“High-decoupling” is a synonym for “short-sighted neglect of the variables”


The latest burst of inane apologetics to enthrall the poobahs of atheism because it allows them to make excuses for Richard Dawkins and others is this piece from Tom Chivers, “‘Eugenics is possible’ is not the same as ‘eugenics is good’”. In it, he invents a label for people who say thoughtless things about science: they are “high-decouplers”, who are good at isolating ideas from all those troublesome things like implications and consequences and even meaning. They can take a complex sociological phenomenon, for instance, and reduce it to “A → B” without fussing about over the messy antecedents that produce A, or that the relationship also produces C, D, E, F…Z and a few letters beyond that. And this is a good thing?

The analyst John Nerst, who writes a fascinating blog called “Everything Studies”, is very interested in how and why we disagree. And one thing he says is that for a certain kind of nerdy, “rational” thinker, there is a magic ritual you can perform. You say “By X, I don’t mean Y.”

So you can say things like “if we accept that IQ is heritable, then”, and so on, following the implications of the hypothetical without endorsing them. Nerst uses the term “decoupling”, and says that some people are “high-decouplers”, who are comfortable separating and isolating ideas like that.

Other people are low-decouplers, who see ideas as inextricable from their contexts. For them, the ritual lacks magic power. You say “By X, I don’t mean Y,” but when you say X, they will still hear Y. The context in which Nerst was discussing it was a big row that broke out a year or two ago between Ezra Klein and Sam Harris after Harris interviewed Charles Murray about race and IQ.

How useful! Sam Harris wasn’t propping up racist ideas, he’s just a “high-decoupler” capable of postulating a subset of a network of interactions is simple and predictable. Don’t hold him accountable for his supposedly commendable ability to ignore everything except the one tiny relationship he is holding in laser-like focus! It’s those low-decouplers who keep distracting him with messy realities that interfere with his beautiful vision of reducing everything to a series of simple, manageable problems. Eugenics all by itself is simple and doable! If we postulate that racial differences are all due to invisible, untestable genes, all inequities are trivial and explainable!

Back in the day, I would have called such an approach short-sighted, implausible, damaging, and stupid, but now we have this useful term, “high-decoupler”, instead. Instead of saying that Dawkins and Harris are oblivious to reality, narrow-minded, and obtuse, I’ll just say they’re good at decoupling. All the atheist-bros and skeptic-bros will nod along happily, as if I’d just given them high praise.

I think Chivers might have hit on a key trigger for many of the schisms in rationalist organizations, though.

I think a lot of arguments in society come down to this high-decoupler/low-decoupler difference. And while I hope I’ve done a good job of putting the case for low-decoupling, I am very obviously a high-decoupler, so often I find myself thinking “but they performed the magic ritual! They said they didn’t mean Y!” and being really confused that everyone is very angry that they believe Y.

For shameful low-decouplers like myself, though, I am also able to hear the obvious implication that Y is an unimportant complication that they don’t want you to think about, and when Y is something that leads to misery and suffering for large numbers of people, I tend to want to say “But you can’t dream about X while ignoring the inevitable disaster of Y that it will bring about!” It’s like saying that lighting this fuse will lead to some pretty sparks for a few minutes, but I’m not endorsing the horrific explosion when it reaches the dynamite. And this, apparently, is supposed to be a scientific virtue.

Also, falling back on the excuse that there is a magic ritual that can make such context-less, narrow speculation acceptable is not the useful metaphor that Chivers thinks it is. That high-decouplers consider incantations significant kind of undermines the rationality of high-decoupling. I think I’ll stick with the community for whom the ritual lacks magic power.

Comments

  1. remyporter says

    The most personally annoying thing about Dawkins eugenics nonsense was that he explicitly said [i]in practice[/i], which immediately requires that you include the coupling! Because the PRACTICE of a thing requires the entire network chain connecting to that thing, not the thing itself! You can’t do eugenics “in practice” without establishing a system by which you decide which heritable traits are the ones you’re selecting for.

    On this coupling/decoupling nonsense, find yourself a philosopher/scientist/person who can do both! Yes, you do have to take things apart to understand how they work. But you also don’t understand how they work if you can’t put them back together!

  2. says

    Trouble is, they’re not just wrong on an moral level, they’re wrong on a factual level too. Take this little snippet of an example,

    “if we accept that IQ is heritable, then

    Then what? We can select for IQ? Does nobody look up what heritability actually means? It’s not a universal constant, it’s a statistical measure of a population. If you applied some intervention, the results of that intervention do not necessarily follow the statistical behavior prior to the intervention.

