John Derbyshire vs. Robert Weissberg On Race, Ethnicity, And The Future Of America

I have elsewhere mentioned the dissident-conservative gents' dinner club I belong to in New York City. We meet once a month, have a nice dinner, listen to an invited speaker, then argue among ourselves for an hour or so while getting tipsy on beer, wine, and liquor. It's all very gemütlich.

The speaker for a recent session canceled at short notice. The club secretary asked myself and Bob Weissberg, who is also a member, if we might fill the gap with some verbal sparring on the topic:

"Is the U.S.A.'s current ethnic settlement (affirmative action, official promotion of 'diversity,' etc., combined with widespread voluntary segregation, acceptance of huge racial disparities in crime, etc.) sustainable? If not, when will it collapse and what will replace it?"

Bob and I promised to do our best.

So once we had enough dinner inside us, Bob spoke for a few minutes, starting from the premise that the current situation is not stable. I won't reproduce Bob's arguments here, as he might want to get a column of his own out of them. I responded as follows, then a general discussion ensued.

Before getting on to what I said, I just want to observe that this format—Bob and I tag wrestling on some general theme—worked well. I'm thinking of suggesting to Bob that we take it on the road as a two-man act, a sort of dissident-conservative Abbott and Costello. We could call the act "Noxious and Nasty."

Well, just a thought.

What follows is a tidied-up version of my remarks:

There are many futures—each one with a universe of its own, according to some physicists. The best we can do is estimate probabilities.

I'll do my estimating under three headings:

  1. What won't happen.
  2. What might happen if Bob is wrong (i.e. wrong about the current situation being unstable).
  3. What might happen if Bob is right.

I won't attempt to touch on all possibilities, only throw out a few that I think it will be interesting to discuss.

1. What won't happen.

  • A coffee-colored nation won't happen.

When I was an idealistic young student fifty years ago we—we idealistic young students—spoke gleefully of a coffee-colored world: a post-racial utopia in which no-one would any longer think about race, neighborhoods and schools would all be fully integrated, and races would be represented in professions, occupations, and categories of social dysfunction (crime, illegitimacy, drug abuse) in proportion to their numbers in the population at large.

There is not the slightest sign that anything like this is happening. Rates of intermarriage have been creeping upwards, but at a pace that would take centuries to reach the coffee-colored state, even assuming linear extrapolation, which of course one should not assume. The various gaps—notably in crime and educational achievement—seem to be intractable. We are probably up against biological limits here.

The astonishing thing to note here is that huge numbers of Americans—probably a majority—believe that the coffee-colored utopia will arrive. Some seem to believe it already has! From my email bag:

"Just as [slavery] had become unacceptable to many people by 1860, separation of the races ceased to be acceptable post-WWII."

Perhaps my reader should bring this good news to the citizens of Chicago, or any other big city.

(In the follow-up discussion, one club member raised Brazil as an example of a coffee-colored nation. Nice try, no cigar.)

But can't we science our way out of this? No, we can't.

  • Genetic engineering to human equality won't happen.

The idea here is that once we understand enough about the human genome, we may be able to bring about human equality artificially.

This is highly improbable. The finished human being is an almighty tangle of feedback loops, influences, adaptations and adjustments, socially-pressured deformations, self-transformations, and stamped-in-the-embryo genetic predispositions and limitations.

Even if, some decades from now, we have sorted all this out, the implementation of gene-level changes will depend on the shape of society at that time. Possibly the keys to change will be guarded by an elite caste for their own benefit. Or possibly a dozen other possibilities.

  • Race war won't happen.

Matt Bracken's scenario of total societal breakdown has been bouncing merrily around the internet these past few days.

It's a great narrative, and I urge Matt to work it up into a novel (or hire me to do the job—rates available on request). However, this is not going to happen.

Matt's scenario is premised on the federal government being unable to fund welfare programs like SNAP and TANF, leading to widespread food shortages. Hungry minority mobs fan out into suburbs and country districts, committing mayhem. White and Asian vigilante groups organize for self-defense …

In the first place this underestimates the fiscal ingenuity of modern governments. Uncle Sam can find ways to keep the EBT card working, even if he has to sell off a couple of carrier groups to do so. This is a very rich country.

And in the second place, modern methods of social control are sufficient to contain disorder, and are still progressing fast: CCTV monitoring, pilotless drones, smart-phone cameras … I'm sure there are riots in our future, but they will be contained, much more easily than the riots of the 1960s were. The violence will not metastasize.

There is also the Steven Pinker factor to consider. We are softer, less violence-prone, more sissiefied than our grandfathers, or even our fathers. The Mad Matt scenario would involve massive trend reversal. Such things happen, but very rarely.

It follows that:

  • Sectional secession won't happen.

