Election Reflection V: Philippe Lemoine

Today’s post by Philippe Lemoine (Cornell University) is the fifth post of a six-part series, each featuring invited reflections from a number of right-of-center philosophers. These philosophers are otherwise not associated with Rightly Considered and should not be assumed to hold views expressed by anyone else on this blog.

Philippe Lemoine is a PhD student in Philosophy at Cornell University, where he specializes in the Philosophy of Science.

I was already planning to write a Facebook post about the wave of hate crimes that was allegedly caused by Trump’s election when someone from this blog contacted me to ask me if I’d like to share my thoughts on the election. (So, if this feels like a Facebook post, that’s because it’s one.) I was happy to accept their offer since I’m curious about the kind of hate mail I’m going to receive and because I’m hoping that I might be able to convince one or, if I’m lucky, perhaps two people.

The idea that liberal elites are disconnected from reality is a major theme in post-election reflexions. Nowhere is this more obvious than in academia, where Trump’s election resulted in completely hysterical reactions. I think that most of these reactions are not only stupid, but they also show that American liberals inhabit a parallel universe. I don’t know how much of what you say is just virtue signaling and how much you actually believe, but in any case you really need to stop, because it’s ridiculous. It would take forever to address every nonsensical claim that has been made since Trump’s election, so I’m just going to focus on the seemingly widespread belief that, since Trump won the election, the US is no longer safe for minorities.

Before I do so, let me be clear that I think there are perfectly legitimate reasons to be unhappy about Trump’s victory, especially if you’re a liberal and even if you’re not. For instance, you may think (1) that Trump’s administration is likely to replace Obamacare by a free market alternative and (2) that such a system would be a bad thing. Now, depending on what you mean exactly by a free market alternative, I disagree with (2) and I’m extremely skeptical about (1), but I recognize that reasonable people can disagree about that. What reasonable people can’t disagree about, however, is that Trump’s election does not make the US unsafe for minorities. If you think so, you’re just being irrational, period.

Since Trump won the election, almost everyone on my feed seems to be convinced that buckets of mostly unverified anecdotes, many of which have already been proven to be hoaxes, show that Trump’s victory unleashed a wave of hate crimes in the country… This is so incredibly stupid that, as I already noted, there has to be a lot of virtue signaling in those reactions, but still there are clearly many people who really believe that and are completely freaking out because they do. Some of them even need safe spaces complete with legos, coloring books and play-doh… Are you fucking kidding me!? You can’t even parody these people anymore.

Let me remind you of some basic facts, which hopefully will bring you back to reality, although they probably won’t. According to the NCVS, there was 217,640 hate crimes in 2011, representing 1% of total victimizations. (See here for the data I’m using.) The NCVS is a nation-wide survey based on interviews with close to 150,000 individuals, designed to capture the number and characteristics of criminal victimizations in the US, whether they were reported to law enforcement or not. This contrasts with the data from the UCR compiled by the FBI, which only concern the crimes that came to the attention of law enforcement in one way or another. When people say that they were victim of a crime during the interview for the NCVS, they are asked about their perceptions of the offender’s motivations, which is how the number of hate crimes is estimated.

Note that since the classification as a hate crime by the NCVS only relies on the victim’s perception of the offender’s motivation, it’s possible that the NCVS overestimates the number of hate crimes that actually take place in the US, for a victim may think that the offender was motivated by prejudice even though he wasn’t. Of course, it’s also possible that a victim fails to perceive that the offender was motivated by prejudice even though he was, but I suspect it’s less likely.

Indeed, according to the NCVS, violent hate crimes made up 3.6% of total violent victimizations in 2011. Still according to the NCVS, 54% of violent hate crimes were motivated by racial prejudice, so if that were accurate violent hate crimes motivated by racial prejudice would have represented more than 1.9% of total violent victimizations. A quick search tells me that, according to the NCVS (I think it was still called the NCS back then but whatever), only 17.7% of violent crimes involved a victim of a different race than the offender in 1981. (See Wilbanks, “Is Violent Crime Intraracial?Crime and Delinquency 31 (1985), pp. 117-128. I don’t have time to look for more recent data, although they must be available from the NCVS, but the BJS has made it more difficult to find that kind of data over time and it’s unlikely to have changed very much anyway. It’s a commonplace in criminology that the vast majority of violent crime is intraracial. If you’re interested in that issue, you should also read O’Brien, “The Interracial Nature of Violent Crimes: A Reexamination” American Journal of Sociology 92/4 (1987), pp. 817-835. This article makes a very important point that is often lost on conservatives who talk about black on white crime, but also commits a rather interesting fallacy, which I think makes the conclusion premature. I plan to write another post about this when I have some time.) It follows that, if a victim’s perceptions of the offender’s motivations were always correct, more than 10% of interracial violent crimes would be motivated by racial prejudice. This strikes me as implausibly high, but I admit that I don’t have any evidence to support my intuition and I may well be wrong, so let’s assume that the NCVS is accurate.

