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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

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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  • TomTito

    Excellent.

    • Logan Chipkin

      Thanks!

  • David

    ‘Contextual factors’ Your whole article is based on that premise. How is that defined?

    • Logan Chipkin

      Contextual factors are any unconsidered variables that may influence outcome. You’re right, I should’ve been clearer.

      • David

        Is that according to the author of the study? If so using a generic definition leaves a lot of room for interpretation. What were the actual variables the author of the study applied? In reading a little the other day it seems as if the study was more opinionated then the author represented. I am also highly suspicious with these ‘centers for this and that’ at colleges as we are finding out more all the time that they are bought and paid for by anonymous donors that expect a particular outcome from the ‘independent’ research.

        • Logan Chipkin

          The author in fact was expecting results that would support the hypothesis of BLM and was surprised that the data did not support it.
          Healthy skepticism is good, but you’re focusing on the (suspected) motivation rather than the actual result.

          • David

            Actually I read what he said. The point is many ‘unbiased’ people wrote many biased articles paid for by anonymous sources that said cigarettes were actually good for us. Later we found out that they were paid off by the cigarette companies. Same thing with economists before the financial crisis. They wrote this company or that company was great and well funded only to find out later that they wrote what they did simply to get a paycheck. Not only that but he has said that his work was a working paper not a conclusion. You treated it as a conclusive peer reviewed study. It isn’t. Many other studies have found the opposite is true. Are you sure you are writing an article based on a sound unbiased foundation? Are you sure you are writing an article based on real data and facts to reach your conclusion?

          • Logan Chipkin

            Again, the motivation of a researcher does not affect the truth, whatever that may be. Correct, it has not yet been peer-reviewed, but it is publicly available for criticism. It has thus far withstood scrutiny. There were other sources as well, but I excluded them to keep the article brief.
            Also, remember where the burden of proof rests – with he (or she) who makes a positive assertion about reality.
            Email me if you wish to continue this discussion, [email protected]

          • Logan Chipkin

            Or we can continue here…I’m not used to public exchanges.

          • David

            I read plenty of scrutiny that did not agree with the conclusions. Not sure of the validity or reliability of those papers either. I’m just not ready to dismiss the BLM movement based on one person doing research that may or may not be paid for behind the scenes. Why are you? Why write this article the way you did? It is too easy in our society to dismiss the concerns of others and when we do we lose an opportunity for our society to grow. Our society must grow in order for our republic to survive. Sorry, reality proves that depending on the researcher the motivation of the researcher does affect the truth.

          • Logan Chipkin

            Again, a) an argument must be judged only by its merits, and b) you’re reversing the burden of proof.

          • David

            The question I had is why would this person write this article? It didn’t seem to have a purpose. Basing your opinion on one article whose author should be questioned for his motives as well as the results of his ‘study’ seems to me that you are simply using it to validate your own assumptions.

  • LoganKnowsBest

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

    Way to stir the pot Logan, your intellect is phenomenal *hats off to you* 🙂

    America inherited racism from England so I understand that they are not to be blamed for inequality. That would be a slap in the face to our founding fathers!
    Lets give them the respect they deserve for being the 1st country to implement slavery solely on skin color. Kidnapping Africans and holding them as chattel generation after generation does not contribute to any detriment of the African american mind. That would just be an absurd and evil assumption to make.
    “LGBTQA, BLM, Feminist, and Survivors: Grow a pair! ” would of been a better title to your article if you ask me, but hey, your the grad student!

    good luck.

    • Dane Hall

      The study that you cite has some serious problems with small sample size (10 police distructs in 3 states) and the results can’t be generalized. Additionally, there’s an overwhelming body of peer-reviewed evidence supporting the claims that black individuals are detained by police and subjected to the use of excessive force by police at disproportionately high rates. This article cherrypicks evidence and makes some very grand claims.

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