These are my writings. Ideally, these are the most honest expressions of myself that I could give.

Considering Canaries: Reconceiving of African-American Social Movements and How the Power Elite Influence the Racial Narrative

While many Americans rightly complain of a lack of political options, African-Americans are essentially left to choose between Democrats, who do a poor job of fighting for African-American issues, Republicans, who make no attempt at fighting for African-American issues, and abstaining from political participation altogether, but this has not always been the case1.

There is a high degree of social cohesion among African-Americans, informed by shared realities, but also by social interaction2. When Max Weber describes the role of cultural consumption in determining social status, it may not have been with the African-American experience in mind, but his conception of social status bears some relevance on the relationship between socialization and institutional perceptions among social groups3. Michael Dawson and Melissa Harris-Perry each make the point that the black church plays a key role in African-American society—its efficacy lying both in its position as a central social hub but also as a vehicle for forming and refining black thought4,5. The black church is unique in this role, as non-black Americans have been leaving the church in a way that African-Americans mostly have not, albeit there is at least some anecdotal evidence that black men have been decreasingly present in the black church6,7. African-American church participation, media designed for African-Americans, and residential segregation (some residual, some self-determined, and some due to systemic discrimination) give us some suggestions as to why the African-American voting bloc can be monolithic. Indeed, there seem to be mitigating factors that keep working class African-Americans from expressing political differences from middle class African-Americans to the same degree by which working class whites and middle class whites express differences in political views.

As African-Americans have joined the middle class in greater numbers, their interests have diverged somewhat from those of working class African-Americans8. There is no African-American capital class to speak of9. Class polarization has led to middle class African-Americans sometimes fighting for different issues from working class African-Americans—even, occasionally, at the expense of working class African-Americans, as in the case of Dearborn Park’s schools10. That said, African-Americans have basically lined up behind the only party that speaks to their issues: the Democrats11. It is worthy of note that African-Americans are affected more greatly by economic cycles and downturns, so economic factors have weighed more heavily into African-Americans’ political calculi than they have for whites12. More affluent African-Americans may have different ideas about political strategy, but the effects of this are mostly felt around the margins13. Essentially, what Dawson shows is that African-Americans seem to view their race as playing a bigger role in their fates than the role of their classes. Why do African-Americans express themselves politically in ways that are different from how other races do?

The legacy of negative treatment of African-Americans in the United States is horrific. The founders of the republic laid the groundwork for a society in which race relations would remain highly contentious and mistreatment of African-Americans would be found justified by the Power Elite14,15. Means for oppression of African-Americans were sought and implemented, even including the manufacturing of negative characterizations of African-Americans as criminal and less-than, for examples16.

Confirmation bias and socializing factors have created distortions in rhetoric around race and what appears to be mimicry of some manufactured stereotypes. This has even led to backlash against certain segments of the African-American population by other African-Americans. In recent years, statements by John McWhorter, Bill Cosby, and Steve Harvey have reflected disdain for some modern conceptions of young African-American men and the degree to which some young African-American men have openly embraced elements of this often manufactured culture17,18,19. How do we explain this infighting, while keeping in mind that African-Americans seem to unflinchingly vote Democrat?

The fact is that the African-American middle class may be growing, but it remains relatively small20. This may seem like a fine point, but it tells us something about at least a portion of the African-American middle class: they are likely self-selected. In this context, what that self-selection means is that, while it is not the case that poor African-Americans are selected through a lottery to join the middle class, it is also not the case that those African-Americans who join the middle class from the working class all fit a very specific profile. That said, it might be that some African-Americans who manage to move up the social ladder do so by displaying an intentionality to get ahead, along with a willingness and/or ability to do what some African-Americans might not be willing and/or able to do.

To put this in less vague terms, I suggest that perhaps McWhorter, Cosby, and Harvey have had to do things that some African-Americans would not want to have had to do and have had to deal with a number of particular challenges in achieving their successes. For example, if any of them had been especially defiant when facing obvious unfairnesses, this might have jeopardized some success. If any of them had made a point of producing a cultural product that was particularly Afrocentric or counter to some conservative elements within American culture, this might have jeopardized some success.

It has been my experience that some actions that lead to success can be criticized as “selling out,” and it has also been my experience that, in some circles, especially among younger African-Americans whom I have known, selling out can be an especially negative reflection on someone’s character21. That is all to say that perhaps McWhorter, Cosby, and Harvey have had to justify their doing things that some other African-Americans would not do, in some cases, and have felt that they had to adhere to an ethos that was necessarily compliant in order to achieve the successes that they might have sought after. This may have led to some projection upon African-American youth of the ideals that these cultural figures have had to uphold, creating these conflicts.

African-American political thought and social behavior is, in many senses, diverse and complex22. In fact, the reality for the African-American community is that neither the Republicans nor the Democrats have necessarily provided much in the way of substantial improvement for the African-American community23. The African-American vote for the Democratic party has largely been based on rhetoric and economic concerns, but this has not always been the case24.

Black separatist movements may seem like a foreign concept now, but as recently as the 1970s, there was real momentum among such movements. We can see Marcus Garvey and W. E. B. DuBois, with their Pan-African ideals; Malcolm X, Elijah Muhammad, and Louis Farrakhan’s involvements with the Nation of Islam; as well as the actions of the Black Panther Party as reflective of a desire among some African-Americans to create a political system for themselves in order to separate from what could often be rightly viewed as the oppressive systems of White America25.

It may be that black separatist movements were stunted some by efforts toward integration. Following the Niagara Movement and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Civil Disobedience, Civil Rights victories in the 1960s achieved more for African-Americans than black separatist movements ever had26. Perhaps these successes were a blow to black separatist movements, as we have not seen the kind of black nationalistic activism in the past 30-40 years that we did previously in the 20th century27. Instead of focusing on working outside the system, it seems that efforts among many African-American intellectuals and political leaders have focused on fighting for greater liberalism: higher wages, higher employment, greater redistribution efforts, universal health care, improved education, etc28. The days of disillusioned, Marxist, feminist, and/or separatist African-Americans have often been replaced by incrementalistic approaches and appeals for government expansion in hopes of improved conditions for African-Americans29.

Interestingly, this trend may be turning around some, insofar as Fourth Wave Feminism has been notably intersectional and notably solidaritous with movements like Black Lives Matter30. In particular, Michael Hardt has noted the emergence of what he calls the “Multitude,” by which divergent social movements have recognized common opponents in the neoliberal formations of the Power Elite: transnational corporations, politicians, the police, and the financial class, to name some of the most important31. Under this conception, a black separatist movement need not necessarily overwhelm a population to a point of breaking down the status quo, as it need only create a critical mass among the solidaritous movements in order to effect change.

Still, the African-American voting bloc that supported Jesse Jackson (to say nothing of the notable Shirley Chisholm campaign before his), helped elect Harold Washington, and voted for Harvey Gantt over Jesse Helms, has a relationship to the Marxist movements supported by DuBois, the American Federation of Labor, King, the Black Panther Party, and The Combahee River Collective, to name a few32. While radical left sentiments and the organizational powers that have been inspired by them have lain relatively dormant in recent decades, there is nothing to suggest that they cannot be efficacious in the near future, especially as tensions mount over police violence, income and wealth inequality, joblessness, gender and LGBTQIAPK+ rights, endless war, climate change, racism in politics, and a host of other issues that leave the disaffected proletariat wondering when change might come33.

It is important to understand African-American political behavior because it informs the direction of African-American politics and American politics writ large, as well as possible trends in the international community. As trends mount and as political inclinations change within the African-American community, the landscape and the outcomes are subject to change. But where do these trends come from? What shapes these landscapes? Of course the answers to these questions are complicated. The African-American church, the media, the education system, and the Internet all play large roles in helping to shape and reshape political discourse and social mores in the African-American community34. Differing ideas about liberalism and conservatism, redistribution efforts, intersectional concerns, America’s role on the global stage, full employment, and systemic and political violence, among other factors, add nuance to an African-American political ideology that is often seen merely as a monolith that votes Democrat, only serving to play the role of turning out to help elect Democrats when inspired or playing the role of spoiler in absentia35.

