Friday, February 13, 2009
Statistics: a double-edged sword in the War of Ideas
A caveat to the reader: I am not an expert on statistics methodologies. I will be analyzing this issue more as an outsider to the discipline of statistics.
In the realm of statistics on “evils” (for want of a better term), there are two types of statistics:
1) those that measure incidence of accidents—whether that be accidents primarily involving human agency (car accidents, plane accidents, etc.), or those primarily involving natural processes (plagues, disease, storms, and other so-called “Acts of God”);
2) those that measure incidence of crimes.
The second type of statistics may be further broken down, distinguishing:
a) “ordinary” crimes that reflect only the pathologies of various individuals and are thus part of the unfortunate but tolerable because unavoidable crimes that afflict all societies to one degree or another;
b) “cultic” and/or organized crimes that reflect on the pathologies of certain groups or groupuscules in society;
c) a more generalized sociopathology indicative of some kind of “disease” in a society or a culture, and thus broader and deeper in nature than (a) or (b).
It is within the domains of 2(b) and especially 2(c) that we start moving into very fuzzy, amorphous, ambiguous territory where certain factors are difficult to pin down with scientific precision. With 2(c), for example, we run into the paradoxical dynamic by which, the broader the “disease” being posited, the less able are we to target specific culprits. Needless to say, this paradoxical difficulty does not prevent some proponents who have an ulterior agenda from more or less ignoring that difficulty and going ahead to target a generalized category of specific culprits anyway. Nor, in our irrational times, does it prevent certain proponents from indulging in the hypocritical contradiction of selective generalization and selective targeting—whereby they have no qualms about, for example, targeting all Catholic priests as “pedophiles”, but become suddenly very fastidious about the need to avoid generalizations about an uncomfortably large number of Muslims based on a “tiny minority of extremists”.
The War of Ideas relating to the problem of Islam is a war whose most important dimension is internecine—i.e., intra-Western, waged by those in the West who are anti-Islam vs. those in the West who persistently defend Islam in one way or another. In the context of this dimension, those latter Westerners who tend to persistently defend Islam will either overtly, or implicitly, have recourse to a tactic that confuses the two types of statistics mentioned above—on one level confusing #1 and #2, and on an additional level confusing 2(a) with 2(b) & 2(c).
In this process of confusion, the singular (if not unique) features indicated by 2(b), as well as 2(c), are subsumed under the more generic qualities manifested by #1—and/or by 2(a)—and by being so subsumed, would be smoothed out of existence.
According to the first type of this tactic, the pathologies manifested by the violent and extremist behaviors and speech of certain Muslims is deemed to be of no greater concern than statistics about any evil in society—whether that be hurricanes, ebola virus, or plane accidents, etc. This particular type of irrational tactic requires some careful rebuttal by which the difference between human agency and general accidents is argued.
If the PC MC person acknowledges defeat at this stage, he will usually shift to the second type of tactic: trying to argue that the pathologies manifested by Muslims are indicative only of a small segment of Muslims and no more representative of Muslims in general than were, for example, the pathologies of the Mafia representative of Italian-Americans in general. A typical PC MC response in this context is the “but all societies have violence” response. A rebuttal of this line of defense requires even more careful elaboration than the previous and, unfortunately, we do not have enough dots to make the connections in terms of clear persuasion: it breaks down to being disposed to making inferences based upon a large amount of data bearing certain qualitative features—such as 1) global dispersion, 2) religious justification in both religious practice, expressions and texts, 3) surveys of Muslims which indicate majorities who espouse Islamic extremism (such as, for example, support for the death penalty for "blasphemy" against Mohammed), and 4) broad-based sociological distribution of types of perpetrators. This is persuasive to the rational mind relatively unemcumbered by the PC MC paradigm, but unfortunately allows enough loopholes and wiggle room to be exploited by the PC MC people with regard to a margin of error and what they think is reasonable doubt.
Even if, by some miracle, the PC MC person concedes the existence of an inordinate degree, dispersion and quality of Islamic violence, he is not done in his tap-dancing prevarication: he will then shift to the next phase of denial, availing himself of sociopolitical, economic, and “cultural” explanations that attempt to dissolve enough of that Islamic violence into amorphous violence whose nature therefore has nothing to do with Islam per se. This in turn requires as much, if not more, carefully elaborate and tedious rebuttals that involve masses of complex fields of data and usually too much time to discuss in any given situation.
