John Derbyshire’s “Talk” column for Takimag last week detonated the ire of commentators on the lunatic fringes of the extreme Left. Ulcers flared and torrents of bile swamped the internet. The roar was even heard across the Atlantic, as the Guardian weighed in, wondering on Sunday why Mr. Derbyshire’s piece was still online. By Monday I was perplexed to find that, amidst the still raging sandstorm of prose, not one journalist or commentator had sought Mr. Derbyshire for comment (though Gawker finally published an interview later that day). What follows is my effort to rectify this omission.
AK: Observers who rely on conventional opinion websites and news sources may wonder how it is that a well-educated, well-traveled, intelligent mathematician, author, and commentator, able to write on a broad range of political-cultural topics, can have heterodox perspectives on human biodiversity and race relations. Surely, “racism” is the product of ignorance.
JD: When the orthodox opinions are arrant nonsense, how can a well-educated, etc. person NOT be heterodox. “There is no biological reality corresponding to ‘race’ “? Please. I guess there are no Dachshunds or St. Bernards, either, only dogs. This is infantile.
AK: It seems conservative commentators viewed your column as diverging from their fundamental outlook. Why have they not expressed to you—or indeed the world—the joy of living in all-black neighborhoods? At least some of them must have been eager to share their delight at their kids’ academic performance in that all-black school they enrolled them in last fall.
JD: As I told Gawker.com I think it’s just intolerable despair. “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.” Fifty years ago it was possible to believe that blacks could be lifted up to statistical profiles on behavior, intelligence, etc. indistinguishable from those of whites. All we had to do was strike down unjust laws and give a helping hand (affirmative action, set-asides, etc.)
What all that actually accomplished was to open glorious career opportunities for blacks who are smart and well-adjusted to bourgeois norms, while leaving the rest worse off—in e.g. employment, comparative net worth, illegitimacy, incarceration—than before.
Somewhere in their brains, all whites know this. That’s why their brains steer them to the avoidance behavior you noted, and I recommended. That’s the automatic part of the brain, though; what Kahneman calls System 1. The self-aware System 2 is much more concerned with social cataloging and status-assessing, and with making up stories to present ourselves to ourselves and to others as acceptable members of the tribe. When reality is too painful to bear, we make stuff up.
AK: Also, I have not yet seen a refutation to the points made in your column—have I been visiting the wrong websites?
JD: Why would anyone bother to engage in argument with a RACIST? That would just legitimize their RACISM. To want to do that would be the next worst thing to being a RACIST oneself.
AK: Fellow NR columnist Robert Weissberg was “fired” on Tuesday night for his participation in the recent AmRen conference.
JD: Disclosure: Bob, as well as being a brilliant man and author of a fine book (some trivial mathematical errors notwithstanding), is a good friend of mine.
AK: Writing for Leonard Zeskind’s grim IREHR, Devin Burghart wrote “the positions taken by Robert Weissberg are as noxious as those of Derbyshire.” Twelve hours later, NR editor Rich Lowry explained Weissberg’s firing in this manner: “Robert Weissberg . . . participated in an American Renaissance conference where he delivered a noxious talk.” Is it normal for a conservative editor to get his language and opinions from a commentator on the extreme Left?
JD: Rich Lowry has cut me a lot of slack in the past, so I’ll cut him some. He wants his magazine to be a certain particular thing, appealing to a certain political market sector. If you or I were editor of a political magazine, we would not want our organ to be that thing appealing to those readers. But then, we wouldn’t want it to resemble Field & Stream, either. It’s an editor’s job to steer his magazine in what he thinks is the right direction. If Rich is mistaken about that market sector being sufficient to support that magazine, the miracle of the market will enlighten him. Let a hundred flowers bloom.
AK: The purges of Sam Francis, Peter Brimelow, Joe Sobran, yourself, and other brilliant columnists have all been driven by a desire for respectability. However, far from attaining it, this has led to a loss of respect from the Right and no increase in respect from the Left—on the contrary, one may say that respect from the Left has sunk even lower, since they have learned that conservatives will instantly cave in when accused of “racism.”
JD: Mark Steyn made the same point in his comment on my defenestration. The more you feed the beast, the stronger and more arrogant it grows. Mainstream conservatives are fools to keep feeding it, but they apparently can’t help themselves. Now it may be too strong to defeat. Then we are headed into totalitarianism, because the Left is totalitarian like the scorpion in Aesop is a scorpion: they can’t help themselves either.
