Researchers Ask: Does Enforcing Civility Stifle Online Debate in Social Media?

Lambert here: Throwing a flag on the Betteridge’s Law violation.

By Teresa Carr, a Colorado-based investigative journalist. Originally published at Undark.

In poll after poll, Americans say they are deeply concerned about rising incivility online. And extensive social media research has focused on how to counteract online incivility. But with Civic Signals, a project of the National Conference on Citizenship and the Center for Media Engagement, researchers took a different approach: If you started from scratch, they asked, what would a flourishing, healthy digital space look like?

They quickly realized that it wouldn’t always be civil.

The Civic Signals project, which began about four years ago, initially involved conducting a thorough literature review and expert interviews in the U.S. and four other countries to identify the values — or “signals” — people want reflected in the design of online spaces. The team then conducted focus groups and polled more than 22,000 people in 20 countries who were frequent users of social, search, and messaging platforms. Gina Masullo, a professor in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Texas at Austin, brought an expertise in incivility research to the group. But “pretty early on in the process,” she said, the team concluded that if one of the goals was to support productive political discourse, civility alone was insufficient.

“It’s not really that we are advocating for incivility,” said Masullo. “But if you are going to have passionate discussion about politics, which we want in a democracy, I would argue, people are not always going to talk perfectly about it.” In her book “Nasty Talk: Online Incivility and Public Debate,” she points out that “perfect” speech can be so sanitized that we wind up saying nothing.

No one is arguing that social media companies shouldn’t combat the most harmful forms of speech — violent threats, targeted harassment, racism, incitement to violence. But the artificial intelligence programs that the companies use for screening, trained using squishy and arguably naive notions of civility, miss some of the worst forms of hate. For example, research led by Libby Hemphill, a professor in the University of Michigan’s School of Information and the Institute for Social Research, demonstrated how white supremacists evade moderation by donning a cloak of superficial politeness.

“We need to understand more than just civility to understand the spread of hatred,” she said.

Even if platforms get better at hate Whac-A-Mole, if the goal is not just to profit, but also to create a digital space for productive discourse, they will need to retool how algorithms prioritize content. Research suggests that companies incentivize posts that elicit strong emotion, especially anger and outrage, because, like a wreck on the highway, these draw attention, and, crucially, more eyeballs to paid advertising. Engagement-hungry folks have upped their game accordingly, creating the toxicity that has social media users so concerned.

What people really want, the Civic Signals project found, is a digital space where they feel welcome, connected, informed, and empowered to act on the issues that affect them. In a social media world optimized for clicks, such positive experiences happen almost despite the environment’s design, said Masullo. “Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with making money for the platforms,” she said. “But maybe you can do both, like you could also make money but as well not destroy democracy.”

As toxic as political discourse has become, it seems almost quaint that a little over a decade ago, many social scientists were hopeful that by allowing political leaders and citizens to talk directly to one another, nascent social media platforms would improve a relationship tarnished by distrust. That directness, said Yannis Theocharis, Professor of Digital Governance at the Technical University of Munich “was something that made people optimistic, like me, and think that this is exactly what’s going to refresh our understanding of democracy and democratic participation.”

So, what happened?

Social media brought politicians and their constituents together to some extent, said Theocharis, but it also gave voice to people on the margins whose intent is to vent or attack. Human nature being what it is, we tend to gravitate towards the sensational. “Louder people usually tend to get a lot of attention on social media,” said Theocharis. His research suggests that people respond more positively to information when it has a bit of a nasty edge, especially if it jibes with their political views.

And politicians have grown savvy to the rules of game. Since 2009, tweets by members of the U.S. Congress have become increasingly uncivil according to an April study that used artificial intelligence to analyze 1.3 million posts. Results also revealed a plausible reason why: Nastiness pays. The rudest, most disrespectful tweets garner eight times as many likes and ten times as many retweets as civil ones.

By and large, social media users don’t approve of the uncivil posts, the researchers found, but pass them along for entertainment value. Jonathan Haidt, social psychologist at the New York University Stern School of Business, has noted that the simple design choice about a decade ago to “like” and “share” features changed the way that people provide social feedback to one another. “The newly tweaked platforms were almost perfectly designed to bring out our most moralistic and least reflective selves,” he wrote this past May in The Atlantic. “The volume of outrage was shocking.”

