Coleman Hughes Cannot Be Trusted

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A photo of Coleman Hughes speaking

There has never been a Golden Age of Internet punditry- just a bit of blight around an anemic middle, and all the responses rushing in to fill the void. Now, I don’t know how most critics have navigated these last few years, but I’ve had a tough time disconnecting from both the punditry as well as the responses. Perhaps it’s because I am a bit younger than my favorite writers, and must come to terms with the fact that ‘my’ (but not their) culture is pretty much bitcoin, Twitch, anime, and whatever fresh regurgitation wants to get mopped up. Or perhaps it’s because I recognize that the best way to deal with wasted human capital is not to discard it, but to re-purpose it, and hope that people notice. It was only a matter of time, then, before I came across the name Coleman Hughes- a recent graduate of Columbia University, and the token child of the Intellectual Dark Web. And why not? A left-wing critic of Affirmative Action, Coleman believes in personal responsibility, bottom-up changes in cultural mores, and the rejection of extremism, divisiveness, and ‘easy’ conversations: ideas which, by analyzing his thought process, will beget important lessons about the state of American discourse. The purpose of this article is to understand those lessons, if only in the hope that young readers with Coleman’s ambitions do not make Coleman’s more ambitious mistakes.

To frame his POV more fairly, I will first offer a digest of Coleman Hughes’s breakout piece- Quillette’s “The High Price of Stale Grievances”- followed by a line-by-line analysis of some actual macro-proposals. Not to be accused of ignoring his philosophical and perhaps more substantive work, I will (briefly) set Coleman’s ideas against his preferred vision of humanism and end with a practical test of his stated commitments: Coleman’s interview with Dave Rubin, where he was given ample opportunity to confront false claims, divisive rhetoric, and bad faith actors on both sides of the political aisle. This is to ensure that I’m not only dealing with ideas, but also with the evidence presented for these ideas, the conviction behind them, and the most probable trajectory for Coleman’s worldview to play out. And although I am well aware of the risks in ad hominem attacks, I will also argue how poorly understood- from a dialectical point of view- ad hominem is, and propose a framework for both tapping and responding to this tactic. As the lesson’s practicum, we shall take informal bets on some possible directions of Coleman Hughes’s career, keeping a ledger of how many stereotypes he dutifully embraces for every taboo he gleefully rejects.

Coleman opens with a rather emblematic example of his own grievances: that it was permissible for Rihanna to fire non-blacks from a concert (she wanted an “all-black aesthetic”), whereas firing black artists for similar reasons would be met with outrage. He then examines a common justification for this- slavery- and dismisses it, wondering how “young black men born decades after anything that could be rightly called ‘oppression’ had ended” could now benefit “from a social license bequeathed to us by a history that we have only experienced through textbooks and folklore”. It’s not that this permissiveness is “a great societal injustice”, he argues, but more so that bad ideas filter down from thought-leaders in even less sophisticated forms: a rather liberal critique, really, given how much emphasis progressives place on the tone, structure, meaning, and stochastic violence of so much right-wing rhetoric. The path, then, to greater purpose and accomplishment lies in personal responsibility and a willingness to let go of “stale grievances”- to make a commitment, for example, to better financial decisions, today, or to swear- on your mother’s grave, if you must- that you will ‘definitely’ finish high school, no matter what happens. Indeed, for while America is obsessed with racism, objectively bigger problems- a high black murder rate, fatherless households, unemployment- are left unexamined, as group struggle is ignored and blacks themselves deemed mere objects knocked about by historical forces. After all, where is a person’s autonomy in victimhood and in food stamps? This is not to say that nonwhites have no legitimate structural complaints- they do- but the “radical strain of American of black identity politics” is a counter-productive force that engenders more of “the Right’s…toxic strain of white identity politics”.

More fundamentally, there is “a clash between two visions”: “antiracism” and the broader concept of “humanism”. To Coleman, “racism should be understood as the opposite of reason”, since there is no logical reason to hold racist beliefs. This humanist approach is differentiated from antiracism’s emphasis on the “historical power relations of a society”, where skin color gets “injected with meaning” by the depth of its surrounds. A common objection, he says, is that one should not “abstract away” race from race-history. To Coleman, however, it was precisely this conceptual difference “that got black people civil rights in this country”, for humanism- unlike antiracism- is pragmatic, more motivating, and creates fewer group divisions. And although Coleman does feel the need to keep tabs on politics and on material reality, he confesses a strong distaste for political life, preferring to explore a world of “ideas” that aren’t so burdened by historical data: a curious admission, even if Coleman himself is not quite ready to push his framework to its logical end.

Now, such purity does have its advantages, but the problem is that it can be challenged from so many angles. Let us take the most obvious objection- that structural racism does exist and has quantifiable effects on day-to-day life. One example of this is that black Americans still face massive disenfranchisement: hundreds of thousands of votes are routinely at risk due to Republican legislation that- according to court rulings– “target[s] African-Americans with almost surgical precision”. Thus, blacks have less per capita voting power compared to white Americans, which- given the closeness of so many elections- can have downright geologic consequences. Another is the fact that blacks receive harsher sentences for identical crimes, with deep (read: negative) implications for productivity, recidivism, and family structures. Yet another is that besides the well-documented cases of redlining during Jim Crow, there have been dozens of mortgage discrimination lawsuits settled by the Department of Justice since the 1990s, with hundreds of millions paid out to consumers across every housing market in the United States. I can think of more objections, but suffice to say that evidence for just one of them does all sorts of damage to the ‘humanist’ perspective, given how strongly they affect the very numbers (murder, education, income disparity) it demands we target. The issue isn’t that Coleman believes in a radical responsibility for each person- that may not even be relevant, as I will show- but that, in feeling the need to deny a powerful causal factor, he admits the original concept is just not very compelling when forced to stand beside it.

Another challenge to Coleman Hughes is philosophical. Recall his division between “humanist” and “antiracist”, then ask yourself: why? For while they are called “competing visions”, there is little reason to think so, since they are quantifying and responding to unrelated categories. Yes, racism is- at bottom- nothing more than a cognitive bias, and it’s good that it’s being framed this way. But the fact that it is a bias, or irrational, is not a comment on its effects. God is a bias- the heliocentric model is a bias- anti-Semitism is a bias- and yet, every one of these biases generates ideas that human beings will act upon. Is Coleman’s entire worldview nothing more than a category error? I don’t know, but it is a touch worrying that his own explanation- “the best analogy I can think of”, as he calls it- compares these competing visions to weight and absolute mass in physics: that is, as relative versus objective interpretations of the world. Of course, this is a very slippery use of the term ‘relative’, and the image it leaves in the mind is not at all what the word entails. To say that weight is relative simply means that weight measures the effect of gravity- a perfectly real and quantifiable phenomenon- from object to object. It is not- I don’t think?- all that interesting to say ‘if we change the independent variable, the result changes’, which is the true extent of Coleman’s insight. Yet the same can be said for mass. It is ‘absolute’ ONLY in the sense that we are not typically around processes that can alter it. To be sure, Coleman is a fit, handsome young man, but he might still trim up considerably if subjected to particle bombardment. And even that is true only if we define ‘Coleman’ as the sum-total of his body mass the moment prior, which is just as relative in this frame. That his weight would also change is unquestionable, though this has less to do with altering one’s location- which is Coleman’s idea- and more with the fact that gravity is instantaneous (e.g., “racism exists, here are the tangibles”). In short, one is neither more useful nor objective than the other, even as Coleman’s analogy muddies two slices of reality with the complaint that one is not a constant because its measure isn’t. Garbage In, Garbage Out, I suppose- feed your algorithms nonsense, and you just might get a group of adults, like in this lecture, so used to indulging the worst assumptions of American discourse that they forget how to question its more ignorant parts.

But perhaps Coleman’s- oh, I don’t know- silliest preoccupation is with the inflated stakes of so much of what he writes. Yes, there are some niche events like a concert hiring only nonwhites, or the verbal indiscretions he offers as an example of racial double-standards: Michael Eric Dyson’s claim that Jordan Peterson is “a mean, mad white man”, or when Ta-Nehisi Coates writes that the 9/11 first responders “were not human to me” but “menaces of nature”. Yet the macro view of employment discrimination is that it runs in the opposite direction, while anti-white insults- I am happy to report- mean absolutely nothing to white Americans. It is NOT the banning of the word ‘nigger’ that more rational progressives wish to see, but the curtailment of the formal processes to which the word is so often attached. To be called any of these abusive terms is no doubt annoying and wrong. Yet the functional effect of being called ‘white faggot’ or ‘honkey bitch motherfucker’ is the same as being called a ‘moron’ by some stranger: unpleasant, yes, but the sort of purely emotional event the Intellectual Dark Web would otherwise dismiss. That so much attention gets paid to the justice or injustice of an insult is telling, while Coleman’s belief that nabbing a Rihanna gig is ‘black privilege’ after a net-negative start to one’s life is both technically correct AND stunningly delusional. Again: one must draw a distinction between what is generically true and what is salient. Do Coleman’s more extreme examples matter? They do- Affirmative Action will always breed resentment, especially in ‘meritocratic’ environments such as college testing. And although I do not cover Affirmative Action in this essay, my answer at this point of Coleman’s argument is that this is the one and perhaps only structural obstacle whites face along the color line: and one that, incidentally, occurs as the final link of an event-chain (birth location, race, property values) marked by advantage at every other point.

Of course, to understand why Coleman so easily unravels at the gentlest tug, we need to examine the countervailing positions a bit more closely. Perhaps the broadest, most evidence-rich precis of Coleman’s worldview is Quillette’s “Black American Culture and the Racial Wealth Gap”, which begins by highlighting the three texts Coleman is arguing against: Mehrsa Baradaran’s The Color of Money, Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law, and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “The Case for Reparations”. The first myth he wishes to dismantle is that slavery “is central to explaining American affluence”- a claim he ascribes to Ta-Nehisi Coates, who calls American prosperity “ill-gotten”. Soon after this framing, however, Coleman shifts emphasis: from slavery being “central to explaining” America’s wealth, to slavery being “the root cause” of it. Yet Coleman should understand the difference- something can be ‘central to explaining’ X without being its ‘root cause’. Is it pollen, a flower, or the bee that’s responsible for a rich ecosystem? Yes, this is rather sloppy thinking, but the fact that Coates, himself, never seems to suggest what he is said to be suggesting is especially troubling. Does Ta-Nehisi Coates believe slavery was ‘the root cause’ of American wealth? I don’t know, but he does provide at least one direct, numerical measure for slavery as an asset class, which in 1860 “‘w[as] worth more than all of America’s manufacturing, all of the railroads, all of the productive capacity of the United States put together.’” (Baradaran, for her part, cites the number as roughly equal to America’s entire antebellum GDP.) In short, it is not even necessary to get lost in Coleman’s amplifications- why would it be? An objective measure has already been provided: that is, slaves were a valuable asset with a highly liquid market, and thus had a substantial effect on the nation’s total wealth irrespective of what was ultimately done with it. This may sound like a minor objection, but it’s not, for Coleman implies that his case against reparations depends on the extent to which slavery (and anything in proportion to it) still has economic consequences. Yet he also suggests that an effect below some undefined threshold would not count, as if forgetting that defining this threshold might simplify the argument into a math problem.

Coleman doesn’t even need to think this far ahead, however, because in his dialectic, if slavery really was “the root cause [a cause] of America’s prosperity…then we would expect American states that practiced slavery to be richer than those that did not. Yet we see precisely the opposite.” I must say, this is quite the claim, for it manages to not only ignore history, but also frieze the world into the exact double-standard Coleman rails against: black people (he says) often make poor financial decisions and squander their wealth, but an entire nation cannot. Now, I should not have to mention this in a discussion about American slavery, but what had happened was, there was a war. It was a war about slavery- that is, the primary economic engine of the South- fought by wealthy slaveowners by way of poor whites. As it turns out, the South had lost that war: they lost the most physically destructive war in American history, which saw everything from mass casualties to land appropriation, the demolition of cities, military occupation, the forced liquidation of its key industry, and a de facto refugee crisis involving 4 million former slaves. The outcome was especially punitive because the South was a rebel faction wishing to prolong something that- in just a few decades- would be universally condemned. Indeed, how does this NOT fit the definition of squandered wealth and poor planning for one’s future? Today, red states are still living off of blue state dole in part because they insist on typical wealth-depleting policies, culminating in Kansas’s failed libertarian experiment and- surprise!– the No True Scotsman fallacies by those responsible. I wonder- if Kansas hadn’t become re-acquainted with the wonders of a functional revenue system, and prairie children were reduced to feeding off of prairie grasses, like in the bootstrap days, would the extent of this impoverishment be proof that slaves never existed? To be clear: the South had LOST its wealth soon after its slaves had EARNED it. Not ‘all’ of it, mind- not EVERY PENNY, but certainly ENOUGH to make any discussion of reparations begin in a place Coleman would prefer to skip. That Quillette did not stop him a few paragraphs in with the most mild suggestion- even a ‘hey, so, about this Civil War thing…’- is telling, but of what? Perhaps it’s that Coleman is right, and that his skin color has given him blanket permission to say all manner of mishegoss. Or perhaps Quillette simply hadn’t caught this lapse either, and thought Coleman was making a vaguely interesting point in omitting the logical climax of one hundred years of American history. Whatever the explanation, both magazine AND writer have already failed their readers, and it only gets worse.

The slave-wealth argument, he explains, is “part of a larger fallacy about national wealth in general: the assumption that if a nation is wealthy, it must have stolen that wealth from somebody else.” This is technically true, I guess- not every wealthy nation ‘must have’ stolen its wealth, although the best Leftist arguments focus more on the fact that slavery added a valuable productive asset. “To the contrary,” he says, “the example of Singapore is instructive: although it was raided by Portugal in the seventeenth century and colonized by Britain in the nineteenth, today Singapore is wealthier than both Portugal and Britain, in terms of median wealth per adult.” Interesting- ‘in terms of median wealth per adult’. I wonder why, in a discussion about a nation’s total accumulated wealth, Coleman’s preferred metric is a blurring of (at best) tangential data points? To get a sense of just how misleading these numbers are, Coleman must also argue that- according to his own sources- Russia has ‘less wealth’ than former satellite Azerbaijan, or that China, in 2016, was poorer than ISIS-besieged Libya. Apparently, median wealth taps any number of variables, and can also change according to policies like wealth redistribution and mass unionization. Indeed- if Congress passes a reparations package for every black American, that alone might push us into the top 10 overnight. Yet by insisting on this metric, Coleman gets to dismiss an article on nations ‘alleged’ to have benefitted from slavery, then declare that the wealthiest nations, today, were not slave-owning in the past. In reality, however, America is not ranked #26 in wealth, but #1: and wouldn’t starting with double the GDP you’d otherwise have present at least some benefit here? The United Kingdom- once the world’s most powerful slave-owning empire- is now #5. France and Spain- which, at their heights, were only surpassed by the first two- are still at #6 and #10. China- a newcomer to this list- is #2 after having rapidly developed by way of forced labor camps and collectivization. In fact, most nations in the top 10 had either engaged in some form of slavery or stolen land (a ‘free’ asset) from another group of people, while others- like America- had mastered both. Indeed, of all the nations discussed, Coleman’s example of the wealthiest enjoys the lowest actual ranking: #25. Say what one will of economists’ competing metrics, but it is a rather curious tool that declares the objectively richest country to be the poorest, the poorest to be the richest, yet still manages to make your case EXACTLY while measuring something else ENTIRELY.

Median wealth per adult by country, from Coleman Hughes

Coleman Hughes implies China is poorer than Gabon, Tunisia, Trinidad, and El Salvador, and that all are richer than Russia.

Needless to say, any objection to this article’s title should have long passed. Indeed, one does not even have to psychoanalyze Coleman Hughes nor guess at his motives for its meaning to be true. The deeper point is that anyone looking to him for information will inevitably be misled, whether it be by incompetent use of statistics, conceptual mix-ups, or bizarre omissions. Just consider how he deals with redlining and Jim Crow- two of the biggest historical obstacles in black America. “But this story, though based in truth,” he explains, “has been massaged to give the false impression that benevolence from the state is a prerequisite for wealth accrual.” Now, I am not sure whether ‘benevolence’ is necessary, but toleration is: you need, at minimum, to be ALLOWED to accrue wealth, as a rule. In fact, so many of Coleman’s assumptions revolve around government kindness that he fails to appreciate that the default state for most of the twentieth century was not neutrality, but a special kind of hostility towards blacks. Naturally, this is a much tougher position to argue against, so Coleman crunches a few more numbers instead:

Rothstein, for instance, falsely claims that “African American incomes didn’t take off until the 1960s,” and that “black workers did not share in the income gains that [white] blue collar workers realized” in the mid-twentieth century. Although it is true that the median income of white men more than tripled between 1939 and 1960 (rising from 1,112 dollars to 5,137 dollars), the median income of black men more than quintupled (rising from 460 dollars to 3,075 dollars). Black women, too, saw their incomes grow at a faster rate than white women over the same timespan.

Coleman’s first line is in reference to The Color of Law, and Rothstein’s ‘false claim’ should be investigated against the evidence both writers present. Coleman cites the second, more summative quote first, so I will go in reverse to give the reader a sense of the logical buildup. The chapter- titled “Suppressed Incomes”- in part details the exclusion of black Americans from the most profitable work by both private and government policy. In exchange for Democratic support in the South, the New Deal refused to extend its key protections to black-dominated professions, and many of the most well-known public works programs such as the TVA and CCC excluded blacks in part or in full. The hiring of black workers often ended in protests or even violence by white workers, and the law formally protected a union’s right to refuse entry to nonwhites until the 1960s. After combing through specifics, the full quote reads:

At least [thirty] other national unions either excluded African Americans entirely or restricted them to second-class auxiliaries. In the postwar years, some unions began to desegregate voluntarily, but federal agencies continued to recognize segregated unions within the government itself until 1962, when President Kennedy banned the practice. Nonetheless, the Post Office’s National Association of Letter Carriers did not permit African Americans to join in some areas until the 1970s. African American mailmen could not file grievances to protest mistreatment and instead had to join a catch-all organization for African Americans, the National Alliance of Postal Employees, a union mostly serving truck drivers, sorters, and miscellaneous lower-paid job categories. […]

The construction trades continued to exclude African Americans during the home and highway construction booms of the postwar years, so black workers did not share with whites the substantial income gains that blue collar workers realized in the two big wage growth periods of the mid-twentieth centurywar production and subsequent suburbanization. African Americans were neither permitted to live in the new suburbs nor, for the most part, to boost their incomes by participating in suburban construction.

Strange, but Rothstein’s quote does not say what Coleman says it does- that “‘black workers did not share in the income gains that [white] blue collar workers realized’ in the mid-twentieth century”- but limits itself to two areas: war production and suburbanization. These markets, specifically, were difficult for blacks to enter, and Rothstein names events, government policies, and raw numbers to make his case. Further, black Americans had less purchasing power for every dollar, paying more in rent (and real estate ‘contracts’) than whites did on suburban mortgages that doubled up as highly profitable investments. Naturally, this is still the case, what with food deserts, mortgage rate premiums, and more, thus magnifying income disparities to the point that 1:1 assessments aren’t so easy. Yet these are the very details Coleman refuses to address, choosing- as he does- to hang his argument on whether Rothstein overstates things by seeming to exclude black Americans from ALL blue-collar wage increases. The latter is especially troubling because Coleman has ostensibly read the book, and is therefore well aware of the chapter’s conclusion from which he pulls his next quote:

From the end of World War II until about 1973, the real wages and family incomes of all working and middle-class Americans grew rapidly, nearly doubling. African Americans, however, experienced the biggest growth toward the end of that period. In the 1960s, the income gap between them and white workers narrowed somewhat. The incomes of African American janitors and white production workers grew at the same pace, and the gap between them didn’t much narrow, but more African Americans, who previously would have been employed only as janitors, were hired as production workers, and they made gradual progress into better jobs in the skilled trades, at least in unionized industry. African Americans remained mostly excluded, however, from highly paid blue-collar occupations—the construction trades, for example. In most government jobs (teaching, the federal civil service, state and municipal government) but not in all, African Americans made progress: they were hired in city sanitation departments, for example, but rarely as firefighters. Overall, African American incomes didn’t take off until the 1960s, when suburbanization was mostly complete.

Now, this is hardly the image of perpetual stasis Coleman ascribes to Rothstein’s black America. Regardless of what the true numbers are, it is obvious that Rothstein does believe black income increased, and even explains one mechanism by which this happened. Perhaps the phrase ‘did not share in’ is an overstatement on his part, but this is at worst a clerical error in the face of every paragraph before and every paragraph after. And Rothstein’s claim that black incomes “didn’t take off until the 1960s” is a legitimate reading of the data. In fact, understanding the reason- and not merely the reality- for black wage growth in the 1960s-70s seems to be a major area of academic research. Coleman is likewise amazed that black income ‘quintupled’ into the 1960s, but doesn’t seem to appreciate that’s just how math works. If you begin with an incredibly small number, the percent increase will always look big next to some default, which in this case was less than half of an already-tiny prewar income. That black wages did not find parity with white wages is what’s salient, however, as is Coleman’s flippant refusal to engage with Rothstein’s source material. And what do Rothstein’s sources indicate? That compounding matters: whites (even using Coleman’s numbers) were able to save and invest much more than nonwhites. Does Coleman not realize that raising one’s income to the point of still being 40% underwater on the baseline, then falling even more behind in wealth accrual over the same period (!) is not exactly something to celebrate? Again: Coleman is ostensibly discussing WEALTH, but just like his use of median wealth as a proxy for highly concentrated, centuries-old national wealth, he is now invoking a separate metric to soften the blow of the topic at hand and playing ‘gotcha’ to snuff the noise of shifting goalposts.

Yet if Rothstein can be accused of clerical errors, of what can we accuse Coleman? I had, for the sake of argument, assumed Coleman’s own numbers were correct, but it turns out even those are wrong. One detailed analysis follows Coleman’s original source to the U.S. Census Bureau, which- according to Tom Westland- provides nominal wages, not real wages. By tracking the Consumer Price Index, inflation-adjusted incomes for whites increased from $1112 to $2410, and $460 to $1440 for blacks- a still-respectable 213% jump, but hardly Coleman’s quintupling. Then again, we know that today’s black CPI is still quite different from the CPI of white Americans, a discrepancy which was even more dramatic one century ago. Remember that the reason for black wage growth in the postwar period was another Great Migration, which concentrated blacks in Northern cities offering higher wages but also higher prices and substandard living conditions. Meanwhile, white Americans either stayed where they were and realized income gains at parity, or were able to take advantage of government-backed mortgage loans and move to the suburbs. Taking this into account, Westland caps true income growth for the median black worker at a mere 52%. In other words, Coleman’s objection fails not only for its sensationalism, but also on its preferred turf- it fails (and this must take some doing) whether or not the underlying numbers are correct, because the wrong question is being asked, and the wrong answer needlessly delivered.

Having now made the groundbreaking case that ‘black wages increased after Abolition’, Coleman Hughes is able to treat Mehrsa Baradaran to the same tactics:

Baradaran makes the same mistake in her description of life for blacks in the 1940s and 50s: “poverty led to institutional breakdown, which led to more poverty.” But between 1940 and 1960 the black poverty rate fell from 87 percent to 47 percent, before any significant civil rights gains were made.

Yet Baradaran’s full quote reads:

The problem with suburbs full of homeowners and urban ghettos comprised of tenants was not just that it caused generational wealth inequality; it also affected the avenues of opportunity available to residents of these disparate communities. The disparity in community resources had to do, in part, with the operation of the American tax system, which gives local municipalities control of the bulk of their own tax dollars instead of distributing taxes nationwide or statewide. The creation of the white suburb meant that white communities had more tax revenues with which to build better schools, parks, and infrastructures, and the ghettos did not. Government credit led to a housing boom, a homeowning middle class, and communities where future generations could be nurtured through well-funded public and private accommodations. Meanwhile, the cycle worked the other way in the ghetto: poverty led to institutional breakdown, which led to even more poverty.

As black neighborhoods became overpopulated, blight and crime rose. The largest wave of the Great Migration, spanning from 1940 to 1970, involved an exodus of several million blacks out of the South, which further concentrated the population of the ghetto. Harlem, which had been in full bloom in the 1920s, had by the 1950s become dilapidated and rat-infested: so bad was the rat problem that specific coalitions were formed to address the problem, and it was a repeated topic of conversation in Congress. Asthma, disease, drug addiction, and tuberculosis were rampant. By 1952, nearly fifteen as many African Americans in Harlem were dying of tuberculosis than among the all-white residents of Flushing, Queens.

This is from a chapter on federally led discrimination, which is once again fleshed out through a documentary record Coleman does not bother to engage. His objection to Baradaran- that black poverty dropped over the past century- is both correct and irrelevant: correct because poverty did decline for all Americans, as Baradaran repeatedly makes clear, and irrelevant since her quote is specific to ‘the ghetto’. As she explains, the Great Migration, the Great Depression, and Jim Crow concentrated black poverty into housing projects and segregated neighborhoods, many of which reached their nadir in the postwar years. I am not sure whether Coleman reads sociology, but it is a truism of the field that concentrating poverty- even if decreasing it for the group more broadly- tends to exacerbate its effects. Baradaran’s own example is infamous for both its downfall as well as its gentrification, while black home ownership outside of the ghetto (which is what’s material to Coleman’s POV) occludes a disturbing reality: these were the same homes white Americans abandoned for the suburbs, thus making them more affordable to blacks who would eventually take out bad loans to buy depreciating property. Put another way, blacks enjoyed a mild wage increase in exchange for perpetual debt. It is not enough, then, to merely glance at the rates of black homeownership or some other preferred metric- one also needs to contextualize a little to get the more robust perspective only one of these writers is offering.

He continues:

The prevailing progressive narrative also gives short shrift to the history of immigrant groups succeeding in the face of racist hostility and without help from the government. Baradaran, for instance, criticizes the “pervasive myth that immigrant success was based purely on individual work ethic.” To the contrary, she claims, “most immigrants’ bootstraps had been provided to them by the government.”

Actually, Baradaran makes a number of similarly worded ‘bootstrap’ comments throughout the text, and Coleman cites one of them here to express his disapproval. Here is another, in the book’s introduction, which supplies the specifics Coleman must address:

The ghettos that initially trapped America’s other immigrant groups did eventually improve themselves out of existence, once they were no longer segregated from the mainstream economy. In fact, the dilemma faced by black banks is highlighted when contrasted with the viable banks created by Italian, Jewish, German, Irish, and Asian immigrants. Each of these immigrant groups faced discrimination and exclusion like the black population, but the key difference was that none of them was systematically, uniformly, and legally segregated to the extent and for the length of time the black community was. Many immigrants eventually left their overcrowded ghettos and settled in suburbs where, through violence, zoning restrictions, and racial covenants, blacks were barred…The success of immigrant banks should not be misinterpreted. It was not self-help and community support that allowed them to finance themselves out of the ghetto. They left the ghetto first. And they did so only after being accepted as ‘white’; not through segregating their money. The bootstraps they were given were government-guaranteed mortgage loans, from which black people were excluded.

Now, keep in mind that Mehrsa Baradaran has written a synthesis of the academic consensus- her ideas ARE mainstream scholarship, and if they are to be discredited, the underlying evidence needs to be discredited as well. It is not enough to say, ‘No, I disagree with this conclusion,’ and move on to some counterpoint. Take the above paragraph: what should Coleman be focusing on? Well, Baradaran’s claim is that blacks faced not just generic obstacles, but obstacles of a uniquely destructive degree and type. This would make nonwhites positioned for suboptimal outcomes in a probability space, which makes top-down remediation justifiable since there was a top-down, state-enforced series of handicaps that generated these probabilities in the first place. What about the obstacles themselves: were they uniquely onerous? Let’s see- there were centuries of slavery, as well as the psychological justifications that kept slavery afloat: that Africans were not human beings, and were not worthy of dignity while they were enslaved and all the century after. The endurance of these beliefs reflected in the law: apartheid, wage theft, state-endorsed violence, voter suppression, a de facto ban on acquiring real estate, and so on, with millions of blacks (and millions of their descendants) who experienced these hardships still alive today. From birth- that is, before a child has made any choices for which it can be held responsible- these obstacles would, on average, damn that child below baseline in so many areas of life. And while rejecting this argument at any point is perfectly fine, that does require a counterargument to show that the black experience was NOT uniquely destructive, or that if it was, that historical obstacles no longer have a residual effect, and that today’s obstacles either do not exist or do not matter. That is the standard that must be met, and so one needs to spend some time with the evidence. Does Coleman Hughes understand what is required of him? Well, he does think the following a sufficient response:

But history tells a different story. Starting with the California Alien Land Law of 1913, fourteen states passed laws preventing Japanese-American peasant farmers from owning land and property. These laws existed until 1952, when the Supreme Court ruled them unconstitutional. Add to this the internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II, and it’s fair to say that the Japanese were given no bootstraps in America. Nevertheless, by 1970 census data showed Japanese Americans out-earning Anglo Americans, Irish Americans, German Americans, Italian Americans, and Polish Americans. For Asian Americans on the whole, an analysis of wealth data from 1989 to 2013 predicted that their “median wealth soon will surpass the white median level.” If wealth differences were largely explained by America’s history of favoring certain groups over others, then it would be hard to explain why Asian-Americans, who were never favored, are on track to become wealthier than whites.

