Cultural Caviar

Occam’s Rubber Room

September 16, 2015

Multiple Pages
Occam’s Rubber Room

In the 14th century, the English philosopher William of Ockham introduced what has come to be known as Occam’s Razor for its usefulness in slicing through intellectual bloviations: Among competing theories that predict equally well, the simplest should be preferred.

About a decade ago, I coined the term Occam’s Butterknife to characterize the contemporary liberal insistence upon implausibly convoluted explanations.

But now that race man Ta-Nehisi Coates is back with a giant article in The Atlantic about “The Enduring Myth of Black Criminality,” I need a more all-encompassing term to describe this increasingly fashionable rejection of reality. Let’s try: Occam’s Rubber Room.

In “The First Rule of White Club,” I reviewed Coates’ best-selling mini-book Between the World and Me about how as a nerdy child he had been terrified of Baltimore’s black thugs, which, due to redlining by the Roosevelt administration, were all the fault of white people. Or, excuse me, of “people who think they are white.”

Fortunately, The Atlantic’s staffers have edited out of the new article some of Coates’ more eye-rolling verbal tics (such as “black bodies”) and left us with 18,000 words of generic professional magazine prose. In the wake of a swarm of derisive comments citing the abundant statistical evidence that black criminality is no myth that greeted a preview of the article, the title is now “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration.”

Although Coates has benefited in the past from the media’s collusion with the Obama administration to encourage black rage, timing has unluckily turned against him. On Friday, Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight website published a study showing that the homicide rates in the 60 biggest cities are up 16% so far in 2015 over the same January-to-early-August period in 2014, which they chose to be Before Ferguson. That’s an additional 482 dead bodies this year, including 77 extra deaths in Baltimore and 51 in St. Louis, the main objects of the Eye of Soros. The majority of the incremental homicide victims are likely blacks murdered by other blacks for the usual knuckleheaded reasons.

“But the simpler interpretation would be a stereotype! And stereotypes, as you learn at college, are mass delusions. Or something.”

Although very few of the murderers are likely to be readers of The Atlantic, Coates’ brand of radical chic may have played an indirect role in exacerbating 2015’s slaughter in the cities.

Coates has now assembled a huge pile of evidence—you’ll be shocked, shocked to learn—that ever since Emancipation, experts, white and black (including W.E.B. Du Bois and Jesse Jackson), have publicly wished that blacks wouldn’t commit so many crimes.

Occam’s Razor might suggest that this “persistent and systematic notion that blacks were especially prone to crime” is evidence that blacks are especially prone to crime.

But in Occam’s Rubber Room, that just proves…well, it’s not clear exactly what it proves other than that it’s all the fault of white people. Therefore, hundreds of thousands of violent black felons should be let out of prison and blacks should be paid reparations.

More insightful black commentators than Coates have had their say on these policy recommendations: Here’s Dave Chappelle on reparations and Richard Pryor on penitentiaries.

Coates’ ugly side is apparent in a long section of his new article about how tragic it is that a black man named Odell Newton is still in prison for the 1967 murder of Baltimore cabdriver Edward Mintz.

Coates, of course, devotes zero attention to the victim. But in just ten minutes of online searching I was able to find out something about the dead man: Mr. Mintz was one brave son of a gun. According to an appeals-court decision, the year before his murder, Mintz had disarmed a gunman named Jessie J. Dunlap with his bare hands. From a 1967 Maryland appeals-court decision:

…Edward Mintz, a cab driver, picked up appellant who asked to go to the 1700 block of Lexington Street. Upon arrival there, Mintz stopped his cab at which time appellant said “This is it, holdup,” simultaneously brandishing a gun. Mintz jumped on appellant and wrestled the gun from his hand. The police then arrived on the scene and arrested appellant.

I include this dusty bit of Baltimore history because you’ll be hearing a lot of Coates’ fanboys telling you about the terrible injustice done to Mintz’s murderer, but you sure won’t hear much about the law-abiding workingman whose courage in hacking a cab in Baltimore in the late ’60s cost him his life.

Today’s standard story as peddled by Coates rejects Occam’s Razor. For example, in 2011 the Obama administration reported that blacks commit homicide at a rate almost eight times that of whites. Is that proof of “the enduring myth of black criminality”? Or is it just evidence of black criminality?

But the simpler interpretation would be a stereotype! And stereotypes, as you learn at college, are mass delusions. Or something. The professors didn’t explain precisely, but you got the message: Knowing that the average person is wrong about everything is what makes you better than people who didn’t learn that at college.