    I glanced at the article and he implies that the only problem with Charles Murray’s ideas is that they “are reminiscent of a grim history”. Oh, give me a break!

  3. Phil says

    The terms “high-decoupler” and “low-decoupler” come across to me as self-congratulatory and shady, respectively. It feels clear that the originator of the term feels like one of them is a super power, and the other is a fault, similar to how Dawkins’ older term “Brights” implied “Dims”, and came with baggage.

    Could we call high-decouplers and low-decouplers instead “armchair enthusiasts” and “context-competent thinkers”, respectively?

  4. hemidactylus says

    It’s amazing how this episode is deepening the divide or merely giving the already committed more fodder for burning heretics. Being critical of Dawkins or taking his words to unsavory and perhaps unforeseen conclusions is verboten. Let’s recall our Tajfel’s minimal group paradigm. We’ve gotten way beyond that.

    Hemant Mehta is now a potential bearer of collective wrath (hope he stands strong):
    https://www.skepticink.com/avant-garde/2020/02/hemant-mehta-eugenics/

    A New Atheist Inquisition looms on the horizon and the fanbois prepare for the spectacle of autos-da-fé while unironically decrying cancel culture as something done by the authoritarian left Other. The shibboleth shall be your opinion on Dawkins’ ill-thought eugenics tweet. Mark that day in history folks. It wasn’t the little jar of honey after all or numerous others.

    IMO Crip Dyke’s analysis of what “works” really entails was the most enlightening (“reason will prevail”) though Dawkins may not have fully or even partially considered that angle before formulating his tweet. All else, when it comes to actually controlling human breeding from the perspective of the administrative state, is secondary. Controlling the haploid-passing of humans situated in a society is tough stuff.

  5. says

    well, I am “high-decoupler” by nature, I instinctively go for stripping everything to base issue, solve that and look how simplified issue changes when we include more and more variables.
    And I am often annoyed with people who cannot decouple things even for the moment, even just to see how the issue changes with each simplification.

    Because such decoupling is useful in the same way as statistics are useful – you have to know what the numbers are saying but even more you have to know what they are not saying.
    So decoupling is just a way to untangle the messy issue to look for different aspects and how they interact before putting it back together.

    But that’s an issue, you cannot do that in a tweet, so you shouldn’t.

    “For shameful low-decouplers like myself, though, I am also able to hear the obvious implication that Y is an unimportant complication that they don’t want you to think about, and when Y is something that leads to misery and suffering for large numbers of people, I tend to want to say “But you can’t dream about X while ignoring the inevitable disaster of Y that it will bring about!””

    But that’s the trick, in most cases when I “high-decouple” I am not assuming Y is unimportant, I am just considering how X would look like without Y, so I can compare it with how X looks like without Y and how it would look like with Y or with Z instead.
    It is an issue of different approach to problem solving. I worked for a long time with a coworker that was great at creating overall solution that I couldn’t even imagine, but I was able to dissasemble his plans into smaller pieces, analyse them and reconstruct it.
    Both approaches (analytic and synthetic) were much better used simultaneously (or in turns) than any of them alone.

    I do not defend Dawkins here because twitter is pointless and I don’t have context to know what he even means.
    But I see your rant as an attack for the way my brain is wired to look for the solutions. And that is unfair.

  6. doubtthat says

    High/low decoupling is a maybe interesting idea, but I don’t think it’s properly applied in this case.
    I can be a high-decoupler – and maybe I am, I would have to think a great deal more about this – and criticize Dawkins and Harris because they failed to successfully decouple these things or just were miserably incorrect.
    For instance, the embarrassment of the Harris/Murray Axis pact wasn’t that Klein, et al (me included), were low decouplers – everyone, to my knowledge, does accept that IQ is a heritable trait – it was whether that concept of heritability was adequate to explain the gap in IQ test scores between people described as “white” in contemporary US culture and those described as “black.”
    Coupling has fuck all to do with it. I accept that IQ is, in some part, heritable, and disagree that this allows a person to ignore 400+ years of horrific subjugation of a culturally defined race of people when evaluating their intelligence.
    Same thing with Dawkins. I honestly haven’t read a ton about this shitstorm because I’m tired and bored of these dumb fucking arguments, but I watched Rebecca Watson’s video and she did a great job of pointing out that “successful eugenics” is not a simple or clear thing – you selectively breed a pretty good hunting dog, but you create an animal subject to a range of weaknesses and illnesses…etc.
    This high/low decoupling is, as PZ said, just a sad version of hero-excusing apologetics.

