Negrophobia: Three Points Considered

David Schraub and I have exchanged some book titles to read. The second book suggested was Negrophobia and Reasonable Racism by Jody Armour (a contributor here). Below the fold find my initial thoughts on this book, I’ve skimmed through the book at this point. I need to return and reconsider my concluding thoughts because I couldn’t find the thread connecting much of the second half of the book. However a few (three) things came up in my reading which I thought worth considering.

Mr Armour cites the following gedankenexperiment following Judge Calabresi:

Imagine that you are the most powerful decision maker in a large community and that I am an Evil Deity. As the Evil Deity, I propose to you a Faustian exchange: You can choose anything you want (I care not how hedonistic or idealistic, so long as it does not save lives), and in return I get to randomly execute one thousand of your most robust citizens in gruesome ways. Do you accept my offer? When I offer this deal to my students, I generally get no takers and a measure of indignation that I could even make such an indecent proposal. Then I ask them to distinguish between the boon I just hypothetically offered and the automobile, which every year takes over forty thousand lives, usually in gruesome excruciating ways.

Mr Armour continues that his students uniformly ‘strive mightily to come up with distinctions, none of which hold up under scrutiny.’ That speaks more to the power of the teacher over a class (or the lack of imagination of his students) than anything else I think. Just off the top of my head, some problems with the analogy of his come to mind such as:

  •  Nobody has made the decision to introduce the automobile into society. It has come into practice due to utility and general acceptance by no individual decision but millions of small sometimes unrelated ones. And this is a telling point, no decision is involved in the latter case. The “major decision maker” is all of us and none of us.
  • The automobile, while taking some lives, saves many others (consider the ambulance).
  • If you include trucking and other motor driven transport, the automobile has a been major factor in our societal industrialization. If you think that industrialization has led to less people and is a “greater evil” not worthy the cost, then review global population trends over the last two centuries. Remember the song cycle, kindentotenlieder, and the reason is was written, when you consider the “good old days” of the 1800s and pre-industrial life.
  • The citizens killed by the automobile are not “the most robust citizens”, but instead taken from all walks of life, quite randomly, i.e. the non-robust as well as robust are “taken”. While a slight preponderance of those killed by the automobile are the young, one might argue that “robust” be replaced by “foolish”.
  • Actually if you consider the higher incedence of fatality due to drunk drivers that selects a segment of society decidedly is not “robust” and indeed is somewhat culpable (or under the sway of the evil deity himself).

One bone Mr Armour has to pick with affirmative action detractors is that they do not decry what he terms “Legacy” preferential treatment (a term I think is not in use by the actually institutions using this). That is, the preference that colleges give to children of alumni. However he fails to note that a primary, if not the primary, source of income for many if not most colleges are alumni contributions. It seems to me that to cut this off, threatens a major source of incomes for colleges. This hits the third rail of reforming society, i.e., the Risky Business rule of business (“don’t f*ck with a man’s livelihood”). To mess with “legacy” preference is to threaten the solvency of many colleges. It’s odd that isn’t remarked on by Mr Armour. One yearns for the style of the scholastics, in which one brings forward all the best arguments in opposition and points out there errors instead of pretending that they don’t exist, conveniently forgetting them, or hoping the reader does at any rate.
A important notion taken up by Mr Armour in this last half is that stereotyping and stereotypes form the greater part of the “Black Tax”. He cites that stereotypes and their consequences have “improved” over the last 50 years, but took a “downturn” in the 1990s. Now I happen to be in the minority of those who (occasionally) comment on political events that think polls and polling is a useless tool. To categorically be “sure” about the state of stereotype and their effects seems to me to be folly.

Combatting stereotypes in court and outside seems to be a crucial point which Mr Armour sees as necesary. Ethics, Law, and other secular notions might not suffice for that battle as noted here by me somewhat earlier:

At the heart of problems like race and gender is the violence found shifting from diaphora to diaresis (difference and division). Differences between us are a thing to celebrate. Division is what keeps us apart. Crossing this gap, bridging our distrust of Other is key. “The essence of sin is fear of the other”, writes Zizioulas. The problem of difference and division, if it were merely a moral problem, ethics would suffice to be the cure. But, St. Maximus recognized in this problem, as not merely universal but of “cosmic dimensions”. If the problem of diaphora/diaresis is ontological in nature (that is fundamental to the nature of being) then the solution must be one which addresses the ontology of the problem correctly. Zizioulas, the author of Genesis, and perhaps Sartre(?) seem to indicate that this problem is indeed not moral but more fundamental. Hence the requirement for a more fundamental solution.

Zizioulas thought the solution was Eucharist. It seems a Harvard study might agree from a piece today at GetReligion.org:

And it is even more important when the reporter gets to follow that lede with the following information, which is not new — but it sure as heckfire is new to most of the readers of the New. York. Times. I am reminded of a series of stories in a mainline Protestant publication about 20 years ago that noted that the most racially diverse congregations in America could be found in (a) the Roman Catholic Church, (b) the Assemblies of God and (c) the Southern Baptist Convention. The reporter’s mainline Protestant editors were not amused.

So this is hot stuff. You may need to sit down before you read the following. Ready?

The Clarkston International Bible Church, which sits along an active freight rail line down the road from the former Ku Klux Klan bastion of Stone Mountain, is now home to parishioners from more than 15 countries. The church also houses congregations of Ethiopians, Sudanese, Liberians and French West Africans who worship separately, according to their own traditions. The church’s Sunday potluck lunch features African stews and Asian vegetable dishes alongside hot dogs, sweet tea and homemade cherry pie.

The transformation of what was long known as the Clarkston Baptist Church speaks to a broader change among other American churches. Many evangelical Christians who have long believed in spreading their religion in faraway lands have found that immigrants offer an opportunity for church work within one’s own community. And many immigrants and refugees are drawn by the warm welcome they get from the parishioners, which can stand in stark contrast to the more competitive and alienating nature of workaday America.

Indeed, evangelical churches have begun to stand out as rare centers of ethnic mixing in a country that researchers say has become more culturally fragmented, in part because of immigration.

Wait! Wait! There’s more! We get to link this to Harvard!

So repeat after me. The following information is from Harvard, brought to you care of The New York Times.

A recent study by the Harvard political scientist Robert D. Putnam underscored the practical complications of diversity. In interviews with 30,000 Americans, the study found that residents of more diverse communities “tend to withdraw from collective life,” voting less and volunteering less than those in more homogeneous communities.

The study noted a conspicuous exception. “In many large evangelical congregations,” the researchers wrote, “the participants constituted the largest thoroughly integrated gatherings we have ever witnessed.”

This is a complex story and it talks about the hard times as well as the good.
‘Nuff said for now.  So, I’d invite y’all to poke holes in my objections to Mr Armours little exercise above. Do they “not hold up under scrutiny?”

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