Thursday, November 24, 2011

On Ayn Rand on Racism

Ayn Rand repudiated collectivism in all forms, but she reserved her most strident and sweeping condemnation for what she regarded as collectivism applied to racial identity. She wrote, “Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism. It is the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man’s genetic lineage…”

This oft-quoted passage from The Virtue of Selfishness is, of course, intended to be an affirmation of individualism. But, as I shall argue forthwith, Rand’s overly broad conception of racism affirms premises of political correctness that stifle independent thinking.

According to Rand, asserting that race carries moral or social (which subsumes political) significance constitutes racism. A Black Panther who advocates killing white babies is surely, then, a racist, insofar as he regards whites as morally less deserving of a right to life than blacks.

But a racist in Rand’s lexicon, as in the Orwellian lexicon of political correctness, can also be anyone who studies racial variation honestly and in full context, taking into account aspects of it that are socially significant. An evolutionary biologist who offers an explanation for the disproportionate success of sub-Saharan Africans in sprinting, based on their longer limbs and higher centers of gravity as compared to other races, risks facing the same charge as a militant Black Panther: racist. (Though for political correctness’ most militant adherents, only the scientist would be considered racist. Blacks, they say, can’t be racist, and ethnocentric blacks are automatically deemed civil rights activists.)

Racial variation in athletic ability arguably doesn’t – or shouldn’t – carry much social significance. But racial variation in intelligence – the very attribute that distinguishes the human species from all others and makes wealthy, free societies possible – surely is socially significant. A geneticist who seeks to identify markers for East Asian aptitude in mathematics, or for Europeans’ higher scores on tests of verbal ability as compared to Africans, will be branded a racist regardless of whether the findings are objectively true.

The geneticist will be condemned not for ascribing moral superiority to any one race over another, but simply for making an assertion of fact pertaining to the distribution of genes that code for intelligence. The only way a geneticist or an evolutionary biologist can be sure to avoid being the target of a “racist” epithet coming from the politically correct thought police or a strict adherent of Rand’s definition of racism is to profess a belief that cognitive capacity is distributed roughly equally among all branches of the human species, in spite of:

  • the fact that biogeographical branches, or races, of humanity possess characteristic, measurably distinguishable skull morphologies that affect brain size and structure;
  • the impossibly low probability in evolutionary theory that cognitive adaptations would be exempt from the same adaptive processes that formed variations in physical traits;
  • the consistency and persistency of racial IQ orderings around the world that no real-world combination of cultural, political, and economic influences has proven capable of reordering.

It’s not that the weight of the evidence augers against the premise that all races are equally equipped cognitively. It’s that there is no evidence to weigh in consideration of the equalitarian hypothesis even being plausible. Equalitarianism is pure idealism.

There isn’t a single nation, a single city, a single school district anywhere in the world where black students perform at or above white and Oriental students on average. Yes, some individual blacks do excel academically. Cognitive capacity, as with height, nose width, vocal strength, and other phenotypes, is distributed in a range that approximately takes the shape of a bell curve for both blacks and whites, respectively. The bell curves for blacks and whites overlap, so there is a fair chance that a random black person would be more intelligent than a white person selected at random. But there is virtually no chance that a large population of blacks would be endowed with mental hardware that functions on par with a large population of whites.

The average IQ score of blacks in the U.S. is slightly more than one full standard deviation lower than the average for whites. The IQ gap has held steady for as long as it has been measured – even going back to the days of segregated schools – increasing modestly in some years and decreasing modestly in others. Averages matter because they have long-term predictive power. If a black population were to completely replace a white population in a geographic area (as has nearly occurred in Detroit, for example, which went from 90% white to 90% black in the latter half of the twentieth century), the social consequences would necessarily be significant.

They would be as predictable as the consequences of lowering that population’s average IQ by one full standard deviation: more poverty, more crime, more corruption, more dysfunction, and less freedom for generations to come. From Detroit, to Rio de Janeiro, to London, every non-African city on Earth that has attempted to integrate African populations has experienced varying degrees of these very predictable consequences.

Under the regime of political correctness, welcoming more African diversity is deemed to be a moral virtue. But proffering an accurate prediction of the effects of African diversity is verboten.

Given that the United Nations projects the population of Africa will triple in this century, growing by 2.6 billion people while the developed world shrinks, citizens in countries that will be subject to massively increasing immigration pressures from Africa should know what to expect.

The equalitarian idealists expect what they’ve been expecting for decades: that which never has been and never will be. Ever since the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, the idea of achieving substantive racial equality has trumped recognition of racial realities.

