Murray’s Empirical Wisdom Confirms ‘Into The Cannibal’s Pot’s’ Analytical Truths

By Ilana Mercer | June 18, 2021 | 5:35pm EDT
Political scientist Charles Murray gives a presentation. (Photo credit: YouTube/Big Think)
Political scientist Charles Murray gives a presentation. (Photo credit: YouTube/Big Think)

My 2011 book, “Into the Cannibal’s Pot: Lessons for America From Post-Apartheid South Africa,” rests on two axiomatic truths, and I excerpt (pp 40-41 & 126-128, 2011):  

In all, no color should be given to the claim that race is not a factor in the incidence of crime in the U.S. and in South Africa. The vulgar individualist will contend that such broad statements about aggregate group characteristics are collectivist, ergo false. He would be wrong.

Generalizations, provided they are substantiated by hard evidence, not hunches, are not incorrect. Science relies on the ability to generalize to the larger population observations drawn from a representative sample. People make prudent decisions in their daily lives based on probabilities and generalities. That one chooses not to live in a particular crime-riddled county or country in no way implies that one considers all individual residents there to be criminals, only that a sensible determination has been made, based on statistically significant data, as to where scarce and precious resources—one’s life and property—are best invested. (“Into The Cannibal’s Pot,” pp 40-41)

In short, generalizations about certain group characteristics are, in aggregate, valid. These, however, do not contradict the imperative to treat each and every individual as an individual.  

In his infinite wisdom, but with a different—strictly empirical approach—social scientist Charles Murray has ushered into the mainstream this very same truth. In a luminous little book, “Facing Reality: Two Truths about Race in America,” Murray counsels precisely that:

…when mean differences between groups are real, it is absolutely essential to resist generalization; it is essential to accept the reality of documented group differences but to insist on thinking of and treating every person as an individual.

Next, in “Into the Cannibal’s Pot,” I explained that we conservatives and libertarians who oppose affirmative action, set-asides, and quotas because of our unfettered fealty to a merit-based, free-market-based society are, sadly, promoting “half-truths,” as I put it. Here’s why: 

Free market economists have long since insisted that the rational self-interest of individuals in private enterprise is always not to discriminate. "The market is color-blind," said Milton Friedman. "No one who goes to the market to buy bread knows or cares whether the wheat was grown by a Jew, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim or atheist; by whites or blacks." As Thomas Sowell put it, "prejudice is free, but discrimination has costs.” (ITCP pp. 126-128) 

Inherent in these arguments, I had argued, in 2011, is that, while not untrue, they are incomplete, mere half-truths: 

Arguably, however, [our] good economists…are still offering up a half-truth. Rational self-interest does indeed propel people, however prejudiced, to set aside bias and put their scarce resources to the best use. But to state simply that "discrimination is bad for business" [and that a pure, free-market meritocracy would solve the problem of racial underrepresentation] is to present an incomplete picture.

This solecism stems from the taint the word "discriminate" has acquired. The market…is discriminating as in discerning—it is biased toward productivity. Hiring people on the basis of criteria other than productivity hurts the proprietor’s pocket. Thus, we can be fairly certain that, absent affirmative-action laws, the market would reflect a bias toward productivity. (Into The Cannibal’s Pot, p. 127.)

And the clincher: 

"In other words, what the good economists [and good conservatives] are loath to let on is that a free market is a market in which groups and individuals are differently represented. Parity in prosperity and performance can be achieved only by playing socialist leveler,” I wrote. (ITCP pp. 126-128.)

Murray’s work agrees—and amplifies this point. He wrote on June 6 that “refusing to confront race differences in means…leads in a straight line to thinking that the only legitimate evidence of a non-racist society is equal outcomes.…the logical conclusion is that the state must force equal outcomes by whatever means necessary.” 

Prior to the publication of my essay, “Systemic Racism Or Systemic Rubbish?,” on Aug. 6, 2020, an astute editor, a young lady, inquired about empirical studies for the immutable truths therein. 

“The thesis of systemic racism,” I countered in the piece, “is derived from the logical error of reasoning backward. ‘Backward reasoning, expounded by mystery author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle through his famous fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes…applies with reasonable certainty when only one plausible explanation for the…evidence exists.’”

But, I reasoned, “Systemic racism is most certainly not ‘the only plausible explanation’ for the lag in the fortunes of African Americans, although, as it stands, systemic racism is inferred solely from one single fact: In aggregate, African Americans trail behind whites in assorted academic and socio-economic indices and achievements.”

“Equalizing individual and intergroup outcomes…is an impossibility,” I added, “considering that it is axiomatically and self-evidently true to say that such differences have existed since the dawn of time.”

It is what it is. Aggregate group differences in intellectual achievement, athleticism, and inhibition-control are here to stay.

Wise young lady that she is, my editor on “Systemic Racism Or Systemic Rubbish?” found the analytical, logical method (which is in the Aristotelian and Misesian traditions) persuasive.

Murray says the same thing, with reference to mounds of empirical data:

We have been unwilling to say openly that different groups have significant group differences. Since we have not been willing to say that, we have been left defenseless against the claims that racism is to blame. What else could it be? We have been afraid to answer. We must.

Disarmed of the firearm of truth, analytical and empirical—without standing our ground on the immutable truths of aggregate groups differences, while we take care to treat each individual on his or her merit—we conservatives are rendered intellectually defenseless. 

Ilana Mercer has been writing a weekly, paleolibertarian think piece since 1999. She’s the author of Into the Cannibal’s Pot: Lessons for America From Post-Apartheid South Africa (2011) & The Trump Revolution: The Donald’s Creative Destruction Deconstructed” (June, 2016). She’s currently on Parler, Gab, YouTube & LinkedIn, but has been banned by Facebook and throttled by Twitter.

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