William Saletan, the Human Nature columnist for the Washington Post-owned online magazine Slate, has been running a series of articles trying to figure out how to reconcile his liberal ideology and emotions with the ever-increasing implausibility of the conventional wisdom that racial gaps in achievement will vanish if taxpayers just try hard enough.
Saletan has cast me in his psychodrama in the role of the horrible person who somehow happens to be horribly right. He appears to be excoriating me / promoting me so that he can say: “Okay, I admit it. I'm a heretic about race and intelligence! But I'm not an evil heretic like that guy Sailer over there. He's the one you should be mad at. Go get 'im!”
It's reminiscent of a scene out of a Mel Brooks movie, such as the one in Blazing Saddles where Cleavon Little baffles a dim-witted lynch mob into not stringing him up by holding a gun to his own head.
At VDARE.COM, we call this “triangulation“ and we're used to it. Other eminent triangulators: Mark Krikorian; Stephen Steinlight. It seems to be a phase the timid have to go through in order to approach the taboo topics we raise.
Saletan suggests that I'm an object lesson of where thinking about race can lead. He says (links added):
“Is Sailer a nice guy? No. Does he display an unhealthy interest in categorizing people by race or ethnicity? Yes. But the problem here isn't Sailer, James Watson, Charles Murray, or anybody else you feel like dismissing as a racist. The problem is the evidence these people quote. Condemnation won't make it go away.”
“Consider Sailer's views on immigration. A few months ago, he wrote
'Typically, the two most important factors influencing the long-term success of an organization are the quantity and quality of people involved. … Is adding 100 million Latinos to the U.S. population a good idea? …'“This is what can happen when you constantly look for racial angles in data on crime, IQ, and other measures of the "quality of people." You start aiming policies at ethnic groups. But I don't think this kind of racism is a product of uneven distribution. It's a product of bad framing.”
To Saletan, my having spent years toiling at the unpopular task of correctly figuring out one of the central conundrums facing modern America—how race, IQ and public policy interact—makes me a bad person.
Saletan's view is like the scene in the movie Deuce Bigelow, European Gigolo when Deuce Bigelow (Rob Schneider) tracks down his fugitive friend T.J. Hicks (Eddie Griffin) in Amsterdam by looking for him at the Van Gogh Chicken and Waffles Joint.
Eddie Griffin: How'd you find me?
Rob Schneider: It's the only chicken and waffles place in Holland.
Eddie Griffin: So, a black man's gotta be at a chicken and waffles place? That's racist.
Rob Schneider: But you are here.
Eddie Griffin: Yeah, but figuring it out is racist.
Meanwhile, at The New Republic, Broadway musical expert John McWhorter has twice jumped in with even more fanciful denunciations of me—while also admitting I'm probably right and displaying even less awareness of the basic data.
As we've noted many times at VDARE.COM, a modern convention seems to be that long as you are on the side of the angels politically, you are justified in just plain making stuff up.
Thus I've spent a decade and a half arguing for equal protection of the laws for all individual citizens. But Saletan and McWhorter feel no need to turn to Google to see what I've actually said before accusing me of hatching sinister plots against minorities.
I would be sympathetic toward Saletan's attempt to finesse the race-intelligence connection if he was actually succeeding in finessing it. Unfortunately, if predictably, he's making such a hash of it that his essays won't persuade anybody; not even, it appears, himself.
The reason Saletan is getting so tangled up in basic factual and conceptual misapprehensions is that the race-intelligence subject is immensely complicated. The only way that it's feasible to keep it all straight in your head is to resolve to be honest. As a wise old venture capitalist who had given a lot of depositions under oath once explained to me: “Always tell the truth. It's much easier to remember.” Facts are connected to other facts, while spin always turns out ultimately to be a dead end.
For purposes of sensible public policy, arguing over whether genetics plays a role in racial differences in achievement is a red herring. What's crucial to understand is that racial differences—for whatever reasons—are unlikely to vanish Real Soon Now, as all right-thinking people are supposed to assume.
Say it's discovered in 2010 that the entire cause of the black-white IQ gap is some hitherto unknown micronutrient needed by pregnant women that African-Americans don't get enough of, and a crash program is put into place immediately to solve the problem. If that happened, the IQ gap among working-age adults still wouldn't disappear until the late 2070s.
In contrast, the theory of “disparate impact“ that is the keystone of the government's anti-discrimination enforcement since the 1970s assumes that differences in achievement among the races should be minimal—otherwise the employer must rigorously justify itself. (Or, to be safe from lawsuits, the employer can impose quotas on itself, as New Haven did in the Ricci firemen case now before the Supreme Court).
Of course, if there really are genetic differences in average intelligence among the races, that would make the “disparate impact” notion look silly. But it's not actually necessary to know that. It's merely enough to know that fair and valid predictors of future job performance have routinely found substantial gaps for decades.
