Radio Derb: Amy Wax, Culturism, Boris, And Statehood For Puerto Rico (Not!), Etc.
Print Friendly and PDF

01m02s  Amy Wax in trouble again.  (A repeat-offending stone-kicker.)

08m49s  Culturism, soft and hard.  (Might as well be race-realist …)

22m42s  Afterthoughts on the previous.  (Why is there immigration?)

27m21s  Britain's new Prime Minister.  (Once my editor.)

29m34s  Transatlantic misunderstandings.  (Prof. Steinberg's double equation.)

32m06s  Public awareness of National Question issues.  (Bad news on Puerto Rico.)

34m39s  Japan's election.  (Politics without hysteria.)

36m38s  Word of the week.  (Get your vocabulary books out.)

39m42s  Signoff.  (Melodious and beautiful.)


01—Intro.     And Radio Derb is on the air! Welcome, listeners. This is your elegantly genial host John Derbyshire with news and commentary from the passing charivari.

It seems that once every year I find myself doing a story about University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax. The lady just can't stay out of trouble.

I'll give over my first segment to reviewing the history here and setting the background to this year's kerfuffle. Then I shall comment on the current affair itself.


02—Amy Wax in trouble again.     In March last year, Prof. Wax did a Bloggingheads interview with Economics Professor Glenn Loury of Brown University, who is black. In the course of their chat, which was all perfectly friendly and collegial, Prof. Wax mentioned that she couldn't recall a case of a black student graduating in the top quarter of her class, and it was rare to see one in the top half.

That got her a Two Minutes Hate in the Twittersphere and a stern reprimand from her law school dean. The reprimand would have been more convincing if the dean had produced some actual numbers from his files to refute Prof. Wax's claim, but of course he refused to do so.

A year before that, in August 2017, Prof. Wax had published a joint op-ed, with another law professor, in the Philadelphia Inquirer, arguing for the promotion of bourgeois values: get married, stay married, obey the law, don't swear in public, and so on. That caused screaming, swooning, and clutching of pearls nationwide. "Redneck racist ideology," one commenter called it.

So Prof. Wax has a track record of saying obviously true things that our ideological establishment—media, schools, corporations, churches, politicians—would much rather not be said.

I was so impressed after last year's Bloggingheads incident that I inducted Prof. Wax into the Honorable Company of Stone-Kickers. Now she's been at it again, kicking that durn stone.

Two weekends ago, actually Sunday-Monday-Tuesday, July 14th-16th, Yoram Hazony held his National Conservatism conference at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, D.C.

Hazony is the author of a recent book titled The Virtue of Nationalism, and we here at have sometimes used the phrase "National Conservatism" to define our own positions; so we had some reasonable expectation that the ideas we write about here might get an airing in a posh, high-profile venue.

Vain are the hopes of mortal men! The conference turned out to be just another rescue mission for neoconservatism. The big keynote address, given on Tuesday morning, was by John Bolton—what else do you need to know?

Our own boss Peter Brimelow was barred from attending, as was Jared Taylor. Your genial host here would no doubt likewise have been denied had I been sufficiently alert and organized to apply for registration.

The brilliant and indefatigable blogger Zman did sneak in under the organizers' radar. He produced some scathing, and often very funny, commentary which I urge you to read. He also, separately, posted a thoughtful summary here at July 16th, wherein you will find links to his on-the-spot blog posts.

Well, Amy Wax gave a talk at one of the breakout sessions on Monday afternoon. If you're not a conference-goer and don't know what a breakout session is, it's when the main conference breaks up into smaller groups to discuss particular topics in side rooms.

Breakout sessions used to be called "workshops," but perhaps that was ruled demeaning and hurtful to people who work in shops … don't ask me, I'm clueless about political correctness. The opposite of a breakout session is a plenary session, where everyone sits together in the same grand auditorium. Got that?

So Prof. Wax addressed this breakout session at the National Conservatism conference. The topic for this particular breakout session was immigration. That's our main topic here at, so naturally this session excited our interest.