Further, it seems that there is something to Melissa Harris-Perry’s idea of the canary in the mineshaft36. African-Americans experience deeper forms of oppressions than many groups do, and certainly have done so historically. It is no wonder that America stands in contrast to much of the developed world in terms of unequal outcomes while also being on the cutting edge of progress in terms of the demands and awarenesses expressed by American social movements37.

If we accept that power distributions are important to consider in modern societies, then understanding how African-Americans relate to the political realities they face can tell us a good deal about social movements and broad relations of power, and hopefully, they can tell us something about how we are to move toward a more equitable and healthier reality.

  1. Michael Dawson, Behind the Mule.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Max Weber, Economy and Society.
  4. Michael Dawson, Behind the Mule.
  5. Melissa Harris-Perry, formerly Harris-Lacewell, “Righteous Politics: the Role of the Black Church in Contemporary Politics.”
  6. Pew Research Center, “Religious Landscape Study.”
  7. A Google search returns results that show that black men are leaving the church, but there does not seem to be sufficient research. Notably, articles on the subject all seem to state that mass incarceration plays a key role.
  8. Michael Dawson, Behind the Mule.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid.
  14. The Constitution of the United States of America.
  15. Douglas Blackmon, Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II.
  16. Ibid.
  17. John McWhorter, “How Hip Hop Holds Blacks Back.”
  18. See Bill Cosby’s “Pound Cake” speech from 2004 NAACP Awards.
  19. See almost anything Steve Harvey ever has to say about African-American men.
  20. Michael Dawson, Behind the Mule.
  21. This is admittedly purely anecdotal. I grew up in a very diverse town (Killeen, TX) and have always had a very diverse set of friends, but my friends are selected by me and likely demonstrate some of the same values that I do. That said, among popular media outlets that market to African-American audiences, I have noticed that there seems to be more made over the concept of selling out. This may only be confirmation bias, however. More research needs to be done.
  22. Michael Dawson, Behind the Mule.
  23. Taken from lecture notes.
  24. Ibid.
  25. Ibid.
  26. Ibid.
  27. The only counterexamples that I can recall are when Spike Lee’s, Malcolm X came out and when everyone’s Wu-Wear made me, in my young naïveté, think that a broad separatist movement might have been forming. I propose that Nixon’s and Reagan’s wars on crime and drugs (read: black people) played a major role in undermining black social movements, as Ehrlichmann alluded to.
  28. Taken from lecture notes.
  29. Ibid.
  30. Fourth Wave Feminism is often described as intersectional feminism promoted over the Internet. Also, note that Fourth Wave Feminism and Black Lives Matter seem to share a good deal in common and tend to have similar goals, similar opponents, use similar means, and often have overlapping memberships.
  31. Leonard Schwartz’s “A Conversation with Michael Hardt on the Politics of Love” and Hardt’s talk, “Love in the Multitude” can serve as good resources. Note that this convergence likely concerns agape over eros.
  32. Taken from lecture notes.
  33. Hardt’s and Antonio Negri’s conceptions of the Multitude are fitting here. See their
  34. Somewhat informed by Michael Dawson’s Behind the Mule.
  35. Somewhat informed by lecture notes and Michael Dawson’s Behind the Mule.
  36. Melissa Harris-Perry, Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America.
  37. Americans experience a very poor GINI coefficient, as an example, and also imprisons more people per capita than any other country does. Meanwhile, the most progressive ideas on social justice often come from the US.

Commiserations with D. Wade Hands


I argued in my last paper that I thought that Lakatos was trying to save Popper and Kuhn from each other, but it may be more accurate to say that Lakatos thought that Popper was mostly right, except that Kuhn had a point: falsification is not as simple as the refutation process that Popper describes and that some of Kuhn’s ideas about normal science are basically true. Lakatos does not see science as necessarily striking out to constantly make very bold predictions, turning science on its head, just as Kuhn does not, but he also takes issue with Kuhn’s conception of paradigms. Just as Popper’s refutation and bold conjecture do not seem to fit quite right, in Lakatos’s view, misguided also is the idea of a single, dominant paradigm. As such, Lakatos posits that paradigm shifts are not the kinds of revolutions that Kuhn envisions, especially in that Kuhn’s idea that progress is not made through science is one that Lakatos seems to disagree with. Instead, Lakatos suggests that competing Research Programmes keep science from being routinely flipped over.

Having said all that, I think that the criticisms in this week’s readings mostly point to Lakatos having watered down both Popper and Kuhn. With Popper, there was something attractive about the notion that what mostly mattered was the ability to predict, among other things; Popper may have had problems in his conception, but his conception’s shortcomings were made up for in that Popper introduced a new idea that rang true enough that it had to be considered. Kuhn’s response seems to have been more criticized than was Popper’s, but again, it was original and compelling.

Hands points out that the differences between Lakatos and Popper, for economists, was small because Lakatos and Popper agree a good deal on the parts that economists have found most applicable. I will now address some of Hands’s concerns here, especially as they have applied to the work I have done in this class and as they help defend against a particular criticism that I have received.

At the end of the last paper that was returned to me, there was a note which described how I ascribe “normative preferences to economics” that seem to not be there. Toward the end, and in reference to economists, it is said that I “misrepresent them as essentially operating on normative commitments in their explanations as opposed to their policy advice (emphasis Hoover’s).”

Despite having not thought it prudent to use my 1,000 words in any week to fully flesh out my thoughts on these matters, I now recognize that it is unfair (hypocritical, even) for me to operate under assumptions about economics, as they likely require greater explanation in order that I be well understood. This may or may not clear up the criticism, but I now find it appropriate.

I was delighted to find that Hands seems to be making a similar case to the one I have been making, if not one the exact same one. Part of what Kuhn’s theory seems to attempt to resolve is the Duhem-Quine problem. I agree with Hands that this problem is especially relevant in economics. To some degree, assumptions made in economics can be viewed as especially problematic in this light. Hands refers to the question of falsifiability of economics assumptions, but let us use an example to illustrate the point. “People have insatiable wants” is an assumption that does not seem controversial in economics. There are perfectly good, and quite practical reasons for using this assumption and it can seem true enough, but let us look at the problems with it.

First off, it is surely unfalsifiable; falsification would require giving each person (or at least some people) an infinite amount of everything. Whether or not the assumption is true can only be guesswork, to say nothing of how any estimation to this end would likely necessitate inductive methods.

Hands further notes that when we run into inconsistencies in economics, “it is virtually impossible to ‘aim the arrow of modus tollens’ at one particular problematic element of the set auxiliary hypotheses (italics his).” I believe that Kuhn had this in mind when conceiving of paradigms and incommensurability. Maybe people have insatiable wants; or maybe what looks that way is actually something else common to humans; or maybe it is a confluence of factors; or maybe the appearance of insatiable wants is simply a coincidence and the cause of this appearance is different for the different people in whom it appears to hold true, to whatever degree that could be true.

To this point, Hands briefly makes a point early on in this section that I think is rather important: human behavior is “complex.” It might be that some individuals or that people in some cultures express insatiable wants, but if we operate under one assumption of insatiable wants for all people, how can we explain that some people seem to have even more insatiable wants than others do? That is, why do some people seem extra motivated to fulfill these wants and why do some people seem more easily satisfied? Some economists might point to the backward-bending supply curve or labor-leisure models to resolve this, but when economics’s grandfathers conceived of “insatiable wants,” did they really mean that people have an insatiable desire to sit around and meditate or play in flowery meadows or read philosophy of science papers all day? If I am being honest, I am far from convinced that leisure is one of those commodities that was originally intended to be represented as something insatiably wanted, but economics has operated under this assumption for a very long time.

The last point that Hands makes on this subject is about feedback (note: Hands also points out that there is confirmation bias in economics in the form of ease of corroboration and lack of strenuous testing, but I will not be going into that here). Hands says that testing for the relationship between the money supply and the price level “may alter expectations,” leading to possible changes in this relationship. If economists assume that people have “insatiable wants,” then perhaps some people start to behave as though they have insatiable wants——that is, perhaps their behavior is altered by the assumption. At this point, the line between the positive and the normative becomes far less clear. An economist may be describing what is happening, but perhaps the economist is also insidiously and unwittingly telling us how we should behave. In my view, the problem is a bit more complicated than this, though.

