This is a surprisingly straightforward interview of John Derbyshire by Gawker’s Maureen O’Connor:
Is racism—yours or other people’s—a problem?
Depends what you mean by a problem. The mild and tolerant racism I’ve owned up to, and which seems (from these Implicit Association studies) to be very common, is not usually a problem in people’s personal social lives. It’s never been a problem in my life. I’ve always got on pretty well with persons of all races, excepting those individuals nobody can get along with—we’ve all met ’em. But then, of course, as an individual, one can “navigate” through life, making choices that avoid difficult quandaries, by just the kinds of strategies outlined in my article.
Those irenic results don’t scale up. Entire societies don’t have the “navigational” freedom of individuals. The natural preference most people have for some races—usually their own—over others means that multiracial societies are plagued with stresses that you don’t see in monoracial societies. The tendency in modern times is to separation. Look at residential and educational patterns in the U.S.A. I discuss these issues at length in my book We Are Doomed.
A friend of mine who is an academic social scientist likes to say that if you want to know what people believe, there are two methods of inquiry: (A) ask them, or (B) observe their behavior. It’s a depressing fact about human nature that if you apply both (A) and (B) to a given situation, the answers you get will not necessarily be the same. Whether we are, as our current Attorney General said, a nation of cowards about race, I don’t know; but looking at those residential and educational patterns, it’s awfully hard to deny that we are a nation of liars.
The big question is whether these problems, as they manifest themselves in the U.S.A., are solvable. Current orthodoxy is that they are, and offers a laundry list of solution methods. Fix the schools! End poverty! Stamp out racism! Affirmative action! Fifty years ago a thoughtful person could sign on to those prescriptions. I know: I was around: I did. Yes (we said) once unjust laws had been struck down, and some social massaging of that sort been done for a few years, the races would merge in happy harmony, and the word “race” and its derivatives would drop out of the language. We all believed that. I believed it.
Plainly this hasn’t happened, except of course in the upper classes, which go by their own rules. For a thoughtful person today to believe that these social-engineering nostrums will (for example) bring black crime rates to a level indistinguishable from white crime rates, involves a strenuous act of what Orwell called “doublethink”—massive self-deception. Does anyone, after all those decades, all those trillions of dollars, all those failed social-engineering experiments, does anyone really, honestly still believe in the nostrums? I don’t.
My own sense of the thing is that underneath the happy talk, underneath the dogged adherence to failed ideas and dead theories, underneath the shrieking and anathematizing at people like me, there is a deep and cold despair. In our innermost hearts,we don’t believe racial harmony can be attained. Hence the trend to separation. We just want to get on with our lives away from each other. Yet for a moralistic, optimistic people like Americans, this despair is unbearable. It’s pushed away somewhere we don’t have to think about it. When someone forces us to think about it, we react with fury. That little boy in the Andersen story about the Emperor’s new clothes? The ending would be more true to life if he had been lynched by a howling mob of outraged citizens.
Have you given your children any of the advise outlined in your “The Talk: The Nonblack Version”? If so, how did they receive it?
They have, as I said in the article, had bits and pieces of it, though never in a formal let’s-sit-down-and-have-a-chat [links to video] kind of way. Both took it with some skepticism, even some disgust in my daughter’s case. Both have been through the public-school system and taken in a lot of the left-liberal PC indoctrination in which that system is marinated. So I’d have to say they weren’t very receptive. Was there ever a time when kids listened to their parent’s advice? But at least they’ve heard it, and know that there’s another point of view besides the PC flapdoodle, a point of view held by non-crazy persons. One does one’s best.
It’s not hard to see that Derb’s position is either reasonable and wholly unobjectionable or unthinkable. Those who conclude it is the former are driven by facts and observation of the real world. Those who conclude it is the latter are driven by ideology and the myth of equality. That is how we can be confident that Derb is correct, because the emptiness of ideology that is contradicted by observation will inevitably be exposed sooner or later. As Derb himself notes, 50 years ago it was possible to credibly subscribe to the equalitarian position. He once did. I once did, although always with some degree of suspicion that something wasn’t quite right. But after five decades of the orthodox racial model’s complete and unmitigated failure, it simply isn’t possible for any thinking individual to do so any longer.
I was also pleased to be informed that unlike his fellow NROniks, Mark Steyn was bold enough to openly defend Derb and oppose what he refers to as Lowry’s “summary execution”. Since I no longer link to the National Review site, I shall simply quote the relevant bits from Steyn here:
I didn’t agree with Derb on many things, from Ron Paul and talk radio to God and science. For his part, he reckoned I was a bit of a wimp on what he called “the Great Unmentionables.” He thought that neuroscientists and geneticists’ understanding of race trumped my touching belief in “culture.” I’m not so sure: Why is Haiti Haiti and Barbados Barbados? Why is India India and Pakistan Pakistan? Skin color and biological determinism don’t get you very far on that.
But I almost always learned something from his columns, and, at a time when punditry is increasingly parochial, I appreciated his range of historical and literary allusion (his recent “Duke of Marlborough moment,” for example). He will be impossible to replace on that front….
The net result of Derb’s summary execution by NR will be further to shrivel the parameters, and confine debate in this area to ever more unreal fatuities. He knew that mentioning the Great Unmentionables would sooner or later do him in, and, in an age when shrieking “That’s totally racist!” is totally gay, he at least has the rare satisfaction of having earned his colors. Yet what are we to make of wee, inoffensive Dave Weigel over at Slate? The water still churning with blood, the sharks are circling poor old Dave for the sin of insufficiently denouncing the racist Derbyshire. Weigel must go for not enthusiastically bellowing, “Derbyshire must go!” Come to think of it, I should probably go for querying whether Weigel should go.
NR shouldn’t be rewarding those who want to play this game. The more sacrifices you offer up, the more ravenously the volcano belches.
PS If Derb’s piece is sufficiently beyond the pale that its author must be terminated immediately, why is its publisher — our old friend Taki — proudly listed on the NR masthead?
Good for Steyn. It was well and bravely done. Of course, he, along with Victor Davis Hanson, is widely considered to be one of the leading contenders for NRO’s next purge.