The title of Prof. Wax's talk was: "American Greatness and Immigration: The Case for Low and Slow." There is a full transcript over at The Federalist website. Her remarks ignited yet another spasm of nationwide shrieking, fainting, and pearl-clutching.

The dean of Prof. Wax's law school—the same guy who last year publicly called her a liar but refused to back up his slander with actual evidence—told the world that her remarks were at best, quote, "a bigoted theory of white cultural and ethnic supremacy," and at worst, quote—can you guess?—yes: "racist." I guess you don't get to be dean of a prestigious law school by demonstrating a capacity for independent thinking or original speaking.

Something called LALSA, the Latinx Law Students Association at U. Penn., started a petition for Prof. Wax to be relieved of her teaching duties.

That must have been some heavy-duty rabble-rousing fascist Neo-Nazi stuff that Prof. Wax spoke—oh, sorry; I mean "spouted"—at the National Conservatism Conference. So what did she say? Next segment.


03—Culturism, soft and hard.     Prof. Wax is not, so far as I can figure, a race realist. (I should make it clear that being a race realist is not an essential qualifying condition for election to the Honorable Company of Stone-Kickers.)

In Chapter Seven of my world-shaking bestseller We Are Doomed I said there are three theories of human nature enjoying widespread support at present. I tagged each of the three with a single adjective: Religious, Culturist, Biologian. You can find full descriptions in my book. To summarize here:

  • The religious view sees our species as gifted by God or the Gods with supernatural attributes, for example the moral sense.
  • The culturist view allows that Homo sap. came up through ordinary natural processes; but, having arrived on Earth a quarter million years ago, has remained essentially undifferentiated thereafter in its psychic essence. Apparent statistical differences in that essence—in behavior, intelligence, and personality—between populations long settled in different regions, along with the social consequences of such differences, are purely environmental, with no biological causes.
  • The biologian view says that human nature is a collection of characteristics all susceptible to biological explanation. Regional differences are in part biological, as you'd expect from localized mostly-inbred populations separated from each other for hundreds or thousands of generations. As science writer Nicholas Wade put it, quote: "Human evolution has been recent, copious, and regional." End quote.

On that schema Prof. Wax looks to me to be a culturist, not a biologian. Indeed, she tells us in her July 15th talk that the idea she is promoting for our immigration policy is, quote, "cultural distance nationalism," which, extended quote:

is based on the insight and understanding that people's background culture can affect their ability to fit into a modern advanced society and to perform the roles needed to support and maintain it—civic, occupational, economic, technical, and the like.

End quote.

That's culturism as I defined it. Prof. Wax is actually well-qualified to be a biologian—to be in the third of my three categories, along with us race realists. Her first degree, from Yale, was in molecular biology, and she went on to get an M.D. from Harvard Medical School before switching to the law.

Still, I can't see any hint of race realism in her July 15th talk, and I'm not aware of any in her other productions. Race-realism-wise, far as I can tell, Prof. Wax is clean.

So why the fuss? Isn't culturism perfectly respectable? Isn't it, in fact, the foundation of our state ideology: that where human nature is concerned, nurture is everything and nature nothing? That all group differences are merely cultural differences? And that people like my geneticist friend who, when I one time used "culture" in the pure-culturist sense, jeered back at me with: "Culture? Culture? What are the upstream variables?"—people like that are bad people, probably Nazis.

Ah, but apparently there are divisions within culturism, divisions crucial to the discussion of immigration. There are, you might say, "soft" culturists and "hard" culturists.

A soft culturist believes that if a population from Culture A is settled among Culture B, the group differences will quickly disappear. Within a generation or two at most, the As and their descendants will be indistinguishable from the Bs they settled among.

As evidence, soft culturists like to cite the Great Wave of immigrants into the U.S.A. prior to WW1: Irish, Italian, Poles, Jews. And look!—fifty years later they and their kids were just Americans!

Soft culturism is sometimes called Magic Dirt Theory. Prof. Wax actually uses the phrase "magic dirt" three times in her July 15th talk. It's not original with her, though. It has an entry in the Urban Dictionary, posted in March 2017, and I was seeing it on Dissident Right blogs before that.