One solution to rising incivility is to run platforms like a fifth-grade classroom and force everyone to be nice. But enforcing civility in the digital public square is a fool’s errand, Masullo and her Civic Signals colleagues argue in a commentary published in the journal Social Media + Society in 2019. For starters, incivility turns out to be really hard to define. Social scientists use standardized artificial intelligence programs trained by humans to classify speech as uncivil based on factors such as profanity, hate speech, ALL CAPS, name calling, or humiliation. But those tools aren’t nuanced enough to moderate speech in the real world.

Profanity is the easiest way to define incivility because you can just create a search for certain words, said Masullo. But only a small percentage of potentially uncivil language contains profanity, and, she added, “sexist or homophobic or racist speech is way worse than dropping an F bomb here and there.”

Plus, heated conversations aren’t necessarily bad, said Masullo. “In a democracy you want people to discuss things,” she said. “Sometimes they’re going to dip into, maybe, some incivility and you don’t want to chill robust debate at the risk of making it sanitized.” Finally, she said, when you focus on civility as the end goal, it tends to privilege those in power who get to define what’s “appropriate.”

Furthermore, civility policing arguably isn’t working particularly well. Hemphill’s research as a Belfer Fellow for the Anti-Defamation League shows that moderation algorithms miss some of the worst forms of hate. Because hate speech represents such a small fraction of the vast amount of language online, machine learning systems trained on large samples of general speech typically don’t recognize it. To get around that problem, Hemphill and her team trained algorithms on posts from the far-right white-nationalist website Stormfront, comparing it to alt-right posts on Twitter and a compendium of discussions on Reddit.

In her report Very Fine People, Hemphill details findings showing that platforms frequently overlook discussions of conspiracy theories about white genocide and malicious grievances against Jews and people of color. White supremacists evade moderation by avoiding profanity or direct attacks — but use distinctive speech to signal their identity to others in ways that are apparent to humans, if not algorithms. They center their whiteness by appending “white” to many terms such as “power” and dehumanize racial and ethnic groups by using plural nouns such as Blacks, Jews, and gays.

A civil rights audit of Facebook published in 2020 concluded that the company doesn’t do enough to remove organized hate. And last October, former Facebook product manager Frances Haughen testified before a U.S. Senate Committee that the company catches 3 to 5 percent of hateful content.

But Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, disagrees. In an email, Meta spokesperson Irma Palmer wrote: “In the last quarter alone, the prevalence of hate speech was at 0.02 percent on Facebook, down from 0.06-0.05 percent, or 6 to 5 views of hate speech per 10,000 views of content from the same quarter the year before.” Even so, she wrote, Meta knows that it will make mistakes, so it continues to invest in refining its policies, enforcement, and the tools it gives users. The company is testing strategies such as granting administrators of Facebook Groups more latitude to consider context when deciding what is and isn’t allowed in their space.

>Another solution to the problem of hate and harassment online is regulation. As I covered in a previous column, a handful of giant for-profit companies control the digital world. In a Los Angeles Times op-ed about the efforts of Elon Musk, Tesla CEO and world’s richest person, to purchase Twitter, Safiya Noble, professor of Gender Studies at the University of California in Los Angeles, and Rashad Robinson, president of the racial justice organization Color of Change, pointed out that a select few people control the technology companies that affect an untold number of lives and our democracy.

“The issue is not just that rich people have influence over the public square, it’s that they can dominate and control a wholly privatized square — they’ve created it, they own it, they shape it around how they can profit from it,” wrote Noble and Robinson. They advocate for regulations like those for the television and telecommunications industries that establish frameworks for fairness and accountability for harm.

In the absence of stricter laws, social media companies could do much more to create a space that allows people to speak their mind without devolving into harassment and hate.

In the Very Fine People report, Hemphill recommends several steps that companies could take to reduce hate speech on their platforms. First, they could consistently and transparently enforce existing rules. A broad swath of the civil rights community has criticized Facebook for not enforcing policies against hate speech, especially content targeted at African Americans, Jews, and Muslims.

