The Fallacy of Context Omission

Black bloc

[Black bloc in Heiligendamm, 2007, source]

A Croatian protester, , has arrived in Hamburg to protest the G20 summit and doesn't like the security precautions:

Arriving in Hamburg this week feels like entering a dystopian nightmare. As the city prepares to host the G20 summit this Friday and Saturday, many roads are blocked and high-security zones have been established. More than 20,000 police, many heavily armed, are patrolling the streets, backed up by drones and the latest surveillance technology. Helicopters are permanently “parked” in the clouds, so the sound of their rotors becomes a sort of background music you soon stop noticing. Perpetual police and ambulance sirens, emergency lights and water cannons accompany the orchestra of power.

This is an example of a type of argument I find especially irritating. As everyone who even briefly follows the news knows, there is a reason for these security precautions. And not just because there are a lot of powerful people at summits.

The reason is that, in 2007, the G8 held a summit in Heiligendamm, Germany. Germany is a favorite target for demonstrators, because it's easily reachable from all over Europe and has liberal laws on freedom of protest. Thousands of protesters, including at least 2,000 violent black-bloc militants, descended on that city. The result was burning cars and barricades, violent clashes, thousands of injuries on both sides (g) and millions in property damage. (Reliable estimates are hard to come by, because the Wikipedia entries on the 2007 G8 protests seem to be lively battlegrounds of editing and counter-editing.)

In other words, the G8 summit in Germany in 2007 turned into a violent catastrophe during which only random chance prevented loss of life. To prevent a recurrence, German security officials have instituted tight security for all later summit meetings, resulting in a much lower level of violence and destruction.

However, Horvat never mentions this context. He wants us to obediently shudder in horror at terrifying, Orwellian security precautions, without mentioning why they were taken. He apparently wants us to pretend the black bloc doesn't exist, and/or that the authorities shouldn't respond to their violence.

This is what I call the Fallacy of Context Omission. It doesn't seem to quite fit in with any existing recognized fallacy, but perhaps I missed something. The structure is simple: You decry a controversial state of affairs, and invite the reader to become morally outraged about it, without mentioning the context that led to the state of affairs and provides a rationale for its existence.

Examples:

Situation: Overpopulation of deer is causing serious problems, so authorities issue more deer permits.

Invitation to moral outrage: "The authorities have authorized a massacre of innocent deer because they despise animals!"

Situation: Cops put up more radar checkpoints because traffic accidents have risen significantly.

Invitation to moral outrage: "The cops are taking away our freedoms because they need more cash from fines!"

Situation: Heroin deaths and public drug use have increased, so the city creates methadone clinics and safe rooms.

Invitation to moral outrage: "The city authorities are subsidizing drug use!"

You get the picture. This fallacy shows a contempt for the reader's intelligence and understanding, since it presupposes (or demands) the reader's ignorance of obviously relevant facts.

The irony is that Horvat is a philosopher, so you would ordinarily assume he would be more attuned than most people to the need to avoid fallacies. But alas, he's the kind of philosopher who is more likely to "interrogate" logic than to use it.


How Fake is American Niceness? How Is American Niceness Fake?

Two chatty German Youtube girls who live in Texas discussing whether American niceness is fake.

Ask any European who's been to America (except New York, and sometimes even then) what their impressions are, and "niceness" will be one of the first things they mention. Strangers smile, ask how you're doing, sometimes call you "honey". Most Europeans instinctively find this insincere, and ascribe it to superficiality and/or with corporate pressure to present a chipper, eternally happy exterior. Others see it as hypocritical. An American English professor makes the argument in the Washington Post:

In fact, Trump epitomizes the conventional version of American niceness, which assumes that Americans are fundamentally decent and benevolent people with the best of intentions, whose acts of aggression are reluctant and defensive necessities designed to protect us. (Or, as the office of first lady Melania Trump put it in response to the president’s latest Twitter tirade: “When her husband gets attacked, he will punch back 10 times harder.”)

In a sense, this is quintessential American niceness: a tendency to insist on one’s own affability and friendliness while dismissing all unwarranted or unnecessary acts of cruelty as necessary evils. This is the kind of amiability that obscures the shadowy side of American life. On the other hand, Americans have also historically attempted to transform our niceness into a national attitude rooted in justice and mutual respect by acknowledging American cruelty and using it as an impetus to live up to an ideal of moral integrity based on the courage to tell the truth.

In the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville was among the first to comment on American amiability, comparing it with the “unsociable mood of the English.” In the 1840s, Charles Dickens, who couldn’t imagine an Englishman being happy living in the United States, nonetheless described Americans as “friendly, earnest, hospitable, kind.” By the end of the 19th century, the link between Americans and niceness had become accepted tradition, with Rudyard Kipling noting in 1891: “It is perfectly impossible to go to war with these people, whatever they may do. They are much too nice.”

Americans themselves regarded their famed niceness as the cornerstone of a democratic personality. The actress and writer Kate Field remarked in 1873: “To try to please everybody, is democratic; to be indifferent to everybody is aristocratic: consequently, Americans, men and women, are the best bred people in the world.” As a refreshing alternative to European stuffiness, American niceness conveys democratic informality while sustaining the myth of American exceptionalism: Americans are not just nice but the nicest people on earth. As Walt Whitman once put it, Americans are “the peaceablest and most good-natured race in the world.”

Since the 19th century, Americans’ belief in our own niceness has never wavered. Yet even then, American niceness obscured a tendency to refuse accountability for aggression and offense — and even unspeakable cruelty.

Europeans have two different "niceness" problems with the US.

