Monthly Archives: August 2014

Is Diversity a sorites paradox?

Never heard of a sorites paradox? I hadn’t either until I stumbled upon the subject the other day while looking up sorites polysyllogism, a logical cousin of the paradox, it seems. Found a fine article on sorites-related problems by Prof. Dominic Hyde of the University of Queensland. Prof. Hyde is the boss of all matters soritical. Anyway, one Eubulides of Miletus is credited with some famous logic puzzles including the “Heap” puzzle (soros means ‘heap’). It goes like this: Does a single grain of wheat make a heap? No. How about two grains? No? … Eventually we’re going to have what we can agree is a heap of wheat, but we cannot say at any one point exactly where “heapness” has been attained. Even if we could do so, were we to remove a single grain of wheat, would we then no longer have a heap? How about two grains?  Three … ?

A sorites paradox thus depends on two factors: a vague collective term in the predicate of a statement, and small individual increments that might make up that collective whole but do not permit a precise definitional limit. We might say “x grains of (a particular kind of) wheat make a gram” because of the standardized specificity of a gram weight. But we can’t do that with a “heap” because we can’t define a vague term in exact constituent units.

As it happened, I had also just been reading several articles about Diversity (the social movement, not the real thing) and affirmative action. The first piece is “Assessing Affirmative Action” by Peter H. Schuck in National Affairs, the second  is by W. Lee Hansen for the Pope Center, and the third is Terry Eastland’s “The Nitty Gritty of Diversity” in The Weekly Standard. These essays all concern the same question: how do we know when some imagined “critical mass” of individuals in an institution or organization has been gathered such that we can then — and only then — say that the institution or organization is now satisfactorily “diverse?”

As the good Prof. Hyde wrote to me, “we might not be able to know of any particular point in the growing diversity of a group that it is the point at which a non-diverse group becomes diverse (i. e. we cannot know that sharp boundary), but this does not rule out our knowing of some cases that they are clear cases of a diverse group.” A wheat heap’s very vagueness permits general agreement that it is indeed a heap of wheat. And we can, I think, just as generally agree that the people in a given organization present a great variety of human characteristics, real diversity, that is.

You can see where I’m going with this. Proponents of Diversity and affirmative action are attempting to define a desired heap of students by calculating student grains. They seek precision in something that by definition can only be vague. The very definiteness they desire (an exact ratio of persons of African descent) cannot construe any real diverseness, even at only one point in time. Hence the endless contradictions, inconsistencies, and absurdities. For example, assume that in some college Diversity has at last been achieved. If a single student drop out, is the college then no longer diverse until it replaces that dropout with an exactly similar student unit? Perhaps it is time to add illogicality to the list of things that are wrong with the Diversity movement and affirmative action.

Gender Defender

The Idiot has been away recently to attend the Village Idiots Convention, held this year at the Lee Plaza Hotel in Detroit. He returns to conclude his musings on The Transgender Tipping Point and related subjects.

Well, Dog Day Afternoon was pretty interesting, especially where the bank robber Sal Naturale names Wyoming, my home state, as the foreign country he wants safe passage to. Hah! And how peropportune: the movie was based on a real Brooklyn bank heist carried out in 1972 by three hapless clowns, including one John Wojtowicz whose “wife,” Ernest Aron, was a man who self-identified as a woman. I use the scare quotes because the wedding ceremony was of dubious legitimacy. Well, it seems that Ernest had some serious psychological issues due to his sexual confusion. Or was it the other way around? Who knows. The point is that Wojtowicz robbed the bank partly to get enough money for Ernest to afford sex-change surgery. Having failed in that crime, he did nonetheless get enough money from film rights to pay for the change, and Ernest became Elizabeth Debbie Eden. She died from AIDS in 1987.

I grabbed a cup o’ Black Whole Singularity from Dogface Donuts and sat on my bench to try to make sense of all this. I’d talked to the Fool on the Hill and Moe Rahn and I’d done some reading and lots of thinking. So, where are we with this? The Village Green lawn, just mowed, glittered with golden gobs of sunlight. Teenage kids were making out, young couples were playing with their children. Ah, nature. It was a good afternoon for some clear thinking.

There have always been, and always will be, people whose inner sense of their own gender doesn’t agree with their natural gender: boys who think they’re girls, girls who think they’re boys, and a bewildering, chaotic, ever-morphing variety of preferences and practices. Let’s call it LGBPTTQQIIAA+ for now; the acronym will no doubt expand. And we know that some societies have made allowance for people like that. But it has also happened often enough that other people have been unjust and cruel to such persons. Humans are like that sometimes, one is sad to admit. Such mistreatment has given rise to a new quasi-civil rights movement and to demands, not only for protection and acceptance, but even for approval, praise, and celebrity. Conchita Wurst, Carmen Carrera, Chaz Bono are hailed as heroes or, in that noxious media cliché, “icons.”

One thought-floor down, this “movement” seems to have as its first principle that science’s proper purpose is to fix or improve what is not naturally “right” in some sense. We can all agree that science and technology can and often do improve our natural conditions. Skilled surgeries, pharmaceutical products, technological devices, these save lives every day. And most of us would agree that sexual-confusion disorders are real as psychological and emotional conditions, with multifarious causes, kinds, and degrees. We should all agree that the sexually-confused should be treated justly, not because they are a special case but because they are persons and deserving of justice. But we do not all agree that sexual confusions should be treated as physical disabilities, nor that reassignment treatments require us to accept the results as real. Gender reassignment is a radical extension of cosmetic surgery. Yes, results are sometimes beautiful; but they are always artificial. These procedures are a frontier, not of civil rights, but of medical ethics and the limits, both natural and humane, of science itself.

But in the very basement of transgender-rights thinking, I now believe, there lies that ancient Protagorean skepsis: each one’s inner reality is real to him, and of external reality there is no complete agreement. We wish we knew more of what Protagoras meant. In our time, however, doubts about nature and objective, shared reality have been routed into class warfare tactics. To insist on such natural realities as physical sexual organs is to “privilege” one group, “oppress” another. To avoid being an oppressor, one must deny the meaning of reality. To prefer lies to truth is the new “civil right.” It allows us only the freedom to applaud a tyrannical Emperor’s haute couture.

I’m a certified Idiot. Life is confusing enough, I know. But this movement is moving in the direction of far greater idiocy and very far away from real rights.