Wittgenstein once wrote, “What we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence.” Ex-National Review writer John Derbyshire has just learned the modern American version of this truth. What we Americans cannot talk about is race (except, of course, in the anodyne terms established by political correctness), and woe betide anyone who refuses to pass over this topic in silence.
Derbyshire got in trouble over a piece he posted on the webzine Taki’s Magazine called “The Talk: Nonblack Version. “The talk” is what many professional blacks call the coming-of-age conversation they have with their kids, the main theme of which seems to be the persistence of racism in American society. Derbyshire’s version focuses on some matters of fact, such as the disproportionate numbers of black criminals, and others of speculation, such as black intelligence inferiority. It was the latter, of course, that got Derbyshire fired by National Review, which called such ideas “nasty and indefensible.”
Surely, our main concern should be whether the notion that blacks aren’t as smart as whites is wrong, and what evidence demonstrates its errors. Putting this speculation out of bounds precludes the airing of the evidence and arguments that explode it. Indeed, this eagerness to demonize and forbid any discussion at all reminds me of the climate change fundamentalists, who simply assert that there is a “consensus” and that anyone who doubts it is anti-science, a “denier,” or in thrall to big oil.
Personally, I have doubts about the whole intelligence and race debate for many reasons. First, I’m not sure that “race” is a useful way to talk about people. The genetic differences accounting for variations in hair texture or skin pigment strike me as trivial compared to the fundamental reality of human beings, which resides not in the material world but in the spiritual, that immortal, free soul created in the likeness of God. More practically, the notion that there are pure “races” seems with some few exceptions to be empirically false. There’s been a lot genetic mixing and blending going on over the millennia, and we don’t yet understand how genes work, or how they interact over time with each other and various physical and cultural environments, to pinpoint a genetic cause for much of anything. Race, in short, is a pseudo-scientific idea reflecting the fundamentalist materialism that arose in the late 18thcentury and that attempted to reduce all human reality and behavior to matter and the laws of nature. That’s why the first progressives took to racism so eagerly: it was just another example of how “science” could provide reliable knowledge about people that in turn could be used by experts to arrange society more efficiently.
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