Truths too dangerous to tell

In a comment to an earlier post, BrianE linked to a quite interesting article about possible genetic differences between blacks and whites.  The article is about a book the title of which probably tells you all you need to know, “Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We’re Afraid to Talk About It.”  What is striking is the reaction of the critics who are, indeed, “afraid to talk about it.” As one critic (a college professor, of course) put it, “Some information has a more dangerous content than others.” In other words, some truths are too dangerous to tell.  The good professor even opposes efforts to find out the truth:  “Only bad things can come from research into racially based differences in sports performance.”

Personally, I have no idea whether there are significant differences between blacks and whites.  I have no idea about the science and, certainly, a good non-scientific case can be made to the contrary.  I know that there are many white volleyball players who can jump as high as black basketball players do.  I know that whites dominate in swimming just like blacks do in track.  I know there are as many world-class white high-jumpers and pole vaulters as black (though not as many good white long jumpers and triple jumpers).  

However, while there may or may not be real differences between blacks and whites, there are unquestionably real differences between men and women.  Men are bigger stronger and faster.  Women mature faster and live longer.  Oddly, no one suggests that by saying men are bigger, stronger or faster we are implying that men are less intelligent and that this is a terrible truth that should not be told.  If we treated the differences between the genders like we do differences (if any) between the races, there would be no Title IX.  In fact, there would be no girls’ teams at all.  There would be only one team in each sport, likely dominated by men, and we wouldn’t even be allowed to talk about it, just like we aren’t allowed to talk about the predominance of blacks in track, or basketball or football (or the lack of blacks in swimming, hockey or cycling for that matter). 

Does any of this make any difference?  I think it does.  The more we refuse to even consider scientific truth in any area, the less rational and mature we become.  Whether it’s differences between the races, the truth about global warming, the actual threat to America from Islamic extremists, the true state of decline of American capitalism, or whatever the subject, I think we should do all we can to discover the truth and face that truth squarely.  What do you think?  

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  • Earl


    I think I hear crickets chirping, is what I think!

    This subject is as dangerous as suggesting that there might be reasons other than differences in (on average) inherent ability or personal choice that explains why there are so many more male than female engineers and physicists, etc. Ask Larry Summers, baby!


  • Helen Losse

    Sometimes differences matter and sometimes they don’t.

    A wise professor once pointed out that while men are usually stronger than women, it doesn’t matter if they’re sitting at a keyboard.

  • Ellie2

    Dr James Watson (sometimes called the Father of DNA” got fired over expressing his comments about the evidence regarding Black intelligence.

  • Danny Lemieux

    Another one of those (rare) moments when I agree with Helen.

    Of course “black” people are genetically different from “white” people: that’s why we have different pigmentation. Nutritionists also know that there are metabolic differences between, say, Thais and Inuit that enable them to survive on very different diets. As Helen says, “so?”.

    So-called black people also differ from other black people just as there are huge differences between so-called white people (Nordic? Slavic? Gallic?). All individuals differ from on another in vastly different ways and any gross generalizations about “groups” are superficial, at best.

  • benning

    Differences are what they are. If genetic they may be of great importance to research, if cultural they may assist in dealing with such horrors as Islamism.

    Ignoring differences for the sake of political correctness is foolish.

    But speaking up about them lends oneself to attack, marginalization, destruction. Takes a lot of stones to stand up and speak about differences that may be uncomfortable or unpopular to hear. And make yourself a target in the offing.

  • Mike Devx

    DQ says:
    What is striking is the reaction of the critics who are, indeed, “afraid to talk about it.” As one critic (a college professor, of course) put it, “Some information has a more dangerous content than others.” In other words, some truths are too dangerous to tell. …”

    Doesn’t this remind you of the worst of Stalinist Russia? Fear that the power structure will crush you if you dare speak a word contrary to their established goals. The result is silence. This is called oppression.

    I too haven’t read or investigated any claims of racial advantage in sports, nor in any other area of human endeavor. It simply does not matter to me at all.

    This is because we’re talking about percentages and probabilities.
    You might have nine out of ten great black runners. The tenth might be slower than I am. You might have nine out of ten great white hockey players. The tenth might be a clumsy oaf that puts himself in the hospital within seconds of stepping onto the ice. Similarly, the one out of ten white black runners just might be truly excellent, and dominate the field, and the same is true of that one out of ten black hockey players.