Social media companies may take an economic hit and even face legal challenges when they don’t allow far-right extremists to speak, Hemphill acknowledges. Texas state law HB 20 would have made it nearly impossible for social media companies to ban toxic content and misinformation. But the U.S. Supreme Court recently put that law on hold while lawsuits against the legislation work their way through the courts. If the Texas law is overturned, going forward, platforms could argue more forcefully for their own rights to moderate speech.

In the wake of the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, which expanded corporations’ rights to free speech under the First Amendment, tech companies “can remind people that they have the right to do what they want on their platforms,” said Hemphill. “Once they do that, they can start to prioritize social health metrics instead of only eyeballs.”

Like Hemphill, many social scientists are making the case for platforms to create a healthier space by tweaking algorithms to de-emphasize potentially uncivil content. Companies already have tools to do this, said Theocharis. They can block the sharing of a post identified as uncivil or downgrade it in users’ feeds so that fewer will people see and share it. Or as Twitter has tried, they could nudge users to rethink posting something hurtful. Theocharis’ team is exploring whether such interventions work to reduce incivility.

The Civic Signals team recommends that companies focus on optimizing feeds for how valuable content is for users and not just clicks. If companies changed their algorithms to prioritize so-called connective posts — that is, posts that make an argument, even using strong language, without directly attacking other people — then uncivil posts would be seen less and, therefore, shared less and would eventually fade from view, said Masullo.

As for profit, Masullo pointed out that that people are unhappy with the current social media environment. If you cleaned up a public park full of rotting garbage and dog poop, she said, more people would use it.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Joe Well

    I once had a comment on Facebook flagged as hate speech. The comment was “in another country people would have rebelled by now. Americans are such sheep.” The only possible target of the “hate” would be Americans, and I am American. Facebook’s policies could be interpreted to categorize my comment as hate speech since they make no distinction as to whether the person doing the commenting is a member of the group.

    I got a warning that I had a strike against my account and one more strike would mean my account was banned.

    I was replying to the post of someone who is a radical socialist, and I am guessing the account was under some kind of watch, or else some “concerned citizen” was watching his posts and comments and reported it.

    Here is Facebook’s policy regarding hate speech.

    1. Louis Fyne

      let’s say 55% to 65% of my political beliefs overlap with the “woke”. but the woke have turned insufferable and authoritarian. when even the word retdrd is borderline hat3 speech, give me a break.

      i will laugh with schaudenfraude when the entire Dem, Party gets thrown out with the woke bath water over the next 2 elections.

      congrats folks, you did it! you’ve destroyed progress to your own policy goals because of your egos, hubris, pride and moral sanctity.

      1. Michael Fiorillo

        Don’t leave out class blindness, since Wokeness is of, by and for the PMC, and often used as means of getting ahead – i.e., stepping on rivals’ throats – in shrinking, ultra-competitive fields such as academia and media, whence it’s all codified and promulgated.

        As Adolph Reed has said, Anti-Racism as we’ve come to know and love it is a class project – it’s why you saw all those 1619 Project types attacking Bernie – as is its impotent and embarrassing sibling, Wokeness.

      2. David Swan

        What about the word retrdd do you find inoffensive? If someone has a condition, you’re a douch to use that word rather than their condition. If someone does not have a condition, you’re just being a jerk. Find better words.

        1. jsn

          “A foolish or stupid person” often seems too kindly a rebuke.

          This is not applied to people with medical conditions, it’s applied to highly capable idiots.

          I’m okay being a douch in the right situation, some call for it.

        2. Petter

          Condition or state of being? That was settled a while ago when it comes to one group of humans but do have to wonder what some think Nietzsche’s The Gay Science is all about?

        3. Daniil Adamov

          Which ones would you use? I think “idiot” is probably the safest option, at least based on its origins, but one risks wearing it out. Also, I think I’ve seen it used in a “hate speech” manner too.

    2. hunkerdown

      The first sentence was the problematic one. The idea of rebellion against the order is something the private property suicide pact can’t afford to let heard right now.

  2. Joe Well

    Too perfect: I just made a comment and it got held for moderation. Talking about this subject requires using all kinds of terms that could trip a filter, a powerful disincentive to talking about it anywhere but NC where there is actual thoughtful human moderation.

    For instance, I would never discuss this topic on Facebook because it would risk my account, and Facebook is the public square in my corner of the world.