I am not convinced that positive and normative can be separated. Economics has tried to distinguish itself from psychology and there are good reasons for that. However, it seems to me that if neuroscience and psychology were advanced enough, then all three of these subjects would rely heavily on one another if not simply consolidate. My point in saying so is that language is important and how we interact with one another is important in understanding how we make choices. If we describe people as “rational,” does the fact that this word can be interpreted in multiple ways matter, especially if changes in attitudes and behavioral changes may result from such a suggestion? As Hands says, human behavior is “complex,” and I think that social psychologists would likely agree.

If an economist tells a policymaker, a businessowner, a parent, or a child that “people have insatiable wants,” that “businesses compete with one another in order to gain greater profits,” or that “GDP growth is good for people, then maybe the policymaker, businessowner, parent, or child believes the economist. Maybe the person being addressed begins to think that this is how people/businesses/governments in contemporary society behave and should behave. When considering the question between is and ought, what is really the difference where economics is concerned? That is not to imply that there is no difference at all, but that we should maybe consider what the relationship between positive economics and perhaps even incidentally normative economics could be.

Hands viewed Lakatos and Popper, as they relate to economics, as being similar. It may be that Lakatos was more right than Popper or Kuhn, but his legacy suffers from being basically unoriginal. If his idea was to simply improve Popper by accounting for some of Kuhn’s gripes, then he needed to do so in a novel way and to appear mostly correct while doing so or else face relative obscurity. Especially in the case of economics, Lakatos seems to have achieved no such thing. One presumes that if we are covering Lakatos in this class, then he likely enjoys some notoriety, but for economists, Lakatos does not seem to have solved much.

Race to the Bottom: An Examination of the United States’s Historical Treatment of Power and Race

Conceptions of freedom are often framed in terms of negative freedoms and positive freedoms, with negative freedoms representing people’s freedoms from various injuries and positive freedoms representing people’s capacities1. For African-Americans, nominal liberations have been easy to criticize in the framework of the black experience relative to the white experience, especially as to (albeit not limited to) how they relate to opportunities. Slavery was protected in America’s founding documents, and when Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation, African-Americans’ freedoms were constrained by Jim Crow laws and systemic racism2,3,4,5,6. Even the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery, allowed for people to be enslaved on the basis of their criminal conviction, leading to disproportionate conviction of African-Americans and the re-slavery of so many of them7.

There is an unfortunate pattern in history by which power is asserted, checked, and reasserted. That is to say that, typically, power finds ways to circumvent laws and conventions in order to find new means of oppression, necessitating new social movements, new laws, and new conventions. Throughout American history, the African-American experience reflects this reality.

Our nation’s founders grappled with fumbled the morality of slavery. While arguments on moral bases were made for and against slavery, ultimately, the question was resolved with economics and power in mind—African-Americans not being considered full humans in the founding documents8,9,10. Logistically, it can be presumed that the freeing of slaves in earnest would have meant a reconstruction of America’s economy such that some money and, therefore, some power in the hands of powerful slave owners would have had to have been distributed among former slaves. The American South represented an economic powerhouse, producing goods at a highly efficient clip, helping to protect the burgeoning nation from outside threat11. But redistribution of power is always complicated for those who are power holders.

To look back on history, arguments for equity seem to generally met by power with irrational, forceful resistance. Even today, All Lives Matter is a blinded response to the Power Elite’s disregard for the lives of black men, in particular. There is a paradox in All Lives Matters’s position in that they vociferously argue against themselves: if all lives matter, then why are they not on the side of Black Lives Matter? The truth is that privilege often breeds oblivion, as in the founding documents’ assertions that all men are created equal, ignoring black men altogether (to say nothing of the obvious misogyny)12,13. When faced with inequity, the privileged few have a tendency to deny reality out of fear of having something—in this case, privilege itself—taken from them.

The founding of our nation was no different. Was there ever a moral claim to slavery? Of course there was not, but for many of the founders who benefitted by slavery, the thought of paying blacks for their labor meant giving up too much. Great African-American thinkers like Frederick Douglass and W. E. B. DuBois pointed out the hypocrisies in American conceptions of and actualizations of freedom, but in reality, these hypocrisies were likely unnecessary to point out to the founders, even if the rhetoric of such African-American intellectuals succeeded in stirring up discourse14,15. The fact is that the founding fathers were not morally conflicted; simply, they had economic interests that they held above moral ones. While the founding fathers did enough to emancipate Americans from colonial rule, they did not show the same reverence for the liberation of slaves as they did for themselves and those whom they considered to be more like themselves.

What the founders might have known, and ought to have known, is that the nation’s tenuous hold on the abominable institution of slavery would lead to greater violence and more extreme means of subjugating blacks. Unfortunately, as in the cases of the foundation of the republic, All Lives Matter, and all points before, between, and to come, it seems it is generally not enough for the Power Elite to simply use their capacity to deny privilege; they often exert violence revolutionaries and would-be revolutionaries (essentially, those whom they oppress)16.

There is a legacy of systemic oppression against African-Americans that has gone unbroken since the founding of slavery. As previously noted, the dissolution of state-sanctioned slavery did not fully emancipate African-Americans. The verbiage used in the 13th amendment allowed for reenslavements of African-Americans, so long as those reenslaved were convicted of crimes17,18. This led to trumped up charges for countless African-Americans, in order that the convicted would provide free labor19. Conditions for imprisoned laborers were often worse than what had been experienced under slavery, much of that owed to the fact that the labor was further commodified20. The labor in this case were not owned by the elites exploiting the labor; there was nothing to lose for the capital class if African-American prison laborers died or fell ill, since the capital class had not paid for them, had nothing to gain by maintaining their lives, and, through commodification, were further removed from them as humans20.

The arbitrary treatment of African-Americans as criminals has followed the African-American community since this period through today. Even since the Civil Rights Era, the wars on crime and drugs have had an explicit, intentional racial basis, of which even today’s presidential candidates have partaken. Richard Nixon defeated Hubert Humphrey in 1968, running as the law and order candidate. He emphasized reducing crime and reducing the influence of drugs. In a recent article in Harper’s magazine, Nixon adviser John Ehrlichmann was quoted,

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. … We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did21.”

Lee Atwater, a Reagan adviser, was quoted having said,

“You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites22.”

George H. W. Bush used Michael Dukakis’s debate response on the death penalty by making an ad featuring African-American Willie Horton to not-so-subtly pander to racist whites. Donald Drumpf would foreshadow the tone of his ongoing presidential campaign when he took out ads in New York newspapers to advocate for killing four young African-American men and one young Hispanic man accused of having raped a white woman23. It would later be found that another man had committed the crime24. But it is not only Republicans who have been guilty of using racism for political benefit. Hillary Clinton is now infamous for having referred to young black men as “superpredators,” when speaking about Bill Clinton’s crime legislation that ushered in an incredible era of mass incarceration that resulted in the devastations of many African-American lives25,26.

While African-American men have been victims of racist formations of crime policy, African-American women have also been harmed a good deal by these policies27. In fact, freedom has been especially complicated for African-American women, as they have had to deal with oppression for their race, their gender, and their class, as Melissa Harris-Perry has put it28. Since America’s founding, African-American women have faced at least a double jeopardy. Put in very practical terms, neither African-Americans nor women could vote at the onset of the republic, so African-American women had to wait for both the 19th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act before they achieved full suffrage29,30. These multiple forms of oppression follow African-American women throughout their history on this continent, and in many forms. African-American women’s roles tend to speak to pronounced imbalances in power, as African-American women are often asked to be lots of different—even contradictory—things to lots of people, including sexual objects, diligent laborers, mothers, partners, breadwinners, counselors, and sanctified, to boot31. Depictions of African-American women in media, from America’s founding through today, tend to caricaturize and diminish them32. The Combahee River Collective was a direct response to the outcomes of social movements that came up short of what was necessary for African-American women, speaking to the problems in being treated as less-than, based on their intersecting identities of underprivilege33.

The implications of the African-American experience are many. I recently discovered an idea by Saskia Sassen on how climate change has led to disastrous results for children sent to migrate illegally from Latin America to the United States, and I find a parallel34. Sassen asserts that climate change has led to crowding of large Latin American cities and extreme urban violence; in turn, some families elect to send their youngest members for a better life in the United States, sometimes ending in devastating results for these children and their families35. Perhaps similarly, institutional racism, particularly in the American South, led to migration away from the South, only for jobs in the North and West to be displaced while mass incarceration took root; the result of all this has often been broken African-American families, lowering wages relative to whites’, lowering employment figures, and murders of African-Americans by police36. Power seems to find means of getting what it intends to get.

