Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Better Angels & Why Nothing Works

Unlike most of the evo-psycho bros discussed in this series, Steven Pinker readily admits to the particular difficulties of black people in the United States. In his Better Angels book he writes:
The decivilizing effects hit African American communities particularly hard. They started out with the historical disadvantages of second-class citizenship, which left many young people teetering between respectable and underclass lifestyles just when the new antiestablishment forces were pushing in the wrong direction. They could count on even less protection from the criminal justice system than white Americans because of the combination of old racism among the police and the new indulgence by the judicial system toward crime, of which they were disproportionately the victims. 126 Mistrust of the criminal justice system turned into cynicism and sometimes paranoia, making self-help justice seem the only alternative. 127 
So far so good. But then he switches to the magic of marriage:
On top of these strikes came a feature of African American family life first pointed out by the sociologist Daniel Patrick Moynihan in his famous 1965 report, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, for which he was initially vilified but eventually vindicated. 128 A large proportion (today a majority) of black children are born out of wedlock, and many grow up without fathers. This trend, already visible in the early 1960s, may have been multiplied by the sexual revolution and yet again by perverse welfare incentives that encouraged young women to “marry the state” instead of the fathers of their children...  All those young men who aren’t bringing up their children are hanging out with one another competing for dominance instead... the women lacked the bargaining power to force the men into a civilized lifestyle. 
As we've seen, although Pinker points to low rates of marriage as the cause of higher violence he can't point to high rates of marriage as the cause of lower violence because marriage rates were higher during the 1960s and then as marriage rates went down, so did crime rates.

Not every social theorist is as feeble as Steven Pinker, although few are as famous as Steven Pinker. In his book "Why Nothing Works" Marvin Harris also discusses the Moynihan theory:
...Lacking a proper “role model,” black youths drop out of school and follow a career of delinquency and crime. Daniel Moynihan used this line of reasoning to reach his controversial conclusion that the way to solve the problems of the inner cities was to concentrate on building stable home lives for ghetto youngsters... but do blacks have such high unemployment rates because they have so many fatherless families or do they have so many fatherless families because they have such high unemployment rates? 
In my view it is unemployment that causes the fatherless family, not the fatherless family that causes unemployment. Numerous anthropological studies have shown that mother-centered, father-absent families occur wherever men have trouble finding steady jobs and women can earn as much as or more than men.  
If men are frequently out of work, and make too little to support a family when they do work, it does not pay for a woman who has an income of her own to commit herself permanently in marriage to one man. She is better off keeping her options open and accepting male consorts in temporary liaisons, letting them live with her when they can make supplementary contributions to the household, and putting them out of the house when they become a burden. 
 Quoted above, Pinker mentions 'perverse welfare incentives that encouraged young women to “marry the state” instead of the fathers of their children.'

In this Harris agrees, but while Pinker just tosses off a half-sentence, Harris goes on for many pages explaining what those perverse welfare incentives are and exactly how they work. As a result of all that analysis Harris realizes that the fatherless issue was not because women were romantically disadvantaged by the sexual revolution, but rather:
...AFDC with all of its penalties and humiliations looms as the best of a lot of bad bargains. Opting for a career as an AFDC mother provides inner-city women with an income that is at least sufficient for renting an apartment. This not only assures them that they will have a place to live, but it gives them a considerable amount of leverage in interpersonal affairs, especially with inner-city men who often lack a place to sleep.  
Since AFDC women are automatically entitled to medicaid, free medical care is an additional inducement for getting on AFDC (although I would not want to include forgone medical bills in calculating AFDC family income the way some economists do as proof that AFDC benefits are set too high—families cannot eat a paid doctor’s bill). 
In a world without stability and assets, AFDC therefore is a kind of nest egg, a vital resource that puts women and motherhood at the center of things. Inner-city men respect women who have this resource; they vie with each other for their favors. And by having children with them the men establish a claim on the shelter which women control...
In spite of what many American conservatives believe, AFDC is not only for black people. As a struggling young single mother I also once received AFDC, and I am from a working class white family with two parents.

