Disagreeing without believing the other person is crazy

2 plus 2 is 5

In political discussions, I’ve sometimes observed a conflation between views someone disagrees with and views they think no reasonable person can hold, when there should be space for views you disagree with but understand can be held by people you believe to be acting in good faith. This gets dangerous when any heresy is seen as proof of bigotry. So a disagreement with someone on an aspect of one issue (IE-race based affirmative action in the college application process, government solutions to gender wage gaps, the age of consent for gender reassignment surgery) first becomes a proxy for the larger issue, and then becomes evidence of bigotry. That can push away people who would otherwise be on your side, get people to avoid solutions to problems that touch controversial topics, or reduce your credibility when pushed into an extreme stance by a refusal to compromise.

There’s an example on the difference between these types of views in a Latino/a Studies professor’s view on the politics of Math. 

There are parts of her position that I disagree with, but I can see where she’s coming from.

Gutierrez also worries that algebra and geometry perpetuate privilege, fretting that “curricula emphasizing terms like Pythagorean theorem and pi perpetuate a perception that mathematics was largely developed by Greeks and other Europeans.”

From a policy standpoint, I don’t think it’s worthwhile to change the names that have been used for centuries for Math terms, but I can understand the argument that something objective shouldn’t have a Eurocentric name.

But I think her other arguments are rather dopey.

Math also helps actively perpetuate white privilege too, since the way our economy places a premium on math skills gives math a form of “unearned privilege” for math professors, who are disproportionately white.

“Are we really that smart just because we do mathematics?” she asks, further wondering why math professors get more research grants than “social studies or English” professors.

She seems to ignore the economic good that results from an understanding of Math, and that might not result from an understanding of social studies or English.

And then there’s this gem.

Gutierrez stresses that all knowledge is “relational,” asserting that “Things cannot be known objectively; they must be known subjectively.”
The entire point of Math is that a lot of information is objective. 2 + 2 will never equal 5. The circumference of a circle will always be the diameter times π, and the area of a circle will always be found by multiplying the radius squared by π. In any right triangle, the square of the side opposite the right angle will be equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides. This will be true regardless of what you call pi or the pythagorean theorem


About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. You can email me at mistermets@gmail.com
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