Tuesday, May 25, 2021

ruminations on racism (and ironic accusations about Charles Murray)

This is an exchange with a friend about racism and his accusations of Murray as a racist (on the occasion of Murray releasing a book that talks about race). But my friend is unable (or somehow unwilling) to provide a definition of "racism". If a definition was forthcoming, I'd bet the ranch that it would be incoherent or would apply far more forcefully to people in my friend's camps. I've written about Murray's work on race quite a bit. (For those who want to read about-- and read excerpts from-- The Bell Curve, click here. For Sam Harris' excellent interview with Murray on this topic, click here.) In this response, I move beyond the definitional question to make other points-- about the nature of racism (in its various definitions)-- defending Murray against slander and striving for clarity on a sensitive but important topic.

______________________ It'd be funny/sad if Kendi doesn't provide a definition of it-- hard to believe, really. (But maybe that would explain a lot. Hmmm....) If I have time today, I'll try to read some of his book.

Let me try another angle, ignoring the vital definitional question. Any definition of "racism" requires an emphasis on race and implies a likely over-emphasis on race. As such, a "racist" will tend to draw strong inferences about individuals (or even "judge" them) in terms of their race-- e.g., all (or most) people in group X are Y or are not Z. So, a few things we can infer just from this:

-Murray is talking about population means/distributions, which leads to inferences about "some" or "more". But unless those means/distributions are *extremely* different (and they are not in any of the questions at issue here), this will not lead to inferences about "most" or "all".

-In the 2nd P you provided above, Murray is focused on individuals, not groups-- again, not something you hear from a racist.

-We know Murray is a Libertarian, so his political, social, and ontological lens is tilted (heavily) toward the individual, the human person, and personal freedom. (If one is fond of judging individuals by the groups they're in, then one must give him credit for this group membership, against the nasty accusation!) In marked contrast, many of his detractors are far-bigger fans of government-- putting a *far* greater onus on them to be (and to signal) that they're not going to indulge their worldview in onerous ways on others.

-In contrast, Kendi and identity-politickers are largely focused on race or other identity markers (esp. gender these days). At least in the broadest sense-- and in most/all cases, far beyond this broadest sense-- those focused on race are race-ists; those focused on gender are sex-ists.

-As an aside, few on the Left care much about "class" these days-- to the angst of Catherine Liu, Thomas Frank, etc. I share this general "Marxist" tilt with them-- the vital importance of class for many reasons-- and profoundly regret the Left's political retreat from / abandonment of the lower income classes to increase their support for cronyism, corporatism, and other unfortunate isms.

-The rub-- and maybe this is the link that you're missing-- is that "analysis" (such as it is) often focuses on one variable (e.g., race) and an over-confidence in statistical proxies about....wait for it...groups. (It also relies on anecdotes and extrapolation, as compelling or convenient, but that's a different sad "analysis" story.) And so we're reminded by innumerate journalists and various folks with troubling agendas (our old friend, rubes and demagogues) about "the gender pay gap" or the different rates of school discipline for blacks vs. whites in (systemically-racist?) govt schools-- as if these can be used to confidently (and correctly) infer an ism. Murray works this ground-- both because that's where the action is in the public sphere and because it has some value if done well-- but then...he moves purposefully to individuals. The identity-politickers start with their (favored) groups and their lousy statistics/analysis-- and *never* leave. "All/most whites are X; no/few Blacks are Z"? That's the language of racists-- which does not fit Murray, but ironically fits the IP racists to a tee.