[This is adapted from an address by John Derbyshire to the First VDARE.com Webinar on January 19 2013. We hope to make recordings available shortly. For information when available, email email@example.com with “Webinar recording” in subject line]
1. Introduction: Name, Rank, Serial Number
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. My name is John Derbyshire. I am a freelance writer.
When I tell people that, quite a common response is: Yes, but what do you do for a living? Incredible to report, this is my living, and has been for the past twelve years. I have published four books and a CD, and self-published a fifth book. I have written a vast amount of fugitive journalism of the lower sort—opinionating, book reviews, travel diaries—all of which can be found on my website, johnderbyshire.com.
I was briefly the subject of widespread attention—widespread, I mean, by the standards of the world of opinion journalism, which is not very widespread—last Spring, at the time of the Trayvon Martin business.
Black journalists were writing solemn two-hanky pieces about how they have to give their kids “The Talk,” to make them aware how dangerous white people are to them. In fact, of course, blacks are far more dangerous to whites than whites are to blacks, by a factor of about five to one on the Department of Justice’s published statistics.
I wrote up for Taki’s Magazine the kind of “Talk” a nonblack parent might give to his child, to apprise him of the facts about race in America. The leftists raised a hue and cry, and one of my main outlets, National Review, jumped on the bandwagon and banished me from their pages and screens.
My other conservative outlets showed stiffer spines, and you can read my stuff regularly at Taki’s Magazine, VDARE.com, and The New Criterion. You can also hear my weekly podcast, Radio Derb, now hosted by Taki’s Magazine. My thanks to the various proprietors for not having joined in the Leftist lynch mob.
2. The National Question: What is the Answer?
VDARE.com is a website dedicated to news, research, and opinions relating to the National Question.
What is the National Question? Well, if you want it phrased as an actual question, I can’t improve on the title that the late Professor Samuel Huntington gave to his final book, published in 2004: Who Are We?That is the National Question.
If that’s the question, what’s the answer? Again it’s hard to improve on Huntington. Here is what he said:
The [American philosophical-Constitutional] Creed is unlikely to retain its salience if Americans abandon the Anglo-Protestant culture in which it has been rooted. A multicultural America will, in time, become a multi-creedal America, with groups with different cultures espousing distinctive political values and principles rooted in their particular cultures.
The National Question thus embraces issues of immigration, population, race, culture, language, religion, and national identity. Those are the topics you will most frequently encounter on VDARE.com.
That’s not to say you won’t encounter other topics. We VDARE.com contributors are a lively lot, with active and enquiring minds. You might find yourself looking at a movie review, a table of sport statistics, or a blog post on education, crime, opera, or Chinese onomastics.
We stay mostly on-topic, though, and the topic is the National Question, with a particular emphasis on patriotic immigration reform.
That makes us seriously unpopular with some important and powerful people and institutions. Why? Let me try to explain.
3. The Dissident Personality: On Being a Good Citizen
Please permit me to quote myself. This is from Chapter Seven of my book We Are Doomed (a title which, I should say, was not intended as an answer to Prof. Huntington). The chapter topic is human nature.
The ordinary modes of human thinking are magical, religious, social, and personal. We want our wishes to come true; we want the universe to care about us; we want the approval of those around us; we want to get even with that s.o.b who insulted us at the last tribal council. For most people, wanting to know the cold truth about the world is way, way down the list.
For those of us who write about the National Question, it’s the social aspect of human nature that keeps pushing itself to the front of our minds.
The reason is that we are citizens living in society, like the rest of you. We are mostly of a law-abiding, bourgeois temperament. As my colleague James Fulford likes to say: We brush our teeth. We do not relish the sound of breaking glass. Like Sir Thomas More in the play, we think none harm, we speak none harm, we do none harm.
Why, then, are we unpopular? Why are we actually regarded as dangerous by multitudes of our fellow citizens?
