Why Inherited Racial Difference Is the Most Frightening Topic Going
December 23, 2007
No concept threatens the state religion of diversity more than innate group difference. Take the wattage generated by every political controversy in the United States – abortion, war, homosexuality – add it up and multiply by ten. You still wouldn’t have anything close to the shock power of the idea that racial and ethnic groups – and sexes – think and behave differently not entirely because of “culture” but partly, or largely, DNA.
Try bringing this up at a backyard cookout in the suburbs or cocktail party in Manhattan and see how quickly the comfort zone evaporates.
It is a bracing thought, to be sure. Those who broach it lose their jobs. Sam Francis and Kevin Lamb (both dismissed from nominally conservative publications) are just two examples from a very long list. Harvard President Lawrence Summers was in a state of perpetual contrition since his suggestion that men and women think differently, and ultimately stepped down, to the satisfaction of the thought police on the faculty. His replacement is a woman. More recently, James Watson, the co-discoverer of the “double helix” of DNA, was fired from his position at the Cold Spring Harbor laboratory for observing that African blacks have a lower inherited IQ than whites.
The visual I imagine when the innate-difference idea intrudes is Edvard Munch’s famous painting, “The Scream.” No! It can’t be!
It has been more than a decade since Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein wrote The Bell Curve, which laid out the data on racial IQ differences, and how they are, in all likelihood, mostly inherited. To those who came to accept that information, the impenetrable resistance to the findings by the rest of the world is baffling. The statistics are so irrefutable – and so observable at work in the world – yet so determinedly ignored in the officially-sanctioned discussions of the issues. It’s like a society-wide remake of The Emperor’s New Clothes.
The New York Times ran a series of tantalizing stories on the topic of race and IQ that revolved around the Watson controversy (and William Saletan’s pro-inherited-difference-but-with-some-retractions series in Slate) The climax thus far is an op-ed piece titled “All Brains Are the Same Color”, by Richard E. Nisbett (Dec. 9, 2007). The very title of the article suggested the childish silliness of denying these differences: one imagines a tearful child asking his parent about where her doggy will go upon death, and the response: “All Dogs Go to Heaven.”
The letters that followed a week later cheered Professor Nisbett, predictably, though one writer was not so sure: “As heartening as I found Richard E. Nisbett’s arguments against a correlation between race and intelligence, I find it difficult to overlook the fact that one of the world’s most eminent scientists, James D. Watson, recently lost his job for taking the opposite position. Under such circumstances, essays like Professor Nisbett’s take on the air of dogma. One is left to wonder what researchers might find or say if their careers and reputations weren’t threatened by academic McCarthyism.” (Joshua P. Hill, New London, Conn., New York Times, Dec. 10, 2007).
Indeed. But there are reasons for the screaming, hyperventilating and proper ladies fainting away over this issue that might be escaping our attention. And not all of them have to do with being a pig-headed liberal or stubborn ethnic partisan (though these are clearly powerful forces).
What follows are other reasons I’ve identified as looming in the mental background, perhaps subconsciously. Those hoping to understand the tensions of the now-multiracial West — and the tensions involved in merely trying to discuss the same — should consider them.
1. Group Difference Calls Free Will Into Question
Few are made happy by the idea that anything but pure free will determines our earthly destinies. With limited exceptions, the Western world since the Enlightenment has cultivated the idea that anyone can be anything. Rousseau’s blank slate is an example.
We nurse a chipper confidence that all boys — and girls — could grow up to be president. (We seem not to notice that in the United States, it helps if your father — and maybe soon, your husband – was president.) It is comforting to think that all of us — no matter who our parents were or where we were born — have a perfectly equal shot at success, in any field. We’re all just smiling, spinning Mary Tyler Moores, knowing we might just make it after all. What sexist pig would deny Mary her tryout for offensive tackle with the Vikings?
The idea of inherited differences — individual and group — kills that buzz. The thought that genetics might play any part in the unfolding of our life path can be profoundly depressing. If our achievements are ultimately limited by those little biochemical software programs known as genes, why bother getting out of bed?
Group difference is even worse. Who wants to be on the comparatively less-able teams? And if your capabilities are greater than that of the average member of your group, your frustration would be considerable. You’d prefer, as the mantra goes, to be judged as an individual.
But genetic limits can have depressing implications for everyone — even members of more-able groups — because of the mere suggestion that there are such limits for us at all.
So, we avoid these ideas altogether. Like the people of Lake Wobegone, we are all above average.
