Wednesday, July 9, 2003

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Volokh and Baker

Eugene Volokh responds to the Dusty Baker question here, here, here, and here. The gist of Volokh's point is that, a) Baker may well be correct in his generalization, in which case he shouldn't need to apologize, and b) Even if he is wrong, there was no malicious intent in Baker's words: "they don't sound mean-spirited or insulting, and Baker gave no indication that he was going to act illegally based on those stereotypes." Read all of his posts for more on this.

Like Eugene, I have no clue whether Baker's generalization is factually correct, but my suspicion is that it is not (it certainly depends on the definition of "white."), which was my problem with the comment.

Another concern of mine -- and I'm walking right into Volokh's area of expertise on this -- is the slippery slope question. Eugene distinguishes between generalizations of physical conditions ("blacks perform better in baseball in hot weather") and those of moral character ("blacks are less coachable athletes"). The latter are examples of bad manners; the former are not.

Part of me wants to agree with him on this, because to disagree means applying a moral censure over a wider swath of conversations about race. Conversations about race in this country are circumscribed enough as it is, so I'm very uneasy with suggesting further constraints.

Volokh admits, however, that the physical/character dichotomy is "a subtle difference and one of degree," and "speculations about morals and ethics involve many more vague lines, subtle differences of degree , and unprovable propositions about human nature than even speculations about law do." Under Volokh's criteria, for example, is it permissible for a coach to make comments distinguishing between the races on a combination of physical and character issues, i.e., "Blacks do worse in pressure situations because their bodies generate excessive amounts of adrenaline under stress relative to whites?" I want the dividing line to be as clear as Eugene, but I'm pessimistic that it really is this distinct.

I don't think Baker should be penalized or punished for what he said. I agree with Eugene that this is a case of bad manners rather than anything more serious. But I still think he should apologize.

UPDATE: Eugene Volokh responds to my response. Robert Tagorda also weighs in.

posted by Dan on 07.09.03 at 11:45 AM