The big news in the dextrosphere is l’affaire Derbyshire. John Derbyshire, author of a book I have mentioned approvingly in the past, wrote a venomous, off-the-rails screed in an online paleocon magazine the other day that argues that white folks have more to fear from African-Americans than the other way around. At points, it’s like hearing a Chris Rock routine, only not funny. He offers several studies to support his point (while specifically noting that a statistical generalization about group X tells us nothing really about member Y of that group), along with several cherry-picked bits of anecdotal evidence.

His conclusions are troubling:

(10) Thus, while always attentive to the particular qualities of individuals, on the many occasions where you have nothing to guide you but knowledge of those mean differences, use statistical common sense:

(10a) Avoid concentrations of blacks not all known to you personally.

(10b)Stay out of heavily black neighborhoods.

(10c) If planning a trip to a beach or amusement park at some date, find out whether it is likely to be swamped with blacks on that date (neglect of that one got me the closest I have ever gotten to death by gunshot).

(10d) Do not attend events likely to draw a lot of blacks.

(10e) If you are at some public event at which the number of blacks suddenly swells, leave as quickly as possible.

(10f) Do not settle in a district or municipality run by black politicians.

(10g) Before voting for a black politician, scrutinize his/her character much more carefully than you would a white.

(10h) Do not act the Good Samaritan to blacks in apparent distress, e.g., on the highway.

(10i) If accosted by a strange black in the street, smile and say something polite but keep moving.

(11) The mean intelligence of blacks is much lower than for whites. The least intelligent ten percent of whites have IQs below 81; forty percent of blacks have IQs that low. Only one black in six is more intelligent than the average white; five whites out of six are more intelligent than the average black. These differences show in every test of general cognitive ability that anyone, of any race or nationality, has yet been able to devise. They are reflected in countless everyday situations. “Life is an IQ test.”

(12) There is a magnifying effect here, too, caused by affirmative action. In a pure meritocracy there would be very low proportions of blacks in cognitively demanding jobs. Because of affirmative action, the proportions are higher. In government work, they are very high. Thus, in those encounters with strangers that involve cognitive engagement, ceteris paribus the black stranger will be less intelligent than the white. In such encounters, therefore—for example, at a government office—you will, on average, be dealt with more competently by a white than by a black. If that hostility-based magnifying effect (paragraph 8) is also in play, you will be dealt with more politely, too. “The DMV lady“ is a statistical truth, not a myth.

As a result of all this, Derb has received the boot, bullet, and old heave-ho at National Review. 

In this particular instance, I think things blow up at the moment when Derb seems to link cultural dysfunction (e.g., the stuff Cora Daniels describes in her book GhettoNation) to a notion of racial intelligence — a sort of scientistic racism. Indeed, it has been suggested that many of those dysfunctions can be traced to the culture of redneck white folks.

In many respects, this reminds me of the differences my mom observed about Southern and Northern varieties of racism. “In the South”, she said, “folks say they dislike a race, but are pretty likely to have friends of that race. If you ask them about it, they’ll say, ‘Oh, So-and-so is one of the “good ones”.’ In the North, folks’ll profess their belief in love and brotherhood, and talk about those terrible racist Southerners, but their lives are as white as a Klan meeting.” She (and I) found neither of these attractive. Still, I can’t help but wonder how many of the people who called for Derbyshire’s scalp live in a lily-white bubble as well.

Meanwhile, NR‘s Jim Geraghty offers an anecdote of his own in his Morning Jolt newsletter:

I remember having a discussion with a friend who had an editing position at a well-respected quarterly political journal. He mentioned receiving detailed submissions from (white) political scientists who dabbled in genetics and demographic studies who exhibited an enormous determination to prove that whites were smarter or better in some ways that African Americans. (Derb’s screed echoed this sort of research.)