If one observes rainwater in nature, it could be noticed that water seeks the lowest point, eventually etching out the most efficient path it can find. Similarly, what seems to happen with power—and to be more specific, what the American Power Elite seem to have done with race—is that it does everything it can think to do in order to reverse those pesky proletarian measures taken to redistribute wealth and power. When revolutions (big and small) occur, reforms are undertaken and equity is created. The Power Elite then work to reconcentrate their wealth and power in whatever ways they possibly can. It seems that they always eventually find the most efficient path they can to the lowest possible point. Our founding fathers may not have intended to brutalize African-Americans for the foreseeable future, just as it may be the case that today’s leaders do not intend harm. For so many people still dealing with grave inequities, though, the intentions of the oppressor are hardly worth considering.

  1. Conceptions of freedom have long been framed in terms of negativity and positivity. For further explanation, see Isaiah Berlin’s Two Concepts of Liberty.
  2. The Declaration of Independence
  3. The Constitution of the United States of America.
  4. The Emancipation Proclamation.
  5. Jim Crow Laws were laws that segregated blacks and whites in the American South between the Civil War and the signing of the Civil Rights Act.
  6. Systemic racism is the force by which institutions discriminate on the basis of race.
  7. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.
  8. Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XIV.
  9. Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XVIII.
  10. The Constitution of the United States of America.
  11. Taken from lecture notes.
  12. Ibid.
  1. The Declaration of Independence.
  2. The Constitution of the United States of America.
  3. Frederick Douglass, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”
  4. E. B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk.
  5. The Civil War and backlash against the Civil Rights Movement and Black Lives Matter serve as obvious examples.
  6. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.
  7. Douglas Blackmon, Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Dan Baum, “Legalize It All: How to Win the War on Drugs,” Harper’s Magazine.
  11. Bob Herbert, “Impossible, Ridiculous, Repugnant,” The New York Times.
  12. Donald Drumpf took out ads in the four major New York newspapers at the time.
  13. Matias Reyes admitted to the crime and gave a full, corroborated account.
  14. Hillary Clinton made the infamous statement at a speech in Keene, New Hampshire, on January 25th, 1996.
  15. Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.
  16. To illustrate the point, African-American mothers have been left without coparents, and the loss of African-American men has resulted in the loss of breadwinners, as examples.
  17. Melissa Harris-Perry, Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America.
  18. The 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution gave white women the right to vote.
  19. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 helped to protect African-Americans’ rights to vote.
  20. Melissa Harris-Perry, Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America.
  21. If we consider the roles of African-American women throughout history, they are often portrayed as overly sexualized, unintelligent, devoid of power, and generally dehumanized.
  22. The Combahee River Collective, “A Black Feminist Statement.”
  23. Saskia Sassen, “Three Emergent Migrations: An Epochal Change.”
  24. Ibid.
  25. Michael Dawson, Behind the Mule.

Muddying the Mud: Complicating Lakatos’s Synthesis of Popper and Kuhn

It seems that part of what Lakatos is doing is to synthesize Popper’s and Kuhn’s theories in order to save them from each other. Lakatos reframes Kuhn’s paradigms as scientific research programmes, by which theories can survive substantive challenges. He retains Popper’s linearity, but with the caveat that falsification is not as simple as refuting a theory once and that paradigm shifts require greater empirical power for superseding theories to displace previously dominant ones. All this said, I propose that Lakataos’s position has shortcomings in the form of arbitrary and vague definitions, as well as in the form of linearity that Lakatos proposes (with which Kuhn seems to deal more accurately).

Lakatos seems to be saying that one cannot falsify a theory without calling into question the tools and methods being applied, including “interpretative” theories. In essence, one can never be sure what it is that we are falsifying. Here, I agree with Lakatos.

However, I believe that Lakatos’s conception of Popper2 is problematic in that he describes Popper seeing progress as linear while Lakatos describes the problem of not being able to tell whether inconsistencies come from interpretative or explanatory theories. His position seems to be that, by showing preference to theories that expand our knowledge and/or ability to predict, we are always moving forward in linear fashion, but I am not convinced. If we accept an idea as fact, only to later reject it, only to reaccept it, then on what bases are we accepting or rejecting?

What it seems to me is that inconsistencies show problems with compatibilities of the theories with which we operate. We do not seem to have a way to parse out which theory(ies) might or might not be correct, as we cannot prove anything. If we (tentatively) accept the set of theories used in an experiment, any inconsistency only demonstrates that some theory necessary to the expected outcome is incorrect. It seems that we can at no point accept that a particular theory is right or wrong. Instead, we try to make the best guesses we can, based on deductive reasoning and the extrapolation/hope of sense (empirical) observation.

Lakatos states that Kuhn’s paradigm shifts are not logical——that they are merely “mob psychology.” I think that he is right to point this out, but I also do not think that Kuhn is wrong. Lakatos and Kuhn seem to recognize that paradigm shifts coincide with the ability of new paradigms/research programmes to answer the most troubling contemporary scientific questions, but Kuhn emphasizes the arbitrariness of these shifts in that new paradigms do not always answer all the questions that old ones do, while Lakatos seems to emphasize that there are always competing research programmes.

I do not think that we should be so sure about these shifts, though. Refutations cannot give us sufficient cause to eliminate a theory. A series of refutations, preferably in varying contexts, has historically suggested the rejection of theories, but such cases are still reliant on inductive reasoning. We might conduct an incredible number of experiments, all of which rely on a specific theory. If all such experiments fail to produce outcomes consistent with the theory, this does not mean that we should reject the theory. It may be that, in each case, another theory on which the experiment relied was the cause for the inconsistency.

Lakatos describes his negative heuristic and intermittent success of theories, but why should we accept that these are necessarily successes of Lakatos’s hard core and not just coincidences? Further, Lakatos does not seem to sufficiently define this intermittency.

Acceptance and rejection can only ever be tentative as, I argue, acceptance and rejection are unreasonable. The only reason to tentatively accept or reject anything is on a pragmatic basis. Otherwise, doing so relies on factors outside of the validity of the theory, including that the associated theories interact with the subject theory to produce reliable outcomes, that new cases produce outcomes consistent with old cases, and that there is no shifts of fundamental reality. Lakatos attempts to explain why theories are sometimes not rejected despite refutations, but does not sufficiently explain why logic would dictate that any theory should be accepted or rejected.

Perhaps Lakatos makes an attempt at speaking to pragmatism, but he is not so clear. Lakatos points out, “Popper1 argued that one had to choose between naïve falsificationism and irrationalism.” But is it the case that we have two choices and only two choices? Popper seems to point out that arbitrarily selecting what experimental aspects to reject is no better than irrationalism, but does falsificationism necessarily do better?

Lakatos asks, “If the criticisability of the empirical basis is to be taken seriously, do we not ‘throw empiricism overboard’?” I would simply say “No.” Again, this seems like a false dichotomy. There may be infinite other choices. Moreover, Lakatos seems to (dangerously) suggest that we should not take seriously the criticizability of empiricism.

For Lakatos, the value in a theory rests in whether or not it increases knowledge. Lakatos takes the position that theories that increase knowledge are scientific, whereas other proposals are pseudo-scientific. However, this begs the question of what constitutes knowledge. This question is not only reliant on the nature of knowledge but also on the efficacy of science——and its constituent aspects——to produce knowledge. To be clear, I agree that science produces means of framing the world, but to describe what science produces as “knowledge” seems to go farther than I would argue is reasonable.

To that point, when Lakatos quotes Popper’s position on “accepting the majority verdict of the scientists’ jury,” this seems to me like nothing more than an appeal to the majority of experts. I can see the attractiveness in such an appeal, but it is not a logical argument for the acceptance in anything.

To sum, Lakatos makes some interesting points, but I do not feel that he sufficiently defines his terms and I do not feel that he sufficiently answers all the questions that arise from Popper’s and Kuhn’s proposals.

Induction by Any Other Name: A Response to Blaug’s Assessment of Friedman

I would argue that Blaug is right to be skeptical of Friedman. However, I would argue that he lets Popper off a bit too easy.

