The Schumer-Rubio Amnesty/ Immigration Surge Bill emerged from the Senate Judiciary committee May 21st. The full Senate will consider a motion to vote on the bill (after having first, of course, pondered a motion to vote on the motion to vote) next Monday, June 10th.
So far as I can ascertain, neither the bill nor the 161 amendments the committee considered contained the phrase “Affirmative Action.” This is a pity, as the intersection of these two issues—immigration and Affirmative Action—is a place where current social policy shows itself at its most flagrantly illogical.
For immigration patriots, Affirmative Action is a good point of leverage: unpopular in itself, and doubly outrageous as affected by immigration—Affirmative Action is a zero-sum game, and allowing immigrants to benefit from it while simultaneously increasing their numbers inevitably dispossesses white Americans even faster. This issue was raised by the historian Hugh Graham, in Collision Course, as long ago as 2002.
With a Supreme Court decision on the Fisher case due any time now, coinciding with the Gang of Eight bill, that zone of intersection between the two issues is in the spotlight. This is a good time to brush up on Affirmative Action.
Blacks of West Indian or African parentage are greatly overrepresented at the more competitive colleges compared to all blacks. At the Ivy League schools represented in the NLSF survey blacks with parents born abroad—mostly those from West Indian and African backgrounds—constitute 40 percent of all black students, an enormous overrepresentation considering the small percentage (approximately 13 percent) such students represent in the total black student age population in America . . . Immigrant-origin blacks compete with native-origin blacks for affirmative-action slots in elite universities, a development some native blacks find objectionable.
That is from Russell Nieli’s recent book on Affirmative Action, Wounds That Will Not Heal.
Nieli, who teaches politics at Princeton University, lays into his subject with gusto, declaring in his introduction that
40+ years of racial preference policies [have] had overwhelmingly negative consequences…Affirmative Action has been a disaster on multiple levels.
Nieli works his way painstakingly through all those levels, though concentrating almost exclusively on college admissions. Quotes here are from his book.
• Affirmative Action fortifies prejudice
Affirmative-action role models are not genuine and are soon recognized as such by all concerned. The role actually modeled by Affirmative Action recipients is that of a patronized black, Hispanic, or female who is of inferior qualifications…and who would not have gotten to where he or she is except for the existence of an official policy of government favoritism…
Resentments inevitably abound, especially among white and Asian students who remember disappointed high school friends and rejected applicants of their own race, some of whom were much better qualified than many of the black and Hispanic students they meet on campus.
(Resentments of that kind, while surely easy for most people to understand, have baffled at least one Supreme Court Justice.)
• Affirmative Action, with its associated rewards and resentments, strengthens ethnic tribalism, which “is a principle of social chaos and, ultimately, a formula for civil war.”
• Fundamental American norms of fairness and reciprocity are violated by Affirmative Action:
White people, even very bigoted ones, can accept the advancement of blacks, or of any other racial, ethnic, or religious group in America, within virtually any area of endeavor, so long as that advancement takes place within the accepted rules of the game.
Which is to say, within those fundamental norms of fairness and reciprocity.
• The “pipeline problem”— NAM (black and Hispanic) students exhibiting low average performance at all levels of the educational system—is made worse by Affirmative Action in college admissions.
NAM students admitted on lower standards than whites and Asians will of course underperform in their college careers.
• The related “mismatch problem,” subject of another recent book, arises when NAM students who might prosper and develop confidence in lower-ranked colleges flounder in elite schools, while those low-ranked colleges are deprived of students who might add luster to their reputations.
(Russell Nieli told me that if you read Mismatch and his book, you will have the complete case against Affirmative Action in detail. I am sure he’s right; but both are scholarly books written in measured tones. If your taste runs to something with more polemical zip, I recommend Steven Farron’s 2005 book The Affirmative Action Hoax
The lower-ranked colleges respond by “downward-raiding,” admitting NAM students who would be happier and more successful at still less competitive schools…and so on downwards, mismatching at all levels.
• Disincentives: Knowing that their race or ethnicity will waft them into a good college, smart NAM high-school students “will have every reason to work less and devote more time to fun-producing activities.”
