRI fuzzily decided to ask.

We'd also be slow to call someone else a "racist" based on the way they responded to those fuzzy statements. That said, declaring that the Others are racist is now a treasured bit of true tribal belief within our own flailing blue tribe.

In their report about their survey, the fuzzy thinkers at PRRI didn't include detailed data about the way different groups of respondents responded to each of their eleven statements. They were so slapdash that they didn't even make it clear that the numbers in question—numbers which seem to be percentages—were actually any such thing.

You'd almost think that a high-ranking journalist would call attention to such shortcomings in a survey of this type. Instead, Rubin ran with Storyline. The headline on her column says this:

Just how racist is the MAGA movement? This survey measures it.

Rubin's column promoted a bit of dogma—the Others are heavily racist. That's a sweeping, treasured belief within the tents of our failing blue tribe.

Future Anthropologists Huddled in Caves keep offering their own bits of dogma. They tell us that our human brains are wired to construct sweeping negative judgments about those in the Other tribe. 

They say we're built for Storyline—for tribal Storyline. The later Wittgenstein came along and added another important point:

Clarity simply isn't us, that leading logician declared. According to that leading logician, clarity hasn't even been us at the highest academic levels!

At present, the red tribe spills with a wide array of unfounded beliefs and damning generalization. Our own blue tribe is all about branding the Others as racists.

We cling to our dogmatic assertions in much the way a drowning person clings to the side of his raft. We see a racist under every bed—but also, of course, a "book burner."

In closing, we ask you this. If you were confronted with the first of those eleven statements, would you say you agreed?

According to Future Logicians, Gallant would say he wasn't sure what the statement in question meant. 

Gallant would ask for clarification! Goofus would simply rush ahead, dramatically stating his view.

Tomorrow: Books about the Holocaust. Also, gerrymandered by Blow


  1. "They say we're built for Storyline—for tribal Storyline. "

    Oh dear. You brain-dead liberals are built for parroting your tribal talking points; yes, indeed.

    The rest of us, however, are perfectly normal ordinary folks, built for living our normal ordinary lives. We'll repeat: you, dear Bob, need to get out more...

    1. The Ukrainians have liberated Lyman.

    2. Mao, I didn't realize you were a perfectly normal ordinary person. thanks for imparting that alleged info.

  2. "What the heck are we talking about when we agree to respond to this question?"

    This is a survey question that asks about attitudes and beliefs. It is not a commitment to do anything in the real world. There is no contract involved. It merely asks whether a person feels responsible for what happened in the past.

    I have a friend who feels responsible for world hunger. She donates to organizations and she makes sure to never take more food than she can eat, never wasting food. Did she cause world hunger? Of course not, but she feels responsible for mitigating it for other people.

    Somerby's legalistic parsing of this question is ridiculous, given that this is an attitude questionnaire. No one is going to swoop down and insist that any person do anything as the result of whatever answer they have given. But it asks whether people today feel responsible for helping to mitigate the disadvantages caused by racism. If you care about those disadvantages, you say yes, if you do not, you say no. That is so simple that no one taking this survey was unsure about how to answer (and yes, that was a possible response, if you go read the paper and the fine print about its methodology).

    Somerby is trying to evade responsibility for stating an opinion about white people's responsibility for helping those who were disadvantaged by a few centuries of racist behavior. As usual, Somerby not only doesn't say what he thinks, but he wants to let all survey respondents off the hook too, but that is contrary to the way a survey works. In a survey, people give their opinions. It is the whole point of the survey.

    1. Yes, I feel responsible for mitigating racism which is why I will vote for Republicans. I also feel responsible for mitigating disadvantages linked to racism of the past against blacks but if the choice is between expanding a social program that benefits the economically disadvantaged and reducing abuse against my young son for his white skin color, I'm choosing the latter. Which is why I'm voting for Republicans.

    2. Huge gap between cause and effect in your reasoning, but you have the right to vote for whomever you want. Tell us, when was the last time your young son came home in tears because the black kids were calling him names?