Blaug rightly argues that Popper and Friedman are not making the same exact argument. However, they do not seem to completely avoid each other’s problems. Friedman’s position represents a sort of instrumentalism, but Blaug takes issue with Friedman’s position on assumptions:

“The idea that unrealistic ‘assumptions’ are nothing to worry about provided the theory deduced from them culminates in falsifiable predictions carried conviction to economists long inclined by habit and tradition to take a purely instrumentalist view of their subject.”

I agree that there are problems with such assumptions, but I contend that Popper runs into some of the same issues, while it might be argued that Friedman’s argument creates problems that Popper does not run into.

When Friedman describes the case of the leaves to argue for the utility in assumptions, he extrapolates to say the least. Friedman seems to assert that an assumption can serve as shorthand for positive facts, but this method presents problems. Even if the use of assumptions could be interpreted as shorthand, if we give as much credit as possible to Friedman, the fact is that the step between the observation of facts and the assumption is inductive.

What makes a rule? It is one thing to say that we have observed specific leaf density patterns; it is quite another thing to say that this is reflective of the behavior of leaves in general. This is a case of begging the question. Because some leaves demonstrate a pattern, should we presume that all leaves demonstrate this pattern? How many observations do we need to make before we can make such an assumption? The pattern is surely reflective of the reality that has been demonstrated within the set of observations, but it cannot necessarily lead to any presumption of a general case.

The case of the leaves makes an oddly anthropomorphic assumption about individual leaves, as well. Do leaves “seek” anything? What does that mean? To my knowledge, plants do not possess something like a central nervous system, so this characterization seems quite misleading, on top of the fact that it could likely only be guesswork. One gets the sense that there is accessibility in a false description of leaves such that they are likened to organisms that seek. Humans can maybe understand leaves as having motivations, but something seems to be amiss in Friedman’s characterization of the leaves, just as in assumptions made in economics. Friedman is clear when he states, in referring to economic assumptions, “It is more compact and at the same time no less comprehensive.” It is less comprehensive. Stating that leaves seek to maximize exposure to sunlight necessarily implies that leaves seek the behaviors that will maximize exposure to sunlight. We have no way to be sure of this because we cannot assume to know all possible sunlight-seeking behaviors. Therefore, the behaviors of the leaves may not be better at optimizing exposure to sunlight than alternative options are. In economics, Friedman might have us believe that assumptions are inclusive of a set of rules, but this approach is sure to breed misleading characterizations, as well as other problems. Moreover, the leaves’ presumed seeking may not be the motivating factor or even a motivating factor.

Whether or not leaves “seek” anything cannot be assumed based on their behaviors. We have no way to know the motivations of leaves, and explaining it in this way seems dishonest. Similarly, if an economist wants, they might make an assumption based on the assumption of political economy that V.38 of Mill’s “On the Definition of Political Economy; and on the Method of Investigation Proper To It,” makes. That someone chooses to go into investment banking because “mankind is occupied solely in acquiring and consuming wealth” is an assumption that can easily be justified. Popper points out that we can find justifications for things if we look for them, but that this does not make them true. It may be that Mill’s assumption is correct, but we have no way to know. Friedman’s characterization of the leaves is attractive in that it makes the case of the leaves more accessible. Similarly, Mill’s description of “mankind’s” motivation has some gravity that comes from its simplicity and potentially from its apparent obviousness. But these kinds of inaccurate characterizations risk breeding dangerous thoughtlessness, if not because of the appeal in their simplicity.

Something that we might agree is unattractive in science is an instance such that some people would be led to an erroneous conclusion, especially insofar as such a conclusion could lead to further erroneous conclusions. As an example, if someone concluded that lighting a boat on fire would surely be the fastest way to get them from the shores of Europe to the shores of North America and with most assured safety, they might conclude that the most efficient thing to do would be to build their ship out of the most flammable materials that they could find. In the economics realm, if we conclude that growth of income and wealth is what is what humans prefer, we might engage in policies designed to maximize growth. If we are wrong to conclude that growth is preferable, then such policies are erroneous but can also lead to unattractive policies based on that assumption and possibly lead to disastrous outcomes.

It could be attractive for an economist to say that the models are only meant to make predictions and that the assumptions do not matter, but surely this cannot be true. Friedman describes how some rules sometimes apply and some rules sometimes do not:

“Each occurrence has some features peculiarly its own, not covered by the explicit rules. The capacity to judge that these are or are not to be disregarded, that they should or should not affect what observable phenomena are to be identified with what entities in the model, is something that cannot be taught; it can be learned but only by experience and exposure in the ‘right’ scientific atmosphere, not by rote.”

There are two problems I see with this passage. First, it directly contradicts what Friedman says, on pages 33 and 34 of “The Methodology of Positive Economics,” about complexity and science. Friedman points out that science has demonstrated a tendency to be able to explain diverse and seemingly disjoint phenomena through simple theories. So if he is justifying the use of simplified assumptions in economics because science finds ways of simplifying things, then how is it that he is simultaneously defending the oversimplified nature of assumptions in economics by virtue of the world being too complicated? Which is it? Is the world actually complicated to a point that it prohibits simple explanation or can the world be explained by simple descriptions? The second, and more crucial, point is this: Popper clearly expressed a desire to avoid fitting theories to cases; Friedman seems to prescribe that we alter our theories such that some rules apply and some do not, based on the necessities predicated by the particular reality being faced. Here, Friedman advocates for loyalty to assumptions that are justified by their abilities to predict, but if the assumptions change based on the circumstances, is this not the very thing that Popper is opposed to? Further, Friedman makes quite a dangerous suggestion: he proposes that there is a level of discernment afforded by experience. This expertise coincides with the ability to correctly apply and judge the model, meaning that there is a small set of people who hold the key to the interpretation and application of this knowledge, many or all of whom, one supposes, might be inclined to protect the methodologies that they are taught and that they are inclined to engage in (as well as which earn them their livings). If we are to believe Friedman’s conclusions about the expertise needed in order to judge the propriety of the applications of these methods, the methods of this elite class can be insulated from some forms of criticism.

In order to dismantle the notion that assumptions are worth paying attention to, Friedman, on page 32 of “The Methodology of Positive Economics,” lists some of the ways by which a theory on a wheat market would need to be accurate in order to be fully realistic. There are two problems with his contention: the first is that the fact that we have a hard time accounting for conditions of the wheat market does not make those factors any less important; the second, and related, point is that this rationalization for incomplete theories allows a justification for not trying harder to obtain a more complete account of the relevant points, even if Friedman’s intention is not to discourage this work. We should grant to Friedman that the challenges in constructing a perfectly accurate theory are likely prohibitive and that Friedman is likely not intending to argue against efforts to improve theories. However, if we are to be as generous to Friedman as we possibly can, the least we can say is that he perhaps unwittingly discourages improvement of theories in terms of their assumptions and their completenesses. What is the value in a theory that is not truly accurate, compared to one that is? Friedman is right to point out that this is complicated, but this is good reason for not committing to assumptions — not for justifying their uses.

To contextualize this point, if Friedman thinks that we should adjust our models to fit our cases, as I demonstrated above, and if he finds it unimportant that we account for all relevant factors, then it is easy to see why what he advocates for is not necessarily better than what Marx or Freud produced. Some might assume that Friedman’s saving grace should lie in his reverence for predictive power, but the concept of predictive power in economics has its own flaws, and more to the point, predictive power is less convincing if the theory can be altered post hoc such that discrepancies can be explained away, “saving” the theory from the results. This is exactly one of the dangers in claiming that: 1) not all rules in a theory need apply to all cases and 2) you need be an expert to be able to determine when a rule or set of rules need apply or not apply.

The point about the problems with predictive power in economics is a subtler problem in Friedman’s treatment of assumptions. In previous papers, I have pointed out how it is reasonable that assumptions made in economics lead to distortions of markets such that markets are influenced by the assumptions, even leading to possible self-fulfilling prophecies. In those arguments, I have highlighted a few such cases, so I will not be restating my case here, except to make one fine point. Friedman points out at different points in “The Methodology of Positive Economics,” that economics must adapt to discoveries in psychology and that some advances in economics depend on additions and adjustments to psychology. With that in mind, I find it important to note that decision-making is not as significantly logical a process as we may have been led to imagine. A 2008 study by Soon, Brass, Heinze, and Haynes, titled, “Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the brain” shows that much of the decision-making process in humans is unconscious, which is cause for greater concern over the issues of distorted markets than I may have given credit for. Apart from that, it should be sufficient to say that treating assumptions in economics as though they are legitimate runs the risk of distorting markets.

