Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Morally Bananas

Van, a co-blogger at Kesher Talk writes of a new study by a Harvard led team of Human Resources researchers who worry that problems may arise from employees who are biased and don't even know it.
[I]t is entirely possible that you and your manager are biased–and that you don't even know it.
He compares this, in effect if not in intent, fairly enough to my mind, to Stalin's charging his enemies with the thought crime of being Trotsky-ites.

Still, I'm a bit taken with the notion of unconscious bias, which does have a place in the study of some of the issues du jour. Sometimes this bias can be so large and so unconscious, it becomes a spectacle in and of itself.

First of all, there is the case of the anti-Israel, anti-Jewish lobby "position paper" by Harvard Professor Stephen Walt and University of Chicago Professor John Mearsheimer, recently published in the London Review of Books, with a longer version released as a Harvard Kennedy School working paper.  

Strangely enough, the position that they take, meets with the perfect approval of Klansmen David Duke, who claims that their position vindicates what he has always stated about Israel and the Jewish lobby.
"I have read about the report and read one summary already, and I am surprised how excellent it is," he said in an e-mail. "It is quite satisfying to see a body in the premier American University essentially come out and validate every major point I have been making since even before the war even started." Duke added that "the task before us is to wrest control of America's foreign policy and critical junctures of media from the Jewish extremist Neocons that seek to lead us into what they expectantly call World War IV."

Mr. Walt said last night, "I have always found Mr. Duke's views reprehensible, and I am sorry he sees this article as consistent with his view of the world."

"I think that the people who wrote that report were working for the interest of the American people," a senior member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood's guidance council, Abdulmo'em Abulfotah, said yesterday. "I ask a question here: Is it in the interest of the American people to clash with 1.3 billion people in favor of 5 million people who represent the Zionist project? Not even the Jews, but the Zionists."
You know something may be a bit off with your argument when your most vocal supporters turn out to be David Duke and the Egyptian Muslim brotherhood. Most likely not the target supporters they were aiming for.

But it does speak volumes...

There is also the case of Yale University's reaction to having a bonafide Taliban supporter and spokesman in their midst. Debate on the issue appears to be verboten by many of the students, as well as the Yale Administration, which has dealt with public criticism by refusing to address the topic.

Invite the Taliban, kick out the US military.

There are students, however, writing in support of Hashemi's presence at Yale. Here's an example, from earlier this month, in the Yale Daily News:
...there is no better way to develop a clearer understanding of our differences and similarities to the Afghani (sic) people than to invite Hashemi to learn in our system. Despite our anxieties, we must maintain the energy and tolerance to seek the origins of other ideologies. If Hashemi's voice were absent from University discourse, we would risk crippling our perception of today's world.

It's amusing then to note, as Penraker points out yet another editorial from the Yale Daily News, from today:
 Is gay marriage immoral? Merely asking the question infuriates many Yale students. In response, they walk away in a huff, angry and indignant -- they don't engage the questioner at all. Those who do engage skirt the content of the question, responding with a theme of their own: "How can you question the personal choices of others?" or "Don't impose your opinions on me!"

...The question is illegitimate only under the condition that a moral standard does not exist. But Yale students are quite committed to the existence of a moral standard. Consider the extensive moralizing on campus: It is wrong to eat a banana that is not fair trade, the administration is wrong with regard to financial aid, a student is in error when he does not recycle, others err in committing theft while riding bicycles, Perrotti is bad if he reports on skin color, the University is bad if it invests in Darfur, the Iranian president is wicked, Larry Summers is misogynistic and so on.
Got that. The existence of a moral standard at Yale is apparent to all and sundry because of the extensive moralizing on campus.

It is wrong to eat a banana that is not fair trade.

And simultaneously:

Hashemi's absence on campus would risk crippling our perception of today's world.

In this case, the scale of right and wrong seems curiously biased towards the show of moral sentiment over moral seriousness. Or, so open-minded that all the polarities appear to be reversed.

A banana becomes a moral issue. But Mr. Hashemi's presence, as a representative of multi-culturalism, is too sacred to judge.

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