Data Versus Emotion in a “Social Justice” Society

By Dan Davis and Buck Surdu

The public reports widespread disenchantment with the country’s current status and future trends. There is significant disagreement about which direction to take. Each advocate seems to rely on the electorate’s common sense. This appears to be the equivalent of both sides of a war asserting, “God is on our side/Gott mit Uns.” The missing proficiency may be the ability of the public to think critically about quantified data.

Let’s start with a bit of background on why this issue arose.

Recently, a retired Colonel who served with us at that organization we used to call “No Such Agency” sent us a dash-cam video of a shoot-out between two Los Angeles Police Department Officers and two minority men. The video, dated 04/11/2011 and beginning around 1741 (5:41 PM), clearly showed the chase and the crash of the civilian vehicle, the immediate opening of both doors, the emergence of the evading driver and passenger and then the muzzle blasts of weapons being fired by both of them, followed by the sound of return fire from the police and the apparent death of both the driver and passenger.

The text accompanying the video said that the LAPD had released the video because rumors began to circulate after the word had gotten around about the shooting. The text said: “According to ‘Black Lives Matter’ officials, the black guys were not actually shooting at the cops. Their hands were up!” The video showed the shattering of the police car windshield. Our retired Colonel colleague, an excellent intelligence analyst, noted that the BLM reference raised a legitimacy question in his mind, as BLM did not become a recognizable entity until about two years later. One of us (Davis) mentioned the shoot-out video to a friend who is a retired police officer. He is not from the LAPD but from another LA Basin police department.

This retired Sergeant said he was well aware of the video and said it was released because of the black activist community’s negative reaction to the shooting (pre-BLM). The release was driven by the LAPD’s hope that the video would stave off another Rodney King riot. Alas, a decade later, there were a series of riots in response to the deaths of Michael Brown and George Floyd. These riots caused tragic loss of life, looting, and property damage, the recompense for which the taxpayers are still burdened.

Being of interest, the video was forwarded to two high school classmates of ours. One is a retired Lieutenant Colonel, a Vietnam veteran who served as a pilot. The other is a retired State of California Toxic Substance Control Officer. Viewing the video led to a spirited exchange on the current sad state of affairs in an otherwise beautiful state. California’s government’s priorities are seemingly directed to virtually anything but two core duties of a ruling party: 1) safety of the populace and 2) maintenance of basic infrastructure. A wildfire had recently threatened the home of one of the classmates, a peril that touched on both the lack of safety and infrastructure failure.

It was pointed out that the majority of California fires come from two sources: power line shorts and homeless campfires. These, we noted, were the sources that originated within two extremes of SES (Socio-Economic Status) levels: the most prosperous and powerful (utility companies) and the poorest and weak (homeless).

Classical education reinforces that there are only a few primary government functions. First among these is protecting its citizens from the vagaries of nature and violence from others. Second is the provision of public works that fall beyond the reach of individual citizens. All else is pointless until these primary functions are well secured and effectively delivered.

Many citizens do find that the current government of California is manifestly doing an abysmal job of:

• Maintenance of infrastructure

• Provision of sufficient water

• Containment of wildfires

• Grasp of demographics

• Reduction of violence

There are established societal and technical solutions to all of these shortcomings. The reason for the non-delivery of the desired results must be a failure of leadership. In an effective democracy, the leadership is nominally in the hands of the people. However, any change in that leadership is less likely in the face of a negative feedback loop in the electorate. Moves to make effective changes are countered by those who retain political power by offering the masses the traditional “bread and circuses.”

All attempts to ensure delivery of the above-noted primary government functions are met with rabid accusations of the reformers’ intentions to eliminate the “beneficent” support promised to the “social-victim” groups: homeless, ethnic minorities, illegal aliens, and others.

A recent report showed that funds to help those communities are often siphoned off to support bureaucratic agencies, advisory boards, and “experts” to do studies. Most of these efforts wind up publically advocating for services and remedies that the communities themselves neither want nor will use. But they do a great deal to assuage the feelings of those who suffer from the frequently cited “white guilt.”

The above concerns are commonly discussed by the self-appointed elites, leading to a sense of futility that has infused our society, leading to psychological distress. Aldus Huxley predicted we would witness Government support of “Soma,” a fictional “happiness drug, to inculcate and ensure submission. In our current society, “Soma” is called marijuana, cocaine, heroin, or Fentanyl in open markets and Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft in the prescription market.

These failures come home to all of us when the dearth of good governance threatens those we love, as was our wildfire-threatened classmate. One of the authors was actually threatened by a homeless man brandishing an improvised knife, who insisted that he give the homeless man a free ride to a nearby town. Leaving the scene prevented further confrontation, but the assault (in this case, a threat of violence) was not even reported. Two different police officers told us that not reporting the incident was the most reasonable thing to do. They said the man would have been only briefly detained, and no formal arrest would have been made. No prosecution would have resulted. All this is in the name of “social justice.”

All this has led to frustration in the face of the public’s blatant rejection of facts in favor of addressing a widespread feeling of white guilt. This is very unsettling to many of us. Our Lt. Col. opined: “Sorry to see the current state of affairs in California. But there won’t be change until the voters in the state get totally fed up and cast the ballots that will throw the incumbents out of office.” California has had a one-party rule since 2000 (we count Arnold Schwarzenegger as a celebrity, not a partisan.)