Saletan and McWhorter find it deeply disturbing that I know what I'm talking about. Well, I'm sorry, but I just like data. Nobody finds it all that weird that I've been following baseball statistics for 44 years. But being well-informed about what is perhaps the central social issue of the last four decades is simply unheard of in today's polite society.
Unlike most people who express strong opinions on the subject of race and intelligence, I began following the social science research 37 years ago. My high school debate topic in 1972-73 was: “Resolved: That governmental financial support for all public and secondary education in the United States be provided exclusively by the federal government”. Practically every trendy idea you hear today about how we're going to close racial gaps in schooling was being tried in 1972 as well, But almost everybody except me has apparently forgotten that disappointing history.
My first published effusion was a letter-to-the-editor that appeared in the March 16, 1973 National Review when I was…14! It concerned sociologist Christopher Jencks's book re-crunching the 1966 Coleman Report data, Inequality: A Reassessment of the Effect of Family and Schooling in America.
“Having read Ernest van den Haag's article on Christopher Jencks, I am reminded of an old psychiatry joke: A psychotic (egalitarian, in this little morality story) says. 'All people are equal, and I'll fight anyone who says I'm wrong.' A neurotic (Jencks) says, 'People aren't equal, and I just can't stand it.'
Three dozen years later, the joke applies equally well to William Saletan.
Why has the old race and intelligence question that underlies so many issues in American life made one of its periodic returns to the foreground? I can think of two reasons:
Thus, Obama is now giving Education Secretary Arne Duncan a cool $5 billion for a “Race to the Top“ fund to reward promoters of pedagogical panaceas. (See David Brooks's May 7 New York Times column The Harlem Miracle for an example of the kind of marvels that will be increasingly hyped to as the miracle workers jostle for the money.)
Against this background, Saletan is groping for some kind of ideology that will let him, as a genetics reporter, off the horns of an unpleasant dilemma.
Horn #1: as Saletan pointed out in his belated but worthy defense of James D. Watson in late 2007, the scientific evidence is increasingly overwhelming that the reigning dogma on race—what Saletan wittily calls “liberal creationism”—consists of ignorance, wishful thinking, and lies.
Horn #2: as Saletan's humiliating apology immediately thereafter made clear, if Watson, America's most distinguished man of science, can lose his job for speaking frankly, then so can you.
Saletan obviously came to the conclusion that, rather than speak dishonestly about race, it's better that we say nothing about it at all. So he has been promoting an idea that is similar to, but broader than, the unsuccessful Racial Privacy Initiative that Ward Connerly put on the California ballot in 2003: everyone should stop counting by race.
Where Ward restricted himself to limiting what government could do, Saletan wants to start with private individuals—most especially, me.
Amusingly, Saletan cites me as the leading bad example of counting by race. But I endorsed Connerly's initiative in VDARE.com in 2003. Here, for example, I'm arguing for it against American Renaissance's Jared Taylor.
It's hard to tell whether Saletan's just trying to be tactically clever in promoting his view or if he doesn't actually understand that counting by race is mandated by law—so that it can serve as the basis for disparate impact anti-discrimination lawsuits. As Michael McKean says in Spinal Tap, “It's such a fine line between stupid and clever”.
Counting by race is procedurally essential to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's “four-fifths rule”, which, not coincidentally, is the city of New Haven's chief defense for throwing out that firemen's promotion test that no blacks passed. Without counting by race, you can't calculate whether blacks are passing at a rate at least four-fifths of the white rate.
On Friday, after years of writing about race, Saletan finally realized (or admitted—who knows?) that counting by race is essential to anti-discrimination law. He goes on:
“[Sailer] has offered to give up that practice. In exchange, he wants proponents of affirmative action to give up the converse practice of categorizing people by race in the course of trying to equalize opportunity or outcome. I'm inclined to take this deal.”
That's good to hear. But it's hardly my deal to make. Saletan should make that offer to the President, whose Justice Department is defending the “disparate impact” concept in the Ricci case. (Let's see if Obama, a former discrimination lawyer himself, takes him up on that bargain!) And I wonder whether Saletan understands that not categorizing by race means laying off most of the government's anti-discrimination lawyers.
Yet, Saletan is still confused here in interpreting what I've said. The government “categorizing people by race” is hardly "the converse practice" of "trying to equalize opportunity or outcome". Instead, the government counting people by race is the necessary precondition for the government to sue employers for "disparate impact” discrimination.
In large measure, civil rights lawyers are not in the business of fighting disparate treatment. Instead, they sue based on statistical studies of disparate outcomes. One example: Obama's successful 1994 lawsuit under the Community Reinvestment Act against Citibank for not lending enough mortgage money to minority home purchasers in Chicago. (By the way, how are those minority mortgages working out these days?)
This becomes clearest if you think about the dog that doesn't bark in disparate impact lawsuits: religion.