In Better Angels, Pinker dismisses the role of unemployment in 1960s violence:
The rebounding of violence in the 1960s defied every expectation. The decade was a time of unprecedented economic growth, nearly full employment, levels of economic equality for which people today are nostalgic, historic racial progress, and the blossoming of government social programs, not to mention medical advances that made victims more likely to survive being shot or knifed...
But Harris explains that was not the case for blacks concentrated in large cities:
...during and after World War II blacks migrated in unprecedented numbers from farms to cities in search of union-wage factory jobs. 
This was scarcely a voluntary movement since it coincided with the end of the epoch of small farms and with the final stages of the industrialization of agriculture. But it was precisely during this same period that the great shift from goods production to service-and-information production was taking place. 
This resulted in a massive pile-up of unemployed black workers inside the run-down cores of the nation’s largest cities. Why wasn’t this great army of unskilled workers called upon to take part in the explosive expansion of the new information-and-people-processing economy? Because, as we already know, the growth of the service economy coincided with—was predicated upon—the mass conversion of the reserve army of white housewives from baby production and services in the home to the production of services and information away from home...
...Between 1974 and 1977, while the proportion of new jobs acquired by white women in the private sector increased by 72 percent, the proportion acquired by black men decreased by 11 percent. As white women intensify their struggle to achieve parity with males at all levels of the workforce, they are not only dimming the prospects for black males to find dead-end jobs as clerks, secretaries, hot dog vendors, and filling station attendants, but they are rapidly eroding the gains made by black men during the 1960s in good jobs at middle management levels. 
So to sum up Harris's argument:
  1. In the 1940s blacks began to migrate to cities in search of jobs.
  2. They had to compete with white women who had also begun to search for jobs.
  3. Employers preferred the usually better-educated white women to blacks.
  4. Black unemployment lead to a dependence on welfare.
  5. Welfare's "perverse incentives" made two-parent families impossible.
  6. Blacks were less likely to get married.
Unemployment is related to crime. As Harris writes:
I have to take note of a body of scholarly opinion which claims that poverty in general has little to do with the high rate of criminal violence in the United States and therefore that black unemployment and poverty are not sufficient in themselves to account for the extraordinarily high rates of black crime.  
True enough, if one simply compares crime rates by states or cities, those with low per capita incomes do not necessarily have high rates of criminal violence. But the poverty of the black ghetto is different from the poverty of rural whites or of an earlier generation of urban ethnics.  
Unlike the rural poor, inner-city blacks have the opportunity as well as the motive to commit violent crimes. The city is an ideal setting for finding and surprising one’s victims and successfully eluding the police. One can scarcely mug a farmer in a cornfield and expect to get away with it.  
Also, unlike the European immigrants of previous generations, with the passage of time blacks have become more and not less concentrated inside their ghettos. The lesson of the four decades since 1940 is that only a tiny percentage of blacks born in the inner cities will ever earn enough money to participate in the American dream. Under these conditions, the benefits of criminal behavior easily outweigh the risks of getting caught and being sent to jail.  
John Conyers, himself a member of the black congressional caucus, writes: “When survival is at stake, it should not be surprising that criminal activity begins to resemble an opportunity rather than a cost, work rather than deviance, and a possibly profitable undertaking that is superior to a coerced existence directed by welfare bureaucrats.”
For many black youths there is no opposition between crime and a career. Crime is their career. That is the main reason, it seems to me, why 70 percent of blacks who have gone to jail once will go to jail at least once again.
The excellent Rick Burns series on New York explains how blacks became more concentrated inside ghettos, starting with the Depression, then made worse by racist government policies.

From Marvin Harris we get fully-explained, carefully reasoned explanations based on a single coherent research strategy - cultural materialism.

From Steven Pinker we get contradictory tossed-off explanations that use an eclectic mix of cultural materialism, idealism (idealism in the sense that ideas drive culture) and of course sociobiology.

Pinker uses the "young male competition" theory of Daly and Wilson based on work by Napoleon Chagnon, studying the Yanomami - which R. Brian Ferguson demonstrates doesn't even show what Daly and Wilson claims.

Though I am skeptical of theories of parental influence that say that fatherless boys grow up violent because they lack a role model or paternal discipline (Moynihan himself, for example, grew up without a father), widespread fatherlessness can lead to violence for a different reason. 130 All those young men who aren’t bringing up their children are hanging out with one another competing for dominance instead. The mixture was as combustible in the inner city as it had been in the cowboy saloons and mining camps of the Wild West, this time not because there were no women around but because the women lacked the bargaining power to force the men into a civilized lifestyle.
Pinker blames the perverse incentives of the welfare system but then ignores what actually happens in the welfare system and instead falls back on a sociobiology theory about women lacking "bargaining power."

As Harris demonstrated, thanks to the AFDC system it was the women who were reluctant to get married and trade the dependable AFDC income for the undependable income of sometimes unemployed men.

Pinker presents ideas that often don't explain anything and don't fit together as a coherent whole. So eventually he has to give up and fall back on the omnipotence of thought. We'll talk about that next.