Who came up with the term "magic dirt"? Some people have credited me; I used the expression in a posting here at on November 1st 2015. I had borrowed it from a post the previous month by blogger Vox Day, though. Prior to that I can only find cryptic, inconclusive references, and a mass of stuff about a nineties Australian rock band. If any listener with better internet search skills than mine can find the source, I'd be interested to know.

So Magic Dirt Theory is soft culturism. Amy Wax sounds like a hard culturist. Sample quote:

Our country's future trajectory, however, will not be determined by political correctness, but by reality and facts on whether cultural differences really matter, whether they are stubborn, and whether they have consequences. And by the time that becomes clear and that dynamic plays out, it may be too late to turn the ship, and it may well be too late already.

Plainly Prof. Wax thinks that cultural differences are—or, at least, can be—stubborn: not necessarily rooted in biology, as I and my pal the geneticist suspect, only … stubborn. A generation or two of magic dirt won't expunge them.

"But wait!" cry the soft culturists. "They have been expunged! Those pre-WW1 immigrants—the Irish, Italians, Poles, Jews! They became Americans!"

So they did: although, as we annoying immigration buffs point out, the forty-year lull in immigration from 1924 to 1965 surely helped.

And, as the naughtier ones among us also point out, the expunging was by no means total. Check the proportions of Irish, Italian, Polish, and Jewish names in the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans; or for that matter—and with absolutely no offense intended whatsoever to Prof. Wax, who is Jewish—in the lists of professors at our most prestigious law schools.

Our state ideology, any contradiction of which causes explosions of outrage, is not merely culturism; it is soft culturism. That's what has gotten Prof. Wax in trouble.

She's a hard culturist. That phrase she promotes, "cultural distance nationalism," implies that some cultures—those at more of a distance from the U.S.A.'s own north-European roots—will resist acculturation more stubbornly than others.

Worse yet: Those peoples at more of a cultural distance from us are mostly nonwhite. Peoples closer to us in culture—for example, those Irish, Italian, Polish and Jewish immigrants of the Great Wave—are mostly white. [Scream.] You don't have to frame any hypotheses about cause and effect, says Prof. Wax, that's just observable reality.

Quote, slightly edited:

Embracing … cultural distance nationalism, means, in effect, taking the position that our country will be better off with more whites and fewer non-whites. Well, that is the result anyway. So even if our immigration philosophy is grounded firmly in cultural concerns, doesn't rely on race at all … these racial dimensions are enough to spook conservatives.

End quote.

So the lady is saying that even a rigidly culturist, scrupulously colorblind immigration policy will, volens nolens, if it embraces cultural nationalism, favor whites.

Prof. Wax had much more to say than that, and I urge you to go to the Federalist website and read her entire presentation. I'm just trying to make the point, with her July 15th talk as an exhibit, that even taking a spotlessly culturist line about human differences, eschewing biological race realism, will not spare you being denounced as a racist by the dean of a university law school.

You might draw the moral of the story as: If even a punctilious culturism won't spare you from the witch-hunters—well, heck, may as well embrace biology and go full-bore race realist!

You might … but Heaven forbid I should put ideas into anyone's head.


04—Afterthoughts on the previous.     Just a few thoughts in summary on the previous two segments.

First, a rather obvious point: All this tortured wrangling over immigration—should it be culturally selective? racially selective [scream]? strictly by merit? capped by country?—all this wrangling presupposes … immigration.

I've told this story before; but it's so apt here, I can't resist re-telling it.

Three or so years ago I was at an event where the speaker was Marty Schain, author of a good academic book about the politics of Immigration. In the Q&A afterwards I asked him the following zero-based question: "Why is there immigration? Why do we have it?"

Prof. Schain stared at me blankly, as if I'd spoken in Ancient Sumerian. He continued staring for an uncomfortable few seconds. Then he blinked, shook his head, looked away, and took another question.