Leading up to the Brown decision, the neologism “racism” popped into popular discourse. The invention of the term coincides with the rise of political correctness, which renders the pursuit of truth inseparable from and subservient to ideological imperatives.

A racist in popular parlance is anyone who says anything about race that is socially unacceptable. What makes one a racist is vague, subjective, ever-changing, and ultimately ungraspable. The arbitrariness of the term means anyone can hurl an accusation of racism against anyone on virtually any grounds.

If the term ever functioned as a valid concept, Rand failed to articulate it. Instead, she conceived of racism as being anything that ties race to moral or social significance. This amounts to a mis-integrated package deal.

The reason why is illustrated by the ideas of Thomas Jefferson. The man who penned, “All men are created equal” didn’t intend to imply what modern-day egalitarians believe: that nature endowed all races with equal attributes. To the contrary, Jefferson believed that blacks were “in reason much inferior” to whites. But he regarded blacks as the equals of whites morally, as far as their basic rights as human beings were concerned.

Jefferson would have found the attempt to lump into a single concept a principle establishing moral equality with one prescribing innate equality in intelligence to be strange and unenlightened. Observations of human attributes are either accurate or inaccurate, irrespective of any notions of morality. As Jefferson urged, “Follow truth wherever it may lead.”

Does age have social significance? Does gender? One’s being eight years old versus eighteen carries social significance in terms of one’s suitability to obtain employment, to serve on a jury, to engage in sexual relations, etc. An eighteen year-old will be treated differently in social situations than an eight year-old, but not because being eighteen makes one morally superior. Similarly, being male or female carries social significance not because one gender is superior to another, but because there are important physiological differences between the two. Does recognition of such differences make one a sexist? Does recognition of age differences make one an ageist? Or does recognition of objective age, sex, and race differences make one a realist?

A conclusion that racial disparities in intelligence are explainable by racial genetics is not a normative assertion. It either corresponds with reality, or it doesn’t. Either the adaptive process over hundreds of thousands of years created unique physiological variations within geographically isolated branches of the human species that extend to their respective brain development, or it didn’t.

The truth can’t be deduced from moral proscriptions against racism, however one wishes to define it. The truth about race is that which corresponds to the reality of race. Efforts to demonize discussions of the social significance of racial lineage are tantamount to efforts from religionists of centuries gone by to prevent astronomers from informing the masses that Earth isn’t the center of the universe.

Those who hurl the charge of “racist” against those who merely identify biological origins and properties of human races are, in effect, declaring that they regard nature itself as racist. They take their idea of racial equalitarianism as a metaphysical starting point and condemn those whose grounding is in a reality that doesn’t conform to idealistic impositions.

Metaphysical realism is the foundation of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism. Rand made a number of normative assertions that Objectivists widely regard as non-essential to her philosophy. For example, she infamously remarked that it would be improper for a female to run for President of the United States. She also held that homosexuality was disgusting and immoral. Rand’s moral proscriptions on female political ambitions and particular sexual expressions can be rejected as being at odds with more fundamental principles she espoused and with what science now tells us.

We know, for example, that homosexuality is innate to some people’s genetic makeup. They cannot be judged morally for the sexual orientation that nature gave them.

We also know that racial differences that are more than skin deep inevitably do manifest in ways that are socially significant. Black sub-Saharan Africans aren’t immoral for carrying genes that code for relatively low general intelligence; nor are people who identify this fact of reality. Blacks aren’t heroic for carrying genes that give them superior running speed; nor are those who substitute an idea of innate racial equality for the racial variation that is metaphysically given.

Just as Ayn Rand was mistaken to morally impugn homosexuals, she was mistaken to apply a term of condemnation to those who seek the truth, wherever it leads, about the nature and social implications of racial variation. In attempting to package two disparate standards by which racism could be identified – ascription of moral or social significance – into a single concept, Rand created an anti-concept. Without an objective criterion for differentiating a racist from a non-racist, “racist” has no clear meaning other than that of a vacuous insult, which is what the term as it's popularly used, overused, and abused to no end today, functions as.

It’s time for serious advocates of reason and liberty to ditch the anti-conceptual epithets, ditch the unfounded idealism, and pitch any remaining vestiges of political correctness into the ash heap of their personal intellectual history. For too long, too many within and without Objectivist and libertarian circles have felt bound by ideology to evade the realities of race. Evasion, as Rand herself might well have put it, is the lowest, most primitive form of irrationality.