As I have already noted, according to the NCVS, 217,640 hate crimes were committed in 2011. This is actually the lowest number for the period considered in the paper I’m using. Over the entire period, the average is 255,082/year. Therefore, on average, almost 700 hate crimes are committed each day. According to the NCVS, the victim is white and non-Hispanic in 65% of cases, which means that almost 244 hate crimes are committed against non-whites/Hispanics every day. This doesn’t include hate crimes committed against white people who are members of a sexual, religious or ethnic minority other than Hispanic. It also doesn’t include hate crimes committed against white people who are disabled, although those seem to be relatively uncommon.

Now, according to the SPLC, 701 hate crimes have been reported in news articles, social media or directly submitted to them between November 9 and November 16, including 27 against Trump supporters. Even if we trust the SPLC, which is probably one of the most epistemically irresponsible thing you can possibly do given that it’s the SPLC, that’s 36% of the number of hate crimes against non-whites/Hispanics and only 12.5% of the total number of hate crimes that are committed on average during that period of time according to the NCVS. Since the article I’m using about the NCVS doesn’t say anything about intimidations, which make up the bulk of the incidents reported by the SPLC, the actual proportion is no doubt much lower than that even if we trust the SPLC. Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, the number of incidents reported by the SPLC has been rapidly dropping since November 9, from approximately 175 immediately after Trump’s victory to less than 15 on November 16. That’s only 6% of the number of hate crimes against non-whites/Hispanics and just 2% of the total number of hate crimes that are committed on average every day.

Of course, those are just a bunch of back-of-the-envelope calculations, but they are quite sufficient to show that we don’t have good evidence that Trump’s election increased the number of hate crimes against minorities. Forget about the causal part of that claim, it’s not even clear that the number of hate crimes has increased since Trump’s election, whatever the reason. Of course, it’s possible that they have, but a lot of things are possible. Fortunately, we don’t write stupid posts about the Kristallnacht on Facebook or run to safe spaces to play with coloring books every time we think something bad might happen, even though we don’t have any good reason to think that it will happen… It’s really amazing how often I have to remind academics, even social scientists, that a bunch of anecdotes can’t support the kind of sweeping causal generalizations they make all the time for ideological reasons.

But let’s even suppose that Trump’s election will result in a massive increase of the number of hate crimes against minorities. Let’s say, for instance, that it will be multiplied by 2, which I think is preposterous. (If you don’t think it’s preposterous and believe that Trump’s election will result in a substantial increase in the number of hate crimes, then please contact me so we can make a bet, I will give you very good odds.) Although the number of hate crimes that are committed every year is very large absolutely speaking, it’s still extremely unlikely that any given person will be the victim of a hate crime any given year. Indeed, 255,082 hate crimes per year — the vast majority of which are not serious violent crimes — may sound like a lot, but there are more than 321,000,000 people in the US and they are a very diverse bunch. According to the NCVS, the prevalence of violent hate crime between 2007 and 2011 was 1/1000 for both Hispanics and blacks, among people aged 12 or older. By comparison, according to the first article I found by doing a quick search on Google, 4.4 million people sustained a traffic-related injury that required a medical consultation in 2015, which corresponds to a prevalence of 13.7/1000.

Thus, even if Trump’s election increased the number of hate crimes against minorities by 2 (which it won’t), a black and/or Hispanic person in the US would still be more than 6 times more likely to be injured in a car accident than to be the victim of a hate crime. (Even if we take into account the fact that I didn’t have data about intimidations when I did those calculations, and make ridiculous assumptions about their prevalence, the conclusion remains essentially the same.) Yet I don’t see anyone freak out because of the possibility that they or someone they know might be injured in a car accident… The fact is that, although many American liberals apparently didn’t get the memo, we are no longer in 1915. Woodrow Wilson doesn’t live in the White House, watching The Birth of A Nation on his spare time. It’s Barack Obama who sits in the Oval Office and he watches 12 Years a Slave. Black people and other minorities still have to face a lot of obstacles in the US, but the ubiquity of hate crimes isn’t one of them and Trump isn’t going to change that.