This brings us back to Popper. As previously stated, it is not the case that Popper’s take on these issues is much better than Friedman’s. I would argue that Popper was simply better able to paper over some of the problems.

Popper states his case on induction on page 29 of “The Logic of Scientific Discovery”:

“Thus if we try to regard [a principle of induction]’s truth as known from experience, then the very same problems which occasioned its introduction will arise all over again. To justify it, we should have to employ inductive inferences; and to justify these we should have to assume an inductive principle of higher order; and so on.”

I am inclined to admit that I am not completely sure what Popper means by this, but of course, one can never know exactly what anyone means by anything, so I will propose that what might be intended is that an assumption that induction is valid requires that we presume that some inductions turn out to be true, and so on. For example: How do I know that all swans are white? All the swans I have observed have been white. Why does that mean that all swans must be white? We have seen that in cases such that all observations of something demonstrate a characteristic, they all continue to possess that characteristic, no matter how many observations we make. How do I know that those things will continue to possess that characteristic? Well, we have seen that this kind of induction has worked effectively in lots of cases in the past. How do I know that there will be more cases for which this kind of induction will rightly apply? Because more always seem to appear. How do I know that more will continue to appear? Because they always have… This may not be exactly as Popper intended, but the crux of his argument seems to be that, no matter how you try to justify induction, there is a step, that relies on pure guesswork, needed to go from the singular to the universal. This is no real logical cause for justification.

But in truth, what Popper proposes seems to amount to something like Induction Lite, which is to say that it is still induction, but does not make one feel as greasy. He goes out of his way to acknowledge that induction is invalid, while he proposes that we tentatively accept the findings of predictive theories, but this notion runs into the same kinds of problems as more easily recognized inductions.

What Popper proposes is pragmatic acceptance, even if “tentative,” of theories that are strenuously tested. This is inductive. If we test something an infinite number of times, the infinite-plus-oneth time might produce a divergent result. There is no logical basis for accepting that the observation of the singular — or even multiple — necessarily implies anything in the general. Acceptance of a theory’s validity assumes that the theory’s assertions hold up over all cases and will continue to do so, even if one acknowledges that there may come a point in time at which the theory will no longer hold, but this necessarily means that the theory cannot be accepted. It may be that there is a black swan out there. Further, it may be that the essential reality will simply change.

Perhaps Popper only means to justify the use of theories in order to make predictions that are falsifiable, but that does not preclude the inductive nature of accepting theories, even if a theory is only to be accepted until the point that it is falsified.

Friedman’s case for induction is sometimes more obvious. Earlier, I referred to pages 33 and 34 of “The Methodology of Positive Economics” to point out that Friedman claims that science is often able to simplify seemingly complicated and disconnected aspects of reality. He goes on to induce from the singular that the general must be true:

“If a class of ‘economic phenomena’ appears varied and complex, it is, we must suppose, because we have no adequate theory to explain them. …Any assertion that economic phenomena are varied and complex denies the tentative state of knowledge that alone makes scientific activity meaningful.”

Apart from Friedman’s contradiction concerning simplicity and complexity of reality and science’s and economics’ relationships to reality, Friedman is merely advocating for induction, here. If science on multiple occasions, has simplified the world, then economics must be able to do the same thing.

The problem of induction is one that has bothered philosophers for a long time. What seems to be the case is that the value in induction gets criticized, only for people to later come along, wanting to redeem induction. Why are we so attached to induction? I suppose that we complicate the matter by basically being inductive creatures. We seem to operate by forming patterns in our minds and operating on them, and this has led well enough to our survival. I believe that there is a strong case for why we might defend induction, based on what feels perfectly natural to us. That said, science is not everyday life, and I agree with those who want to hold science to a higher standard.

But if not induction, then what? I do not have a strong answer to this question. In fact, I do not propose that we need to do anything differently other than that I believe that we should acknowledge these problems in ways that are reflected in our methodologies. Because what is the alternative? To say nothing of Kuhn, Popper’s methodology has its problems, and they seem to be worth addressing. Popper’s proposal that the source of a conjecture does not matter does not seem completely true. Friedman’s arguments, and the responses he elicits, help to clarify this. One might presume that the sky will turn into pink cotton candy at 5am the next day, but it is unlikely that one could find a basis for such a presumption. While there are problems with presuming that the blue sky will remain a blue sky tomorrow, at least it has the virtue of being based on some reason, flawed though that type of thinking might be. So I have some sympathy for what Popper and Friedman are trying to accomplish. Still, it is hard to escape the feeling that they go too far in valorizing inductive techniques and in justifying them.

The Nonessential Tension: How Dogmatism Complicates Normal Science

I do not think that Popper, in what we have read from him, was necessarily trying to answer whether or not sciences have adopted any methods or assumptions that remain consistent over time. That said, I think that Kuhn uncovered an interesting, albeit complicated, problem.

Kuhn says that when we engage in normal science we frame scientific activities using paradigms. Paradigms come with specific values and tools, which are used to argue for the virtues of their respective paradigms — a kind of dogmatism. As those tools are used to solve the kinds of problems that are commensurate with their paradigms, inconsistencies emerge. Eventually, those inconsistencies can become central foci in new paradigms.

However, new paradigms do not simply absorb old ones. Some aspects are lost, including the attention paid to particular problems that might not be suited to newer paradigms. By refocusing a science, it is likely that some questions will have been ignored and some will have been dismissed. When Kuhn talks about how science has treated gravity, it demonstrates that an important concept can be misunderstood, as well as that an important question can be reignored after a shift to a new paradigm.

Dogmatism in normal science can lead to bias in the selection of data used in research. If some data serve the tools and concepts of a paradigm, then those data are likely to be preferred over data that do not serve the tools and concepts. Something similar could be said about the models and tools that are developed, as well as the questions and experiments with which scientists engage. This could lead to distortions in understandings of scientific questions.

In economics, as an example, the predominant paradigm generally dictates that economic growth is preferable. With some qualifications, we presume that GDP should be maximized, we presume that companies should maximize profits, and we presume that people prefer higher wages and prefer to increase consumption. These presumptions in economics practices (as opposed to economic practices) can quickly and easily become a kind of closed circuit: the paradigm presumes things about human behavior, so we choose data that fit with the paradigm; then, the model predicts presumed behavior(s), and decisions made by all relevant participants are based on the model and on the presumptions of the paradigm; finally, the outcomes are consistent with the paradigm’s presumptions, demonstrating the paradigm’s value. Put in realistic terms, if the prevailing economics paradigm tells us that people naturally prefer to maximize GDP growth, then economists might develop a model that shows what people would do, keeping in mind people’s natural inclination to maximize GDP growth. This model, then, might be used to inform policy decisions, and business owners, investors, and people who otherwise make decisions in powerful institutions might assume that GDP growth should be maximized. Then, GDP might grow. It is then proposed that the market, made up of people, has rationally reacted to its situation by maximizing GDP growth; therefore, people must naturally prefer to maximize GDP growth. Of course, it might not necessarily be that people naturally want to maximize GDP growth. It may instead be that dogmatism leads to self-fulfilling prophecy and distorted understandings along the way.

Despite this problem with dogmatism, if Popper had been right — that a single falsification of a theory devalues it in science — then perfectly useful theories might have been discarded on the basis that their results were not always exactly as predicted. Instead, we seem to have gained a good deal from theories that sometimes made predictions that were not absolutely accurate. To this point, paradigm shifts seem to be reflective of incommensurability.

There does seem to be a subjective component in how we conduct science and in how we conceive of paradigms. If we accept results under one paradigm and accept those results under another paradigm, then the explanations for these results seem to necessarily differ under each paradigm, even if each paradigm has been seen as useful at some point or another. Paradigm shifts depend on a number of factors, but surely, limitations on humans’ perspectives play a role, leading to different forms of bias.