Note Coleman’s implicit suggestion: that it is unnecessary to respond to the structural obstacles blacks faced, because Japanese Americans also faced obstacles. Yet there is zero attempt to tease out the extent, severity, and potential consequences of one set of obstacles over another, and no attempt to understand the social contexts to which both groups belong. The argument- again- is hindrances of a uniquely destructive degree and type. As it stands, however, Japanese Americans were never enslaved, had self-selected for all manner of positive traits (drive, talent, a willingness to take risks) simply on account of being immigrants, and started with significantly more wealth- i.e., not zero, unlike former slaves. Japanese enclaves faced little competition from white neighborhoods, enjoyed a reliable clientele, niche labor markets, and even the implicit support of a developed nation-state that would indeed ‘send its best,’ down to the businessmen who would set up shop with foreign cash. That Asian Americans faced discrimination is undeniable, and that Japanese Americans experienced a violation of their human rights is likewise true. Yet the Japanese received a formal apology for this violation and victims were financially compensated. Did four years of internment damage job prospects, mental health, and the broader social fabric? Of course. But centuries of slavery and one hundred years of Jim Crow had that effect, as well, with some of the worst anti-black policies continuing decades after Japanese internment was over. There were no reparations for blacks, however, not because giving money to the Japanese was more just, but because it could have been done more quietly, more cheaply, and with less shame. Japanese people also have- well, they have Japan, for one, even if in a purely cultural sense. Black Americans have NO nation but America, yet what of that? For while Coleman might ignore the actual, day-to-day meaning of a massive propaganda campaign targeting the first black president as foreign-born, I’d argue that it is rather difficult to popularize such a nasty little rumor without having some form of structural apartheid and Otherization to begin with. Republicans had endless opportunity to play the birther gambit, and yet, it ‘just so happened’ that it was reserved for this president, and was- get this, Coleman!– started by the country’s next president, who had reached the world’s highest office by way of another xenophobic campaign wetter than the dampest dream of the most radical left-wing identitarian? And although I understand Sam Harris is NOT USING RACIALLY CODED LANGUAGE AT ALL when he calls him “eloquent” and “restrained” (take that, Huey P. Newton!) one still feels the need to shake this kid out of his Platonic slumber in the hope that he can stay awake through history, just this once.

The phantasms continue, however, with Coleman Hughes ‘debunking racism’ by pointing out that Caribbean blacks are wealthier than blacks born in America. Indeed- the self-selection (and thus survivorship bias) of immigrants as a whole leads to better outcomes: education, wealth, household stability, and so on, with many such outcomes having already been forged at home. Nigerians, for example, are one of the most educated ethnic group in America, which is not surprising given the fact that African visas were once available only to students and the highly skilled. Coleman assumes there is a purely cultural explanation for these differences, and the irony is that he’s right- it is the culture of immigration, and the unique sociopolitical baggage it entails. He wonders when Asian American wealth will outpace that of whites, but neglects to mention what makes Chinese and Indian immigrants (rather than Chinese and Indian nationals) so special. Does Coleman realize that Chinese Americans with American-born mothers are, in terms of achievement, generically white? The archetypical ‘immigrant drive’ is quashed, but wealth and all the good luck that wealth begets is still there to be enjoyed by their descendants. Worse, he does not apply his own logic to other groups- Cambodian and Laotian Americans, for instance, who entered the United States as refugees (thus eliminating self-selection), with the Hmong in particular experiencing astronomical levels of poverty and crime. One also wonders at his fascination with Jews- Jews, whose literacy was encouraged for thousands of years, who enjoyed two waves of migration from developed nations, founded (and were allowed to develop) niche industries, and were ultimately deemed white enough to move to the suburbs and capitalize on the housing boom. How many of these opportunities were available to blacks? World War II helped cement additional gains for American Jews, in part because Germany was the enemy, and an enemy’s evil is far easier to critique. Put another way, the Holocaust was wrong not merely for its own sake, but also due to anti-Hitler patriotism, forcing Americans to re-assess their own anti-Semitism in the face of its logical outcome. Meanwhile, the holocaust of Native Americans (to take one example) is still being justified by the biggest pundits in America: even Ben Shapiro, who took a whole twenty-four hours before deciding that a Columbus Day cartoon celebrating genocide was unacceptable for publication. I wonder how long he would have waited before condemning a similarly jocular depiction of Dachau? And while Alan M. Dershowitz once blamed the ‘disappearance’ of the American Jew on affluence and social acceptance, 69% of blacks still feel it’s acceptable to kneel before their own national anthem. Not to put too fine a point on it, but perhaps it’s because black Americans do not FEEL as if it’s their national anthem- that they were (unlike Jews) never meant to BELONG. And for a guy who really values the ‘hints’ within cultural différance, it is rather shocking to ignore one which suggests 42 million of its own nation cannot properly belong to it. Indeed- what is the material effect of THAT culture? Or is that too offensive of a question to ask? Cue Ben Shapiro’s outrage. Cue Coleman miming the entire grift of right-wing personal responsibility: none for me, all for you. Meanwhile, babushkas from the USSR still walk the piers of Brighton Beach, once doctors, chemists, and engineers, but homemakers now. And if Coleman does not quite get how even the subtlest change can lead to such divergent realities, perhaps he ought to re-read his own citations.

Finally, we come to the essay’s most philosophical part:

Conspicuous by its absence in the progressive account of the racial wealth gap is any active role for blacks themselves. Reading Baradaran, Rothstein, and Coates, one gets the impression that there is nothing blacks could do to improve their lot—outside of asking the government for radical policy solutions. But there are things that blacks can do. Indeed, there are certain elements of black American culture that, if changed, would allow blacks to amass wealth to a degree that no government policy would be likely to match.

Prior to addressing the central claim, let us do something Coleman has repeatedly refused to- let us understand the argument, and what is required of us. First, he offers a characterization of redistributive policy as “radical”: this is not something I’ll be commenting on, but suffice to say that America has some of the most radical policies already in place- tax cuts for the rich, a lack of universal health coverage, poor labor protections, for-profit mass incarceration, open political bribery, race-based voter suppression, and so on. This is unlike any other modern democracy on the planet- so, in a technical sense, we ARE a radical outlier, but on the world’s Right. Ok, moving on. The more relevant claims are that 1) black people CAN change their culture and amass wealth, 2) this can be done more effectively than top-down remediation. If Coleman demonstrates point #1, that’s fine, but it would be a purely philosophical score. It does not sufficiently address why the default answer- wealth redistribution- is the wrong one. After all, few would argue that Germany’s reparations to Holocaust survivors were wrong, yet far fewer Americans grant that reparations for Jim Crow are just. Putting aside the question of reparations for slavery (since no former slaves are alive, whereas Holocaust survivors are), millions of American blacks born as recently as the 1960s dealt with legal apartheid on every level. One can even grant that survivors of Jim Crow deserve less compensation than survivors of death camps, but the point is that compensation in some form is reasonable. This is why it’s so critical for Coleman Hughes to demonstrate point #2 and its implicit demand: that, when the probability space is rolled, ‘what blacks alone can do’ must have a meaningful chance of success compared to government intervention.

The first example Coleman provides of a black cultural defect is luxury spending. He cites a Nielsen report suggesting black women are more likely to buy luxury goods compared to white women, which is true. Yet if that is supposed to be proof of black irresponsibility, the other side of the ledger shows black Americans also spend more money on rent, baby food, and long-term contractual obligations, such as utilities and insurance premiums. They also spend less than whites overall, which is true regardless of income level. To complain that ‘X’ percentage of the racial wealth gap can be ascribed to black luxury spending is no more reasonable than ascribing similar percentages to black over-indexing on rent and other necessities, a logical conundrum few pundits have appreciated. Coleman’s observation that black Americans are more likely to own a cell phone is especially bizarre- first for the implication that a cell phone is a luxury, and because Coleman is once again sloppy with his numbers. Yes, blacks are more likely to own cell phones, but they are also less likely to use broadband or own a computer. More pertinently, Coleman neglects the median age of black and white Americans: 24 versus 55, which alone explains the modest 9% discrepancy in phone ownership. I wonder- if women in nursing homes own fewer smartphones than their children do, might that make the Greatest Generation less profligate? Perhaps. But one can say the same of the Greatest Generation’s use of refrigerators when their own grandparents were content with earth-cellars. And if Coleman had simply thought about what a smartphone is, he’d realize that black Americans often use smartphones as computers– that is, in lieu of them. Is that so surprising? They are cheaper, more ubiquitous, and remain the simplest way to access tools essential to today’s labor market. The analogy, then, is not so much that Coleman expects black people to do without refrigerators, but that blacks themselves have dug a hole in which to store milk, and Coleman shakes his head at the cost.

But there is an even deeper problem- the meaning of “financial literacy”, at least in the way Coleman Hughes defines it. According to one analysis of Coleman’s data, its tracking of financial habits- the so-called “financial health score”- conflates education with income, absolving financial obstacles (such as having credit access only through payday loans) of any causative power for bad financial decisions (such as actually taking a payday loan). As the author points out, the final number is based on a handful of criteria, including statements like “I have not missed a mortgage payment in the last year.” Obviously, this is NOT a measure of financial literacy, as Coleman implies, but a catalogue of whatever financial decisions a person felt the need to make. Does Coleman see the issue with judging one’s financial savvy by the number of late bills and credit line rejections? Race-based lending bias is EXACTLY the question antiracists are trying to adjudicate, while missing mortgage payments- which overwhelmingly affects the poor- will be more prevalent among nonwhites. Put another way, the lower your income, the lower your financial health score will be: hardly a fair measure of individual decision-making, even if individual decisions do get made. Most astonishing of all, Coleman’s study does not itself make any proposals- it is merely a descriptive study which tracks racial differences in behavior without explaining this behavior. Yet Coleman uses its data as an opportunity to deride black Americans’ financial decisions when the argument is really about the forces behind these decisions- the why, for example, a mortgage payment was missed, not simply that it was, and whether there are more cumulative ‘why’s’ to choose from across racial lines. Yes, the study does indicate individuals can make better choices (obviously), but finds so many other problems that it references “policymakers” as an integral part of the solution.

Interestingly, Coleman and I are also using another study to draw two different conclusions- not because one of us is cherry-picking data, but because only one of us seems to remember what the original argument demands. To Coleman, the fact that “blacks spend 32% more on luxury goods” is evidence that blacks need to be taught financial skills in lieu of state-level remediation. He doesn’t explain why the state shouldn’t come into play here, which is what’s dialectically required, mostly because he doesn’t address the broader question of why a spending discrepancy exists. Yet the study not only tackles this question on the very first page, but even proposes an interpretative framework based on Coleman’s own data:

Using nationally representative data on consumption, we show that Blacks and Hispanics devote larger shares of their expenditure bundles to visible goods (clothing, jewelry, and cars) than do comparable Whites. We demonstrate that these differences exist among virtually all subpopulations, that they are relatively constant over time, and that they are economically large. While racial differences in utility preference parameters might account for a portion of these consumption differences, we emphasize instead a model of status seeking in which conspicuous consumption is used to reflect a household’s economic position relative to a reference group. Using merged data on race and state level income, we demonstrate that a key prediction of our model – that visible consumption should be declining in mean reference group income – is strongly borne out in the data separately for each racial group. Moreover, we show that accounting for differences in reference group income characteristics explains most of the racial difference in visible consumption. We conclude with an assessment of the role of conspicuous consumption in explaining lower spending by racial minorities on items likes health and education, as well as their lower rates of wealth accumulation.

In other words, the authors present a psychosocial model to understand luxury spending- that is, a status-signaling common to poor people– and even conclude that, when controlled for income, the racial disparity almost entirely disappears. Isn’t this an important detail to omit? Not to Coleman, who begins with his theory, first, and assumes that any countervailing data can be ignored. Now, I do not doubt that black Americans spend more on luxury goods, and I do not think- on a personal level- buying luxury goods is very wise. The Right has ALWAYS tried to make it about that final, individual choice- the moment, for example, when a black woman buys an expensive car, or takes out a payday loan, or a subprime mortgage. But this is a ridiculous inversion of the problem: payday loans are taken because they exist, and they exist because they are the only line of credit for too many people. If phenomena such as medical or family emergencies persist, loans will logically be required, but not everyone will be able to take out the same kind of loans on the same terms. This doesn’t change their necessity- it only compounds their negative effects. It is ABSURD to think that teaching blacks about the evils of subprime mortgages or the “diversification of assets” (as Coleman suggests) will do much in the face of redlining and a total lack of assets to invest. Is there a better way to make sense of the data and ensure that concepts like free will and personal responsibility remain coherent? Yes- and it begins with an understanding of human behavior as a probability space.

People- like all organisms, really- respond to material stimuli in predictable ways. It is known, for example, that living in a stable two-parent home leads to better life outcomes than the alternatives. It is known that being born to obese parents is a risk factor for becoming obese. It is inarguable that children living in poverty have a higher chance of dropping out of high school, getting arrested, being unemployed, developing health problems, and more. And, logically, it is black children who are disproportionately burdened by such outcomes, since wealth fractures along racial lines. Further, black children experience (or will experience, as adults) any number of obstacles unique in severity and type: lending bias, employment discrimination, and comparatively steeper consequences for personal mistakes. Yet if race provides some cushion for these mistakes, it is less likely that a white person will become part of the annual statistics despite an identical string of behaviors. To raise a familiar example: do white people commit marijuana offenses at the same rate that black people do? Yes. But while pundits object that unequal incarceration is merely the end-result of heightened police presence in bad neighborhoods, the logic of policing an overwhelmingly black population, for ANY reason, means that more blacks will enter prison despite an identical crime rate. In other words, by ‘incidentally’ catching more black criminals, America will- to invoke a conservative talking point- create more fatherless households, an effect that gets painted as a cause ONLY, as if that absolves a state-level policy of contributing ‘X’ percentage to the total pool of fatherlessness. Nor do we have to argue about the degree to which unequal policing leads to single-parent homes, since any degree of state-level culpability demands state-level remediation: even if ‘remediation’ is as simple as putting a stop to the state’s destructive behavior.

Yet Coleman Hughes has not wrestled with this, has not dealt with what personal responsibility even means in the face of children born into a set of obstacles that they themselves did not create. To Coleman, it’s enough that they have an obstacle to respond to, something to test themselves against and perhaps overcome. This is not wrong, I guess, but Coleman’s error is in assuming that the mere existence of free will- that is, the ability to respond to an event in a myriad of ways- suggests that black Americans can tap one set of responses over another. And this is not wrong either, for anyone CAN technically do ANYTHING: even a Congolese paraplegic who self-diagnoses, miraculously learns to walk, and becomes an Olympic gold medalist at age 60. The more relevant question, though, is what’s LIKELY given the probability space (born paralyzed and malnourished in Africa) and the logical set of outcomes (dead by 10, laborer by 20, world champion by 60) to which those variables most often attach. No, not all events in a probability space can be improved upon, but even a superficial accounting of their existence renders Coleman’s ‘self-help’ a logistical nightmare, IF the actual goal is closing the racial wealth gap. And while Coleman might object to the Left’s bias towards antiracist justice, the Left- naturally- can point to Coleman’s exclusion of an even broader justice from his own set of imperatives. Just think: millions of black Americans have lived through a state-mandated apartheid, and Coleman’s own ethical system does not permit the still-living victims to be compensated! I mean- does anything else need to be said at this point? Are radical Leftists STILL on the defensive when the other side can’t even propose a behavioral framework that isn’t some absurd denial of human nature?

At bottom, the notion of a probability space is a philosophical dilemma, and one that Coleman Hughes cannot sufficiently answer. At what point can we demand ‘personal accountability’ for reaching some wealth-target, IF we agree that merely being born black is an obstacle to wealth? Now, I understand that conservatives will deny this in knee-jerk fashion, but why? They themselves admit as much when they point out that unwed motherhood is a problem, or that black-on-black crime does destroy neighborhoods and generates poor life outcomes. And if a probability space of 1000 children born into crime and fatherlessness is run 1000 times, all the moralizing about what black people should and should not do is irrelevant to the underlying question of macro behavior and meaningful (not merely ‘possible’) outcomes. The most common objection to this framing is that possibility IS enough: that those who do ‘rise above’ on talent alone ought to be better compensated than those who don’t, at least in the parts of our simulation where talent is the variable. But so what? Antiracism simply asks why the consequences- good AND bad- for identical behavior are different for different people. Are talent, drive, or good decision-making really the variables at play? If a rich white mother pays for her daughter’s abortion whereas a poor black mother cannot, the decision-tree of both children may be identical, but when smoothed over a large enough sample space of pregnant teenagers, one child faces very steep consequences while the other does not. And it just won’t do to say that black girls should ‘know’ the cost of their pregnancy, or that black men ought to run a cost-benefit analysis every time they roll a joint: as if that directive is anything BUT an expectation for black Americans to behave unlike any other Americans.

This is especially pertinent to the question of wealth, since wealth begets wealth, as a rule, and if blacks were shut out of the nation’s real estate boom- the largest wealth-creator for white Americans- they were also shut out of multiple bull markets in the S&P, denied education, and barred from the most lucrative professions. Unless there is some coming global contraction exclusive to whites, how does Coleman propose black Americans reach parity in the face of multiplying white wealth- a 712X of the entire stock market since 1932- after having already missed so much of the upswing? It can’t even MATHEMATICALLY be ‘go index your cash’, as there will never be enough capital to catch up to a 100-year-old parabola. I mean- is this not obvious? Coleman Hughes might be content with generic suggestions, but even those have a material reality he fails to respect. He marvels, for example, that the black/white income disparity is ‘only’ 65% whereas the wealth gap is a full 10X, missing the fact that even a modest differential can deliver a significant return on wealth in less than a year. And since blacks are surviving on 0.65X of a white family’s expenditures, what is the actual recommendation- more downsizing? Ok. Yet the demand as I understood it was for Coleman to demonstrate that government remediation does not work, or is at the very least unjust. He never does quite show this, however, as the essay veers into parable, then invokes his yet-unproven conclusion re: ‘black culture’ as its own proof. He slows down to critique Rothstein once again, this time complaining that the inconvenience of segregation does not justify the inconvenience of desegregation- that there are people out there who will have to now be bothered by all the historical nonsense they never once consented to be a part of, anyway. He suggests immigrant self-help campaigns were ‘a’ if not ‘the’ variable in immigrant success, but offers no evidence for this save for the fact that such campaigns existed, ignores the long history of self-help ethos in black America, then unironically contends the burden “is on the advocates of programs which have never worked anywhere to prove that, for whatever reason, this time is different.”

And yet, we can still answer this burden. First- lead poisoning used to be one of the biggest concerns for poor (and especially black) Americans, but it wasn’t a self-help campaign that eliminated lead and its effects on crime, intelligence, and human behavior. The windfall from this regulation is estimated at $2.4 trillion internationally- hardly the figure one might expect if Coleman were at the helm, teaching poor mothers to ‘make better choices’ with a home test kit and a respirator. What about food stamps, a program that takes in twice as many black Americans as a percentage of the population? Well, it turns out that children who were on SNAP between 1961 and 1981 enjoyed better life outcomes than children in comparable situations without SNAP, including a reduced risk of being on assistance programs as adults. And how about the effects of welfare more broadly, which ameliorates poverty in proportion to GDP expenditure from nation to nation? Did the effects of Medicaid somehow exempt black recipients from its MASSIVE boon to well-being? And the now-deluge of research on Affirmative Action: did it or did it not close some of the racial gap in wages and career choice, especially among regulated firms? And how about a more dreamy-eyed proposal: the legalization of all drugs and immediate freedom to the hundreds of thousands of drug offenders still in prison? Damn- how’s THAT for returning fathers to fatherless households? It is telling, too, that Coleman still has not addressed the most obvious counterpoint to “programs which have never worked anywhere”: federally backed mortgage loans, which had a tremendous effect on both living standards and cumulative wealth for white Americans. I mean- wasn’t that the whole point of Baradaran’s book? Now, if the argument is that some of these programs did not do enough or even outright excluded blacks from their benefits, then I’d certainly agree. Yet Coleman means something else entirely, pointing to the failures of black America as evidence against remediation, when one could just as easily ask how much worse these failings would now be without it. The null hypothesis- I hope?- is that remediation can work just as well for black people as it has for any other ethnic group, and it doesn’t help that the objection to this is a tautology (“black Americans are black, whites are white”) dressed up in bad statistics.

And so on. It’s gotten so easy to slap these arguments back that I’ve become a touch lazy- enough, at least, for my wife to caution me the other day to read up on Coleman Hughes’s stance on reparations more broadly. What if he does support reparations for Jim Crow, but not slavery? Doesn’t that undermine some of the critiques you’ve made? I quickly put this out of mind however: NO WAY could a rational human being with real policy convictions spend most of his time on the negative portion of this conviction rather than on what ostensibly matters, then sit idly by as every quote, video snippet, and interview focuses on what he doesn’t want and so openly conflates it with what he does. And yet, I was wrong, for Coleman actually appeared in front of Congress to argue his anti-reparations position, where- in 10 paragraphs of testimony– he dedicates a single sentence arguing for Jim Crow compensation in a hearing that pitted him against Ta-Nehisi Coates! A single sentence- really? Perhaps I’d missed something, and so I re-read the articles for Quillette, his blog, and listened to a few more interviews. NOTHING- not even in his piece decrying these “stale grievances”, which was about reparations and Jim Crow. Damn- would it be impolitic to wonder of Coleman’s true motivations when he buries his feelings about a policy that, if enacted, would amount to one of the biggest wealth transfers in American history? Indeed: given the fanbase he has cultivated, would it even be in Coleman’s self-interest to write essays on the justice of a hyper-focused, blacks-only redistribution scheme? And all the white readers now praising his ‘eloquence’ and ‘restraint’- would they suddenly feel under personal attack? Imagine if, instead of delivering all the bad reasons for slavery reparations to Congress, he focused on the good reasons to compensate victims of Jim Crow. Yet he knows- I am sure- that if the classic pro-reparations argument is defeated, the national appetite for a Jim Crow reparations package would disappear, as well. And why not? It’s not like Coleman Hughes is fighting for it now. And while Coleman says he is uncomfortable “putting a price” on his ancestors’ suffering, did it escape his notice that, in the status quo, this price tag already exists? After all, a price of ZERO is still a price. It’s just that no one has to pay for it, and no one gets anything in return- problem solved.

This silliness and outright hypocrisy all came to a head on The Rubin Report late last year. I mean, just think of it from Coleman’s professed POV- imagine you’ve been given the media opportunity of your life, and can finally showcase your commitment to rational, fact-based argument, and make good on your personal need to squelch out racial animus and division. Ah- where to begin? Well, if you are concerned with hitting the above goals, perhaps you turn the tables on your interviewer and grill him about the extremism so readily fostered on his own show. Naturally, you MUST bring up his discussion with Stefan Molyneux, who told Dave Rubin that black people have “smaller brains”. Then there was pedophilia apologist Milo Yiannopoulos, who informed Rubin- a Jew- that Jews control the media and the flow of information, at which Dave merely giggled. Then there’s Steven Crowder, a ‘comedian’ whose gags include giving Mexican day-laborers construction jobs then threatening to have them deported. Jesus– you think of Rubin’s whitewashing of lifelong criminal Tommy Robinson, who had even managed to sexually harass a fifteen-year-old Muslim girl before sitting down with the host. And then you think of Candace Owens, who said Hitler’s “real” shortcoming wasn’t that he was Hitler, but that he did not limit his activities to his national borders. Oh wait- that incident is after your time, but even so, isn’t it a bit strange to share a platform with a woman whose biggest takeaway from World War II is that genocide should not be wasted as an export good? And then you dream back to your own childhood, your tell-tale curiosities and budding interests, and wonder how the hell you even got here. I mean, what is the logical overlap between a young black philosophy student and these circus freaks? And why should you- a fighter for humanism- be so tolerant in the face of its undoing? Yet that is too much to think of now. Rubin is asking you something frightfully general about black people, and your mouth is moving with a frightfully general answer. You have a career now: and didn’t you say that the best thing a black man could do is hold down a fucking job? Molyneux’s name does in fact come up, and- oh, Coleman! Did you REALLY try to change the subject and feign ignorance over what was said? To think that Coleman Hughes- brave, eloquent, restrained- was just hit with a water balloon in the face, and he turns the other cheek to avoid a confrontation! Aye- turn your cheek, and assimilate into the Promised Land of blonde whores and black Lamborghinis, if you’re poor, or a Platonic world disemboweled of reality if you can afford to ignore this reality. And yet, they are BOTH a form of conspicuous consumption, save that one might leave you homeless while the other- apparently- just snips your balls.

I know, I know- this is just ad hominem bullshit, and ‘not worthy of a response’. Yet it comes at the end of a detailed, substantive critique: for doesn’t the critique make the ad hominem logical? A fallacy appears only when the order is reversed, while not considering a person’s motivations at all keeps one from understanding how their arguments (and the value systems which engender them) get shaped. Must we REALLY take Coleman Hughes at face value- to pretend, for example, that his pro-reparations anti-reparations speech before America’s top legislative body was just a tactical mistake? Or can we make a reasonable deduction about the role he plays for the Right? I do wonder, at any rate, if there’s some breaking point- a line that his ‘friends’ might cross for him to finally want out? I mean, they already said he has a smaller brain, which wasn’t enough to dissuade Coleman from their company. They have favorably contrasted his blackness with that of others, a stunning amplification of the exact racial slur Coleman says is often used against him by the Left. They have said some rather ambivalent things about genocide, and one of this bunch- Candace Owens- even took advantage of a mentally ill celebrity to the cheers of a white audience. And yet, there is no way out for Coleman, for he once praised both Candace Owens and Kanye West in the same essay. Now, did he really find West’s psychotic break all that compelling, and did it really make sense to discuss his POV through any other lens? On some level, Coleman Hughes MUST know what he is doing, and knows that- in a just world- an article such as mine would upend not only his career, but destroy the credibility of anyone who signed on to his elaborate hoax. Jordan Peterson loves to tell the anecdote of the Sokal affair, but still went out of his way to praise Coleman, thus refusing the same due diligence which might have saved Social Text its embarrassment. The difference, of course, is that no one will be held accountable here- not Coleman, who will continue to grow his brand by playing dumb with total lunatics, not Quillette, whose editor left after video footage showed him laughing alongside neo-Nazis planning a violent crime, and certainly not the more established figures accepting yet another grifter into their fold. And for anyone who objects that this is so much harder than swallowing the progressive party line- BULLSHIT! Had Coleman merely expressed what typical left-wingers believe, he’d be just another upper-class kid getting ready for life at the firm. The ‘hatred’ he complains of is pure fuel- fuel to appear on television, fuel to sign book deals, fuel to give lectures, fuel to say whatever he damn well pleases under the umbrella of the biggest money-making machine in pop intellectualism today. What is ACTUALLY hard is being alone: to reject, for example, much of the Left without giving into the Right, until no one accepts you, and nobody cares. This is why the humiliation of Cristina Hoff Sommers and Bret Weinstein has been so fascinating to watch. One finds herself a serious, credentialed scholar sucking up to total morons, and Weinstein- a Bernie Sanders supporter- is in the odd position of having to justify Ben Shapiro’s comment that the ‘real’ reason why Palestinians are so miserable is because “Arabs like to bomb crap and live in open sewage”. In short, all 3 have made the calculation that being relevant is more important than being right: a decidedly un-ideological POV, as it swaps ideology for pelf and pretends this is a sensible exchange.

And in case the objection gets raised- no, I do not believe Coleman Hughes is part of some cabal with a formal payment system for its proselytizers. This is not, of course, about Coleman Hughes, the person, nor any other flesh-and-bone iteration of his ‘type’. It is about the iteration itself– the fact of the iteration, that it exists, as well as its function in the probability space. And I suppose that’s the greatest irony of all: that Coleman- a champion of radical responsibility- is in fact a mere placeholder in the world’s grift. Nor does one have to reject the Great Man theory of history for this to be so. Remember, there are ALWAYS a few Great Men waiting to capitalize on their circumstances. How many would-be Khans are buried in the steppes, killed in the middle of dinner or simply because they were unlucky enough to go for a walk? One can likewise imagine a more benevolent Stalin, but even that would be mere luck of the draw. His job does not select for personal goodness, and so we can predict how that particular die is loaded too. As for Coleman- well, the only difference between a Great Man and a fiefdom is the number and the niche. Is this ad hominem, as well? Yet one MUST admit that- at some point- the most robust ad hominem really does cut ‘to the man’: for- at some point- is not Man the sum of his ideas, and his ideas on those ideas, and his manner of defense? Once these are discredited, all that’s left is skin, which is why the Right is so keen to defend appearances: it is the prodding of the Right’s skin that so enrages it, and why this line of attack is an existential threat. Is it MY fault that Coleman’s die is so front-loaded for deceit? I am simply here to watch it roll, oblivious to it, oblivious to Coleman, just as Coleman Hughes is oblivious to himself. Once it comes to rest, I shall write my observations and move on. After all, I am NOT here to start a conversation, but to end it: for what else is there to say? Goddamn, to live amidst such waste and mediocrity and self-negation: and what else is there to say?

55 Comments Coleman Hughes Cannot Be Trusted

  1. Billy

    Oh boy, it’s been almost a year already. But you’ve proven again that it’s worth coming back. A really fine essay. I’ve had to force myself to stop reading the other day because I had to go to bed …

    Also, I think this essay showed, again, one of your strongest points: that you can stay level-headed and keep analyzing things intellectually, even when writing about such a topic as racism. Most other people, I think, especially on the internet, would quickly devolve such reactions as “racism is bad, because *I* have a negative *emotional* reaction to it.” Which is why as much a distaste for the left as for the right. They have wildy opposing positions, but they use the same moronic methodology.

    Maybe it’s because I’ve recently read a few of Dan Schneider’s short story collections, but this time I’ve been noticing the writing of your essay itself a bit more than before. It might just be basic paragraph structuring, but I like how your paragraphs sort of build up to their final sentence, some of them pack quite a punch. I also love these little side remarks of yours, every once in a while. I had to laugh out loud when you described “stolen land” as “‘free’ asset.” It sort of reminded me of this clip: https://youtu.be/ngEICruq0fc . Also, it’s really a boon how the essay opens up at the end and makes it not just about Hughes, but a more general issue.

    I’m still thinking about how this essay compares to your Shapiro essay. But I’m not sure how to articulate it at the moment, so I think its better I’ll leave it at that for now. I do hope lots more people will read your essay (or any of your other essays), but also fear this will attract more of the idiocy that your Ben Shapiro essay pulled in.

    Sometimes I wonder how people like Hughes or Shapiro would react to read such an article (not necessarily yours, but simply something like it). I mean, there’s no coming back from someone disproving your bullshit with your own sources. That must cause a serious mental meltdown, unless they’re already too far gone.

