Friday, 4 January 2008

The Future of Race

What is it with progressives? They see that guns are used to harm people, so, instead of apprehending and punishing the criminals, they seek to prohibit gun ownership. This fails doubly, for (1) those disposed to use guns to harm people are not likely to be deterred by a law that tells them they can’t possess guns and (2) it deprives law-abiding citizens of guns. Now comes philosopher Philip Kitcher, who, seeing that the concept of race is used to harm people, seeks to eliminate it. This, too, will fail doubly, for (1) those disposed to use race to harm people are not likely to be deterred by moral argumentation and (2) it deprives nonracists, including nonracist scientists, of a useful tool.

Kitcher admits that “There are biological phenomena that can be connected with infraspecific distinctions biologists find it useful to make in nonhuman cases, and, more to the point, that are valuable for research on human historical geography” (Philip Kitcher, “Does ‘Race’ Have a Future?” Philosophy & Public Affairs 35 [fall 2007]: 293-317, at 317). In other words, the concept of race has legitimate uses. But, he quickly adds, “That does not clinch the case for making infraspecific divisions within our own species,” for “There is a genuine issue about whether the category of race is worth retaining.” Kitcher insists that he is not advocating censorship; he is making a moral argument. He is saying that certain research should not be done, not that there should be a public ban on certain types of research. His argument, presumably, is directed to scientists and to those who fund them.

Ideally, Kitcherian scientists would “insulate” their racial research from the public “so that potentially damaging consequences do not occur” (308). This would allow good uses of the concept but disallow bad uses. When I read this, I thought of Henry Sidgwick’s “Government House utilitarianism.” (The term is from Bernard Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985], 108.) Kitcher is advocating Government House science! Unfortunately, science journalists don’t play along. They translate the scientists’ word “clusters” as “races.” Kitcher thinks journalists who do this are “distort[ing] the transmission of knowledge” (308 n. 29). Really? Isn’t it the scientists who are doing the distorting? Aren’t journalists merely refusing to be their accomplices?

As if Government House science isn’t bad enough, Kitcher wants to use the concept of race for affirmative-action programs and race-based medicine. He asks: “Might sociological research not require a concept of race to identify the damage that has been done by various forms of racial discrimination? Perhaps repairing that damage may require policies of compensation, explicitly crafted in racial categories: think of programs of affirmative action” (311). But this, according to Kitcher, is just one side of the scale. The concept of race may do more harm than good, all things considered, in which case it should be jettisoned. Kitcher ends his essay on a bland note, by saying we need more research on “all the uses” (316) of the notion of race.

What to make of this essay? First, Kitcher grudgingly admits that the concept of race is biologically fecund (which is why it continues to be used by scientists), but he knows that scientists can’t insulate their research from the public, who will, with the assistance of “culpable” journalists, find out about it. Second, Kitcher wants to keep race alive for purposes he favors, such as affirmative-action programs, but to kill it for all other purposes. How is that possible? How can something be both alive and dead, existent and nonexistent? Even if Kitcher manages to persuade some people to forgo the use of the concept of race, there will be others who continue to use it—to good, bad, or indifferent effect. Even if use of the concept of race were banned, it would still be used. Banning guns doesn’t take guns out of the hands of criminals; it takes them out of the hands of law-abiding citizens. Banning race wouldn’t take race out of the hands of racists; it would take it out of the hands of people of good will.

Gregory S. Kavka (1947-1994) on the War of All Against All

From these reasonable and for the most part realistic assumptions about human beings, Hobbes constructs an elegant and insightful argument for the state of nature being an active state of war of all against all. The core of the argument goes as follows. Imagine people in a state of nature in which there is no common power over them to punish them for robbing, assaulting, and killing one another. As forwardlooking creatures vulnerable to death at the hands of virtually any of their fellows, they will rightly be quite concerned about their future security. Lacking a system of law enforcement, they cannot expect potential attackers to be effectively deterred by fear of counterviolence, for because of the rough equality of people’s natural powers and the advantages of striking first, potential attackers will realize that they have a good chance of success. Nor can one expect potential attackers—whose altruism is, at most, limited—to refrain from attack out of concern for their potential victims. Thus, each person in the state of nature must fear violence by others who may attack for any of four reasons. First, dominators may attack simply because they enjoy conquest. Second, competitors may attack to remove one as an obstacle to the satisfaction of their desires. Third, those you may have insulted or undervalued may attack to preserve or improve their reputation and standing in the eyes of others. Fourth, and most important, even moderates, who have no desire for power for its own sake and who may have no specific quarrel with a person, may for defensive purposes engage in anticipatory violence against that person. That is, they may attack to remove one as a potential future threat to themselves, or to conquer one to use one’s power to defend against future attacks by others, or to gain a reputation of power that will awe and deter others. In these circumstances, eventual involvement in violent conflict is not unlikely. And since anticipation generally improves one’s chances of success, it is the most reasonable course of action for rational persons caring about their future well-being (and caring much less, if at all, about the well-being of most others). In Hobbes’s words, “There is no way for any man to secure himself, so reasonable, as anticipation; that is, by force, or wiles, to master the persons of all men he can.”