    3. When I was growing up the only threats I endured were from a black kid and it was physical and enduring. No school officials were ever involved and I navigated through it fine although with a level of trepidation about encounters. It wasn't traumatic but sucked and I got over it.

      That said I'm not concerned about a situation involving bullying by a black kid. Schools are afraid of lawsuits if they allow it. The monster I see inflicting abuse and bullying is a disgruntled tattooed pierced white feminist or gay male teacher intent on imposing their backward values with the backing of a school board corrupted by those values.

    4. Let us know when anything like that ever happens. Not sure what tattoos have to do with anything.

    5. Russian person…

    6. I'm voting for Democrats, because I don't reward bigotry.

    7. I'm not suggesting all gay male teachers or all tattooed are on board with the agenda even if schools are populated with teachers who fit one of those stereotypes and push the agenda. I'm not even unsympathetic to why they end up pierced and tattooed. Something went wrong.

    8. Anonymouse 10:30am, your frilend’s sentiments and actions in her private life are laudable, but they are not representative of the ideological purposes of the survey and of what is happening in the professional arena.

    9. Another case of good riddance.

    10. Jonathan Haidt resigned from SPSP (Society for Personality and Social Psychology) because he didn't want to sign a statement saying he had tried to avoid racism in his work, when applying to present at the society's conference. Why would anyone be opposed to eliminating racism? You also have to attest that you have adhered to human subjects rules and acknowledge your funding sources, in an attempt to support ethical research. What can Haidt have against trying to eliminate racism in research?

      Note that it is Turley who is spreading the news about Haidt's "principled stand" in favor of the right to discriminate and be a bigot. The only sanction for failing to sign the statement when applying to present at the conference, is that you won't get to present your work there. He pretends he is being harmed because that is the only place to present his research findings, but that isn't true.

      This is the equivalent of complaining because your employer wants you to take a drug test before being hired.

      And yes, it is against the law to discriminate against people on the basis of race, among other things.

    11. Anonymouse 7:55pm, you actually think scientists and researchers should be compelled to sign anti-racist declarations before presenting their work to their peers?

      I rest my case.

    12. There is no compulsion and they can set whatever criteria they want, as an organization, for who speaks at their conference. There is nothing positive about sticking up for racism in research contexts.

    13. Anonymouse10:23pm, right. The American Medical Association should start making its members, researchers, and associates to sign anti-racist and equity pledges before they're allowed to join or to present their work.

      If they refuse such a demand it means they’re racists.

      This is the world you want.

    14. Yes, sounds good to me. They already have to sign a statement that lab animals were treated ethically. Why not minorities?

    15. Anonymouse 11:00pm, because minorities aren’t comparable to lab rats.

      There are standards of practice as to how they treat human subjects already.

      Quit being a putz on a blogboard because you (and the PRRI…) want to usher in a brave new world of retooling an ostensibly white supremacist society in order to have the power to control everyone’s lives based upon the threat of being called a racist.

    16. "the threat of being called a racist."
      Yes, it must be tough to have one of two political parties, and iits own cable news station to support you.

    17. Yeah, that would go over great in Jonathan Haidt’s world.

  3. "Structural racism" is undefined.

    That these 11 questions are accurate indications of racism is unproved.

    Meanwhile Democrats are applying policies that do great damage to black Americans, such as
    1. The huge number of illegal immigrant deprive black youths of entry level jobs. And, drives down salaries for such jobs.
    2. Opposing school choice, thus trapping poor black children in failing schools.

    1. Weakening police protection, leading to many more black murder victims.


      "Police generally don’t prevent crime. Most often, the best they can do is respond to it. Policing doesn’t do anything to address the true roots of crime—it’s sort of like focusing on a symptom instead of trying to find a cure for the disease.

      What are some solutionsOpens a new window that make a real difference in terms of keeping people safe? You might be surprised.