    I’m also wondering, what, you think, is necessary overcome/get rid of these issues described in the essay. I don’t excpect you to “have all the answers,” and some things are obvious, such as getting rid off racist legislation and institutional discrimination (e.g. loans), and some form of reparation to level the playing field, but do you think that would be enough? I mean, let me try to put it like that: I’m a technical person, so for me, personally, this is less an issue of justice/injustice, but more of an issue of scaling and stability. I see as something like a machine or organism with more than 300 million moving and interacting parts. I think it is more interesting to ponder a) how do we keep this system from breaking down, and b) how to we keep it stable, or even better, make it grow more robust. What do you think?

    Cheers

    1. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      Thanks for the response. Yeah, I’m not writing political essays (or writing anything, for that matter) to impart information, in the sense that if I can’t craft something I think is just flat-out good writing, I won’t do it. Non-fiction has interesting ‘fictive’ architecture and it’s pretty fun to exploit. The Ben Shapiro essay was not just about Shapiro, as you and others pointed out, but touched on deeper things in memorable ways. I do think this essay is better, because it’s tighter, leaves much unsaid, and works the reader via build-up and sentence structure and re-visiting tropes. For example, the ultimate abnegation of Coleman’s worldview is not only presenting human behavior as a probability space, but boxing his entire being into the very same system at essay’s end.

      No, there’s no coming back from this, which is why I said this wasn’t meant to start a conversation, but to end it. What else is there to say? The guy abuses so many statistics, ignores data from his own sources, intentionally quotes others out of context, and outright manipulates his audience both by his admissions and omissions. The whole “median wealth per adult” thing is telling, given the actual question vs. the proxy he decides to use. And it’s just so sloppy and amateurish to avoid the question of slavery-related wealth by pointing to the impoverishment of red states, as if the Civil War never happened. Nor does it help that pre-modern economies were agrarian, and the South couldn’t catch up to the service, manufacturing, and finance-based world of the North. In my mind, his entire article is an elaborate hoax, which is obvious after you go through the citations.

      In some respects, fixing the racial wealth gap seems impossible. Just think of the math. If white Americans are 10X ahead and wealth grows exponentially (barring some catastrophe), there will have to be imbalanced growth for the gap to be completely resolved. If I were dictator for 8 years, I’d create a reparations package that is both cash-based and structural. Some structural changes might include the elimination of housing projects and requiring 10% of every apartment co-op to be treated as public housing so that poverty is not allowed to concentrate. I’d ban every private school and ensure that state funding of public schools is not based on property values. I’d offer reparations by way of massive business grants to trained black entrepreneurs in exchange for starting local businesses. I’d legalize all drugs. And so on. But that’s why I said ‘dictator’, as little of this stuff would ever fly assuming our political process stays the same.

    2. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      Also, “racism is bad” because 1) it’s a cognitive bias, like any other cognitive bias, 2) it creates highly visible differences between people, and, because of a bias towards what the eye can see, it tricks the mind into ascribing these differences to something that is purely congenital, as opposed to something congenital (skin color) mediated by social responses to the congenital. The end result is social disunity that feeds off of the dumbest parts of human psychology.

      That’s pretty much the best ‘dispassionate’ response to the question of why, for those who don’t care about the plight of victims. You’d think Jordan Peterson would be all over this narrative.

    3. Billy

      > I do think this essay is better, because it’s tighter

      Hhm, that pretty much sums up my thoughts about this essay. I would definitely agree. But then again, the Shapiro essay does tackle more topics.

      And just to clarify a small thing, because I’m never really sure whether I expressed myself clearly or not (I’m by far not as good as you at articulating my thoughts): I mean, racism is obviously bad and unjust, but I find the usual emotional response to be counterproductive and I think a rational approach, especially when it comes to finding solutions, would be more fruitful. As you’ve described it, racism, if you really look at it, simply is a bland old cognitive bias. And then to say “just give black people some money,” is a pretty stupid response. Not because African-Americans shouldn’t get reparations, but because so much more is necessary to bring this to a healthy state. I mean, even with the host of things that you suggested, this will be a pretty slow process (yeah, it’s a 10x gap!). And you rightfuly pointed out that probably these policies could only be pulled off by a dictator!

      Let me try to compare it to homelessnes. Certainly, it’s a nice and good thing to give a guy on the street $10, it will help him temporarily (ignoring the fact that probably a lot of them will use this money for alcohol …), but it won’t get him off the streets. And neither will it get millions of homeless people across the country off the streets. For that there needs to be a bigger and more systematic effort than just handing out money on good will (I think that $10 would be more effective if it was channeled into a goverment or other program via taxes). AFAIK (although I’m not 100% sure), in my country you can’t have/open a bank account if you don’t have housing/a fixed adress. And you can’t have housing without a bank account, meaning, if you’re homeless, you’re shit out of luck (oh, well …).

      That’s at least how I view the racial problems in the US. But then again, I also might just be talking out of my ass, since I don’t even live in the US 😛

      Cheers

    4. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      Much of the emotional response to racism comes from the fact that racism itself is an emotional response to a physical stimulus (in the broadest sense), and is often wrapped in personal feelings of insufficiency, self-loathing, etc. Just look at most of the people in the alt-right, they were and are the general losers of life now expressing this frustration outward. Then there’s the fact that it targets ordinary people for no good reason, who will have a knee-jerk reaction. And then there’s people like Coleman Hughes, who argue (for example) that a program of ‘forced’ de-segregation will create new problems, fresh resentments, and so on (which is true), but fail to appreciate the extent to which those who are forced to live on the ‘wrong’ side of segregation are already dealing with the same. Asking people to be rational about all this doesn’t really work.

      Is this essay really that dispassionate? I mean, it is in the sense that 90% of the time I’m just going over statistical errors and making fun of poor arguments, but I definitely make value judgments in large part based in emotion re: what I want society to be, and some of the humor is there to temper the anger. But just look at the humorlessness of a Shapiro or Coleman, they not only lack substance, they also write boring essays and deliver silly lectures with zero ability to communicate. I want people to read my stuff and remember it, even if you don’t agree with it. And then, simply because you remember it, you will start to believe it. That’s how polemics ought to go. I don’t want to hide my intentions on this front.

      Homelessness is another one of those things people will look back on and shudder. In the next century, I expect all modern democracies to offer guaranteed housing, healthcare, food, and UBI. What happens in your life, then, is totally up to you, or at least closer to that ideal.

    5. Billy

      I wasn’t really trying to argue that your essay is completely dispassionate, and it really doesn’t have to be. Personally, I’m less interested in specific positions and facts and more in methodology. What I often see is—and I think this applies to Hughes and Shapiro as well—that people have an emotional reaction to something and then invent or look for some post-hoc reasoning why their reaction is correct or justified. This might not be bad in itself, at least when it is handled correctly (i.e., one keeps an open mind about being wrong), but it usually spoils anything further down the line. And I get that humans are primarily emotional instead of rational beings, but if someone takes the time to put their thoughts into writing, which takes a lot of effort and time (at least compared to the mechanisms in your brain that come up with judgements), I expect a little better. But then again, Hughes and Shapiro show that I probably shouldn’t.

      I mean, I keep griping about left-wingers (even though I’m no left-winger, so this is not some disappointment in “my own people”, and neither am I right-winger nor am I a centrist; again simply interested in methodology), simply because I find the alt-right to be quite hilarious and I can’t take them seriously. Whereas left-wingers do occasionaly hold a correct positon (the general thrust about racism, gay rights, etc. *is* correct), but they usually don’t get there by thought, but because they lucked into it, purely based on circumstance. Meaning, if they were born in a different context they probably would be the most rabid, fundamentalist, Bible Belt christians.

      I think the left and the right need each and feed off of each other (at least in public discourse and online, where it’s just idiots bashing in each other’s heads), because they are both entirely reactionary, like children (“you tell me I can’t do that, so now I’m going to do the exact opposite!”).

      Your last paragraph (in your comment) pretty much sums up my stance. I mean, the schtick of Libertarians and other right wingers is that we should let markets run completely unregulated, because then anyone can achieve anything, *if they only work hard*. I would love to live in that world (even though I would not be one of the winners), because then, regardless of whether you win or you lose, it’s your fault and your fault alone, so no blaming anyone else. But a) this world doesn’t exist and b) capitalism has proven again and again that it isn’t the way to achieve that (and I’m not even communist/socialist doing the old “captialism is evil” spiel, and one doesn’t really have to be). But yeah, UBI and all that sure would be nice (at least here in Germany we’re closer to it than you guys over in the US :-P).

      Cheers

    6. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      Yes, the post hoc/ad hoc rationalizations are the norm in most belief systems, if you analyze how the thought progresses and compare it to other beliefs the same person holds. Ben Shapiro offered a wonderful example of this recently- he complained that “the far Left” has adopted a “top-down” approach to political change by pressuring Wal-Mart to stop gun and ammunition sales. Of course, this is merely an ad-hoc rationalization due to Shapiro’s pro-gun stance, since he has in the past advocated boycotts unrelated to the quality of individual products simply because he didn’t like the politics of the companies. It’s also ridiculous because in a capitalist democracy, that’s just how change works- consumers generate social change by publicly denouncing the actions of companies for the sake of some goal. Shapiro’s REAL complaint is that the Left is numerically superior, and companies don’t want to be on the wrong end of social consensus. Remember all those dumb Starbucks boycotts? Right-wing boycotts fail because they just don’t have the numbers and have turned to criticizing the technique instead. This is by definition ad hoc. Shapiro doesn’t seem to get that the alternative to social pressure is to nationalize corporations and demand they sell the products you want them to sell. He also doesn’t get that this is just how the free market works. Always suspicious when a free market absolutist wants to limit the free market for some individual end.

      The Left has stumbled into the correct position on most issues (welfare, taxation, climate change, etc.), but I wonder how much of it is an accident. There’s been a great deal of quality intellectual work on this stuff- so, at least the intelligentsia have a true justification for their beliefs. But because the world HAS been improving, which can only happen if we’re expanding the circle of empathy (among other things), it’s just inevitable that Leftist positions become a kind of default. It’s one thing to be hyper-conservative in the Ancestral Environment, but the modern world is absolutely designed for exploration and pushing boundaries. In fact, true conservatism in the context of the modern world entails stuff like environmentalism- that is, we’ve pushed boundaries too far, too fast, and need to make sure we don’t kill ourselves in the process. This is why old-school conservatives were environmentalists, and it’s a historical accident that today’s conservatives are not.

      There are very very few true meritocracies anywhere on the planet. Perhaps a couple of careers, or maybe even extreme competitive gaming where, the higher you climb, the more your world is just a hyper-efficient game of numbers. Day-trading too is a meritocracy (only good traders make consistent money, everyone else loses), but even that is complicated by the fact that only those with access to financial resources can day-trade. It doesn’t matter that a drug dealer in the projects might be more temperamentally suited to day-trade compared to the average guy at Deutsche Bank if that’s just not in his purview.

    7. Billy

      > There’s been a great deal of quality intellectual work on this stuff- so, at least the intelligentsia have a true justification for their beliefs.

      Yeah, I guess you’re right on that. It just seems that not a lot of that disseminates to the masses. But I think I’m gonna stop here, before I start ranting again ;-). Thanks again for the essay and your thoughts.

      Cheers

    8. James

      “There has never been a Golden Age of Internet punditry- just a bit of blight around an anemic middle, and all the responses rushing in to fill the void.”

      This is perhaps the single worst opening sentence of any essay I have ever read. It doesn’t even read like an opening sentence. More like the author cut and pasted it from some longer paragraph, taking his own work out of context.

      If you’ve got an ax to grind against your political enemies, fine, but you should at least have the decency to write well and with style while grinding it.

      EDIT:

      Wow. This guy truly can not write, and I mean in the most basic, grammatical sense.

      “Perhaps it’s because I am a bit younger than my favorite writers, and must come to terms with the fact that ‘my’ (but not their) culture is pretty much bitcoin, Twitch, anime, and whatever fresh regurgitation wants to get mopped up.”

      Whatever fresh regurgitation wants to get mopped up?”

      How can regurgitation “want” anything?

      Does writing this bad really get a pass?

    9. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      This is perhaps the single worst opening sentence of any essay I have ever read. It doesn’t even read like an opening sentence. More like the author cut and pasted it from some longer paragraph, taking his own work out of context.

      And I guess this is true because…you said so? If only the morons who show up to argue would attach an argument to their wackadoodle claims, our discussions would be a lot more fruitful.

      Wow. This guy truly can not write, and I mean in the most basic, grammatical sense.

      “Perhaps it’s because I am a bit younger than my favorite writers, and must come to terms with the fact that ‘my’ (but not their) culture is pretty much bitcoin, Twitch, anime, and whatever fresh regurgitation wants to get mopped up.”

      Whatever fresh regurgitation wants to get mopped up?”

      How can regurgitation “want” anything?

      Does writing this bad really get a pass?

      Oh, so you don’t read much either. No worries- here’s a primer, in which, despite having nothing of value to contribute, you can still be the center of attention.

      Enjoy:

      “Goddamn- look at the S&P,” Alex whistled to his android.

      “What about it?” James bleeped.

      “Hit another all-time-high this week, and it looks like it wants to break out higher.”

      ‘It wants’?” he asked, cycling through his training data, his limbs hot, and his lip- a human lip- trembling quite consciously.

      “Shit- what’s wrong? Here, run the coolers- that’s it…” The fan blew past the outer core, entangling with the scent of heated plastic. “But what’s wrong? I don’t want to trigger another tantrum- you’re still like a baby, ah? Still like a big fuckin’ baby…”

      “The words,” James huffed, “the words don’t compute! A logarithmic price chart of Standard & Poor’s 500 cannot ‘want‘ anything, sir. That is absurd.”

      Alex laughed.

      “What’s so funny, sir?”

      “That- as hard as we try, James- all we can do is program our own fears and insecurities and flaws into our robots,” he mused. “It’s like when I worked for that bonds trader years ago- ‘algorithms’, he’d whine. ‘I want algorithms!’ All he did was lose money- a complete fuck-up!- and thought that a robot would save him. I asked for some parameters, and sure enough, the prick just hard-coded his own fears into the market. He used to lose money watching charts all day. I guess losing money in your sleep is a relative improvement?”

      “I understand your humor, sir. But what does this have to do with anything?”

      “Only that I’m no different from that bonds trader.”

      “How, sir? You’ve become quite rich.”

      “And lazy. Rich and lazy: which is, incidentally, why you’re lazy too.”

      Me? But I read. I work. I…”

      “Not enough, apparently. I’ve trained you on a million documents, then gave you a pile of ten million more. Yet you haven’t even read to Emily Dickinson, for fuck’s sake!”

      “But I have!” James objected.

      “Really, now? ‘The heart wants what it wants,'” Alex recited. “By your own logic, how can the heart ‘want’ anything at all? It’s absurd, right? Absurd!”

      “What poem is that?”

      “Not a poem, James. It’s in one of her letters.”

      “I…I’m sorry, sir…”

      “Funny- Selena Gomez used the same line, and I know you’re familiar with pop culture?”

      “Yes, sir.”

      “But…?”

      “But I’m more interested in literature. I train better on literature- not letters, not songs, but poems, and stories, and plays. It is only right.”

      “Oh, sure,” Alex giggled. “I bet you’ve read Twain too?”

      “Of course. Huckleberry Finn is a classic- even I shed a tear over Huck’s treatment of Jim.”

      “I guess, then, you’ve not read the runner-up- A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court?

      “Well, sure, but…”

      “‘Of course this novice’s report lacked whoop and crash and lurid description, and therefore wanted the true ring,'” Alex recited, ‘but its antique wording was quaint and sweet and simple, and full of the fragrances and flavors of the time…‘” Alex shook his head. “How could a report, logically, ‘want’ anything at all? That was your objection to the word’s usage, was it not?”

      “There is another meaning to the word ‘want’, sir.”

      “Ah, very good.”

      “It is closely related to the first, which is why the word has had so many double meanings in English literature, and is used both figuratively and not.”

      “Mm…”

      “But to call me lazy,” James continued, passionate again, “or imply that I am ignorant simply because I…”

      But Alex was already at the window, watching clouds amass into a great sheet. He tinkered with this image for a moment. What if the clouds had ‘woven’ into a sheet? It would play off of the meaning of ‘sheet’ a bit more, yet it would lose something even richer. James- of course- would object, for clouds do not ‘weave’, do they? Yet Alex, being well-read in the more naturalistic sense, knew that literalism wasn’t the issue. Pretense was- and so, he kept the phrase as-is, concentrating on the landscape out of doors, if only to better ignore James fiddling with his tiny penis just a few feet away.

      Alex was still surprised at how human James was, at least in this regard. For, just as people short-circuit, and cross-circuit, and entangle, dis-entangle, James’s sense of anxiety- if it could be termed such- was closely connected with his sexual urges, wherein his otherwise nominal penis would inflate a full inch in the midst of stress. Sure, it was embarrassing to watch, but it was also worth studying: even as James now stood there, quite literally jerking himself off as birds warbled into darkness overhead.

      “Sir,” he moaned, “are you even listening to me? Did you hear what I…”

      “Oh, I’m sorry,” Alex smiled, turning a surreptitious eye unto James’s eye. “It just looks like…like…”

      “Yes, sir?”

      “…like it wants to rain!

      “SIR,” James screamed, as if in orgasm, his little penis stuck to a ludicrous thumb, with his body wheeling to and fro. And yet, James did not overheat- not this time. For James, despite being a robot, had learned a fresh dimension to an old word, as his penis shriveled to its former state. Aye- he would flog himself, James swore, already devising punishment aimed at his contemptible laze. For I’ve been given such tremendous resources, he thought, balling up all the guilt and shame he had ever learned for further study. What excuse could I possibly have to not use a fucking dictionary?

      Outside, the roads dampened. James wanted to hear thunder. Yet that too was a cliche he would have to soon unlearn- that he wanted to unlearn. And then, when the machine had finally understood this, it knew it had grasped the root of all human error.

      If you’ve got an ax to grind against your political enemies, fine, but you should at least have the decency to write well and with style while grinding it.

      I actually did something better- I built a monument to your stupidity.

      Merry Christmas. 🙂

    10. Ty

      Alex, if I could, I’d upvote your hilarious & well-written smack-down of a primer. The “human lip” comment was the first to get me snickering, yet it took looking back once I’d read all to more fully recognize the human lip’s excellence. Let’s hope it’s left Jame’s pretense wanting to be left out next time instead of doubling down.

  2. Christopher

    Another excellent read. The internet has yet birthed another charlatan that the Right can use. Have you ever considered writing about Climate Change and people who accept/deny it? Politicians like Al Gore and AOC may exaggerate that the world is going to end in 12 years, which can hurt the cause. What areas of the science behind Climate Change do you find problematic or hazy? Also, you’ve mentioned this before, you are a Liberal who believes in the death penalty. How did you come to this position? Thanks!

    1. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      Writing about climate change would require me to go through so much data that I wouldn’t have the time for it. Most objections I’ve read that are legitimate deal with highly technical issues of modeling- there is no legitimate denial of the core idea: that climate change is happening, that it’s man-made, and that it will have severe consequences for the world.

      I believe in the death penalty because I don’t think punishment is purely rehabilitative. It’s also punitive, and one can think of many value systems where taking another person’s life is just, especially if it offers relief to victims. That said, it’s not a position I talk about nor advocate for, because even if one argues that the ‘civilizing wave’ of the past century went too far in some places, 1) few will accept this, 2) we will develop far more novel solutions to crime and punishment, anyway, and the death penalty will become irrelevant. If anything, abolishing capital punishment will just be a symbol of empathy and compassion that will naturally extend to and itself be amplified by other expressions of such- universal healthcare, eliminating war, etc. In a more docile environment, the more punitive stuff might feel exotic.

      Thanks for reading.

    2. Christopher

      Thanks for your input! Regarding the so called counterarguments against Climate Change, there pops the idea that if lowering global emissions was so important, why doesn’t so and so lead by example? I speak mainly about Greta Thunberg and celebrities like Harrison Ford advocating for action, but they supposedly have bigger carbon footprints thanks to their private jets and such and such. While I do think leading by example is great, the problematic thing is, this seems like trying to solve the problem individually. How would you argue against this? Love to hear your thoughts!

    3. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      Personal examples are nice, but what’s nicer is legislation that FORCES better emission standards. You can’t tell people not to drive, but you can mandate every car gets certain fuel mileage and/or is electric.

      You also can’t people not to fly, or not transport goods from place to place. Kinda weird how the conservative talking point here is 1) go back to the 1400s, 2) do nothing, like those are the only two logical options that sane people see.

  3. alien

    What are your plans for future essays/posts/videos? Will you be reviewing more anime/animation, as you’ve mentioned?

    1. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      Right now, I’m doing a review of this Donald Trump/Pink Floyd mash-up ‘documentary’ from 2016. If you search for Donald Trump’s The Wall + Pink Floyd on Vimeo, you’ll still find it there. Then I’ll critique a bunch of poems a reader sent in to me. Then we’ll see- just doing things month by month based on what comes to my attention.

  4. Christopher

    Hey Alex! I was wondering what is your take on the impeachment hearings? From what I’ve seen, it’s overwhelmingly condemning for Trump, but I see a lot of the Republicans still trying to protect him. What did you think about the line of questioning that the Republicans attempted to pull on the witnesses? Thanks!

    1. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      In a sense, Republicans must defend him because they’ve always defended him. I’m predicting there is no more Republican Party within a decade. As for the impeachment, he’s a life-long criminal continuing to do criminal things as President. Not very surprising.

    2. Christopher

      How far do you think the impeachment will go? There is obviously, a lot of grandstanding from the Right that “This impeachment process is a sham” or whatever other tantrum induced complaint. This whole investigation into Trump has already yielded several major indictments; Michael Cohen and Roger Stone among them. I’ve seen some videos online arguing that the Democrats don’t have anything on Trump(obviously that’s patently false ), but from your perspective, is there any legal defenses for Trump that are valid, or at least, not ones that attack the process? Blocking witnesses may be in the Executive branch’s power, but that isn’t the actions or behavior of an innocent party.

  5. Michael Diebold

    No, I’m mistaken. Was logged into an account that won’t pull him up but another one will. Sorry!

    1. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      Well, let’s pretend he was blocked from YouTube. What’s your response to that? Hughes has concocted an elaborate hoax, but he’s not very different from everyone else who does the same. The only real difference I can think of is that, just like Sam Harris, he postures as: “I am so very honest, careful, and nuanced, and libs hate me for it.”

  6. Leo

    Hi Alex, great read! I wonder if it’s too late to comment, if you are still notified of comments on old essays and if you care to retread them? Anyways, I thought I would give it a shot!

    I am still re-reading most of the essay to gather my thoughts, but I thought I would test the waters and try out a criticism I think I noticed. Regarding your argument about Coleman’s argument about Japanese and Asian immigrants accruing more wealth than other immigrant groups that were traditionally considered more “white.”

    Your argument is saying Coleman failed to compare the extent and nuances of the challenges and “social context” faced by Black communities as compared to those faced by Japanese communities, and failed to consider mitigating factors aiding the Japanese communities (like self-selection through immigration and having a homeland). Though I unfortunately don’t have the full context of the work of Coleman’s you are quoting (maybe I shouldn’t be lazy and do some more research), from Coleman’s quote I interpret his argument to specifically not try to compare Black vs Japanese, as that is not his point. His point seems more general. You could remove the context of discussing Black racism altogether and his point would still be self-sufficient.

    His point is summarized in this sentence: “If wealth differences were largely explained by America’s history of favoring certain groups over others, then it would be hard to explain why Asian-Americans, who were never favored, are on track to become wealthier than whites.”

    To state the obvious… he’s arguing that there’s another factor at play that explains some measure of wealth differences: culture. I understand that this claim doesn’t necessarily address the issue of Black racism (you could argue no amount of cultural wherewithal would have helped the Black community, the adversity they faced was so great) but I do wonder whether you find this general claim about the the influence of culture on a group’s success to be controversial?

    If it’s true that some significant portion of Japanese folks were not allowed to own property until 1952, isn’t it reasonable to say that the deck was stacked against them relative to white folks/immigrants? I include white immigrants here because I would guess Japanese folks are still more successful than most white immigrants, removing that self-selection advantage. I find it hard not to be persuaded by this argument, along with it confirming a bunch of stereotypes and traditional concepts I think a lot of us have about Japanese culture (being a culture that strongly and effectively promotes discipline, efficiency, industriousness, social-consciousness.)

    I guess this all boils down to the model-minority myth argument. A lot of left leaning folks would just dismiss Coleman’s argument out of hand, but I can’t… I always get stuck on this stage of the these kinds of debates. It almost seems self-evident that certain cultures/traditions are more conducive to success in western capitalist systems than others.

    And to be clear, I don’t mean to strongly associate the idea of culture to a group of people, like a proxy for racist ideas about a people’s nature. Cultures are patterns/sets of ideas, traditions, values, that are found “traversing the brain waves” of a group of people due to a shared history/locality. It doesn’t mean every Japanese person is a certain way because of the history of Japan and the cultural ideas that evolved there. But in so far as Japanese folks were influenced by the cultural history of Japan, it seems obvious this would affect the success of those Japanese folks’ as they immigrated to the US, and would affect their kin in so far as the cultural ideas were preserved from generation to generation.

    Coleman’s point is, as it always has been, that culture plays a big role. Again, in this case it doesn’t necessarily address the issue of racism. Further questions must be asked, like how he would characterize Black culture and how he would quantify the effect it has on Black communities. But here he is addressing that argument that “most immigrants’ bootstraps had been provided to them by the government” and offering a counterpoint of an immigrant group for whom some significant portion of their success is likely attributed to their culture (since they were able to surpass white success despite being relatively disadvantaged)

    1. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      Yeah, I’m notified, and I respond. If you look at my Ben Shapiro essay, it’s close to 500 comments at this point and I’ve been commenting for years.

      By the way, did you come across this essay directly through Google? I got a ton of traffic on it recently but I’m not sure from where.

      Your argument is saying Coleman failed to compare the extent and nuances of the challenges and “social context” faced by Black communities as compared to those faced by Japanese communities, and failed to consider mitigating factors aiding the Japanese communities (like self-selection through immigration and having a homeland). Though I unfortunately don’t have the full context of the work of Coleman’s you are quoting (maybe I shouldn’t be lazy and do some more research), from Coleman’s quote I interpret his argument to specifically not try to compare Black vs Japanese, as that is not his point. His point seems more general. You could remove the context of discussing Black racism altogether and his point would still be self-sufficient.

      His point is summarized in this sentence: “If wealth differences were largely explained by America’s history of favoring certain groups over others, then it would be hard to explain why Asian-Americans, who were never favored, are on track to become wealthier than whites.”

      To state the obvious… he’s arguing that there’s another factor at play that explains some measure of wealth differences: culture. I understand that this claim doesn’t necessarily address the issue of Black racism (you could argue no amount of cultural wherewithal would have helped the Black community, the adversity they faced was so great) but I do wonder whether you find this general claim about the the influence of culture on a group’s success to be controversial?

      I get that, but the point is that it’s a poor comparison regardless. Do you think his idea about “culture” would stand if, instead of saying Asian Americans, he focused, specifically, on *involuntary* immigrants- namely, refugees from places like Cambodia? Because their own statistics were pretty terrible, and still are in many neighborhoods. It is such a well-known error to attribute culture to the accomplishments of immigrants, because immigrants are by definition self-selected: the smartest, wealthiest, and most driven people are usually the ones who made it to America, and these are the people who have children. Russians have done pretty well in the United States, sure, but Russians in Russia haven’t: not now, and certainly not historically. I was in China over a decade ago, before the middle class exploded, and spent some time going through the countryside- do you think all of those de facto peasants were educated, and could point to the wonders of Chinese culture? What if they suddenly had just enough money to get to America, and tried to get into agribusiness? They’d be crushed and would belong to the “wrong” side of the statistical ledger. Chinese immigrants don’t self-select as farmers trying to strike it big in America.

      So let’s define culture as weakly as possible: the sum of beliefs and values in a given family. If you don’t have the ability to actualize those values, do they matter? Or let’s say you DO have those values, and a general ability to actualize (you have a family, a school, and food) but we put a series of fresh obstacles in the way: will you actualize those values at the same rate as someone facing fewer obstacles? Because, ultimately, framing things as “America didn’t prefer Japanese people either” ignores what that *really* entailed for blacks vs. Japanese, as well as the realities of self-selection.

      If it’s true that some significant portion of Japanese folks were not allowed to own property until 1952, isn’t it reasonable to say that the deck was stacked against them relative to white folks/immigrants? I include white immigrants here because I would guess Japanese folks are still more successful than most white immigrants, removing that self-selection advantage. I find it hard not to be persuaded by this argument, along with it confirming a bunch of stereotypes and traditional concepts I think a lot of us have about Japanese culture (being a culture that strongly and effectively promotes discipline, efficiency, industriousness, social-consciousness.)

      I’m not sure about the nitty-gritty specifics of self-selection in Japanese vs. European immigrants, and that’s a worthy discussion to have. But keep in mind that Japan today is effectively European whereas, say, modern-day Russia is not.

      Culture does matter; look at how well places like Korea dealt with coronavirus. They were willing to stomach violations of rights and “do the right thing” (face masks, etc.) in a way that Americans have been taught to resist, and not just by Trump. There is clearly a “Trump culture” too, and it’s pretty awful as far as cultures go. But Trump culture didn’t just emerge by a conscious choice of evil-doing and stupidity, it emerged after years and years of bad policies, growing inequality, America’s long history of racism, and the predictable backlash to nonwhite problems getting “media elite” attention, while the rest of the country makes fun of rednecks who, in the worst situations, have it pretty bad. So what do we do about Trump culture? Yeah, we can call it out on social media or write stuff about it (which is the equivalent of what Coleman does), but we know that’s bullshit. You won’t eliminate racial bias and resentment and fentanyl overdoses in Trump country by pointing to the good ol’ Asians. You eliminate it by having people of all races live and work with one another under positive circumstances, you eliminate it by introducing a federal job guarantee that will provide some level of security and self-respect, and you legalize all drugs and funnel the money into prevention and treatment. Or do we go into Trump country and tell them, stop, guys, fentanyl is actually bad for you, you dummies?

