May 17, 2008
What prompted this whole discussion about race and alleged racial differences—Christopher Roach’s post here, and my response—was the presidential campaign of Barack Obama, his rise as the putative Democratic candidate, and I want to bring the discussion back to its source. Because Obama, as a personality and the likely Democratic nominee, really does refute the mythology promulgated by the racialists. He is intelligent—indeed, the accusation that the Clintonians are using against him, albeit only by implication, is that he’s too intelligent. He’s a 21st century version of Adlai Stevenson, and thus the darling of the egghead set, as Pat Buchanan put it the other night on MSNBC. Except for one thing: he’s African-American.
Alright, then, he’s half white: but if blacks are so low on the IQ totem pole, then how did the Great Transcender get to where he is, and sound the way he sounds, with half his genetic heritage supposedly dragging him down? The racialists can’t answer that, because it refutes their worldview, and shows that racialism is not a guide to evaluating individuals.
Paul Gottfried claims that I am “attacking” poor whites: not so. I was merely trying to prove—with some success, I think—that they are no better than the black underclass, and, indeed, these types have taken on many of the “ghettoized” characteristics of poor blacks by simple osmosis. Which points to the validity of my thesis that a great deal of human behavior can be explained in environmental terms, rather than some type of genetic determinism.
I am frankly not at all sure what to make of Gottfried’s argument: he seems to be saying that I really recognize—in private—that Race is Destiny, but I’m just too much of a coward to admit my “real” opinions. It seems to him inconceivable that anyone could really disagree with the idea that intelligence is “innate,” whatever that may mean, and that it has largely to do with racial identity rather than how we’re brought up, and educated (or not educated). I assume this also includes moral education, which leads into such issues as criminal behavior (or lack of it) and illegitimacy rates. So our moral status, too, is “innate,” and largely beyond our control. We are, in this view, mindless, will-less robots, who simply act out what’s programmed into our genes.
As a libertarian—and, what’s more, a humanistic type—I disagree emphatically with this soul-less mechanistic philosophy, which is reductionist, arid, and almost comically one-dimensional. It is far too crude to be true, and reflects, I think, an unfortunate obsession with race that masquerades as “scientific” but which is really nothing of the kind.
Which brings us to Marcus Epstein’s post. Epstein points to Murray Rothbard’s views on racial differences—or, rather, the debate over racial differences—in response to my raising of Rothbard’s skepticism regarding the value of statistical anlysis in studying the varieties of human action, including but not limited to economics.
To begin with, Epstein misunderstands this skepticism. It has nothing to do with who gathers the statistics, or to what purpose they are put, but with the methodology itself. The Austrian School of economics, of which Rothbard was the preeminent advocate after Ludwig von Mises, is deductive science: that is, the Austrians deduce economic truisms from axiomatic concepts, i.e. basic assumptions about the nature of reality and of man. Empirical evidence is secondary. As I wrote in my biography of Rothbard,
“In the case of statistics, he was skeptical of the premise that truth can be iniferred from a statistical sampling based ont he alleged infallibility of the normal curve, or ‘bell curve.’ … ‘Well,” asked Rothbard,
“‘What is the evidence for this vital assumption of distribution arouind a normal bell curve? None whatever. It is a purely mystical act of faith. In my old statistics text, the only ‘evidence’ for the universal truth of the normal curve was the statement that if good riflemen shoot to hit a bullseye, the shots will tend to be distributed around the target in something like a normal curve. On this incredibly flimsy basis rests an assumption vital to the validity of all statistical inference.’”
The flaw in “scientism” and the worship of what passes for “science” is that scientific paradigms change: the unassailable “truths” of yesterday—e.g. the Ptolemaic model of the solar system—give way to new paradigms, i.e. the Copernican model. In the 19th century, phrenology was all the rage: today, even the cranks have abandoned it. In short, we know much less than we presume to, and not only when it comes to matters of race and genetics. The genetic determinists have merely fixated on one explanation for human behavior—in some cases to disguise their own obsession with race in the garments of “science”—and, like all fanaticisms, this one gives a one-dimensional, severely limited, and outrigh false picture of what it means to be human.
Epstein cites an article that appeared on the VDARE site, which cites a review of The Bell Curve by Charles Murray, but one could cite many articles by Rothbard that contradict this piece: his pro-“black power” newspaper articles, which appeared in a series published by the Freedom Newspapers in the 1960s, for one. Rather than wade throught the misconceptions in that anonymously-written article, however, I’ll just point to this refutation by Dylan Waco, who does a good job of making my case for me.
Epstein also points to the fact, if levels of achievement are determined by racial inequalities, then socialist-leftist social engineering schemes are doomed to fail in advance, and, as Rothbard put it, “racialist science” is merely the “defense of private property.” Yet looking at it from another perspective, if inequalities are due to economic and social conditions, and the free market is bound to improve these conditions, then the “disadvantaged” can be fully advantaged if and when the free market prevails. Furthermore, this means the disadvantaged—i.e. someone born into a slum, where drug-dealers and criminals reign supreme and the family is but a vestigial institution that barely functions—are not necessarily the enemies of economic and personal freedom.
In building a movement to roll back State power and drive a stake through the heart of the Empire, anything that limits the scope and reach of that movement has to be rejected out of hand. The racialists would limit the movement to whites, or those who think they are white but are in fact mixed to various degrees. The “Orange Line Mafia” would limit the movement to those who meet the standards of the editors of The New Republic. In both cases, it seems to me that these guys don’t need empirical, “scientific” evidence to back up their assumptions—and prejudices. They simply assume their prejudices as “fact,” and then go searching for “evidence” to back them up.