I begin to weary of the endless denunciations of “white privilege;” the calls to end the dominance of malignant white men; the law suits to abolish all tests on which white men excel, meaning almost any test of mental ability; to make universities and police forces and advanced-placement classes “look like America.” Often appended is the observation that by 2050 the majority of Americans will no longer be white. Invariably this is presented as a merited comeuppance and a laudable democratization.
Really? No doubt all of this is rousing good fun for the affirmative-action classes (which is what we mean by “minorities,” not successful minorities such as men, Chinese, Jews, or geeks.) Yet perhaps we should be wary, all of us, about this much-sought dermal twilight, about abandoning standards of merit in favor of political appointment.
The beginning of wisdom might be to note the utter dependence of the US on white men—men, guys, hombres—who have contributed virtually everything that keeps the affirmative-action classes from living in grass huts. A few examples: (from an ancient column):
Euclidean geometry. Parabolic geometry. Hyperbolic geometry. Projective geometry. Differential geometry. Algebra. Limits, continuity, differentiation, integration. Physical chemistry. Organic chemistry. Biochemistry. Classical mechanics. The indeterminacy principle. The wave equation. The Parthenon. The Anabasis. Air conditioning. Number theory. Romanesque architecture. Gothic architecture. Information theory. Entropy. Enthalpy. Almost every symphony ever written. Pierre Auguste Renoir. The twelve-tone scale. The mathematics behind it, twelfth root of two and all that. S-p hybrid bonding orbitals. The Bohr-Sommerfeld atom. The purine-pyrimidine structure of the DNA ladder. Single-sideband radio. All other radio. Dentistry. The internal-combustion engine. Turbojets. Turbofans. Doppler beam-sharpening. Penicillin. Airplanes. Surgery. The mammogram. The Pill. The condom. Polio vaccine. The integrated circuit. The computer. Football. Computational fluid dynamics. Tensors. The Constitution. Euripides, Sophocles, Aristophanes, Aeschylus, Homer, Hesiod. Glass. Rubber. Nylon. Roads. Buildings. Elvis. Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors. (OK, those are nerve agents, and maybe we didn’t really need them.) Silicone. The automobile. Really weird stuff, like clathrates, Buckyballs, and rotaxanes. The Bible. Bug spray. Diffie-Hellman, public-key cryptography, and RSA. Et cetera.
Like it or not, there it is. White men can do these things, have done them, and continue to do them. The evidence shows that all the groups receiving affirmative action have not done them and, by all appearances, cannot—which is why they need affirmative action. Any who have the ability should have the opportunity, yes. (Bright idea: Why don’t we do things without regard to race, creed, color, sex, or national origin? Naw, never fly.) History suggests that there will be few.
Of course, most of the minorities who benefit from these things have never heard of half of them. (In the ‘hood: “Hey man, cool cell. I guess you’re into code-division multiple access.”)
The pattern of white men doing difficult things continues. Consider the founders of companies in information technology (also from an earlier column):
Google (Sergei Bryn, Larry Page), Intel (Gordon Moore, Robert Noyce), Apple (Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak), Microsoft (Bill Gates), Dell Computer (Michael Dell), Facebook (Mark Zuckerberg), YouTube (Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, Jawed Karim), Netscape (Mark Andreesen), Yahoo (Jerry Yang, David Filo), AMD (long list of guys from Fairchild Semiconductor), Twitter (Jack Dorsey), Wikipedia (Jimmy Wales, Larry Sanger), Unz.org (Ron Unz), PayPal (Peter Thiel), Ebay (Pierre Omidyar).
Not quite all white, but nearly so. All are men.
For that matter, anyone who watched the landing of Curiosity, the latest Mars rover, both Curiosity and the landing being astonishing demonstrations of engineering virtuosity, will have noticed that Mission Control consisted overwhelmingly of: White. Men.
I say all of this partly in exasperation at the endless ankle-biting from affirmative-action minorities. If I were rude, which I emphatically am not, I would say, “Invent your own goddam iPods.” Yet the question is profoundly practical. The prosperity of America, its international competitiveness, depends very heavily on white men. Which means on a steadily diminishing proportion of the population.
Maybe this isn’t cause for celebration.
If America were the only country on the planet, as many Americans seem to think it is, then affirmative action might be a supportable inefficiency, something like a golf handicap. But America is not the only country. Japan, China, and South Korea among others are full of smart, industrious, and ambitious people who are absolutely able to compete against the US. They are not going to cut us any slack. Their percentages of high-end talent are not falling. They don’t do heartwarming social policy.
Yes, yes, I know. I will get stupid mail from stupider people saying that I am a white supremacist. No. I am a brain supremacist. If the entire faculty of Harvard came to consist of Jewish Koreans from Mumbai, I would be perfectly content, assuming they got there on merit. Or even if they came from New Jersey.
In pondering the coming unwhite America, it might be wise to consider how democracy will then work. In America we are accustomed to a rough balance of contending factions—liberals, conservatives, women, men, blacks, Hispanics, feminists, hawks, doves, and so on. Values overlap, emphases change. Elections are often determined by a few percentage points. Any group potentially can influence the outcome, so politicians have to pay attention to the desires of all groups.
By contrast, if the electorate consists of two self-aware groups with utterly incompatible wishes, the smaller group is simply excluded from power. In South Africa, for example, whites have no hope for national office.
Note that blacks and whites indeed have such sharply differing values. Further, blacks do not like whites. They are quite as willing to impose their rule on whites as white once were to impose their rule on blacks. Consider the following survey, from The Pew Research Center:
“Most notably, 62% of blacks say ‘we should make every possible effort to improve the position of blacks and other minorities, even if it means giving them preferential treatment.’ Just 22% of whites agree.
When it comes to the social safety net, 78% of blacks today say ‘the government should guarantee every citizen enough to eat and a place to sleep.’”
The idea that the government—which means white taxpayers—should provide everything suggests a great dimness of mind and poor grasp of the origin of specie. The belief apparently is that money comes from the government, as food comes from Safeway and cell phones from Radio Shack. A constantly dwindling number of whites at the mercy of a predatory welfare class can’t and won’t carry the rest of the population. If (or as) things get worse for them, they will simply flee the country.
The crucial question for an unwhite America is what Hispanics will do—whether they will assimilate to white values or expect to be cared for by the government. They now make up 17% of the population versus 13% for blacks, and their numbers rise faster. Should they bloc-vote with blacks, the two will be able to demand anything at all and get it.
And that, in a competitive world, will be that.
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