It took me 30 minutes to do those calculations, which any moron could have done. Again, they’re just back-of-the-envelope calculations, but they nevertheless paint a pretty clear picture. (And, by the way, I think doing this more seriously would probably strengthen my point. For instance, I could show you using the data from the NCVS that white people are significantly underrepresented among people who commit hate crimes, a fact that most of you will probably find hard to believe even though it’s really not that surprising when you think about it for a minute.) But, to be clear, I didn’t need to do those calculations to know that the fear that the US was no longer safe for minorities because Trump won the election was ridiculous. Anyone who lives in the real world already knows that without having to look at the data from the NCVS.

One thing I have heard is that, even if some people’s fears are irrational, it’s never appropriate to judge people’s emotional responses. It’s really amazing that so many people are prepared to make such a preposterous claim. Not only is this a ridiculous view that absolutely no one believes outside of the deranged bubble in which you live, but you don’t even believe it yourself, as can be seen from the fact that you apply it very selectively. There are crazies out there who are genuinely distressed because they think that the government put chemicals in the water to turn their kids into homosexuals. I like to make fun of them, because they’re ridiculous. Do you know how many times I have been told that, even if these people’s fears are irrational, it’s not appropriate to judge their emotional response? Zero time, that’s how many. Am I supposed to believe that you would provide them with safe spaces complete with coloring books, puppies and play-doh? Please. I have no patience for nonsense of any kind. If you behave like a bunch of petulant children, that’s how you ought to be treated. I don’t think people are doing you any favor by indulging the most pathological aspects of your psychology.

I’m also under no delusion that my post is going to have any effect on most of you, because for many American liberals the belief that minorities are under threat from hordes of racists who could at any time start organizing pogroms is basically a religion, which no amount of evidence can possibly undermine. If you want to see how disconnected from reality liberals are when it comes to that issue, you just have to look at the hysterical reactions that a handful of white supremacists generated, after they gathered in DC and made Nazi salutes while congratulating themselves on Trump’s election. The only reason why these morons get any attention is because journalists are trying to hurt Trump by associating him with them. (We have seen how well this strategy worked on November 8, by the way, so I’m sure Trump isn’t going to lose any sleep over this.) But white supremacists have been doing the same thing for years and nobody cared except the SPLC when it needed to convince rich liberal donors to send money. The truth is that white supremacists are politically, culturally and economically irrelevant and Trump couldn’t change that even if he wanted to, which of course he doesn’t. (Scott Alexander recently wrote a very good post about this, which dovetails nicely with a lot of what I say here.) If you don’t understand that, you are just as delusional as them. But delusional you are.

I already know that, after reading this post, you will start nit-picking with some of the things I say in order to save the pillar of your faith. The truth is that, with a few exceptions, liberals just want to believe that most white people are irredeemably racist. They use that hypothesis to explain everything from Trump’s victory to the overrepresentation of blacks in prison. It provides a convenient but simplistic way of making sense of the world, which has the additional benefit of rationalizing their pathological guilt. I would never have thought I would say that a few years ago, when I was still in France, but I really miss old-fashioned Marxists. (I’m not talking about the caricature of Marxism that would-be radicals talk about on American campuses, which almost makes it sound like Marx was first and foremost concerned with the well-being of black transgender women.) They are wrong about the solutions, but their diagnostic of the problems is usually much more penetrating and, at least, they offer the right kinds of explanations. (Explanations that rely on implicit bias, for instance, don’t fall under that category.) I’ll take that any day over the cluelessness of American liberals, with their psychologizing of socio-economic issues and their moralizing of politics.

Natural Lawyer

Natural Lawyer is the lead editor of Rightly Considered. He teaches philosophy somewhere in the southwestern United States.

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  1. My department has decided that the university’s pathetic post-election lamentation isn’t enough. So there’s going to be a philosophy department statement of support for minorities in this dangerous time. And it was pointed out in the department meeting that other departments would have statements of their own. We wouldn’t want our language to seem less bold, less fully committed to minorities, than others department, now would we? Somehow I doubt that Trump supporters will be named among the targeted groups, though the they have been targeted.

    • I didn’t even know that some departments had released such a statement. (But it’s true that I haven’t had time to read philosophy blogs lately.) I don’t know what it is with philosophers and this irrepressible need to make statements all the time.

  2. Strong article. I have one nit to pick. You write, with respect to so called “white guilt”, that “It provides a convenient but simplistic way of making sense of the world, which has the additional benefit of rationalizing their (the white liberal’s) pathological guilt.”

    Based upon my experience, and my acquaintance with social psychological research done by people like Haidt, et al., I don’t think that “pathological guilt” is an accurate description of the phenomenon of so-called “white guilt.”