I guess nobody ever asked him that before. It's a fair question, though. You can make a case for admitting a few thousand persons a year for permanent settlement: spouses and dependent children of citizens, Nobel Prize-winners, a few hundred other special cases by individual Presidential order.

What is the case for a million or more a year, though? Has someone made it, other than by rolling his eyes and saying: "It's who we are"?

We have just been celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the first Moon landing. When we performed that tremendous technical and cultural feat, our population was two hundred million. Since then our numbers have increased by seventy percent.

If we could perform such wonders, and be the envy of the world, with two hundred million, why did we need that extra seventy percent? Oh, right, sorry, I forgot: Because that's who we are!

Again, no offense intended to Prof. Wax, who I'm sure is just trying to promote the art of the possible: but to heck with what she calls her "low and slow approach to immigration."

Low immigration? Slow immigration? How about no immigration? How about a moratorium? With, of course, the few thousand annual exceptions noted.

And then, all of what I have said to this point is a race-realist's take on the National Conservatism bash and Prof. Amy Wax's contribution to it. For a perceptive and sympathetic view from, I'm pretty sure, a culturist perspective closer to Prof. Wax's own, I recommend Christopher DeGroot's July 26th column at Taki's Magazine.


05—Miscellany.     It's actually been a busy week for things to comment on, and I got a bit carried away there with the National Conservatism conference and Prof. Wax's address, leaving myself not enough time for other topics. I'm going to squinch them down as best I can into brief items in my closing miscellany here.

Imprimis:  Britain has a new Prime Minister, name of Boris Johnson.

I can't offer you much insight into the guy. My only intercourse with him was in 2005, when he was editor of the Spectator—the London one, not the American one.

After Hurricane Katrina the Spectator, for whom I had done occasional pieces in the 1980s, asked me for an opinion piece about the disaster and its aftermath. I put a piece together, including some frank, although not unsympathetic, remarks about the blacks of New Orleans, and sent it off to them. Johnson rejected it as "unsuitable."

No big deal. Freelancers take this kind of thing in stride. I blamed myself for having forgotten that Johnson, as well as being a magazine editor, was also a Conservative Member of Parliament. On matters of race, Britain's Conservative Party is even more cowardly than our own GOP.

Johnson was also, although I did not know this at the time, heading for the door on his way out of the Spectator editorship, making him even less inclined to take chances with political incorrectness. When you're heading out the door you don't want to be dragging tin cans tied to your ankles making a noise and attracting attention.

That's all I have on Boris. If you want a long, positive piece about him by a guy who knows him well, I recommend Toby Young's at Quillette.


Item:  For American listeners who think that Boris is too eccentric to be a national leader, and doesn't seem to take himself or his duties seriously enough, I'm just going to replay an extract from my August 21st, 2015 podcast.

Here you go. Extract:

Here's Jonathan Steinberg, Professor of Modern European History at the University of Pennsylvania, giving a set of lectures for the Great Courses company. This particular lecture concerns the 19th-century English novelist George Eliot. Professor Steinberg prefaces it with some remarks about British irony. Over to him.

[Inner clip, Prof. Steinberg:  Here I speak from personal experience. I was an American who lived for nearly forty years in England.

It may help here if we introduce J. Steinberg's double equation for explaining Anglo-American misunderstanding. It works like this.

•  In England the best thing you can be is amusing or clever, and the worst is tiresome or a bore.
•  In America the best thing you can be is sincere or genuine; the worst is a phony.

If you put those values together, what you get is:

•  English amusing or clever equals American phony, and
•  American sincere equals English bore.

This really works. I've tried it for years and I know it works. It's really been road-tested.

End inner clip.]

I've taken it out for a spin myself a few times, and Prof. Steinberg nails it. The Englishman cherished by his friends for charm and wit can come across to Americans as a frivolous phony; the American revered by his friends as a paragon of wisdom and morality strikes Englishmen as a smug bore.

End of extract. Just something to bear in mind if, when looking at footage of Boris Johnson, you find some phrase like "frivolous phony" drift into your mind. People—including, actually, some English people—thought the same about Winston Churchill.]