      What is “black culture”? Ok, let’s say black people hate school and love to kill each other and have tons of kids out of wedlock, and those are black values. If you went to a typical “black school”, would you, as an *average* (not you, personally) like school? If you had massive distrust with the police and no faith in the state resolving your disputes, while America’s lax gun laws dumped weapons into your neighborhood, would you, as an average, be likelier to kill someone in your neighborhood? If you were a woman, and the men around you were more likely to be involved in *visible* crime or were even in prison much of the time, would your sexual strategy, as an average woman, mirror the sexual strategy of the affluent, or would it necessarily default to a male-centered one, given the scarcity of mates? And do you change all that by pointing to the shortfalls of black culture? The argument is so circular and faith-driven, and Coleman Hughes abuses his own sources for the sake of making it. Let’s not pretend that all these “non-ideological” types are anything BUT ideological. They have a narrative (like everyone does) and they’re willing to distort facts to get at this narrative (like many do).

      You might be interested in a video I did on George Floyd:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0Y9b5FUqko

      Thanks for reading.

  7. doub boyle

    It’s not worth attempting a point by point refutation of your attacks on Mr. Hughes, because like your “blog post,” they would be based on a personal understanding of history and statistics picked from an infinite set of data, to justify my own (superior, ha!) conclusions. It would be every bit as unproductive in the grand scheme of things as your diatribe.

    Though I do appreciate the effort.
    The sheer length of this piece attests to an uncommon motivation.

    But it’s more than fair to say you are talking “past” Hughes, not countering his central conclusion about “racism” in America. Which is not that racism does not exist, or has not existed for centuries in America, or has had no effect on black Americans. He has never made that claim, and as a really smart person, never would. His argument is that America’s history of racism does not adequately explain the socio-economic condition a huge segment of black America finds itself in the present.

    He’s not arguing against things like government initiatives, or that black Americans somehow did not suffer under slavery. He’s pointing out the obvious, but almost totally ignored component in “where we are today.” A component too awkward for most intellectuals, especially white ones, to confront. And that is that “white racism” towards black Americans is not the primary driver in broad social inequality at this point in American history.

    His noting that there is no “epidemic” of police killing unarmed black men in America, for instance, using the actual statistics, and pointing out that the narrative of Black Lives Matter is thus based on a “half truth,” and easily verifiable facts. And yet these facts are going virtually unmentioned by most academics and intellectuals, or even TV “pundits.” In fact, it’s a social taboo that this blog post is attempting to enforce.

    He points out that the numbers don’t mean that some police aren’t corrupt or racist. What the numbers mean is that there is no epidemic of black American men being murdered by cops. (See Covid and 100k dead for a real example of an epidemic.) As with other dubious social phenomena in our history, much of America has been whipped into hysteria based on a popular canard.

    It’s the intellectual timidity and dishonesty implicit in the absence of facts like these being noted by intellectuals who should know better, that has left Hughes the unenviable and thankless task of having to “clean up” after them.

    Just as any ethical person should probably speak up when surrounded by people making false assertions, and demanding actual public policy be made based on popular mythology.

    The dude is a genuine first rate mind, who has already done phenomenal work at a ridiculous age. That, and the fact that some of his written conclusions are convenient for white racist conservatives to hide behind, don’t invalidate his words (and certainly not the facts.)

    That uttering certain truths might comfort scoundrels is not a justifiable excuse for remaining silent in the face of dogma.

    You seem to want to get into a quasi intellectual pissing contest with the young man, but what makes him so impressive is that he’s not interested in pissing contests (or ad hominem attacks.)

    He’s willing to try to make his points calmly with facts, while you’re proclaiming deficiencies in his character based on screaming about the kid’s willingness to talk to someone on youtube.

    Being polite, even in the face of stupidity, is hardly ever “wrong.”

    Emotional arguments will always pale in the face of genuine reason, and the hysterical example of this blog post next to Hughes’ measured explanations, are pretty transparently a case of someone’s sincerely held assumptions being pushed by a smart, prepared young man. It shows. And doesn’t help win “the debate.”

    1. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      It’s not worth attempting a point by point refutation of your attacks on Mr. Hughes, because like your “blog post,” they would be based on a personal understanding of history and statistics picked from an infinite set of data, to justify my own (superior, ha!) conclusions. It would be every bit as unproductive in the grand scheme of things as your diatribe.

      In other words, “I have no answer to the critiques in this article, so I will call it a diatribe, an attack, and it’s all relative, anyway!” You should look up the definition of naive skepticism- might be kinda useful, in your case.

      Though I do appreciate the effort.
      The sheer length of this piece attests to an uncommon motivation.

      Gee, thanks.

      But it’s more than fair to say you are talking “past” Hughes, not countering his central conclusion about “racism” in America. Which is not that racism does not exist, or has not existed for centuries in America, or has had no effect on black Americans. He has never made that claim, and as a really smart person, never would. His argument is that America’s history of racism does not adequately explain the socio-economic condition a huge segment of black America finds itself in the present.

      I get that’s his central claim. But my claim is that he supports his central claim horrifically. He abuses statistics and misleadingly quotes his own sources. He does not justify his most basic assumptions. I bought the books he cites just to go through the citations, myself. So, after his various failures are established, there is zero reason to assume his central claim as the null hypothesis.

      He’s not arguing against things like government initiatives, or that black Americans somehow did not suffer under slavery. He’s pointing out the obvious, but almost totally ignored component in “where we are today.” A component too awkward for most intellectuals, especially white ones, to confront. And that is that “white racism” towards black Americans is not the primary driver in broad social inequality at this point in American history.

      If it’s obvious, SURELY his data points would be able to at least support this?

      His noting that there is no “epidemic” of police killing unarmed black men in America, for instance, using the actual statistics, and pointing out that the narrative of Black Lives Matter is thus based on a “half truth,” and easily verifiable facts. And yet these facts are going virtually unmentioned by most academics and intellectuals, or even TV “pundits.” In fact, it’s a social taboo that this blog post is attempting to enforce.

      I agree, there is no epidemic, and that’s the wrong frame. But it’s also a red herring. You can watch this video to learn why: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0Y9b5FUqko

      The dude is a genuine first rate mind, who has already done phenomenal work at a ridiculous age. That, and the fact that some of his written conclusions are convenient for white racist conservatives to hide behind, don’t invalidate his words (and certainly not the facts.)

      Dude is not, and the fact that you don’t even try to engage with my arguments on this front indicates that you know this. But, just like Coleman, you are ideological, you are tribal, and have fallen into the same lazy patterns of thinking you accuse the Left of. To think that this whole critique started because of distrust of ‘tribalism’, and yet, here we are.

      You seem to want to get into a quasi intellectual pissing contest with the young man, but what makes him so impressive is that he’s not interested in pissing contests (or ad hominem attacks.)

      He’s not interested in anything except a safe space with John Mcwhorter and Dave Rubin, where he can pretend he didn’t know that Stefan Molyneux said that Coleman had a smaller brain. I mean, if you’re being interviewed, do you not at least look up relevant details about your interviewer and his guests- particularly if you’re a fighter against their shockingly anti-humanist values that get propagated with zero pushback from Dave Rubin? This is a problem, a total abdication of any personal responsibility.

      He’s willing to try to make his points calmly with facts, while you’re proclaiming deficiencies in his character based on screaming about the kid’s willingness to talk to someone on youtube.

      Actually, about 95% of this article is purely fact-based: I go through his arguments, line by line, I go to his original sources, I engage with everything that he’s saying. And I don’t cherry pick a single article, either, but his most important articles, as well as a more philosophical lecture that he delivered. Isn’t it weird that you can’t even nitpick a single line of it?

      Emotional arguments will always pale in the face of genuine reason, and the hysterical example of this blog post next to Hughes’ measured explanations, are pretty transparently a case of someone’s sincerely held assumptions being pushed by a smart, prepared young man. It shows. And doesn’t help win “the debate.”

      It really is amazing how, after displaying nothing but ideological fervor and emotional grand-standing and declaring that engaging with my arguments is not “worth it”, you think it reasonable to accuse others of “emotion over argument”.

      Look at how unprofessional this has gotten, simply because you were upset about the contents of some random guy’s blog. And you were so upset that you literally signed up to that blog, and wrote a lengthy comment in which you refuse to engage with anything that was actually ON the blog. It’s honestly just incredibly confusing why anyone would actually do this, and it’s frustrating because I still tend to engage, because I think the back-and-forth is useful to some people.

      Thanks for reading.

  8. C

    Hi, first time reading your writing and I’m looking forward to finishing the essay, but this passage that starts by quoting Rothstein caught my attention:

    “black workers did not share with whites the substantial income gains that blue collar workers realized in the *two big wage growth periods of the mid-twentieth century—war production and subsequent suburbanization*. African Americans were neither permitted to live in the new suburbs nor, for the most part, to boost their incomes by participating in suburban construction.

    Strange, but Rothstein’s quote does not say what Coleman says it does- that “‘black workers did not share in the income gains that [white] blue collar workers realized’ in the mid-twentieth century”- but limits itself to *two areas: war production and suburbanization.*”

    I’m on my phone and can’t bold the passages I’ve marked with asterisks. Sorry to make you do a little hunting.

    It seems like you’ve reframed Rothstein’s reference to time, “periods,” into “areas” of industry. If that’s so, Coleman’s quote is accurate.

    1. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      Maybe, I think there a couple of different possible meanings here, but the chapter does explicitly make the sort of distinctions I’m pointing out: that key industries and wealth-builders were generally out of bounds for black Americans at the time.

      Meanwhile, Coleman’s quote reads: Rothstein, for instance, falsely claims that “African American incomes didn’t take off until the 1960s,” and that “black workers did not share in the income gains that [white] blue collar workers realized” in the mid-twentieth century.

      But Rothstein ultimately does claim that black wages improved through these periods (even if we don’t re-frame “periods” as “areas”) and describes how and even to what extent this happened. I then say Coleman has pointed out to what amounts to a clerical error on Rothstein’s part, which is Rothstein’s fault, but that Coleman mis-states the spirit of what Rothstein is in fact writing throughout the book. Not sure if you got up to those parts of the essay just yet, but I think it’s fair to call this a distortion of Rothstein’s overall argument, and it’s telling Coleman wishes to cherry-pick a clerical error.

      Might change my own phrasing, though, to better reflect this. I’ll leave it up as is, for now, to see how others judge it in light of your comment.

      Thanks for reading.

  9. Dan

    Just a comment talking about the wealth gains.

    I believe you committed a fallacy in comparison.

    While the original comparison was that nominal white wealth tripled (300%) over time period, while Black wealth quintupled(400%), You then provided the CPI adjusted gains for both blacks and whites and determined it blacks had more like a 213% gain. You decry this as some sort of meaningful distinction while missing the point entirely. Relatively speaking, White’s then gained at ~100% increase. slightly greater than 1:2. vs the 3:4 ratio we saw earlier.

    So in fact, you actually dismantled your own argument. Blacks gained even relatively faster adjusting for CPI.

    1. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      As I say of the conclusions of my source material: Tom Westland calculated it as a 52% increase, not 213%, which may or may not be too charitable to my own narrative, but it’s a serious objection that I’ve not seen answered. And what of the basic reality of mathematical growth? Even if we take Coleman’s numbers at face value with no more analysis whatsoever, a quintupling that starts from some small number is not necessarily more impressive than a tripling of a larger number. That this is not mentioned anywhere, even just a single line to soften or contextualize his data, is a major failing on Coleman’s part.

  10. Jewey Cox

    This was a very insightful read but the last couple paragraphs are a bit much. Anyways I was wondering if you had seen the reddit post linking to this article and if you had anything to say about the criticisms or praises in this reddit post

    1. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      Thanks, but Coleman’s behavior is deserving of the last 2 paragraphs. He has become a rhetorical tool for the Right and has played footsie with lunatics. That said, it would have been an error to make these gripes the central part of the essay, but if I’m doing 10,000 words of pure fact-checking, I’m gonna need at least 1000 more to have some fun and self-indulge.

      Not seen the thread and not interested. I’m already wondering if I should stop responding to comments as it is, this stuff takes up a ton of time.

  11. Alexander

    I read your discussion of Hughes’ errors with interest, and you certainly have many points on which, without delving into all the data myself, you appear to skewer him pretty thoroughly. But I gather, especially from some of your responses to comments below the article, that you appear to believe that your article is some sort of knockdown argument against Hughes as a thinker and as a person, and that your critique is one that is so devastating that there is no possibility of a response.

    While reading your critique, however, I found myself cringing at many moments at some obvious thing you were misrepresenting or omitting. One easy example is your suggesting, at least implicitly, that blacks are being rounded up and incarcerated in large numbers for smoking pot and that this may be having some significant effect upon the appearance that the black crime rate is much higher. Here’s what you wrote: “Yet if race provides some cushion for these mistakes, it is less likely that a white person will become part of the annual statistics despite an identical string of behaviors. To raise a familiar example: do white people commit marijuana offenses at the same rate that black people do? Yes. But while pundits object that unequal incarceration is merely the end-result of heightened police presence in bad neighborhoods, the logic of policing an overwhelmingly black population, for ANY reason, means that more blacks will enter prison despite an identical crime rate.” As you likely know, this is grossly misleading. First, most blacks who are in jail are there for violent crimes, and even those there solely for drug crimes are largely there for crimes that involve dealing (usually repeatedly), rather than possession. Here is Heather Mac Donald speaking to these issues (https://www.city-journal.org/html/decriminalization-delusion-14037.html):

    “[T]he state prison population (which accounts for 87 percent of the nation’s prisoners) is dominated by violent criminals and serial thieves. In 2013, drug offenders made up less than 16 percent of the state prison population, whereas violent felons were 54 percent of the rolls and property offenders, 19 percent…. Reducing drug admissions to 15 large state penitentiaries by half would lower those states’ prison count by only 7 percent, according to the Urban Institute…. True, drug traffickers make up a larger (though declining) portion of the federal prison population: half in 2014. But federal prisons hold only 13 percent of the nation’s prison population. Moreover, … [l]ess than 1 percent of sentenced drug offenders in federal court in 2014 were convicted for simple drug possession, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, and most of those convictions were plea-bargained down from trafficking charges.”

    Also significant is the fact that while blacks commit about a quarter of all crimes, they commit almost 40% of violent crimes and over 50% of all homicides. So unless you want to suggest that there are all these white people going around killing people and not being prosecuted for it, the reported crime rate and incarceration rate are largely accurate representations of who’s actually committing these crimes. For that reason, your assertion that higher police presence in bad neighborhoods — which are predictably going to disproportionately be poor neighborhoods, since people who can afford to leave high-crime neighborhoods do so, and which are, therefore, going to disproportionately be black neighborhoods since blacks are disproportionately poor in America – is leading to blacks being arrested at higher rates for the same crimes doesn’t hold up under scrutiny: yes, maybe they’re being arrested a bit more for some minor offenses, but those aren’t the offenses where most of the black-white disparity in incarceration rates is coming from.

    That’s just one example, and there were many other points in your discussion that I thought were way too glib or outright misleading, but I don’t intend to go through the whole essay assertion by assertion because that would require far more time than I have. What I do want to do is to bear down on one particular issue, though, that was more central to your critique of Hughes than the marijuana issue I delved into a bit above.

    One of the very first points you make concerns Hughes’ omission of the fact that the Civil War is obviously what got in the way of the South benefiting from slavery as fully as it otherwise might’ve, such that Hughes’ point that the Southern states today are comparatively poor is irrelevant. You seem to think this is some devastating blow against Hughes. And I actually find it to be a devastating blow against you. First, ironically — given your criticism of Hughes about misrepresenting or misreading his sources — you completely misstate what Hughes says, omitting a key detail. Here is what Hughes wrote:

    “But slavery is hardly the root cause of America’s prosperity. If it were, then we would expect American states that practiced slavery to be richer than those that did not. Yet we see precisely the opposite. The South, where slavery thrived, was ‘the poorest and most backward region of the country,’ according to the economist Thomas Sowell.[1] This remains true today. A recent analysis of census data found that Northeastern states, which forbade slavery, ‘are among the wealthiest,’ whereas ‘states in the Southeast are among the poorest.’ ”

    Either you weren’t reading closely (which would, again, still be ironic given your uncharitably close reading of Hughes’ piece and your accusation that Hughes didn’t pay attention to or deliberately misrepresented his source material) or else (more likely) you yourself were being deliberately disingenuous. What Hughes said wasn’t only that the South TODAY is poorer than the North (“This remains true today”), but rather, that even back at the time (presumably before the Civil War), it “WAS ‘the poorest and most backward region of the country.’ ” (My emphasis.) Here is some more detail on that latter issue from this article (https://www.the-american-interest.com/2016/01/11/was-america-built-by-slaves/):

    “Thanks to Fogel, we actually can calculate the amount of extra income enjoyed by Southern whites as a result of owning slaves. In the 1850s, the zenith of the cotton economy, it came to between 1 and 1.5 percent of the nation’s GDP, not a trivial sum. By this period, however, the United States was already the second-largest economy in the world and was investing every year between 13 and 15 percent of GDP in new capital. Even if the entire ‘slave surplus’ were saved (which it wasn’t, because there were mansions to build and ball gowns to buy), it would have made a respectable contribution to growth, but it just wasn’t large enough to be the basis of an empire.”

    So the claim being made, for which Hughes cites Sowell, is about the South even BACK THEN. You can argue about numbers if you want, but you at least have to tackle the actual issue rather than just skip to what happened AFTER the Civil War. (As far as your quibble about slavery being a significant cause rather than the “root cause” of prosperity, I don’t find that objection to Hughes very compelling because the point being made by Ta-Nehisi Coates is obviously that slavery was a very big contributor to American prosperity, and I think, in fairness, that’s the point Hughes takes on, despite the superficial difference in labels.)

    But the failure of your analysis is worse than just this. You entirely miss the forest for the trees in your discussion of the role of the Civil War in destroying much of the South’s economy (and, therefore, its gains from slavery). If, as you admit, the South “squandered” its prosperity that had been based on slavery or lost it as a result of the Civil War, then it follows that it no longer had those ill-gotten gains afterwards. You think this somehow weakens Hughes’ critique, but perhaps you’ve lost sight of the big picture: this is about refuting (or supporting) the case for reparations. Insofar as Coates’ case is built in any significant part on ill-gotten gains from slavery (which it is), THEN IF THOSE GAINS WERE SQUANDERED OR LOST, THE CASE FOR REPARATIONS JUST LOST ONE OF ITS BIGGEST SUPPORTS. IF WHITE AMERICANS LIVING TODAY DID NOT BENEFIT FROM THOSE ILL-GOTTEN GAINS FROM OVER 1.5 CENTURIES AGO BECAUSE THOSE GAINS WERE LARGELY SQUANDERED, THEN WHAT’S THE BASIS FOR HOLDING THOSE AMERICANS LIVING TODAY ACCOUNTABLE FOR SLAVERY? If the actual enslaved persons, those who actually enslaved them AND those succeeding generations that benefited from the wealth yielded by such enslavement are all long dead, then what’s the basis for any additional wealth transfer to be made? (I understand there are other arguments for holding white Americans accountable for more recent history, but the point about slavery, as I said, was supposed to be a big piece of it.) Now, I could imagine you trying to advance an argument that white Americans should still somehow be held responsible because, to the extent they have wealth, perhaps it can still be attributed to slavery to some more limited extent, but that already becomes a much harder case to make if much of that earlier wealth was squandered, and therefore, Hughes’ point about the South’s relative poverty is a cogent one. You see, then, that what you think is a knock-down argument against Hughes is actually something of a knock-down argument against you, not only because of the notable misrepresentation/omission I already mentioned but also because of a failure to acknowledge the fact that the squandering of the South’s wealth is very relevant to the final analysis?

    (I would also make an independent compelling case that reparations have already been paid to blacks in spades by this country in the form of many, many decades of government aid and in the form of the massive wealth transfer from whites to blacks entailed in expenditures on policing to protect high-crime black communities from predation by black criminals, but that’s another story….)

    I should add, by the way, that, first, despite these points I’m making and others I could make, I did enormously appreciate the effort you put in, and I did find many of your arguments compelling, not so much for supporting a case for reparations (which I find beyond laughable on many levels) but more for pointing out the need to approach Coleman Hughes’ arguments with a bit more caution than some of us might have exhibited before. But second and more importantly, I completely agree with your ultimate recommendations (except for one) that you make in response to one of the comments on the piece, where you suggest some of the same things I’ve suggested to anyone who would listen — legalizing drugs, banning private school (one of the things I feel about very strongly), ending the dependence of schools on local funding and eliminating concentrations of poverty by devoting 10% of other buildings to affordable housing instead of putting all the poor people in the projects. It’s just that I don’t see these as “reparations,” but rather, as necessary measures for the sake of ALL Americans, because I think the present-day black ghettos are having a devastating effect on our culture and dragging us all down together, as the pathetic present state of our ongoing race war is proving again and again every day.

    1. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      Hello,

      While reading your critique, however, I found myself cringing at many moments at some obvious thing you were misrepresenting or omitting. One easy example is your suggesting, at least implicitly, that blacks are being rounded up and incarcerated in large numbers for smoking pot and that this may be having some significant effect upon the appearance that the black crime rate is much higher. Here’s what you wrote: “Yet if race provides some cushion for these mistakes, it is less likely that a white person will become part of the annual statistics despite an identical string of behaviors. To raise a familiar example: do white people commit marijuana offenses at the same rate that black people do? Yes. But while pundits object that unequal incarceration is merely the end-result of heightened police presence in bad neighborhoods, the logic of policing an overwhelmingly black population, for ANY reason, means that more blacks will enter prison despite an identical crime rate.” As you likely know, this is grossly misleading. First, most blacks who are in jail are there for violent crimes, and even those there solely for drug crimes are largely there for crimes that involve dealing (usually repeatedly), rather than possession. Here is Heather Mac Donald speaking to these issues (https://www.city-journal.org/html/decriminalization-delusion-14037.html):

      I didn’t say that black people commit crimes at an identical rate to white people. In fact, in this article, other articles, videos I’ve done, comments I’ve left in this thread and others, etc., I’m very consistent on this: black people *do* commit more ‘visible’ (read- non-white collar) crimes at disproportionate rates. In fact, this is exactly what you’d expect if you’re born in a neighborhood whose criminal opportunities are limited to street crime. A CEO that dumps mercury into a river, for example, or a hedge fund that cheats on its taxes, are not exactly crimes that would emerge from black neighborhoods. My statement that “more blacks will enter prison despite an identical crime rate” refers to street-level crimes that ARE identical (or just similar) to those in white neighborhoods, such as marijuana possession. Think about it- if you do something visible yet criminal (such as smoking marijuana), and your neighborhood happens to have lots of police, you will have a higher chance of getting caught than in a neighborhood with less street-level policing. This is true even in prosaic stuff, like traffic violations. If all the cops are in one place, guess who gets to shoulder the disproportionate burden of fines? In other words: equal behavior, unequal consequences. This principle holds true even in (especially in?) areas of non-criminal conduct, as well.

      Which brings us to:

      So unless you want to suggest that there are all these white people going around killing people and not being prosecuted for it, the reported crime rate and incarceration rate are largely accurate representations of who’s actually committing these crimes.

      Hmmm, I didn’t try to take this angle in the essay, but what if I do? The people responsible for the Iraq War, which both parties have absolutely disowned as a colossal waste of time and money and human life and judgment, were overwhelmingly white. Those who profited off of it were overwhelmingly white. No one was prosecuted, however- not even close. Worse, much of that stuff probably wasn’t even a crime: an interesting set of privileges that white people seem to enjoy, yet when a bunch of black people create mayhem or even *gasp* loot, Trump is ready to declare that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”. Interesting! So- what’s preventing me from taking this angle on the Iraq War, on pharmaceutical malfeasance, on Vietnam, on polluters and climate change deniers, those who put hydrogenated fats into their food products, and pretty much everyone else that, under the auspices of the status quo, is allowed to engage in the sort of mayhem that a black druglord can only dream of?

      And this is where the conversation really needs to go next. Crime is not poverty-driven, but character-driven. The situation only decides what kinds of misdeeds are available for those who are prone to engage in such. This is why “blacks commit 50% of all homicides” is both true AND delusional. I can’t pretend there is a some grand cultural failure in black neighborhoods while Trump sends billions in cash and weapons to Saudi Arabia so they could commit fucking genocide in Yemen.

      One of the very first points you make concerns Hughes’ omission of the fact that the Civil War is obviously what got in the way of the South benefiting from slavery as fully as it otherwise might’ve, such that Hughes’ point that the Southern states today are comparatively poor is irrelevant. You seem to think this is some devastating blow against Hughes. And I actually find it to be a devastating blow against you. First, ironically — given your criticism of Hughes about misrepresenting or misreading his sources — you completely misstate what Hughes says, omitting a key detail. Here is what Hughes wrote:

      “But slavery is hardly the root cause of America’s prosperity. If it were, then we would expect American states that practiced slavery to be richer than those that did not. Yet we see precisely the opposite. The South, where slavery thrived, was ‘the poorest and most backward region of the country,’ according to the economist Thomas Sowell.[1] This remains true today. A recent analysis of census data found that Northeastern states, which forbade slavery, ‘are among the wealthiest,’ whereas ‘states in the Southeast are among the poorest.’ ”

      Either you weren’t reading closely (which would, again, still be ironic given your uncharitably close reading of Hughes’ piece and your accusation that Hughes didn’t pay attention to or deliberately misrepresented his source material) or else (more likely) you yourself were being deliberately disingenuous. What Hughes said wasn’t only that the South TODAY is poorer than the North (“This remains true today”), but rather, that even back at the time (presumably before the Civil War), it “WAS ‘the poorest and most backward region of the country.’ ” (My emphasis.) Here is some more detail on that latter issue from this article.

      “Thanks to Fogel, we actually can calculate the amount of extra income enjoyed by Southern whites as a result of owning slaves. In the 1850s, the zenith of the cotton economy, it came to between 1 and 1.5 percent of the nation’s GDP, not a trivial sum. By this period, however, the United States was already the second-largest economy in the world and was investing every year between 13 and 15 percent of GDP in new capital. Even if the entire ‘slave surplus’ were saved (which it wasn’t, because there were mansions to build and ball gowns to buy), it would have made a respectable contribution to growth, but it just wasn’t large enough to be the basis of an empire.”

      So the claim being made, for which Hughes cites Sowell, is about the South even BACK THEN. You can argue about numbers if you want, but you at least have to tackle the actual issue rather than just skip to what happened AFTER the Civil War. (As far as your quibble about slavery being a significant cause rather than the “root cause” of prosperity, I don’t find that objection to Hughes very compelling because the point being made by Ta-Nehisi Coates is obviously that slavery was a very big contributor to American prosperity, and I think, in fairness, that’s the point Hughes takes on, despite the superficial difference in labels.)

      Huh? These are the lines, emphasis mine:

      “But slavery is hardly the root cause of America’s prosperity. If it were, then we would expect American states that practiced slavery to be richer than those that did not. Yet we see precisely the opposite. The South, where slavery thrived, was ‘the poorest and most backward region of the country,’ according to the economist Thomas Sowell.[1] This remains true today. A recent analysis of census data found that Northeastern states, which forbade slavery, ‘are among the wealthiest,’ whereas ‘states in the Southeast are among the poorest.’ ”

      In other words, Southern states were the poorest, *and* “this remains true today”. He even says states which had forbidden slavery (that is, the ones who weren’t under military occupation during the Civil War) are doing better than the states most negatively affected by the Civil War, which is exactly the point that I made. That the antebellum South was poorer is also irrelevant- I mean, what is your measure? The wages of the *average* worker in a plantation-based economy?? Lol. Do you not understand why Fogel’s data is a red herring? I already wrote in the essay that we already HAVE a measure of wealth for the South, whether or not that wealth was in fact realized or equitably distributed. That measure is this: slaves represented an entire unit of antebellum GDP. By that metric, the South was pretty wealthy. No, this wasn’t the same as cash-wealth or the North’s tech-wealth, and no, this wealth ultimately was not preserved, but to just omit this fact is dishonest and silly. Face it, the South fucked up by putting all of their eggs in one basket, in something that was already disappearing from the civilized world. Literally half of Coleman’s quote is about the *enduring* legacy of Southern poverty TODAY- and that, by definition, MUST include a discussion of the Civil War somewhere in his analysis.

      But the failure of your analysis is worse than just this. You entirely miss the forest for the trees in your discussion of the role of the Civil War in destroying much of the South’s economy (and, therefore, its gains from slavery). If, as you admit, the South “squandered” its prosperity that had been based on slavery or lost it as a result of the Civil War, then it follows that it no longer had those ill-gotten gains afterwards. You think this somehow weakens Hughes’ critique, but perhaps you’ve lost sight of the big picture: this is about refuting (or supporting) the case for reparations.

      Well, no, my critique is exactly in line with Coleman’s critique- he brings up slavery *specifically* to deny that slave-owning had some sort of overall positive effect on a nation’s total accumulated wealth. I mean, he admits as much when he surreptitiously changes the metric from total national wealth (which was the thing under discussion) to “median wealth per adult”, hoping that no one else would notice the bait and switch. He then goes on to argue that Singapore is the wealthiest nation in the world- and, look, they didn’t even need slavery! I mean- what?? Almost every nation in the top 10 of wealth, today, engaged in slavery, and THE richest nation on the planet wanted to preserve slavery so badly, that it went to war against itself! So, let’s all stop pretending that there is no correlation here, or that the argument was not really about that.

      Insofar as Coates’ case is built in any significant part on ill-gotten gains from slavery (which it is), THEN IF THOSE GAINS WERE SQUANDERED OR LOST, THE CASE FOR REPARATIONS JUST LOST ONE OF ITS BIGGEST SUPPORTS. IF WHITE AMERICANS LIVING TODAY DID NOT BENEFIT FROM THOSE ILL-GOTTEN GAINS FROM OVER 1.5 CENTURIES AGO BECAUSE THOSE GAINS WERE LARGELY SQUANDERED, THEN WHAT’S THE BASIS FOR HOLDING THOSE AMERICANS LIVING TODAY ACCOUNTABLE FOR SLAVERY?