At a panel discussion on an NR cruise last year I pooh-poohed something Rich Lowry said about the achievements of conservatism. The movement (I said) had started out with the ambition to stand athwart History crying “Stop!” It had degenerated into a pathetic, timid pack of losers running along behind History calling out “Would you please mind slowing down just a little?” (Roissy expresses the same idea somewhat more . . . pungently in this comment thread on one of his pieces.) That got good applause from the hall, which ignited a flicker of hope in my breast.
My hope is that this timid, careerist conservatism that scurries to obey when some bigfoot leftist cracks the whip, will soon come to be seen as a faction of losers, which of course they are. Americans hate a loser, so that will be the end of them. I do think this will likely happen, and that there’s some creative destruction up ahead in the conservative movement.
On the other side is my dear friend Paul Gottfried, who thinks the war is lost, that the beast is now too strong to be defeated—that we on the oppositional right are the losers—what the late Sam Francis called us 20 years ago: “Beautiful Losers.” Pat Buchanan has pretty much reached the same position. I retain some shreds of optimism (!), but I feel a strong gravitational pull coming from Paul’s direction.
The future evolution of American conservatism is at any rate going to be very interesting.
AK: Perhaps I have not understood conservatism correctly, but—isn’t conservatism supposed to be about the data and not about how people feel about it?
JD: Permit me to quote from a book of mine:
Discussing the thesis of my book with one of my friends—a conservative academic (political science)—I encountered total disagreement. He: “There’s nothing about traditional conservatism that makes it truth-friendly. In fact, it’s the opposite. Historic conservatism is anti-science, prone to celebrate truth by authority, favors religion over rationalism and down deep sees unvarnished truth as corroding social cohesion—correctly, according to you. Keep the peasants happy with fairy tales and mumbo-jumbo, if necessary.” [That was actually the aforementioned Bob Weissberg.]
AK: Is it not more bound with notions of honor, the martial spirit, and glory, than with a desire to be liked by everyone?
JD: Those notions have passed from the earth, Alex, or at least from Western Civilization. “Martial spirit”? For goodness’ sake, somebody might get hurt.
AK: Where are today’s conservatives in the political spectrum?
JD: To the left of a tad right of the center. Lower taxes! Ban abortion!
AK: What is it like to be on your side of the cannon when “racism” controversies arise?
JD: Nature blessed me with a thick skin. More recently, she cursed me with a life-threatening condition, beside which these tiny internet controversies (my particular one has not made it into any print newspaper or the teleprompt of any TV talking head, to my knowledge) seem pretty trivial. Which, in point of fact, they are.
AK: What expressions of support have your received since commentary on your column first appeared?
JD: Simply tremendous! See the opening grafs of my Takimag column today, April 12, where I declare myself “awash in the milk of human kindness.” Wonderful, miraculous support, marred only by the sure and certain knowledge that I could never acknowledge every single email and donation, if I did nothing else for a month. Bless them all.
AK: In the past, critics would have placed your nape under the guillotine and held your severed head aloft for the delectation of the multitude. Now they will have to make do with the hope that you will spend the rest of your days in abject poverty, sleeping rough and queuing in soup kitchens, completely forgotten. Maybe they dream you’ll end up like Bobby Driscoll, abandoned by all, your skeleton found years later in an abandoned tenement in a big city slum. Will their cruelty be gratified?
JD: Probably. Have you ever been in an old folks home? Helped nurse an Alzheimer’s or stroke patient? I have done all three. The opinion journalist I most admired in my young adulthood was Bernard Levin. He ended up drooling and in diapers. But Doctor Johnson told us all this 263 years ago:
And he was imitating Juvenal, who told the tale 1600 years earlier:
. . . and Juvenal took his theme in part from Herodotus, writing six centuries before (the Solon-Croesus exchanges) The theme was probably common enough in the Paleolithic. Perhaps even chimps know about it.
Not many of us end well. My hero Enoch Powell was asked in his old age if he had any regrets. He said yes, he regretted not having died fighting in WW2. I am of the same kidney, except for not having had a war to die honorably in. (Powell, by the way, knew his Herodotus. In fact he published a quirky translation of the Histories, all done in 17th-century KJV English—well worth a look.)
I preach “that odd defiant melancholy that sees the dreadful loneliness of the human soul and the pitiful disaster of human life as ever redeemable and redeemed by compassion, friendship and love.” (I am quoting from a different one of my books—hope that’s OK.)
All of that, of course, applies just as well to the young lefty fools who are currently jumping up on chairs and shrieking at the mouse in the room. I have argued elsewhere, in fact, that it will probably apply to their generation with greater force than to mine. I cherish the sweet thought.