    Funny how policies policing speech make it hard to discuss policies policing speech.

    Edit: And this comment has been held for moderation too! And I see no other comments on this post so I am guessing all the other comments have as well. A big thank you to the actual human beings who will read this comment for moderation, unlike Facebook’s extremely overworked outside contractors.

  3. digi_owl

    Any call for civility will invariably degenerated to exclusion of certain voices via tone policing.

    I dear say that the best thing online discussion platforms can provide, are robust ways of ignoring those that one keep butting heads with.

    Out of sight, out of mind, as the old saying goes.

  4. lyman alpha blob

    I really dislike the entire concept of “hate” speech. It often seems to get defined as “speech I don’t personally agree with”. We seem to have forgotten about sticks and stones vs. words. If you can’t handle a rude retort, then maybe the interwebs aren’t the place for you.

    If you want to have your political speech heard and have what you say repeated, then you need to stand out, whether it’s on the internet or in meat space. Several years ago I disagreed with the way my city was spending money. If I had gone to the city council meeting, been completely civil, and said, “I disagree with this municipality’s current fiscal policy”, I would have been heard by the other 5 people in the room and quickly forgotten. Instead, by asking “Why is the city giving this wealthy developer a tax break to build another crappy little strip mall?”, that slightly off color language gets noticed by the reporter and into the paper where its seen by a lot more people. It’s not rocket surgery.

    The problem with social media is the scale. You can moderate a site like NC pretty well, which, along with the forbearance of the moderators, is why I’m still here after many years. Anything much bigger, and it just devolves into to a cesspool of stupid. Another orange website comes to mind. And that site is still puny compared to the giant social media sites. It will likely never happen, but I believe the only solution to the problems with social media, imagined or otherwise, is to kill it with fire. All of it. The blogs of web 1.0 were just fine with me.

    1. hunkerdown

      “Hate” speech is merely that which challenges bourgeois property. That white women could choose of their own volition to sleep with Black men was hate speech to the Democrat Party 125 years ago, enough to start a county-wide race riot over it. This is just what the Democrat Party does and always will do, and they’ll whinge about their supposed “moral evolution” the whole time.

      My preferred technique is to leave turds in their punch bowls and desecrate their rituals, in order to deny them the satisfaction of whatever relation they are trying to establish, to prevent their values from being recognized. (Lately they have taken to performing the approval of their own discourse, in a bid to blunt this effect by modeling “pro-civic” behavior. I wonder how well it actually works. I’m sure they have numbers by now.)

      Tone-policing against reverence and charisma would be useful and beneficial to all sensical common endeavors. Of course, the real answer is to abolish partisan politics entirely, being an inherently corrosive, counter-sensical institution that does the opposite of what it claims (as most if not all institutions do). Simone Weil wrote the same not so many years ago.

  5. KD

    Welcome to the post-rationality era, where criticizing a powerful journalist like Taylor Lorenz is “hate speech,” citing official statistics like the FBI crime statistics is “white supremacy,” and stuff like behavioral genetics is verboten, even though scientists like Pinker wrote the Blank Slate decades ago, and the case hasn’t gotten any stronger.

    You have a tightly controlled narrative set by elites which cannot be rationally defended, and so rational or empirically based criticism is just written out, cancelled, or labelled. Glenn Greenwald has been all on this issue. There is the little problem of people believing their own b.s. though, which can have catastrophic consequences down the road.

    Yeah, no one wants your stupid social media echo chamber and your fake partisan politics, and unlike the fake Left, at least under the Stasi you had a flat and health care and you could enjoy Beethoven, despite a totalitarian system of mind control and repression. “Compassionate” extractive capitalism is pretty much summarized by that Guantanamo Bay mug, where the repression of Communism meets the social Darwinism of capitalism, with a little of the old-school Roman bread and circuses to keep the proles from revolting. I know, I’ll just wear an $800 tax the rich dress to an exclusive party to show my solidarity.

  6. Dave in Austin

    At the top of this article we find the following: “No one is arguing that social media companies shouldn’t combat the most harmful forms of speech — violent threats, targeted harassment, racism, incitement to violence.”

    Sorry, that list is being argued. The culture war continues. Relax and enjoy it.