  7. Chris J says

    “High decoupler” => “I can think abstractly and simply about something that I have no personal stakes in.”
    “Low decoupler” => “I have personal stakes in a matter that require me to think of the implications.

    These aren’t brain mechanisms, these are survival mechanisms based on your lot in life. And the self-described “high decouplers” are upset that people keep bringing up things that are important to them but not important to the “high decoupler.”

    I say this as someone who would probably be considered a “high decoupler.” I’m priviliged enough in my life that I have very few personal stakes in a lot of thought experiments, and secure enough in my current position that I can be safe in experimenting with even things that would affect me in small ways.

  8. doubtthat says

    The more I think about it, this is the process these goofballs generate:

    1) X and Y CAN be decoupled
    2) Therefore, they HAVE been decoupled
    3) I will now interpret any criticism of #2 and criticism of #1

    1) IQ score is in, in part, heritable and, in part, culturally influenced
    2) Therefore, we know exactly how much a person’s genetics influence IQ score and how much societal upbringing does.

    Uh, no you don’t.

    3) Huh, guess you can’t understand that IQ is, in part, heritable and, in part, culturally influenced.

  9. karellen says

    @Phil #3 – Good point. I guess it’s not surprising that the person who came up with the idea didn’t label the spectrum from “high contextualists” to “low contextualists”.

    I’d wouldn’t be too unhappy if the spectrum went from “decouplers” to “contextualists” though. That might give a way to discuss the types of thinking involved without looking like you’re trying to intrinsically privilege one over the other.

  10. spinbot says

    It reminds me of the old Tom Lehrer lyrics…

    “Don’t say that he’s hypocritical,
    Say rather that he’s apolitical.
    “Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down?
    That’s not my department, ” says Wernher von Braun.”

  11. says

    @ Chris J #7

    I was thinking the same thing. It seems to me like the ‘high-decouplers’ are mostly rich white guys, and that the distinction is ultimately a restatement in more generous terms of something we already have a name for.

    Privilege.

  12. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    I’ve run across a whole lot of “high-decouplers” among climate denialists. They tend to focus on one, narrow aspect of the climate, usually over a narrow time and think they’ve disproved 200 years of climate science. A lot of engineers and physicists in this group. There are also the low decouplers–those who say that the climate is just too complex to attribute anything to CO2, the evidence be damned. You find a lot of geologists and economists in the latter camp.

    However, there is something else at work here. Both these groups place way too much faith in their mental models of complex phenomena. In the climate wars, they mistake their confused and over-simplified conceptualization of greenhouse-gas driven warming for the reality. And before you can even get into a debate about the extent to which IQ is heritable, you have to make the huge logical leap that IQ–a social construct developed by a subgroup of researchers to meet the purposes of their research–somehow correlates profoundly to the success, behavior and evolutionary past and future of human beings and societies. Yes, if you meet a highly successful physicist or mathematician, this person probably has a high IQ. However, there are a lot more wait staff and delivery drivers with high IQ than there are successful scientists with high IQ. And just try sometime holding a MENSA meeting in a place where the members have to parallel park.

  13. says

    I’ll say that the thing “decoupling” seems to be getting at, is a pretty generic problem-solving skill—being able to decompose a problem into components and think about each individually. There is also the generic skill of being able to look at the big picture, and decide where to go from there.

    What’s weird to me is treating them like personality types, like each person could only ever be good at one or the other.

    And it’s way too generous to Dawkins to say that he’s just toooo good at breaking problems into component parts. He’s not.

  14. AstrySol says

    What annoys me most is that they only say they are “high-decoupler” (and yes, I prefer “low contextualist”) when they are not affected by the Y they ignore.

    You know, communism can definitely work if you decouple human nature and other nasty stuff (in reality I don’t know, the known implementations are not good), but you don’t see a lot of low contextualist defending that.

  15. doubtthat says

    The more I consider this, the more I think it’s a useless Gladwell-style universal dichotomy that is overly simplistic and explains nothing.
    There are only two types of people: Blurps and Scrumps. If you’re a Blurp, you can’t understand a Scrump, and this is why you like a certain kind of spaghetti sauce.