  1. North Korean men are, on average, between 3 - 8cm shorter than their South Korean counterparts.

    A difference is also obvious between North and South Korean children.

    The height difference cannot be attributed to genetics, because the two populations are the same.

    So, I suppose that there are other factors involved - perhaps more important than race?

    1. I attribute the height differences to nutrition. Nutrition has a profound effect on our eventual genetic height. One person could be coded at birth to to have a height of 6 feet but without proper nutrition will never reach that height.

  2. "We also know that racial differences that are more than skin deep inevitably do manifest in ways that are socially significant."

    I agree, but multinational states do not work very well either and, are beset by endless ethnic strife. Indeed conflict and strife - in stead of assimilation into a common citizenship, even if the different ethnic groups are from the SAME race!

    Each race has ethnic distinctions. Ethnicities from the same race share the same racial traits, but each ethnicity has different cultural traits. The close proximity of divergent cultures and different ethnicities, makes it quite difficult for people living in a multinational country to cooperate as citizens.

    For example: all Slavs are related and all Slavs are European, more precisely: Slavic people are alpines - a European (white) sub-race. However, consider the now-defunct country of Czechoslovakia: what’s the difference between Czech and Slovak? They are both - from a racial point of view - Western Slavs. The question then is how to explain the inner conflicts between Czechs and Slovaks? A still better example is the implosion of Yugoslavia in 1992 which led to armed conflicts in Slovenia, Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia/Kosovo and Macedonia.

    So, even without the blacks, the United States of America - even if it were monoracial (white) - could still be considered as a multinational state [like the UK of England (English people), Wales (Welsh), Scotland (Scottish), and Northern Ireland (Irish)], because there will still be ethnic differences [a majority of voters in Scotland and England want the countries to split].

    So, instability, strife and conflict - that is Balkanization - will still be possible! A 'White America' could still be divided along ethnic lines - just as the European peoples are the various nations and ethnic groups of Europe!

  3. See The Journals of Ayn Rand pp. 466-67 (paperback) and find out Miss Rand's actual, hair raising views. ("Missing links, they are not human, we cannot live amongst them," and so on). Not intended for publication. The kindly folks controlling publishing would surely have barred the non-PC truth.

    What she wrote in 1963 was PC filth. She did not believe a word of it. Do you think Rand could get just anything published because she was Ayn Rand?

  4. I don't think Rand - or most objectivists I know - would deny the reality of racial differences in certain respects although I don't recall her ever addressing issues such as IQ. She did, after all, state that what matters was making the most of one's ability, not about whether one was better or higher than someone else. (In that sense, different test scores would have had no significance for her philosophy).

    Black people seem to be athletically superior to certain other races; and certain Asian groups seem to have a lower tolerance for alcohol. For all I know, there may be differences in terms of risks of certain diseases and conditions, such as cancer rates, etc. All of such things should be scientifically and rigorously analysed.

    Anyone who reads Rand in detail will know that what counted for her was the idea of judging people on the basis of essential characteristics, ie, their status as human beings with a volitional consciousness. She was interested in the content of a person's character, and race has nothing to do with it, and nor does it. A person with a slightly higher IQ or whatever is not morally better than the other. She rejected mechanical determinism and it is hard to see how she would have favoured racial determinism that says that somehow it is okay to treat treat different racial groups differently, and be biased against them simply on the grounds of their race. I guess for her, racism essentially meant the kind of legally sanctioned bigotry of the Jim Crow laws, for example. (She would have been well aware of the debates before and after the Civil Rights act, etc.)

  5. Prescribing certain ethnic traits purely on biology alone is too simplistic nor is it fair.

    Consider any entire portion of the population was kept in bondage for centuries where only physical attributes were allowed to grow unfettered. Slave owners didn't want the men and women they kept in chains to become educated or focus on intellectual pursuits. Their existence to the slave owner was purely output of work and being bred like livestock, only to have their children ripped away and sold.

    We're talking generations of stunted development and growth for 250 years from 1640 to 1865.

    The years following slavery and entire culture was created from the ground up with no foundation since that heredity had been stripped away. Even then, young black men and women entering the workforce were starting at the bottom in a nation rebuilding itself and a lot of it unwelcoming to them.

    Fast forward through a time of a divided America where many aspects restricted opportunities and here we are in a modern culture that pushing athletic ability and social status over intellectual prowess. It's too easy to assume that because a portion of the population lags in some aspects that it's purely DNA to blame. I don't think so.