Hey, Professor Sharon Schwarze! Here's a Web of Belief For You—Racial Egalitarianism
March 25, 2017, 11:06 AM
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The March 13 New Yorker's lead-off letter was from Sharon Schwarze [Email her] a professor emerita of philosophy at Cabrini University in Wayne, Pennsylvania. [Matters of Fact]

In psychoanalyzing those crazy Trump supporters, she joins the discussion about why they just won't believe actual facts, and, you know, reject Donald Trump. Psychologists who study human reason stole from the philosopher Willard Van Orman Quine, who coined the term "web of belief" to describe how people decide what's true and what's not.

She writes, "beliefs at the center are entrenched, because changing them would require rebuilding large parts of the web, while those on the periphery can be easily altered or ignored. We do not hold beliefs one at a time; rather, we assess them in a group, because they are logically connected. If we let one go, we have to let the others go as well."

I suspect this is, in fact, how people analyze incoming information. But if there's an entrenched belief at the center of the Western mind, it's in perfect human equality—the belief that all races, sexes, cultures and religions are "equal", i.e., equally smart, equally capable, equally inventive.

Call it doctrinal fungibility, to borrow a commercial term—we're all just grains of rice or equal-sized red bricks, one batch no different from any other and able to be switched out at will with no difference in effect.

As an impressively long list of men—most recently, Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa—have observed, this is a crashing lie.

But the entrenchment of this belief at the center of the web drives everything about the modern West. Preachers preach it. Professors profess it. Politicians make policy on it. Bushes believe it, Clintons believe it, Ruth Marcus and Ben Shapiro believe it. The press guards its sacred status. Egalitarianism is our chief dogma. It is the state religion.

Heretics don't encounter counter-argument—they encounter violence, as Richard Spencer and Charles Murray have experienced.

Egalitarianism has worked its way up to a spot next to Jesus, the U.S. Army and the American flag. That's entrenched.

I remember the discomfort I felt upon confronting the idea of racial differences in intelligence, sitting there on the floor of my apartment in Brooklyn reading Michael Levin's Why Race Matters. Because, if it's true that these differences are genetic, inborn and as comparably resistant to policy tinkering as height and eye color, then we are wrong about a lot of stuff.

We're wrong about immigration. We're wrong about affirmative action. We're wrong about taxing and spending. Wrong about education policy. Wrong about social advancement. The Nazis—oh Lord, not this!—were murderous but not completely mistaken about human difference. Try explaining that one at Thanksgiving.

Now, white Westerners have done an incredible job of mental gymnastics over the decades, managing to process out every fact that doesn't fit into the egalitarian web of belief—differences in Hispanic behavior, black crime rates, etc. I sometimes think liberal white anger at folks like Charles Murray is about the knocking down of the mental house of cards they've spent so many years painstakingly erecting—even if it's wrong, dang it, I've invested so much time and energy into believing it, you blowing it over is very rude!

I myself am a theist, but you can see how the same model might come to mind for an atheist up against a theist society. What are we supposed to do if you're right, Mr. Atheist? We already built a huge church in the middle of town!

There are other things at play here, as well. People have a tendency to believe what feels good to believe, and egalitarianism sure feels good. All those movies over the years with a motley, multicultural gang beating out the blonde homogeneous crew? Were wrong?

People also have a tendency to believe in ways that, if not accurate in the immediate, are, big-picture, evolutionarily adaptive. And correspondingly accurate. Example: in black inner cities of America years ago, there was the belief that Church's Chicken put a chemical in the breading that made black men sterile. True? Probably not. But is the larger point accurate—that white society would prefer black men not breed? Yes.

Something similar goes on with whites. President Trump is generally for them, while the media is generally against them. So while it might be immediately true that Trump is wrong on some particular fact, whites are willing to overlook that for the larger survival benefits of restrictions on immigration, a stand against terrorism, and better economics for the white working class. The media is so blind to this, it's pathetic.

Rural whites, by the way, are willing to believe pretty much anything about a threat to gun rights, though I have to say that my own gun collection has remained untouched over the years, whether it's Bush, Obama or Trump in the White House. But since guns are so symbolically (and in some ways, physically) important to their survival, the absurder notions just help to keep the necessary fire going.

Jewish hysteria, same thing. There really are people who want to kill all the Jews, and some who've killed actual Jews on their way to achieving that goal. The truth of that is not made lesser by the fact that many supposed threats to Jews are manufactured or exaggerated.

It seems you just can't keep a core political truth alive without some flickering flames of hysteria at the edges. I'm sure Professor Schwarze would agree.

She concludes her letter by bemoaning (as I do) that facts don't make people change their beliefs. "...there must also be a story that connects, in some important way, to people's webs of belief."

A point to remember for anyone looking to change the American mind.