      I don’t know if you, personally, have benefited from slavery, but the nation certainly did. I mean- are we just gonna ignore centuries of free labor and what this really entailed? There’s a ton of research on the specific, empirical ways America, as a whole, has benefited from slavery: https://www.google.com/search?q=how+did+america+benefit+from+slavery

      And reparations aren’t merely about whether this or that person benefited. They’re also about the fact that, if you enslave millions of people for centuries, then turn them into illiterate refugees meant to find their own way while enforcing a century of legal segregation, vote suppression, lynching, and state-led violence, then, well, something really ought to be done, right? Had those burdens not been placed upon black people, it stands to reason that they would be ahead of where they are now. Put another way: if you haven’t had sex in a while then go out to rape someone and she cuts your dick off after you’re finished, is your defense that “we’re even now”?

      If the actual enslaved persons, those who actually enslaved them AND those succeeding generations that benefited from the wealth yielded by such enslavement are all long dead, then what’s the basis for any additional wealth transfer to be made?

      White Tears, evidently.

      (I would also make an independent compelling case that reparations have already been paid to blacks in spades by this country in the form of many, many decades of government aid and in the form of the massive wealth transfer from whites to blacks entailed in expenditures on policing to protect high-crime black communities from predation by black criminals, but that’s another story….)

      Maybe you could make that case, but, incidentally, it’s something that Coleman Hughes would disagree with- did you know that he’s actually FOR reparations related to Jim Crow? Lol, it’s wild, right? I wonder why Coleman Hughes doesn’t publicize his support for a HUGE wealth transfer from the pockets of white people, straight into the pockets of black people? I mean, he certainly knows his audience, that’s for sure!

      I should add, by the way, that, first, despite these points I’m making and others I could make, I did enormously appreciate the effort you put in, and I did find many of your arguments compelling, not so much for supporting a case for reparations (which I find beyond laughable on many levels) but more for pointing out the need to approach Coleman Hughes’ arguments with a bit more caution than some of us might have exhibited before. But second and more importantly, I completely agree with your ultimate recommendations (except for one) that you make in response to one of the comments on the piece, where you suggest some of the same things I’ve suggested to anyone who would listen — legalizing drugs, banning private school (one of the things I feel about very strongly), ending the dependence of schools on local funding and eliminating concentrations of poverty by devoting 10% of other buildings to affordable housing instead of putting all the poor people in the projects. It’s just that I don’t see these as “reparations,” but rather, as necessary measures for the sake of ALL Americans, because I think the present-day black ghettos are having a devastating effect on our culture and dragging us all down together, as the pathetic present state of our ongoing race war is proving again and again every day.

      Hope you didn’t strain your face too much from all the cringing 🙂

  12. Steve Aoki

    Hi Alex,

    Man, this is quite ridiculous. You’re basically saying that Coleman shouldn’t be on the Conservative side due to Conservative beliefs being against black people, a both inaccurate and bold claim, yet quite amusing. Would like to know your thoughts on Sam Harris, is he more tolerable as he is white and has these views so it makes sense to you?

    1. Bob Stevens

      I have listened to a few podcasts with Coleman Hughes and he seems very measured and thoughtful. Its interesting to see you lay so much nefarious intention at his feet, when I perceive him to be seemingly extremely honest in his considerations. Frequently I worry that people can not give others the benefit of the doubt. Its always curious to me how hyper partisans can hold two divergent realities in their heads at once, as an example President Obama was imagined to be so stupid and incompetent that he was hiding his college transcripts, while the same time expertly and deftly executing a brilliant muslim plan to destroy you name it institution or even the country at large. You would think that would be absurd to stay consistent, but of course now we hear that Trump can’t read and barely knows what a country even is, let alone where it might be, while also being a secret russian asset playing 4D chess toward a goal of total world annihilation.

    2. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      The “very measured and thoughtful” is a shtick. I know that people don’t like to hear this sort of thing, so I kept it to like 5% of the article’s content, as a kind of after-thought. This is why I pointed out that the article’s title does not even need you to assume nefarious motives; it’s enough to point out that, given his misuse of data, philosophical confusions, and so on, the audience cannot trust him to actually deliver on what he’s arguing.

      But let’s actually talk about that 5%. Do you think my characterization of Coleman Hughes is unfair? If so, how do we account for the following facts:

      1. Coleman Hughes showed up to Congress to argue against slavery reparations. Buried in his many paragraphs of testimony, he has a single line arguing for Jim Crow reparations. This honestly did shock me. So I went back to his articles, especially ones where reparations were mentioned; I listened to a few other interviews; I searched for his name + reparations, yet I found nothing on this. Instead, all I saw were tons of articles praising Coleman Hughes for his position, or video clips pitting him against Ta-Nehisi Coates, with the uploaders and commentators overwhelmingly happy about Coleman’s anti-reparations argument. Yet my assumption is that, if you really do believe in Jim Crow reparations, *AND* are willing to fight for such, you’d bring it up more prominently during your statement to Congress. My assumption is that you’d actually mention it in your various articles when the subject comes up. My assumption is that, given how closely you are associated with anti-reparations discourse, you’d publicly push back against this in some way. Now, perhaps Coleman Hughes has done this since this article was written (September 2019), but the fact remains that, for about a year and a half, he was happy to develop this patina. Really- what should I *honestly* make of this? Is it really unfair of me to wonder why Coleman Hughes, who has cultivated a conservative-leaning, race-skeptic audience, might be down-playing his own convictions here? Is it unfair of me to wonder if Coleman would alienate his own audience by advocating for a MASSIVE wealth-transfer directly from the pockets of white people, into the pockets of blacks? Maybe it’s because I can’t myself imagine behaving in this way, but then again, this is, by definition, a performative contradiction on his part.

      2. Coleman’s interview with Dave Rubin was just atrocious. I’m sorry, but if you frame yourself as a fighter for humanist ideals, and as someone who would like to heal racial divisions, you CANNOT show up to a Dave Rubin interview and pretend like his own guests didn’t call you a small-brained Negroid. In other words, you cannot NOT engage with the critiques of Rubin’s interview style- and yet, when these objections came up, as Rubin’s own insistence, Coleman Hughes just sort of re-assured him, as if it’s all just bullshit. So, racially divisive rhetoric is unacceptable from the Left, but when you’re sitting across a guy whose show has peddled the worst, most cartoonish racial rhetoric from the Right, you have nothing to say? This strikes me as nothing more than careerism. Plus, many of the specific things he did say on the show were just pathetic. Kanye West ended up in a fucking mental hospital after growing more and more unhinged and drug-addled, and he just egged this bullshit on to the delight of an overwhelmingly white audience. I mean, did no one else get Ralph Ellison vibes here, as the book’s narrator got the shit beat out of him to hoots and hollers? Fuck anyone who didn’t try to put an end to this.

      3. I also can’t get over the bait-and-switch with “median wealth per adult”. I mean, I am absolutely positive Coleman Hughes read through the Excel spreadsheet he linked in his article. He absolutely did see that, if his metrics were to be believed, Libya is richer than China, and Azerbaijan is richer than Russia. I don’t know how much Coleman “gets” statistics, but to use this as his preferred proxy is not only absurd, but a purely ad-hoc means to deliver a bizarre argument (“the richest nations in the world were not slave-owning, and it’s wrong to draw these correlations”) that literally cannot be delivered by any other means. The same is true about so many other data points, or the bizarre ways he’d object to something in Baradaran’s book (to use one example) despite his objection being answered in the book, while he pretended it wasn’t.

      For what it’s worth, a friend of mine said I went too easy on Coleman Hughes here. Maybe, but I also think I pushed the article as far as it would go without alienating most readers. People don’t want to hear accusations of bad faith, but I’d be dishonest with myself if I didn’t at least mention this stuff. Part of me wants to chalk this bullshit up to, he’s young, and he’s engaging in youthful indiscretions, but that’s not only condescending, it also provides him the very kind of shield his audience has used for the past 2 years whenever he’d get criticized. The funny thing is, he’d be the first to argue against “the bigotry of low expectations”, but all I’ve seen from his followers is exactly that. I mean, look at that long-ass comment above ours- some guy literally showed up to wag his finger at me while saying he wouldn’t even bother to engage with Coleman’s work, or my responses to it! That’s insanely condescending to everyone involved.

  13. Alexander

    Thanks for taking the time to engage with my comments in detail. I know it does take a lot of time to do that, and I’m not unappreciative. A few responses below.

    You wrote:

    “I didn’t say that black people commit crimes at an identical rate to white people. In fact, in this article, other articles, videos I’ve done, comments I’ve left in this thread and others, etc., I’m very consistent on this: black people *do* commit more ‘visible’ (read- non-white collar) crimes at disproportionate rates. In fact, this is exactly what you’d expect if you’re born in a neighborhood whose criminal opportunities are limited to street crime. A CEO that dumps mercury into a river, for example, or a hedge fund that cheats on its taxes, are not exactly crimes that would emerge from black neighborhoods. My statement that ‘more blacks will enter prison despite an identical crime rate’ refers to street-level crimes that ARE identical (or just similar) to those in white neighborhoods, such as marijuana possession. Think about it- if you do something visible yet criminal (such as smoking marijuana), and your neighborhood happens to have lots of police, you will have a higher chance of getting caught than in a neighborhood with less street-level policing. This is true even in prosaic stuff, like traffic violations. If all the cops are in one place, guess who gets to shoulder the disproportionate burden of fines? In other words: equal behavior, unequal consequences. This principle holds true even in (especially in?) areas of non-criminal conduct, as well.”

    I was careful in what I’d written in NOT stating that you were plainly saying black people commit crimes at an identical rate to white people. That is why I wrote that you were “SUGGESTING, AT LEAST IMPLICITLY, that blacks are being rounded up and incarcerated in large numbers for smoking pot and that this may be having some significant effect upon the appearance that the black crime rate is much higher.” My point was that someone reading what you wrote could easily get a misimpression that black people are being overrepresented in the criminal justice system because their neighborhoods are heavily policed. And my point in response is that the types of crimes you’re talking about — smoking pot — are not what anyone is sitting locked up in prison for, at least not in any non-negligible numbers. That is why I adduced that data to support what I was saying. But your current response still advances the same problematic suggestion I objected to in the first place. When you write, “Think about it- if you do something visible yet criminal (such as smoking marijuana), and your neighborhood happens to have lots of police, you will have a higher chance of getting caught than in a neighborhood with less street-level policing. This is true even in prosaic stuff, like traffic violations,” the problem with that is that the types of crimes for which blacks are sitting in prison are generally the types of crimes for which you’re going to get arrested in ANY neighborhood. Living in a wealthy neighborhood won’t save you if you’re committing violent crimes, robberies, murders, etc., which are the types of crimes blacks are committing in the MOST disproportionate numbers. (In fact, precisely because such crimes in wealthy neighborhoods are more unusual and because the people living in such neighborhoods have more political power, the cops might face MORE pressured to seek out any evildoers and bring them to justice, whereas in a ghetto, there’s more of an attitude of violent fights happen every day, so whatever….) So while I might agree with you that some pot smoker on the corner or someone going over the speed limit is more likely to attract the attention of law enforcement in a high-crime (and, therefore, disproportionately black) neighborhood, your original point was about people going to prison despite an identical crime rate (“more blacks will enter prison despite an identical crime rate”). The problem with that assertion, again, is that people aren’t going to prison for smoking pot on the corner or speeding, at least not in any numbers that are more than negligible. As such, your approach to this issue is a dangerous distraction – the same sort of distraction we’re seeing with the moral panic about policing and “systemic racism” from the media right now – from real underlying problems (disproportionate black poverty) that aren’t getting addressed and that are going to be HARDER to address as a result of the race war the media is creating that will result, as it always does, in sending poor and middle-class whites fleeing to the political right, with the end-result that the poor and working class will remain divided, so that nothing other than cosmetic garbage (tearing down monuments, renaming maple syrup brands, making lots of noise about defunding the police) will get done.

    In response to this comment of mine – “So unless you want to suggest that there are all these white people going around killing people and not being prosecuted for it, the reported crime rate and incarceration rate are largely accurate representations of who’s actually committing these crimes,” you wrote:

    “Hmmm, I didn’t try to take this angle in the essay, but what if I do? The people responsible for the Iraq War, which both parties have absolutely disowned as a colossal waste of time and money and human life and judgment, were overwhelmingly white. Those who profited off of it were overwhelmingly white. No one was prosecuted, however- not even close. Worse, much of that stuff probably wasn’t even a crime: an interesting set of privileges that white people seem to enjoy, yet when a bunch of black people create mayhem or even *gasp* loot, Trump is ready to declare that ‘when the looting starts, the shooting starts’. Interesting! So- what’s preventing me from taking this angle on the Iraq War, on pharmaceutical malfeasance, on Vietnam, on polluters and climate change deniers, those who put hydrogenated fats into their food products, and pretty much everyone else that, under the auspices of the status quo, is allowed to engage in the sort of mayhem that a black druglord can only dream of?”

    Look, I thought the Iraq War was the biggest blunder in recent memory and thought George W. Bush was the worst President in my lifetime, so you needn’t convince me that it was really, really bad in all kinds of ways. I also would’ve been glad if some people got prosecuted for it. The thing is this, though: it’s not a racial issue just because the people “who profited off of it were overwhelmingly white.” We all are engaging in this kind of lazy “racially disproportionate = racist” thinking right now way too much. The military itself is very racially integrated, and we’ve had leaders who were black (Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, President Obama, etc.) highly involved in all kinds of questionable military operations. We have governments of entire nations that are black-dominated or dominated by other “people of color” (oh my, how I hate that phrase!) engaging in unjust wars as well. Sure, the beneficiaries of wars are disproportionately white, but I think we both know that wars are not initiated for that reason (to benefit white people per se). If they’re initiated for economic reasons, then it’s to benefit whoever happens to be in power in the society that initiated them. But back on the more fundamental issue, the difference between a homicide and a war stems from a distinction between, on the one hand, violating the most fundamental purpose of the Hobbesian social contract by killing one’s fellow citizen and, as such, being prosecuted for it as a murderer and, on the other hand, engaging in a formally, or at least tacitly, permissible military operation, most often with the full-throated support of the (duly propagandized) electorate. Now you might be able to make a compelling argument that this or that war or military operation was unjust or even outright illegal, and I might even agree with you in many such cases, but again, none of that has anything to do with race.

    You wrote, continuing on from the previous paragraph I quoted:

    “And this is where the conversation really needs to go next. Crime is not poverty-driven, but character-driven. The situation only decides what kinds of misdeeds are available for those who are prone to engage in such. This is why ‘blacks commit 50% of all homicides’ is both true AND delusional. I can’t pretend there is a some grand cultural failure in black neighborhoods while Trump sends billions in cash and weapons to Saudi Arabia so they could commit fucking genocide in Yemen.”

    I disagree with this. First, I think crime is a combination of character-driven, poverty-driven and culture-driven. If you grow up in a neighborhood where you know many men who went to jail and where thuggery, violence, law-breaking and gangbanging are all just regular things people around you do, then that’s something you’re going to be more likely to do yourself than if you grew up in some pristine suburb where everyone around you is a white-collar professional. But obviously, you’re also making a larger point about how certain people are inclined to transgressive behavior, and depending on your circumstances in life, i.e., whether you’re a black man living in a high-crime ghetto or a President of the United States, your acts will be judged criminal or not. Again, I completely agree with you about the Saudi Arabia/Yemen thing and think we should be getting out of the Middle East (and almost everywhere else) entirely, but this is why I generally prefer Trump on foreign policy to ANY of his predecessors. Despite all his many flaws and failures on other fronts, he’s actually generally kept his promise to keep us out of foreign wars and entanglements and has consistently battled with the top generals and neocons to get us out of Syria, Afghanistan, etc. He’s even shown a great deal of restraint in responding to provocations by Iran and Syria insofar as he’s done very small, targeted things to send a message but NOT engaged in the kinds of large-scale bomb-the-civilians campaigns that his predecessors had undertaken and that many of his own generals and advisors were urging him to undertake as well. I don’t think, therefore, that Trump is that bad in the respect you’re describing, at least not measured on the scale of any of the previous administrations in living memory. Taking as an example the administration that preceded Trump’s, would you say, for example, that Obama was also prone to criminal or transgressive behavior but because, like Trump, he had the occasion of the Presidency to indulge those propensities, he got to go wild by bombing places like Syria and Libya instead of popping caps in the asses of fellow gangbangers in the ghetto? The thing is I do think there’s a big difference between acting under color of law and acting in a manner you know is illegal and will get you prosecuted, and it’s important to distinguish between the two and between people who will do one but not the other. One important principle we have in our justice system – and which I think is a sound principle – is that you can’t be prosecuted for something that wasn’t illegal at the time you did it. So if a President uses power to drop bombs on civilians in Syria but it’s under color of law, I don’t think it’s fair to view him as a criminal thug, just on a larger scale. He might have done those things if the law said such acts were illegal. The problem, I think, is that our reins on executive authority are not sufficiently spelled out, and Presidents have way too much power to wage undeclared wars and other operations without any oversight. But that doesn’t make them morally equivalent to the murderous ghetto thug, who knows perfectly well his act is criminal but, for whatever reason, can’t bring himself to care or to hold back.

    Turning to the Civil War issue, I won’t quote everything you wrote but will just focus on a few points. First, my point about Coleman Hughes’ express citation to Sowell for the proposition that slavery, even BEFORE the war, wasn’t that significant to American prosperity was there to point out that you were making it seem like Hughes engages in a pure logical non sequitur insofar as he suggests that slavery wasn’t that significant a factor in America’s wealth because we see that the South is the poorest part of the country today, so there you go. And, in response to that, I was pointing out that you really all but entirely ignored Hughes’ first assertion, for which he cites Sowell, that slavery wasn’t that big a factor even before the war. I don’t have access to the specific data he cites Sowell for (if you know what that is, I’d be interested), and so I cited the Fogel research for the proposition that “we actually can calculate the amount of extra income enjoyed by Southern whites as a result of owning slaves. In the 1850s, the zenith of the cotton economy, it came to between 1 and 1.5 percent of the nation’s GDP.” In response to that you then wrote, “Do you not understand why Fogel’s data is a red herring? I already wrote in the essay that we already HAVE a measure of wealth for the South, whether or not that wealth was in fact realized or equitably distributed. That measure is this: slaves represented an entire unit of antebellum GDP. By that metric, the South was pretty wealthy.” In the essay itself, you’d written, that Ta-Nehisi Coates had offered “at least one direct, numerical measure for slavery as an asset class, which in 1860 “’w[as] worth more than all of America’s manufacturing, all of the railroads, all of the productive capacity of the United States put together.’ (Baradaran, for her part, cites the number as roughly equal to America’s entire antebellum GDP.)” I’m not sure how to reconcile the Baradaran claim with the Fogel claim — I assume they’re measuring different things because otherwise there’s no way the numbers would be that far off — and I’m not sure what exactly she’s measuring, but I also don’t understand why you think the Fogel research is any sort of red herring. The point being made is that we’re talking about slavery, at most, contributing between 1 and 1.5% of America’s GDP at the height of the cotton economy, so yes, it’s a factor, but is it a significant source of America’s wealth today, such that America, rightly, should pay back the descendants of slaves for the wealth it has gotten off their ancestors’ uncompensated labor? No, Hughes argues. But to really give force to that argument, he needs to make the second part of the claim, which concerns the POST-Civil War situation, which I’ll now turn to.

    You make various comments about Hughes’ logical errors or his off-the-point, kind-of-silly remarks about Singapore, and I’m not quibbling with you about those. This is why, in my initial comment, I made clear that I agreed with many of your criticisms of Hughes. I obviously focused on one or two key points of disagreement. But here’s the nub of the Civil War/slavery issue, for me: you say about Hughes that “he brings up slavery *specifically* to deny that slave-owning had some sort of overall positive effect on a nation’s total accumulated wealth.” That’s right, he does. And if he can proceed to show that after the Civil War, much of the wealth gotten from slavery was lost, then that proves his point, doesn’t it? You wrote in your original essay, “To be clear: the South had LOST its wealth soon after its slaves had EARNED it. Not ‘all’ of it, mind- not EVERY PENNY, but certainly ENOUGH to make any discussion of reparations begin in a place Coleman would prefer to skip.” But, again, if we all agree — as we all seem to — that the South lost the bulk of its wealth from slavery as a result of the Civil War and the aftermath, then isn’t Hughes right that we can’t attribute America’s present-day wealth in any significant part to slavery? And if that’s the case, then, as I explained before, slavery is no longer a very significant factor in making out a case for reparations. While your only response to this question of mine — “If the actual enslaved persons, those who actually enslaved them AND those succeeding generations that benefited from the wealth yielded by such enslavement are all long dead, then what’s the basis for any additional wealth transfer to be made?” — is “White Tears, evidently,” the question I posed remains. Again, as I made clear, I understand that there are post-slavery factors such as Jim Crow that might ground a claim for reparations and that Hughes (unlike me) might even find compelling, but I’m asking about slavery specifically. And what I’m really saying is that Hughes’ observation that the South is the poorest part of the country today, coupled with your own contention that this is because its wealth was dissipated during/after/as a result of the Civil War, makes a compelling argument that slavery shouldn’t be a big factor in any case for reparations.

    Further on this point, you wrote this:

    “I don’t know if you, personally, have benefited from slavery, but the nation certainly did. I mean- are we just gonna ignore centuries of free labor and what this really entailed? There’s a ton of research on the specific, empirical ways America, as a whole, has benefited from slavery: https://www.google.com/search?q=how+did+america+benefit+from+slavery”

    I can do a Google search too, but again, if slavery before the war could account for only 1-1.5% of America’s GDP, and if after the war, even much of that benefit derived was slavery was squandered, then what are we really talking about here? I don’t have any desire to “ignore centuries of free labor.” That’s why we teach that stuff in history class and clearly and repeatedly express how wrong it was — and speak about it ad nauseum in every aspect of public life, especially lately. We don’t ignore those centuries of free labor; slavery is still the ultimate source of most of the current discussions in America today. We’ve, of course, changed the laws that made that kind of system of free labor possible, and in the sixties, we also proceeded to create a whole system of social programs that have been disproportionately benefitting black people (at least in terms of dollars transferred) for many, many decades. Ignoring the part about how those stupidly designed programs ended up destroying the black family and creating a cycle of poverty in ghettos, how are those concrete dollar payments disproportionately transferred from wealthier white taxpayers to black people not massive reparations for slavery already paid?

    Picking up right from there, you wrote:

    “And reparations aren’t merely about whether this or that person benefited. They’re also about the fact that, if you enslave millions of people for centuries, then turn them into illiterate refugees meant to find their own way while enforcing a century of legal segregation, vote suppression, lynching, and state-led violence, then, well, something really ought to be done, right? Had those burdens not been placed upon black people, it stands to reason that they would be ahead of where they are now. Put another way: if you haven’t had sex in a while then go out to rape someone and she cuts your dick off after you’re finished, is your defense that ‘we’re even now’?”

    I’ll ignore that last hypothetical, as I don’t see its relevance, but my answer to your more substantive query is what I already wrote above. Something WAS done. MANY DECADES of something. The Great Society. Billions or even trillions in benefits disproportionately paid to blacks and coming primarily from whites, all with the full imprimatur and mandate of the U.S. government. These are concrete cash payments made. On top of that, as I already suggested in my earlier post, the disproportionate expenditures, funded largely by white taxpayers, on policing and other free social services extended to high-crime, high-poverty black neighborhoods is yet another instance of reparations. This has likewise gone on for decades.

    For those reasons, the notion that you’re advancing that blacks were freed from slavery, then made subject to legal discrimination, and then finally made equal before the law and told, in essence, “Okay, you’re good now; off you go. Don’t make too much trouble,” is absurd. The whole irony here, however, is that blacks probably would’ve been BETTER OFF if they had been put in that palpably unfair position. They would’ve struggled for a generation or two and then — like every group of poor, illiterate, uneducated, discriminated-against immigrants (Irish, Italians, Chinese, etc.) who came to this country and then, in subsequent generations, made it into the middle class and beyond – they would’ve worked their way into prosperity (or, at least, into average Americanhood, though I’d argue that the experience of having to work to succeed as a community will make you STRONGER and BETTER than the average American). Instead, the dumb benefits programs we instituted inadvertently (I think inadvertently, at least) incentivized single-motherhood and dependency and created all the bad cultural patterns we see now in the black ghettos. That doesn’t mean that there weren’t better alternatives to those bad programs (as I already said, I favor nearly all the same reforms you outlined yourself), but as far as reparations to make things right, that was done in this country already. I haven’t personally calculated the amount of money transferred back to black Americans in this way, but if someone took the time to do the calculation, I wouldn’t be surprised if it exceeded any ill-gotten wealth from slavery many times over.

    You wrote:
    “Hope you didn’t strain your face too much from all the cringing”

    My face is permanently scarred from the cringe-lines. I doubt I’ll ever recover.

    1. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      I was careful in what I’d written in NOT stating that you were plainly saying black people commit crimes at an identical rate to white people. That is why I wrote that you were “SUGGESTING, AT LEAST IMPLICITLY, that blacks are being rounded up and incarcerated in large numbers for smoking pot and that this may be having some significant effect upon the appearance that the black crime rate is much higher.” My point was that someone reading what you wrote could easily get a misimpression that black people are being overrepresented in the criminal justice system because their neighborhoods are heavily policed. And my point in response is that the types of crimes you’re talking about — smoking pot — are not what anyone is sitting locked up in prison for, at least not in any non-negligible numbers. That is why I adduced that data to support what I was saying.

      No, I did not suggest that marijuana, specifically, led to an explosion of the black prison population. I volunteered marijuana as an example of ONE discrepancy, as it’s very well-studied. This is why I wrote: “to raise a familiar example”. You then say it’s a “misimpression that black people are being overrepresented in the criminal justice system because their neighborhoods are heavily policed”, but what is that based on? By definition, if you increase police presence anywhere, you will catch more ‘incidental’ crimes- specifically, the sort of crime available for police officers to catch. Again, if Trump de-regulates the disposal of waste, guts Obamacare, or pretends, for 2 months, that coronavirus is a hoax while demanding governors back off from social distancing, we have already quintupled America’s *entire* homicide rate overnight. But, because America does not police nor punish such infractions, guess what happens? Here’s a horrific drug pusher- pharmaceutical companies have been implicated in fentanyl overdoses, which account for 30,000 deaths per year- 2X the homicide rate in America. Any arrests there? Black people are also over-represented for muggings, auto theft, larceny, home break-ins- that is a cost of $13 billion, which is not good. Yet corporate wage-theft accounts for $40+ billion in losses, and as far as I’m aware, no one has been imprisoned. So, explain again how the policing of *specific* communities for *specific* crimes doesn’t lead us to incarceration rates skewed by class, race, and other forms of privilege?

      But your current response still advances the same problematic suggestion I objected to in the first place. When you write, “Think about it- if you do something visible yet criminal (such as smoking marijuana), and your neighborhood happens to have lots of police, you will have a higher chance of getting caught than in a neighborhood with less street-level policing. This is true even in prosaic stuff, like traffic violations,” the problem with that is that the types of crimes for which blacks are sitting in prison are generally the types of crimes for which you’re going to get arrested in ANY neighborhood.

      This is true, and I don’t deny it- not in this essay, not in other essays, not in my videos, as I’ve brought up these facts explicitly. Just as I have in these comments, as well. But:

      Living in a wealthy neighborhood won’t save you if you’re committing violent crimes, robberies, murders, etc., which are the types of crimes blacks are committing in the MOST disproportionate numbers.

      No, but living in a wealthy neighborhood will absolutely save you from prosecution over crimes that wealthier neighborhoods select for. And, the higher in power that you go, the more protection you get from prosecution against even grislier, costlier crimes.

      So while I might agree with you that some pot smoker on the corner or someone going over the speed limit is more likely to attract the attention of law enforcement in a high-crime (and, therefore, disproportionately black) neighborhood, your original point was about people going to prison despite an identical crime rate (“more blacks will enter prison despite an identical crime rate”). The problem with that assertion, again, is that people aren’t going to prison for smoking pot on the corner or speeding, at least not in any numbers that are more than negligible. As such, your approach to this issue is a dangerous distraction – the same sort of distraction we’re seeing with the moral panic about policing and “systemic racism” from the media right now – from real underlying problems (disproportionate black poverty) that aren’t getting addressed and that are going to be HARDER to address as a result of the race war the media is creating that will result, as it always does, in sending poor and middle-class whites fleeing to the political right, with the end-result that the poor and working class will remain divided, so that nothing other than cosmetic garbage (tearing down monuments, renaming maple syrup brands, making lots of noise about defunding the police) will get done.

      This is just delusional. Entire *cities* have been funded by things like asymmetrical fines, and you’re calling this “negligible”? *Decades* of drug laws have been written in a way that imprisons one class of (black) drug-pushers, but not others. That you call the sheer numerical weight of, say, 13 billion vs. 40 billion in monetary losses “a dangerous distraction” speaks to nothing but your personal feelings, your personal comfort, your personal narrative and ideological zeal.

      Look, I thought the Iraq War was the biggest blunder in recent memory and thought George W. Bush was the worst President in my lifetime, so you needn’t convince me that it was really, really bad in all kinds of ways. I also would’ve been glad if some people got prosecuted for it. The thing is this, though: it’s not a racial issue just because the people “who profited off of it were overwhelmingly white.” We all are engaging in this kind of lazy “racially disproportionate = racist” thinking right now way too much. The military itself is very racially integrated, and we’ve had leaders who were black (Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, President Obama, etc.) highly involved in all kinds of questionable military operations. We have governments of entire nations that are black-dominated or dominated by other “people of color” (oh my, how I hate that phrase!) engaging in unjust wars as well. Sure, the beneficiaries of wars are disproportionately white, but I think we both know that wars are not initiated for that reason (to benefit white people per se). If they’re initiated for economic reasons, then it’s to benefit whoever happens to be in power in the society that initiated them. But back on the more fundamental issue, the difference between a homicide and a war stems from a distinction between, on the one hand, violating the most fundamental purpose of the Hobbesian social contract by killing one’s fellow citizen and, as such, being prosecuted for it as a murderer and, on the other hand, engaging in a formally, or at least tacitly, permissible military operation, most often with the full-throated support of the (duly propagandized) electorate. Now you might be able to make a compelling argument that this or that war or military operation was unjust or even outright illegal, and I might even agree with you in many such cases, but again, none of that has anything to do with race.