I once watched a video of Roland Fryer speaking about education reforms that he led in some of Houston’s public schools. I cannot recall how to find the video, so for the sake of this paper, I will describe what happened and allow you to imagine it, as the details are not as important as the idea. In his talk, Fryer talked about outcomes in his reform program’s schools. He said that a research assistant had brought him data, but that the results were so extreme that he was unsure of their accuracy. This led him to double-check the results, and given his explanation, it seems that he normally does not double-check results because he assumes that there is no need. Essentially, Fryer had an expectation of results such that a case, in which the results lay outside what he had expected, led him to alter his research process. Maybe this is a rare occurrence, and it may be worth noting that Fryer’s change was subtle, but I believe that the implication is important. How often do economics expectations lead to changes in research processes after unexpected results?

This is not an indictment of Fryer; the point is that biases guide sciences and that this complicates things. Even if dogmatism in sciences were necessary to achieve practical, useful results — which Kuhn might agree with — it does seem that science is not the objective undertaking that many people claim and that many would prefer. Science does not seem to provide real answers to big questions so much as it leads us to flawed, albeit somewhat educated, estimations. Those estimations can seem (and might even be) helpful in coming to decisions, but they, in and of themselves, are not solutions and they do not necessarily lead us to any solution(s).

R.I.P. Alexandra Braund

I stood over a pumpkin pie, holding a can of whipped cream.

Christi looked up at me from the table, half-distracted by the laptop in front of her.

She averted her eyes, saying, “You didn’t get the not-nice news, huh?”


“Oh, you didn’t.”

Twenty seconds later, my jaw clenched, I asked if she wanted a piece of pie. I walked to the sink, back to the island, back to the fridge. I held the knife and slumped over the island, like a hanging carcass.

I thought about our friend: Maybe she’s tricking us. Maybe this is a joke.

I left the room and found Luke’s number in my phone.

“No, I’m in bed already, but thanks for asking.”

“Did you hear about Alex?”

“What do you mean?”

“She passed away.”

“Are you serious?”

His voice came at random pitches in half-formed words. He needed a few minutes to decide if he wanted to hang out. I told him he only had to call or text me.

A few minutes turned to an hour. I told him that I’d be there in ten or fifteen minutes, and I got in the car. We decided to get liquor instead of beer. He had scotch, I had rye whiskey. Mine was eleven dollars. Oh, well.

I felt guilty, I told him. I’d thought about her sometimes, but hadn’t really reached out.

Seemingly random, he explained, “It makes sense.”

“What do you mean? What makes sense?”

“She stopped responding to my texts this weekend.”

“Shit, man.”

We each grabbed our glasses and brought them to our mouths. The air was crisp and clear. In this air, you might see someone in a way you hadn’t before. If the context had been different, it might’ve been invigorating. Instead, it provided strange contrast to the staleness.

He said, “Do you think she’s somewhere else? Like, is there something after.”

“You know, I don’t ever think about Heaven. I don’t imagine it for myself. It’s only when I lose someone close to me that I want there to be a Heaven.”

“I know what you mean. She was so young. Maybe that’s cliche to say, but…”

His voice faded. We started speaking in well-worn platitudes. There wasn’t really anything to say. Our eyes turned to pink marbles and our voices like those of nervous middle school boys. I grabbed his shoulder, and he returned the gesture, but quickly pulled back in the way that he does. It shouldn’t be comforting, but somehow his lack of assuredness is a reminder of the big man’s fragility.

Light rain fell every few minutes. From the table next to us, “Nah, bruh! Nah, bruh!” It sounded so contrived. From inside, rapid jangles and long, tinny chords formed a soft, punctuated aural static. Luke’s face bent into a crescent, and I knew it was because he thought it was funny that they were playing bluegrass inside, since I don’t like bluegrass. Outside, smatterings of students eagerly moved between bars.

A couple women at a table near us were having a conversation.

“Where were you when 9/11 happened?”

“I was at school. I was young and stupid when that happened.”

“I remember where I was. Everything changed then. I was in third grade and the Principal got on the intercom and told us that that terrorists had hit the World Trade Center and that we were going to be dismissed from school, and I just kept wondering why tourists would attack us.”

“That’s funny,” the other one said, but she didn’t really smile. “You know, I’ve never told anyone this. I’ve felt guilty ever since it happened. I was excited. Everything was different. It was a time when you knew that nothing would be the same again. It was important. The thing that everyone seemed to be afraid of, then, was that maybe this wasn’t the end of it. Maybe there’d be more. Maybe there’d be chaos in the streets and we would fail to be what we’d been. And everything really has been different ever since.”

When Luke went to the restroom, I texted a friend to see if she was out. I guess I was lonely. She responded with a question mark, and I said that I was commiserating with a friend but wanted to hang out soon. She didn’t respond.

Luke and I talked about when we’d all hung out together, how curious Alex had been, how she’d been having a hard time, but that she was talented and clever. Maybe if she’d just found an exciting idea, she could’ve gotten a PhD or something. But she’d really been enjoying Utah. She’d found the perfect job. She was really emotionally intelligent, and she got to utilize that there.

The glass in my fist came down hard on the table.

Luke said, “What?!”

He was startled by my sudden explosion, but I didn’t care. “This just sucks, man. It makes me angry. Maybe that’s a weird response, but that’s how I get when people close to me die. It’s weird. We’re talking about how she was, in past tense.”

“I know. I’ve never had someone so close to me die.”

His eyes were red, again, and I realized that mine were, too.

“Let’s go somewhere else.”


The Tyranny of the Majority of the Minority: A Response to Popper’s “The Logic of the Social Sciences”

Economists mostly try to be objective when utilizing their analytical tools, as seems to be the case in all the sciences, social and natural. But this emphasis on objectivity can obfuscate the fact that everyone has biases and that these biases play roles in the outcomes we achieve and experience.

This would be fine if those biases operated on the individual level without affecting the findings of entire fields of research or policy decisions. To this point, on page 96, Popper states:

“Such minor details as, for instance, the social or ideological habitat of the researcher, tend to be eliminated in the long run; although admittedly they always play a part in the short run.”

It is easy to see why this view might be attractive. We can see that humans are fallible and can easily be led astray, but if the pushing and pulling in various directions within a field can sufficiently lead to corrections to errors of bias, then there should be no need for worry. It may often be true that errors of bias are negated by preponderances of evidence, but the problems with this view can be seen as primarily having to do with the importance of many of those cases that, away from view, violate this idea.

As we discussed in class, the commodity options (if I remember correctly) market is one in which data conform to the conclusions. The effect is that much of the seemingly irrelevant noise in the data is brought closer to the general tendency. Following upon this, assumptions in economics can lead to distortions of markets until institutions correct for long-run effects of “social or ideological habitats”. Allow me to explain.

George Soros has claimed that his recognition of economic reflexivity has helped to facilitate much of his wealth concentration. That is to say that he rejects the idea that markets tend toward equilibrium; instead, according to Soros, people dictate markets in such a way that people react to market trends, sometimes causing lasting shifts toward previously unexperienced extremes.

Recent work by Victor Yakovenko shows that, historically, income and wealth distributions follow an exponential curve, but in recent decades, income and wealth distributions in America have become somewhat bisected. Most income and wealth distribution fit the exponential curve, but more and more, the distributions among the highest earners instead follow a steeper curve.

Thomas Piketty’s most famous work shows something similar. Over time, income and wealth distribution favor the very wealthy, and the hallmark feature of capitalism is long-term wealth extraction from the lower classes to the richest few.

Hyman Minsky recently became notable when his financial instability hypothesis correctly forecasted the 2008 financial crisis. It seems that there is some truth to the idea that people’s biases in the market lead toward irrational, destructive behavior, and as recent Federal Reserve Chairmen have sought to improve demand, they have been willing to provide institutional support to banks in ways that have led to more reckless behaviors.

If we look broadly at America’s economy over the past century, it is not tendency toward equilibrium within markets that has brought about high levels of production. The Great Depression was not followed by a return to the reckless banking practices that led to the crisis. Instead, regulations like the Glass- Steagall Act reined in those practices, while federal jobs programs, progressive tax policies, and public investment in infrastructure, education, research and development founded successes of the 1950s and 1960s.

The irony, perhaps, then, was that this led to the conditions that Minsky described, in that trade unions were eviscerated, tax policy shifted toward favoring the wealthy and large corporations, regulations like Glass-Steagall were repealed, and public investments in infrastructure, education, and research and development fell sharply from mid-century levels.

