The Convergence Assumption 2/20
When we assume that everyone is the same
we indulge the myth that there is no such thing as a gifted child. As the New York Times reports, California’s school reforms are built around this conceit explicitly. Everyone of common sense knows that this conceit is untrue. But if you find yourself ideologically compelled to profess belief in it (as many progressives are), you will also be required to profess belief in the blank-slate notion that, since everyone has equal natural talent at math, then any group-based statistical variations (say, between Asians and whites at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Virginia, for instance) must be rooted in discrimination or privilege (and so should not be accepted).
What I call the convergence assumption is the assumption that everyone is fundamentally the same, so that it is more natural to expect people to develop the same skills and adopt the same values than for divergence to persist. Miller is accusing progressives of holding the convergence assumption, but are any of us innocent of it? It might be that people tend to converge on the convergence assumption.
For example, when I recently wrote that progress comes from experimentation, evaluation, and evolution, I got pushback from a reader. He argued that the value systems of Hispanics and Africans are sufficiently different from Western values that the United States could lose its ability to maintain order while engaging in experiments. He claims that we have reached the point where we no longer seek to assimilate other cultures into our own, and we are in the process of watching our culture and institutions fade as a result.
Libertarians and progressives who support expanded immigration are implicitly making a convergence assumption. Libertarians assume that immigrants will converge on libertarian values. Progressives assume that immigrants will converge on progressive values. They cannot both be right.
Most elites in the West assumed that China would converge toward Western liberalism. This assumption does not seem to be holding up well.
When you take the convergence assumption to extremes, all differences that exist must be socially constructed. Men and women would be the same were it not for arbitrary social conventions. Different statistical outcomes for ethnic groups must be due to racism.
We are not all the same. This makes moral issues very complicated. When we acknowledge genetic and cultural differences, what is the meaning of equality? When should we suppress differences and when should we accommodate them?
I think that the great appeal of the convergence assumption is that it allows us to avoid the challenge and complexity posed by these problems. But avoiding complexity is not a good approach if the complexity is an important characteristic of the environment.
Progressive is to Conservative as "Irrationally Fair" is to "Rationally Unfair".
'Fair' in the group outcome parity sense, anyway. That is "Treating people differently, because people are different."
For 'fair' in the individualized deserts sense, Classically Liberal processes and systems are "Rationally Fair", "Treating people the same, despite their differences, when the differences are irrelevant." I.e., justice, 'colorblind', meritocratic, due process, fair play, equal opportunity, good sportsmanship, equal rights under rule of law, etc.
Human convergence is an additional assumption needed to pretend that irrationally fair policies are rational. But it's wrong.
The assumption that people will assimilate with respect to values is not akin to the assumption that there are no gifted children. That's an extremely farfetched analogy. Give me a kid from any ethnicity or even intelligence level, and with the right circumstances, you can raise him to be a Muslim, a Protestant, a communist, or an orthodox Jew. The same isn't true of making him a physicist. I would say that's rather obvious. What values you believe in is mostly determined by your cultural mileu. As long as the people to be assimilated are small in number relative to the culture they're being assimilated into, there's little change of retaining much of a distinct culture indefinitely.