Item:  In last week's podcast I quoted a recent poll out of Pew Research that showed a big majority of Americans, 62 percent to 33, favoring openness to immigration over concern for our national identity.

Some listeners emailed in to say the poll only appeared to show that. The issue was badly posed, they said.

Was it? Eh, possibly. On matters related to public awareness of National Question issues, I remain a dark pessimist.

In support of my pessimism, here is a different poll. This one is from Gallup, published July 18th. The poll question:

Would you favor or oppose having Puerto Rico admitted as a state in the union?

When asked that question in June, two out of three Americans—66 percent—favored admitting Puerto Rico as a state.

Making Puerto Rico a state is just about the worst idea you could come up with in the National Question area.

Two more Democratic senators; what would it be—four? five? more Democratic congresscritters; three million English-language-challenged new voters bringing with them the Latin American attitudes to political corruption, bribery, nepotism, and general chicanery on display in this month's ructions over the governorship down there.

We have argued long and often here at that the best thing for the U.S.A. would be Puerto Rican independence. One more time, with passion: ¡Viva Puerto Rico Libre!


Item:  Meanwhile, if you're curious how things go along in a modern democratic society that has shunned multiculturalism and mass immigration, and so is not permanently roiled by hysteria and hypocrisy over race, I refer you to last weekend's general election in Japan.

Oh, you didn't notice Japan having an election? The Japanese themselves seem barely to have noticed it. Voter turnout, at less than 49 percent, was second lowest in history.

What were the main issues facing voters? Pepping up the economy, raising the country's very low birthrate, and getting more women into management and politics.

Oh: and revising the country's pacifist constitution so Japan can strengthen her military. That one requires a supermajority, though, which the winning coalition, Shinzo Abe's LDP and its allies, did not get.

Such picayune stuff! To the best of my knowledge nobody in any of the opposition parties has denounced Mr Abe as a racist. Nor have there been any passionate accusations of collusion with foreign powers in his campaign.

What's the matter with those Japanese? Don't they know that politics is supposed to be interesting?


Item:  While I am of course always reluctant to introduce into the podcast matters that some listeners might find indelicate, I can't resist sharing with you my Word of the Week—a new word I just learned this week.

This is in relation to the strange tale from Canada about a chap named Jonathan Yaniv. Mr Yaniv has decided to pretend he's a woman. There's been no surgical intervention; he's just put on a dress and makeup and grown his hair long.

Now, as I am sure listeners know, there are personal-care salons that will remove the hair from a lady's private parts using hot wax, a procedure colloquially called a "Brazilian." Well, Mr Yaniv has been showing up at these salons demanding they give him a Brazilian.

Most of them refuse, whereupon Mr Yaniv complains to the Human Rights Tribunal of his province. At least two of the salons—small private businesses, typically run by poor immigrants—have had to close.

It's a nasty story, which you can put into the file labeled Malicious Political Correctness along with those Christian bakers sued for refusing to bake cakes for homosexuals.

Reading about it, though, I did encounter this new word. This new word tickled my fancy, in spite of the unsavory context.

See, it turns out that some of the salons Mr Yaniv applied to complied with his request. In fact there is a recent fashion among some young men—not troublemakers or delusional types like Mr Yaniv, comparatively normal young men—there is a new fashion for having their pubic hair removed.

That's where my Word of the Week comes in. This new procedure is known colloquially as—can I have a drum roll, please? [drum roll] thank you—as … a Brozilian.


06—Signoff.     On that rather strange note, ladies and gentlemen, I leave you. Thank you for listening, and by all means email in with comments and corrections. While I can't guarantee a reply to all emails, the firm rule remains that everything non-abusive is carefully read, pondered, and where suitable plagiarized.

To see us out, something beautiful from 1936, back when movies included melodious songs you wanted to sing yourself, sometimes paired with elegant dances you wished you could dance yourself. Yes, it's Fred and Ginger.

There will be more from Radio Derb next week.


[Music clip: Fred Astaire, "Let's Face the Music and Dance."]

Print Friendly and PDF