March 03, 2009

Eric Holder’s “€œnation of cowards”€ comment wasn”€™t simply a roundabout way of making the tired old accusation of “€œinstitutional racism.”€ It signaled the acceleration of a trend toward the state policing not only of behavior but attitudes, ideas, and the interpretations of facts.

Your thoughts might be impure. Attorney General Holder is here to help.  

On February 18th 2009, Eric Holder, our first African American Attorney General gave a well-publicized speech in which he called Americans cowards for, among other things, refusing to engage in an open, frank dialogue about our race relations. Reactions were immediate, nearly all negative and most correctly saw this as an effort to put whites in pillory so as to hector them with the usual accusations of racism, discrimination and all the rest as a first step to extract more tangible benefits. This much was clear. Less obvious, but more important, is that a “€œfrank and open discussion”€ will inevitably invite government to monitor our private thoughts to build a “€œbetter”€ more racially just society. Such “€œhonest”€ dialogues will not be policy debates as one might discuss school busing; this is about drawing to the surface what Peter Brimelow calls “€œhate facts,”€ that is, empirically indisputable truths that are justly inconvenient for America’s smothering liberal orthodoxy. Uttering them is, at least to champions of the reigning orthodoxy, far more hazardous than endorsing mere misguided public policy; they challenge the modern liberal state’s very foundations. In a nutshell, if Holder and company get their way, white America is to be put on the couch and coaxed to confess its selective misanthropic urges, and that done, we can be properly weaned from the thoughtcirmes debilitating blacks.

Of all the tricks to defeat opponents, classifying opposing views as a debilitating mental illness is perhaps the most nefarious. This medicalization strategy was explicit in the Soviet Union where “€œderanged”€ dissidents required long stays in insane asylums. Communist China, Cuba and other totalitarian regimes also had their versions of forcefully refurbishing the dissident. The gentler American re-education method only differs in degree, not kind. Here college students caught ridiculing wacky feminists must undergo a therapy that inevitably begins by demanding frank acknowledgment of one’s injurious thoughts, regardless of intended harm, let alone accuracy. Such treatments are not unusual; they are official policy for as Paul Gottfried has observed, the modern welfare state takes reforming supposedly misguide beliefs as part of its it central ameliorative mission”€”a roof overhead, food on the table, and mush in the brain. 

Those familiar with deadly European religious wars during the 16th to 17th century will recognize this sea change, a shift from the state repressing bad thinking to government punishing criminal behavior. To condense a complicated story, it was the battle over one’s inner faith that inflicted horrific slaughter across Europe. Being a “€œgood”€ Catholic or Protestant required accepting as true the correct creed; just being law-abiding, even outwardly playing along, was insufficient. Mercifully, as the corpse pilled up, modern tolerance emerged”€”one suffered religious dissenters but did not kill them. Thanks to the influence of Locke and Voltaire among others, one’s inner religious beliefs became subordinated to outward behavior and these thoughts, even if noxious, were beyond the state’s reach. Actions count louder than words, which in turn, count louder than thoughts. Locke in particular argued that only God could detect what informed the heart, and quarrels over dogma were endemic, and to insist that the state coercively purify the heart was impossible and guaranteed civil war. Secular police now replaced the church’s torturers and executioners as the guardian of public morality. So, within certain broad limits, let people believe whatever faith they choose, but the state should focus on outward behavior, a sensible, violence-avoiding admonition.

History is reversing. Inner thoughts are again becoming central, and this reflects both ideology and new invasive technology. The burgeoning popularity of hate laws (especially in Europe where “€œhate”€ is a stand alone offense) apart from criminal conduct summarizes this worrisome trend. Since the ideological shift often begins in early public education, it is virtually invisible to adults save those with school-aged children bringing home their lessons but it is very real. Its central tenet is the psychological supposition that civil discord originates in the mind, and intervention here, not punishing any resultant behaviors, is a legitimate state function. That “€œbad thoughts”€ seldom amount to anything is irrelevant. So, for example, youngsters are taught about harmful stereotypes, so a ten-year old honestly saying that Asian classmates academically outperform African Americans will debilitate blacks as one might spread the flu. Even if unvoiced, “€œdangerous”€ views can wound, so asking only Asian classmates for help with math can lower the self-esteem of ignored black classmates. Youngsters also learn to eschew being judgmental, Cultural Relativism Lite, so to speak, and that all traits are “€œjust as worthy as any other”€ to while some classmates excel at schoolwork, others are talented dancers, and everything counts equally. Bart Simpson, even Denise-the-Menace, is now “€œgood”€ by thinking good, and if either happens to call a classmate a “€œfag,”€ off he goes for counseling so as to purge these urges. Learning to hold one’s tongue or behave civilly is now insufficient”€”root causes, i.e., bad thoughts, are to be targeted.  If kids reject this educator-supplied nonsense (and most will) about the power of words, the message that “€œbad thinking,”€ independent of decent behavior, is impermissible in a good society will still sink in. At a minimum, children learn to keep quiet about certain “€œnegative”€ facts, especially when they have a racial or sexual element. 

Meanwhile modern technology with its ability to peer inside the brain reinvigorates this return to an era when “€œbad thoughts”€ were an offense punishable by death. To exaggerate only slightly, a modern incarnation of the Spanish Inquisition thrives and, as was true centuries back, the purification of creed is welcomed as the path to civic salvation. Several expose-the-dark urges devices currently exist, but consider just one. A group of Dartmouth professors, writing in Nature Neuroscience use a technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan brain activity when subjects were confronted with unfamiliar black male faces. These faces, alas, stimulated activity in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), which (together with other brain activity) was expertly interpreted to be cognitively dysfunctional. As one researcher concluded, “€œJust having a prejudice makes you stupider.”€ As far as can be determined, no evidence was collected to see if research subjects were, indeed, evil doers. The fMRI is more invasive than the rack but undoubtedly more accurate in extracting confessions, at least to these scientists (and there is no messy clean-up). 