    The only reason to possibly care is if you had to choose a player sight unseen, or just by looking at a photograph. You could be excused – in that ridiculous scenario – for relying solely on probability and statistics.

    In sports, they have this thing called talent scouts. These people carefully analyze every aspect of each junior player in the pool of talent, and they try to choose the best INDIVIDUAL. Period. That’s how America works, not via quotas or some other means of statistical choice.

    In the Olympics, repeated excellence especially in national competitions is what makes the difference. So if the vast majority of competitors in a particular sport are of a particular race, maybe it’s genetics, maybe it isn’t, but who cares?

    Remember, an advantage in any one situation can be a disadvantage in another. The excellent (even if by racial genetics) runner may be confronted suddenly by the need to swim a half-mile across a raging river. Or the brute weightlifter who’s been clearing fallen trees may suddenly find himself needing the dexterity of a gymnast in a suddenly perilous situation. In the real world, you can’t rely on racial stereotypes nor statistics.

  • lookingforlissa

    I tend to shy away from studies and books like those.

    On the one hand, I don’t believe in blocking any [ethical] avenue of scientific inquiry. I don’t find the idea of genetic PREDISPOSITIONS or inherent advantages racist, sexist, outrageous or anything else. If scientists are curious about the different categories of genes that may lend advantages to the average person holding such genes, I don’t see anything evil in that.

    My reservations stem from my own scientific illiteracy, as well as the fear that others may be as illiterate as I am. I freely admit that I am not scientifically-minded; I could read the nuts and bolts of such a study and not understand 90% of it. I’m therefore at the mercy of those who summarize the data, and I’m very wary of whatever bias may be reflected in such a summary. I don’t think I’m smart enough to delve into the study details and identify any scientific flaws, methods of testing or anything else.

    On the whole, I guess I support any scientific studies that are 1) done with true scientific methods (and I’ll have to depend on others to interpret that for me), 2) CLEARLY limit their conclusions to averages and generalities. We can generally say that more women than men are drawn to be kindergarten teachers, and that is fine, as long as nothing prevents any man from pursuing that career if he so wishes. We can generally say that more men than women are drawn to mechanical engineering, and that is fine, as long as nothing prevents any woman from pursuing that career if she so wishes. I’d apply the same mindset to race studies.

  • Helen Losse

    RE: lookingforlissa.

    As in, remember The Bell Curve?

  • JackCoupal


    You’re wise to be skeptical about scientific findings reported in the newspapers and on TV.

    There really are reporters and talking heads who are scientifically illiterate. But, they don’t let that stop them from writing or talking about important research that grabs our attention, but is wrong or misleading. The person’s supervisor is often just as clueless about science, so vetting of errors doesn’t occur.

    Being physically attractive or working for a famous newspaper doesn’t automatically make you a scientist.

  • suek

    >>A wise professor once pointed out that while men are usually stronger than women, it doesn’t matter if they’re sitting at a keyboard.>>

    True…as long as there’s work to be done at a keyboard. There ‘s no question that development of machines has gone a long way towards giving us conditions that help make the sexes equal. Remove those mechanical devices, and we’re back into the brawn requirement. I’m _really_ happy I live in this particular era…!

    However on race – I think the problem is different. Physical differences are clearly genetic, and visible. No so intelligence. In genetice there are simple characteristics, and compound characteristics. Eyes are brown or blue (I know – there are other colors, but these are the main ones). Brown is dominant, blue is recessive. Intelligence is a compound characteristic, made up of who knows how many alleles on who knows how many chromosomes. Add to that nutrition in the early years plus cultural contributions, and you have a mix that may be extremely difficult to unwind. Rev.Wright says that blacks learn differently than whites. If a white Rev. had said the same thing, there is no doubt he’d be condemned for racism. It may be a false statement, or it may be a true statement – but unless we actually consider it, how are we to know? Wright’s answer is to steep the children further into “black” culture, but maybe that’s the source of the difference in the first place. Of course, it’s unacceptable practice, but if you really wanted to experiment, you’d take a group of babies and switch them at birth – black babies going to white families, and vice versa. Next best thing, I suppose, would be to track families where children are the result of mixed parentage, but culturally the families are identifiable as black or white. Of course, then you have to add in individual differences…but can you imagine such a research project even being proposed?? I doubt funding would be available!!!