      Adjusting street lighting: In New York City, a randomized trial of street lightingOpens a new window reduced “outdoor, nighttime index crimes by 36%”
      Cleaning up vacant lots: In Philadelphia, cleaning up vacant lotsOpens a new window led to a 29% decrease in gun violence
      Providing financial assistanceOpens a new window: Helping people who are experiencing economic uncertainty reduces arrests for violent crimes by 51%
      Investing in grassroots community-building organizationsOpens a new window: In an average city of 100,000 people, every ten additional organizations created to address violence and strengthen communities led to a 9% drop in the murder rate.
      Expanding MedicaidOpens a new window and improving accessOpens a new window to substance-use treatment and mental health care also contribute, over the long term, to significant reductions in crime
      Having unarmed specialists instead of police respond to 911 calls related to things like mental health and homelessness has started to transform public safety in cities like Eugene, OR, Denver, CO, and Olympia, WA
      Removing police from the equation entirely and replacing them with other forms of intervention, along with positive investment in the community, has also proven to be a valuable solution. A recent five-day experiment to pull back on policing in Brooklyn, NY,Opens a new window saw 911 calls drop almost down to zero. Police were replaced by violence interrupter and crisis management groups over a two-block area, while city agencies and non-pofits offered education, job, and housing opportunities in tents set up along one of the area’s busiest strips."

    3. "For decades, scholars have acknowledged that local crime rates cannot be predicted by officer strength and police budgets. Sometimes a boost for policing is followed by a drop in crime; sometimes it isn’t.

      History shows that homicides fell after more officers were hired 54 percent of the time, according to Aaron Chalfin, a criminologist at the University of Pennsylvania who has studied ways of driving down crime.

      “Crime goes up and down for a million reasons that are completely independent of the police,” Dr. Chalfin said. “But we know, on average, if you look across many cities for many years, there is an effect.”

    4. When an officer knows that if he intervenes at a higher risk of saving a (black) life things could go sideways and he will end up lied about on MSNBC for weeks, prosecuted, and suspended or fired, he will choose not to. The price is paid by black bodies. But the benefit of the thrill of self-righteousness for white liberals uber alles.

    5. As noted by the studies listed above, police do not intervene to prevent crimes. They lock people up afterwards. The likelihood of any police officer preventing (by intervening) enough black murders to have any statistical impact is very very small. So, no price is being paid in black bodies, except the price paid when police kill black people while trying to arrest them, sometimes for trivial traffic offenses or due to misunderstanding of what is going on (such as when police shoot victims instead of perpetrators).

      Here is another situation where white Republicans tend to have their own set of "facts" (aka myths) about reality and use them justify a worldview that bears little resemblance to reality.

      All those police officers who stood by and did nothing while a shooter killed innocent children and their teacher in Uvalde are a perfect example of what happens when trained police officers decide not to intervene. But in that situation, it had nothing to do with race and a great deal to do with cowardice. Did the police avoid those investigations afterward? Not so much. Even though the Supreme Court has decided that police have no actual duty to protect, they won't lift a finger, even when it is small children at stake, if it means endangering themselves in any way, physically or legally. So why do we pay them the big bucks? You tell me.

    6. You're a broken record, David.

      1. The huge number of illegal immigrant deprive black youths of entry level jobs. And, drives down salaries for such jobs.

      Prove it.

      2. Opposing school choice, thus trapping poor black children in failing schools.

      Prove it.

    7. D in C seems to be drawing conclusions without real evidence of any cause and effect - in conformity to his tribal prejudices. However, to the enlightened libs here, what do you think would happen if all the police in the US went on strike? I tend to think you'd see a big increase in crime. There have been strikes by police before - and that is what ensued.

    8. We haven’t always had police. Look at history.

    9. David in Cal,
      Do you also support "Vouchers for Defense"?
      Or do you believe big government bureaucrats know better ways to protect you and your family than you and your family do?

    10. BTW, the way "Vouchers for Defense" works, is that each man, woman, and child gets a voucher for $2,000/ annually to be spent on defending themselves.
      I look forward to watching Raytheon, General Dynamics, etc market their defense weapons directly to 330 million citizens, instead of to Congresspeople their lobbyists bribe.