My friend sighed and said that he would never run an article arguing that. This conversation was years ago, but I remember him saying something like, “Imagine that you could, somehow, definitively prove that African Americans had less intellectual capacity than whites. I don’t believe it, and I doubt I could ever believe it, but suppose you somehow could prove, beyond any doubt, that one race was smarter than another, then what? We’re a country that is built upon equal justice before the law, regardless of color, and a vision of opportunity and equality for all citizens. The one thing that almost every schoolchild knows is Martin Luther King’s line, ‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.’ Since then, we’ve been inching our way toward becoming a nation where people are judged by the content of their character. If you could somehow definitively prove the supposed superiority of one race over another, what good would putting that argument out there do? Because you can imagine all of the bad things that would flow out from that.”

Meanwhile, there’s an article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed that I think ties into all this as well, even if obliquely. Ron Rosenbaum describes himself as a “Dylanologist”, and in the course of reading the Sage of Hibbing’s novel Tarantula, ran across a line that he believes is indicative that Bob Dylan’s faith foundered on the rocks of theodicy. As it happens, Rosenbaum appears to have been marooned on that particular shoal as well. He spoke on the Dylan work recently at Stanford, and

I got carried away during this second half of the lecture. And I disclosed my intellectual—and emotional—distress at the rationalizations of God’s role in the Holocaust. What I proceeded to do was ridicule any attempt to maintain that there was some “excuse” for God’s absence and silence. The theodicy of the Shas rabbi in Israel, for example, who declared that the Holocaust was God’s punishment for European Jews who’d slid away from orthodoxy to secularism. That Hitler was “the rod of God’s anger” against them.


No less obscene than those who claimed the Holocaust was “part of God’s plan,” perhaps His way of hastening the establishment of a Jewish state. Then there was the argument that it was not God’s fault—he just gave man free will to use for good or evil. Which prompts one to ask: Was it not in His power to create a being incapable of choosing mass murder so often? A human nature that didn’t include childhood cancers, say, and the genesis of holocausts? Are we not allowed to question His creation in the smoking ruins of the death camps? Or, to alter the tone of the much-ridiculed notion: Is this—this! this hell on earth—the best of all possible worlds an all-powerful God could have created?

Then there’s the last refuge of theological scoundrels: “It’s all a big mystery.” It sounds so profound. It’s a disguise for willed avoidance.

I reserved my greatest contempt for those, including many intellectually “progressive” rabbis who try to get away with the sophistry that “God was in the camps,” that God was there in every act of goodness and self-sacrifice the camp inmates showed one another. Doubly obscene. It steals from those brave souls the credit for their selfless acts and gives the credit to an absent God. Virtually robbing their graves for the sake of making God look better.

How can these rabbis and scholars justify themselves, intellectually and morally, with their ludicrously inadequate theodicies? Perhaps they have too much stake in established religious structure, in the comfy status quo of their institutions, to fear undermining it all by asking discomfiting, subversive questions. It seems to me to be intellectual cowardice.

At this point in the lecture, my anger had gotten the better of me.

Rosenbaum, too, deals with outrage after his lecture, in the person of a questioner afterwards.

Now what’s interesting here (at least to me) is a certain commonality in the two pieces and their aftermaths. In both instances, our speakers (Derbyshire and Rosenbaum) were discussing things with which I disagree, but which they see as uncomfortable truths. But as Geraghty’s associate and Rosenbaum both seem to say, is the truth always a higher good? Certainly we pledge our fealty to the idea, but how far that goes becomes an interesting question. Once more, I’m reminded of Johnson’s line from Rasselas — “We may reason as philosophers but we must live as men.” Ironically, Derbyshire is a Johnsonian — it seems he might have remembered that line.


About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
This entry was posted in Culture, Education, Family, Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Outrageous

  1. Kenneth H says:

    On the subject of G_d’s role in the Holocaust, I recommend Herman Wouk’s War and Remembrance — particularly Aaron Jastrow’s lecture on Hector and Job in the Terezin “paradise ghetto.” Wouk is my favorite American author of the 20th Century, just ahead of Heinlein.

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