I’d love to say this means “Social Justice” has jumped the shark, but I know you cannot underestimate the power of human stupidity.
“Mathematical ethics recognizes that, for centuries, mathematics has been used as a dehumanizing tool… mathematics formulae also differentiate between the classifications of a war or a genocide and have been used to trick indigenous peoples out of land and property.”
From the original article:
To remedy math’s contribution to oppression, teachers are thus encouraged to think of ways that math can be used to advocate for marginalized populations, to which end they are encouraged to read an article by an English teacher from Hawaii, Christina Torres, who argues that failing to teach students about social justice is a “wasted opportunity” to provide them with the “tools to subvert power, question normalcy, and change society as we understand it.”
This is not to suggest, by the way, that there aren’t problems. We’re seeing computer algorithms being used to help make “impartial” sentencing decisions in criminal cases–and discovering that we are seeding those algorithms with a racist set of assumptions. The Association for Computing Machinery has long recognized the power of computer systems to violate privacy rights and significantly alter social compacts, and has promulgated a code of ethics which require members to abide by standards which recognize this.
But math, just like guns or horses or cars or computers or hammers or a million other tools, are simply that: tools, which can be wielded for good or for bad.
To me, while it is good to remind students of the ethical requirements to behave in an honorable way, it would be preferable if we were to simply teach a class on ethics, rather than steal valuable time that should be spent teaching math skills. And I say this because all too often as citizens we are being repeatedly manipulated by bad statistics and terrible math–and mathematical illiteracy plays into the hands of those who would push their own agenda.
Including those teaching “social justice.”
If the “social justice” crowd believes students need to be trained in ethics, I actually have no problem with this. But let it be its own class.
Otherwise we are not giving students the tools for them to decide. Instead, all we are doing is reinforcing mindless training in order to create adults who do not have the tools to think critically.
Reminding everyone of the crimes without giving them the tools to understand and think critically and reason future events does not create utopia. It indoctrinates the crowd into passivity for the next Hitler to rise to power.
And that’s the real problem I have.
The far left and the far right are not struggling for equality and fairness and a population able to engage in self-determination. Both sides would rather pacify the crowd so they can take power–so they can put their own left-wing Hitler or right-wing Hitler into power. (And if you are saying the Right has won with Trump, you are a fucking moron–because your ability to say that negates your assertion. Just look at how, in certain areas–such as college campuses and in certain professions–conservatives are no longer entirely free to speak their minds.)
Just look at the pathetic state of most Liberal Arts colleges. There was a time when someone studying the Liberal Arts was sought after by corporations for leadership positions, as Liberal Arts colleges taught intellectual literacy and critical-thinking. This was done by exposing Liberal Arts students to a wide variety of thought, including lines of thought many of us may find deplorable, such as Nietzsche and Machiavelli, as well as drilled down deeply into topics including Classical History, and pointed an unwavering eye at at subjects as wide and varied as Mathematics, Psychology and Religious studies.
Such individuals often came out of these colleges able to speak or read in a classical language (such as Latin or Greek), had a solid background in the philosophy of science and scientific methods, and was exposed to economics and business informatics. Many colleges required studying at least three modern languages, as well as civics and world history.
It is easy to imagine such a person, who has a solid grounding in business methods, but who has exposure to the arts, who can puzzle out multiple languages, and has an understanding of philosophy and the scientific method, would be sought after for management positions at large companies: such an individual would be an engaging conversationalist but also capable of managing large groups of people.
Today, the joke goes, a Liberal Arts college education leaves you prepared to ask that all-important question “do you want fries with that?”
And that’s because in the United States, the Liberal Arts has become increasingly experimental, and increasingly disdainful of the classics–seeing it as a form of mental imperialism. But without a solid philosophical theory all we are left with is indoctrination rather than education–in training seminars rather than in critical thinking, in goodthink over crimethink without even recognizing the source of those terms. Deconstructionism has not helped; deconstructionism is predicated on the notion that truth is relative and meaning is shallow–and acceptance of meaning is a form of mental rape as dead (and therefore worthless) texts are permitted to outlive their authors.
Without meaning there can be no critical thought, and in a nihilist world full of problems all that is left is mindless indoctrination and supplicating oneself to authority.
Which is precisely what we are now seeing the far Left demand.
(This criticism cannot be levied on the far Right; instead, an honest appraisement of the far Right by those on the far Left who are still capable of critical thought would reveal a far Right concerned to the point of paranoia about overly powerful individuals imposing themselves–and a call to arms to fight back, legally if possible, by violence if necessary. The difference between the far Left and the far Right is that the far Left is demanding conformity, while the far Right is demanding people to get off their fucking lawn by gunpoint–even if it destroys the fabric of society.)
The barrier thus far to the “Social Justice” crowd is that the STEM subjects are resistant to the same indoctrination philosophy which has turned the Liberal Arts into a pathetic joke.
After all, no amount of deconstructionism in the world will change the fact that 2 plus 2 is 4.