    Until then it’s really just a big ball of knots. Find schools where blacks as a group are doing well and find out what they’re doing to get good results. Put those practices into effect at schools where blacks as a group are _not_ doing well, and measure progress. I read somewhere that NCLB testing has shown some very good progress in the last couple of years…holding schools accountable is a good first step.

    Personally, I went to an all girl’s high school. I think it was beneficial since it removed that male/female bugaboo of competition between the sexes. I think it’s _possible_ that the same might be true of black/white segregated schools, but there’s also the risk that it would result in an adult segregated population. With male/female segregation, that’s not much of a risk..(well, except maybe in SF).

    But if we can’t talk about it at all? Nothing will happen except the whining and complaining – which in turn breeds anger and resentment. Could that be the goal?

  • Helen Losse

    It could, suek. But it isn’t.

  • suek

    Ok Helen…so what _is_ the goal?

  • Helen Losse


  • BrianE

    Humans are naturally curious—and morbid.
    Why else would we watch NASCAR?
    Why else would we watch the evening news?
    When Jimmy the Greek was sent packing—I believe he was sent to a tiny section of a remote field in Siberia for his racially insensitive conclusion to why persons of African-American descent dominate American sports, there appeared to be no curiousity surrounding his conjecture.
    Eugenics isn’t new and it’s risen and fallen as a social theory throughout history. Were the wounds of the holocaust still too fresh? Were the wounds of slavery still too visible? Is it just too monstrous of a concept, too rancid, like stomach acid that burns in the throat and no amount of water can dilute?
    But I can’t be the only one that noticed the dominance of persons of African-American descent in major American sports. Could forced eugenics have played a part. And what would you do with the information if it did?
    Just curious.
    I have no idea if in the 200 years of slavery were forced eugenics may have been practiced it could make a difference of this magnitude in the gene pool. That would be maybe 10-12 generations.
    How could you determine whether this was a factor? Since West Africans (I mean real West Africans) don’t play basketball or football in numbers, possibly professional soccer could offer a clue.
    But there’s a hitch. Rampant racism in Europe makes it impossible to determine whether Africans are dominant in a sport that they play with the same ferocity that inner city blacks play basketball. What little evidence may come from the French national team.
    This is from a 2006 article in the Washington Post:
    “But on the French national soccer team, 17 of the 23 players are minorities,…”
    “In France, it is illegal to collect data on race and ethnicity, and affirmative action is frowned upon. According to unofficial estimates, about 10 percent of France’s 61 million residents are of Arab or African descent…”
    “Racist incidents among fans have waned in French stadiums in recent years, even as they proliferated in other European countries, particularly Germany, Italy and Spain. There, spectators have pelted black athletes with bananas and screeched at them like monkeys. Analysts say this kind of behavior mirrors growing concern about immigration across Europe…”
    “This year’s World Cup has been largely free of racist incidents. An exception was monkey chanting by Spanish fans before France’s June 27 game against Spain. France won it, 3-1…”
    “Mr. Le Pen (a French presidential candidate) is not aware that there are black, blond and brown French people,” he told L’Equipe. “It’s like looking at the U.S. basketball team and being shocked that there are black people in the U.S.A.”
    Following the riots last fall, French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut created controversy by telling Israel’s Haaretz newspaper that despite its earlier slogan, “the French national team is in fact black-black-black.” He added: “France is made fun of all around Europe because of that.”
    Since they don’t distinguish between Arab or Black, I don’t know whether Africans dominate the French national team, or if they would if racism wasn’t present.
    Somebody, somewhere surely is curious enough to collect the data.
    We do know that nutrition has made athletes bigger and stronger than ever, but persons of African-American descent don’t have a monopoly on nutrition. So it can’t be nutrition alone.
    To determine whether selective breeding played a part, you would have to determine the genealogy of all African-American professional athletes. You still wouldn’t know conclusively since not all slave-owners practiced eugenics.
    My hunch is that it probably played only a small part in African-American dominance, and if African’s were allowed to play in Europe based on their ability, they would dominate there also.
    But I’m still curious.

  • suek

    Helen, how will you know when all people are equal?

