Preference falsification in our time and evermore

One of the main reasons I listen to the Secular Jihadists podcast is that there’s an earnest honesty from the hosts which is fading from our society in public discourse. Though I’m not a “New Atheist” personally (just an atheist), I don’t mind, and even appreciate, people who can discuss the reality that according to the Sunnah, Muhammad, PBUH, was a child rapist and sex slaver by the norms of the current year.

As I am not Muslim and I don’t wish to emulate Muhammad I don’t have to reconcile traditional Islam’s understanding of him with modern norms (not that Muhammad is special, Moses was a child slaughterer). But I am also not sure that airing the reality of Muhammad’s life is productive, or forwards any broader conversation. But the fact of the traditions of his life is trueIf facts are never aired, then facts fade from comprehension, and people may confuse polite ommissions with reality.

Because attitudes toward Islam have been ideologized honesty about the religion in public is dangerous, as the truth is a weapon in partisan games. For example, a few months ago I noticed Jerry Coyne had linked to an old post of mine on why being Muslim is not a racial thing on Twitter. Curiously, Twitter flagged the post as sensitive.

So what did I say? You can see….

Obviously, I didn’t say anything too crazy. Rather, the text flagger probably saw “race” and “Islam” and wondered if I this was frog-nazi talk. But more generally there has been heightened sensitivity around Islam and Muslims over the past 17 years, and frank discussion of the religion is now difficult. I recall watching the PBS’ To the Contrary in the 1990s and at one point there was a discussion about Muslim women and their plight. The most stridently Left on the regular panel, Julianne Malveaux, stated plainly that there was perhaps something about Islam which was constitutively anti-woman.

I happen to disagree with the idea that there is anything constitutively anti-woman about Islam, but that’s because I take a very dim view of religious essentialism. But it’s not an unreasonable assertion given the huge body of shariah where women are given inferior status in relation to men. Malveaux wasn’t crazy. And none of her fellow panelists said much in relation to her observation about the essential anti-feminism of Islam. It was the 1990s and anti-religious outbursts by a very Left-wing person wasn’t surprising. Islam was a religion, ergo….

Today the situation is different. I doubt Malveaux would say something similar in public. And I assume that her panelists, especially the conventional liberals, would come to the defense of Islam if she did. This despite the fact that privately many liberals will admit that Islam and women’s rights do not exactly correlate too well. I have a friend who chides Islamophobes on Facebook who will state it is a “fucked up religion” in personal conversation (and to be entirely frank, this is really common from non-Muslim South Asians in the West, who tend to come from Islamo-skeptic backgrounds and yet cultivate strong SJW public personas).

What I’m alluding to here is the ubiquity of preference falsification. The term was popularized in Timur Kuran’s Private Truths, Public Lies: The Social Consequences of Preference Falsification. Chinese “Communism” today is arguably just one huge game of preference falsification. Late stage Soviet Communism was also preference falsification writ large.

The Secular Jihadists don’t engage in preference falsification, and I find that refreshing because it’s so rare. I don’t agree with their New Atheist beliefs on a lot of the details, nor do I share their liberal politics, but I know where I agree and disagree. There’s no reading between the lines. They say what they mean and mean what they say.

While listening to podcasts and viewing YouTubes one thing I’ve come to realize is that Far Left and Far Right views are more interesting because the two groups are so marginal they don’t have an incentive to preference falsify. I disagree with both perspectives, but it’s honest disagreement. When I listen to mainstream Center Left and Center Right folks it’s generally much more boring. They are keen on telling truths that won’t rock the boat and will make the fewest waves. They will lie, omit, and manipulate, to also minimize rocking the boat.

Back in the 2000s Andrew Sullivan came up with the “Yglesias Award”, named after Matt Yglesias, now of Vox. From the page about the award: “This award…is for writers, politicians, columnists or pundits who actually criticize their own side, make enemies among political allies, and generally risk something for the sake of saying what they believe.” Can anyone imagine him criticizing his own side today? Vox and its coterie of writers have become well-off on cozying up to establishment power. They are now the system. Or at least one of the two primary systems (the Right and Left).

There is an equivalent on the Right. Back in the 2000s The Weekly Standard wrote some positive pieces on Intelligent Design. This was strange because The Weekly Standard was a flagship journal of neoconservatism, and so decidedly secular and urban, with a large contingent of Jewish writers and editors. In contrast, Intelligent Design was being pushed forward by evangelical Protestants, and to a lesser extent a small number of conservative Catholics. At the time most people understood that The Weekly Standard was engaged in coalition building. Privately no one there probably found Intelligent Design creditable, but they were part of a coalition of people who took these ideas seriously and sincerely. Though on some level everyone understood what The Weekly Standard was doing, the important thing was that it did what it did in public, and expended some of its capital among secular intellectuals to support religious conservatives as a costly signal to its commitment to the Right.