Further, there is recognition in many quarters that the upper-middle class in our country is increasingly populated by those students who study STEM subjects–even those who do not directly use their science or math degrees. In some countries (such as China and Taiwan), most politicians tend to be engineers rather than law students.
I suspect that’s because the critical thinking that used to be demanded of Liberal Arts students–the sort of critical thinking which is important to large corporations–is still being taught in STEM classes, albeit in a more limited fashion: you may not be asked to discuss how the Battle of Salamis represented a conflict between two managerial styles and how the superiority of one came to drive the rise of Western Civilization. But you may be asked to discuss how the Millikan Oil Drop experiment–used to measure the charge of an electron–demonstrates how observational bias can affect scientific results.
Of course this sort of critical thinking must be stopped.
Which is why, I suspect, my observation that if we wish to teach “Social Justice” we should do so in a single set of ethics classes, will never happen.
That’s because if we were to concentrate “Social Justice” into a single ethics class, it would permit us to point a critical eye on the assumptions underlying “Social Justice.” And the point here is to do away with critical thought; to teach goodthink, to encourage the right responses while “rous[ing] the minimum of echos in the speaker’s mind.”
‘Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed, will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten.’ Already, in the Eleventh Edition, we’re not far from that point. But the process will still be continuing long after you and I are dead. Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller. Even now, of course, there’s no reason or excuse for committing thoughtcrime. It’s merely a question of self-discipline, reality-control. But in the end there won’t be any need even for that. The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect.
It is fortunate that we shoot revenuers, and celebrate that fact.
And it is fortunate that the “Social Justice” crowd are in conflict themselves as to what Social Justice really means.
O’Brien smiled faintly. ‘You are no metaphysician, Winston,’ he said. ‘Until this moment you had never considered what is meant by existence. I will put it more precisely. Does the past exist concretely, in space? Is there somewhere or other a place, a world of solid objects, where the past is still happening?’
‘Then where does the past exist, if at all?’
‘In records. It is written down.’
‘In records. And—-?’
‘In the mind. In human memories.’
‘In memory. Very well, then. We, the Party, control all records, and we control all memories. Then we control the past, do we not?’
‘But how can you stop people remembering things?’ cried Winston again momentarily forgetting the dial. ‘It is involuntary. It is outside oneself. How can you control memory? You have not controlled mine!’
O’Brien’s manner grew stern again. He laid his hand on the dial.
‘On the contrary,’ he said, ‘YOU have not controlled it. That is what has brought you here. You are here because you have failed in humility, in self-discipline. You would not make the act of submission which is the price of sanity. You preferred to be a lunatic, a minority of one. Only the disciplined mind can see reality, Winston. You believe that reality is something objective, external, existing in its own right. You also believe that the nature of reality is self-evident. When you delude yourself into thinking that you see something, you assume that everyone else sees the same thing as you. But I tell you, Winston, that reality is not external. Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes: only in the mind of the Party, which is collective and immortal. Whatever the Party holds to be the truth, is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party. That is the fact that you have got to relearn, Winston. It needs an act of self-destruction, an effort of the will. You must humble yourself before you can become sane.’
He paused for a few moments, as though to allow what he had been saying to sink in.
‘Do you remember,’ he went on, ‘writing in your diary, “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four”?’
‘Yes,’ said Winston.
O’Brien held up his left hand, its back towards Winston, with the thumb hidden and the four fingers extended.
‘How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?’
‘And if the party says that it is not four but five–then how many?’
The word ended in a gasp of pain. The needle of the dial had shot up to fifty-five. The sweat had sprung out all over Winston’s body. The air tore into his lungs and issued again in deep groans which even by clenching his teeth he could not stop. O’Brien watched him, the four fingers still extended. He drew back the lever. This time the pain was only slightly eased.
‘How many fingers, Winston?’
The needle went up to sixty.
‘How many fingers, Winston?’
‘Four! Four! What else can I say? Four!’
The needle must have risen again, but he did not look at it. The heavy, stern face and the four fingers filled his vision. The fingers stood up before his eyes like pillars, enormous, blurry, and seeming to vibrate, but unmistakably four.
‘How many fingers, Winston?’
‘Four! Stop it, stop it! How can you go on? Four! Four!’
‘How many fingers, Winston?’
‘Five! Five! Five!’
‘No, Winston, that is no use. You are lying. You still think there are four. How many fingers, please?’
‘Four! five! Four! Anything you like. Only stop it, stop the pain!’
Abruptly he was sitting up with O’Brien’s arm round his shoulders. He had perhaps lost consciousness for a few seconds. The bonds that had held his body down were loosened. He felt very cold, he was shaking uncontrollably, his teeth were chattering, the tears were rolling down his cheeks. For a moment he clung to O’Brien like a baby, curiously comforted by the heavy arm round his shoulders. He had the feeling that O’Brien was his protector, that the pain was something that came from outside, from some other source, and that it was O’Brien who would save him from it.
‘You are a slow learner, Winston,’ said O’Brien gently.
‘How can I help it?’ he blubbered. ‘How can I help seeing what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four.’
‘Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.’
The book 1984 was a warning, not a user’s manual.