Monday, April 9, 2012

Race, Rand, “Liberal-tarianism,” Stossel, and Other Blasphemy

Ten epic media events of note:

1. I think the April issue of Newsmax contains a story by me about the conservative rock band Madison Rising, who are odd men out in their industry. 

2. Yesterday was Easter, but last week saw the release of Austin Dacey’s book The Future of Blasphemy about free speech battles around the world (which I saw him speak about recently, at an event where, I’m happy to say, we got no closer to speech suppression than an atheist friend unwittingly calling religious people idiots in front of another friend who works for a cardinal – but, crucially, no one was coerced, and a good time was had by all). 

To commemorate the blasphemous occasion, this entry is decorated with pictures I took of: the World Trade Center being rebuilt (WTC 1 itself is now over 100 stories high – take that, Islamic terrorism!), a view from inside the new World Trade Center 7 (no, I saw no sign of a conspiracy inside), a band with the mocking pagan name Blonde Valhalla, and the giant ridiculous sculpture outside St. John’s Cathedral, meant to represent life itself, depicting a DNA helix made of water spawning a giant crab covered in giraffes decapitating Satan – y’know, just the way you remember it from Sunday school. 

3. John Derbyshire (himself a secularist of some sort, though he once chastised me for using the wrong label, so I won’t try) got ousted from National Review last week over his rant on TakiMag about black crime – and I for one am sad to see him go.  He may be eccentric, but he was one of NR’s best writers, and his rant is partly a side effect of a U.S. media culture that seems to enjoy every blasphemy except this one. 

Assume for the sake of argument that he’s gotten things all wrong – still, is he as wrong (or dangerous) as the naive (or you might just say admirably non-racist) assumption I grew up with in rural (and lily-white) New England: namely, that anyone who believed in important ethnic differences or differential crime rates was utterly misinformed or irrational, just like a believer in ghosts? 

Given that being accused of racism is a chronic problem in conservative and libertarian circles, it’s unfortunate I can’t bring my young self forward in time to present as evidence of just what a good – and utterly believing – p.c. trooper I actually was on this topic when young, seeing it as one more plank of my prized overall rationality. 

For all the left’s lamentations about how racist our culture supposedly is, hey, despite having been moderately conservative, I somehow made it to college (Brown) without even knowing that the black violent crime rate really is substantially higher – and not just by a few percentage points but indeed about seven times higher than that of whites per capita, meaning a subset of blacks end up accounting for about half of American crime [UPDATE: I'm told the differential is now more like over twice as high, which is a start – and I happened to be reading the stats at a circa-1990 gang violence peak, though things have not entirely evened out since].  I was unaware of this until stumbling across Justice Department crime stats in the Brown library while researching some other topic (I had a liberal girlfriend at one point who refused to believe the stats, and they may not be perfect, but they seem to be consistent with black crime victims’ own accounts of the ethnicity of their attackers and various other indicators). 

Until the library visit, I honestly would have told people that being more wary around black teenage males in “bad neighborhoods” was as irrational as being on guard for Bigfoot attacks.  Indeed, if not for seeing those stats, I probably would have sanctimoniously told my own grandmother, a few years later, not to worry about the vast increase in young black males in her quaint New Hampshire neighborhood, and probably would have kept telling her that right up until the point at which, as it happens, they started having frequent gang fights – melees involving large numbers of people – in the street outside her house, leading her – in her eighties – to petition her mayor for more police presence in the area (she’s ninety-eight now and still with us – and was pleased to see a black person elected President, by the way). 

In fact, it wasn’t until moving to New York City after college that I realized there are places where all the ethnic groups seem to make ethnicity-based observations about each other without angry protests and manifestoes ensuing.  I admit it was shocking at first (Latinos making broad generalizations about Italians at the office – and the Italians simply agreeing?!?).  Much easier to think like a liberal on these matters in places with only one ethnic group or places where everyone’s equally detached from reality thanks to politicized lectures and rallies on the green.

And if I’d gotten killed due to my naivete at some point, virtually no one in respectable circles would have said, “You know, he probably should have been warned about those high crime rates at some point.”  By contrast, the Derbyshire menace must of course be squelched.

Now, the tragic white-supremacist – yes, I’m calling it white-supremacist – history of the U.S. is likely sufficient to explain how things got this way without recourse to any hardcore-determinist genetic theories (and it can indeed be dangerous to overemphasize one explanatory element of a complex – and potentially inflammatory – historical phenomenon even if you do discover, say, mildly-probabilistic genetic factors).  I mean, for a couple centuries, a huge portion of blacks weren’t even allowed to read or keep their families intact, and they were legally marginalized and menaced in various ways for another century thereafter.  Who wouldn’t be messed up?  Indeed, traditionalists should be the first to concede that could cause decades or more of cultural fallout for a vulnerable population.