2. Group Difference Calls Modern Theology Into Question
I don’t pretend for a minute to be a theologian. But my layman’s sense of modern religion gives me the following impressions.
If we’re all equal before God, the thinking goes (and I like the proposition myself), we must be equal in every other way. An undercurrent of many modern theologies seems to be the idea that however big and powerful we are here on earth, when we die, our souls shrink to uniform size.
Our “soul cubes,” if you will, are all 2 inches by 2 inches by 2 inches. Up in heaven, they’re all neatly stacked on a big cloud bank, with new additions daily. Same size, same density, same color (the Methodists have it as beige, Episcopalians insist it’s light blue). The only one “superior” is God.
Presidential aspirant Mitt Romney broke down in tears on “Meet the Press” about the Mormons’ acceptance of blacks into his church:
It’s very deep and fundamental in my life and my most core beliefs that all people are children of God. My faith has always told me that. My faith has also always told me that in the eyes of God, every individual was merited the fullest degree of happiness in the hereafter and I had no question that African Americans and blacks generally would have every right and every benefit in the hereafter that anyone else had and that God is no respecter of persons.
Discussing difference, then, can be made out as sacrilege. Acknowledge that your group is smarter than the other group, and you’ve committed more than a political gaffe. You’ve committed a sin.
3. Even If You Suspect Group Difference, Keep Mum About It — It Keeps the Peace
We do all need to get along — or at least try. I mean this in the sense of immediate individual survival, not a La Raza suggestion that Americans and illegals “get along” by us granting them amnesty.
We all find ourselves where we do in life, and even as we work toward something different, coexisting with the players in our daily lives by imagining to be their equal helps make existence palatable. Even those convinced of their own individual superiority rarely lord it on grounds that they inherited it. I don’t know of too many clubs where the members don’t think of themselves as “just us guys” or “just us gals” in a spirit of camaraderie. Even the hierarchical U.S. military benefits from this attitude, alongside quick salutes for commanding officers.
Also, a belief that all of humanity is inherently equal is comforting in a hedge-your-bet sort of way. Varying levels of success can be attributed to hard work or luck. No need to be a dark determinist about anything. And if you find yourself in trouble, you’d only feel that much more foolish if you’d previously announced your inherent superiority.
These three sentiments, however flawed, serve human needs. And it isn’t complete lunacy. They’re coping mechanisms, really, and they work in societies where individual differences are slight to medium. In fact, robust ignorance of difference can have practical value. If you need to raise an army, setting the height minimum too high could cost you decent fighters — even if taller conscripts are in fact better.
But this otherwise-commendable ignorance of differences breaks down and backfires in societies where the differences are pronounced. Hand a man a weapon he’s too short to handle properly, and you may have a disaster on your hands.
Yes, it’s often the little white lies that help us get along — until the lies become too big to ignore. Unfortunately, that’s where we stand now. Thanks in a large measure to unchecked immigration to the West, we’ve entered the territory of big lies. We aren’t all blending together in a beautiful mosaic. Newer groups are simply proposing to replace older groups. The lies aren’t smoothing the path for an otherwise healthy society, they’re crippling the American majority from thinking and talking about defending a preferred way of life.
Yet we continue to think that we can bring democracy to the world, make women indistinguishable from men, and raise the Third World to the level of the First by buying a red hoodie from the Gap. Among the unexamined reasons for the Iraq war, the notion of “human fungibility” helped it along, as if Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds would come together for some aw-shucks New England town meetings upon the fall of Saddam Hussein. Ditto for the open border with Mexico — just insist on enough “assimilation,” and the Hispanic influx will be undetectable. They’re all just people, right?
It would all be funny if it weren’t causing so much death, confusion, misery, and waste.
The opposition will say: recognizing human difference leads to slavery and concentration camps. Maybe. Or rudeness, arrogance and hurt feelings. Probably. But that is hardly justification for careening toward the opposite extreme. And this is especially so since the lack of discussion of these issues prevents being able to use them in the vital struggle to defend the legitimate ethnic interests of whites. Hurt feelings are a small price to pay.
Most of all, group differences remain. They are vividly, palpably, undeniably real. Races are different. Ethnicities do cluster and compete with each for limited territory, resources and power. Men are not women, and vice versa. We weren’t all meant to live in the same square mile.
Human societies are flexible, but not unbreakable. The world has survived many mistaken ideas and ideologies, though often, as with communism, they were accompanied by heavy casualties. The rigid egalitarianism now shackling our thoughts and policies is the latest, and it must be broken soon.
Christopher Donovan is the pen name of an attorney and former journalist.
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