Sunday, July 27, 2008

On Racial Hierarchy

On a recommendation from Bobvis, I went over to visit, a site dedicated to . . . well, go check it out yourself, and come back.

Are you back?

Now, obviously, every blogger gets to decide what to blog about based on his own lights as to what is important. But, personally, I can't get much motivated with picking fights with people who basically share my criticisms of the status quo. I remember a while back when Laurence Auster and the folks at Age of Treason, people whose politics are almost identical, got into a round of name-calling over some obscure point of dogma the details of which I couldn't be troubled to learn. I mean, I'm sure it was darned important to them, but seriously folks, there's something to be said about playing the ball where it is.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that I normally wouldn't go out of my way to criticize the folks at Sure, without knowing the details, I would guess that our policy goals are similiar, but their ideas are their own, and I would not appreciate having them attributed to me, as I am sure they would not want my ideas attributed to them.

One of the posts near the top of their pile addressed an open letter by a group of Stanford bioethicists on "The ethics of characterizing difference":

Statement 1: We believe that there is no scientific basis for any claim that the pattern of human genetic variation supports hierarchically organized categories of race and ethnicity.

The equality of rights of all human beings is an unquestionable, moral claim that cannot be challenged by descriptive, scientific findings. As a normative commitment, equality is fundamental to our conception of human rights, and is not open to debate. Classification by racial and ethnic categories has, at particular moments in history, been used to further racist ideology. In view of concerns that linking of emerging genetic data and race/ethnicity categories may promote racist ideologies, we emphasize that there is no scientific basis for any claim that the pattern of human genetic variation supports hierarchically ranked categories of race or ethnicity. Furthermore, we abhor any use of genetic data to reinforce the idea of between-group difference in order to benefit one group to the detriment of another.

MajorityRights calls this "a Nazoid fantasy," but really, I found little to disagree with here. Sure, their carefully-worded statement may be creating a straw-man opposition, and it will likely be abused to suppress legitimate discourse, but as written . . . well, let's look at the details:

- There is no hierarchy of races: agreed. I would not argue that this or that race is "superior" to any other race. Indeed, describing a race or species, categorically, as superior would not be scientifically meaningful. This is a very different argument than the one we actually make: that racial groups, in the mean, show differences in measured intelligence, and that these differences are substantially heritable. (The open letter addresses this specifically, and somewhat problematically in Statement 5.) It is even different to say, as I would argue is the case, that European races, in the mean, show better adaptation to a society and civilization created by Europeans than do non-European races, in the mean, and in varying degrees.*

- The equality of races is a moral claim: agreed. It may not be "unquestionable" since many have, in fact, questioned it at various times and places. But the claim is certainly not subject to empirical argument one way or the other; it is a philosophical postulate, and one I happen to share.

- Racial classifications have, at particular moments in history, been used to further racist ideology: hard to argue with. No doubt we would quibble as to what counts as "racist", or how relevant this history is to our present and future policy debates, but sure: Darwinism has been used to justify some Really Bad Stuff, like slavery and genocide.

- We abhor the idea of between group differences being used to benefit one group over another: exactly! "Equality Before the Law" and "Individual Merit" have been the mainstream conservative banners for, roughly, its entire modern history. On the other side, it is the political Left that wishes to use racial categories to benefit non-Asian minorities over everyone else.

But here is what's at stake: our policy elites, possessed of the Dogma of Zero Group Differences, discovers actual group differences and cries out: racism! Blacks underperform in school? It's "the soft bigotry of low expectations!" Blacks underperform on the SAT? The test is culturally biased! Blacks underrepresented in your law school class? Change the admissions standards until they are not! Blacks denied home mortgages at a higher rate than Whites? Stop the redlining! Blacks crime shoots through the roof in the 1970s? It's the legacy of slavery!

I am not without sympathy for those who see that portion of the black community mired in poverty, ignorance, and crime, and seek to improve their lot; on the contrary, I would like to help them as well, starting with an end to third-world immigration. But bad ideology gives birth to bad policy, and as long as your policy is based on chasing the phantom of White racism, then you won't accomplish anything except to assuage your own moral vanity.

* If I had to trust the fate of American civilization to non-Europeans, I would pick the Indians, at least to the extent that Bobvis, Razib, and Bobby Jindal are representative.


bobvis said...

Which is a roundabout way of saying that I normally wouldn't go out of my way to criticize the folks at

I can read a good number of posts there and not feel particularly offended. I do understand the urge (and actually the need) for someone to stand up against the doctrine of blame whitey.

I didn't want to link to them because I have seen one of two posts that I thought went to far. Also, I think you can tell something about a blog by the community that reads it. From what I can remember, they regularly let obnoxious comments stand unopposed.

The equality of races is a moral claim: agreed. ... it is a philosophical postulate, and one I happen to share.

which is at least part of the reason I've never called you racist. ;)

I don't get the same impression from the MajorityRights folks. I at least got the impression from them that they thought whites were superiority in every dimension--even in looks, which they claimed to be objectively verifiable complete with a detailed analysis.

Hermes said...

Uh, Phi, have you ever looked at Age of Treason? The blogger there, Tanstaafl, is an unhinged anti-Semite who thinks that "jews," as he calls them, aren't white, that they are the ultimate source of leftism, that they should be removed from the West, and that Lawrence Auster, on account of his Jewish ethnic background, despite having converted to Christianity, only cares about the benefit of Jews at the expense of whites. Lawrence Auster, meanwhile, considers himself white and a Christian and as far as I can tell would prefer living in his native America over being forced to relocate to Israel. I'd hardly call that an obscure point of dogma.

Φ said...

Hermes: I didn't pick up that Tanstaafl sought the expulsion of all Jews. For what it's worth, I'd be against it.