Yet another weird SF fan

I'm a mathematician, a libertarian, and a science-fiction fan. Common sense? What's that?

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Yet another weird SF fan

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Accusations of Racism and Speed Reading

In the discussion following Arnold Kling's TCS column on Iraq's natural state, one of the commenters, LiberalGoodman, wrote:

I often think TCHDaily posts are funny, stupid, but ultimately harmless. This one made me angry, angry that Kling can sit in a leather chair and pontificate that Iraqis are bruts who need a brutal dictator to keep them alive. Genetically, Iraqis are like the rest of us. If we can be democratic, they can. If we can write racist drivel to excuse walking from a bloodbath of our creation, so can they.
The odd thing is that there was no racism in the original article at all. It was about local institutions, not genes. We have seen similar results from an attempt to transplant a free society in such places as 18th-century France or the 19th-century American South.

I think I know how such misreadings occur. LiberalGoodman must have been speed reading. According to Jane Galt:

As I get older, though, I've figured out how I [speed read]: I skip things. This may seem obvious, but I actually had to catch myself doing it; it is not a conscious process, and if I think about it, I can't do it. Somehow, my brain selects chunks of text that it thinks won't convey new information, and avoids them. Perhaps this is not optimal, but it works well enough for me to have made A's in most of my college lit classes. I can still read faster than most people while reading completely, and I do for some things, like textbooks, but it takes effort and I don't enjoy it as much.
The other side of skipping things, of course, is filling in the gaps. If there's a gap between Iraqis “need the rule of law” and “it's not our fault if it can't be imported”, it's easy to fill in the gap with assumed racism.

Digression: One of my theories is that it often takes at least two attempts to start up a free society, one to import the ideas of freedom and the next to empower those ideas. So maybe it's time to take another look at Vietnam …

Another digression: Do people also fill in the gaps while watching TV news? It might be the reason some people thought there was conclusive evidence linking Saddam and Al Qaeda.


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