  • Don Quixote

    Suek makes a great point (among a number of great points). If a white says that white and blacks learn differently, you can be guaranteed he’d be condemned as a racist. But if a black says it, it’s perfectly okay, reasonable and proper to act upon.

    Helen, I really appreciate your participation here, and don’t want to chace you away with too many questions, but “equailty is the goal” is meaningless unless we have agreement on what “equailty” means. Also, while I quite agree that sometimes differences matter and sometimes they don’t but (a) who is to decide what matters and what doesn’t (for example, would it matter if the folks who wrote the Bell Curve were right and expecting equal performance between the races was unfair to one race or another, and who would decide?), and (b) is there any reason to suggest, as the professor in the original post does, that we shouldn’t even do research to find out if certain differences are genetic? Finally, if there are differences that matter, and we are not genetically equal, what form of “equality” would be appropriate?

  • Helen Losse

    Okay, DQ, I’m not sure I know. I could make up something, but contrary to what some might think, I don’t do that. I try to speak clearly to what I know, regardless of how I acquired that information.

    It is obvious to me that people are not born equal. By equal, I mean the same. Some are stronger, some are smarter, etc. And as time passes, the differences in equality seem to become greater. I’m sure there’s a great nature versus nurture story in here somewhere. But I don’t think it matters. I don’t think anyone is interested in cloning.

    The phrase “created equal” (as used by Lincoln and MLK) does not mean we do away with innate or contracted differences. I think it means that there is a minimum standard that all Americans need and that America should make sure that everyone has that. I know blacks think it has to do with opportunity.

    Blacks have used the expression “unity without uniformity” for years with respect to blacks coming together over a common experience. I think that indicates that they do not think equality means everyone will start out or end up the same but rather than everyone will belong to the group. They do know “membership has its privileges.”

    I’ve taken considerable flack on this blog concerning definition. But what matters is not what definition I choose or you choose but what definition blacks are talking about. We can like our definition best (and Y. can parse each entry) for 100 years but that doesn’t advance the dialog nor get us any closer to the goal.

    I think Obama is pretty much “main stream black,” (or wants to be) whatever that is. But he isn’t free to act as such right now. Politics require that he appeal to a broader group. [Aside: Please ignore the Jesse Jackson remark. That was a personal comment from one black man to another that got loose. Jackson is sincerely sorry that white ears picked it up. And yes, he’d say it again to Obama.]

    So, to repeat my main point, I don’t know what constitutes equality in the eyes of those who make such a demand. And I’m not 100% sure they know either. It might be trial and error. We all seem to know what it isn’t rather than what it is. Ask mainstream black leaders, if you really want to know. Chat on this blog is a very narrow cross-section of American thought. (Not that that’s bad.) We are who we are. But “new blood” is not a bad thing.

  • suek

    >>I’m sure there’s a great nature versus nurture story in here somewhere. But I don’t think it matters.>>

    I disagree…(so what’s new!!)…only in that >>I don’t think anyone is interested in cloning.>> or eugenics …is undoubtedly true, if differences are genetic, then we have to accept them and try to work with/around them. If the differences are nurture, then we can – theoretically – change them. Personally, I think this is where much of the friction between the races lies. I think – and it’s only my opinion – that it _is_ nurture…and culture as part of nurture. I think much of the friction is that we live in a european based culture, blacks want to succeed in that culture, but they want to be able to accomplish that without implementing the changes from the black culture* that are necessary. In effect, they want to have their cake and eat it too.

    Other cultures have come to this country and readily adapted to the culture that is the basis of business and success – blacks have been longer than many of those but have not…I wonder if it’s an attitude of “you made me come here, but you can’t make me change” that prevents it.

    *Actually, if I had done the studies you’ve done, maybe I could answer another question I have – is the culture we see today as “black” culture derived from tribal cultures in Africa, or actually developed from a derived slave culture developed when they came to the US? If the latter, it may explain why the slavery issue still affects them, long after slavery is extinct.

    >>what matters is not what definition I choose or you choose but what definition blacks are talking about.>>

    In any conversation, for there to be comprehension there has to be an understanding of what the words mean to the participants. If we don’t agree on a definition, fine – but maybe we can find a definition that will work at least for that discussion. Or maybe not, but if you know what I mean when I use a certain word, you then know what I’m saying, even if I disagree with you. Obama, eg, says “change”…but what does he mean by change. Now he’s coming out with some of those changes – madatory national service, for one. Do you think that’s what his followers have in mind as “change”? I don’t know…but “from the frying pan into the fire” is “change” also!

    I define racism as a desire to exclude a group of people based on their skin color. Period. So if you tell me I’m racist, I will flat deny it. Now if you define racism as “culturally limited opportunities”, I can say yes – I choose not to associate with rappers, and probably wouldn’t hire one if it was immediately obvious by speech, mannerisms or choice of clothes that the person was a devotee of rapper culture. Now that means that if a black person would rather follow the dictates of “rapperism” than be hired, s/he could consider him/herself a “victim” of racism. I’d disagree – I’d say that person has a choice, and has _made_ a choice. What’s more, s/he is responsible for that choice – not a victim. The problem I see is that rappers (you realize I hope, that this is an artificial group) want to be hired without changing their behavior – and in a business environment, that isn’t likely. So they _can’t_ succeed – unless they’re willing to change.
    So… I do think we need to clarify definitions. I understand that you and I are discussing a third party who may have a different definition, and if you have a clear understanding of what _their_ definitions are, then we can include them. Otherwise, the effort is to make things as clear as possible between us so that we can determine exactly _where_ our differences lay. Only then can we find out if there’s any solution we can agree upon.

  • suek

    >>So, to repeat my main point, I don’t know what constitutes equality in the eyes of those who make such a demand.>>

    But you support them. You defend them. How can you do that when you don’t know what they are asking for?

    >>Please ignore the Jesse Jackson remark. That was a personal comment from one black man to another that got loose.>>

    Heh. It was a comment from one _man_ to another. Forget the “black” part. It was a challenge from the old dog to the upstart pup. I thought it was pretty funny, myself.

    It was a “gotcha” on the part of the press, and childish snickering ensued. In that respect, Jackson deserves it – he’s done it enough himself. But the comment itself?? baloney!

  • Helen Losse

    Yes, suek, baloney! I think you figured out the locker talk perfectly.

    I support equality (and the people who are asking for it) because of what I do know not what I don’t. I believe life gives us more questions than answers. And those who think they have everything all figured out for everyone before it happens are full of fully-digested baloney. :-)

    I support change because the status quo is not working but not because I think anyone has all the answers. (This is not quite the same as saying “do something even if it’s wrong”; it’s more like “I’m gonna die trying.”)

  • BrianE

    I support equality also. I think every citizen should be treated with the respect that he or she deserves by their actions.

    It’s odd that the liberals want us to be more like Europe– when racism is more of a problem there as evidenced by the WaPo article I cited.

    FIFA, soccer’s ruling body, wants to impose a restriction on the number of foreign born players on any team. They say it’s because they aren’t producing enough good quality homegrown talent– but won’t this affect Africans good enough to play in the European leagues? Isn’t this a rather veiled attempt to discriminate? Is this racism at the core?

    I don’t know the percentage of Africans playing in the various European leagues, but it is fairly substantial. In fact, the European leagues are decimated during the biennial African Cup, which occurs during the middle of the season– when Africans return to play for their national team. The play is so good that European television broadcasts all of the games.

    The African style of play is also different than European and American soccer, probably a result of the training structure in which Africans learn soccer.

  • suek

    >>I believe life gives us more questions than answers.>>

    TA-DUMMM!!! We agree for a change! imo…”it isn’t whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game!”

    >>I support change because the status quo is not working>>

    But _how_ is it not working?

    If you look at poverty and education levels of blacks of 50 years ago and compare them to today’s levels, the difference is pretty astounding for a mere 50 years – 2 generations. There are societal problems, but many of them are due to an unwillingness to hold themselves accountable to societal norms.

    They’re not alone – it’s a rebellious period.

  • Helen Losse

    A wise man once said, “gradualism [look at poverty and education levels of blacks of 50 years ago and compare them to today’s levels, the difference is pretty astounding for a mere 50 years – 2 generations] sounds great, but the problem is I’m here now.”

    In “Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos of Community” (1964) King identified the problem: white people are satisfied with progress, but blacks want equality.

    Isn’t that where we started?

  • Earl

    Not to sound like a broken record, but there are a lot of people who would benefit from a reading of What It Means To
    Be 98% Chimpanzee by Jonathan Marks. One thing that really stuck out to me was the fact that there are more genetic differences AMONG the members of “the black race” than there are between the “black race” and the “white race”.

    This is not in dispute, and it convinced me that what we call the “black race” has no basis in reality. We have to be a LOT more precise in our language if our ideas are to have any meaning.

    Notice the difference in origin of champion sprinters v. long- distance runners, although they are all of the “black race”. Examples could be multiplied, and are — read the book.

    Every human being, black or white or yellow or whatever, deserves “equality”, if that means equal opportunity to strive and equality before the law. Given that, we’re going to see a diversity of outcomes, and some of them will appear to be assorted according to ethnic group, skin color, etc. My reply is “So?” Every attempt to ensure that outcomes are “equal” has led to disaster. Let’s not do the same thing, expecting a different result.

  • BrianE

    All right everyone, that’s Helen standing in front of you swinging the shiny talisman.
    Look closely at the talisman.
    You’re getting sleepy, sleeepy, sleeepyyy.
    Now when Helen snaps her fingers, everyone will be equal.

  • Helen Losse

    No guys, you have to redistribute wealth. It takes money to be equal. Read “Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community.”

    Doesn’t anyone recognize chaos?

  • BrianE

    OK, if I give up all my money, can I be athletic instead?
    I’m kind of a klutz, you know.
    I was pretty good at baseball, but stunk at basketball.

  • Ymarsakar

    Money is actually created wealth or aka a symbol that represents work and productivity.

    You may be able to ‘redistribute’ the physical manifestation of the symbol of work and productivity, aka value, but you will never be able to ‘redistribute’ the ability of people to work harder to people that can’t work as good.

    You can redistribute the physical products and benefits of that work, like say the wealth created from slavery, to the people that don’t work in the field, the plantation masters, helen, but you will never be able to give someone the ability to work if they do not already have it. Nor will you be able to give someone the willingness to work harder, simply by making other people be willing to work less harder.

    Your goals are not realistic because they are too fantastic to be even possible. It is not even in the realm of possibility, helen. This is the reality you wish to chase? A manufactured dream that will never be true and even if it was true, it would bring hell on earth?

  • suek

    >>you have to redistribute wealth. >>

    Except that you don’t have the right to take from one person to give to another no matter how noble your motives. If you give a government that right – and that’s the only way you can do it other than at the point of a gun – you only posses what you posses as long as the government allows you. The biggest contributor to poverty in the world is corrupt governments who do not respect private ownership. When a government can come in and take your property and take your wealth – whatever its form – then you have no security, and no motivation to attempt to accumulate wealth.

    >>It takes money to be equal. >>

    No.. Money is not equality. If that’s the basis of the demand for equality, no wonder we have a problem!

    Here are a couple of thoughts for you in this regard…

  • BrianE

    It’s always been my contention that you could strip the money from the wealthy (not the inherited wealthy) and most would have their money back within 10 years.
    It’s in their genes.
    Yes, some were lucky, some were dishonest, but many or most have an innate ability to recognize what people need and are ready to meet that need.

  • BrianE

    The biggest contributor to poverty in the world is corrupt governments who do not respect private ownership. When a government can come in and take your property and take your wealth – whatever its form – then you have no security, and no motivation to attempt to accumulate wealth.

    Well said!

    I would add that we only really appreciate what we have struggled for.

  • Don Quixote

    Hi Helen,

    Thank you for you serious responses. I have nothing against redistributing wealth that people voluntarily choose to redistribute. Private charity is a wonderful thing. I do not agree with giving government the power to redistribute under penalty of jail. Leaving aside the obvious issues of property rights (which I’m sure you don’t care about) I just don’t want that much power in the hands of the government. If that power can be used for what you view as good ends, it can also be used for what others view as good ends, but you view as horrible ends.

    Government is both the greatest protector of our liberties and the greatest threat to them. Our founders understood this and divided government into small pieces (executive/judicial/legislative, federal/state/county/city) and gave it limited power. The history of the last 200 years has been the history of a more or less steady accumulation of power in the federal government, destroying the delicate balance our founders put in place. Your program, if ever implemented, would be another huge step in that (wrong) direction.