  16. petesh says

    I think PZ is a little unfair to Chivers, who offers a kind of description of what self-referential assholes like Dawkins do, in a way that said s-r a’s might conceivably understand. Perhaps I’m being Pollyannaish here.

  17. ikanreed says

    Wow, this “high decoupling” sure sounds like exactly the same thing as compartmentalization. But that’s what those bad “tribalistic” people do. We’re the good people. So obviously we need to decouple these two concepts!

  18. says

    It’s also the case that “high decoupling” is not an accurate description of what happens during the doubling-down.

    Consider the eugenics-works-in-practice comment by Dawkins. I’m going to break this down by numbered paragraphs:

    He’s criticizing people who are addressing what eugenics really means: engaging in breeding control of humans for a specified end. The people who said that eugenics does not work draw his ire because the end is not precluded by physics. Ignore the means, Dawkins’ asserts, and you’ll find the end is possible.
    So, of course, people hit Dawkins back: no. Eugenics is a term with meaning. It includes both means and ends. If the means are impossible then eugenics doesn’t “work”.
    Also, too, Dawkins’ critics continue, eugenics is a moral abomination so we have to ask why you’re invested in taking this “eugenics works” position. It seems unnecessary and only likely to provide support and rhetorical cover to bad people proposing bad ideas.
    Some people with neither time nor interest in the finer points decide to call Dawkins an idiot and/or immoral and other use other not-quite-civil language to describe him.
    Dawkins then asserts that all his own critics are wrong because they fail to appreciate that all he said was that eugenics works, which if read correctly only means that the ends are not impossible. The critics are confusing morality with physical possibility and labeling me bad for neutrally stating facts.

    But what’s really going on here? Para 1 is set up, but look at para 2: people aren’t ignoring the physical possibility of the ends (it is possible that allele distribution will change over time and that this will have phenotypic effects on the individual level and average-phenotypic effects on the population). People are simply insisting that the words Dawkins’ chose retain the meaning that they have when used by anyone else and then disproving Dawkins’ statements.

    Now consider para 3. Here the critics are reasserting the moral critique of eugenics to explore the importance of statements like Dawkins’. This a statement exploring, “IF eugenics does not work, THEN statements asserting they do have certain effects…” In the de/coupled language, it’s highly DEcoupled, although it appears in a logic chain after another decoupled statement which provides evidence for the premise.

    Para 4 speaks for itself.

    And here we are at Para 5, investigating the counter-punch of the highly-decoupled Dawkins. By asserting that all his critics are wrong instead of teasing out different criticisms (and critics) for different responses, Dawkins is engaging in HIGH COUPLING. He’s showing an inability to tease things apart and therefore lumps not only all criticisms together, but seeming lumps all critics in with each other and even worse all critics in with all criticisms. Otherwise he couldn’t use the errors in one critic’s criticism (assuming that there are any) to infer the motives or meaning of another critic’s unexpressed thinking or (worse) tendencies in thinking or behavior (personality).

    A high decoupler would be able to say, “the criticism of the assertion that eugenics works is accurate if one gives eugenics its ordinary meaning that includes both a means and an end. Though I had originally intended to refer only to the end of eugenics, the fact that this argument disproves the possibility of means leaves untouched my unexpressed assertion that the ends of eugenics are physically possible.” Dawkins is not showing high-decoupling.

    Further, after failing to decouple criticism of statements about means from his intended assertion about ends, he then couples the statements about morality to the argument against infeasibility. He’s literally arguing that the only reason people are making the feasibility argument is because they disagree with eugenics morally. This makes sense from his point of view, because he failed to decouple means from ends and thus failed to see the validity of the feasibility argument. Unable to see the merits of the argument, he doesn’t simply leave the supposed failure to stand on its own. He deliberately couples it to another argument, the moral one. This is truly bizarre, because in order to conclude that the infeasibility argument is wrong, you also have to conclude that people never make simple mistakes, and that therefore there “must” be something else going on here.

    Dawkins here is coupling morality to feasibility. This isn’t decoupling, this is gratuitous coupling of things that have no particular reason to be coupled.

