This is the second part of a three-part review:
Part I: Jonah Goldberg, Darwin and Unnatural Capitalism.
Part III Jonah Goldberg on Ingratitude: What Goes Around, Comes Around.
Goldberg constantly smuggles in ideas he claims he has abandoned.
In 1938, rhetorical critic Kenneth Burke published a review of Thurman W. Arnold’s book, The Folklore of Capitalism. Entitled “The Virtues and Limitations of Debunking,” Burke held that the debunker “covertly restores important ingredients of thought that he has overtly annihilated” which describes Jonah Goldberg’s new book, The Suicide of the West, perfectly. Goldberg attempts to put forth a number of big ideas which recast the history of capitalism in a new light, by drawing on evolutionary psychology among other things, but he cannot build his argument without re-enrolling ideas which he has told us he has abandoned. The result is a book that is completely incoherent. The most serious consequence of Goldberg’s covertly smuggling ideas back into his argument is when he addresses the tangled history of capitalism, racism, and slavery.
All roads lead to Rome. They do because the ancient Romans built roads. Lotsa roads. They were famous for it. They had had an empire to build and maintain. They had to come and see and conquer. They had nouns to decline and verbs to conjugate. So they built roads. Really good roads. So good, in fact, that many routes we still use today through Europe were laid down by the Romans two-thousand years ago.
The Romans built roads because they needed them for the maintenance of their empire. The technology of the road was embedded in a particular social system of power. Roman roads are an example of how, in political theorist Langdon Winner’s phrase, artifacts have politics. The artifacts we are surrounded with every day: our houses, neighborhoods, roads, cities are political in nature. They reflect a certain set of assumptions about who should live where and who should travel freely. One of Winner’s examples were the overpasses built on Long Island. These bridges were too low to allow buses to pass which meant that major transportation routs were designed to keep lower-people out of areas while allowing wealthier, car-owning folks easy access.
In Richard Rothstein’s new book, The Color of Law, it is clear that Winner’s was not an isolated example. Throughout the country, technologies of space and place were purposefully designed to maintain a racist society.
The power of racism lies in its ability to “naturalize” social relationships. What I mean by this is that racism claims that whatever social inequities exist they are part of the natural order of things. Those people are simply inferior, there is not much anyone can do about it; it is in the nature of things. Speak out for racial equality? You might as well speak out against the tide coming in, nature doesn’t care what you say. Pass laws to encourage racial equality? You might as well pass laws demanding the moon fall out of the sky. Racial inequality is in our genes, nothing society can do to will change that so we should just stop trying. Over at the National Review Online (NRO), Michael Barone has written a piece on the terrible David Reich editorial about genetics and race that does exactly this.
Last time I wrote about Reich I explained how those who really, truly believe that black people are genetically inferior to white people really, truly loved Reich’s piece. At the NRO, and keeping the organizations long-standing commitment to social inequality, Barone wants you to know that in this race we call life, there are winners and losers and it is just nature’s way that there are more white winners than black ones.
He makes his case by lying. I’ll explain how.
You folks remember Tucker Carlson, right? He’s the guy at Fox News who took over for sexual harasser Bill O’Reilly when Bill O. was fired. Ever since he took over he’s become very popular among white nationalists who appreciate Tucker pushing their agenda for them. As a writer over at American Renaissance declared: “Suddenly people on national television are talking about the end of white America, the rising tide of color, and what demographic change really means.” Long time readers will recognize the “rising tide of color” shout out. The 1920s never really went away for American Renaissance writers.
Are you a believer that whites are victims of a planned genocide who also argues that Hillary Clinton is operating a pedophile ring out of a pizza restaurant? Tucker has your back! Are you a European white nationalist worried about all the foreigners entering your country? Tucker feels your pain! (The good racists over at American Renaissance thought Tucker did a great job of consolidating “Years of awareness and fact, boiled down into one compound sentence— and not from an AmRen-ner or alt-Righter, either.”). So, yeah, Tucker is the confused face of white supremacy.
Just recently Tucker explained that white people are precious little snowflakes who must be protected from the big bad world because they are so fragile and delicate. “Reporting” on a National Geographic article on an influx of Latinx immigrants into Hazleton PA, Tucker explained if too many brown people with Spanish accents move in then it is perfectly understandable if white people just cannot even:
It doesn’t matter how nice these immigrants are. They probably are nice; most immigrants are nice. That’s not the point. This is more change than human beings are designed to digest. This pace of change makes societies volatile, really volatile, just as ours has become volatile.
We can learn a couple lessons about racism from Tucker’s latest confused rant.
“If I only had a brain…..”