One reason that Heather Mac Donald began to speak out about atheism and the Right in the 2000s is that she’s a sincere person and was aggravated by the juxtaposition in public respect for religion that conservative intellectuals were prone toward, despite many of them privately having little use for faith.

There’s another dynamic where preference falsification and revealed preferences are connected. I recently observed that Joe Kennedy III seems to be evidence of the royal family of the Democratic party getting whiter while the party gets browner. Joseph P. Kennedy and Rose Kennedy now have many great-grandchildren, such as Joe Kennedy III. Most are no doubt liberal Democrats who think diversity is great and good. But take a look at who these Kennedys are marrying. Since they’re a prominent family, their weddings are noted in the public record. Though the Kennedy’s of the current generation say the correct thing for liberals about racial diversity in public, their private choices are more in alignment with being in sympathy with a white ethnostate.

Why does any of this matter? As I said above, if the public lying is ubiquitous enough, people begin to confuse polite ommissions or accepted public distortions with reality. Eventually the public and private come into alignment. An analogy to religion is appropriate. All of the living descendants of Moses Mendelssohn descend from Christian branches of his lineage. The conversion in the early 19th century of prominent German Jews to Christianity was often a conscious act of assimilation, or a means toward professional advancement. There is evidence that some of these individuals were never sincere Christians in a deep theological sense, and many people understood this. But over time the preference falsification in these families faded, and they became sincere Christians in public and private.

Now consider the case of sex differences. One of the reasons I post on sex differences on strength is to remind people who de facto preference falsify about the truth, and expose newbies to the truth who might otherwise confuse falsification-by-omission with the truth. By this, I mean that over the past generation sex differences are not an issue that many among the cultural elite (on the Left) want to talk about in depth. Most people know that there are differences in strength, though they may be fuzzy on the details. But some younger people actually confuse the lack of attention to sex differences with the fact of no sex differences, and take maximal gender social constructionism at face value!

Because the truth is not fashionable preference falsification will become more and more common. Demands for politeness by omission will become more strident and all-encompassing.  Old-fashioned positivists and empiricists who naively make testable truth claims will still exist, but their prestige will be low. Instead of truth being telos, an ends, it will become purely techne, a means or artifice.

Truth, positivism, scientism. All these are the affectations of a small cult. Over time this cult needs to recede out of public view because they are inconvenient to power. The flourishing of truth in the dark and hidden corners of the world must occur through the cult’s service of power. The destruction of falsehood must occur not through argumentation, which falsehood will always win, but through fiat. Falsehood always bends more quickly to fiat.

Going back to where this post started, “ex-Muslims” are a particular affront to the modern order of things. Their existence is an offense, and uncomfortable to most Muslims. Their witness as to Islam’s illiberality is highly inconvenient for the modern Western Left, which maintains a public alliance with Islam. And yet most of these individuals are committed to Left social progress in all areas outside of Islam.

My prediction is that Left critics of ex-Muslims will become more and more vociferous. Not because they believe in their case. Rather, they know that marginalizing this one group despite the injustice of that course of action is an excellent “hard-to-fake” signal of their sincerity and commitment to their Muslim allies. They will destroy this small group not because it is right, but specifically because it is wrong. Innocence is not a defense.

12 thoughts on “Preference falsification in our time and evermore

  1. I don’t think that the Left is in alliance with Islam. As you’ve said before, Islam is in the midst of an internal struggle; the Left has sided with the moderates. The Left would agree with you in that there are no essential attributes of the religion that conflict with modern Western values. When derogatory, blanket statements about Islam are made, it undermines attempts bring Islam into the fold and instead swells the ranks of the extremists. Lamentably, the Left is less tactful with the Right in this country. “Basket of deplorables” didn’t win any converts.

  2. I think one of the secular jihadist guests, Ali Rizvi, said it best in that the Left cares about muslims, not necessarily Islam. The same way that the Left cares about blacks or latinos but would not support the religious and social sentiments that most black or latino churches hold.

    I’m not a fan of Islam in itself but I have Muslim friends who just want to be part of society in peace – with most of them able to create a moderate balance in a secular liberal society. I would be uneasy of people painting broad strokes of Muslims or saying inflammatory things because I care about my friends in addition to any abstract innocent person.

    I don’t disagree that the Left’s focus on minimizing harms or ‘allyship’ gets too far, even to the detriment of minorities themselves. Its also worth noting that the frank discussion of Islam and women occured in the 1990s, before 9/11 and the War on Terror paritioned culture war lines.

  3. “Back in the 2000s Andrew Sullivan came up with the “Yglesias Award”, named after Matt Yglesias, now of Vox. From the page about the award: “This award…is for writers, politicians, columnists or pundits who actually criticize their own side, make enemies among political allies, and generally risk something for the sake of saying what they believe.” Can anyone imagine him criticizing his own side today?”

    This is a sad, hilarious example of why prestigious awards should only be named after dead people.