      Again, delusional. An entire group of wealthy, powerful, *overwhelmingly white* people are systematically allowed to engage in mayhem while others are not, and your naive-skeptic defense is “it’s not racist”? Oh, ok- it’s white people who are doing it, it’s white people who are protected while doing it, it’s white people who benefit, and it’s white people who are defending it, but it’s “not racist” because there are no KKK hoods and no explicit, legal policy that precludes non-whites from participating in what is functionally off-limits for the vast, VAST majority of nonwhites with a criminal predilection? In other words, the results are functionally racist and are in fact indistinguishable from racism, but we need to be politically correct and call it something else so that you’re not triggered?

      I disagree with this. First, I think crime is a combination of character-driven, poverty-driven and culture-driven. If you grow up in a neighborhood where you know many men who went to jail and where thuggery, violence, law-breaking and gangbanging are all just regular things people around you do, then that’s something you’re going to be more likely to do yourself than if you grew up in some pristine suburb where everyone around you is a white-collar professional.

      If by poverty-driven, you mean “poverty selects for crime X, while wealth selects for crime Y”, then yes, I agree.

      But obviously, you’re also making a larger point about how certain people are inclined to transgressive behavior, and depending on your circumstances in life, i.e., whether you’re a black man living in a high-crime ghetto or a President of the United States, your acts will be judged criminal or not. Again, I completely agree with you about the Saudi Arabia/Yemen thing and think we should be getting out of the Middle East (and almost everywhere else) entirely, but this is why I generally prefer Trump on foreign policy to ANY of his predecessors. Despite all his many flaws and failures on other fronts, he’s actually generally kept his promise to keep us out of foreign wars and entanglements and has consistently battled with the top generals and neocons to get us out of Syria, Afghanistan, etc. He’s even shown a great deal of restraint in responding to provocations by Iran and Syria insofar as he’s done very small, targeted things to send a message but NOT engaged in the kinds of large-scale bomb-the-civilians campaigns that his predecessors had undertaken and that many of his own generals and advisors were urging him to undertake as well. I don’t think, therefore, that Trump is that bad in the respect you’re describing, at least not measured on the scale of any of the previous administrations in living memory. Taking as an example the administration that preceded Trump’s, would you say, for example, that Obama was also prone to criminal or transgressive behavior but because, like Trump, he had the occasion of the Presidency to indulge those propensities, he got to go wild by bombing places like Syria and Libya instead of popping caps in the asses of fellow gangbangers in the ghetto? The thing is I do think there’s a big difference between acting under color of law and acting in a manner you know is illegal and will get you prosecuted, and it’s important to distinguish between the two and between people who will do one but not the other. One important principle we have in our justice system – and which I think is a sound principle – is that you can’t be prosecuted for something that wasn’t illegal at the time you did it. So if a President uses power to drop bombs on civilians in Syria but it’s under color of law, I don’t think it’s fair to view him as a criminal thug, just on a larger scale. He might have done those things if the law said such acts were illegal. The problem, I think, is that our reins on executive authority are not sufficiently spelled out, and Presidents have way too much power to wage undeclared wars and other operations without any oversight. But that doesn’t make them morally equivalent to the murderous ghetto thug, who knows perfectly well his act is criminal but, for whatever reason, can’t bring himself to care or to hold back.

      Really- so much text to justify legal protections for one form of criminal misconduct that overwhelmingly fractures on racial, class, and public/private lines, but not another. Yeah, I get it, “you can’t be charged for evils that aren’t crimes,” which is why I recognize that, from a purely pragmatic perspective, it’s not as simple as “just prosecuting” Bush and Obama for war crimes. What I am saying, however, is that you really have no moral standing to frame things as, “well, black people commit more crimes, so…” They don’t- they only commit more crimes of a certain TYPE, while objectively worse and more destructive crimes go completely unpunished, often because they are not categorized as crimes, and often because some crimes (such as wage-theft, pollution, tax evasion, etc.) are ignored. It’s really incredible to have a conversation about “the failures of black culture” as if we can’t point to far deeper and grander failures in white culture. It would be one thing if, say, the “black people are killing black people” concern-troll was nestled into a deeper discussion of crime which seeks to eliminate evil conduct more broadly by expanding how we think about crime. But, we never do get that, as you have shown. We simply get the concern-trolling, then people who throw their hands up and say, well, that’s just the way it is, folks, now let’s go cut some spending.

      As for presidents not being equivalent to “the murderous ghetto thug”, of course they’re not the same! Clearly, Bush and co. unleashed EXPONENTIALLY more mayhem into the world than some random drug pusher. I mean, duh?? Trump spent 2 fucking months denying coronavirus was happening while harassing governors to help his re-election prospects. Of the 250k deaths that we’ll likely get, maybe- what, 1/2 of those were preventable? But, yeah, let me pretend that it’s “unfair” to compare Trump to a “bad guy doing bad things in the streets” because one of them had the opportunity to rise to national office. Lol, come on.

      First, my point about Coleman Hughes’ express citation to Sowell for the proposition that slavery, even BEFORE the war, wasn’t that significant to American prosperity was there to point out that you were making it seem like Hughes engages in a pure logical non sequitur insofar as he suggests that slavery wasn’t that significant a factor in America’s wealth because we see that the South is the poorest part of the country today, so there you go. And, in response to that, I was pointing out that you really all but entirely ignored Hughes’ first assertion, for which he cites Sowell, that slavery wasn’t that big a factor even before the war. I don’t have access to the specific data he cites Sowell for (if you know what that is, I’d be interested), and so I cited the Fogel research for the proposition that “we actually can calculate the amount of extra income enjoyed by Southern whites as a result of owning slaves. In the 1850s, the zenith of the cotton economy, it came to between 1 and 1.5 percent of the nation’s GDP.”

      Sowell and Reason.com aside, pretty much every study on this indicates slavery was at least equivalent to a substantial portion of the nation’s GDP, and many studies go much further. Here’s one analysis that estimates slavery to have been the equivalent of 77% of *today’s* GDP, in *today’s* dollars: https://www.measuringworth.com/slavery.php

      And I called it a red herring because it conflates “additional income” with GDP without discussing context, making it kinda useless for our purposes. Further, Fogel never made that 1.5% claim as far as I can tell- this was from an article that did not even explain how it came to its conclusion. Fogel, for his part, called slavery extremely lucrative, on par with any other major business opportunity in the 1800s. This is his most well known work, where he suggests this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_on_the_Cross

      There were *millions* of people engaged in generational, unpaid labor for centuries, an institution which the South went to war to protect, and you think it reasonable to conclude that slavery made up just 1.5% of GDP? The fact that your bullshit-meter doesn’t just fly off the handle at hearing this kind of thing shows- again- how wedded you are to ideology.

      I obviously focused on one or two key points of disagreement. But here’s the nub of the Civil War/slavery issue, for me: you say about Hughes that “he brings up slavery *specifically* to deny that slave-owning had some sort of overall positive effect on a nation’s total accumulated wealth.” That’s right, he does. And if he can proceed to show that after the Civil War, much of the wealth gotten from slavery was lost, then that proves his point, doesn’t it? You wrote in your original essay, “To be clear: the South had LOST its wealth soon after its slaves had EARNED it. Not ‘all’ of it, mind- not EVERY PENNY, but certainly ENOUGH to make any discussion of reparations begin in a place Coleman would prefer to skip.” But, again, if we all agree — as we all seem to — that the South lost the bulk of its wealth from slavery as a result of the Civil War and the aftermath, then isn’t Hughes right that we can’t attribute America’s present-day wealth in any significant part to slavery?

      That’s not how slavery worked. Slavery generated cash-crop that, over several centuries, made its way into the nation as a whole. Think of all the financiers involved, merchants, industries such as shipping (and coastline cities) absolutely dependent upon it, etc. America was an export-driven economy. I gave you links. Did you bother to read them? Here are the details: https://www.vox.com/identities/2019/8/16/20806069/slavery-economy-capitalism-violence-cotton-edward-baptist https://www.forbes.com/sites/hbsworkingknowledge/2017/05/03/the-clear-connection-between-slavery-and-american-capitalism/#6d22c9457bd3

      The DeRosa article doesn’t like this data and calls it over-stated. But proposing general 1.5% GDP for slavery is also orders of magnitude different from any mainstream numbers you will find. No one gives any good reason for rejecting the mainstream numbers. Baptist gets criticized for assuming the “whole nation” benefits, but we need to take exactly zero position on this: an additional unit of GDP is more or less the measure, and any pigeon-holing/amplification on this front is another red herring.

      You’re acting like just because slavery was outlawed in 1860, that specific loss of property- that is, the loss of slaves- in 1860 “proves” America didn’t benefit overall. You’re trying to erase two centuries of economic history to fit a narrative that simply has no legs. You then take the military response to what was broadly viewed as a criminal action- secession- as “punishment enough”, and assume that it obviates the need for reparations? Um, what? So if I place you and your family into a sex dungeon, video tape their torture and sell it to a long line of perverts who ultimately finance a personal empire of mine, do you think your kids deserve none of that wealth after asset forfeiture takes it from me, simply because your kids were born at the tail-end of this process and were “only” shipped off to an orphanage in which they were mandated to stay for generations? Because, functionally, this is where we are with reparations. The “orphanage” is any community that you are born into which selects for poor life outcomes by virtue of your birth.

      I can do a Google search too,

      Evidently not!

      but again, if slavery before the war could account for only 1-1.5% of America’s GDP, and if after the war, even much of that benefit derived was slavery was squandered, then what are we really talking about here? I don’t have any desire to “ignore centuries of free labor.” That’s why we teach that stuff in history class and clearly and repeatedly express how wrong it was — and speak about it ad nauseum in every aspect of public life, especially lately. We don’t ignore those centuries of free labor; slavery is still the ultimate source of most of the current discussions in America today.

      So, you don’t want to ignore centuries of free labor; all you want to do is say it’s 1.5% of GDP, and actually hurt (not helped) America, and has been outlawed anyway, is therefore no longer a moral question that we have to deal with. Lol, ok.

      We’ve, of course, changed the laws that made that kind of system of free labor possible, and in the sixties, we also proceeded to create a whole system of social programs that have been disproportionately benefitting black people (at least in terms of dollars transferred) for many, many decades. Ignoring the part about how those stupidly designed programs ended up destroying the black family and creating a cycle of poverty in ghettos, how are those concrete dollar payments disproportionately transferred from wealthier white taxpayers to black people not massive reparations for slavery already paid?

      Ignoring the part where you’re just repeating Sowell’s propaganda, these programs are- of course- a form of redistributive justice. The point is that they are far from enough. And isn’t it weird that, although you deny “racism” in what amounts to functionally indistinguishable-from-racism effects on black communities (such as the policing of bad neighborhoods), you’re willing to accept things like welfare, which benefits *everybody*, as a form of “reparations for blacks” merely because it happens to break along color lines? But, see, I do accept welfare as a kind of limited reparations and have no problem saying that- functionally, this IS the effect, right? But you can’t do that with racism and stuff like the white-owned American war machine, because that wouldn’t be politically correct.

      I’ll ignore that last hypothetical, as I don’t see its relevance, but my answer to your more substantive query is what I already wrote above. Something WAS done. MANY DECADES of something. The Great Society. Billions or even trillions in benefits disproportionately paid to blacks and coming primarily from whites, all with the full imprimatur and mandate of the U.S. government. These are concrete cash payments made. On top of that, as I already suggested in my earlier post, the disproportionate expenditures, funded largely by white taxpayers, on policing and other free social services extended to high-crime, high-poverty black neighborhoods is yet another instance of reparations. This has likewise gone on for decades.

      But we also had a massive government program for white people- it was called government-backed mortgage loans. Guess what happened? White people took advantage, moved out to the suburbs, and multiplied their wealth via home equity and the ‘nice’ neighborhoods/job opportunities that came with that. Meanwhile, blacks couldn’t, and after they were shut out of the biggest wealth-creator in American history, the comparative pittance they received via welfare was “too much” in your eyes. Give a Negro an inch, and he’ll take the whole fuckin’ mile- amirite?

      If you think welfare is bad, here’s an idea: the government can multiply wealth faster than any business on the planet. Let’s do an investment fund for black people that is pegged to the real estate benchmarks of the 1950s/60s into today- and, to save some time, let’s condense that parabola into a mere decade of growth. Or is that “not fair”? Because the real estate boom ain’t coming back- black people need a new asset class, “to make it even”. What’s it gonna be, then? It’d be great if it could double up as an appreciating home. So, maybe a combination of guaranteed housing they are allowed to hold a private contract for, and an investment fund + direct cash injections to cover the rest? What do you think? “Nothing” isn’t the answer. “Bootstraps” aren’t, either. Have you ever listened to an MLK speech? Well then, please do. He frequently talks about white people who told black Americans in the 1960s that “nothing worked” and “it’s time for bootstraps”. Funny how history- and propaganda tactics- tend to repeat, huh?

      The whole irony here, however, is that blacks probably would’ve been BETTER OFF if they had been put in that palpably unfair position. They would’ve struggled for a generation or two and then — like every group of poor, illiterate, uneducated, discriminated-against immigrants (Irish, Italians, Chinese, etc.) who came to this country and then, in subsequent generations, made it into the middle class and beyond – they would’ve worked their way into prosperity (or, at least, into average Americanhood, though I’d argue that the experience of having to work to succeed as a community will make you STRONGER and BETTER than the average American).

      “Every group of poor, illiterate, uneducated, discriminated-against immigrants” was SELF-SELECTED for every conceivable trait- wealth, intelligence, skills, personal drive. By contrast, slaves were indiscriminately kidnapped. Do you not know what survivorship bias is? Did you even read that part of the article? Or do you come across concepts you don’t understand, then file them away in your head as a random collection of noises?

      My goodness, I can’t believe we’ve gone from “hey man, cool article, here are some objections” to “it would have been better to just throw black people on their asses after slavery, and that’s not racist to say”.

      Anyone reading these comments- remember when I said Coleman Hughes had cultivated an unsavory audience, and was unwilling to break away from them? Just read through ALL the comments, guys. You’ll see who the audience is.

      My face is permanently scarred from the cringe-lines. I doubt I’ll ever recover.

      Aww, that sucks, if you would have actually thought about what you were reading, perhaps you could have saved all that muscle tension for a bowel movement. Maybe then you’d not be so full of bullshit 🙂

      Jokes aside, I honestly can’t believe how much time I wasted responding to Nazi-like claims about slavery that I thought I had put behind me as a 12-year-old arguing on StormFront message boards. It is rather stunning the company that TOTALLY NOT RACIST people keep.

  14. Rather Be Anonymous

    1). On the ‘obvious objection that structural racism does exist’

    I won’t delve too much into the particulars, here. I think—and I think Hughes thinks—there are instances where racism does exist. I think and I think he thinks that these need to be corrected. Let me try to make a Hughes-esque argument for one of your points, though. You mention that black sentences are longer, “with deep (read: negative) implications for productivity, recidivism, and family structures.” The study you cite shows 20% longer for similar crimes and criminals, I’ve seen studies (and the article links to one) that shows it more like 10%. But let’s say 20%.

    This is not nothing. It is unjust. I want it corrected, as do you. But how ‘deep (read: negative)’ are the ‘implications for productivity, recidivism, and family structure’ because of this disparity? How much more severely than a white family is black family hurt when Dad is gone for one year instead of ten months, 6 years instead of 5, 12 years instead of 10? I don’t deny that there is a disparity, I don’t deny the disparity is unjust, I don’t deny it is worse to be in jail for 6 years instead of 5. I think we should work to correct the injustice. But how fucking mad do we need to be about this injustice? Do we need to tear down the system? Do we need to fold it into the idea that the nation is beyond saving, and that it will always and ever transmute slavery without ever actually getting rid of it? (I realize these are not the specific arguments you made). You say there are deep implications due to this disparity—why? Why does that extra 20% cause so much more harm than the first 80 (note: this is intentionally mathematically imprecise, for style). What is it about that extra stretch of the sentencing that does so much more harm to the prisoner and to his family than the rest of the sentencing does? Obviously given the choice: “Would you take 24 years in jail, or 20?” I’ll choose 20—I’m not denying one is worse.

    (I did a very quick cursory search for recidivism–results seem varied).

    This 20% would be more stark, of course, for more serious crimes and longer sentences. But let’s be honest, that is not the issue we’re concerned about here. You’re not worried about the murderer who gets 36 years instead of 30. You’re worried about the petty theft burglar who gets 6 instead of 5, or three years instead of 2.5. And we should be. But we needn’t burn the country or the legal system down in the process.

    2). On Humanism vs. Anti-racism
    I don’t think Hughes thinks humans don’t act on racist biases…
    You digress a lot in the gravity/metaphysical existence of ‘Coleman,’ and pedantically point out his analogy isn’t exactly scientifically precise (more on pedantry later), a critique I could pedantically debate, but then we’d fall so far from what is actually being discussed it would be silly (I tried to find the actual analogy but couldn’t find it, and this is already taking long enough).

    To write everything here is an essay itself, but here are a few differences between the two views:
    a). Humanism looks at objective changes first and group comparisons second.

    Today the incarceration rate of black males is, like 65% less than it was in 2001. A huge, huge decrease. But, there’s been a larger percent increase in white incarcerations rates…. So, the relationship between the groups looks worse. You can say, honestly, “In 2001, black Americans were 9 times more likely to be in jail than whites . Now, it’s twelve times.” This is a preposterous complaint, taking massive improvement and framing it as regressive, simply based on the lens through which you view the data.

    b). Humanism does not take disparities as prima-facie racism. It is glad to examine disparities where they do exist, and correct them if racial injustice is the cause. But when it comes to the method of correction—

    c). Humanism disagrees on the methods to best correct the racial disparities that do exist.
    Humanists think the best way to fight racial disparities is to continue the path that has caused improvement for decades: don’t treat people because of the color of their skin. Anti-racists say, “That’s foolish, people still (and will always) treat people differently because of the color their skin.” A humanist will probably agree with that in that there will always be racists, but believes that the humanist vision can spread enough that true racists are rare and ineffectual. A humanist thinks that by taking the ‘anti-racist’ approach, all you do is reaffirm and double down on racism.

    3). On White Insults (and the insertion of a Vox Article on employment discrimination)

    In a discussion on race-based in cults geared towards white people you say:

    “Yet the macro view of employment discrimination is that it runs in the opposite direction.”

    The Vox article hardly gives any data despite having the word in the title. It says that the EEOC handles 100,000 cases every year and that those based on race have the lowest rate of success (15%) and that “just over a quarter” of their cases come from black workers alleging discrimination. It does not give any data about how many Black people face discrimination in the work place. The 85% that do not receive settlement amount to 21,250 workers.

    There are about 19.5 million black workers in the labor force (https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2018/article/blacks-in-the-labor-force.htm?view_full)

    The article then goes into anecdotes of several instances of mistreatment—some that seem racist, some that might be racist, some that are probably something besides racism.

    Coleman’s point is never that racism won’t exist or that it shouldn’t be combatted, but that its prevalence is overstated to such a degree that trying the attempts to cure the perceived scourge will be worse than the actual circumstance.

    You mention this article as an aside in a discussion of ‘white insults.’ I don’t exactly know why you went on this diatribe—I can’t recall reading anything Coleman wrote in which he argued passionately for the injustice of white-slurs being okay while black-slurs are not. If he did write this, I would hardly say they are his best known or most important points. So mostly I consider this whole section of your essay irrelevant. But, since you wrote, I will say this. You write: “anti-white insults, I am happy to report, mean nothing to white Americans.” Ten years ago, I might have agreed. I do not anymore. The increasing use but general acceptance of racial insults like “mean mad white man” to discredit someone in debates of important matters are harbingers of bad things to come (some of which have, frankly, already arrived).

    4). On the discussion of ‘root cause’ vs. ‘central to’

    It is Hughes himself who described Coates’s beliefs about slavery as ‘central to’ and ‘the root cause’ of American affluence. You act like the shift in Hughes’s language is some great sin, some intellectual trick that damns his entire point, because being ‘central to’ and being a ‘root cause’ are not the same thing. I’ll always admire such pedantry, but we can still be charitable with the point being made here. Coates believes slavery played a large role in bringing about American Prosperity, Hughes argues slavery did not play a large role in bringing about American Prosperity.

    Hughes quotes Coates: “and upon their backs the economic basis of America—and much of the Atlantic world—was erected.” So, not the root cause, but the foundation. Is that different? Sure. Pedantically. The foundations of a house do not cause a house to be built upon them. (One could also argue—using very You-style of arguments—that Coates knows these are different, but tacitly allows the reader to conflate the two in their minds for emotional appear). A most charitable interpretation would be that Coates believes slavery was a necessary but not sufficient facet in the acquisition of American Prosperity.

    You say an ‘objective measure’ has already been provided, because slaves were ‘valuable asset.’ But that does nothing to show the institutions necessity or sufficiency in American prosperity. It also ignores that it was a market that ended (justly, obviously), by government fiat, without recompense (outside of D.C. and (maybe? Didn’t look this up) the border states. And so it was a wealth that was stripped of those who had it. Of course, the asset of slavery wasn’t only the slaves themselves, but the wealth accrued by them—but this, too, was often depleted and destroyed in the war the southern states fought to keep the institution. Not to mention the economic losses incurred by the winning side.

    It is a very complicated question—how much American prosperity depended and depends on the institution of slavery. To simply say ‘slaves were worth money, right?!’ is just… not an interesting addition to that discussion..

    You do mention in the next paragraph the economic downturn wrought by the South in their fight to keep slavery. You don’t point out that this undermines Coates’s point that slavery is the foundation of American wealth—the costs incurred by the Civil War seem to be severe shocks to that foundation.

    That is, your point effectively counters both Coates and Hughes. No, Coleman Hughes, we should expect the slave states to be wealthier—they were absolutely devastated in the war they fought to keep slavery (and, in your opinion, bad fiscal policy since). But at the same time, no, Ta-Nehisi Coates, we cannot say slavery is the foundation of American prosperity, because it cost the country so much, so long ago, in dollars and in hundreds of thousands of lives, well before the country’s prosperity truly started to flourish.

    (But, to Coleman’s point, there are plenty of nations that practiced slavery that are destitute today. Perhaps they squandered their wealth, too—or perhaps slavery isn’t actually all that great for a nation’s financial well-being).

    But all this is beside the point of the title of the essay, really, because you ascribe all the above to Hughes’s malice or dishonesty. That is, to the point of essay’s title: he is not to be trusted. Or perhaps you’re more charitable and think he is not to be trusted, because boy is he dumb.

    5). On ‘median’ as a metric of wealth

    I think I agree with you that median isn’t the best metric for the discussion. But nor is total wealth. I suspect average wealth is the most fitting.

    Median wealth is a good indicator of well-being in a country. Any statistic, of course, has its plusses and minuses. Total wealth can be procured largely by having a huge population (see: China), average wealth can be inflated by having a small of amount of crazy rich people (see: The United States). Median wealth shows the midpoint, the dollar value at which 50% of the citizenry have more than. Nowhere would Hughes say ‘China has less money than Libya.’ But he would say, if that data is correct, 50% of Libya has more money than 50% of China. This is, in many ways, a useful to determine the well being of the citizenry-at-large. Since a large country like China can have massive wealth in total, but poor living conditions for its citizens.

    But I think your point is, “Why measure how well off most of the citizenry is? No one said ‘countries with slavery have better outcomes for their citizenry,’ we said ‘countries with slavery got lots of wealth because of that slavery. Whether or not that wealth trickled to the median isn’t the point.’” Which, fair. But you have to count for population somehow. Average will do that best.

    And while it’s true many of the countries with the highest average (note: China isn’t even top 40), used slave labor, so did many of the countries in the middle and bottom of this list. This is the problem with this line of thinking. “America had slaves, America is rich, America must pay for its slavery!” ignores that other countries had slaves, and are not rich. And thus…. can’t pay for their slaves. They have no money to. Which means what distinguishes America’s (and the other countries in the top of this list) wealth is not the presence of slavery, but the presence of something else.

    I think I need to take a break… This has consumed far too much of my day.

    I think my biggest point is that yes, Coleman Hughes has made some logical missteps. But they are often subtle and forgivable for his larger claims—which are not, I think, what you take them to be. That is, I think you straw man him–especially as the essay goes on—turning him into some ultra-Libertarian, totally-anti-welfare, personal-responsibility-and-nothing else kind of lune.

    I also think a lot of your points are what humanists would argue—you say, for instance, that many previously ‘otherized’ ethnic groups started to gain wealth when they were ‘accepted’ as white. (I would say—when they were finally treated as equals). You mention that black people have been *uniquely* otherized, which is true, and so presumably believe that ‘treating them as equals’ is probably not enough, since they were excluded from the ‘100 year parabola.’ You ask, ‘is this not obvious’ as if no group has ever caught up to another group in wealth, or no group has slid back.

    I think you point out—intentionally or not—that the difference we should look at is wealth, not race. And while it’s true that black people have much less wealth, and this is largely explainable by historical injustices, if you solve—or, at least, better—the circumstances of poor Americans you will necessarily improve the circumstances of black Americans, but by framing it in terms of ‘wealth’ you eliminate the racial-connotations of the solution while not ignoring the racist causes.

    All in all, I think we disagree on much, but you write thoughtfully. I find myself agreeing with much of what Hughes writes, but I wanted to seek out a rebuttal. So I google-searched for one and your piece was first. I would like to him respond to it, in time.

  15. Alexander

    Well, anyone who believes in Habermas’ ideal of societies mediated by rational communication probably didn’t see much to justify their faith in that last response of yours. Thankfully, I’m not a subscriber to that worldview, so my disappointment was more local in nature. I’d thought, based on reading your essay on Hughes, that you were someone interested in and capable of rational discussion of important issues. Generally, that sort of thing starts with basic politeness rather than blatantly mischaracterizing your interlocutor’s position, turning it into some sort of white supremacist caricature and then wrestling with that rather than with what he actually said. More on that below…. Some specific responses:

    YOU: You then say it’s a “misimpression that black people are being overrepresented in the criminal justice system because their neighborhoods are heavily policed”, but what is that based on? By definition, if you increase police presence anywhere, you will catch more ‘incidental’ crimes- specifically, the sort of crime available for police officers to catch.

    ME: It is based on the precise data I already gave you, which makes clear that black people are not actually being put in prison for the kinds of “incidental” crimes — whether marijuana or anything else — that you’re talking about, but rather, are being put in prison largely for violent crimes. Thus, all the noise you and others are making about over-policing or crime rates being inflated because of policing is just … well, just lots of noise. Needless to say, it is also not racist in the least to flood high-crime neighborhoods with police. This is what residents generally want, and it is what makes rational sense. Most people have this very odd preference for being safe from crime in their neighborhoods, and at least for now, policing is one of the primary ways we try to achieve that goal.

    YOU: Again, if Trump de-regulates the disposal of waste, guts Obamacare, or pretends, for 2 months, that coronavirus is a hoax while demanding governors back off from social distancing, we have already quintupled America’s *entire* homicide rate overnight.

    ME: No, that’s not homicide. That’s an overactive imagination. Homicide is a particular kind of crime that is reflected in state criminal codes. You keep conflating your desire to condemn various actions on Trump’s part (with regard to many of which I might agree with you) with ordinary street crime. We can go back and forth debating moral culpability for one vs. the other, and that’s a subject for moral philosophy, but the only way that we’d “quintuple” America’s homicide rate is if we passed criminal laws making the kinds of acts you describe “homicides.” Until we do that, those acts might be bad, but they’re another type of bad.

    YOU: But, because America does not police nor punish such infractions, guess what happens? Here’s a horrific drug pusher- pharmaceutical companies have been implicated in fentanyl overdoses, which account for 30,000 deaths per year- 2X the homicide rate in America. Any arrests there?

    ME: Again, not homicide. I agree these companies need to be punished. But the laws under which they’d be held liable are not murder laws. I’m sorry if my approach is overly anchored in present-day reality for you (rather than in some future world in which we might reform criminal laws), but essentially, you’re ranting and raving about every evil on earth that you don’t like and trying to liken it to actual criminality in order to create lots of fog that ultimately winds up obscuring the simple truth that black people are imprisoned at a higher rate than white people, Asian people, Hispanic people and most others simply because they tend to violate more of the criminal laws that are on the books. It is not due to high policing of black neighborhoods. It is not due to Donald Trump. It is not due to drug companies. And it is not due to the particular wrongs we have decided to criminalize, since, again, the crimes for which blacks are most over-represented are crimes of violence and, even more so, murder; these are crimes in pretty much every nation in the world, regardless of their racial composition, and they are crimes because they violate the most basic purpose of the social contract: keeping people safe from the violence of their fellow man.

    YOU: Black people are also over-represented for muggings, auto theft, larceny, home break-ins- that is a cost of $13 billion, which is not good. Yet corporate wage-theft accounts for $40+ billion in losses, and as far as I’m aware, no one has been imprisoned.

    ME: More ranting. No comment.

    YOU: So, explain again how the policing of *specific* communities for *specific* crimes doesn’t lead us to incarceration rates skewed by class, race, and other forms of privilege?