Consider the names of the firemen petitioners in the Ricci suit:
Frank Ricci, Michael Blatchley, Greg Boivin, Gary Carbone, Michael Christoforo, Ryan Divito, Steven Durand, William Gambardella, Brian Jooss, James Kottage, Matthew Marcarelli, Thomas J. Michaels, Sean Patton, Christopher Parker, Edward Riordan, Kevin Roxbee, Timothy Scanlon, Benjamin Vargas, John Vendetto and Mark Vendetto
I'm guessing that a high proportion of the firefighters who earned the highest marks on the New Haven test are Roman Catholics. That's common throughout the Northeast. If you look at the names of the 343 New York firemen who died on 9/11, you'll see that they are heavily Catholic.
It's also common for non-Catholics in Northeastern cities to claim that the fire and police departments discriminate against them in surreptitious fashions. If you're a Congregationalist fireman named Thurston Howell IV, well, let's just say that you might have to put up with a lot of practical jokes at the hands of, say, the Vendetto Brothers before you'll be fully accepted at the New Haven firehouse.
But although the federal government constantly sues fire departments for using employment tests that blacks pass at less than four-fifths the rate of whites, it's hopeless for Protestants to try to file disparate impact claims alleging discrimination by Catholics using a similar statistical test. The government might sue over actual evidence of religious discrimination, but it doesn't file purely statistical suits, as it does so often over race.
Why not? Because the government doesn't have any official data on religious affiliation with which to do a four-fifths-type calculation. In the 1950s, the Census Bureau proposed asking about religion, but Jewish groups protested, so the idea was dropped.
This doesn't mean that no data exist on religion. The sociology of religion is a perfectly worthy field of study. Adherents.com, for instance, offers “a growing collection of over 43,870 adherent statistics and religious geography citations”.The point is that the government doesn't collect religious statistics any more than it collects baseball statistics.
Since we don't have any religious discrimination lawsuits, we don't have any religious discrimination lawyers. Instead, conflicts between religious groups over hiring and promoting are best dealt with in the same manner as conflicts over jobs between extended families: by crafting civil service laws to crack down on nepotistic, sectarian, or partisan favoritism among government workers. Thus, the civil service code of Connecticut carefully mandates how promoted officers in fire departments must be taken from near the top of the list of highest scorers on the exam.
Yet, it's exactly that older tradition of civil service fairness that was trashed by New Haven politicians in the name of civil rights. And it's that concept of disparate impact that the Obama Administration defended at the Supreme Court.
In his latest effort, Saletan writes:
“Sailer, the person in this conversation who most vigorously defends categorizing people by race in the course of assessing their worth to society …”
But Saletan has made a jumble of my position.
I am a strong proponent of assessing the worth to the American citizenry of potential legal immigrants, just as Canada does. (Saletan seems to consider it downright unAmerican for America to choose among immigration applicants, but somebody has to choose. Currently, they are mostly chosen nepotistically by virtue of their family members having previously immigrated.)
As long as legal immigrants are carefully selected for optimum benefit to current American citizens, as well as (to quote the Preamble to the Constitution) “our posterity", and are quite limited in number, then I don't see much reason to consider race in choosing legal immigrants.
Others would disagree. Overall, it's not a particularly big issue as long as we change the law from the current system of “family reunification” chain migration.
Apparently, what Saletan has gotten confused by is that I (and VDARE.COM's Ed Rubenstein) frequently look at government statistics about Hispanics as a proxy for illegal immigrants in assessing the impact of illegal immigration, since the vast majority of illegal immigrants are Hispanic.
There is no alternative. Just as the federal government maintains an enormous Home Mortgage Disclosure Act database to make sure minorities are getting enough mortgage money, but collects no statistics on whether minorities are paying back their mortgages, the government garners voluminous Census statistics on Hispanics for the purposes of fighting "disparate impact", but collects virtually no data categorized by legality of residence.
(You sometimes can't help getting the impression that the federal government is just not terribly interested in fighting illegal immigration.)
Obviously, using the average Hispanic as a proxy for the average illegal immigrant tends to underestimate the problems caused for Americans by illegal immigrants. (If you don't see why, stop and think about it for a minute). But that's the best that government statistics allow us to do.
All of this is prologue. The real problem coming down the track toward us is the combination of disparate impact law and massive immigration by (on average) low-achieving individuals who benefit from racial and ethnic preferences under “disparate impact” law.
The interaction of government-sponsored non-traditional immigration and “disparate impact” affirmative action constitutes a doomsday machine that will rapidly dispossess, and probably seriously radicalize, white America. It's a recipe for revolution.
And that's something Saletan hasn't even begun to wrap his head around.
Perhaps in a decade or so we'll hear him saying we need immigration restriction—or nasty people like Steve Sailer will be proven right again.