The first is that the niceness is fake.

I don't think this problem is very important. American niceness is just being pleasant, friendly, and obliging to random people you meet. This is one of those common things, an accurate stereotype. Especially in really nice places, like the South, people are indeed damned friendly and helpful. 

This sort of ordinary, everyday niceness is, in my view, an unambiguously good thing. It just makes life easier for all concerned. Who cares if it's superficial? I take a consequentialist view of this kind of niceness: if it works, it's good.  A world in which everyone constantly expressed their deepest, most honest reactions would quickly drown in blood. Niceness is great social lubricant, every society should aspire to as much of it as possible.

That being said, the American advantage here isn't that great. When it comes to niceness, there is probably a bigger niceness gap between urban and rural people in any one country than there is between people in general in different countries. Berlin, New York, Paris, London -- you're not going to be showered in gooey, spontaneous affection in any of these places. But in rural Germany and France -- and even in fairly large cities  -- people are quite friendly, as long as you at least try to speak their language and observe common behavioral norms.

The other kind of niceness problem is not that the niceness itself is fake, but that it is somehow hypocritical or inconsistent. This is a somewhat more sophisticated niceness critique, and the one that's being made in this op-ed. This one goes: "Oh sure, Americans are nice and friendly to other Americans or to 'acceptable' kinds of strangers such as tourists, but this is just an attempt to paper over inequality, racism, and militarism. Who cares how nice Americans are in America while their government is dropping more explosives on Cambodia than all the Allies used during all of World War II? Who cares whether that guy in the truck gave you a ride to the next gas station when he supports capital punishment and has Trump stickers all over his bumpers?"

This is a more serious objection, but it's not really logically consistent. The bombing of Cambodia had nothing to do with being friendly and helpful to strangers. The bombing of Cambodia would not have been more or less acceptable if Americans had been ruder at home. What these Europeans are complaining about is not American "niceness", but American moral posturing as the "shining city on the hill" which is a beacon unto the nations and the most morally upright of countries, etc. And to that extent, they're on solid ground. Too many Americans swallow this sort of guff about their country.

The association comes from the fact that the people most likely to uncritically swallow (only positive) American exceptionalism also tend to be really nice. But they're not nice because they believe in an air-brushed version of American history. You can like them for being nice while rejecting their blinkered opinions.


In Which I Admire Millions of Tiny German Lawsuits And Annihilate Several Canards About the Law

The U.S. is famous in Germany for its 'runaway' juries which hand down zillion-dollar lawsuits against poor defenseless companies. Yet, as I told my dumbfounded students, Germany is a far more litigious society than the USA. In fact, according to a book-length 1998 study, Germany is the most lawsuit-happy country on earth:

Country Cases per 1,000 Population

• Germany 123.2
• Sweden 111.2
• Israel 96.8
• Austria 95.9
• U.S.A. 74.5
• UK/England & Wales 64.4
• Denmark 62.5
• Hungary 52.4
• Portugal 40.7
• France 40.3

My German students were dumbfounded by this fact. Most of them got their image of the world from the mainstream press. And, as usual, German journalists tended to obsess over the real or imagined failings of other countries, while remaining ignorant of what was going on in their backyard.

But aside from the good clean fun of this tu quoque response, it's interesting to think about why Germany is so litigious. I think there are 4 main reasons:

  • Legal insurance (Rechtschutzversicherung). Millions of Germans have legal insurance policies that pay for lawyers both to file claims and defend against them. This insurance is affordable because litigation costs in Germany are low. Legal insurance is actually an excellent idea, every country in the world could benefit from widespread legal insurance. What it means in Germany, though, is that if you have a policy, you don't have to think twice about filing a lawsuit. Granted, the lawyer is not supposed to file if you don't have a claim, but many do anyway. Legal insurance also provides a lifeline for many small-time lawyers -- they can patch together a decent livelihood by having a constant docket of 40-50 small time cases going on at any time. None of these cases will generate a huge verdict, but a steady stream of small payments is enough.
  • Lawsuits are a fact of life. Nobody really takes them seriously. If your landlord hikes your rent, you use your legal-insurance lawyer to fight it. The landlord uses their legal-insurance lawyer to defend. After all, if you don't sue, you'll certainly have to pay the extra 10% in rent. If you do sue, you might end up with a discount. The landlord would probably do the same thing in your position, and knows this.
  • Close neighbors make bad blood. Germany is a small country packed with people. Everything you do in public is going to have some effect on your neighbors. If a potted plant falls off your city balcony, it's going to hit someone or something below. If your cat likes to relieve themselves on your neighbor's lawn, they're going to notice. And might just take lethal action. Your barbecue smoke is going to trigger someone's asthma 5 houses down. The list goes on and on. Every German state has a long, complex "neighbor law" (here's the one (g) for my state), and many lawyers do nothing else. And once again, these petty squabbles are going to end up in court because it's so easy to go to court because of legal insurance. 

And finally, no lawsuit is too tiny. As Wagner once said, a German is someone who will always do something for its own sake. Which means Germans will file a suit over anything. Why, here's a story (g) from the excellent criminal-defense blog lawblog. Two retirees went fishing for deposit bottles in Munich, a favorite pastime of poor Germans, or just ones who need some way to fill their days in the fresh air.*

They approached a large man-sized glass-recycling container, whipped out their grabbers, and started fishing around inside the container. Recycling containers are supposed to be reserved for bottles which don't have a deposit on them, like wine bottles. But many people don't care or don't know how to tell a deposit from a non-deposit bottle, and just toss everything in.