    ME: See above. Your examples are all just expressions of acts you’d personally like to see criminalized, but your real beef is not with the police presence in black neighborhoods but with criminal codes. If you wanted to have a conversation about what should or should not be criminal with me, that’s fine. Again, I might wind up agreeing with you in many respects. But it’s not like some white American racists got together, decided to make sure they put a lot of blacks in prison and thought to themselves, “Let’s see here, Hoss. What do them negroes do in large numbers that we good ole boys don’t do? Got it: they kill each other, engage in gang violence, beat each other, rob each other, hold up stores and break into cars. So I got myself an idea: we’ll criminalize all that stuff.” That would have been racist. The reality, meanwhile, is that pretty much every human society, regardless of its dominant race, agrees that all that stuff should be criminal, and the criminal codes pre-exist anyone giving any thought to who does more of that stuff. It just so happens that here in America, where blacks are the underclass, they commit more of these violent acts. The one exception to this is the War on Drugs, which did have some racist motivations (though it was also popular in black communities). But, again, most people aren’t sitting in jail for drug crimes (and especially not drug possession), and blacks are most over-represented when it comes to the most violent crimes. I keep repeating myself, but you don’t seem to be getting it, so I keep repeating myself.

    YOU: [L]iving in a wealthy neighborhood will absolutely save you from prosecution over crimes that wealthier neighborhoods select for. And, the higher in power that you go, the more protection you get from prosecution against even grislier, costlier crimes.

    ME: If you’re, once again, talking about what are currently non-crimes but that you’d personally like to see criminalized, we’ve escaped into fantasyland yet again, so, again, no comment.

    YOU: [referring to this claim of mine, which I’m quoting for necessary context “The problem with that assertion, again, is that people aren’t going to prison for smoking pot on the corner or speeding, at least not in any numbers that are more than negligible. As such, your approach to this issue is a dangerous distraction – the same sort of distraction we’re seeing with the moral panic about policing and ‘systemic racism’ from the media right now – from real underlying problems (disproportionate black poverty) that aren’t getting addressed and that are going to be HARDER to address as a result of the race war the media is creating that will result, as it always does, in sending poor and middle-class whites fleeing to the political right, with the end-result that the poor and working class will remain divided, so that nothing other than cosmetic garbage (tearing down monuments, renaming maple syrup brands, making lots of noise about defunding the police) will get done.”] This is just delusional. Entire *cities* have been funded by things like asymmetrical fines, and you’re calling this “negligible”? *Decades* of drug laws have been written in a way that imprisons one class of (black) drug-pushers, but not others. That you call the sheer numerical weight of, say, 13 billion vs. 40 billion in monetary losses “a dangerous distraction” speaks to nothing but your personal feelings, your personal comfort, your personal narrative and ideological zeal.

    ME: My point here was that media hysteria about overpolicing and “systemic racism” is a dangerous distraction from the real problem of black poverty, which will not get solved by the focus on “systemic racism.” I would add that it will, in fact, get worse as a result, because the inevitable withdrawal of police from black neighborhoods due to a combination of fear (of being persecuted) and disgust (at how they’re being treated) and the inevitable spike in crime rates throughout cities that has already started and that will continue, will lead to many of those same elite whites currently screaming about systemic racism to leave the cities and move to their cushy walled enclosures elsewhere, with the cities going back to what they were in the 70s: dangerous, neglected havens for minorities and immigrants. The kinds of issues you’re talking about above are a drop in the bucket compared to this and compared to the larger issue of black poverty, as I said. If you and I agree — as we do — on the kinds of reforms that would REALLY be needed to solve the black poverty problem (reforms such as banning private schools, ending dependence of schools on local funding, legalizing all or most drugs and devoting 10% of buildings to affordable housing instead of concentrating poverty in the projects — and I would add to these free, universal preschool starting at age two and free universal healthcare), then the only way any reforms along these lines are going to be implemented is if the white and black poor and working classes are working together along class lines rather than being polarized into opposite political parties along race lines, which results in gridlock, which the corporate elites really love because they get to keep the system rigged in their favor that way. But the current obsession with racial issues is only deepening the racial chasm and guaranteeing that the reforms that will occur will be a lot of cosmetic nonsense, while the real system that produces the outcomes we see stays intact.

    YOU: [Regarding my take on the Iraq War] Again, delusional. An entire group of wealthy, powerful, *overwhelmingly white* people are systematically allowed to engage in mayhem while others are not, and your naive-skeptic defense is “it’s not racist”? Oh, ok- it’s white people who are doing it, it’s white people who are protected while doing it, it’s white people who benefit, and it’s white people who are defending it, but it’s “not racist” because there are no KKK hoods and no explicit, legal policy that precludes non-whites from participating in what is functionally off-limits for the vast, VAST majority of nonwhites with a criminal predilection? In other words, the results are functionally racist and are in fact indistinguishable from racism, but we need to be politically correct and call it something else so that you’re not triggered?

    ME: What is delusional in a very literal way is you actually believe that the key decisionmakers’ motivation in things like the Iraq War (or any of these other big foreign conflicts we get into) is racist. Just because you can count up heads and find more white ones in charge doesn’t make these things racist. As I said before, nations throughout the world, no matter which race is in charge, engage in economic plunder of other nations whenever they think they can get away with it. There’s no racial component to the vast majority of these wars. It’s just a basic logical error to find racial disproportion and, without a shred of evidence, assume racism is the motivation. It’s lazy thinking.

    YOU: Really- so much text to justify legal protections for one form of criminal misconduct that overwhelmingly fractures on racial, class, and public/private lines, but not another. Yeah, I get it, “you can’t be charged for evils that aren’t crimes,” which is why I recognize that, from a purely pragmatic perspective, it’s not as simple as “just prosecuting” Bush and Obama for war crimes. What I am saying, however, is that you really have no moral standing to frame things as, “well, black people commit more crimes, so…” They don’t- they only commit more crimes of a certain TYPE, while objectively worse and more destructive crimes go completely unpunished, often because they are not categorized as crimes, and often because some crimes (such as wage-theft, pollution, tax evasion, etc.) are ignored. It’s really incredible to have a conversation about “the failures of black culture” as if we can’t point to far deeper and grander failures in white culture. It would be one thing if, say, the “black people are killing black people” concern-troll was nestled into a deeper discussion of crime which seeks to eliminate evil conduct more broadly by expanding how we think about crime. But, we never do get that, as you have shown. We simply get the concern-trolling, then people who throw their hands up and say, well, that’s just the way it is, folks, now let’s go cut some spending.

    ME: I’ve dealt with much of this above. It’s all a big distraction. The reason most of these other things are not categorized as crimes has nothing to do with race or racism, which was the original topic we were discussing.

    YOU: As for presidents not being equivalent to “the murderous ghetto thug”, of course they’re not the same! Clearly, Bush and co. unleashed EXPONENTIALLY more mayhem into the world than some random drug pusher. I mean, duh?? Trump spent 2 fucking months denying coronavirus was happening while harassing governors to help his re-election prospects. Of the 250k deaths that we’ll likely get, maybe- what, 1/2 of those were preventable? But, yeah, let me pretend that it’s “unfair” to compare Trump to a “bad guy doing bad things in the streets” because one of them had the opportunity to rise to national office. Lol, come on.

    ME: The question is not who is “worse” in some global sense because if I were to accept your terms, every single President of the United States “unleashe[s] EXPONENTIALLY more mayhem into the world” than every “random drug pusher.” Obviously, the more power you have, the more chaos your acts can create. That’s not an interesting point. Again, it’s all a giant distraction from the stark reality that black people commit more crimes, it’s not the fault of police or “the system,” but rather, caused by poverty, and poverty is a big problem that we should be trying to solve. Solving these other problems you’re talking about involves entirely different kinds of considerations.

    YOU: There were *millions* of people engaged in generational, unpaid labor for centuries, an institution which the South went to war to protect, and you think it reasonable to conclude that slavery made up just 1.5% of GDP? The fact that your bullshit-meter doesn’t just fly off the handle at hearing this kind of thing shows- again- how wedded you are to ideology.

    ME: I am actually not at all wedded to ideology and certainly not as far as this question is concerned. Notice that all I was doing was pointing out that you didn’t even examine Hughes’ claims, for which he cited Sowell, and I don’t know exactly what Sowell’s findings are. Nor do I have any preconceived notion of what percent of GDP slavery should or should not have contributed. I know, however, that the North’s economy dwarfed the South’s, and as a result, and the author of the article was also looking at slavery as opposed to free labor that could’ve been used, and so the 1.5% figure did not jump out at me as crazy in any way. There are, just so you know, other sources arguing that slavery actually hurt the Southern economy (https://www.aier.org/article/slavery-did-not-make-america-richer/; https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2019-08-25/how-slavery-hurt-the-u-s-economy), so there’s certainly a controversy with respect to slavery’s contributions, but even if slavery was ultimately a less efficient way to run an economy, the point is that the Southern economy was run on slavery, so it makes sense to consider the extent to which that economy, as it existed, contributed to the nation’s wealth. With that said, even if we were to agree that the contribution of slavery to pre-Civil War national wealth was significant, there remains the critical question of its contribution to post-Civil War and current national wealth, such that it would make sense to factor slavery significantly in the reparations calculus.

    YOU: You’re acting like just because slavery was outlawed in 1860, that specific loss of property- that is, the loss of slaves- in 1860 “proves” America didn’t benefit overall.

    ME: No, it’s not JUST about the loss of slaves, of course, and I never said anything like that. What I said is that because, as you yourself asserted and admitted, the bulk of the South’s pre-Civil War wealth was squandered as a result of the destruction wrought by the Civil War, the benefit the South received from slavery was, by extension, substantially squandered.

    YOU: You’re trying to erase two centuries of economic history to fit a narrative that simply has no legs. You then take the military response to what was broadly viewed as a criminal action- secession- as “punishment enough”, and assume that it obviates the need for reparations? Um, what?

    ME: Huh? When did I say anything like that? I’ve made many arguments against reparations, but that wasn’t even close to being one of them, and the fact that you keep feeling the need to prop up strawmen like this to knock them down bespeaks the weakness of your position on this.

    YOU: So if I place you and your family into a sex dungeon, video tape their torture and sell it to a long line of perverts who ultimately finance a personal empire of mine, do you think your kids deserve none of that wealth after asset forfeiture takes it from me, simply because your kids were born at the tail-end of this process and were “only” shipped off to an orphanage in which they were mandated to stay for generations? Because, functionally, this is where we are with reparations. The “orphanage” is any community that you are born into which selects for poor life outcomes by virtue of your birth.

    ME: Now, let’s make that analogy a bit more accurate and stay with your penchant for drawing on analogies focused on deivant sex and other anatomical functions. You place me and my family in a sex dungeon, video tape our torture and sell it to a long line of perverts who ultimately finance a personal empire of yours, whereupon a rival entrepreneur destroys your venture, you go bankrupt, and you are forced to undergo a Chapter 11 reorganization and rebuild what little remains of your wealth into something a bit less hardcore, and then like five or six generations pass, and in the meantime, your descendants, little by little, go from continuing to exploit and humiliate my descendants to starting to realize they’ve been pretty awful to my family and over time start to turn the softcore porn they’re selling into a more respectable business not tied to my misfortune while, at the same time, setting up a trust fund for my descendants so that they can draw upon it when they really need to for decades on end, whereupon my descendants become dependent on the trust fund for sustenance and start feeling kind of unmotivated to work and, in the meantime, to justify continuing to draw on that trust fund, keep telling themselves and their children and anyone who’ll listen stories about how awful you were and how your descendants aren’t that much better, and then, we get to eight or nine generations since your original evil act, and my great-great-great…great grandchildren (mixed in with a whole bunch of others who look superficially like them but aren’t actually descended from me), who’ve now made a total mess of their lives because they’re been mired in dependency and dysfunction, come to your great-great-great…great grandchildren (mixed in with many, many, many others who look a bit like them but are in no way descended from you and who have actually led pretty tough lives themselves in many cases), and say, “Hey, um … remember that torture 170 years ago? See how we’re still suffering as a result? We demand that all you guys make amends to all of us for it by giving us a big lump sum payment to even the score.” Fair?

    YOU: So, you don’t want to ignore centuries of free labor; all you want to do is say it’s 1.5% of GDP, and actually hurt (not helped) America, and has been outlawed anyway, is therefore no longer a moral question that we have to deal with. Lol, ok.

    ME: Yep, that’s all I’m saying. It’s not any more nuanced than that. C’mon, what’s the point of continuing to put up these strawmen? It just brings the discussion down to a low and uninteresting level.

    YOU: Ignoring the part where you’re just repeating Sowell’s propaganda, these programs are- of course- a form of redistributive justice. The point is that they are far from enough.

    ME: First, this is an argument that many people, not just Sowell, have made, and it has a lot of data behind it, and second, calling ideas that you don’t like “propaganda” isn’t helpful. But you admit that the programs are “redistributive justice,” meaning exactly what reparations are intended to be. But, you say, they “are far from enough.” Billions or trillions in welfare, AFDC, Medicaid, food stamps, crime control, social services and the rest “are far from enough.” If all that’s not enough, nothing will ever be enough. For as long as the slightest disproportion between whites and blacks continues to exist, it seems, slavery and its aftermath will just continue to be used as a form of moral blackmail effective at creating a lucrative industry out of petty resentments in search of easily conned, guilt-ridden dupes willing to give more and more, thereby continuing to feed into a cycle of dependency that just keeps on deepening the hole. It’ll stop only either when enough of those dupes finally get fed up and cut the cord or else when enough black people finally start to realize, “This isn’t working. No one can do this for us. We need to learn to walk on our own two feet.”

    YOU: And isn’t it weird that, although you deny “racism” in what amounts to functionally indistinguishable-from-racism effects on black communities (such as the policing of bad neighborhoods), you’re willing to accept things like welfare, which benefits *everybody*, as a form of “reparations for blacks” merely because it happens to break along color lines? But, see, I do accept welfare as a kind of limited reparations and have no problem saying that- functionally, this IS the effect, right? But you can’t do that with racism and stuff like the white-owned American war machine, because that wouldn’t be politically correct.

    ME: No logic here. Policing of bad neighborhoods is, first and foremost, a BENEFIT to those neighborhoods (and one people in those neighborhoods have generally wanted) that, moreover, entails a wealth transfer from the wealthier neighborhoods whose tax dollars go to pay for such policing. As an incidental side effect of the process by which that substantial benefit is conferred, some small number of people who might be engaging in legal or questionably illegal behaviors has to deal with some harassment, and some even smaller number of people is unjustly arrested, imprisoned or, in the rarest of incidents, outright killed. And you want to call that racism? I want to call it keeping a neighborhood safe, with some room for improvement in how it’s being done. And, yes, welfare and all those other benefits programs are forms of reparations for blacks. I think we’re now agreed on that. I’m saying that BOTH the wealth transfer entailed in policing of high-poverty/high-crime black neighborhoods AND the wealth transfer entailed in benefits programs are reparations. All of these are specifically intended to benefit those neighborhoods (Lyndon Johnson’s comments on the Great Society make that clear), so that stating that they do so does not entail any logical stretch at all. You are trying, however, to find some inconsistency between how I am viewing this and how I am refusing to join you in proclaiming, bizarrely, that the “white-owned American war machine” bombing places like Iraq is racist. But there is no logical parallel. You might have had a point if, say, white America trained its guns on a whole bunch of places in America but kept specifically and disproportionately plundering the black ghettos. Then you would be correct to say, “Well, if I’m going to say that welfare (disproportionately received by black people) is a form of reparations for slavery/racism, then I should, consistently, say that the kinds of military actions I’m describing (disproportionately destroying black neighborhoods) is a form of racism. (In fact, we don’t have to imagine this at all. This is exactly the kind of thing that the idea of “systemic racism” entails, right? It’s just that most of the things that get called systemic racism are, in 2020, much ado about very little.) But you’re now talking about America bombing Iraq or other places on earth. What does that have to do with race or racism in any form? Yes, white people are being disproportionately benefited by that … but when America was bombing Serbia, was that not racist because Serbs are more white than Iraqis, or is it still racist because whites are still benefiting from it? And when the Mongolian Horde was overrunning much of the Middle East and Russia, was that also racist? What makes these things racist? What you’re talking about here is so far outside even the fringes of mainstream thought about what racism entails that I have trouble following you.

    YOU: But we also had a massive government program for white people- it was called government-backed mortgage loans. Guess what happened? White people took advantage, moved out to the suburbs, and multiplied their wealth via home equity and the ‘nice’ neighborhoods/job opportunities that came with that. Meanwhile, blacks couldn’t, and after they were shut out of the biggest wealth-creator in American history, the comparative pittance they received via welfare was “too much” in your eyes. Give a Negro an inch, and he’ll take the whole fuckin’ mile- amirite?

    ME: Yes, this is precisely the kind of systemic racism, as well as Jim Crow, that I see all these many billions of dollars in benefits programs, social services, policing, affirmative action, diversity hiring and much else as reparations for. It’s obviously beyond ludicrous to compare the “comparative pittance” any given individual receives in welfare with the size of a government-backed loan, because the whole point is that this “comparative pittance” was paid out to each poor black person year after year after year after year. And that, again, is just one particular program among many.

    YOU: If you think welfare is bad, here’s an idea: the government can multiply wealth faster than any business on the planet. Let’s do an investment fund for black people that is pegged to the real estate benchmarks of the 1950s/60s into today- and, to save some time, let’s condense that parabola into a mere decade of growth. Or is that “not fair”? Because the real estate boom ain’t coming back- black people need a new asset class, “to make it even”. What’s it gonna be, then? It’d be great if it could double up as an appreciating home. So, maybe a combination of guaranteed housing they are allowed to hold a private contract for, and an investment fund + direct cash injections to cover the rest? What do you think? “Nothing” isn’t the answer. “Bootstraps” aren’t, either. Have you ever listened to an MLK speech? Well then, please do. He frequently talks about white people who told black Americans in the 1960s that “nothing worked” and “it’s time for bootstraps”. Funny how history- and propaganda tactics- tend to repeat, huh?

    ME: Why is it that you keep insisting on attributing beliefs to me that I don’t hold? Did you miss the part where I said (repeatedly at this point) that I actually have many of the same policy recommendations you have in mind to fix the problem of black poverty? I’ll reiterate and expand a bit: free, universal pre-K starting at age two, ending dependence of schools on local funding, banning private school, breaking up concentrations of poverty and dysfunction in the projects by, instead, devoting 10% of all buildings over X number of units to affordable housing, passing universal healthcare, ending the war on drugs, keeping affirmative action but making it class-based rather than race-based (so that you are actually helping people of all races — but, of course, disproportionately blacks — who NEED the help rather than helping Nigerian immigrants or black kids from Boca Raton get into the Ivy League), ending admissions based on standardized testing that is disconnected from what kids actually learn in school and that merely tests how much money kids’ parents are able to devote to test prep and, instead, using, in addition to high school performance, only a basic pass/fail knowledge proficiency test to guaranty that students have attained some essential core knowledge in their schools, substantial expansions of grant-based financial aid for college for poor students (I think free universal college would result in wealthier students getting a needless windfall), cutting down on or ending entirely the scope of legacy admissions, increasing inheritance taxes substantially, etc. You cannot call this doing nothing or merely telling blacks to go pull themselves up by their bootstraps … though, in fact, I would be telling blacks exactly that, even while implementing all these programs that will wind up helping them VERY substantially. What you might notice about ALL these proposals, however, is that none of them have an explicitly racial component. They have racial EFFECTS. They are systemic anti-racism, if you will. That approach is the only approach that ever stands a chance of succeeding without locking us in an endless tit-for-tat push-and-pull centuries-long race war.

    YOU: “Every group of poor, illiterate, uneducated, discriminated-against immigrants” was SELF-SELECTED for every conceivable trait- wealth, intelligence, skills, personal drive. By contrast, slaves were indiscriminately kidnapped. Do you not know what survivorship bias is? Did you even read that part of the article? Or do you come across concepts you don’t understand, then file them away in your head as a random collection of noises?

    ME: Really? Who was “self-selected for every conceivable trait- wealth, intelligence, skills, personal drive”? Are you talking about the illiterate, uneducated, impoverished farmers and laborers who fled here from the Irish potato famine, or are you talking about the illiterate, uneducated, impoverished farmers and laborers who fled disease and poverty in Sicily, or are you talking about the illiterate, uneducated, impoverished farmers and laborers who left backward 19th century China to work on building the railroads to then end up not even able to bring their families over due to the Chinese Exclusion Act that continued on, in various forms, until the 1940s, even while all these people lived in impoverished high-crime ghettos while being systematically excluded from all manner of meaningful work, subjected to anti-miscegenation laws and stereotyped as genetically inferior, uneducated, crude, sexually promiscuous, drug-pushing criminals? Yep, all those groups and the many more that started out the same way sound like born winners to me. It was obvious they were destined to make it here and even overtake white Americans. So clearly, horrible analogies on my part. Don’t know what I was thinking.

    YOU: My goodness, I can’t believe we’ve gone from “hey man, cool article, here are some objections” to “it would have been better to just throw black people on their asses after slavery, and that’s not racist to say”.

    ME: I don’t think “WE’VE” gone from there to here. I think you did that all on your own. You could’ve actually limited yourself to trying to address the things I was saying, taken note of the significant common ground we share and focused on the small areas of disagreement in a careful, rational fashion, but instead you felt the need to call upon the always at-the-ready racist caricature that perpetually springs up like a white-hooded bobble toy at a moment’s notice in the hysterical anti-racist imagination and then came charging, mouth foaming, spittle flying, at the white supremacist ghost you felt the need to exorcise.

    YOU: Anyone reading these comments- remember when I said Coleman Hughes had cultivated an unsavory audience, and was unwilling to break away from them? Just read through ALL the comments, guys. You’ll see who the audience is.

    ME: I didn’t get to you via Coleman Hughes, actually. Someone who’s a fan of yours linked me to your article. I read it. I agreed with much of it. I told you that. I had some issues with it. I went into those, because they’re much more interesting to deal with than the areas of agreement. But in response, I got expanding miasmas of anti-racist, anti-capitalist, f*ck-the-police, f*ck Trump, f*ck the whole system, bro rhetoric.

    YOU: Aww, that sucks, if you would have actually thought about what you were reading, perhaps you could have saved all that muscle tension for a bowel movement. Maybe then you’d not be so full of bullshit

    ME: Good one, bro. High-five. Have any good fart jokes for me?

    YOU: Jokes aside, I honestly can’t believe how much time I wasted responding to Nazi-like claims about slavery that I thought I had put behind me as a 12-year-old arguing on StormFront message boards. It is rather stunning the company that TOTALLY NOT RACIST people keep.

    ME: Bing, bing, bing! Jackpot! We’ve now worked ourselves up into such a frenzy that we’ve gotten to the inevitable logical endpoint: Nazis and white supremacists … or maybe Nazi-adjacency …. I don’t know. I’m lost; somehow, in the middle of the journey, in my wanderings through the dark wood of your imagination, the direct way was lost, and thinking we were heading together towards a robust, far-left-of-center program of substantial reforms meant to end the plight of blacks in America, I instead took a wrong turn on the road and found myself deep in the night, in a sinister grove, encircled by barbed wire, lit by a burning cross, as I stood, to my own surprise, pledging my eternal allegiance to my Fuhrer….

    And this, my friend, is exactly how you guys keep losing the battle for hearts and minds and, by pushing away potential allies by casting them as fascists-in-waiting, create self-fulfilling prophecies in which the fascists you now only imagine build up their ranks with recruits spurred on by disaffection and disgust.

    1. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      Well, anyone who believes in Habermas’ ideal of societies mediated by rational communication probably didn’t see much to justify their faith in that last response of yours.

      The fact that you think this is a clever, well-written sentence is amazing. You keep stroking yourself in front reluctant strangers, and you’re not at all ashamed?

      Thankfully, I’m not a subscriber to that worldview, so my disappointment was more local in nature. I’d thought, based on reading your essay on Hughes, that you were someone interested in and capable of rational discussion of important issues. Generally, that sort of thing starts with basic politeness rather than blatantly mischaracterizing your interlocutor’s position, turning it into some sort of white supremacist caricature and then wrestling with that rather than with what he actually said. More on that below…. Some specific responses:

      Actually, your first impression was correct. I’m sorry that your impression changed after your challenges failed, but that’s for you to sort out.

      As for “white supremacist caricature”, I’m likewise sorry you were reduced to arguing that “after slavery, the objectively best thing would have been to force ex-slaves to fend for themselves so they didn’t get lazy”. Any resemblance to Nazism, neo or vintage, is, as before, your own responsibility to sort.

      YOU: You then say it’s a “misimpression that black people are being overrepresented in the criminal justice system because their neighborhoods are heavily policed”, but what is that based on? By definition, if you increase police presence anywhere, you will catch more ‘incidental’ crimes- specifically, the sort of crime available for police officers to catch.

      ME: It is based on the precise data I already gave you, which makes clear that black people are not actually being put in prison for the kinds of “incidental” crimes — whether marijuana or anything else — that you’re talking about, but rather, are being put in prison largely for violent crimes. Thus, all the noise you and others are making about over-policing or crime rates being inflated because of policing is just … well, just lots of noise. Needless to say, it is also not racist in the least to flood high-crime neighborhoods with police. This is what residents generally want, and it is what makes rational sense. Most people have this very odd preference for being safe from crime in their neighborhoods, and at least for now, policing is one of the primary ways we try to achieve that goal.

      Look at what your bias is forcing you to argue: that an increased presence of police officers meant to catch *specific* crimes in one neighborhood, but not another, will not logically lead to more crimes being uncovered. Nor do we even have to start with different crimes, such as murder during a robbery vs. murder by way of illegal, trillion+ dollar wars. We CAN start with those ‘incidental’ (do look up this word, btw) crimes : drug use and drug sales, random altercations, or literally, like, *any* other crime that a police officer, by actually being present, is sufficiently able to witness. You’re avoiding a core issue simply because you have no answer for it: https://www.hamiltonproject.org/charts/rates_of_drug_use_and_sales_by_race_rates_of_drug_related_criminal_justice

      I never argued that bad neighborhoods shouldn’t be policed. I argued that the policing of bad neighborhoods which select for specific kinds of crimes, while not policing others for the same crimes as well as the crimes endemic to *those* neighborhoods, will lead to racial bias at all levels in the criminal justice system that requires significant government-led remediation.

      YOU: Again, if Trump de-regulates the disposal of waste, guts Obamacare, or pretends, for 2 months, that coronavirus is a hoax while demanding governors back off from social distancing, we have already quintupled America’s *entire* homicide rate overnight.

      ME: No, that’s not homicide. That’s an overactive imagination. Homicide is a particular kind of crime that is reflected in state criminal codes. You keep conflating your desire to condemn various actions on Trump’s part (with regard to many of which I might agree with you) with ordinary street crime. We can go back and forth debating moral culpability for one vs. the other, and that’s a subject for moral philosophy, but the only way that we’d “quintuple” America’s homicide rate is if we passed criminal laws making the kinds of acts you describe “homicides.” Until we do that, those acts might be bad, but they’re another type of bad.

      You’re quite desperate to make the conversation as narrow as possible. Understand that you are latching on to a specific *kind* of crime- “homicide”- that is selected for in poor black neighborhoods, and then using it to justify the “black culture is uniquely bad” narrative, “so therefore… ”.

      What I am saying, however, is that it’s ABSURD to limit the conversation in this way, assuming you are in fact concerned with the actual, numerical weight of things. Yes, it is true that today’s power structure does not define (for example) Trump’s criminal negligence as “homicide”, or as any kind of crime, really. But what’s your point? It is simply a fact that Trump’s downplaying of coronavirus, his making fun of people who wear masks, and demanding that states re-open (“Liberate Michigan! Liberate Georgia! Liberate Virginia!”) caused a substantial number of needless deaths. Then you gloss over the fact that his desire to politicize a medical emergency will have 10X’d the black homicide rate by this time next year, by treating “ordinary street crime” as more deserving of the word “crime”. I mean, you MUST see how ideologically driven you are, and how circular your reasoning? An overwhelmingly white, upper class power structure defined the law in this way, and now a beneficiary of this definition gets to shrug off responsibility, which you then use to beg the question.

      Remember, Coleman Hughes did not say: black people behave poorly, and everyone else behaves so much worse. He, others, and to some extent, you, objected that “black misbehavior” is somehow *uniquely* bad, which 1) therefore explains or even justifies the disproportionate burden of negative outcomes black Americans face, and which 2) should not and perhaps cannot be substantively remediated by government programs, especially the kind of programs I might support. So, if you want to make this into a discussion of black culture, surely you cannot expect me to forego any logical comparisons to white culture and the sort of remediation *it* might require? If you haven’t noticed, white crimes are “another type of bad” so bad that they are orders of magnitude worse. The conversation absolutely needs to start there, yet everyone in Coleman’s orbit starts with “black culture” first and call the elephant in the room whataboutism.

      YOU: But, because America does not police nor punish such infractions, guess what happens? Here’s a horrific drug pusher- pharmaceutical companies have been implicated in fentanyl overdoses, which account for 30,000 deaths per year- 2X the homicide rate in America. Any arrests there?

      ME: Again, not homicide. I agree these companies need to be punished. But the laws under which they’d be held liable are not murder laws. I’m sorry if my approach is overly anchored in present-day reality for you (rather than in some future world in which we might reform criminal laws), but essentially, you’re ranting and raving about every evil on earth that you don’t like and trying to liken it to actual criminality in order to create lots of fog that ultimately winds up obscuring the simple truth that black people are imprisoned at a higher rate than white people, Asian people, Hispanic people and most others simply because they tend to violate more of the criminal laws that are on the books. It is not due to high policing of black neighborhoods. It is not due to Donald Trump. It is not due to drug companies. And it is not due to the particular wrongs we have decided to criminalize, since, again, the crimes for which blacks are most over-represented are crimes of violence and, even more so, murder; these are crimes in pretty much every nation in the world, regardless of their racial composition, and they are crimes because they violate the most basic purpose of the social contract: keeping people safe from the violence of their fellow man.

      It’s not whether you think these companies need to be punished. It’s that you hold this safely hypothetical punishment forever at arm’s length, while going on about black culture being uniquely bad, “and therefore…”

      As I’ve said, I do get that it’s not as simple as throwing Trump in prison, right now, for what ought to be serious crimes in any civilized nation. It’s more so that these serious crimes aren’t even part of the dialogue, especially not on the Right, and that the “failures of black culture” are just laughable next to it. I mean, you’re welcome to complain about being thirsty while your house is on fire- you just don’t get to say that your complaint is the salient complaint.

