Why Do Intellectuals Support Affirmative Action?

Why Do Intellectuals Support Affirmative Action?

The Supreme Court’s ruling against affirmative action in college admissions met with dismayed, hostile and sarcastic reactions from intellectuals, meaning the media, academics and others who make a living out of conveying ideas to the public.[1] This was predictable, but why are they like this? Why do intellectuals support affirmative action?[2]

Many do so out of an attachment to the doctrine of essential racial equality, which tells them that the races are inherently the same. Seeing that they do not perform the same, and especially that Black people do considerably less well than others, they think that Black people’s performance must have been depressed by environmental factors such as their mistreatment by Whites. To make up for this, affirmative action is needed.

This is a poor rationale for affirmative action since there is nothing to suggest that the races are inherently the same, nor is there any evidence of the supposed mistreatment. To deal with the first problem, the intellectuals call anyone who points it out a racist. To deal with the second, they go back to the Jim Crow era or even to slavery, where mistreatment can be found, and say that the present generation is still affected, therefore it must be compensated. This argument also fails, if only because it is not just Black people whose ancestors were mistreated. Everyone probably has ancestors who were mistreated in one way or another, yet we do not seek to identify these long-dead individuals so that we can compensate their living descendants.

A second rationale refers to equal opportunities. These are weasel words, which on the intellectuals’ interpretation do not denote a requirement of justice. The intellectuals will argue that not all candidates sitting a given test have the same opportunity to pass it because some of them had to stay up all night looking after their sick mothers whereas others got a good night’s sleep. The tired ones are predominantly Black, they will find, therefore affirmative action must be taken. But justice does not require equal opportunities in this sense, which would be impossible to arrange. It requires equal treatment, which can easily be arranged by having all the candidates sit the test at the same time in the same hall with the same amount of time to complete it. No more elaborate concept of equal opportunities is needed.

A third rationale refers to the presumed value of racial diversity. Black students without the test scores needed to get into college must still go there, says this rationale, so that White students can benefit from their presence. This is just silly.

The urge of Whites to favour Blacks can be strong. The purpose of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was to end racial discrimination in employment. To underline this, soon after the Act was passed, President Johnson issued an executive order stating that employees must be taken on and treated without regard to race. Before long, hiring goals for Blacks were being introduced, not only at the behest of organisations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People but also by the Department of Labor itself.[3] Already in the 1920s it was customary for Black students at New York University to be marked two grades higher than Whites for a given level of work.[4]

On the day the Supreme Court announced its decision, Harvard officials sent a letter to the university community, which contained all the vagueness, evasion and general waste material that characterises politically correct language. It also invoked all three rationales for affirmative action mentioned above.[5] “Diversity and difference are essential to academic excellence”, it said. Diversity of what? Difference between what? If it meant diversity and difference of race, how can these help anyone attain academic excellence? Doesn’t Harvard know that academic excellence is attained by talent and hard work?

The letter stated that to prepare leaders for a complex world, “Harvard must admit and educate a student body whose members reflect, and have lived, multiple facets of human experience”. If one can live a facet of experience, what makes Harvard think that not enough of these facets would have been lived by a student body selected on merit? Black people might be especially unlikely to add to the total number of such facets since they are not known for being adventurous. How many of Harvard’s Blacks are likely to have climbed a mountain or even gone for a walk in the countryside? How many will have visited an art gallery or museum?

The letter went on to say that Harvard must be a place of opportunity, “whose doors remain open to those to whom they had long been closed”. Presumably by “those to whom they had long been closed” it meant Black people of the past to whom doors were closed because they were Black. Apparently Harvard finds the historical existence of such people a sufficient reason for letting in Black people who lack the qualifications required of the other races.

But affirmative action works, say the intellectuals, and point to their poster boys. An early one was Patrick Chavis, who in 1975 was among the first Black students to be admitted to medical school when had he been White he would have been rejected.[6] When he set up in practice after graduating, a journalist named Nicholas Lemann called him a living and breathing refutation of the claim that racial preferences favour unqualified Blacks over better-qualified Whites. How he thought that this had been refuted is a mystery since it is the very definition of affirmative action and its whole point. Anyway, misfortune struck Chavis when in 1997 his licence was suspended as he was deemed grossly negligent, incompetent and a danger to public health. He could not perform “some of the most basic duties required of a physician”. Two patients nearly died as a result of his botched operations; a third did. Presumably the intellectuals quietly took down that poster.