Sure enough, our two hunters found 15 deposit bottles with a total value of € 1.44. Two other Germans, who were certainly feeling very German that day, called the police and reported the bottle-fishers for theft. Wait, what? Two people minding their own business, helping recycle glass, augmenting their puny incomes, harming nobody, and their fellow Germans report them to the cops? Welcome to Deutschland, my friends.

Now German prosecutors are obliged to investigate every credible accusation of crime that comes to their attention, the famous "Principle of Legality"**. This they did. The first thing they had to determine was what the value of the theft was. Technically, this was a theft -- once you throw a glass bottle into a recycling bin, it becomes the property of the recycling company. So you might think that the amount of the theft was the deposit value of the bottles. But no! It turns out that the recycling company does not separate out deposit bottles from other ones. Scandalous, I know. So all the bottles just get melted down. The prosecutor asked the recycling firm how much value the bottles would have as recycling material, and the firm said: basically, it's too small to even put a number on.

At this time, the prosecutor chose to halt the proceedings (einstellen) based on the idea that there was no public interest in prosecuting the offenders. The writer at lawblog thinks this was the wrong reason to stop the prosecution -- he thinks a better theory is to deny the people had any attempt to commit theft, because they had no intent to take possession of the bottles -- their ultimate goal was simply to transfer them to a different owner. 

Be that as it may, the main thing to notice here is that several different government employees spent hours of their time and used considerable resources to investigate an accusation of a crime which, at the very most, involved the lordly sum of € 1.44. It's probably only a slight exaggeration to say that the German state spent 1000 times more money investigating the theft than it was actually worth in the first place.

Now, am I going to snigger about this? Of course I am, and so are you. But at the same time, I'm not going to go too far. The most important thing to keep in mind about high numbers of lawsuits is that they are an important sign of social health. In the vast majority of societies, lawsuits are prohibitively expensive and courts are woefully underfunded and corrupt, so nobody trusts them. Germans and Americans trust courts to usually resolve legal disputes in a fair and equitable manner, otherwise they wouldn't seek them out so often. They're right to do so; both the USA and Germany have exceptionally fair and efficient legal systems, despite their imperfections. A fair, professional, and generally non-corrupt legal system is one of humanity's most important achievements, full stop. Most countries don't yet have one. If you happen to live in a country which does, take a moment and thank your lucky stars. 

Continue reading "In Which I Admire Millions of Tiny German Lawsuits And Annihilate Several Canards About the Law" »


Germany's Dumbest Inadvertent Condom-Machine Suicides

There's a show in the United States called "America's Dumbest Criminals", which does what it said on the tin. The show's main fodder is grainy surveillance camera footage, with some "dramatic re-enactments" when that wasn't available. Über-stoned robbers who forgot their wallets at the crime scene or shoot themselves, drunk drivers plowing into anything you can imagine, inadvertent confessions, you name it. The show's tagline was "names have been changed to protect...the ignorant".

I have the feeling this show has probably launched a thousand jargon-clogged dissertations ("Social Exclusion, the Authoritarian Personality, Cognitive Shaming, and the Re/In-Scription of Culpability on the 'Ghost' Body of the Offender in 'America's Dumbest Criminals'"), which we may safely ignore. Germany doesn't seem have an equivalent of this show, but there are plenty of articles (g) and video features (g) with the same theme (some variant of Deutschlands dümmste Verbrecher).

Mocking criminals for their stupidity seems a pretty harmless response to crime. From a criminological point of view, these shows seem to be a useful counterweight to the stereotypical movie portrayal of criminals either as ruthless masterminds (USA) or the hapless victims of psychological disturbance or turbo-capitalism (Germany). In fact, most criminals are neither cunning nor mentally ill, but generally are indeed very, very dumb. Studies from both the US and UK show that prison inmates, on average, have IQs in the mid-80s, about 1 standard deviation below the mean of 100, which is a big difference, and that lower intelligence is associated with more violence among prisoners. I can't find numbers for Germany offhand, but I can't imagine why they would be significantly different.

Which brings us to the guy who blew himself up yesterday in Dortmund. He was trying to rob a Deutsche Bahn ticket machine in Scharnhorst (g) in Dortmund, but instead inflicted "massive facial injuries" on himself and died at the scene. A few years ago, another young man killed himself while trying to blow up a condom machine (g) in sleepy little Borken (pop. 42,000), Germany. 

The first level of stupidity here is that these guys killed themselves. And that's a pretty significant level of stupidity! But the second level is why ticket and condom machines? I travel a lot on the German railways, and trust me, it is the exception to see someone paying for an expensive ticket with cash. Although perhaps the machines aren't cleaned out very regularly, and it piles up. I can't really say, since I've never broken into one.

But a streetside condom machine? I haven't ever seen anyone use one of these, have you? Besides, the maximum value of anything there is usually no more than 6-8 euros for the "luxury items" such as the notorious "Travel Pu**y" (let's keep it clean here, folks) or the "Vibrating Penis Ring"*. I have no idea how much is inside the average German condom machine, but I bet the explosive was probably more expensive. And even if the explosive was made from cheap homemade materials, the risk is obviously fairly astronomical.

Are these criminals really stupid for targeting ticket and condom machines here, or am I missing something?

Continue reading "Germany's Dumbest Inadvertent Condom-Machine Suicides" »


Melania Wasn't "Sad", She was Slavic

During Donald Trump's inauguration, his Slovene wife Melania looked sober and serious most of the time. This has led Americans to believe she was sad, depressed, horrified, anguished, perhaps even trapped in an abusive relationship.