(Gregory S. Kavka, Hobbesian Moral and Political Theory [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986], 97-8 [footnotes omitted])


Here is your first piece of entertainment for this Friday evening. Here is your second piece. Here is your third. Here is your fourth. Don’t you love this scene? What a movie!

A Year Ago


My Ranking

Here is how I rank the Republican presidential candidates, from most-favored to least-favored:

1. Fred Thompson (J.D., Vanderbilt)
2. Mitt Romney (J.D., M.B.A., Harvard)
3. Rudy Giuliani (J.D., NYU)
4. Mike Huckabee (B.A., Ouachita Baptist University)
5. John McCain (Graduate, United States Naval Academy)
6. Ron Paul (M.D., Duke)

Paul is not a serious candidate. If he weren’t so self-absorbed (most libertarians are), he would drop out. McCain must not be rewarded for (1) working with Russ Feingold to limit campaign contributions and (2) working with Ted Kennedy to reward illegal aliens. Huckabee the preacher boy revolts me, the same way Jimmy Carter did in 1976. Any of the first three men on my list will protect Americans, which is important. Giuliani is soft on cultural issues, such as abortion, homosexual “marriage,” and immigration. Romney’s Mormonism shackles him, and we can’t afford a shackled candidate in 2008, which promises to be a close contest. Also, I don’t like Romney’s business mentality. One Harvard M.B.A. in the White House is enough. Thompson is my man, without question.


Here is Peggy Noonan’s latest column. Here is Peg Kaplan’s latest post.

Best of the Web Today



The moonbats at Democratic Underground seem united in their support of John Edwards. Why? Because he hates “corporate America.” Several commenters complained that Keith Olbermann was forced by MSNBC management—corporate America!—to focus on Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the implication being that Olbermann wanted to talk about (i.e., sing the praises of) Edwards. Have you ever seen such conspiracy-mongering? Edwards is flat-out nuts. He is the Democrat equivalent of Ron Paul. By the way, the moonbats no longer like Chris Matthews. They call him “tweetie.” Moonbats will turn on their heroes in an instant. Either you are totally with them on every issue or you are the enemy. If I were Olbermann, I’d watch my back.

Addendum: Put yourself in Olbermann’s shoes. You know that your audience consists of moonbats who view you as their mouthpiece. You know that they will turn on you in an instant if you show the slightest degree of independent thought, moderation, or conciliation. Your livelihood depends on the TV gig. What an awful predicament!

The West

Here is a review of Lee Harris’s new book about radical Islam.

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Immigration and the Candidates” (editorial, Dec. 30):

You imply that liberal Democrats are in agreement that the 12 million immigrants in the United States illegally should be welcomed into legal status because they are here and it is unrealistic to do otherwise.

This is one liberal who believes that amnesty (or whatever euphemism you prefer), in addition to fostering a diminution of respect for the law, will serve as a signal to millions of others that if they can get here, they are home free.

Even the most generous of societies has to recognize the limits of its resources. With the world’s population rising fast, we cannot address the unchecked growth of underdeveloped areas by admitting everybody to this country.

Any policy that signals a pseudo-open border will intensify the many resource problems we are already bumping up against. The Census Bureau predicts that if our immigration policy is not changed, our population will exceed 400 million by 2050.

The answer is not a fence across the South; as you say, 40 percent of illegal immigrants enter legally and overstay their visas. But amnesty is not the answer either.

Carl Mezoff
Stamford, Conn., Dec. 30, 2007

Note from KBJ: No issue cuts across party lines like immigration. The presidential candidate who speaks to Americans’ concerns about illegal immigration wins the election.

“A Christian They Can Roll”

Ann Coulter lets Mike Huckabee have it. (Thanks to John Ray for the link.)


If you’re a fan of professional football (I am not), you’ll like this site. Note that it has a ticking clock, showing the number of days, hours, minutes, and seconds until this year’s Super Bowl, in which—you heard it here first—the Dallas Cowboys will defeat the Indianapolis Colts. The Super Bowl will be played on Sunday, 3 February. Why was I looking into this? Because I do a bike ride every Super Bowl Sunday. I needed to know the date.

Addendum: This year’s Super Bowl will be the 42d. I remember the 4th Super Bowl, on 11 January 1970, when the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Minnesota Vikings, 23-7. I was 12 years old. See here for a list of Super Bowls.