Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Talk

John Derbyshire was until recently a writer for the conservative journal National Review. He is an atheist and a Darwinian (the significance of which I'll explain below) which is unusual among political conservatives, and he was recently fired for writing a racially insensitive column based on "The Talk" that a number of African-Americans are saying that they have at some point with their children.

"The Talk" could be construed to be racially offensive to whites, in my opinion, but few commentators seem to want to say that out loud. Derbyshire was an exception. He satirized "The Talk" by writing down advice he has given to his own children over the years.

Some of what he said was wise, some of it was simply sociological fact, but some of it was seen as unfair, inaccurate, and gratuitously insulting to blacks, and for that he was fired. I'll leave it to you to read his essay and judge it for yourself. For my part, I'd like to focus on an aspect of it that no one else has remarked upon, at least so far as I am aware.

Let's assume for the sake of discussion that Derbyshire was indeed motivated by racial animus and eager to insult blacks qua blacks. Let's suppose that he really is a racist. If one is an atheistic Darwinian like Derbyshire why would one think that there was anything wrong with that? Darwin himself believed that blacks were an inferior race and as we've argued here on numerous occasions atheism entails moral nihilism, the idea that there is no right or wrong.

In other words, there's nothing wrong with racism unless there's an obligation binding each of us to love our neighbor, i.e. to treat him with dignity, respect and kindness, but there can only be such a duty if there's a transcendent moral authority who imposes it. Since, on Derbyshire's metaphysical presuppositions, there is no such authority, neither he nor anyone who shares those presuppositions can say that he was wrong to say what he said, or to think what he thinks. The most that can be said is that he violated some social taboo, but what's wrong with that?

Put simply, unless there is a Divine law-giver who imposes upon us the duty to treat each other the way we want to be treated then there's no basis whatsoever for saying that racism is wrong. One may find racial bigotry distasteful, of course, just as one may find the thought of eating dog food distasteful, but it's not morally wrong.

Thus, when an atheist pontificates about the evils of racism he's just blowing hot air. Only a theist has any grounds for saying that racism is evil.

Whether Derbyshire really is a racist or whether he's just a contrarian who refuses to truckle to the politically correct pieties of our age, I can't say, but it's hard to imagine a black writer being fired for writing similar things about whites, and it's hard to imagine, in any event, why secularist progressives would be outraged at what Derbyshire wrote even if they are racist.