The reason is, that if you conduct careful empirical inquiry into National Question issues, you often come up with results that throw doubt on the idols of the tribe—on what Kipling called “the Gods of the market-place.”
That, to right-thinking citizens, is a very shocking thing to do. Recall that Socrates was tried and sentenced to death for “failing to acknowledge the gods that the city acknowledges.” If you fail to acknowledge the gods that the city acknowledges, you are not a good citizen.
There is no need for the gods, the idols of the tribe, to be actual deities. They can be abstract principles welded together into an ideology. The dissidents who plagued the rulers of the old U.S.S.R., and who still plague the rulers of Communist China today—people like Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Vladimir Bukovsky, Wei Jingsheng and Liu Xiaobo—have been brought to trial in officially atheist states for the same reason Socrates was brought to trial in Athens: They failed to acknowledge the gods that the city acknowledges.
I was surprised to find, when living in Communist China, that citizens—including sensible and well-educated citizens, including people who grumbled about the system they lived under—did not like these dissidents. In their minds, private grumbling did not make you a bad citizen; but making a fuss with your complaints in public did. It was seen as a selfish indulgence. “He should think of his family,” people would say; or, “He’ll weaken the country behaving like that.”
It would be impertinent for me, living a comfortable life and so far in no danger of being shipped to a labor camp—let alone of having to drink hemlock—to claim identity with the great dissidents of history. I will unblushingly claim some similarities of personality, though.
In our lesser way, we are dissidents, and VDARE.com is a dissident website. We do not acknowledge the gods that the city acknowledges, the idols of the tribe. As Socrates described the accusations against him in the Apology: We speculate about the earth above, and search into the earth beneath, and make the worse appear the better cause. People hate that!
How a tribe gets to have the idols it has, is an interesting question. Suffice it to say here that it rarely has much to do with reason or empirical inquiry.
But what are these idols of the tribe, these gods of the city, whom we fail to acknowledge?
4. Cultural Marxism: Oppressors and Oppressed
Western civilization at the present time is in thrall to a set of ideas and attitudes loosely called “Cultural Marxism.” I say “loosely” because the fit with classical Marxism is in some respects not a very good one.
I don’t much like this term “Cultural Marxism”; not out of any tender regard for the feelings of the people we use it against, but because I think it insults actual Marxism.
For all the horrors it engendered, and for all that it was a radically false view of human affairs, classical Marxism had some intellectual body to it. It was nonsense, but it was interesting nonsense, and inspired serious people to acts of heroism. My father-in-law, whom I liked and respected, was a lifelong Marxist; and I knew some of the older generation of European Marxists, the Arthur Koestler generation, people who had spent their youth running from city to city in Europe with the Gestapo at their heels. They were wrong, but they were brave and admirable.
Cultural Marxism is also nonsense, but nothing like as interesting. It is really a shallow, infantile and narcissistic set of notions, a way for people to feel themselves important without having to think too much, risk anything, or accept too much responsibility. Cultural Marxists do not put their lives on the line, as Koestler and his comrades did. For the most part, they just strike poses.
The central concept of Cultural Marxism, which it does owe to classical Marxism, is that some group of people is oppressing some other group.
Marx saw the Western world of his own time as one in which owners of capital were oppressing the proletariat, the working classes. He expected that when the contradictions in this system, the class antagonisms, became sufficiently acute, there would be a revolutionary change to a new and more just order of society.
Those contradictions eventually did become acute: in 1914, when the great nations of Europe all went to war against each other. To the shock and bafflement of the Marxists, however, the proletariat of Europe, instead of staging a social revolution, marched obediently off to war under their bourgeois officers.
But Lenin’s revolution in Russia saved appearances sufficiently that many Marxists were able to convince themselves that this was History working itself out as the Master had foretold—in spite of the fact that Lenin’s Russia, and even less Stalin’s, bore scant resemblance to the society of justice and equality Marx had envisioned.