As one might predict when academics suddenly possess a new high-tech measuring gizmo, a cottage industry of imposing publications (plus others in mass media outlets like the New York Times) now depicts once hidden, if not altogether denied, racism and other improper thoughts. Findings, not surprisingly, tend to confirm a sinister Hobbesian vision, for example, people react fearfully to images they have come to associate with danger (in this instance, whites viewing blacks) though research subjects refuse to acknowledge reactions. Now, Torquemada wears a white laboratory coat and copiously footnoted reports in professional journals “€œhappily”€ show after decades of officially-sanctioned efforts to eliminate white racism, it still flourishes. And like the Inquisition, there can be no defense from the Grand Inquisitor.

Let’s imagine that Holder’s vision comes to pass”€””€œfrank”€ and “€œopen”€ dialogues on race proliferate. Naturally few whites will speak honestly lest they risk become the next James Watson (or Alvin Darks, Jimmy-the-Greeks among untold innocents who believed honesty to be cost-free). Still, some brave (or even masochistic) souls will venture forth with the all-too-familiar litany of black shortcomings, all documented with hard statistical evidence and all widely recognized privately. Though these martyrs will be only a tiny fraction of all whites believing these “€œhate facts,”€ the outpouring will nevertheless seem like a tidal wave of “€œhate”€ to those living in hate-free cocoons. And what will be the upshot? Will blacks welcome this “€œhelpful”€ advice? Will policy prescriptions be more honest? Hardly: these unexpected white outpourings will be interpreted as “€œAmerica has a long way to go before we can be cured of toxic racism.”€ Blacks will be absolutely delighted with this newly exposed bountiful “€œhate”€ for it will energize for-profit anti-racism industry while confirming shopworn explanations for failure”€”whitey is worse than we imagined, the Klan never vanished, so what do you expect?  With all this new-sprung hatefulness gushing forth, President Obama might issue an emergency request the National Institute of Health to add racial animosity to its list of illnesses to be investigated.

A bonanza also awaits those tracking down the hate fact mongers. Millions of mental health counselors, social workers and diversity experts may have to be hired to patrol America now that the once hidden is more visible, and, rest assured, they will uncover yet more toxic thinking. Critically, all of this will be absolutely independent of any behavior. This “€œlet a thousand flowers bloom“€ temporary ideological amnesty is, of course, also a handy ruse to entice heretics to come out from hiding, and, unfortunately, it always seems to work. For every thousand flowers there will be a thousand Madame Defarges to keep an eye on them. Some innocents find confession irresistible and never heard of Jim Watson, let alone Larry Summers. When Syria’s newly inaugurated President Bashar Assad called for a “€œDamascus Spring”€ in 2000 he got his “€œnational dialogue.”€ Alas, by the end of 2001 he had heard enough and those intellectuals who naively believed him were imprisoned. It is inconceivable that those prodded to express heresies in public will go unmolested when the dialogue season ends. Professional anti-bias workers will now enjoy life-time employment rounding up those foolish enough to have expressed “€œcontroversial”€ views.

Just as James Watson or other heretics du jour discovered, scientific evidence is irrelevant. Offering facts only demonstrates the pathology if the purpose of expressing facts is, supposedly, to hurt, and the greater the marshaled evidence, the greater its scientific quality, the greater the harm. In this upside down world, the liar, the person who says that race and crime are totally unrelated, is the saint. The anti-hate feeding frenzy will now attract all those white-coated expert witness Torquemadas with their fMRI’s anxious for a piece of the thought-cleansing enterprise. Their expert testimony will further confirm scientifically what our frank and open dialogue shows”€”Americans harbor endless toxic “€œbad thoughts”€ and the fMRI’s will “€œout”€ cowards hiding behind the election of Barak Obama and all else that seemingly shows genuine racial peace. The solution, all the experts will agree, is more therapy, more sensitivity training, more race-centered curricula, more searching for the symptoms with even more sensitive detections devices. And, as more clueless souls inadvertently admit to hate facts (or are exposed by increasingly clever expose-the-truth devices), the rush to discover more forceful cures for this burgeoning epidemic is on. Therapy groups might be formed to assist those now willing to face up to their “€œillness”€ and, like reformed alcoholics, the rehabilitated would lecture to inspire fresh converts. “€œHi, I”€™m Arthur J., and I once believe that low IQ among blacks explained their lack of academic success. Now I realize how I was hurting people. I’ll never do it again.”€ 

To be sure, Holder’s quest is unlikely to come to pass, at least for the present (though recall a similar national show trial dialogue during the second Clinton administration). But, current safety should not blind us to the evil lurking in the hearts of men like Holder. The underlying model of such forums is the public health campaign, albeit of the mental health variety. Its aim is to first exposing the epidemic so as to then eradicate of what is eating away at America”€”hate, an illness that has long been swept under the rug. Note well: This “€œdisease”€ is a mental condition, not criminal behavior, and this focus on bad thinking breeds totalitarian measures just as it did in religious wars that decimated Europe. And make no mistake, if such forum come to pass, private life may return to the days when heresy regarding the official orthodoxy is a capital offense. Holder is right”€”we are cowards and for good reason, and it should stay that way.          


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