What these slightly fatuous Americans don't understand is that the European conception of personal dignity and institutional respect demands that public figures taking part in official ceremonies look serious at all times. In Europe, there is no penalty for looking stiff, even scowling, during official ceremonies; that's expected. There can be a significant penalty for a smile, or for any sign of levity. So everyone plays it safe and refrains from all except fleeting smiles.

Let me make my point with pictures of Supreme Courts. First, the American:

US Supreme Court

By my count, we have a whopping six smiles: the entire back row (Sotomayor, Breyer, Alito, Kagan) and two in the front (Roberts and Kennedy). Justice Scalia, the balding Italian man sitting next to the black guy, is wearing a sort of half-smile. Justice Thomas, the black guy, is wearing an angry scowl, his resting face, which seems out of place in this photograph, but would be perfectly normal in Europe.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, on the far right, seems to be cringing in terror. In fact, she seems to be looking at the same thing which has attracted Justice Thomas' attention. Maybe this photo was taken just seconds after the naked knife-wielding maniac broke into the photo studio screaming about CIA mind control: so far, only Thomas and Ginsburg notice him. Fortunately, he was tased by security before he could reach the Legal Minds.

Anyhoo, where was I? Oh right, facial expressions. Since Melania is Slovene, here's the Slovenian Supreme Constitutional Court:

Slovene

The first thing you notice about this official picture from the Court's website is how shitty it is. It's only 71 KB in size, and 60% of that is the surroundings. The picture is so crappy that if you zoom in to try to see whether any of the Justices are smiling, their faces devolve into pixelblurs. You get the definite impression that the Justices probably thought the entire idea of having their picture taken is a ridiculous waste of time, and tried to make it as unrevealing as possible. Nevertheless, I think we can still safely say: no open-mouthed smiles, possibly a mild expression of amusement on the woman in the center's face. That's all.

Bundesverfassungsgericht-senat_2

Here's the Second Senate of the German Federal Constitutional Court. Two open-mouthed smiles, the rest tight-lipped neutral expressions. Here's the First Senate:

Bvg_senat_1_2010

One open-mouthed grin. I can't even find a decent group photo of the French Court de Cassation (which has 85 members divided into a bunch of different groups), but the individual photos of the group leaders here (f) feature no open-mouthed smiles I can find.

And just to round things out, the European Court of Justice:

RTEmagicC_European-Court-of-Justice-Members-2013.jpg

A few smiles, a few scowls, but mostly neutral, purposeful expressions.

And in this particular respect, Slavs seem to be even more serious and scowly than Western Europeans. Here's the Polish Constitutional Tribunal:

Members-of-Polands-Supreme-Court

Being a Slav, as they say, is serious business.

So Melania wasn't "sad", you chirpy, fleering American flibbertygibberts. She was just showing respect by adopting a serious Slavic scowl.


Extreme in Germany, Common Sense Elsewhere

"It is both a right and a responsibility of a democratic society to manage immigration so that it serves the national interest."

This is a quote from an American politician.

If you said this on a German talk show in mid-2015, you would have been denounced as a callous xenophobe by all the other panelists: "Immigration law means asylum law, and asylum law is Germany's way of making up for its sordid and horrific history! Germany is literally morally obligated to take in every single refugee in the world if necessary, no matter the consequences -- therefore there can be no upper limit to the number of refugees Germany may have to accept. The idea of letting selfish nationalistic concerns obscure this sacred moral duty is venal."

A lot has happened since mid-2015.

If you said this on a German talk show now, perhaps half the panel would denounce you, the other half might agree. Note that many of the ones agreeing with you now were the same people who attacked you in mid-2015.

The Overton window is shifting. In mid-2017, I predict this sentiment will be mainstream. 

It already is in every other advanced nation on earth.

Oh, and the American politician who said what I quoted above was Barbara Jordan:

BjBarbara Charline Jordan (February 21, 1936 – January 17, 1996) was a lawyer, educator, an American politician, and a leader of the Civil Rights Movement. A Democrat, she was the first African American elected to the Texas Senate after Reconstruction, the first Southern African-American woman elected to the United States House of Representatives. She was best-known for her eloquent opening statement at the House Judiciary Committee hearings on the impeachment of President Nixon, and as the first African-American woman to deliver a keynote address at a Democratic National Convention. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, among numerous other honors. She was a member of the Peabody Awards Board of Jurors from 1978 to 1980. She was the first African-American woman to be buried in the Texas State Cemetery.

In 1994 and until her death in 1996, Jordan chaired the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, which advocated inceased restriction of immigration, increased penalties on employers that violated U.S. immigration regulations. While she was Chair of the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform she argued that "it is both a right and a responsibility of a democratic society to manage immigration so that it serves the national interest." Opponents of modern U.S. immigration policy have cited her willingness to penalize employers who violate U.S. immigration regulations, tighten border security, oppose amnesty for illegal immigrants, [recognize] harm to US citizens in jobs and employment from cheaper illegal alien workers, and clear process for the deportation of legal immigrants.


Why Most of the 2015 Arrivals Will Never Integrate

Sure, people like commenter Ralph concede, letting in all those young males in 2015 without any background checks was foolish, but now we're stuck with them. So we have to "integrate" them into German society. Not to single out Ralph, who's a great guy -- you hear this line on every talk show. It's the standard trade-off for mainstream politicians: "I can no longer credibly defend the 2015 influx. So admitting it was a mistake preserves my credibility. But I can insist that all the problems can be solved by the magic panacea of integration. Of course, I have to add that it will be 'difficult', but I must continue to hammer on it. Because the alternative is too awful to think about."