What distinguishes Ta-Nehisi from his white competitors in the Hate Whitey business is his guileless faith in what he was taught. He really believes that if he amasses a mound of evidence that everybody for the past 150 years whose opinion is worth considering has been concerned about the black tendency toward criminality, well, that just proves how hallucinatorily racist America is. Since we all know from first principles that blacks couldn’t possibly be more inclined toward disorganized crime than, say, Chinese, the fact that every expert has, at one point or another, broken down and admitted that they are just demonstrates how mind-warping white racism must be.

Granted, this is stupid. Occam’s Razor exists for very good reasons. But this is not to say that Coates is disingenuous. Like Malcolm Gladwell, he’s simply ill-equipped to perform reality checks on his own conspiracy theory.

Coates’ autodidacticism is personally admirable, but it’s also embarrassing in that he doesn’t notice what he doesn’t notice. For instance, if you ask people what the most famous decade in the history of the world is, many would say: the ’60s. Everybody has a different opinion on the ’60s, but at least they have an opinion. Except Coates, for whom the sheer existence of the ’60s is an embarrassment for the tale he’s trying to tell. Thus, Coates goes on about the “past 50 years”:

A serious reformation of our carceral policy—one seeking a smaller prison population, and a prison population that looks more like America—cannot concern itself merely with sentencing reform, cannot pretend as though the past 50 years of criminal-justice policy did not do real damage.

But 50 years ago was 1965, and the Warren Court’s criminal-justice policy was to go soft on crime. Liberalism held the whip hand, so imprisonment rates per crime committed were cut sharply. Crime exploded from 1964 onward. This vast liberal social-engineering experiment is a massively obvious feature of the civil rights era.

But not for Coates, for whom the ’60s barely exist.

Coates’ new article is built around the 50th anniversary of LBJ adviser Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s report dissenting from the liberal mainstream, warning about growing illegitimacy among black families (22 percent back then, versus 71 percent in 2014) and the social decay this portended.

But surely the single most obvious fact about Moynihan’s report on its 50th anniversary is that it happened 50 years ago. Already by 1965 liberals dominated race policy so completely that one ornery liberal had to speak up about what was being occluded by proto–political correctness.

Since then a huge amount of time has passed in which liberals have remained in charge of almost all aspects regarding race, with the exception that conservatives eventually wrested back the criminal-justice system after crime destroyed much of urban America.

Coates is pleased to discover that back in 1965, Moynihan blamed white people for blacks’ family problems:

In essence, the Negro community has been forced into a matriarchal structure which, because it is so out of line with the rest of the American society, seriously retards the progress of the group as a whole, and imposes a crushing burden on the Negro male and, in consequence, on a great many Negro women as well.

Coates complains that as the years went by, however, an older and wiser Moynihan became more skeptical about his 1965 assumption that African-Americans bear no responsibility for their difficulties. This doesn’t raise doubts in Coates’ mind, of course, since it’s just additional evidence for him that white racism is an all-powerful force deforming the brains of even those people who once agreed with him.

The unmentionable reality that Moynihan apparently didn’t grasp in 1965, but may have comprehended through his alcoholic haze as the decades of liberalism rolled by (Moynihan’s late contributions include his amusing 1993 Law of the Canadian Border), was that African-Americans brought many of their tendencies with them from Africa. The huge expansion in welfare in the 1960s and 1970s merely allowed them to revert back to the social order under which they had been evolving since their invention of agriculture a few thousand years before.

Moynihan used the word “matriarchal” to loosely describe what’s distinctive about African-American life. But the same can be said for Africa. This doesn’t mean that African women exercise formal political control. In the tropics, the ecological conditions are such that most of the farmwork is done by women. But since African women largely bring home the bacon, they are less likely to choose mates who are boring but hardworking providers. Instead, because they are going to be paying for their pleasure, they tend to choose sexy bad boys. Not surprisingly, the top box office movie in America over the past month was Straight Outta Compton about gangsta rappers N.W.A, who made their fortunes by egging on black youths to shoot each other in petty disputes.

As Darwin’s theory of sexual selection would imply, that leads to more sexy bad boys being born in Africa and in the African diaspora than in other parts of the world.

It’s crucial for us to start trying to understand Africans because there are going to be so many of them. In 1995, the populations of the continents of Europe and Africa were the same at about 730 million. But today, while the number of Europeans is stable, there are now 1,186 million Africans, which explains much about the causes of the “migrant crisis” in Europe.

Back in April, I called attention to the U.N.’s 2012 forecast that by 2100 there would be 4.2 billion Africans, calling it the most important statistic in the world.

But the U.N.’s new 2015 forecast says there will be 4.4 billion Africans.

Occam’s Rubber Room is clearly capacious, but can it deal with those kinds of numbers?

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