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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Columns

Guest column: Testing the hypothesis of Black Lives Matter


Social movements of the past were justified in their claims of inequality. The first women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls in 1848 was a step in the right direction, as were the Freedom Rides of the 1960s to fight segregation. The right direction — the only path that society ought to take — is toward social and legal equality.

Egalitarianism, the idea that all people deserve equal rights and opportunities, and individualism, the idea that individual autonomy is more important than any collective, exist in a beautiful coherence; take either as an axiom, and the other follows as a conclusion. Social progress can only ensue once these doctrines are accepted and manifest in our culture.

But the status of victimhood is alluring. The victim gains control and power over those who are not perceived to be victims. Without having to achieve anything, one is held as someone to be valued over and above those of privileged status. 

So we shouldn’t be surprised that entire movements have been erected on the premise that inequality pervades our society before rigorously analyzing that inequality. The incentives are ripe for such a religion to emerge — untested cries of victimhood are far more beneficial than the pursuit of truth.

The claim that we are indeed falling short of egalitarianism and individualism must be substantiated. As far as I know, there is no law in our country that contravenes the two ideas. Perhaps I haven’t looked hard enough.

If legal equality has been met, then only social issues remain as a possible source of injustice. In contrast to law, whereby the injustice is almost literally written in stone, social issues require other forms of evidence. The burden of proof is on whoever makes the assertion.

One assertion of Black Lives Matter, per the movement’s website, is that “Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise.” No evidence is provided to support this massive claim. But like all hypotheses, it is subject to testing.

One prediction of the above statement is that, all else being equal, a black individual is more likely to be killed by police than a non-black individual.

A study from Harvard University found that, once contextual factors are taken into account, no racial differences emerged in the data on lethal shootings. As the author notes, “In the end, however, without randomly assigning race, we have no definitive proof of discrimination”.

But for many entrenched in the movement, it’s too late for data. The narrative has been set; the power of claimed victimhood tastes too sweet to put down. This has all the symptoms of a burgeoning religion.

Dare question the narrative, and you are labeled a racist (read: heretic). Only those who have lived the black experience (read: priestly class) may even discuss the relevant issues (read: preach), while everyone may only listen and accept (read: have faith).

Religions are tolerable to the extent that they do not lead to harmful action. The tragedy is not that the message “black people are discriminated against by police” is itself a dangerous proclamation; the tragedy is, frankly: it is false or yet to be adequately demonstrated.

So while it is true that Micah Xavier Johnson was not associated with BLM, he murdered policemen because he was incensed by a false narrative promoted by the organization.

There is cause for optimism, though. While most religions are unfalsifiable, meaning that they can never be shown to be untrue, the church of Black Lives Matter makes testable claims.

It is therefore the responsibility of the thinking person to refrain from giving in to the temptation of victimhood and instead leverage the tools of reason to reach conclusions.

Social injustice is indeed a moral shortcoming of any society, but just as evil is conjuring such an inequality where one does not exist.

Guest columnist Logan Chipkin is an ecology and evolution graduate student and can be reached at [email protected]

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