I have often maintained that there is no idea so stupid that a tenured professor from Harvard won’t profess it. A good recent example is geneticist David Reich’s recent New York Times editorial about how we have to stop ignoring the reality of genetic causes of human variation. According to Reich, there is an “orthodoxy” that comes from well-meaning but muddle-headed people “who deny the possibility of substantial biological differences among human populations.” These kind-hearted dopes are afraid of bad results that could possibly result from the study of such differences:
The concern is that such research, no matter how well-intentioned, is located on a slippery slope that leads to the kinds of pseudoscientific arguments about biological difference that were used in the past to try to justify the slave trade, the eugenics movement and the Nazis’ murder of six million Jews.
I have deep sympathy for the concern that genetic discoveries could be misused to justify racism. But as a geneticist I also know that it is simply no longer possible to ignore average genetic differences among “races.”
Reich claims his own research proves that such genetic differences in human populations cannot be ignored and are needed to understand, for example, differences in disease rates among different populations.
A little over a month ago there was a minor kerfuffle about our Attorney General, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions saying that;
Since our founding, the independently elected sheriff has been the people’s protector, who keeps law enforcement close to and accountable to people through the elected process…The office of sheriff is a critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement.
A great hullabaloo ensued. What did Sessions mean about this “Anglo-American heritage” stuff? Did he think only white folks built our laws? And “heritage” isn’t that a dog whistle to neo-Confederates who are always talking about their heritage of the South (meaning white supremacy)? There was reason for people to be suspicious, after all “Sessions is a well-documented white supremacist who” is “hot for incendiary racist behavior.” Coretta Scott King had this guy nailed thirty years ago, not that it has stood in his way in his rise to power.
Calmer voices soon urged everyone to calm down. Sessions was merely invoking English common law which is, indeed, an important part of our legal heritage. While Sessions certainly is capable of racist dog whistles, they said, this probably wasn’t one. I had another thought at the time, however. It wasn’t the “Anglo-American heritage” part of his remarks. It was the “sheriffs” part that might have been the dog whistle. And that brings us back to the Koch Foundation’s funding of a right wing ideologue to educate prisoners in civics and to a guy named W. Cleon Skousen.
My very first blog post was this one. It was on the “softcore Holocaust denial” of one of the first actions of the then-new Trump administration: remembering the Holocaust without mentioning the genocide of European Jews. The guy I thought chiefly responsible for this statement was Sebastian Gorka who is no longer with the administration. He’s now landed a gig with an antisemitic website. The good news is that he’ll be in Canada so….. Well, that really isn’t good news, is it? He’s still around being a racist jerk.
A year later, Holocaust denial is back in the news. Arthur Jones, bona fide neo-Nazi and denier is running, unopposed, for Congress in Illinois (I hate Illinois Nazis). In Poland, it is now illegal to claim that Poles were complicit in the Holocaust. Holocaust denial, in its endless variety, is still out there. It is time, therefore, to take another look at it.
Trump thinks that we don’t need immigrants from shithole countries like Haiti, El Salvador, or the entire continent of Africa. Instead he thinks we should let more Norwegians in. Since a racist is a person who consistently makes racist remarks, Trump is a racist. Naturally, Fox News insists that pointing out Trump’s racism is the real racism. Just for the record: calling out racism is not racist. Being a racist is racist. Trump is a racist. The logic behind his statement is racist logic. Here’s why.
We are only a few weeks away from International Holocaust Remembrance Day: January 27. If you will remember, last year the Trump administration marked the day without mentioning that Jews were special victims of the Nazi regime and called the critics of of its silence asinine and and pathetic. To my knowledge, the administration has never apologized for this or amended what they said. Who knows what kind of insulting statement is in store for this year.
In anticipation of that fateful day, it might be worthwhile to explore the origins of Holocaust denial in the United States. Who was the first American to deny that the Nazis exterminated six million Jews and what was the basis for their denial?
Hey! Remember this post? The one where I
threatened promised to share some of the book I’ve been writing? I know you’ve been waiting on tenterhooks but now the wait is over. So put the tenterhooks away. Honestly, I don’t even know where you got those tenterhooks. Are those my tenterhooks? Did you borrow my tenterhooks without even asking me? Get your own tenterhooks! Honestly, some people……
So, a few words about what I’m offering up on the sacrificial alter of the Internet. This is a first stab at a “sample chapter” which will eventually become part of a book proposal. According to Susan Labiner in Thinking Like Your Editor:
A sample chapter is not really a chapter at all. It looks and smells like a chapter, in that it usually runs about a chapter’s length and had a beginning, middle, and end. But like no chapter in the your final book, it succeeds by cannibalizing other chapters, stealing the best material in the book and presenting it in such a way as to showcase the dramatic potential of the book or the power of the argument, or the richness of the topic.
Did I do that? Who knows? Its a first draft and, as my freshman writing instructor told me college, “The first draft is supposed to be shit.” Or to be more hopeful: The first draft has the same relationship to the final draft as compost to roses. So, follow the link and give it a read. If you want to send me comments criticisms, please do so. These can range from large conceptual problems you see as well as spotting typos and formatting errors. There are undoubtedly a lot of problems. Tell me about them.