Racism Of The Midwits
Never cross a river that is on average four-feet deep
Before Taleb lost his mind due to covid and bitcoin, he said some pretty wise things. One of them is the above quote that gets to the heart of the midwit fallacy: Even if something were true generally, or true on average, that does not mean instances of that thing are true specifically.
Another formulation is: Even if the base rate for something suggests you do x, and you do it, but it turns out y would have yielded the better outcome, your process was good because you did the thing that was more likely to happen. To say your decision was incorrect would be to engage in “results-oriented” analysis, i.e., using a favorable result to justify a negative expected-value decision.
They can prove this too — they’ll say if someone proposed a coin flip wherein you get a dollar for heads, but you’d have to pay them two for tails, you take the bet, and it lands heads, you still made a bad decision even though you won a dollar. That’s because if you repeat this bet a million times, you will lose a lot of money!
That is 100 percent true, but also completely irrelevant. What is on average true for coins is true of every single coin — there are no particulars when it comes to coins or decks of cards or dice. They are describing cases where every instance is exactly the same. Most of life is not like this.
Here’s a simple way in which the midwit fallacy was misused during covid. As it became clear the mRNA injections were not stopping the spread of Covid, the large pharmaceutical companies and their captured government lackeys still needed people to take all the doses they pre-purchased, and they had to justify the civil-rights-trampling mandates they pushed. If the vaccine only protected against illness but not spread, this was a big problem. So they had to come up with a new angle where not taking the shot could still be characterized as selfish and antisocial toward others.
Eventually they settled on the talking point that the unvaccinated were taking up all the ICU beds. “Surveys show 94 percent of ICU beds are full of unvaccinated! You’re killing people not by spreading it [as we misinformed you earlier] but by requiring medical attention you wouldn’t otherwise need that should go to someone else!”
The midwits ate this up. They were already on board with the program, and this gave them something to say when people pointed out that they too had caught and spread covid. “At least I’m not taking up an ICU bed, you selfish psycho!” But this was an odd thing to say to me. I hadn’t taken up an ICU bed, either, so how did that make me selfish? “You haven’t taken up one yet, but statistically speaking you’re more likely to now!”
But how would he know that? Even if that dubious 94 percent figure were true, it could be the case that virtually all of the “selfish ICU-bed occupiers” were either over 60 or had severe co-morbidities. Perhaps no one in my metabolic health, with my particular diet and Vitamin D level had been to the ICU at all. Why am I being grouped with them based on a single common decision we made?
Worse, if everyone who isn’t optimizing his life to avoid ICU beds is a selfish person whose rights should be curtailed, what about people who don’t eat healthily or exercise much or whose weight resides outside a certain optimal range? What if new experimental cancer treatments emerge, and someone doesn’t want those? Could we look at the stats, decide they’re more likely to take up a precious ICU bed (seriously, for a couple months, ICU beds to the midwit were like the ring to Gollum), and coerce them to take it on that basis?
The talking point was beyond absurd, but the midwits loved it because it allowed them to invoke “data!” in service of their arguments and agendas, even if that data (of dubious veracity for many reasons) was being grossly misapplied.
. . .
Data can be misapplied with respect to race just as easily. Let’s assume crime statistics show blue people commit more crimes than red on a per capita basis. Someone claims blue people are criminals and justifies being more suspicious of blues. The midwit doesn’t like this and says, “No, blues don’t commit more crimes — it’s people like you who work for the police who arrest and charge them more often. Moreover, even if blues did commit more crimes, it’s due to past racist policies that made them more desperate!”
This sounds sensible because both of the midwit’s claims might in fact be true. But it’s a terrible answer because of what it implies, namely — if the crime statistics were accurate, and if blues were not arrested at a rate incommensurate with their crime commission (and if it could somehow — I don’t know how — be shown that historical treatment was no longer a factor), then blues simply are criminals!
The midwit is arguing blues are not criminals because of x and y, but the only acceptable answer is even if blues committed far more crimes per capita than reds, and even if they had no excuse for doing so, it would still be wrong to say “blue people are criminals.”
This is so for the same reason an unvaccinated person could not be said to be selfishly taking up an ICU bed! How is it on me that other people who share a particular trait with me are committing crimes or getting sick? (Let’s set aside how repellent it was to stigmatize people for getting sick in the first place.)
If a blue person named Joe never committed a crime in his life, why is it on him that a blue person named John has a rap sheet the size of the VAERS database? If someone says something to the effect of: “I’m just saying, they commit more crimes, or control the banking system, e.g.,” they are implying what they believe is true on average about a group is true of the individuals within that group.
But this is preposterous. No one is merely a generic member of a group, like a coin flip or a dice roll. Individual blue people aren’t responsible for the actions of a fictional collective which is no more than a category society created for them. To treat individuals as generic representatives of a race or ethnicity is the heart of racism. Once you view each person as an individual, which in reality is what they are, it’s obvious race-based heuristics for things like character, trustworthiness and reliability are profoundly off-base. (Whether some races need worry less about sunburn, for example, than others is obviously superficial and unimportant.)
Of course, racism — even if not endlessly perpetuated by midwits — would still exist for a while because humans take shortcuts and have bad incentives. Instead of doing good police work, just pull over the blue guy, make the quota. Obviously, that should be harshly condemned and punished. But if you want that kind of bad behavior to dissipate rather than increase, it’s imperative to stop grouping people by the very characteristics on account of which they might be mistreated.
A couple days after I wrote a draft of this, Buccaneers head coach Todd Bowles rather succinctly put the kibosh on exactly this kind of midwit racism from reporters. I’ll let him have the last word: