Stifling Charles Murray

Since I’ve been concerned with the status of speech on university campuses, I started looking into the actual speakers who have received the most flak. I’ve been familiar with Milo Yiannopolous for quite a while, and there’s really nothing to comment on there. Ann Coulter is nothing unique. Charles Murray, however, does prove an interesting case; with professional credentials, connections to indicate his in-group status, and the high-profile articles written to counter him, his utter condemnation is a little more peculiar.

I haven’t had time to read The Bell Curve, but I did tune into the podcast with Sam Harris and some of the counterarguments online. Based on the two hour conversation alone, Murray seems honest, well-informed and humble. His field is a controversial one, and so one should expect these qualities. His field is also an academic one with empirical and statistical methods, and for that very reason alone, without an extensive treatment the general population is going to lag behind in comprehension. Lots of the viewpoints Murray espouses are not so easily countered or adopted without background knowledge in psychometrics, and so most of the audience for Waking Up probably walked away with a predestined opinion.

When I listened to the episode, knowing beforehand only that Murray had been subject to endless criticism and condemnation on campus and in research (e.g. by Stephen Jay Gould), I was surprised by how lucid he sounded. The man seems far from a white nationalistracist, neo-Nazi or white supremacist; instead, he presents himself as interested in the same concerns as those on the left (his findings, he says, indicate the need for a basic income. He also supports gay marriage). Sam Harris is also constantly derided, often for his criticism of Islam, and after hosting Murray received some of the same ugly labels. One critique of the podcast is that Harris was too charitable and unquestioning on Murray’s presentation, and I can agree with that, but that may have been because Harris was already familiar with his work. (Also, around the hour-fifteen mark, Murray launches into a domain Harris is clearly less comfortable with, and Harris does explore his guest’s views a little more critically — though it could be said, not enough.)

The experience, for me, made concrete a maxim often championed by defenders of speech. Inaccurately attaching our most powerful labels of evil — fascism, racism, sexism, Nazism, supremacy — means that when faced with the real thing, we will be powerless. Placing genuine bigots and totalitarians in the same word pool as controversial scientists is a bad move for critique. I listened to Murray and thought: so this is the big bad wolf? These are the opinions of the man orthodoxy has eschewed? The man could be wrong about everything, as the internet says, but he does not seem to be motivated by something other than obtaining the facts. If he is wrong, by God, let us challenge his and Herrnstein’s methods and underlying assumptions; let us not push this into a dark corner of human thought it does not fit in with. Some well-established professors writing for Vox say Murray argues from insufficient evidence and this debate ought to be over with already (having gone on since 1994); but they explicitly advocate calling out incorrect ideas rather than stifling them by violent protests.

That is indeed the way to go, because not only did I experience the solidification of the above maxim, but by the end of the interview I was experiencing a curiosity that could easily turn morbid. I imagine it is even stronger for younger people tuning in to Harris. The thought arises, “If this is ‘forbidden knowledge’ — this reasonable, ostensibly well-grounded argument — then what else is there? What else do our global intellectuals call pseudoscience that might be true? If the community labels this racist, what other things do they label racist which are not?” We need to be able to trust each other to keep labels in check. Is it too much of a slippery slope to fear that, once people discover Murray is not a racist, they will seek out other less savory iconoclasts who have also been dubbed white supremacists, looking for what knowledge they might have?

Yiannopolous presents no arguments. Murray does: shutting him down without confrontation only creates an allure of forbidden knowledge, leading those explorers who find Murray digestible to trust established scientific facts less and less. I am not versed in cognitive studies enough to come to an opinion on who is right in this matter; it’s only clear that Charles Murray is arguing from what he thinks is scientifically-validated information. Placing his research into the same domain as David Duke’s ramblings can only lead the curious into an unpleasant trap when they realize their intellectual elders lied to them.

13 thoughts on “Stifling Charles Murray

  1. I want to push back a little bit here. I agree that Murray doesn’t deserve to be lumped together with the likes of David Duke. So forget Murray. What about David Duke? Should he be stifled? In my opinion, NO! Let’s set aside procedural issues about university funds, resources et cetera. Our rights to free speech have limitations just as all other rights. I’m a geezer so I remember National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie. I’m not a fan of Nazis they had every right to wear swastikas and spew hate. If there is anyplace that speech should be free it’s at educational institutions. If people want ‘safe places’ they can go home.

    • Fully agree. We haven’t seen anyone anywhere near the likes of David Duke invited to a public university recently, so I’m a little curious how the backlash would be if someone like him was. Even Yiannopolous is pretty small-time.

      There’s room for exploration though. Much of the response by Antifa et. al. in Berkeley, Middlebury etc. was because they genuinely think hosting controversial speakers is going to lead to some horrific outcome. These speakers are apparently modern-day Nazis, and providing a platform will somehow lead to fascism. This is wrong and absurd. However, if it WERE true that, for example, hosting these people IS going to lead to the toppling of democracy and fascism, they would be in the right, I think, to violently shut down speech — even if there were better means of stifling them that they are not quite intelligent enough to figure out.

      We see though with the Skokie case that honoring democracy in most cases is not going to result in its overthrowing.

  2. We seem to be employing here an emotional redefinition of the term “racist.” Anyone who draws conclusions based on the centuries of human experience, frosted with then-recent research, which Herrnstein was kind enough to let Murray be the public face for, is, quite literally, “racist.” Do Australian aborigines and sub-Saharan Africans score lower on average on IQ tests than Chinese children raised in the same zip codes at the same income levels? The evidence Herrnstein channeled through Murray suggests so. If you draw the correlation, how is that not racist? “Bantu on average are faster sprinters than Han Chinese on average” is equally racist.