Other Marxists could not forgive the proletariat for their dereliction of duty. They threw them, as we say nowadays, under the bus, and from the 1920s on began searching around for a surrogate proletariat—some group somewhere that was suffering nobly under oppression by some other group.
They duly found such a group. In fact they found several: Colonized peoples, American blacks, then later women and homosexuals. By now there is an entire menagerie of surrogate proletariats, whose boundaries can hardly be computed: fat people, schizophrenics, transsexuals, the disabled, and so on.
It’s all hard to square with classical Marxism. Classical Marxism, for example, rested on a materialist conception of history, human nature shaped by economic forces. How did material circumstances make you a homosexual? And again, Marx actually thought European colonialism was a progressive force, lifting colonized peoples up from less-developed economies like the “Asiatic Mode of Production” and accelerating their advance towards capitalism and thence socialism.
The Frankfurt School of Marxists, in the middle decades of the last century, brought in Freudianism to help shore up the edifice, and expressions like “false consciousness” and “oppressive tolerance” came into vogue. As Freud fell out of fashion, though, even these scraps of intellectual clothing fell away. By the time of the New Left in the 1960s, leftist revolutionary ideology had degenerated into a Cowboys-and-Indians model of society in which selfish and ignorant white Christian men were stamping on the faces of blacks, aborigines, women, homosexuals, Muslims, and the rest.
Some weeks ago I reported on VDARE.com about a conversation I’d had with some friends from the former Yugoslavia, an old peasant society only recently opened to the world, where Cultural Marxism is being zealously proselytized by emissaries from the European Union and George Soros’s manifold organizations. It was, though, a source of some distress to Cultural Marxists over there that they had no black people to add color and vibrancy to the ranks of the oppressed. Then they hit on a solution: the Gypsies! So now the Gypsies are the surrogate blacks of the Balkans, recipients of Affirmative Action, set-asides for government contracts, characters in sentimental fiction, and the rest: surrogate surrogate proletarians!
These are the idols of the tribe today, the gods of the city, organized under this key notion of society as oppressors and oppressed. Lenin expressed it very pithily in Russian as “Кто? Кого?”—Who’s the nominative, who’s the accusative? Who is doing what to whom?
The oppressed themselves have become idols of the tribe, with a kind of sacral status. Our fellow-dissident Larry Auster has said, for example, that American blacks are holy objects, and that to criticize them in any general way is a kind of sacrilege. After my own experience last year, I wouldn’t argue with that.
And now there is a new cadre of recruits to the ranks of the oppressed: immigrants. As an immigrant myself, I find this a bit baffling; but no doubt I am suffering from false consciousness.
5. The Huddled Masses: A New Surrogate Proletariat
Sentimental paternalism towards immigrants is by no means a new thing in U.S. history; nor is it, as sometimes claimed, an invention of the immigrants themselves. The impeccably blue-blooded WASP Jane Addams was being sentimental about immigrants in the 1880s.
That was, however, a Christian sentimentality joined to a desire to help people assimilate. Immigrants did not really become idols of the tribe until Cultural Marxism took hold in the 1960s.
The Hart-Celler immigration Act of 1965 already had a whiff of Cultural Marxism about it. One bit of true Marxism that survived into Cultural Marxism was the disdain for nations and nationhood. The abolition of national-origin quotas by the 1965 Act fitted very well with that; and if you read statements by the Act’s supporters—Lyndon Johnson’s speech at the signing ceremony, for example—you can see the swelling force of moral universalism lifting the whole thing up. The 1965 Act was widely seen, and soon became even more widely seen, as civil rights for foreigners—a moral issue.
And these foreigners were not shaped in any way by the nations, climates, religions, or races they came from. Perish the thought! They were, as Lyndon Johnson said, all Americans. They just had the misfortune not to have been born here—a misfortune easily rectified. The colonel in Full Metal Jacket expressed it in plainer language: “Inside every gook there is an American trying to get out.”