    By “allies with Islam”, I think Razib means the left thinks Islam is officially vulnerable, like the other classes it seeks to protect. Therefore, the highest duty of public discussion about Islam should center around the defense of its practitioners from bigotry, rather than challenging the religion as an equal in the public sphere.

  4. I think one of the secular jihadist guests, Ali Rizvi, said it best in that the Left cares about muslims, not necessarily Islam. The same way that the Left cares about blacks or latinos but would not support the religious and social sentiments that most black or latino churches hold.

    yes, but the two are different categories, and that causes issues. being christian is not necessary to being black or latino. with islam you can’t separate the identity from the religion.

    substantively everyone (i think) agrees that it’s about protecting muslims and not islam. but it’s routine for many liberals now to basically engage in *islam* apologetics. something is off there.

    and that’s the thing that people like ali and sarah haider have to fight against. it’s depressing for them. i know personally because i had the pleasure of having some drinks with sarah when she came to town and though we’re politically different we have similar diagnoses.

    (note, a muslim on twitter once tried to get me de-check-marked because i said muhammad raped a child. but here’s the issue: that’s literally the mainstream view in islam [they wouldn’t call having sex with a 10 year old rape, but i think that’s just a necessary implication of sex with a 10 year old by an adult]).

  5. Moses was a child slaughterer
    More of a war criminal and ethnic cleanser, really. The boy killing was part of a larger action. Child slaughterer implies he went around killing kids personally (at least to me).

    There’s an earnest honesty from the hosts which is fading from our society in public discourse.
    You’re right; but I do wish they’d acknowledge that the cultural morality by which they judge these things, is largely 19th century evangelical.

  6. You’re right; but I do wish they’d acknowledge that the cultural morality by which they judge these things by, is largely 19th century evangelical.

    not sure if i agree with the ascription to 19th century low church protestantism, but i do agree that there should be more acknowledgment of cultural preconditions.

  7. Interesting discussion. But awfully pessimistic. My own view — or hope? — is that the truth will out when it can be shown (as it can and will be) that the truth is not incompatible with moral principles that liberals hold dear. I am especially thinking of the truths of human biodiversity as they relate to the liberal ideal of human equality. Clearly, equality of opportunity or equality under the law are not enough to insure a just society as conceived by liberals if racial differences in intelligence and other personality factors are both real and rooted in genetics.

    The solution, I think, is to conceive of a society in which everyone’s happiness is equally important regardless of their genetic endowment; which is to say, a society in which anyone who works hard and plays by the rules can reasonably look forward to a rich and fulfilling life regardless of race or IQ. That may seem unimaginable (hence the liberal freakout) but I don’t think it is. For what such a society might look like, see here:

    Thus I subscribe to Jesus’s saying that “ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” Or at least I think it possible.

  8. Incidentally, as of now at least “Intelligent Design” v. “The Anthropic Principle” is a distinction without a difference:

    This will remain true even if, as Nima suggests, it might one day be shown that there is but a single, unique string theory with its near infinite number of semi-stable vacua. For whether there is but one possible cosmos based on a unique set of dimensionless constants (which seems unlikely Nima says) or a near infinite number, in either case it will look “as if” the universe we live in had been designed for intelligent biological creatures like us to exist in that middle ground between the plank scale (of 10^-33 centimeters) and the cosmological scale of 10^33 centimeters where complexity is at a maximum.

    But all that aside, only real question that matters (in so far as the existence or non-existence of God* is concerned) is whether death is inherently a more painful experience for “bad” people than for “good”? This will probably (and for me hopefully) remain forever undecidable even though there might conceivably be hints depending on whether pleasure and pain turn out to be neurologically independent or correlative phenomena when measured over the lifetime of the individual organism.

    *God here being but the proper name for the Hebraic conception of a moral being as described in the middle parts of Genesis: namely, a being who judges every human being by a single standard of equity according to his deeds in relation to other human beings. As a way of discussing and thinking about these timeless human questions (of what it may feel like when we die and whether how we die might be affected by how we behave as social animals) God talk strikes me as being way too handy to ever be replaced in popular discourse, a fact that modern cosmology does nothing to undermine.

  9. Razib, do we even know with any certain that Muhammed, or for that matter Moses, even existed? The earliest recorded accounts of his life are 200 years after the Hijra.

  10. Denying obvious truths might be the result of such truths being used as a “tribal marker” for the Other Side.

    Examples include:
    “Black lives matter.”
    “It’s okay to be white.”
    “There’s evidence that human action might make the Earth warmer.”
    Nearly any sentence with the word “sustainable” in it.

    The above sentences are all perfectly reasonable and I’m also suspicious of anybody saying them.

  11. Hooray to bold epistemological fisticuffs.

    I’ll be chewing on this post’s old-as-biological-competition-itself jerkies for as long as politics continues to make strange bedfellows.

    Regarding your musings about what among your works to archive: this one is a definite keeper.

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