Arthur Jensen (1923-2012) was one of the most prolific psychologists of the twentieth-century. He’s so famous that there is a word named after him: “jensenism.” Jensen is remembered for arguing that black people are stupider than white people and there wasn’t much you could do about it. What distinguished Jensen from your racist uncle was that Jensen dressed up his argument in statistics and published it in psychological journals. Another thing that might distinguish Jensen from your racist uncle (unless your racist uncle is much worse than he’s ever let on at Thanksgiving) is that Jensen palled around with neo-Nazis and admirers of Nazi racial thought. People who’s views were basically recapitulations of Nazi race theorist Hans F.K. Günther. The recent awful Quillette article cites Jensen as a reliable source as do many other “race realist” writers nonetheless.
I have better things to do with my time. I have other writing to do. I have laundry that needs to be folded. The catbox hasn’t been scooped today. There’s a hammer out in the garage I could be hitting my head with. Any of these things would be preferable to responding to this awful Quillette article on race science. Yet here I am.
I’m not the only one to find this article troublesome or to see that it is while it poses as a book review of Angela Saini’s new book Superior: The Return of Race Science it is really no such thing. Nor am I the first to make the argument that race science is the vampire science. Pronounced dead over and over and over it rises from the grave to shamble a while mumbling incoherently about “open questions” and “IQ scores” and “heritability” and “climate” despite the overwhelming scientific consensus that we have moved beyond race science. The Quillette article notes this consensus: “This contention is a common one, officially endorsed by a number of professional organizations and espoused by many celebrated intellectuals” but then dismisses it. The article then trots out a series of tired arguments as if they were new and novel and the professionals and intellectuals had never heard them before and found them wanting. Let’s look at some of these threadbare arguments, shall we?
Today the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion in Box v. Planned Parenthood. The issues of the case can be found here. I want to focus on the concurring opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas. Thomas has long wanted to overturn Griswold v. Connecticut, a landmark 1965 case in which laws prohibiting the sale of contraceptives were declared unconstitutional. Griswold was an important case to establish a right to privacy, something Thomas simply does not think exists. What is new about Thomas’s concurrence in Box is that he is using the history of eugenics to do so. A really bad and dishonest history.
I’ve been recently named part of a “roving and ideologically motivated band of slime artists.” Please! I’m blushing: an artist? My prose has seldom been considered more than “craftmanlike” and now I’ve been declared an artist! Wait until I get to tell the rest of the roving band! In the same post my “expertise” was put into scare quotes, just so you’d know that I’m a poseur about these things. I earned these honorifics because of some comments I made on Twitter regarding a review of a book by Nathaniel Weyl published by economist Gordon Tullock. , Yes, this post is about a blog entry about a Twitter thread about a book review about a book published a half-century ago. Of such molehills in a teapot the internet is made. Not that the original poster needs my help.
That being said, this little dustup can teach us something about how scientific racism flourishes long after it should have been laid to rest. First, speaking in a scientific voice provides cover for ideas that would otherwise never survive in the public sphere. William F. Buckley often bragged about forbidding his writers to also write for the racist and antisemitic American Mercury. Yet, Weyl was a regular contributor to the equally racist and antisemitic Mankind Quarterly (MQ) and was never booted from the pages of National Review. Perhaps because MQ purported to be a scientific, not political, journal. Second scientific racists could be satisfied with playing to draw. In other words, rather than proving certain races were inferior, they could simply end by calling the question open, demanding more research and thus keep doubt in the public’s mind about racial equality.
The word “eugenic” is an unquestionably negative adjective –tagging something eugenic is to disparage it, except in the rare case of someone who attempts to resuscitate some aspect of the vilified American eugenics movement. However, if asked, it is doubtful that those who employ the term to vilify something they object to can give an accurate definition of the term. Those who turn to the history of science to define the term are likely to be frustrated. The American eugenics movement was in fact so broad and historical scholarship on it has been so profuse that by the end of the twentieth century the word “eugenics” was applied to so many different activities that it was of little use in describing much of anything. And, since every industrialized country in the world had some kind of program under the rubric “eugenics” the problem becomes more acute if we move beyond the United States. Today, historians, activists, journalists and assorted political pundits can easily find evidence in the many activities associated with the word eugenics to support nearly any assertion they wanted to make. “What,” asked Philip Pauly a quarter century ago, “is then left of ‘eugenics’ apart from Francis Galton’s euphonious term and impressionistic images of semiutopian technocratic professionals?” (p. 133).
