Racism and Sexism at Duke University

With Mike Nifong‘s and Crystal Gail Mangum‘s attempted lynching of the Duke University students continuing to unravel, a mob of activist University professors accidentally becomes right. Ann Althouse, Durham in Wonderland, Instapundit, and La Shawn Barber are on the case.


The Group of 88 faculty’s original letter began as follows:

Regardless of the results of the police investigation, what is apparent everyday now is the anger and fear of many students who know themselves to be objects of racism and sexism, who see illuminated in this moment’s extraordinary spotlight what they live with everyday. They know that it isn’t just Duke, it isn’t everybody, and it isn’t just individuals making this disaster.

But it is a disaster nonetheless

Indeed. While the Group of 88 was focused on joining the lynching party, their words are ironic now. They can be used to describe the racist and sexist attitude of the administration of Duke University and Durham County.


Dennis Mangan writes bluntly:

Anyone white and male would have to be a fool to attend Duke. There’s some sign, as outlined in the article, that the president of Duke is coming to realize his gigantic fuckup – a criminal fuckup. No one in his right mind should go there, nor should his parents send him.

The situation may not be quite bad, but it certainly isn’t good. Perhaps Durham is in the Gap, after all.

Evolutionary Cognitivism, Part IV: The Implicit and the Explicit

I am a big fan of Bjorklund & Pellegrini’s fifth chapter, “Classifying Cognition.”

The text divides thinking into “implicit” and “explicit” (2002, 114) thinking. This “implicit” thinking appears to be the same thing as “automatic,” “peripheral,” “heuristic,” and “unconscious” while “explicit” appears to be the same thing as “controlled,” “central,” “systematic,” and “conscious” (Morris, Squires, Taber, & Lodge, 2003, 4). Additionally, implicit memory is refered to as “Memory System I” and explicit memory is called “Memory System II” (Bjorklund & Pellegrini, 123).

One of the text’s most interesting sections is the application of implicit attitude tests on very young children. For instance, even if they could not answer a question about remembering old students, children act as if they recall old kindergarten classmates (119-120). The authors also mention other research (Clements & Perner, 1994) showing how implicit belief becomes more reliable than explicit belief before the child is three years old. This implicit superiority continues throughout life. It is interesting that explicit thinking has such little access to one’s implicit state, as self-reports can be unreliable predictors of behavior (Kurzban & DeScioli, 2005).

Not that all implicit attitudes are necessarily good, however: research implying a possible human predisposition towards xenophobia (Hammond & Axeldor, 2006) and research that shows that whites and blacks both hold negative implicit attitudes of blacks (Bower, 2006) show the potentially negative effects of implicit cognition, as well.

Bjorklund & Pellegrini also describe Donald’s (1991) division of the levels of culture into “episodic culture,” “mimetic culture,” “mythic culture,” and “theoretic culture” (123-124). However, if they are describing Donald’s work correctly I must disagree with Bjorklund & Pellegrini. In particular, I do not believe our ancestors were as primitive as this theory purports, nor as we so developed. The theory assumes that chimpanzees and early men live “entirely in the present” without “imitation, in which one individual represents the actions and goals of another and attempts to reproduce the the outcome archived by another…” However, complicated cultures with varying styles of dominance, grooming, and food gathering exist even within baboons (Sapolsky & Share, 2004). As it appears that primatese use technology together social strategies to achieve what they want (Tomasello & Call), I do not see how there is evidence deying chimpanzees access to mimetic culture.

Likewise, while it is clear that humans have access to “external symbolic storage systems” (Bjorklund & Pellegrini, 124) and other gizmos, I do not think that much of human behavior progresses much beyond mimetics. That is, while the development of moral reasoning and personal identity (see, for example, Moshman, 2005) would seem to follow theoretic or at least mythic cultural paths, I don’t think these things influences behavior that much. This ties into what I wrote above. One theory for why self-reports are so bad is that most behavior is driven by automatic processes the conscious brain simply does not have access to (Lieberman, Schreiber, & Ochsner, 2003). For instance, while moral reasoning is associated with some (but not other) forms of pro-social behavior (Eisenberg-Berg & Hand, 1979). I am not aware of any research demonstrating students who have more advanced moral reasoning behave more “morally” because of this reasoning (as opposed to students who learn moral reasoning acting more morally anyway, etc). This sentence is written out of ignorance – I simply don’t know the field that much – but I am skeptical that most human social behavior is more complicated than memetic culture.

On the whole, my take on this chapter is this: humans have very well developed and well evolved implicit memory and cognitive structures, which they use nearly all the time. Animals as well have very well developed and well evolved (for their typical lives) implicit memory and cognitive structures, which they use nearly all the time. Humanity is distinguished, not by a reliance on explicit memory and explicit cognitive structures, but by more explicit structures than other animals. Thus we are more reasonable and rational than other creatures in the jungle. But i do not believe that we are more reasonable and more rational than the reverse.

Bjorklund, D. F., & Pellegrini, A. D. (2002). The origins of human nature: Evolutionary developmental psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Bower, B. (2006). The Bias Finders: A Test of Unconscious Attitudes Polarizes Psychologists. Science News, 169(16), 250.
Clements, W.A., & Perner, J. (1004). Implicit understanding of belief. Cognitive Development 9: 377-395.
Donald, M. (1991). Origins of the modern mind: Three stages in the evolution of culture and cognition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Eisenberg-Berg, N. & Hand, M. (1979). The relationship of preschoolers’ reasoning about prosocial moral conflicts to prosocial behavior. Child Development 50(2): 356-363.
Hammond, R., & Axelrod, R. (2006) The Evolution of Ethnocentricism. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 50(6).
Kurzban, R., & DeScioli, P. (2005) “Characterizing reciprocity in groups: Information-seeking in a public goods game,” (Submitted), alternate draft at http://www.psych.upenn.edu/~descioli/kurzban%20descioli%20p
Lieberman, M., Schreiber, D., & Ochsner, K. (2003). Is Political Cognition Like Riding a Bicycle: How Cognitive Neuroscience Can Inform Research on Political Thinking. Political Psychology, 2003, 24(4), 681-704.
Morris, J., Squires, N., Taber, C., & Lodge, M. (2003). “The Automatic Activation of Political Attitudes: A Psychophysiological Examination of the Hot Cognition Hypothesis,” Political Psychology, 24, 727.
Moshman, D. (2005). Adolescent Psychological Development (2nd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Sapolsky, R.M. & Share, L.J. (2004). A pacific culture among wild baboons: Its emergence and transmission. PloS Biology 2(4): e106.
Tomasello, M & Call, J. (1997). Primate Cognition. New York: Oxford University Press.

Evolutionary Cognitivism, a tdaxp series
1. Selection and Cognition
2. Epigentics and Diversity
3. Children and Civilization
4. The Implicit and the Explicit
5. Man Among Men
6. More Than Genes
7. Bibliography