  4. "Somehow, people at the PRRI believed they could quantify the racism of the Others. "

    No, they believed they could quantify the overall tendency of people to agree with racist attitudes and beliefs. They measured people in three groups: Republicans, Independents and Democrats. They further examined those people by religious affiliation. There was no mention of any Others. Who would be the Others in such a situation? It depends on the reader. If I were a Republican, the survey would tell me about Others who were Democrats and Independents. Somerby makes it sound like they were only interested in MAGA Extremists, which wasn't even a category in the study.

    Breakdowns for each individual question are not provided because breaking them down by political affiliation and gender and religious affiliation would take up a lot of space, but also because the set of 11 questions themselves are a single measure, not any constituent question.

    This is like asking for a breakdown of each and every question on the NAEP, instead of the reporting of a composite score. The 11 questions were selected because they correlate highly with other measures of racism, not because a philosopher thought they had no logic difficulties. They correlate highly because they are good predictors of racist attitudes and beliefs measured in other ways.

    Why was this questionnaire used? Because the researchers wanted to see whether such attitudes were behind support for retaining confederate statues and memorials. It has been claimed that such statues, street names, building names, have been symbols of racism rather than historical. If people who score high on a measure of racist attitudes and beliefs also score high on a survey about support for confederate statues, it would suggest that race is part of the desire to preserve such memorials. If they do not, then it can be argued that other motives may be important.

    Somerby ignores the part of this study that is about the confederacy, because his concern is about whether MAGA Extremists should have been called racist by Rubin. In my opinion, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence supporting that idea. This survey provides some systematic exploration of whether Republicans, as a group, are more likely to endorse racist attitudes and beliefs. It should be no surprise that they, because Republicans have tended to score the same way on other surveys and measures.

    Somerby thinks that if he can question the wording of a single question, he can invalidate the whole study, calling it "slapdash" among other things. That is ridiculous, given the amount of work it takes to conduct such research. But just because Somerby doesn't understand how a question can identify people with certain beliefs, doesn't mean the question itself is faulty. That is an empirical question, answered statistically. Somerby has no clue how that works, so he is too ignorant to see that his objection cannot invalidate the question. The question could ask "I avoid touching doorknobs because of germs." and if it correlated highly with racist attitudes and beliefs, it would be a good predictor and might be included on a scale measuring the tendency to hold racist attitudes and beliefs. Why? Because, for whatever reason, it sorts people into a category based on their racist beliefs.

    Somerby doesn't have to read his comments, but he really should read something about mental measurement if he is going to write essays like this and not sound like a total fool to those who are better educated on scaling.

  5. The correct answers are

    "White Americans today are not responsible for discrimination against Black people in the past."


    "White people in the U.S. have certain advantages because of the color of their skin."

    Marginally true, and so do black people. Black people's advantages are more significant than white people's. White people's advantage is subtle and limited to the comfort of existing as a majority group but insignificant as a practical matter.

    "White supremacy is still a major problem in the U.S. today."


    "Racial problems in the U.S. are rare, isolated situations"

    False, if you count every media organization and Democrat's daily anti-white comments.
    True if the question is about racism against blacks.

    1. Racism against blacks was halved when Rush Limbaugh died.

  6. And this set of responses would be more likely to have been submitted by a Republican than a Democrat.

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    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. 2 at 4:38 PM
      And therefore racist.

      Trending toward some cross burning pinpoint is a distinction that is that is artfully meaningless as to the labeling purposes of this scale.

    4. I’ll clue you in.

      PRRI fools no one when it says that groups “trend” toward racism over a response to highly debatable positions such as whether white supremacy is or is not a major U.S. problem.

      The PRRI is in the business of flat-out stigmatizing people on the basis of their opinion on a tenuous ideological position.

    5. Anyone who isn't a bigot, or isn't perfectly fine with bigotry, left the Republican Party over decades ago.

  7. It is revealing that Somerby thinks there are "correct" and presumably "incorrect" answers to complex questions. People do hold differing attitudes about such questions but don't typically go around considering themselves correct about them. A respect for complexity and an open mind tends to keep most people from being so rigid as to believe they are right, not wrong, about what they believe.