    Having reviewed the results of the Olympic 100-meter dash for the past century, a person who concludes that Africans are better runners than Chinese is a prejudiced racist bigot. If she meets two people, one black and one Chinese, and assumes “The black one is the faster runner,” she has committed an act of racism.

    I’m aware that racism is properly used as a totemic pejorative, but I’d like to see more clarity here. Perhaps you could say “harmful racism” or “the bad kind of racism” or something that helps distinguish between Murray’s racism and Duke’s racism? That might allow you to discuss the subject without wishfully presuming that being racist based on objectively verifiable information is different than being racist based on subjective feelings alone.

    • Do “bad racists” lose the right to free speech? “Bad religious bigots”? “Bad sexists”?

    • In a realistic sense of “free speech,” they do. Besides their websites being taken down and news organizations, bookstores, and publishers blacklisting them, “bad racists” lose jobs, get fines, or are confined to prisons. Herrnstein’s frontman is in a different class with special protections, but those kinds of relationships aren’t available to many people.

    • “In a realistic sense of “free speech,” they do.” Just to make sure we’re on the same page, who owns my Facebook page, me or Facebook? Who gets to decide what books to sell, the bookstore or authors of books? Ditto news organizations and publishers. Criminality is very different. Can you give me an example of someone sentenced to prison purely for racist speech?

    • A few questions:

      (1) Do you only care about the treatment of United States citizens regarding being jailed for racist speech?

      (2) Do you consider being jailed for inability to pay taxes or court costs due to loss of employment due to racist speech a jailing that occurs as a result of racism?

      (2b) What if the firing employer is a government agency?

      (3) If Google purchased the interstate highway system and Facebook purchased the US Postal Service, would their new policies of denying travel and/or use of the mail to thoughtcriminals be acceptable because it had been done by a “private company”?

    • A quick addendum, I give $ to the ACLU for a reason, if someone was incarcerated purely for racist speech I want to see if they’re involved and if they aren’t I want to know why.

    • “(1) Do you only care about the treatment of United States citizens regarding being jailed for racist speech?”

      No. I will admit, however, to being more concerned about the US and Canada than other countries because I’m a US citizen and a resident of Canada.

      “(2) Do you consider being jailed for inability to pay taxes or court costs due to loss of employment due to racist speech a jailing that occurs as a result of racism?”


      “(2b) What if the firing employer is a government agency?”

      Still no. Being jailed for inability to pay taxes or court costs is being jailed for inability to pay taxes or court costs.

      “(3) If Google purchased the interstate highway system and Facebook purchased the US Postal Service, would their new policies of denying travel and/or use of the mail to thoughtcriminals be acceptable because it had been done by a “private company”?”

      It would be legal. There’s a pretty small list of no-no’s regarding discrimination in public accommodations. As a progressive I think the list should be longer while libertarians don’t think there should be any. Shrug.

      I’ve answered your list of questions, please do me the courtesy of answering the questions I asked of you.

    • You’re right, for the purpose of this article I didn’t call that first sort of “racism” by its name. In my vernacular, I don’t ordinarily think of noticing differences between ethnic groups as racism — to me, racism always had to be negative and unsubstantiated. If a stereotype were justified, of which there are few (maybe Kenyans are better runners, because of terrain that gives them good cardiovascular exercise?), to me it doesn’t feel like “racism.”

      With Duke-style racism, what strikes me is the entrace of phraseology like “inferiority,” “superiority.” Murray himself says, if his findings are true, there’s no reason that would mean the top-IQ groups are “superior”; it would be bizarre to leap from “higher on average on IQ tests” to “ethnically superior.” That’s an anti-humane stance and unjustified; that to me is racism.

    • Well, suppose we’re forming a track-and-field team. We can choose from Sub-Saharan Africans and Han Chinese. Which group will be superior performers? Which group will be inferior? We both know the answers, but on this planet right now it is considered morally wrong of us to admit that we know.

      There’s this taint of crimethink associated with the word “racism,” as you’ve averred, but the definition of the word makes clear that even “logical racism” or “evidence-based racism” is ungood crimethink. Clearly, the dominant forces in our society today view any kind of racism–indeed, any kind of noticing of differences–as “the bad kind” of racism. Whenever a scientist notices correlations between, say, race and IQ, or race and crime, or crime and IQ, there mere act of noticing is literally racist. If a scientist, let alone a person without state-approved degrees, admits that s/he noticed, than it is literally racist. And there are riots over that. People get killed over that.

      Confronted with this, what should we do? It’s disingenuous to claim that any kind of noticing is not racism, both because (1) the standard, traditional, and currently-employed definition of the word includes any and all noticing of race-based differences, and (2) the majority media and government opinion is that all racism is bad, and all noticing of group differences is racism.

      The things you think you can notice safely now are evolving. Twenty years ago, a hundred years ago, different kinds of noticing were acceptable. In another twenty years, what you view as benign noticing may become a life-or-death issue. Young people might view you as a new David Duke because you notice that some groups are inferior sprinters.

      Should we try to develop a new term that means “racism, but not in a bad way”? Or should we use the old one in a snivelingly incorrect way, for fear of being accused of “the bad kind”? The corporate media quite obviously views all racism as the bad kind.

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