One crucial factor in all this is that we in the still inchoate anti-Islam movement are not indicting a mere group or groupuscule: we are indicting a global widely disparate and seemingly diverse population of over one billion people. Even the population of Italian-Americans—whom most everybody concedes would be unfairly lumped in with their Mafiosi bad apples—is a relatively minuscule and delimited population compared with Muslims: and most people would agree that Italian-Americans in general are, despite their Mafiosi bad apples, absolved of the kind of collective guilt which we in the anti-Islam movement dare to apply to the much larger and much more globally dispersed population of Muslims. Of all the factors exploited by the PC MCs, this is probably the most rational and formidable. For one thing, it is an undeniable and massive—albeit only apparent—fact that the vast majority of Muslims are not actually doing or saying anything pathological (other than, of course, supporting their essentially pathological Islam). Our position in the still inchoate anti-Islam movement, therefore, must be inferred from a pattern of facts which, although constituting a massive mountain of variegated data, suffers from numerous lacunae: it cannot be simply demonstrated as fact. One needs to have the "mental pencil" (as Hugh Fitzgerald put it) to connect the thousands of persuasive, albeit disparate, dots.
Another crucial factor that is not rational but is nevertheless powerful in the PC MC mind, is the racial complexion of the population under consideration—i.e., of most Muslims. Because the vast majority are non-whites, and furthermore non-Western (adding the spice of another “culture” to the equation), Muslims qua Muslims acquire automatic and immediate immunity according to the PC MC paradigm. This adds irrational weight to the more rational objection above, making it just that much harder to change the PC MC mind. A further irrational twist to this is that PC MC in recent years has been privileging Muslims over all other non-white non-Western peoples—mainly because unlike other non-white non-Western peoples, Muslims throw constant tantrums and imbue our sociopolitical atmospherics with an implicit threat of violence generated both by implication and by actual violent attacks. There is no other non-white non-Western people from whom we have to fear that if, for example, our book store publishes a book that might “offend” them, it might well be blown up by a suicide bomber, or members of its staff murdered, or somehow otherwise violently targeted. Innumerable similar examples of this type of atmosphere of threats and fear could be adduced—all radiating from the Islamic nebula, and none from any other culture (and certainly not from any other religion) on Earth.
Statistics on Islamic pathologies is our only ammunition for the particular problem, in the context of educating and persuading our own fellow Westerners, of expanding the problem of Islam from a few bad apples of a “tiny minority of extremists” to a generalized problem of Islam itself and of all Muslims who follow Islam.
Unfortunately, this ammunition suffers from an insufficiency in delivering unequivocal certitude, due to two factors: 1) the massively ostensible fact that the vast majority of Muslims are not doing or saying anything problematic; and 2) the inherent complexity of the data about Islam, about the Muslims who are doing and saying problematic things, and about the intrinsic essential connections between those particular Muslims and Muslims in general insofar as the latter are following, or even merely enabling, Islam.
We in the still inchoate anti-Islam movement, thus, are faced with a formidable uphill battle of years, if not decades, of a slow, tedious, frustrating process of sociopolitically broad persuasion that only by a slow stillicide of chipping away at the PC MC paradigm that is mainstream and dominant will eventually help to dismantle it once and for all with regard to the problem of Islam. Since that paradigm is the single most important and influential obstacle preventing the West from rationally assessing and acting upon the problem of Islam, that problem will likely never be adequately managed as long as that paradigm stands as mainstream and dominant. In this process, statistics will be an ambiguous tool, serving both our cause and the stubbornness of those among us in the West who will continue to resist our cause.
It is imperative, therefore, in the interest of sharpening our side of the blade, so to speak, of this double-edge sword, that we pursue this process with utmost care about the accuracy of our facts, and with utmost concern about the organized development of our presentation of those facts—a presentation that must balance a univocal simplicity with sufficient documentation. In this latter regard, we desperately need a definitive and comprehensive, yet ruthlessly concise, Manual on the Problem of Islam. But that is another discussion, about which I have written elsewhere.