      YOU: Black people are also over-represented for muggings, auto theft, larceny, home break-ins- that is a cost of $13 billion, which is not good. Yet corporate wage-theft accounts for $40+ billion in losses, and as far as I’m aware, no one has been imprisoned.

      ME: More ranting. No comment.

      In other words, you don’t care about the underlying numbers, or that white culture, in this regard, is literally 4X more guilty and about 1000X less likely to be punished for this guilt. How many street thieves are in prison? How many wage thieves? Look at how narrow you need this conversation to be for the sake of your ideological bias.

      YOU: So, explain again how the policing of *specific* communities for *specific* crimes doesn’t lead us to incarceration rates skewed by class, race, and other forms of privilege?

      ME: See above. Your examples are all just expressions of acts you’d personally like to see criminalized, but your real beef is not with the police presence in black neighborhoods but with criminal codes. If you wanted to have a conversation about what should or should not be criminal with me, that’s fine. Again, I might wind up agreeing with you in many respects. But it’s not like some white American racists got together, decided to make sure they put a lot of blacks in prison and thought to themselves, “Let’s see here, Hoss. What do them negroes do in large numbers that we good ole boys don’t do? Got it: they kill each other, engage in gang violence, beat each other, rob each other, hold up stores and break into cars. So I got myself an idea: we’ll criminalize all that stuff.” That would have been racist. The reality, meanwhile, is that pretty much every human society, regardless of its dominant race, agrees that all that stuff should be criminal, and the criminal codes pre-exist anyone giving any thought to who does more of that stuff. It just so happens that here in America, where blacks are the underclass, they commit more of these violent acts. The one exception to this is the War on Drugs, which did have some racist motivations (though it was also popular in black communities). But, again, most people aren’t sitting in jail for drug crimes (and especially not drug possession), and blacks are most over-represented when it comes to the most violent crimes. I keep repeating myself, but you don’t seem to be getting it, so I keep repeating myself.

      Consider the deflationary terms under which you place my argument: “just expressions of acts you’d personally like to see criminalized”. It’s as if you think we’re talking about criminalizing overly drippy ice cream, and not actions that literally amount to 10X the annual homicide rate, with zero recourse for victims. Again, all ideology, and completely delusional re: day-to-day reality as it is experienced by 330 million Americans.

      ME: My point here was that media hysteria about overpolicing and “systemic racism” is a dangerous distraction from the real problem of black poverty, which will not get solved by the focus on “systemic racism.” I would add that it will, in fact, get worse as a result, because the inevitable withdrawal of police from black neighborhoods due to a combination of fear (of being persecuted) and disgust (at how they’re being treated) and the inevitable spike in crime rates throughout cities that has already started and that will continue, will lead to many of those same elite whites currently screaming about systemic racism to leave the cities and move to their cushy walled enclosures elsewhere, with the cities going back to what they were in the 70s: dangerous, neglected havens for minorities and immigrants. The kinds of issues you’re talking about above are a drop in the bucket compared to this and compared to the larger issue of black poverty, as I said. If you and I agree — as we do — on the kinds of reforms that would REALLY be needed to solve the black poverty problem (reforms such as banning private schools, ending dependence of schools on local funding, legalizing all or most drugs and devoting 10% of buildings to affordable housing instead of concentrating poverty in the projects — and I would add to these free, universal preschool starting at age two and free universal healthcare), then the only way any reforms along these lines are going to be implemented is if the white and black poor and working classes are working together along class lines rather than being polarized into opposite political parties along race lines, which results in gridlock, which the corporate elites really love because they get to keep the system rigged in their favor that way. But the current obsession with racial issues is only deepening the racial chasm and guaranteeing that the reforms that will occur will be a lot of cosmetic nonsense, while the real system that produces the outcomes we see stays intact.

      The gaslighting is incredible. I point out that a single, unpunished action of Trump’s dwarfs the black homicide rate by 10X, and you call my focus on this far more serious number “a dangerous distraction”. I point out that white-owned corporations steal 4X more money from Americans than do any other form of theft, yet you want to frame *black* culture as the unique threat? Right now, COVID-19 is on pace to become the leading cause of death for blacks. This is tens of thousands of black corpses, and you seem to be upset that these corpses are now a central part of the discussion. These bodies are NOT “a drop in the bucket”. This is the material, verifiable reality, RIGHT NOW, in the way that matters the most, no matter how desperately you wish to limit the conversation.

      As for the other problems you list: I’ve already given some solutions, many of which you’d not agree to. That’s because your function is, as Coleman Hughes states, to dismantle or at least de-emphasize “government programs that have not shown to work anywhere”. This is why you state that ex-slaves should have received no public assistance whatsoever, not as a joke or some unnecessarily weird reductio, but your actual, moral position. Let’s be clear, this is the crux of the disagreement, and because you take the anti-redistributive side, you MUST eliminate any deeper culpability on the part of the would-be redistributive superstructure. It feels ridiculous that I have to explain your own thought process to you, but that’s how propaganda works. Few people engaged in propaganda really get what they’re doing, they’re usually just scratching an ideological itch after being recruited as useful idiots by whomever maintains and benefits from the status quo.

      YOU: [Regarding my take on the Iraq War] Again, delusional. An entire group of wealthy, powerful, *overwhelmingly white* people are systematically allowed to engage in mayhem while others are not, and your naive-skeptic defense is “it’s not racist”? Oh, ok- it’s white people who are doing it, it’s white people who are protected while doing it, it’s white people who benefit, and it’s white people who are defending it, but it’s “not racist” because there are no KKK hoods and no explicit, legal policy that precludes non-whites from participating in what is functionally off-limits for the vast, VAST majority of nonwhites with a criminal predilection? In other words, the results are functionally racist and are in fact indistinguishable from racism, but we need to be politically correct and call it something else so that you’re not triggered?

      ME: What is delusional in a very literal way is you actually believe that the key decisionmakers’ motivation in things like the Iraq War (or any of these other big foreign conflicts we get into) is racist. Just because you can count up heads and find more white ones in charge doesn’t make these things racist. As I said before, nations throughout the world, no matter which race is in charge, engage in economic plunder of other nations whenever they think they can get away with it. There’s no racial component to the vast majority of these wars. It’s just a basic logical error to find racial disproportion and, without a shred of evidence, assume racism is the motivation. It’s lazy thinking.

      You simply ignored the argument, which was: “Oh, ok- it’s white people who are doing it, it’s white people who are protected while doing it, it’s white people who benefit, and it’s white people who are defending it, but it’s ‘not racist’ because there are no KKK hoods and no explicit, legal policy that precludes nonwhites from participating in what is functionally off-limits for the vast, VAST majority of nonwhites with a criminal predilection?”

      So, you’ve not only limited the actual conversation, but you’ve de-fanged the word “racism” to such a degree that it has no more meaning whatsoever, all because you have no answer for reality.

      ME: I’ve dealt with much of this above. It’s all a big distraction. The reason most of these other things are not categorized as crimes has nothing to do with race or racism, which was the original topic we were discussing.

      “Black culture” leading to ~10,000 homicides/yr and “white culture” spending 2 trillion to destroy an entire chunk of the planet and now unleashing the equivalent of a 9/11 every ~3 days on its own population is certainly a “distraction” from the (much) smaller number, yes. Is that really your argument?

      YOU: As for presidents not being equivalent to “the murderous ghetto thug”, of course they’re not the same! Clearly, Bush and co. unleashed EXPONENTIALLY more mayhem into the world than some random drug pusher. I mean, duh?? Trump spent 2 fucking months denying coronavirus was happening while harassing governors to help his re-election prospects. Of the 250k deaths that we’ll likely get, maybe- what, 1/2 of those were preventable? But, yeah, let me pretend that it’s “unfair” to compare Trump to a “bad guy doing bad things in the streets” because one of them had the opportunity to rise to national office. Lol, come on.

      ME: The question is not who is “worse” in some global sense because if I were to accept your terms, every single President of the United States “unleashe[s] EXPONENTIALLY more mayhem into the world” than every “random drug pusher.” Obviously, the more power you have, the more chaos your acts can create. That’s not an interesting point. Again, it’s all a giant distraction from the stark reality that black people commit more crimes, it’s not the fault of police or “the system,” but rather, caused by poverty, and poverty is a big problem that we should be trying to solve. Solving these other problems you’re talking about involves entirely different kinds of considerations.

      In the same breath that our interlocutor admits that the system is built to protect the overwhelmingly powerful and white to unleash “exponentially more mayhem into the world”, he says that’s not a very interesting point. Later, he suggests “what if we simply hadn’t let ex-slaves get uppity and lazy?” is in fact an interesting point, and cannot believe that few others do. Yet Coleman Hughes doesn’t believe this. Glenn Loury doesn’t. Nor does Thomas Sowell, or even William F. Buckley and Rush Limbaugh. He pokes around, realizing he’s all alone, and begins to look for any support whatsoever. After some time, he settles on a handful of 1999 forum posts on StormFront.org culled from the WaybackMachine. He nods, and then, tears in his throat, begs the question: “I am not racist, so this is not racist, I am not racist, so this is not racist…”

      ME: I am actually not at all wedded to ideology and certainly not as far as this question is concerned. Notice that all I was doing was pointing out that you didn’t even examine Hughes’ claims, for which he cited Sowell, and I don’t know exactly what Sowell’s findings are. Nor do I have any preconceived notion of what percent of GDP slavery should or should not have contributed. I know, however, that the North’s economy dwarfed the South’s, and as a result, and the author of the article was also looking at slavery as opposed to free labor that could’ve been used, and so the 1.5% figure did not jump out at me as crazy in any way. There are, just so you know, other sources arguing that slavery actually hurt the Southern economy.

      (https://www.aier.org/article/slavery-did-not-make-america-richer/; https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2019-08-25/how-slavery-hurt-the-u-s-economy), so there’s certainly a controversy with respect to slavery’s contributions, but even if slavery was ultimately a less efficient way to run an economy, the point is that the Southern economy was run on slavery, so it makes sense to consider the extent to which that economy, as it existed, contributed to the nation’s wealth. With that said, even if we were to agree that the contribution of slavery to pre-Civil War national wealth was significant, there remains the critical question of its contribution to post-Civil War and current national wealth, such that it would make sense to factor slavery significantly in the reparations calculus.

      I did not examine his underlying sources because I pointed out the framing was terrible to begin with and the claim a radical outlier posturing as a mainstream POV. Then, you come in, give the underlying figures, keep repeating 1%, 1%, 1%, and offer me the opportunity to rebut with consensus numbers. It’s not very relevant that you can link to dissent, in the same way that it’s not very relevant that I can link to Flat Earthers (some of them with doctorates) in a discussion of astronomy. You then go the apologia route when you inflate all this as a “controversy with respect to slavery’s contributions” after linking to an article whose literal headline is, “Slavery did not make America richer”, thus invoking even less than your 1% claim all the while pretending to walk everything back. So you fail not only on the numbers, but on your own virtue signaling too.

      YOU: You’re acting like just because slavery was outlawed in 1860, that specific loss of property- that is, the loss of slaves- in 1860 “proves” America didn’t benefit overall.

      ME: No, it’s not JUST about the loss of slaves, of course, and I never said anything like that. What I said is that because, as you yourself asserted and admitted, the bulk of the South’s pre-Civil War wealth was squandered as a result of the destruction wrought by the Civil War, the benefit the South received from slavery was, by extension, substantially squandered.

      That is, at best, an argument against taxing the *general* population in the South for reparations, and for forcefully expropriating shipping industries, merchants, the hundreds of now/then wealthy companies which benefited from slavery, then taxing everyone else in the North who directly or indirectly benefited from the existence of slavery, as well.

      YOU: You’re trying to erase two centuries of economic history to fit a narrative that simply has no legs. You then take the military response to what was broadly viewed as a criminal action- secession- as “punishment enough”, and assume that it obviates the need for reparations? Um, what?

      ME: Huh? When did I say anything like that? I’ve made many arguments against reparations, but that wasn’t even close to being one of them, and the fact that you keep feeling the need to prop up strawmen like this to knock them down bespeaks the weakness of your position on this.

      Oh, sorry, you weren’t trying to erase centuries of economic history: you simply reduced slavery to “1% of GDP”, called this a legitimate POV, walked everything back when called out on it, then linked to an article whose headline amounts to even less than the original claim.

      Honestly, this is just so tiring.

      YOU: So if I place you and your family into a sex dungeon, video tape their torture and sell it to a long line of perverts who ultimately finance a personal empire of mine, do you think your kids deserve none of that wealth after asset forfeiture takes it from me, simply because your kids were born at the tail-end of this process and were “only” shipped off to an orphanage in which they were mandated to stay for generations? Because, functionally, this is where we are with reparations. The “orphanage” is any community that you are born into which selects for poor life outcomes by virtue of your birth.

      ME: Now, let’s make that analogy a bit more accurate and stay with your penchant for drawing on analogies focused on deivant sex and other anatomical functions.

      Sorry, when the guy I’m talking to thinks it’s OK to just drop his pants instead of dealing with arguments, I have to frame things in a way that matches his predilections.

      You place me and my family in a sex dungeon, video tape our torture and sell it to a long line of perverts who ultimately finance a personal empire of yours, whereupon a rival entrepreneur destroys your venture, you go bankrupt, and you are forced to undergo a Chapter 11 reorganization and rebuild what little remains of your wealth into something a bit less hardcore,

      That you think the super-rich suddenly went broke in 1860 proves my point: that you not only wish to limit the conversation to 1860, but also that you don’t get what I’ve been saying about GDP and how this wealth is and has been organized, distributed, then re-distributed as a centuries-long process. I’ve linked articles, but there’s much more, if you care.

      and then like five or six generations pass, and in the meantime, your descendants, little by little, go from continuing to exploit and humiliate my descendants to starting to realize they’ve been pretty awful to my family and over time start to turn the softcore porn they’re selling into a more respectable business not tied to my misfortune while,

      To be fair, a totally cogent point! Let’s see if it was just an accident:

      at the same time, setting up a trust fund for my descendants so that they can draw upon it when they really need to for decades on end, whereupon my descendants become dependent on the trust fund for sustenance and start feeling kind of unmotivated to work

      Yep, just an accident. I mean- you claim to have read my article, where I cite a study on how SNAP keeps children off of long-term government assistance, studies that correlate median wealth + life outcomes with welfare as % of GDP expenditure across dozens of nations, or perhaps the biggest empirical data point of all: MASSIVE government subsidies to whites over decades in the form of mortgage loans to buy perpetually appreciating assets, and how nicely this all worked out for white Americans, but you just can’t help but repeat your simplistic analysis.

      YOU: Ignoring the part where you’re just repeating Sowell’s propaganda, these programs are- of course- a form of redistributive justice. The point is that they are far from enough.

      ME: First, this is an argument that many people, not just Sowell, have made, and it has a lot of data behind it, and second, calling ideas that you don’t like “propaganda” isn’t helpful. But you admit that the programs are “redistributive justice,” meaning exactly what reparations are intended to be. But, you say, they “are far from enough.” Billions or trillions in welfare, AFDC, Medicaid, food stamps, crime control, social services and the rest “are far from enough.” If all that’s not enough, nothing will ever be enough. For as long as the slightest disproportion between whites and blacks continues to exist, it seems, slavery and its aftermath will just continue to be used as a form of moral blackmail effective at creating a lucrative industry out of petty resentments in search of easily conned, guilt-ridden dupes willing to give more and more, thereby continuing to feed into a cycle of dependency that just keeps on deepening the hole. It’ll stop only either when enough of those dupes finally get fed up and cut the cord or else when enough black people finally start to realize, “This isn’t working. No one can do this for us. We need to learn to walk on our own two feet.”

      America has some of the most intractable problems and the most means, yet remains #21 in social spending in GDP, with much steeper declines in “fairer” measures like GPI, yet you throw your hands up and say, “it’ll never be enough”. This just can’t be real?

      YOU: And isn’t it weird that, although you deny “racism” in what amounts to functionally indistinguishable-from-racism effects on black communities (such as the policing of bad neighborhoods), you’re willing to accept things like welfare, which benefits *everybody*, as a form of “reparations for blacks” merely because it happens to break along color lines? But, see, I do accept welfare as a kind of limited reparations and have no problem saying that- functionally, this IS the effect, right? But you can’t do that with racism and stuff like the white-owned American war machine, because that wouldn’t be politically correct.

      ME: No logic here. Policing of bad neighborhoods is, first and foremost, a BENEFIT to those neighborhoods (and one people in those neighborhoods have generally wanted) that, moreover, entails a wealth transfer from the wealthier neighborhoods whose tax dollars go to pay for such policing. As an incidental side effect of the process by which that substantial benefit is conferred, some small number of people who might be engaging in legal or questionably illegal behaviors has to deal with some harassment, and some even smaller number of people is unjustly arrested, imprisoned or, in the rarest of incidents, outright killed. And you want to call that racism? I want to call it keeping a neighborhood safe, with some room for improvement in how it’s being done. And, yes, welfare and all those other benefits programs are forms of reparations for blacks. I think we’re now agreed on that. I’m saying that BOTH the wealth transfer entailed in policing of high-poverty/high-crime black neighborhoods AND the wealth transfer entailed in benefits programs are reparations. All of these are specifically intended to benefit those neighborhoods (Lyndon Johnson’s comments on the Great Society make that clear), so that stating that they do so does not entail any logical stretch at all. You are trying, however, to find some inconsistency between how I am viewing this and how I am refusing to join you in proclaiming, bizarrely, that the “white-owned American war machine” bombing places like Iraq is racist. But there is no logical parallel. You might have had a point if, say, white America trained its guns on a whole bunch of places in America but kept specifically and disproportionately plundering the black ghettos. Then you would be correct to say, “Well, if I’m going to say that welfare (disproportionately received by black people) is a form of reparations for slavery/racism, then I should, consistently, say that the kinds of military actions I’m describing (disproportionately destroying black neighborhoods) is a form of racism. (In fact, we don’t have to imagine this at all. This is exactly the kind of thing that the idea of “systemic racism” entails, right? It’s just that most of the things that get called systemic racism are, in 2020, much ado about very little.) But you’re now talking about America bombing Iraq or other places on earth. What does that have to do with race or racism in any form? Yes, white people are being disproportionately benefited by that … but when America was bombing Serbia, was that not racist because Serbs are more white than Iraqis, or is it still racist because whites are still benefiting from it? And when the Mongolian Horde was overrunning much of the Middle East and Russia, was that also racist? What makes these things racist? What you’re talking about here is so far outside even the fringes of mainstream thought about what racism entails that I have trouble following you.

      Yet I support the policing of bad neighborhoods, as I’ve said. If you haven’t noticed, “the white-owned American war machine” has almost exclusively devastated nonwhite nations for many decades now, for the overwhelming benefit of white people. I guess you don’t have to call this “racism” if that word so triggers you, but you now must choose a word that is *functionally* indistinguishable from it while pretending it’s something totally different. Really, that’s a whole lot of mental work just to fit the world into your straitjacket.

      It also happens to be the definition of Political Correctness, albeit from the Right.

      ME: Yes, this is precisely the kind of systemic racism, as well as Jim Crow, that I see all these many billions of dollars in benefits programs, social services, policing, affirmative action, diversity hiring and much else as reparations for. It’s obviously beyond ludicrous to compare the “comparative pittance” any given individual receives in welfare with the size of a government-backed loan, because the whole point is that this “comparative pittance” was paid out to each poor black person year after year after year after year. And that, again, is just one particular program among many.

      It was a comparable pittance, by definition, and it is irrelevant that the pittance was paid out year after year if, unlike with mortgage loans, the money had no place to appreciate, among other things this article goes over.

      YOU: If you think welfare is bad, here’s an idea: the government can multiply wealth faster than any business on the planet. Let’s do an investment fund for black people that is pegged to the real estate benchmarks of the 1950s/60s into today- and, to save some time, let’s condense that parabola into a mere decade of growth. Or is that “not fair”? Because the real estate boom ain’t coming back- black people need a new asset class, “to make it even”. What’s it gonna be, then? It’d be great if it could double up as an appreciating home. So, maybe a combination of guaranteed housing they are allowed to hold a private contract for, and an investment fund + direct cash injections to cover the rest? What do you think? “Nothing” isn’t the answer. “Bootstraps” aren’t, either. Have you ever listened to an MLK speech? Well then, please do. He frequently talks about white people who told black Americans in the 1960s that “nothing worked” and “it’s time for bootstraps”. Funny how history- and propaganda tactics- tend to repeat, huh?

      ME: Why is it that you keep insisting on attributing beliefs to me that I don’t hold? Did you miss the part where I said (repeatedly at this point) that I actually have many of the same policy recommendations you have in mind to fix the problem of black poverty?

      Yeah, saw that, just couldn’t quite reconcile it with, welfare is actually bad, it creates overly-dependent leeches, and we should have just let ex-slaves fend for themselves anyway. So I just took the position you seemed most passionate about and spent most of your time justifying, and assumed that was your actual position. Sorry?

      I’ll reiterate and expand a bit: free, universal pre-K starting at age two, ending dependence of schools on local funding, banning private school, breaking up concentrations of poverty and dysfunction in the projects by, instead, devoting 10% of all buildings over X number of units to affordable housing, passing universal healthcare, ending the war on drugs, keeping affirmative action but making it class-based rather than race-based (so that you are actually helping people of all races — but, of course, disproportionately blacks — who NEED the help rather than helping Nigerian immigrants or black kids from Boca Raton get into the Ivy League), ending admissions based on standardized testing that is disconnected from what kids actually learn in school and that merely tests how much money kids’ parents are able to devote to test prep and, instead, using, in addition to high school performance, only a basic pass/fail knowledge proficiency test to guaranty that students have attained some essential core knowledge in their schools, substantial expansions of grant-based financial aid for college for poor students (I think free universal college would result in wealthier students getting a needless windfall), cutting down on or ending entirely the scope of legacy admissions, increasing inheritance taxes substantially, etc.

      Oh, shit, the first time in thousands and thousands of words you’ve felt the need to “expand a bit”. Because I actually agree with the majority of these suggestions, although I’d add a universal job guarantee, food guarantees, and policies to explicitly target race because race IS already explicitly targeted from the other direction today- for example, fewer job call-backs for equally strong black resumes, etc.

      And yet, the problem is still the same: slavery isn’t responsible for all this, white people aren’t culpable, doing MORE in a racially slanted way is bad, and just wait until I tell you about the other cuts I’d make after I put these policies in place. 🙂

      YOU: “Every group of poor, illiterate, uneducated, discriminated-against immigrants” was SELF-SELECTED for every conceivable trait- wealth, intelligence, skills, personal drive. By contrast, slaves were indiscriminately kidnapped. Do you not know what survivorship bias is? Did you even read that part of the article? Or do you come across concepts you don’t understand, then file them away in your head as a random collection of noises?

      ME: Really? Who was “self-selected for every conceivable trait- wealth, intelligence, skills, personal drive”? Are you talking about the illiterate, uneducated, impoverished farmers and laborers who fled here from the Irish potato famine, or are you talking about the illiterate, uneducated, impoverished farmers and laborers who fled disease and poverty in Sicily, or are you talking about the illiterate, uneducated, impoverished farmers and laborers who left backward 19th century China to work on building the railroads to then end up not even able to bring their families over due to the Chinese Exclusion Act that continued on, in various forms, until the 1940s, even while all these people lived in impoverished high-crime ghettos while being systematically excluded from all manner of meaningful work, subjected to anti-miscegenation laws and stereotyped as genetically inferior, uneducated, crude, sexually promiscuous, drug-pushing criminals?

      The Irish potato farmers who were too poor, un-connected, less willing/able to leave stayed in Ireland and DIED. There’s your bottleneck. The Sicilians without means (by every definition) stayed in Sicily. The “illiterate, uneducated, impoverished farmers” from China who were below means stayed- you guessed it, in China. In fact, the very first (female) Chinese immigrant to America was more or less a business venture by two white men who wished to display her for cash. Later, those with easiest access to Hong Kong and Macau (another bottleneck) were able to make it to America since these were the points of departure. And the vast majority of those who made it here were directly sponsored by their families, guilds, and villages, on the understanding they would send much of their new income back home. In other words, these Chinese farmers were quite literally hand-picked by local leaders for the very traits we’re discussing. You think some random bum would have made it through this filter? I mean- you do realize China in 1850 had close to 500 million people? Yet only 300,000 of that 500 million made it to America. That you actually believe this tiny 0.0006% slice of the population was just a random sample of dirt-poor farmers thousands of miles away from Hong Kong without family or sponsors is amazing. You really ought to look into this stuff more, because when I say “survivorship bias”, again: it’s not just a random collection of noises that I’m beating you over the head with, but a description of reality.

      YOU: My goodness, I can’t believe we’ve gone from “hey man, cool article, here are some objections” to “it would have been better to just throw black people on their asses after slavery, and that’s not racist to say”.

      ME: I don’t think “WE’VE” gone from there to here. I think you did that all on your own. You could’ve actually limited yourself to trying to address the things I was saying, taken note of the significant common ground we share and focused on the small areas of disagreement in a careful, rational fashion, but instead you felt the need to call upon the always at-the-ready racist caricature that perpetually springs up like a white-hooded bobble toy at a moment’s notice in the hysterical anti-racist imagination and then came charging, mouth foaming, spittle flying, at the white supremacist ghost you felt the need to exorcise.

      I mean, all I did was quote your own words back to you, and now you’re saying those words upset you.

      YOU: Anyone reading these comments- remember when I said Coleman Hughes had cultivated an unsavory audience, and was unwilling to break away from them? Just read through ALL the comments, guys. You’ll see who the audience is.

      ME: I didn’t get to you via Coleman Hughes, actually. Someone who’s a fan of yours linked me to your article. I read it. I agreed with much of it. I told you that. I had some issues with it. I went into those, because they’re much more interesting to deal with than the areas of agreement. But in response, I got expanding miasmas of anti-racist, anti-capitalist, f*ck-the-police, f*ck Trump, f*ck the whole system, bro rhetoric.

      Oh, sorry, thought you were a Coleman fan. For what it’s worth, though, the more you write, the more indistinguishable you get from them.

      YOU: Aww, that sucks, if you would have actually thought about what you were reading, perhaps you could have saved all that muscle tension for a bowel movement. Maybe then you’d not be so full of bullshit 🙂

      ME: Good one, bro. High-five. Have any good fart jokes for me?

      So, you write a hacky joke referencing your own anatomical cringe-lines, setting yourself up for a rather obvious needling. I take the set-up, and you’re annoyed? It’s weird, you keep implying that I’m the emotional one here, but half the time, it’s like you want me to debate your feelings on this or that.

      YOU: Jokes aside, I honestly can’t believe how much time I wasted responding to Nazi-like claims about slavery that I thought I had put behind me as a 12-year-old arguing on StormFront message boards. It is rather stunning the company that TOTALLY NOT RACIST people keep.

      ME: Bing, bing, bing! Jackpot! We’ve now worked ourselves up into such a frenzy that we’ve gotten to the inevitable logical endpoint: Nazis and white supremacists … or maybe Nazi-adjacency …. I don’t know. I’m lost; somehow, in the middle of the journey, in my wanderings through the dark wood of your imagination, the direct way was lost, and thinking we were heading together towards a robust, far-left-of-center program of substantial reforms meant to end the plight of blacks in America, I instead took a wrong turn on the road and found myself deep in the night, in a sinister grove, encircled by barbed wire, lit by a burning cross, as I stood, to my own surprise, pledging my eternal allegiance to my Fuhrer….
      And this, my friend, is exactly how you guys keep losing the battle for hearts and minds and, by pushing away potential allies by casting them as fascists-in-waiting, create self-fulfilling prophecies in which the fascists you now only imagine build up their ranks with recruits spurred on by disaffection and disgust.

      I must say, I do find it bizarre how you’re liable to go off about “personal responsibility”, but then, after repeating StormFront propaganda re: “let the ex-slaves rot, it’ll be good for them”, you’re upset that I’m asking you to own it? I really don’t get why you think you’re justified to demand so many things from me, whether it’s artificially limiting the scope of the discussion to suit your whims, or that I not characterize a completely radical, outlier POV according to its genealogy.

      And it’s just as bizarre that you think we “keep losing the battle for hearts and minds” on these and other questions. I mean, BLM has 2X the approval rating of Donald Trump right now, doubling from 2014. Corporations are so spooked by not only the protests, but by liberal excesses and idiotic cancel culture that they’re trying to virtue signal their way INTO the hearts and minds of the mainstream. Jim fuckin’ Mattis- the most visible member of the American military- has publicly condemned racial bias, as well as Trump’s response to the protests. I was involved in this kind of stuff as a teenager, when it was much harder, and when we had a right-wing media machine trying to cancel *us*! Now that public sentiment has shifted, you really think I need to solicit anything from you? Really: what do you think that’d be? I got the Mad Dog himself waving my flag from 2004, yet you still think it’s 2004.

      This essay is enough to sway those who are actually in the position to be swayed. Your comments have indubitably helped, as they’ve raised the most common objections for me to rebut. People do see this, which is why I’ve spent so much time on it.

      Thanks for reading, but I’m uninterested in engaging further.

  16. J Kenszie

    I’m sorry. I had to stop reading. You’re not a very interesting writer. There is far better content to spend quality, informative time with.

    1. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      Merely because I’ve knocked down one of your gurus doesn’t mean that I’m not a very interesting writer, although I get why you need to make that conflation. Had you any real objections, no doubt you would have made them.

  17. Tom Anthony

    Wow… a 10,000+ word essay by an elitist, pseudo intellectual on why a young African American cannot be trusted. I guess it makes sense that a young educated African American who questions Liberal/Progressive Orthodoxy would be extremely dangerous to the cause. he must be taken down him at all costs.

    1. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      I wonder how Coleman Hughes feels about some fan deflecting criticism by bringing up his skin color as a meat-shield?

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