To our Viet-Vet brother, we responded that the problem is that the electorate is not thinking critically or quantitatively, e.g., when it comes to violence during an arrest, the numbers show that white people are much more likely to be shot in a confrontation with police, even though they are much less likely to engage in resistance and thereby provoke such a confrontation. When was the last time any of us saw rioting because a member of a “non-victim” group was shot or killed while resisting an arrest? Social pressures have led to a hesitancy of officers to open fire on threatening members of minority groups, with a concomitant rise in deaths of police officers.

When one looks at violent crime rates by ethnicity, using data sources not founded in political or activist pursuits, those rates are remarkably consistent across environments. The relative rates do not vary much based on which ethnic group has a majority in the reporting country’s population or on which continent the data was collected. These violence rates also show a low correlation to the SES or adoptive parents’ race, indicating the minimal impact of those domestic environmental factors. But even raising the issue of the potential benefits of investigating such data is almost universally condemned as socially unacceptable.

Adjustments for SES also show insignificant differences in the relative ratio of the rates between the ethnic groups, i.e., higher SES groups commit fewer violent crimes in general. Still, the ratio of the rates of the ethnic groups remains about the same at each SES level.

Not only is most of the public not interested in these uncontested facts, but they get angry when they are brought up. They are happy to remain offended by or ashamed of “white privilege” and not enlightened by information. According to them: “Science, data, and analysis be damned!” When challenged to defend their position, those who profess to seek “social justice” by not rejecting data to which they are opposed, rarely present contradicting data (which would be logos). Instead, they rely on an anointed expert (ethos) or an anecdotal tale of heart-breaking suffering (pathos). While these last two may be effective in swaying the public, they should not be seen as meaningful in the final decisions by those entrusted with leadership.

For instance, most teachers to whom we have spoken responded that minority students underperform on standardized tests because they do not have the same financial support in their school districts that the wealthy kids do. When we tell them of the Priest case, they all (ALL) have told us that they had never heard about that case. Serrano v. Priest is the case that resulted in a court order that every public school student in California must get the same amount of money for education. Some provisions of that order have been modified, e.g., lower SES schools get additional money for remedial education, police security on campus, and the high cost of theft and vandalism losses.

The court order came out in the mid-70s and was argued to be needed to close the ~1.3 sigma gap in standardized test scores, which is analogous to about 20 IQ points. After nearly five decades, the LA Times reported that the gap was still ~1.3 sigma (the headline was “Achievement Test Scores Up a Little, but Gap Remains the Same”!). This caused some to argue that it must be the “lack of self-esteem” held by some minority children that held them back. Then the “social-justice warriors” measured self-esteem and GPA in East LA schools, and the esteem/performance correlation was negative; the most intelligent kids had the lowest self-esteem; the poor performers held themselves in high esteem.

When we present this data to many well-educated people in academia, they have NEVER responded with contradicting data or analysis, always with unsubstantiated denials (e.g., “That can’t be true!”), baseless claims of “biased research,” claims that the DATA is racist, or veiled threats of our being labeled a racist (e.g., “You’d better not let the Dean hear you say that!”).

I often hear “The people will get wise to these shenanigans eventually” from the talking heads on TV. One must wonder if they have never heard that the Nazi Germany populace had the highest proportion of PhDs in the world* and we all know how that worked out for them. (* This is as per a lecture by Professor O.J. Harvey, Univ of Colo, a Social Psychologist.) Lest you think that the American electorate makes more reasoned choices, you should remember that members of the voting public frequently respond to questions about government figures that their favorite U.S. Supreme Court Justice is TV’s Judge Judy. Justice Breyer says Judge Judy is often cited as the public’s favorite ahead of most sitting members of the Court.

"Social Justice" Society

When the uneducated are incapable of analytic processes, and the over-educated are so indoctrinated that they don’t want to “see” the truth, we fear that the citizens’ hoping for a rational vote by the public is a fanciful and dangerous activity. We are worried that the current enthusiasm for pending salvation in the form of change represented by the “November ’22 Red Wave” is ill-founded. See this article.  One must hope it at least results in a rational Senate that should be able to prevent blatantly partisan appointments, court-packing, and further destruction of the Constitution.

Some say our generation let go of the nation’s reins: (“Surely nobody could be that stupid!” we said, “There is no need to do anything dramatic.”) We fear our progeny will pay the price. We all knew we should do something, but we were too content, distracted, and afraid.

Arnold Toynbee said: “Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder.”

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2 thoughts on “Data Versus Emotion in a “Social Justice” Society”

  1. I’m sorry – once I got to that word “leadership” I groaned and rolled my eyes. It’s not your fault, but mine.

    It’s an over used word which places far too much emphasis on the elected. I never want to be lead by those elected to government. Their job is not to lead, but to manage and direct. I hear the word “leadership” every day and it’s part of why we are having troubles today. Americans need no leader, for We are individuals who lead ourselves. We are supposed to hire people to manage Our governments, the elected. But, it’s reasonable for people to consider the elected as “leaders” because they may have forgotten who they are or never learned what they are. So again, it’s not your fault, but mine.

    • Fair enough. Back in the Regan era, we were taught the notion of leadership as facilitating and those you lead to be successful, the notion of a servant leader. Clearly, most of those who hold elected office have forgotten their purpose.

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