Unfortunately, outside the specialists in the history of biology, “eugenics” is often assumed to lead directly to the Nazi Final Solution. In a society that expressly values diversity and civil rights, the word “eugenicist” carries the same sort of weight that being labeled a pinko carried during the red scare. Diane Paul, who has extensively studied and written about both the history of the American eugenics movement and ongoing genetic research and interventions that are sometimes associated with the label eugenic, wrote, “I argue that efforts to demarcate eugenics from non-eugenics will prove as fruitless as analogous efforts to demarcate ‘science’ from non-science’ for the same reason; eugenics, like science, is simply much too heterogeneous. I believe that disputes about the meaning of eugenics are also unproductive. At present, the term is wielded like a club. To label a policy ‘eugenics’ is to say, in effect, that it is not just bad, but beyond the pale. It is a way of ending, not promoting, discussion.” (pp. 96-7)
Rhetorician Richard Weaver would call the word “eugenics” in our world a “devil term.” By this he meant a single term that stood for an idea or concept that was so repellent as to be universally rejected. Writing in the early 1960s, Weaver suggested that “un-American” or “Communist” or, significantly, “Nazi,” were a good examples of such “term[s] of repulsion” (p. 223). A devil term cuts of discussion. It stops inquiry. The use of them betrays a desire to eliminate any further discussion of the problem.
I bring this up because one of my Twitter frenemies keeps bringing up (even though no one asked) his belief that “Gunnar Myrdal was a hardcore-eugenicist!” if I mention Myrdal’s enormously influential book, An American Dilemma. Published in 1944, AAD set the stage for how Americans wrote and thought about race relations for two decades. It is widely considered one of the most important books of the twentieth century on race relations. What could it mean that this anti-racist classic was authored by a “hardcore eugenicist?” To answer that question, we need a clear understanding of “eugenics” which, as Paul noted years ago, is hard to come by.
National Review, “Arts and Manners” column, 11 July 1956:
“The incitement to the lowbrow’s rebellion against the ‘mass media’ was one Elvis Presley, a pimply and thoroughly nasty young man who rotates his abdominal muscles on TV screens with the abandon of an old strip-teaser and the elegance of a waterfront slattern. He also sings. And one has to hear this pathetic wail of vulgarity to believe it. At any rate, Mr. Presley is at the moment the hottest thing on TV.”
Jonah Goldberg, Suicide of the West, 2018:
Rock and roll is the primitive drumbeat hooked up to killer amps…. Nowhere is the romantic mixture of pantheism, primitivism, and the primacy of inner feelings than in rock’s appeal to inner authority and authenticity…. It is no accident that drugs and rock and roll are so linked in the popular imagination. Both promise to take us out of the realm of daily concerns and rational priorities…. Nor is it coincidence that rock appeals most directly to adolescents…. It is when glandular desires are most powerful and our faculties of reason are the most susceptible to all manner of seduction..
And thus we come (at last) to the third and least original of Jonah Goldberg’s themes in his book, Suicide of the West. In previous posts, I have described and critiqued his first two themes: that capitalism is unnatural and that it is particularly vulnerable to corruption. In this, my final post (promise!) about Goldberg’s book, I will address his final theme, ingratitude:
We are shot through with ingratitude for the Miracle. Our schools and universities, to the extent that they teach the Western tradition at all, do so from a perspective of resentful hostility toward our accomplishments. (p. 16)
Uh oh. He’s going after the university, or as we call it in my house, “Daddy’s paycheck!” I’d better spring into action! Honey? Where’s my super suit?
This is the second part of a three-part review:
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.