We are far more homogenous a nation that we were in 1861, when the South was culturally closer to the Plantation Caribbean than to New England. (The Carolinas, remember, were founded by British-Caribbean planters.)

The only conceivable path to sectional secession would be via some large-scale breakdown like the one Matt Bracken envisages. If that isn't going to happen, neither is this.

  • A minority takeover won't happen.

(I'm using "minority" here in the usual sense of blacks plus Hispanics.) The larger encompassing truth here is: It will never be the case that minorities matter.

That needs some clarification. Of course individual members of minority groups may matter very much. One such is currently President! And capable, talented minority citizens will rise into the middle and upper classes and will matter just as much as any other industrious and civic-minded citizens, as much as individual citizens can matter.

Minorities as groups will not matter, though, because they don't have big enough "smart fractions." Their underclasses will matter at a nuisance level, but the future will be shaped as the past and present have been, by whites, perhaps whites-plus-Asians.

That whites will become a minority sometime in the 2040s is not consequential. In 1960, South Africa was less than 20 percent white. The situation was stable, and would likely have remained so indefinitely but for outside interference.

Social conflict will continue to be of the Civil War type, i.e. whites vs. whites, with minorities at most helping out in support battalions.

2. What might happen if Bob is wrong (i.e. wrong about the current situation being unstable)

  • If the current situation is stable, nothing will happen.

After the "hung" British election of 1895, a 21-year-old cavalry subaltern named Winston Churchill was privileged to have lunch with the great Liberal statesman Sir William Harcourt. In his book The World Crisis Churchill tells us that:

In the course of a conversation in which I took, I fear, none too modest a share, I asked the question, "What will happen then?" "My dear Winston," replied the old Victorian statesman, "the experiences of a long life have convinced me that nothing ever happens."

Sir William was of course exaggerating. Stuff does happen: wars, revolutions, plagues, depressions. Taking the human world as a whole, though, these big events are comfortably far apart in time for any given nation, and the old boy had a point.

The German philosopher Martin Heidegger experimented with taking the word "nothing" to be a verbal noun, like "getting" or "walking." Nothing, he said, noths. (In German: Das Nichts selbst nichtet.) So it does: and we might noth along for decades without improving, reforming, deteriorating, or collapsing, just  . . .  nothing.

The U.S.A. may thus stagger along for decades with a patched-up version of the present ethnic spoils system.

Contra Bob Weissberg, the present settlement may not be unstable. So long as the U.S. economy can generate sufficient surplus to sustain programs of welfare and government make-work, and techniques for social control continue to develop, the thing can be held together.

3. What might happen if Bob is right—if the current situation is unstable.

  • Our elites may turn racist.

I aired this possibility at length when addressing CPAC earlier this year. It is not original with me: Richard Herrnstein gave voice to it years ago:

“The tension between what the white elite is supposed to think and what it is actually thinking about race will reach something close to breaking point. This pessimistic prognosis must be contemplated: When the break comes, the result, as so often happens when cognitive dissonance is resolved, will be an overreaction in the other direction. Instead of the candor and realism about race that is so urgently needed, the nation will be faced with racial divisiveness and hostility that is as great as, or greater, than America experienced before the civil rights movement. We realize how outlandish it seems to predict that educated and influential Americans, who have been so puritanical about racial conversation, will openly revert to racism. We would not go so far as to say it is probable. It is, however, more than just possible. If it were to happen, all the scenarios for the custodial state would be more unpleasant—more vicious—than anyone can now imagine.”[ The Bell Curve, Chapter 21, “The Way We Are Headed”]

  • Totalitarianism may happen.

While I do not think revolutionary change is likely, current trends may advance gradually into extreme forms.

Cognitive dissonance—conflicting beliefs or strong desires simultaneously held—may be resolved in the direction of realism, or they may retreat into psychosis. For a moralizing, optimistic people like Americans, the truth about race may be unbearable. Then we must flee into unreality.

A nation can dwell in a state of complete rejection of reality for decades—e.g. North Korea—perhaps centuries. The key is totalitarian levels of control over opinion.

I fear that we may be struggling towards a system of "mass self-censorship"—of totalitarian levels of thought control without a North-Korean-style apparatus of overt state terror, aided perhaps by pharmacological intervention. (Something in the water supply?)

I have presented before on this site—about two-thirds of the way down this web page—my little table tallying the publication dates of 50 representative books that frankly address "radioactive" topics like race, psychometrics, Affirmative Action, and so on. The tallies peak in the half-decade 1995-99, then fall off sharply.

VDARE.com Editor Peter Brimelow, after seeing these numbers, described that half-decade of comparative openness as an "Interglacial." (Incidentally, I missed out Peter’s Alien Nation: Common Sense About America’s Immigration Disaster, published in 1995 and certified un-sequel-able now).

The Ice Age has now resumed. Once again the glaciers advance. Is there any force in sight that will stop them?

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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