News from an ambitious longitudinal study of young people in New Zealand give the lie to this optimism:

The research – based on New Zealand data but involving an international team – also revealed that such “high cost” adults can be predicted when as young as three years old from an assessment of their brain health.

The study, which followed around 1,000 children from birth, found that at 38 years of age just 22% of the group accounted for 81% of its criminal convictions, 78% of pharmaceutical prescriptions, and 66% of welfare benefits.

“About 20% of the population is using the lion’s share of a wide array of public services and we found that the same people use most of the national health service, the criminal courts, insurance claims for disabling injury, pharmaceutical prescriptions and social welfare benefits,” said Terrie Moffitt, co-author of the research from Duke University, North Carolina.

...“The implications are that we have really underestimated the long-term benefits of investment in early years education for disadvantaged children, both in terms of the benefits for the children themselves but also in terms of the payback for the public purse,” he said.

At first, this seems to be just routine confirmation of the 80/20 rule of thumb: 20% of the population causes 80% of the crime. 

But notice the implications for Germany. Conditions in every single country from which 2015 migrants arrived are light-years behind stable, prosperous New Zealand. Also, as the study's authors implicitly concede, treatment of these disturbed people when they are adults is generally ineffective. That is why they stress early childhood intervention. There is, of course, a hereditary component which nobody dares to mention, but let's leave that to one side for now.

That is why most of the 2015 arrivals will not integrate into German society: (1) many new arrivals had formative childhood experiences much worse than even the most deprived of the New Zealanders; (2) it is too late to do anything about them by early childhood intervention; and (3) the 2015 arrivals don't have to figure out how to live in their own society, they have to figure out how to live in another, completely different one.

Most of them will fail, of course. Most will not actively harm German society, but they won't contribute anything much, and will be a significant drain on resources.

This is why it's time to step up deportations. Hundreds of thousands of these young males are here for no reason. They are not subject to persecution, have no legal right to be in Germany, and have zero prospects for successfully integrating into and contributing to German society. They should be returned to their homes, families, and communities. The experiment is over.


The Constitution and American Political Culture Will Survive (and Restrain) Trump

Another thoughtful piece putting the Trump win in context by Robert Howse, professor of international law at NYU:

4. Trump correctly gauged based on geographical and demographic factors to whom he would need to appeal  in order to put together a winning coalition.  He grew up in New York in the 60s and 70s, became a niche celebrity figure; he does not have a worked out racialist or authoritarian ideology.  True, he has been a tough and perhaps dodgy businessman (but not dodgy enough ever to face serious criminal consequences); but he has never been a colonel, an agent in the secret police, an operative in an extremist political party or movement, nor even a right wing activist or agitator.  He approached his political rhetoric as would a businessman who has identified the market he needs to succeed with and the slogans that work for the range of consumers within that market.    Trump did not create xenophobic, reactionary voters; nor are there more of them; it is just that Trump and others have figured out how to make political gains by mobilizing them as part of their coalition....

5. Trump was elected fairly.  The Clinton campaign itself made no objection to the result nor any claim of widespread intimidation, vote-rigging or suppression that was material to the outcome. The Clinton campaign was not inequitably deprived of resources or opportunities to make its case....

8.  Don’t forget that there is a diversity of views within liberal democratic constitutionalism about collective identity, diversity, and democracy.  Be very cautious before simply labeling someone who doesn’t share one’s strongly held own view as intolerant, racist, or anti-liberal.

9. Trump’s project of mass deportation of undocumented migrants would, I believe, be a social, economic, and humanitarian disaster. As for the horrific notion of closing the borders to Muslims, it’s already apparently removed from his website. This said, open borders is not and never has been a sine qua non for liberal democratic constitutionalism (the EU experiment not withstanding). Strictly enforcing immigration rules is not inherently illiberal or undemocratic. I’m all for a decent approach that would involve amnesty for undocumented migrants, but people like me still have to bear in mind that there is a rule of law argument behind Trump’s position that forgiveness is unfair to those who have followed the rules and lined up in the queue. I also favor an open approach to legalimmigration and generosity in the reception of refugees.  I think it’s the right thing to do, but it is not dictated by a bedrock commitment to liberal democratic constitutionalism....

12. The United States has always lacked a stable caste of high officials whose calling is absolute loyalty or service to the ruler. Just watch an episode or two of House of Cards or West Wing and you will see that how the President is surrounded by rivals past, present and future; advisers in his own office may well have their own agendas, and everybody is looking out for themselves and looking to the next election.  The Republican Party is fractious, so is the conservative movement in America: they will line up behind Trump only to the extent that serves their interests and values  The checks and balances in the United States political system are not a mere matter of constitutional formalism that could quickly crumble in the presence of a strong man contemptuous of the rule of law, they are deeply embedded sociologically in America’s culture of freedom and self-interested individualism.

13. Demonizing Mr. Trump and attempting to isolate him as beyond the liberal democratic pale is itself contrary to the spirit of liberal democratic constitutionalism. He deserves the respect of office, however much self-control is required to give it to him.  But respect of office is just that, a recognition of his legitimately acquired constitutional role. If Trump starts to act in ways that are threatening to the constitution and its underlying values that respect is forfeited. And impeachment is the ultimate remedy if he acts extra-legally.  Finally, as is often the case, Bernie Sanders puts it best:

To the degree that Mr. Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families in this country, I and other progressives are prepared to work with him. To the degree that he pursues racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-environment policies, we will vigorously oppose him.


Many Anti-Trump Arguments Are Hysteria

Trump is many things, and has said many things, but he's not a fascist, he's not deeply racist (although he has made racist statements), he's clearly no anti-Semite, and his views on immigration aren't far out of the mainstream.