    But why is this high-decoupler engaging in coupling like a mad thing? Well, there are the insults, and there are the implications for the moral effects of his statement. If I were tempted to think that I knew his thoughts I might say that he’s feeling wounded by the moral critique of his statement because he has highly coupled himself with his intellectual work (and thus his public statements that make visible his intellectual conclusions). Since I’m not tempted to say that I know what Dawkins is thinking, I can only say that it is plausible given what we know about human psychology that someone who feels misunderstood and who highly couples their intellectual output and communication skills with their personal worth might then highly couple unrelated arguments and unrelated people to give himself a reason to believe that his statement was never wrong to begin with. This preserves the sense of self-worth which was previously seen to be highly coupled to his public intellectual work.

    In other words, Dawkins is highly coupling all over the place, he’s just picking and choosing which things can or should be coupled to suit his moment-to-moment needs and desires.

    Someone who is actually a high decoupler wouldn’t have any trouble with the means/ends connection in the feasibility argument. Simply announce a very small error in self-expression, reframe the original statement more accurately, and move on. There is no reason to engage with the people who find eugenics morally objectionable, since those people agree with the high-decoupler’s own position. There is no need to further address the argument that the statement itself provides cover to bad people proposing bad ideas, because the proper moral response is also the proper practical one: update the statement so that it no longer has the same moral implications. Since that’s already done (“eugenics works in a sci-fi world where the means are assumed to work” doesn’t concede anything to the real-world eugenicists), any responsibility under part two of Paragraph 3 is already discharged. The insults of people described in para 4 still exist, but they are based on a miscommunicated idea. So long as the high-decoupler actually decouples ideas and linguistic statements from personal worth, there’s no problem. The high-decoupler has already conceded that the original statement was an error that resulted from choosing a term that incorporated both means and ends when wishing to speak only of ends.

    Dawkins may have been “highly decoupled” in separating feasibility arguments from moral arguments in his initial tweet, but he literally could not sustain that. He re-coupled morality and feasibility arguments immediately upon being criticized, and the most plausible theory for why is that he has highly coupled his public statements with his own worth.

    The idea that Dawkins might be a “high decoupler” only works if one “highly decouples” all the times he couples like Caliban’s beast with two backs from the limited times he is not busy coupling the same things he’s going to couple later.

  19. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    My problem with the idea is that it’s prima facie patent bullshit.

    Dawkins and Harris are terrible at decoupling ideas when they are emotionally invested. Want to talk about feminism to Dawkins? Islamism and “regressive leftism” and all that gets brought up. He sure as heck isn’t going to dispassionately discuss the wage gap as separate from other topics. Want to talk about anything to Harris? He’ll happily bring up countless non sequiturs. Chomsky made simple points to him about moral equivalence and Harris could barely handle it without screeching. Klein pointed out the simple issue that just because you don’t say you’re not doing identity politics doesn’t mean you are and Harris threw a fit. My favorite example is Harris’ interview on Kyle Kulinski’s show. Kulinski gave Harris an incredibly favorable showing and I couldn’t make it past 30 minutes because it was Harris bitching about Greenwald and countless other people, instead of discussing anything of substance, no matter how much Kyle kept trying to get him to do that.

    Everyone s a crappy decoupler when their issues are on the line, when it is something they care about. Emotional intelligence doesn’t lie in pretending that one can dispassionately handle issues because of some great Vulcan-like rationality. It is admitting that an issue is important and that others can validly have different framing and investment. The people who pretend they can decouple well are the people who are the most histrionic.

    And that’s the danger of the skeptic movement as is. It’s full of people who think analytical intelligence compensates for crap emotional intelligence. Anyone who can’t admit that, for example, anything having to do with politics and human affairs is always going to be messy and emotional because people’s lives and well-beings are on the line isn´t a skeptic, they’re deluding themselves, and usually being an asshole while doing it.

  20. unclefrogy says

    – everyone, to my knowledge, does accept that IQ is a heritable trait

    how do you come to that conclusion?
    what is IQ?
    is it intelligence? What kind of intelligence is it?
    How much is cultural?
    because what I see as being done is taking the result of some kinds of intelligence, test results, as intelligence without understanding what are the results and what are the “cause” of the results. Further how as intelligence worked out the result that is favored. The favoring of some results of one kind of intelligence over others is also taking place and implied.
    clever writing and word creation very common with the intellectual and the conman.
    uncle frogy

    I inherited property from my mother is that the same ?

  21. brucej says

    @Siggy #2

    Then what? We can select for IQ? Does nobody look up what heritability actually means?

    Mostly these are people whose true understanding of genetics is limited to sweet pea flower colors.

  22. nomdeplume says

    Two kinds of people in the world – those who think there is a simple answer to every complex question, and those who don’t. The “decoupler” business is just a cover for that fact because they don’t want you to see how simplistic their answers are.