• Dishonesty: The rationale for Affirmative Action has seen a flagrant moving of the goalposts.
Affirmative Action began in the 1960s as a scheme of compensatory justice, with an additional basis in the “social need” for more black professionals.
When Affirmative Action came before the Supreme Court in the 1978 Bakke case, however, these foundations were found to be at odds with the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal treatment. So the supposed benefits of “diversity” were hastily drafted in as a substitute rationale—a “compelling state interest”—for continuing race preferences.
Suddenly the argument from compensatory justice was no longer much heard, just as “before [the Court’s] decision, diversity-enhancement arguments were rare to non-existent.”
• The discredited “Contact Hypothesis”: the notion that diversity is beneficial in and by itself is based on the “Contact Hypothesis” theory which states that: “Prejudice of a racial or ethnic kind and the negative stereotyping that promotes it are products of social isolation and ignorance of the ‘other’ that such isolation produces…Better contact furthers better understanding.”
Nieli shows that the Contact Hypothesis is now known, as dispositively as anything can be known in the social sciences, to be false.
Wounds That Will Not Heal is anchored at two points of general philosophy.
Underlying his outlook, Nieli tells us, is Personalism, the individualistic creed sired by liberal-Jeffersonian “rights” doctrine out of Christianity.
The early and mid-1960s marked a high point in post-Reconstruction American history in the public understanding of, and respect for, the dignity and worth of individual human persons.
The period from the very late 1960s and early 1970s proved to be a period of unprecedented ethnicization and tribalization in the American public consciousness.
Nieli favors the earlier dispensation.
The second anchor point, unusually for books from social-science academics, is a respectful attitude to evolutionary psychology.
If you are one of those who know your way around this stretch of savannah, you will find, while reading Wounds That Will Not Heal, that you keep coming across terms, references, and names that are familiar. The Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness, for example, gets a friendly mention.
E.O. Wilson isn’t referenced, but at least James Q. Wilson (Crime & Human Nature with Richard Herrnstein) is. So is Lawrence Keeley (War before Civilization). So—good grief!—is J. Philippe Rushton (Race, Evolution & Behavior), of whom:
Some find Rushton’s ideas incendiary, although like any theory in social science they must be validated or refuted based on the best evidence, not the most widely shared ideology.
Fat chance!…but a rare breath of calm good sense none the less.
Nieli does not go all the way to Frank Salter’s arguments about social bonding based on genetic interests. He restricts himself to culturalist “blank slate” explanations for group differences. But in the milieu in which he wants to present his arguments, this is as far as you can go without being Watsoned.
When dealing with the generality of social scientists, it’s a stretch even to get them to culturalism. Their preferred mode of thinking about negative group characteristics, Nieli tells us, is in terms of outside agency. NAMS have low test scores, high crime rates, lots of fatherlessness? Oh, that’s all caused by white racism, you know.
In my own experience I have found that the only way to get left-oriented sociologists to acknowledge the possible salience of cultural factors in explaining the poor academic performance of so many black and Latino youth is to bring up the alternative explanation of genes. ‘So if it isn’t culture, do you think the problem is related to genes?’…Instantly under such prodding leftist sociologists become born-again culturalists and eagerly embrace the theories of people like John Ogbu and Thomas Sowell, whom they normally would ignore or spend considerable effort trying to refute.
I’m not sure how much this approach helps. Isn’t anything prior to culture? What are the upstream variables? Where should we go looking for them? “In white racism, in historical injustice,” that leftist sociologist would presumably reply. “In feedback loops of population genetics and historical experience,” I would say.
What would Russell Nieli say? I think he’d say that he has an open mind on the matter, and will be content to have contributed somehow to discrediting the hideous, dishonest, divisive racket of Affirmative Action.
It’s a solid and honorable position. In the present constrained atmosphere in which these topics are discussed, it’s even quite a brave one for an academic to take.
Russell Nieli has written a useful, important, and timely book. I wish him well with it.
John Derbyshire [email him] writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him. He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and several other books. His writings are archived at JohnDerbyshire.com.
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