The problem with this is that immigration is just a policy, like farm price supports or military procurements. It needs to be discussed calmly and rationally, with a fair weighing of pros and cons for the national interest.
It’s hard to do that when an issue has been moralized. Opinions about the issue then become not correct or incorrect, not in or out of agreement with the data, not concordant or discordant with the national interest, but Good or Evil.
This didn’t matter very much until the numbers of Third World immigrants had swollen to make them widely visible, taking over whole neighborhoods of our towns and cities. Being mainly nonwhite and former colonial subjects, these immigrants were easily romanticized as a new cohort of the surrogate proletariat—a new idol of the tribe.
As well as helping to fortify the new state ideology of Cultural Marxism, romanticization of Third World immigrants was mighty convenient to businessmen seeking cheap labor.
This had been a driving force for immigration in the Great Wave of the late 19th and early 20th century, leading to a reaction from the growing labor movement.
Here’s a quote from a letter written in 1921: “Every citizen of the United States should make protest against the influx of people from other countries.”
That was Samuel Gompers, President of the American Federation of Labor. The efforts of labor leaders like Gompers helped establish the 1924 Immigration Act, which greatly reduced numbers and formalized the national origins system.
By the late 20th century, though, the labor movement in the private sector had been gutted; and to the public sector, poor Third World immigrants were seen mainly as clients for government programs, requiring more government workers to minister to them, and therefore a benefit.
With labor opposition feeble, business was able freely to lobby and proselytize on behalf of more immigration, through mouthpieces like the Wall Street Journal. In a collaboration that would have astounded Marx himself, greedy capitalists had joined with his own intellectual descendants, as well as with the most important Christian and Jewish organizations, to abolish the nation-state.
The aim of the businessmen was of course was to depress wages, but the issue was never presented in these terms. Immigration had been thoroughly moralized and romanticized. Samuel Gompers was forgotten; so was the 1924 Act. The Statue of Liberty was no longer remembered to have been a gift from France to celebrate republican liberty and the American Revolution, but was widely believed—today I think probably most Americans believe it—to be a monument to immigration.
And even as these malign forces were opening the nation’s borders to entire vast new ethnies and races of settlers, our oldest race problem remained unsolved. The gulf between black and white Americans, which had shown some hopeful signs of narrowing in the middle 20th century, opened up wider and wider.
6. The Unbearable Whiteness of America: Misoleukanthropy
I first came to the U.S.A. in my late twenties, already an adult with a fairly solid set of working assumptions about the world. This put me in somewhat the position of an anthropologist observing a newly-discovered tribe.
One thing I noticed (and many others in similar circumstances have also noticed it—the historian John Lukacs, for example) was the plain hatred that many American blacks obviously felt towards whites. This didn’t surprise me very much; given the history of slavery and Jim Crow, and the invariants of human nature, I suppose it’s what one should expect. What did surprise me was the lengths to which white Americans go not to notice it.
White Americans who did betray the fact of having noticed suffered severe social ostracism. A case in point was journalist Amity Shlaes, who in January 1994 wrote an article titled “Black Mischief” for the London Spectator. In the article she described exactly what I had seen: the everyday hatred that black Americans nurse towards a white person like herself.
When this became known to Amity’s colleagues at the Wall Street Journal, a deputation of them marched on the office of the chairman of Dow Jones, Inc., demanding that she be fired.
A few months later all the world got a good look at American blacks’ hatred of whites when O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murdering his white wife, to scenes of wild rejoicing in black precincts.
Yet still white Americans mostly averted their eyes; and still today it is considered a gross breach of social etiquette to notice what a clear-eyed observer cannot help noticing.
Cultural Marxism seizes eagerly on this hatred, of course. So powerful is the ideology’s appeal, in fact, that it has colonized the minds of the oppressors themselves, leaving them racked with guilt. Hence the phenomenon I call “ethnomasochism,” by means of which white people too can savor the pleasure of hating whites.