  23. doubtthat says

    @unclefrogy

    I think a fair reading of the way too much research done on this subject is that IQ is, in some part, heritable. Whether that has anything to do with “intelligence” or whether IQ is even a meaningful thing are totally valid questions.
    How much is genetic and how much is cultural…well, that’s the point. These fucks don’t know, but the answer is some version of – some of both.
    I think this article sums up the discussion pretty well – born in response to the Harris/Murray collaboration:
    https://www.vox.com/the-big-idea/2017/5/18/15655638/charles-murray-race-iq-sam-harris-science-free-speech

  24. garnetstar says

    Gorski @5, you don’t fit in to what I think of as a high-decoupler, because you do then add in more and more variables and see what changes.

    The understanding of the term that I get, when applied to people like Dawkins and Harris (and the conflict in Harris’ debate with Ezra Klein) is “high decoupler” = “people who think that their own ideas must be right, without checking the data and sometimes without consulting empirical reality.” If data emerges, or has been collected by others, the high-decouplers (so defined) discount it, as their ideas must be right.

    “Low-decouplers”, it would then follow, are those who consult the data and the reality stream and tailor their ideas and propositions accordingly. Who seek out more and better data and empirical evidence, and add it to their thinking.

    So, in Dawkin’s claim that eugenics “works”, the first thing that occurred to me wasn’t that he was recommeding it. The first thought I had was “What do you mean by “works”? Which he hasn’t answered, as he will not consider the data on what exactly can be reliably bred into humans (not that many characteristics that I can think of that aren’t purely physical, phenotypic traits), and what is inevitably extremely impacted by, and sometimes almost wholly the product of, those humans’ society.

  25. seachange says

    I agree with Crip Dyke, but I don’t think there’s any shortsightedness going on. It’s contempt for life.

    The “all lives matter”- and “blue lives matter”- saying folks are adding an imaginary Y of “only” to the statement “black lives matter”, instead of the obvious (if one values life) Y = “also”.

    Because they are of dead certitude in their minds that life actually need need needs to be killed.

  26. says

    Gorsky

    And I am often annoyed with people who cannot decouple things even for the moment, even just to see how the issue changes with each simplification.

    That’s probably because people are already annoyed with all the smarter than thou people who have then gone on to claim that X- is the same as X.
    I’m not saying you do, as you yourself state that the issue changes with the simplification. Which is useful in figuring out how those different factors affect X.
    As CD has said, you cannot say “eugenics would work” and simply leave out all the additional factors that do not exist (hello all controlling space aliens) and that are not possible when talking about humans (hello tendency to fuck around) and then get huffy and puffy when people point that out and claim they’re just incapable of uncoupling.
    +++
    All in all I don’t understand why those people don’t just write bad Science Fiction, develop RPG systems or computer games. That’s a place where they can all hash out their mad scientist fantasies without reality getting in the way.

  27. Evil Dave says

    Giliell‘s comment reminded me of this quote:
    “Mad Science” means never stopping to ask “what’s the worst thing that could happen?
    –From “Schlock Mercenary”‘s “The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries”

  28. says

    Glad to see how quickly this got pegged for the high-good, low-bad rhetorical play (thanks Phil #3). Also nice to see others pick up on the magic ritual, incantation angle. This seems no different from other magical spells in use today like ‘I’m not driving, I’m traveling’ cast by sovcits and ‘I feared for my life’ cast by the stand-yer-grounders.

  29. brucegee1962 says

    The longer I’ve taught, the more I’ve felt that one of the most important parts of critical thinking is being able to move easily between general principles and specific evidence. Way too many people either get stuck in abstracts and always see the forest, never the trees, or else they’re stuck in details and always miss the big picture. “High decouplers” seem to revel in that inability.

    Let’s not talk about “eugenics” as a broad, abstract concept — especially, let’s not talk about it as something that’s a novel idea that’s never been tried before. Let’s also stop using the holocaust as the prime example, because that makes it too easy for them to just say “Oh, well I don’t mean we should murder anyone.”

    Let’s just ask them “Do you support the involuntary sterilization of those labeled as criminals, ‘mentally defective’ or ‘insane’ as the process was carried out in the first half of the twentieth century?” If the answer is “yes” then the conversation can shift to Ethics 101. If the answer is “no” then we can ask what the heck dothey mean?

Leave a Reply