Andy, for what it’s worth, I regret the loss of John Derbyshire to National Review. Short version: Didn’t like the piece, but don’t think NR should have hustled him into the drive-thru guillotine on the basis of 24 hours of hysteria from the Internet’s sans-culottes. Longer version:
I didn’t agree with Derb on many things, from Ron Paul and talk radio to God and science. For his part, he reckoned I was a bit of a wimp on what he called “the Great Unmentionables.” He thought that neuroscientists and geneticists’ understanding of race trumped my touching belief in “culture.” I’m not so sure: Why is Haiti Haiti and Barbados Barbados? Why is India India and Pakistan Pakistan? Skin color and biological determinism don’t get you very far on that.
But I almost always learned something from his columns, and, at a time when punditry is increasingly parochial, I appreciated his range of historical and literary allusion (his recent “Duke of Marlborough moment,” for example). He will be impossible to replace on that front.
On the career-detonating column, I don’t have anything terribly useful to add. But Derb’s wife is Chinese and his children are biracial. And I can see why, in a world in which a four-time mayor of America’s capital city can disparage your own family’s race (“these Asians coming in . . . those dirty shops . . . they ought to go”) and pay no price, a chap might come to resent the way polite society’s indulgence of racism is so highly selective.
So I don’t share Andy’s insouciance about how what’s sauce for the MSNBC race huckster, Hollywood address-tweeter and New Black Panther bounty-offerer should be a “hanging offense” for the iconoclastic right-wing gander, and them’s the rules and we just have to accept it. The Left is pretty clear about its objectives on everything from climate change to immigration to gay marriage: Rather than win the debate, they’d just as soon shut it down. They’ve had great success in shrinking the bounds of public discourse, and rendering whole areas of public policy all but undiscussable. In such a climate, my default position is that I’d rather put up with whatever racist/sexist/homophobic/Islamophobic/whateverphobic excess everybody’s got the vapors about this week than accept ever tighter constraints on “acceptable” opinion. The latter kills everything, not least the writing skills of the ideologically conformist: Note how cringe-makingly limp the Derbyshire “satires” are, even in the marquee publications.
The net result of Derb’s summary execution by NR will be further to shrivel the parameters, and confine debate in this area to ever more unreal fatuities. He knew that mentioning the Great Unmentionables would sooner or later do him in, and, in an age when shrieking “That’s totally racist!” is totally gay, he at least has the rare satisfaction of having earned his colors. Yet what are we to make of wee, inoffensive Dave Weigel over at Slate? The water still churning with blood, the sharks are circling poor old Dave for the sin of insufficiently denouncing the racist Derbyshire. Weigel must go for not enthusiastically bellowing, “Derbyshire must go!” Come to think of it, I should probably go for querying whether Weigel should go.
NR shouldn’t be rewarding those who want to play this game. The more sacrifices you offer up, the more ravenously the volcano belches.
PS If Derb’s piece is sufficiently beyond the pale that its author must be terminated immediately, why is its publisher — our old friend Taki — proudly listed on the NR masthead?