    Personally, I come down on the side of resisting “violent threats” and “incitements to violence”, though even there I have questions. When I screamed at my brother “I want to kill you” or when Stokely Carrmichael said “Burn baby, burn” should either I or Stokely have been arrested?

    “Targeted Harassment”. If a mob surrounds- and potentially threatens- a Supreme Court Justice out eating dinner is that targeted harassment? What about if it is done to Hunter Biden? Or if Nancy Pelosi’s kids are surrounded by people chanting “Your mom want’s to murder babies”? That’s a harder set of questions although I come down on the right to privacy in public places side.

    Finally the all-purpose “racism”. Is saying “Black English is non-standard English” racism? What about “White people can’t dance” or using the word “Honky”? I had to laugh when Mrs. Biden made an obviously accurate comment on “Hispanic” foods, which vary from place-to-place. In Texas the breakfast taco isn’t Hispanic food… its just food, breakfast, what Texans eat instead of an Egg McMuffin. In Spanish Harlem where I was this week… they weren’t on the menu.

    According to this “food comments=racism” theory, referring to the diversity of food in my native Rhode Island- Indian corn from “Native Americans”, clam cakes and lobster rolls from the WASPS, corned beef and cabbage from the Irish, meatballs and spaghetti from the Italians and the only decent bread from Portuguese bakeries- are all examples of “racism”.

    Is a Black person ordering a pepperoni pizza a form of cultural appropriation?

    I remember the revolutionary moment when the comedian George Carlin gave his 1972 “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” monologue. The words, in the order Carlin listed them, are: (Family Blog; Yves makes the call, as she has the right to). Ridicule clears the air, makes the ridiculous- and sometimes necessary- obvious. Carlin got arrested- and freed. He didn’t look ridiculous; the people who arrested him did. And we still- rightly in my opinion- have limits on what you can say on broadcast TV and radio during the time children, theoretically, might be awake.

    Civility has its costs and benefits. But incivility isn’t a crime- yet.

    1. Michael Fiorillo

      Much was made of the (non-functioning) gallows and noose that was on display at the Capitol on January 6th. What never got mentioned was that a few weeks prior, a demonstration led by Christian Smalls, leader of the Amazon Workers Union, brought a guillotine outside Jeff Bezos Washington manse.

      Historically and contemporaneously, who is more likely to feel the coercive power of the State?

      1. Daniil Adamov

        I’m genuinely not sure. My outsider’s understanding of America is that neither the super-rich nor the politicians are in much actual danger from the state outside of certain flukes and extreme cases.

    2. Daniil Adamov

      “Sorry, that list is being argued.”

      Strongly agreed. Many people are arguing precisely that, and like them or not (personally I’m far from being persuaded by either side of the debate), any discussion of the topic that fails to address this in some way is a joke.

  7. Petter

    What do I want? I don’t know. I know I don’t want a combo AI and Ministry of Truth turning the whole world into a sixth grade classroom enforcing “nice.”

    I have nothing to offer anybody except my confusion.

  8. Carolinian

    “We need to understand more than just civility to understand the spread of hatred,” she said.

    Indeed. So what is the point of this article–that better algorithms make better citizens? Or do hatreds in fact come about from other places than Facebook or Twitter? What the public really needs is not better manners but better information and for that we can blame our entire media complex and even “hate” them which is no doubt the hatred the big media really want to suppress. “Let’s not play the blame game” is their mantra. The article’s analogy of teachers and classrooms is telling because one goal of public school has always been to “socialize” young kids into playing ball with the existing system. Here’s suggesting most hate is a symptom not the disease. Hating the system in modern America may in fact be okay and quite healthy. Polite conversation isn’t going to change it.

  9. Jeremy Grimm

    I thought debate implied civility, reasoned argument, and unlike other forms of rhetoric the rules of debate bar appeals to emotion as well as the use of a number of fallacies in the argumentation. I thought debate was a category of argumentation that emphasized logic and reason. Without civility there can be no debate. I can only wonder who would pay for the kind of research the post describes.