But how much clarity is likely to arise from ostracizing anyone who makes a fumbling or unorthodox attempt to discuss such taboo issues in the light of the past half-century’s decidedly different experiences (including some legitimate present-day white worries)?  On this topic, as on religion and so many others, do we prefer a combination of silence and consensual make-believe?  Aren’t the people who fear conversation likely the ones who think the truth is too horrible to handle?  I for one don’t think it is, though it ain’t necessarily altogether pretty either. 

(On a related note, I’ve repeatedly been pleased to discover black friends who, if I may rudely treat them as a demographic category for just a moment, are happy I’ve been rooting for Ron Paul, who seems to be their favorite Republican candidate, notwithstanding those infamous newsletters – about which I would not for a second have blamed them for being outraged.  It seems several of them agree we face far more serious issues.  And you know, they’ve heard worse anyway.  On Boondocks alone.)

I suspect it will be neither p.c. nor government action that solves these problems in the long run but commerce, intermarriage, and humor, lame and slapdash as that may sound to people wanting grandiose political fixes (and I say this as someone who, for instance, much like Stephen Macedo, has no objection to purely private affirmative action programs or even, say, consciously all-black businesses – and wouldn’t even be all that bothered by affirmative action laws, if they were clearly framed as compensation for past oppressive laws – and had sunset provisions – rather than being never-ending social engineering programs, now justified by the less-libertarian and presumably-eternal rationale of mandatory diversity).

In any case, I’m all for gradually making such issues irrelevant, not via p.c. taboos like the ones that prevailed at Brown – though they are themselves historically understandable – but by encouraging people to give greater attention to precisely those things that transcend ethnic, national, and tribal affiliations – such as philosophy, economics, and science, which describe the universe quite well no matter what color its inhabitants are.  Speaking of which...

4. My econ-savvy ex-boss John Stossel has another taboo-busting book out tomorrow, this one called No, They Can’t: Why Government Fails – But Individuals Succeed

5. And Vijay Dewan (like both Derbyshire and Dacey, a onetime Lolita Bar debater) notes that tomorrow tickets go on sale (here) for the documentary he’s been working on about the ludicrous, unscientific – and ahistorical – battles that determine the content of textbooks, called Revisionaries.  I’ll see it on the 20th.  (Speaking of classrooms, in a few days, I’ll explain why you also have to join me in seeing the hip horror-comedy Detention this month.  More on that soon.)

6. I wish I could also tell you that Iron Sky (the Finnish movie about a Sarah Palin analogue battling Nazis from the Moon, I kid you not) is also out in the U.S. this month, as I thought it would be.  It has a U.S. distributor – and was out overseas last week – but it still doesn’t have an official U.S. release date.  I look forward to it, in any case. 

7. Around October, I will also brave Atlas Shrugged Part II: Either/Or (which started filming last week), despite the weakness of last year’s installment, since they have replaced not only the director and the screenwriter but the entire cast.  So we really don’t know how much it will resemble the prior episode, but for Ayn and curiosity’s sake, I’m willing to gamble again.  The screenwriter’s big prior credits include episodes of the TV shows Walker, Texas Ranger and Mortal Kombat.  Is that a burning oil field I smell – or an Oscar?

8. If real-world crises and leviathans are more your speed, I see Robert Higgs – who I heard speak last week at the monthly libertarian gathering called the Junto – has a new book out in a few weeks, collecting past articles as Delusions of Power: New Explorations of the State, War, and Economy.  May my own new series of onstage events (starting next month!) yield speakers as insightful. 

9. If you like your libertarians just a little more mushy than most of the ones mentioned above, though, note that a neat dialogue has been going on for the past few days on the Cato Institute’s blog about what is colloquially known as “liberal-tarianism,” with a contribution from BleedingHeartLibertarians co-founder Matt Zwolinski and Free Market Fairness author (and Brown prof!) John Tomasi, followed by (what I think are pretty effective) responses from Rod Long and David Friedman, with one from Alexander McCobin and a follow-up conversation due todayI will post my own thoughts on the liberal-tarian phenomenon on this blog tomorrow.

10. In the meantime, here again is a link to video of the aforementioned David Friedman speaking recently at Lolita Bar.  That should hold you over until the new and different Williamsburg bar events begin – or at least until tomorrow. 

No comments: