1. I could never hate capitalism the way Don DeLillo and David Cronenberg do, judging by the terrible film Cosmopolis (which had a budget of $20 million and made only $800,000 at the box office, so I suppose capitalism got the last laugh). It features sparkly vampire Robert Pattinson as a sociopathic CEO riding his limo slowly across a city full of anti-capitalist rioters and sexy women who give lectures about the dangers of high finance.
However, I can hate TimeWarner Cable (and fear the possible results of its merger with Comcast) after having my Internet service go out without explanation a few times only to find out later that that was supposed to prompt me to seek an upgrade from them. (That’s the main reason this entry on racism is a day later than I planned.) Maybe it’s not so much the capitalists or anti-capitalists we should be listening to as the Luddites, lest we end up in what one columnist calls “The Tech Utopia Nobody Wants.”
But, all right, I admit I still wouldn’t want to go back to life in the second (or earlier) millennium despite current aggravations. In this century, I live like a character from the last book I blogged about, the postmodern sci-fi tale Sewer, Gas & Electric, whereas in the twentieth century I actually worked at a sewage treatment plant for a summer. That wasn’t so bad, really, but the present is better. I will remain cautiously optimistic.
But will people of all stripes -- and hues -- benefit from society’s inexorable advance?
2. The activists cheering Texas’s retention of affirmative action at UT Austin (in a fairly narrow federal appeals court decision) worry that they will not, but it is perfectly reasonable, whether one supports or rejects affirmative action, to ask what the impediments actually are. There’s no denying the long history of institutionalized racism (I have never done so), but are we permanently forbidden to wonder if there are other factors? How much does the bigotry matter? Would everything perfectly even out in its absence? Does that matter for policy purposes?
There’s virtually no wading into such questions without being condemned as a monster, no matter how well intentioned you are. I think modern liberalism’s getting worse, not better, in this regard, with social media feeding the glee that the worst among us take in flying into instant outrage the moment any taboo topic is touched upon -- no matter what is actually being said on that topic. The rapidly-mounting willingness of the more left-leaning media outlets (such as Salon) to pounce on anything they can take wildly out of context certainly doesn’t help.
Given the feeding-frenzy-like outrage reactions lately, you might be shocked to discover, for instance, that Sen. Rand Paul’s comments to Rachel Maddow about his mixed feelings on the 1964 Civil Rights Act were actually perfectly coherent and highly articulate the first time, even before he spent a few penitent days trying to contextualize and update them more carefully.
Noting that the Act had several parts, he said he supports the government having to compensate or accommodate previously-oppressed groups but doesn’t want that same government regulating private property -- and later added that even the regulation of private property was an appropriate remedy at the time for past abuses but shouldn’t continue indefinitely. I agree, and Maddow can smirk all she likes, but it’ll still be a coherent position -- not to mention, I’d argue, the correct one.
(An interesting side question is whether Rand Paul’s later, ongoing push for the restoration of voting rights to felons is simply a matter of principle, an attempt to “compensate” for possibly irking black voters with his comments to Maddow, or a calculation that voting ex-prisoners just might heavily reward a presidential candidate who called for ending the drug war. Forgive me for not assuming everyone is guided by pure principle in these matters, but I also wonder if the New York Times would become a bit less vocal than it has been in advocating this policy change if it concluded those re-enfranchised felons might vote for Paul in 2016 instead of a Democrat...)
3. Far from being on the verge of takeover by the Klan or neo-Nazis, mainstream culture in America today is so far left (complete with frequent, strategically-shifting, passive-aggressive, p.c. declarations of changes in the rules of acceptable language) that one now routinely sees embarrassing online scuffles like a recent one (visible in the image nearby) in which a leftist insisted whites cannot be the targets of racism because “racism” can only be engaged in by the dominant ethnic group, to which one skeptical commenter replied that they should resume the argument when the leftist’s definition of “racism” gets into the dictionary.
4. Into this danger zone boldly wades Nicholas Wade, a British science reporter for the New York Times and others, with his book A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race, and Human History. If you doubt his courage (despite that courage being slightly easier to summon in overwhelmingly lily-white England), note for instance that a Scientific American blogger appears to have been fired merely for giving the book a positive review and later blogging similarly Darwinian comments about the occasional insight to be found among the so-called “PUA” writers on dating and relations between the sexes.
Wade is making no policy recommendations, rendering no moral judgments, and slinging no insults, though. He is simply trying to describe human history without unscientifically disregarding either its cultural elements or its biological elements. He contends that even some of the most controversial evolutionary psychology writers have self-censored and attempted to dismiss the possible implications of humanity having three major, partially genetically-distinct subsets (very roughly speaking, Africans, Indo-Europeans, and East Asians, albeit with countless blends and footnotes and special cases between them).
We don’t know how much biology matters in the observed differences between the civilizations, he argues, but it would presumptuous and unscientific to assume (even dogmatically assert) that it cannot matter at all. He very carefully and repeatedly condemns any assertion of “superiority” or differential rights as monstrous, dangerous, and implicated in some of the most horrible chapters in human history.
However, he also observes how quickly dog breeds can be created, how quickly our own proto-human and chimp relatives could drift apart from each other genetically and behaviorally -- and mentions almost in passing that while the average Ashkenazi Jewish IQ is, if we are not simply to dismiss IQ tests altogether, apparently about 112, while the average Subsaharan African IQ is apparently 67.
Is it just culture? Even better from an egalitarian optimist’s perspective, is it just a product of short-term policies people can change (possibly something as comparatively simple as nutrition instead of economics, even)? Maybe. We can’t say so with certainty, though, not if we care about facts more than a priori, dogmatic political assertions. And I’m not so sure we still do care about facts (take the feminist aversion to biological explanations for differential behavior between the sexes -- or the rapidly growing pro-transgender sentiment that we shouldn’t even assume children are likely male or female until they make up their own minds on that issue sometime in early adulthood, if ever, despite only about an estimated .3% of the population being transgender).
I should hasten to add (or should I really have to?) that despite the left’s tendency to assume the right loves racism, the idea of biology creating significant, long-lasting differences in the tone of different societies is as troubling (if not more so) for an individualist philosophy like my own libertarianism, born in the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, as it is for egalitarian liberalism (I’ve met more than one black libertarian who would like to abolish the whole concept of race, for instance). It’s troubling as well for most modern formulations of standards-raising conservatism.
In the end, all those factions can reasonably stick to the same policy recommendations they’ve been making even if biology proves a major reason for ethnic differences, but the left’s strident insistence that those differences are pure products of irrational bigotry may begin to wear thin (not that this would ever, by contrast, make hatred or collectivist appeals to racial identity more attractive to me -- the goal is to avoid being an idiot, whether left-wing or right-wing).
Unfortunately for all sides -- though without me for a moment pretending this is sufficient reason to dismiss the whole topic -- Wade admits to having no quantifiable answers to the obvious question of how much biology matters relative to purely-contingent cultural history, arguably rendering the whole long arc of parallel biological and historical story-telling in the book pointless (or at least not juicy enough perhaps to warrant your time -- but then, it’s only 250 pages long).
When you consider how quickly those dog and ape breeds can drift apart, though -- and hear of some evidence that a detectable increase in Jewish IQ may have occurred just within the past millennium -- the fact that the three major races have been semi-distinct for about 30,000 years, very roughly speaking about a quarter of the time there’ve been human beings, we have to at least be open to the possibility that biology will prove an important part of the story.
Anything else would be intellectually dishonest. And, hey, you don’t see me denying that stats suggest most serial killers are white males. That might be biological, too. This is not a game of one-upmanship. It’s a search for the truth, begun roughly with Darwin and quite understandably derailed for decades by the horrors of twentieth-century eugenics. But it’s not as if every attempt to apply genetics to human social interactions was done by fiends.
In fact, it’s striking how many of the founding figures