Those of you getting your news from the German media may well be doing spit-take after spit-take, but this thorough and well-documented post from Slate Star Codex checks out all the most extreme claims about Trump and finds most of them overblown. You should read the entire thing, but here are some generous excerpts:

3. Is Trump getting a lot of his support from people who wouldn’t join white nationalist groups, aren’t in the online alt-right, but still privately hold some kind of white supremacist position?

There are surprisingly few polls that just straight out ask a representative sample of the population “Are you white supremacist?”.

I can find a couple of polls that sort of get at this question in useful ways.

This poll from Gallup asks white Americans their support for school segregation and whether they would move out if a black family moved in next door. It declines from about 50% in 1960 to an amount too small to measure in the 1990s, maybe 1-2%, where it presumably remains today.

(this graph also seems relevant to the stories of how Trump’s father would try to keep blacks out of his majority-white real estate developments in the late 60s/early 70s – note that at that time 33% of white families would move out if a black person moved in next door)

Here’s a CBS News poll from 2014 asking Americans their opinion on the Civil Rights Act that legally prohibited discrimination. Once again, the number of whites who think it was a bad thing is too small to measure meaningfully, but looks like maybe 1-2%. Of note, whites were more convinced the Civil Rights Act was good than blacks were, though I guess it depends on the margin of error.

Another Gallup graph here, with the percent of people who would vs. wouldn’t vote for an otherwise-qualified black candidate for President. It goes from 54% in 1968 to 5% in 1999; later polls that aren’t included on the graph give numbers from 4% to 7%, which sounds probably within the margin of error.

This is a Vox poll asking how many people had favorable vs. unfavorable views of different groups. 11% admit to “somewhat unfavorable” or “very unfavorable” views of blacks, which sounds bad, except that 7% of people admit to unfavorable views of heterosexuals by the same definition. This makes me think “have an unfavorable view about this group” is not a very high bar. If we restrict true “white supremacists” to those who have only “very unfavorable” views of blacks, this is 3%, well in line with our other sources.

(of note, 1% of respondents had “never heard of” blacks. Um…)

Maybe a better way of looking for racists: David Duke ran for Senate in Louisiana this year. He came in seventh with 58,000 votes (3%). Multiplied over 50 states, that would suggest 2.5 million people who would vote for a leading white supremacist. On the other hand, Louisiana is one of the most racist states (for example, Slate’s investigation found that it led the US in percent of racist tweets) and one expects Duke would have had more trouble in eg Vermont. Adjusting for racism level as measured in tweets, it looks like there would be about 1 million Duke voters in a nationwide contest. That’s a little less than 1% of voters.

So our different ways of defining “open white supremacist”, even for definitions of “open” so vague they include admitting it on anonymous surveys, suggest maybe 1-2%, 1-2%, 4-7%, 3-11%, and 1-3%.

But doesn’t this still mean there are some white supremacists? Isn’t this still really important?

I mean, kind of. But remember that 4% of Americans believe that lizardmen control all major governments. And 5% of Obama voters believe that Obama is the Antichrist. The white supremacist vote is about the same as the lizardmen-control-everything vote, or the Obama-is-the-Antichrist-but-I-support-him-anyway vote.

(and most of these people are in Solid South red states and don’t matter in the electoral calculus anyway.)

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This gets back to my doubts about “dog whistles”. Dog whistling seems to be the theory that if you want to know what someone really believes, you have to throw away decades of consistent statements supporting the side of an issue that everyone else in the world supports, and instead pay attention only to one weird out-of-character non-statement which implies he supports a totally taboo position which is perhaps literally the most unpopular thing it is possible to think.

And then you have to imagine some of the most brilliant rhetoricians and persuaders in the world are calculating that it’s worth risking exposure this taboo belief in order to win support from a tiny group with five-digit membership whose support nobody wants, by sending a secret message, which inevitably every single media outlet in the world instantly picks up on and makes the focus of all their coverage for the rest of the election.

Finally, no, none of this suggests that Donald Trump is courting the white supremacist vote. Anybody can endorse anybody with or without their consent. Did you know that the head of the US Communist Party endorsed Hillary, and Hillary never (as far as I know) “renounced” their endorsement? Does that mean Hillary is a Communist? Did you know that a leader of a murderous black supremacist cult supported Donald Trump and Trump said that he “loved” him? Does that mean Trump is a black supremacist? The only time this weird “X endorsed Y, that means Y must support X” thing is brought out, is in favor of the media narrative painting Trump to be a racist.

This, to me, is another form of crying wolf. One day you might have a candidate who openly courts the KKK, in the sense of having a campaign platform saying “I like the KKK and value their support”, speaking at Klan meetings, et cetera. And instead, you’ve wasted the phrase “openly courts the KKK” on somebody with a twenty year history of loudly condemning the KKK, plus one weird interview where he said he didn’t know anything about it, then changed his mind the next day and said he hates them.

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6. What about Trump’s “drugs and crime” speech about Mexicans?

Trump said that:

When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

Note how totally non-racist this statement is. I’m serious. It’s anti-illegal-immigrant. But in terms of race, it’s saying Latinos (like every race) include both good and bad people, and the bad people are the ones coming over here. It suggests a picture of Mexicans as including some of the best people – but those generally aren’t the ones who are coming illegally.

Compare to eg Bill Clinton’s 1996 platform (all emphasis mine):

We cannot tolerate illegal immigration and we must stop it. For years before Bill Clinton became President, Washington talked tough but failed to act. In 1992, our borders might as well not have existed. The border was under-patrolled, and what patrols there were, were under-equipped. Drugs flowed freely. Illegal immigration was rampant. Criminal immigrants, deported after committing crimes in America, returned the very next day to commit crimes again. President Clinton is making our border a place where the law is respected and drugs and illegal immigrants are turned away.

Or John McCain in 2008:

Border security is essential to national security. In an age of terrorism, drug cartels, and criminalgangs, allowing millions of unidentified persons to enter and remain in this country poses grave risks to the sovereignty of the United States and the security of its people.

Trump’s platform contains similar language – and, like all past platforms, also contains language praising legal immigrants:

Just as immigrant labor helped build our country in the past, today’s legal immigrants are making vital contributions in every aspect of national life. Their industry and commitment to American values strengthens our economy, enriches our culture, and enables us to better understand and more effectively compete with the rest of the world.

We are particularly grateful to the thousands of new legal immigrants, many of them not yet citizens, who are serving in the Armed Forces and among first responders. Their patriotism should encourage all to embrace the newcomers legally among us, assist their journey to full citizenship, and help their communities avoid isolation from the mainstream of society. We are also thankful for the many legal immigrants who continue to contribute to American society.

When Democrats and Republicans alike over the last twenty years say that we are a nation of immigrants but that illegal immigrants threaten our security, or may be criminals or drug pushers, they’re met with yawns. When Trump says exactly the same thing, he’s Literally the KKK.

7. What about the border wall? Doesn’t that mean Trump must hate Mexicans?

As multiple sources point out, both Hillary and Obama voted for the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which put up a 700 mile fence along the US-Mexican border. Politifact says that Hillary and Obama wanted a 700 mile fence but Trump wants a 1000 mile wall, so these are totally different. But really? Support a 700 mile fence, and you’re the champion of diversity and all that is right in the world; support a 1000 mile wall and there’s no possible explanation besides white nationalism?

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10. Isn’t Trump anti-Semitic?

I feel like an attempt to avoid crying wolf might reserve that term for people who didn’t win an Israeli poll on what candidate would best represent Israel’s interests, or doesn’t have a child who converted to Judaism, or hasn’t won various awards from the American Jewish community for his contributions to Israel and American Judaism, or wasn’t the grand marshal of a Salute To Israel Parade, or…

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14. Haven’t there been hundreds of incidents of Trump-related hate crimes?

This isn’t a criticism of Trump per se (he’s demanded that his supporters avoid hate crimes), but it seems relevant to the general tenor of the campaign.

SPLC said they have 300 such hate incidents, although their definition of “hate incident” includes things like “someone overheard a racist comment in someone else’s private conversation, then challenged them about it and got laughed at”. Let’s take that number at face value (though see here)

If 47% of America supports Trump (= the percent of vote he got extrapolated to assume non-voters feel the same way), there are 150,000,000 Trump supporters. That means there has been one hate incident per 500,000 Trump supporters.

But aren’t there probably lots of incidents that haven’t been reported to SLPC? Maybe. Maybe there’s two unreported attacks for every reported one, which means that the total is one per 150,000 Trump supporters. Or maybe there are ten unreported attacks for every reported one, which means that the total is one per 45,000 Trump supporters. Since nobody has any idea about this, it seems weird to draw conclusions from it.

Oh, also, I looked on right-wing sites to see if there are complaints of harassment and attacks by Hillary supporters, and there are. Among the stories I was able to confirm on moderately trustworthy news sites that had investigated them somewhat (a higher standard than the SLPC holds their reports to) are ones about how Hillary supporters have beaten up people for wearing Trump hats, screamed encouragement as a mob beat up a man who they thought voted Trump, knocked over elderly people, beaten up a high school girl for supporting Trump on Instagram, defaced monuments with graffiti saying “DIE WHITES DIE”, advocated raping Melania Trump, kicked a black homeless woman who was holding a Trump sign, attacked a pregnant woman stuck in her car, with a baseball bat, screamed at children who vote Trump in a mock school election, etc, etc, etc.

But please, keep talking about how somebody finding a swastika scrawled in a school bathroom means that every single Trump supporter is scum and Trump’s whole campaign was based on hatred.

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Whatever bizarre, divisive, ill-advised, and revolting thing you’re about to mention, the answer is probably yes.

This is equally true on race-related and non-race-related issues. People ask “How could Trump believe the wacky conspiracy theory that Obama was born in Kenya, if he wasn’t racist?” I don’t know. How could Trump believe the wacky conspiracy theory that vaccines cause autism? How could Trump believe the wacky conspiracy theory that the Clintons killed Vince Foster? How could Trump believe the wacky conspiracy theory that Ted Cruz’s father shot JFK?

Trump will apparently believe anything for any reason, especially about his political opponents. If Clinton had been black but Obama white, we’d be hearing that the Vince Foster conspiracy theory proves Trump’s bigotry, and the birtherism was just harmless wackiness.

Likewise, how could Trump insult a Mexican judge just for being Mexican? I don’t know. How could Trump insult a disabled reporter just for being disabled? How could Trump insult John McCain just for being a beloved war hero? Every single person who’s opposed him, Trump has insulted in various offensive ways, including 140 separate incidents of him calling someone “dopey” or “dummy” on Twitter, and you expect him to hold his mouth just because the guy is a Mexican?

I don’t think people appreciate how weird this guy is. His weird way of speaking. His catchphrases like “haters and losers!” or “Sad!”. His tendency to avoid perfectly reasonable questions in favor of meandering tangents about Mar-a-Lago. The ability to bait him into saying basically anything just by telling him people who don’t like him think he shouldn’t.