    White liberals do not, typically, exhibit any signs of self-directed blame or shame. White guilt is first and foremost a critical moral posture directed at other whites, usually those of lower socioeconomic status or those who adopt the “wrong” set of moral and political beliefs. Denunciation of white privilege by whites serves to signal the liberal’s “superior” moral status and her membership in a race transcending moral tribe of enlightened cosmopolitans. It is not real guilt- it purports to be self-effacing but it is in fact other-effacing. It is directed at one’s own “group” but never with any sense that the white “group” is the liberal’s most fundamental identity.

    It is at bottom a form of moral peacocking and in-group/out-group signalling and in most cases and doesn’t rise to the level of genuine guilt.

    • I don’t know, I’m sure what you say is true in many cases, but I really think that often it’s not just a form of moral peacocking.

  3. A friend made what I take to be a fair point on Facebook when I posted this, and we had a brief exchange which I think usefully clarifies my position, so I figured I would post it here as well. I anonymized his name since I don’t know if he’d be okay with it.

    X: theres one part of your post that i strongly disagree with: the comparison to automobile accidents. IF the chance of being subjected to a hate crime has doubled, that is heinous, regardless of how it compares to the rate of auromobile accidents.

    Me: I don’t disagree with that, but nothing I say implies that I do. My point is only that, given how low the prevalence of hate crimes currently is, *even if Trump’s election multiplied it by 2*, it would still not be true that the US is not safe for minorities. Of course, Trump’s election won’t multiply the number of hate crimes by 2, so this is not a crucial point anyway.

    Me : It’s kind of like when people say that we shouldn’t eat meat because it increases your chances of getting some kinds of cancer by 50% or something like that. But the base rate is so low that it’s not a good reason not to eat meat. (Of course, if you already disapprove of eating meat for other reasons, you may take that as an extra reason not to eat meat.)

    X : yeah i dont agree with that analogy either. safety is not a scalar value. what people regard as being “safe from x” is not necessarily the same maximal per capita rate as what they regard as “safe from y”. this is not always unreasonable.

    Me : I agree that it’s sometimes reasonable, but only when x is typically worse than y or the other way around. In this case, I think one would have a hard time showing that traffic-related injuries are typically not as bad as hate crimes, which is what would have to be shown. Indeed, I’m pretty sure it would be easy to show that the opposite is true, because car accidents kill a lot of people and leave a lot of them seriously handicapped, whereas hate crimes kill only a handful of people every year and I doubt they leave a lot of victims paralyzed, at least not compared to car accidents.

    X : i was assuming that was held constant. i think given the choice between a fractured eye socket from a car crash, from a mugging, and from a racist hate crime, its not irrational to believe A>>B>>C

    Me : Sure, I’m not assuming that only the physical severity of the injury counts toward determining how bad it is, but it’s still part of the determination and I’m pretty sure that injuries sustained in a car accident are on average more severe than injuries resulting from a hate crime or, at least, that there is a subset C of traffic-related injuries such that |C| is greater than the number of hate crimes and that injuries in C are on average *significantly* worse than injuries resulting from a hate crime. Moreover, even if it were true that on average hate crimes are all things considered worse than traffic-related injuries (which may or may not be true, I don’t think it’s obvious either way), so that the number of hate crimes per capita below which people are considered safe from hate crime is higher than the number of traffic-related injuries below which people are considered safe from traffic-related injuries, traffic-related injuries are still way more common than hate crimes. So if people are considered safe from car injuries, we have to make very strong assumptions about how much worse than traffic-related injuries hate crimes are on average for people not to be considered safe from hate crimes.

    He also made the point that the desire to virtue signal actually produces beliefs in many cases, which I think is definitely true, so I’m happy to admit that the dichotomy I suggested in my post was misleading in that regard.

  4. Hi,

    I noticed your data set is from 1981.. the data set outlining the percentage of interracial violent crime… Has it gone up or down? And why not use a more recent data set?

    • I tried to find more recent data on this, but after a quick search I wasn’t able to find any and, as I explain in my post, I didn’t have time to do a more thorough search. So I used the data from 1981 reported in Wilbanks’s paper, because I had already read it and had it on my computer. The relevant crosstabs, as far as I can tell, are no longer published by the BJS and haven’t been for a very long time. But the information must be available, so if you email the BJS, they will probably send it to you. I contacted them a few times because I couldn’t find some information I wanted and they always replied to me eventually. Please let us know if you find it, I would also be curious to know. I don’t know whether it has gone up or down, but either way I would be surprised if it had changed much.

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