Expressions of white ethnomasochism show up quite early on: Susan Sontag writing in 1967 that “The white race is the cancer of human history”; Stanley Ann Dunham around 1970 telling her Indonesian husband that American businessmen in Indonesia were “not my people”; Bill Clinton in 1998 saying that he looked forward to the day when whites will be a minority in America.
It is only recently, though, that hatred of whites has become a clear component of majority thinking, one of the idols of the tribe, out in the open for all to acknowledge and adore. Freshmen at our universities are now routinely put through training courses in which the white students among them are told of their own innate wickedness and warned that without a properly anti-white attitude, they will not be counted good citizens.
When the movie actor Jamie Foxx recently boasted on Saturday Night Live of having made a movie in which he get to kill all the white people, the audience—which was almost entirely white—roared with laughter and approval. They love Big Brother.
It’s easier to cope with and combat something if it has a name. I have been trying to come up with a snappier way of saying “hatred of whites,” but the best I can do, drawing on a very scanty knowledge of classical Greek, is misoluekanthropy. I have not much hope this will catch on, but I offer it for your consideration anyway.
Once you are alert to misoleukanthropy you keep spotting new manifestations of it. There is an American pop singer named Beyoncé Knowles. I know next to nothing about pop music, which I pretty much gave up on after Buddy Holly died, but Ms. Knowles got my attention because my mother’s surname was Knowles, so I could vaguely wonder if we were perhaps related.
Ms. Knowles, however, is racially what I think used to be called a “high yaller,” or octoroon. The whiteness of her surname detracted somewhat from this. So she dropped the surname altogether and is now billed simply as Beyoncé, the horrid whiteness all purged out.
It’s getting to be a common thing. There is a mulatto commentator on one of those leftist TV stations named Touré. That’s it, just Touré—with, like Beyoncé, the acute accent for a touch of exoticism, of authenticity. If you look up Touré, you’ll find that his surname is actually Neblett, which sounds even whiter than Knowles. Out, damn spot! Away with all whiteness!
I occasionally do some reading in neuroscience. Doing so a couple of years ago I came across a neurological affliction I had never heard of before: anosognosia.
Anosognosia is a condition in which the patient is suffering some severe neurological impairment but does not know it. The impairment is strictly neurological, in the higher processing regions of the brain. You might, for example, be suffering from paralysis of a limb, yet be unaware of it.
There are even some extreme cases recorded in which the sufferer is blind but does not know it! The eyes and optic nerves have normal function, but the brain centers that process visual stimulus are not working. To compensate, the brain makes up a visual field, trying to use cues from memory and the other senses.
It doesn’t work very well. You keep falling over things, but you can’t understand why.
Western society seems to have fallen into something like a social anosognosia. Our collective senses are gathering information OK, more than ever before in history in fact. But our collective brain is failing to process it, and compensates by making stuff up.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, for example, do a great job as our sense organs, gathering important data that, if you process it in a straightforward way, tell you all you need to know about the bad effects of mass unskilled immigration, or race differentials in crime rates.
That processing, however, is not done.
For another example, consider Head Start, the program started in 1965—1965!—to improve the prospects for poor children by giving them pre-school education at federal expense. Every decade or so HHS does a study on the effectiveness of Head Start. Every study—the last one was published just before Christmas—says the same thing: that Head Start accomplishes nothing whatsoever.
If our collective brain were working properly, we’d dump the program. Instead, we just throw more money into it. In response to the latest HHS report, Congress increased funding for Head Start by $100m (by an item slipped into the Hurricane Sandy relief bill).
Wikipedia tells us that for anosognosia, “no long-term treatments exist.” They do note, however, that squirting ice cold water into the left ear “is known to temporarily ameliorate unawareness of impairment.”
That is our job here at VDARE.com: to squirt cold water into society’s left ear. That’s what we do here.
Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.
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 Pessimismand several other books. His writings are archived at JohnDerbyshire.com.
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