The Corner

By His Own Standard

In 2010, John Derbyshire gave remarks on the race/IQ question in which he said this: “Group differences are statistical truths. They exist in an abstract realm quite far removed from our everyday personal experience. They tell you nothing about the person you just met.”

John’s recent column abandons that principle. It gives practical advice (think twice about voting for a black politician; do not be a Good Samaritan to blacks; and much more) according to which each individual black person should start out at a kind of deficit. We see John’s departure from his stated view of 2010, as well, in the recent column’s hyperlinks. For example, on not being a Good Samaritan, John offers an article about a black man who, while beating up his girlfriend, stomped to death a white man who tried to defend her. There are many abusive people of all races, and many of them would attack any third party who intervened to stop the abuse. The statistics John cites do not even begin to justify the notion that the individual in this case acted as he did because he was black; but John is perfectly happy to make that assumption. This move from the abstract and statistical to the very personal is the most overtly racist aspect of the column, to my mind, and I think John’s defenders are failing to register it.

I think they are also insufficiently troubled by John’s readiness to assume that statistical differences between races — e.g. between their incarceration rates or average scores on IQ tests — are due to innate psychological and cognitive differences. The causation is hotly disputed, but John has always seemed interested in only one explanation — or, at a minimum, he has seemed startlingly uninterested in telling us why he finds that explanation the most compelling.

I share Mark’s frustration with the selectivity of our culture’s racial outrage, and his alarm over the manner in which political correctness restricts the bounds of discourse and thought; but neither point strikes me as a good reason for NR to affiliate itself with a writer who expresses genuinely racist sentiments. (Two wrongs don’t make a right &c.) At the same time, there is something thuggish, not to mention insecure, in the mob’s expectation that a head be thrown to it without any discussion of the nature of the offense, and in its refusal to entertain any possibility of forgiveness.

Human beings are complicated. It is possible for good people to have deep flaws, and for traits utterly worthy of condemnation to exist alongside admirable ones. And so I will end by saying that in my personal dealings with him I have always found John to be thoughtful and kind, that some of his work (for instance his novel Seeing Calvin Coolidge in a Dream, which Rich has mentioned) expresses a deep and generous humanity, and that I will sorely miss his column “The Straggler” in NR’s books section.


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