If you insist that Trump would have to be racist to say or do whatever awful thing he just said or did, you are giving him too much credit. Trump is just randomly and bizarrely terrible. Sometimes his random and bizarre terribleness is about white people, and then we laugh it off. Sometimes it’s about minorities, and then we interpret it as racism.

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Why am I harping on this?

I work in mental health. So far I have had two patients express Trump-related suicidal ideation. One of them ended up in the emergency room, although luckily both of them are now safe and well. I have heard secondhand of several more.

Like Snopes, I am not sure if the reports of eight transgender people committing suicide due to the election results are true or false. But if they’re true, it seems really relevant that Trump denounced North Carolina’s anti-transgender bathroom law, and proudly proclaimed he would let Caitlyn Jenner use whatever bathroom she wanted in Trump Tower, making him by far the most pro-transgender Republican president in history.

I notice news articles like Vox: Donald Trump’s Win Tells People Of Color They Aren’t Welcome In America. Or Salon’s If Trump Wins, Say Goodbye To Your Black Friends. MSN: Women Fear For Their Lives After Trump Victory.

Vox writes about the five-year-old child who asks “Is Donald Trump a bad person? Because I heard that if he becomes president, all the black and brown people have to leave and we’re going to become slaves.” The Star writes about a therapist called in for emergency counseling to help Muslim kids who think Trump is going to kill them. I have patients who are afraid to leave their homes.

Listen. Trump is going to be approximately as racist as every other American president. Maybe I’m wrong and he’ll be a bit more. Maybe he’ll surprise us and be a bit less. But most likely he’ll be about as racist as Ronald Reagan, who employed Holocaust denier Pat Buchanan as a senior advisor. Or about as racist as George Bush with his famous Willie Horton ad. Or about as racist as Bill “superpredator” Clinton, who took a photo op in front of a group of chained black men in the birthplace of the KKK. Or about as racist as Bush “doesn’t care about black people!” 43. He’ll have some scandals, people who want to see them as racist will see them as racist, people who don’t will dismiss them as meaningless, and nobody will end up in death camps.


Germans Ignore Dying Man in Bank Despite Law Telling them to Help

Inore

The police in Essen reported (g) on a case in which an 82-year-old man collapsed to the floor of a branch bank in Essen, Germany in early October. At least four people were seen on security cam footage simply walking over his body without offering help or calling an ambulance. The man was eventually taken to a hospital, where he later died. The police are now investigating these persons for failure to render assistance, which is a crime under German law. Section 323c of the Penal Code:

Whosoever does not render assistance during accidents or a common danger or emergency although it is necessary and can be expected of him under the circumstances, particularly if it is possible without substantial danger to himself and without violation of other important duties shall be liable to imprisonment not exceeding one year or a fine.

In common-law countries such as the United States, the law imposes no duty to rescue strangers. As long as you didn't cause the emergency and the bear no special duty to the victim (as a guest or relative, etc.), the law will not punish you for ignoring him. There are a number of justifications for this doctrine, both theoretical (you can't be held responsible for injuries you didn't cause), and moral (the state should trust its citizens to do the right thing uncoerced).

This is one of the most obvious differences between common-law systems and civil-law systems such as the ones in most European countries. When I was teaching, many of my German students professed to find the common-law doctrine shocking or cold-hearted. It's not hard to detect the attitude behind this: the still, small voice in every German's head which whispers: "Despite the recent unpleasantness, Germany is a more decent, moral, caring and sensitive society than all others in the world, except maybe Sweden, but at any rate definitely more caring and 'social' than the selfish, dog-eat-dog United States."

Am deutschen Wesen...*

The students assumed that the existence of a law requiring help made Germany a more caring place, and that it affected Germans' behavior toward one another. This is another typical German attitude -- the notion that once a law has been passed to address a problem, the problem no longer exists.

Alas, I had to shatter their precious smugness idealism.

Studies show that 'duty to rescue' laws have no effect on whether people rescue their fellow humans in need. In the United States, where the law says you don't have to try to rescue people, a huge majority does exactly that, often risking their own lives:

As Table 3 reflects, there are approximately 1003 non-risky rescues (cell 2) and 263 risky rescues (cell 4) per year in the United States. Thus, verifiable rescues outnumber non-rescues by almost 800:1. If one loosens the standard for rescue only slightly, to encompass instances of rescue that were reported in a newspaper but did not pass initial screening by the Carnegie Hero Trust Commission, the ratio increases to approximately 1400:1.

Approximately 100 Americans lose their lives every year as a result of attempting to rescue someone else. Thus, even in the absence of a duty to rescue, deaths among rescuers outnumber deaths attributable to non-rescue by approximately 60:1 every year. Stated differently, there are six times as many rescuer deaths every year as there are deaths attributable to non-rescue in the past ten years combined.

Finally, injury is common among rescuers. Aggregate figures are unavailable, since most of the data sources did not separately track injury, but in those that did and as detailed below, a substantial percentage of risky-rescuers and a significant number of non-risky rescuers were injured – sometimes quite severely.

This isn't to say that Germans are more cold-hearted than Americans. Why, just five days ago, a staff member on a German Rhine cruise ship jumped into the cold water to rescue a woman who had fallen off a bridge into the Rhine (g).

The point is first, that law on the books, as usual, has little to do with what happens in the real world. Second, that laws drafted by tiny commissions staffed by elites (such as law professors) and then passed word-for-word by the national legislature do not necessarily reflect "the values of our civilization".

Points worth remembering!

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