    This essay today truly reflects black and white thinking, where despite the evidence that people vary in their attitudes and beliefs, Somerby insists there is one and only one correct answer to a question he has selected because of his certainty about it. This, from the master of "anything is possible" equivocation.

  8. MAGA is racist. This is what happens when you are ignorant.


  9. "...the comfort of existing as a majority group"

    Meh. What does it even mean? Who does the 'groupings', and why would anyone pay any attention to bullshit liberal 'groupings'?

    Wealthy people obviously have an advantage over poor people. And that's pretty much all the 'grouping' there is, no matter how hard tribal liberal priests are trying to push their bullshit identity politics.

    ...but then most of the wealthy people probably have much more headaches. So, it's also a bit of a trade-off. Living worry-free in public housing on food stamps and medicaid certainly has its advantage too.

  10. Anthropologically speaking as a white person I think there is a comfort level in living in the skin color of a significant majority, in places there is a racial history based on skin color, which might be everywhere there is a mix.

    While we're grouping by race because liberals insist on it, is that disadvantage offset by the disadvantage "whites" face as the disproportionate victims of crime, disproportionate producer-to-welfare recipient stats? I would say so.

    1. "That cop who was shot, was no Saint."


    2. "I think there is a comfort level in living in the skin color of a significant majority"

      What exactly do you mean by this?

      Are you trying to say, perhaps, that you imagine that you would've been uncomfortable living in a place where you look different than most (like Harlem, for example)?

      ...because it seems difficult to imagine that anyone would consciously feel comfortable on account of them looking like everyone else around them. It seems that one simply wouldn't notice; wouldn't think about it at all...

    3. Spoken like someone who lives in Russia.

    4. Red states receive, blue states produce. How do you feel about that?

    5. It's easier to imagine a level of lack of comfort from not looking like a significant majority in a place, if not as an adult at least in the classroom.

      In the past it would be a consequence of a racial history in the US but now would be a result of Democrats constantly agitating in favor of racial hate.


    6. "It's easier to imagine a level of lack of comfort from not looking like a significant majority in a place"

      Yes, if you were pulled out of your neighborhood and placed to an unfamiliar place where you look different than most.

      But may we suggest that if you had been born and grown up in Harlem (or in Congo, for that matter), you would've felt perfectly comfortable there.

      ...unless of course some equivalent of liberal hate-mongers succeeded in stirring up racial hatred...

    7. Do Democrats really want equality for all people, or are they just pretending they do because it victimizes snowflakes, like 3:16?

    8. You have a point Mao. Without Democrats agitating for racial hate with lies about police, Republicans, the system, grocery store arrangements, blacks would be much happier living in America.

    9. 12:01,
      Let's put it to a vote.
      Without voter suppression.

  11. Wake me when we get to the part of the discussion about Republican politicians actively working to suppress the votes of black people.

  12. Changing the subj., worried here. About you Bob. Few months ago you excused yself due issue of Nat importance.

    All OK? Worried bout you......can we help?????

    1. Somerby doesn’t read his comments.

    2. Good. He'd probably just misunderstand them too.

  13. Put forth the notion that America is institutionally racist and then define racism as opposition to the unassailable fact that America is institutionally racist.

    These are the people who want to be your overlords.

  14. "These are the people who want to be your overlords."
    Will they force me to carry my rapists baby?

  15. Cecelia,
    So only in the states run by big government Right-wing overlords?

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  17. States have elected legislatures that enact laws that may put limits on things.

    What these legislatures don’t do is to demand that citizens disavow abortion as being murder or sign on to a philosophy that teaches that color-blindness is ineffectual pablum in the face of inveterate racism because we all must be activists with a specific philosophy.

    THAT sort of duress takes a professional society composed of militants who think they are rightfully endowed with the duty to ordain whatever we think and do.