    Enforcing civility in ‘debate’ in social media like Facebook greatly strains my notions of what civility means, to say nothing of what debate means in such contexts. What is there to stifle — what debate? What is civil about censorship? I believe the ‘well’ of reasoned debate on Facebook was irreparably poisoned long ago. Water from that well has even poisoned reasoned discussions among friends, and the ubiquitous propaganda and agnotology of the full spectrum of our media have poisoned the tattered remnants of our social fabric.

  10. Fred Up

    I love hate speech! It is free speech. There are plenty of people out there who deserve all the hatred that comes their way. While it can be painful to endure–I’m a dreaded member of many hated and marginalized communities–it is human nature. I think we are missing the point that people have the right to be flawed and ignorant and hateful. We are all doing the best we can with the hand we were dealt. I lucked out and have a big brain and a big heart. I know many people who don’t have either of those and so my expectations of them are different. I don’t view them as ‘less-than,’ just different.

    I’m more concerned about the reasons for hate speech and they all seem to stem from the feelings of being treated unfairly, of being marginalized, and of being dismissed. In times past when people felt less ‘that way’ we were more civil. The solution is to stop treating people unfairly, marginalizing them, or dismissing their ideas as stupid. We can all play a role here.

    Hate speech is just a reflection of the collapse of ethics in our society and you will never fix the problem until those ethics are restored, until people start feeling like they are being treated fairly, listened to, and treated like valued members of society no matter how ridiculous their ideas.

    We all come to our opinions in good faith. We all believe the nonsense that comes out of our mouths because that is what makes sense to us. If one takes the time to understand another person’s perspective, to understand their limitations and history and life experiences, they can often understand even the most hate-filled nonsense that people say. When that happens the acrimony seems to disappear and it becomes possible to sympathize with those with whom we disagree, or at least forgive them for their ignorance. Censorship and algorithms have no place in the solution. Restore ethics and you restore America. That process starts with each one of us taking the time to listen more than we talk and to acknowledge that we are all made differently and have different pluses and minuses. Forgive each other for being flawed human beings and we can start to fix the system. This isn’t someone else’s problem to fix. This isn’t the government’s problem to fix or Facebook’s. We are the government; we are Facebook. We’ve contributed to the problem. We are the solution.

  11. Daniil Adamov

    But do you actually want more people to use social media, and especially big social media networks? Maybe it would be better if they continue to get worse and worse without any prospect of improvement, causing more people to flee them in favour of other online and offline spaces while undermining their owners’ profits?

  12. Sideshow Bob

    “White Supremacy” is a really inaccurate term itself.

    If you really look at what most people accused of “White Supremacy” are saying it’s more along the lines of race being a real factor in inherent human disposition. For example, if you dropped a Chinese new born into an African village to be raised as an African the baby would certainly develop some of the local mindset and disposition, but would he be as successful at it as a native African baby? His physical structure is tuned to thousands of years of evolution in the Chinese ecosphere, which has substantial differences from Africa. They are different places and the environments have evolved different bodies to them.

    This conversation is not inherently evil until you put a value judgement on one set of traits being superior to another.

    Modern liberal thought says we are all ‘tabula rasa’, i.e. our personas are molded upon us by society in entirety. We can even go so far as to be entirely wrongly mislabeled in our biological sex. It is a very radical belief set that even the majority of liberals are not comfortable with when pressed.

    The problem is, what if ‘tabula rasa’ is wrong? What if biology determines more than just our outward form, but also our personalities to some extent? If it is wrong than everything we attempt to do on the societal level to maker the world a better place is doomed to failure.

    The notion that “white” people are better than everyone else is wrong and horrible. Is the notion that there is a thing called “race” and that it entails different physical and mental characteristics equally evil?

    1. Yves Smith

      Despite faux science arguments, actual scientists are clear that race does not exist genetically. So your entire argument fails.

      Race Is Real, But It’s Not Genetic
      For over 300 years, socially defined notions of “race” have shaped human lives around the globe — but the category has no biological foundation.

      Race Is a Social Construct, Scientists Argue
      Racial categories are weak proxies for genetic diversity and need to be phased out

      While the plural of anecdote is not data, I managed to escape virtually all female cultural programming. Not only don’t I identify with many attitudes stereotypes as female, I am repelled by a lot of them. And no, I’m not “gender fluid” in my sexual preferences. My experience suggests that even where there are real genetic differences, nurture is a huge factor in behavior and attitudes.

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