A famous beneficiary of affirmative action is Justice Clarence Thomas, who bitterly regrets accepting a place at Yale after clearing a specially lowered bar. The burden of being suspected of being less bright than his White peers is one that he had to bear for decades.

One person who escaped affirmative action is Anthony Brian Logan, who after growing up with drug addicts and criminals in his family worked tirelessly in various jobs before putting himself through a local college and starting up as a graphic designer. He went on to create a successful YouTube channel, where he puts out a video each day with excellent commentary on current affairs. In his opinion, Blacks who aspire to go to Harvard and are let in without the grades required of the other races are misguided. They find it hard to keep up and would have been better off at less well-known but perfectly adequate colleges that would not have treated them as special cases.

The fact that the intellectuals have no good argument for affirmative action does not diminish their support for it. For them it is not a matter of argument; it is a matter of fending off the thought that Black people are innately inferior to Whites, which would mean that they as Whites belonged to a superior race. To them this thought would be more than they could bear. They would see death camps on the way. Lifelong programming and continuing social pressure have prevented them from being able to see that relationships of superiority and inferiority are universal facts of life and nothing to be afraid of.

Another reason intellectuals might have for supporting affirmative action is that they believe in racial discrimination on principle. They do not share the general view that institutions should treat all alike without regard to race; they think they should have a favourite race and do all they can to benefit members of that race without a thought for the others. These are the anti-racists.

Yet another reason could be that the intellectuals want to avoid Black violence. After the Supreme Court decision, the commentator John Derbyshire wrote a piece saying three times that meritocratic college admissions were unacceptable.[7] His first justification for taking this view was a non sequitur: “The meritocratic option is unacceptable because of race differences in intelligence”. How do race differences in intelligence mean that colleges should not select applicants on merit? Derbyshire referred to a report which stated that if Harvard selected on merit, less than one per cent of its students would be Black. He didn’t say why this would be a problem.

His second justification was that if Harvard stopped favouring Black people — and he saw a loophole in the Supreme Court ruling that will let it continue doing this — “the oceans would boil and the earth would crash into the sun”. Perhaps by this he meant that if a serious attempt were made to abolish affirmative action, there would be an outcry, particularly on the part of Blacks, who might riot. We don’t want that, so colleges had better continue discriminating in their favour.

Going back to the intellectuals who passionately believe in essential racial equality, one might wonder who they are trying to benefit. They admit Black students to college on the basis that they have the intelligence that theoretically is in them but unrealised, which makes student populations look as they would do if things were as the intellectuals wished, then point to the results as though they proved that things really are this way. “Look at all these Black students!”, they say. “Who says Blacks aren’t as intelligent as Whites?” The point seems to be to allow them to perform a trick which they can then claim was no trick rather than try to help the Black students, who can only sink or swim with the intelligence at their disposal. Perhaps their passion comes from the struggle between the two sides of their double-think.

A final speculation is that contributing to these intellectuals’ inability to tolerate the thought of innate racial differences is the fact that they belong to a spoilt generation. They want the races to be the same; they don’t want to be superior. No one has ever told them that you can’t always have what you want.

[1] This use of the word “intellectuals” comes from Friedrich Hayek, 1998 (1949), The Intellectuals and Socialism, London: IEA Health and Welfare Unit, pp. 9-18.

[2] By “affirmative action” this article means discrimination in favour of Black people. It does not discuss discrimination in favour of Hispanics, women or other groups.

[3] Jared Taylor, 2004 (1992), Paved with Good Intentions, New Century Foundation, p. 126. The Executive Order was No. 11246.

[4] James Burnham, 1964, Suicide of the West: An Essay on the Meaning and Destiny of Liberalism, New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, p. 197.

[5] The letter is quoted in V-DARE, June 30th 2023, “Nobody Wants An 0.76 Percent Black Harvard. The Oceans Would Boil, The Earth Would Crash Into The Sun” by John Derbyshire, https://vdare.com/articles/john-derbyshire-nobody-wants-an-0-76-percent-Black-harvard-the-oceans-would-boil-the-earth-would-crash-into-the-sun.

[6] William McGowan, 2002, Coloring the News: How Political Correctness Has Corrupted American Journalism, San Francisco: Encounter Books.

[7] V-DARE, June 30th 2023, op cit.

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