This all led to growth concentrated among the highest earners. The “Greenspan Put” followed, and Bernanke asserted, in his 2004 paper, “The Great Moderation,” that there was no longer a reason to worry because economics had, essentially, arrived: relegated to antiquity were worries over systemic failures, since central bankers now knew how to avoid those failures. Then, we went through 2008’s catastrophic confirmation of Minsky’s hypothesis.

It is easy to see that there is truth in what Popper is saying and it could be hard to blame him for his assertion. In fact, the problems come from limited cases. However, those problems sometimes lead to devastations. In addition to the examples above, this can be seen in the treatment of the problem of global warming. Global warming does not get sufficiently addressed, in part, because “social and ideological habitats” influence researchers in broad ways.

In economics, a couple basic assumptions that drive economic thinking are that growth is good and that people have insatiable wants, but these assumptions stand in stark contrast to the reality of the global catastrophe that we face. Growth is leading to global destruction and insatiable wants might not be as important as some other considerations.

The long-run trend has not been to wash away misinterpretations and misuses; instead, it has been to double down on what have often turned out to have been very bad ideas. Recent research by Michael Marmot and Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson show that, contrary to ideas about growth and insatiable wants, inequality is not healthy for us and it does not make people happy. So, then, what is the use in these assumptions? The problem lies in the fact that economists have started with problematic assumptions and operated on those assumptions. Their work reflects these assumptions and they fail to accept a framework that is based on a model not based on those erroneous assumptions, leading us to disastrous consequences. I would argue that Popper’s mostly right, here, but the results from the cases when he is wrong carry a great deal of gravity, and he fails to sufficiently address them.

Verities and Vestiges


I could feel Charlie staring at me, but I didn’t dare to look. When she looks at me like that, it really freaks me out. It’s like she ceases to be a living, breathing, real human. You know when you can feel what someone else is feeling? Other people talk about this, they talk about people’s energies, or at least I guess that’s what they mean. Well anyway, when someone’s really losing control, when they’re about to get real crazy, sometimes I pick up on something. There’s a static in the room and it feels like something Teslan, like anything could happen, only that it won’t likely be good.

Mostly, I was just trying to not look at her. I was trying to ignore her. She was just staring at me. We’d fought a good deal, recently, and the arguments were getting worse. This was the part where the prospective long-term life partner becomes frustrated with me and decides that I’m not worth all this bullshit. I hate this part. It’s uncomfortable for me and they always make it so complicated.

At some point, I was just staring at the wall when I realized that I was staring at the wall and, then, I was intentionally staring at the wall, following the cracks or just looking at it stupidly, as though I was completely mindless.

I ignored Charlie’s incessant fidgeting. This is how they get when it gets like this. At some point — well, not all, but some — some of them get really anxious and fidgety and I get scared that I’m gonna get smacked by some uncontrolled appendage. Chill out. Don’t hit me, you spazz. I’m always thinking stupid things like that when I get in this position.

But, you know, I couldn’t even blame Charlie for this. In fact, I’m experienced in this sort of thing and maybe she’s never dealt with something as ridiculous as this. The thing is that no one ever understands anyone else. Most people don’t understand themselves. Maybe no one does. I certainly don’t. And Charlie doesn’t understand me. Why would she? Why should she? She wouldn’t. No one would.

She was making me anxious. I suddenly became aware of my heartbeat; my whole body was pulsing — no, thumping — thumping against nothing, thumping against itself. God! Now, my heart was beating even faster. What’s wrong with me? Whenever this happens, I feel like I should call a doctor, but I’ve survived through this so many times now. I don’t want to be dramatic. At least, I don’t want anyone to realize how dramatic I am.

And for some reason, I made the idiotic decision to look over at her. I could see it all in her face, all this pain, all this frustration. She’s mad at me, but more than that, she’s disappointed. I’ve wronged her and I should be ashamed. She’s just standing there, staring directly at me. She’s so mad at me. Why is she mad? Does she even know?

That’s the funny thing about being someone like me. By this point, I’ve seen this patterned behavior so many times that I know what it looks like, even if my unsuspecting, undeserving victims have no idea what they’re feeling at all. It becomes so easy for me to divert attention from what I did wrong and to cast doubt. That’s so shitty, but it’s just true.

I almost jumped when she suddenly made a sound, “Are you gonna say something?” She was speaking so strangely, so uncomfortably.

“What do you want me to say?”

“I dunno. You could apologize. You could explain yourself. Anything would be better than you just standing there with your mouth open.”

She was visibly uncomfortable. She sarcastically looked at the wall with me, as though she didn’t realize there was nothing there to look at. She was annoyed and she wanted to punish me now. I couldn’t blame her.

But I was annoyed by her question and I didn’t wanna answer it. So slowly, I forced myself to play along. “I’m sorry that we’re here, doing this. I’m sorry that I upset you. I have no idea what I did, though. I want to figure this out, but I don’t understand what’s happening and I wish you would tell me.”

I knew it instantly. That wasn’t what she wanted to hear. I said the wrong thing. You’d think I could figure out how to respond to these situations by now, but I always fuck it up.

Charlie kept spazzing out. At one point, I thought that she might come toward me, but her nerves ensured that she returned to the position she’d been in before.

I found myself remembering the first time I ever bloviated in Charlie’s direction: “The first thing you have to understand about me is that I’m a narcissist. I’m not proud of it, and I’m not as bad as I used to be, but I don’t recommend that anyone get close to me. I mean, I want you to. But for your sake, don’t. I mean, I want you to love me. I want everyone to love me. But from afar. I want to pick and choose who I interact with and how, and maybe I want to interact with you, but you really shouldn’t. Just trust me on this. But don’t trust me on anything.” She had laughed at that. She’s not laughing now.

Charlie’s giving up. She made a weird little exasperated noise. That’s when I heard the birds chirping outside and little furry squirrels and chipmunks roaring like cutesie vestiges of the Jurassic or some shit.

Family Photo


Why are we doing this? It’s so stupid. We look like a retarded Brady Bunch. I’m not supposed to say “retarded.” Whatever. I guess it’s bad to Colin. It upsets Aunt Jenna. So embarrassing.

Why do they make us dress up like dorks? Why this tree? Why do we have to smile? Who cares at all? It’s not like it’s even a family tradition. It’s so random and it always sucks. Smile with your eyes. That doesn’t even mean anything. So stupid.

I secretly have the worst parents on Earth. No one knows it. How does no one see it? I wish that CPS would’ve done something. I didn’t want them to, but I kinda did. I was disappointed when nothing happened to mom and dad. How could CPS not see that we were being abused? That’s not justice. Now, we’re stuck with them and they think what they do is okay.

It’s not abuse. It’s punishment. They’re idiots. They’re so irrational and unfair. What if I don’t want to take a stupid picture? Why do I have to? I didn’t choose this. I didn’t choose my parents. I want different parents. Why can’t I have Alex’s parents? He steals his dad’s porn. His mom might not like it, but Alex seems okay and he has freedom. I don’t have freedom. I can’t wait to leave.

I don’t want Justin and Jared’s parents. I don’t get that family. Mom’s irrational and dad’s unpredictable and they’re both abusive, but Justin and Jared’s parents confuse me. I don’t know if they’d be better. In some ways they would. They have cable and they wear Nikes.

God, how long is this gonna take? How much longer until we have to start this thing? I don’t want it to start. Could I run to Josh’s house? I’d get in trouble. I’m already grounded, so what’s the point? They’d probably ground me for longer. I fucking hate it here.

Why can’t I just be like my friends? Why is our family so weird? Everyone else knows about sex and drugs and they go to parties. It’s so embarrassing.

“Shaunie, get your sisters and brothers and tell them to come over here.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Why is that my job? Why don’t you do it if it’s what you want? I’m not your slave. This is a free country. Don’t you know that? Kids have rights, too. I won’t be a kid for long.

“Mom, where are we supposed to go?”

“Honey, tuck in your shirt for Pete’s sake. Is that a stain?”

“Huh? Where?”

Oh, shit. She’s gonna be mad. Why do I always spill my food without realizing it?

“Honey! You got ketchup on your shirt. Come here.”

Why does she do this? How old does she think I am? Does she think her saliva’s gonna make the red get out? This is so stupid. Maybe I’ll get out of having to take this stupid photo.

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