A disclaimer: I neither approve of nor condone white supremacy. This essay is an analysis of the dialectic surrounding white supremacism, in both it’s pro-supremacist and anti-supremacist formulations. The analysis is important for what it demonstrates about the importance of the issue both sides grapple with but often fail to clearly diagnose, largely due to a paranoid and over-emotional corruption of the rhetoric. My treatment of the issue of race is overly simplified and intended to focus on the dialectic.
The argument supporting white supremacy (or any racial supremacy, for that matter) has two premises, which may be stated thus:
There are biologically grounded differences between racial groups (empirical proposition)
The average characteristics of racial groups can be ranked on a single dimension from worst to best (moral proposition)
What is curious is which of those premises people choose to deny. I observe many leftists tend to deny the first premise. I also observe that many leftists both never deny the second premise, they also tend to assume that anyone supporting the first premise must also support the second premise. As such, a great deal of rhetoric goes like this:
A: “There are observable differences between racial groups. While not all members of a racial group necessarily have those characteristics, there is nonetheless differences in the averages and distributions of those characteristics between racial groups. These differences seem to have a biological basis, among other factors.”
B: “White supremacist! Nazi! Evil!”
In other words, it is presupposed that, as a matter of course, the only reason anyone believes there might be biologically grounded differences between racial groups is that one also somehow supports an agenda of racial supremacism. However, careful observers do notice that our hypothetical individual A has not declared support for the second premise highlighted above. They may or may not, but from what they have said we must at least be agnostic about whether they believe in the rationality of racial supremacy. I have also observed that, if one attempts to bring up the two premises and how they do not necessarily support each other, individuals represented by B tend to shut down and refuses to consider any alternative viewpoint.
The two premises are quite distinct from one another, and neither presupposes the other. The first premise, a statement about human biodiversity, is empirical. It might be studied by science. The theory of evolution predicts, given the varying commonality of ancestry among human groups and exposue to separate environments, the development of different traits we now observe as group racial differences. The second premise, a statement about superiority ranked along a single dimension, strikes me as moral. People who support the second premise tend to believe that “superior” races deserve preferential treatment economically, culturally, and politically. There are, I have observed, a continuum of conclusions stemming from the premise of superiority, from the need to preserve purity to extermination.
As pointed out by Hume, an ought cannot be derived from an is. One cannot derive the conclusion “We ought to massacre [insert preferred racial group here]” from “There are observed differences.” Neither does “There are observed differences” necessarily predispose one to “We ought to massacre [insert preferred racial group here].” As empirical and moral propositions, respectively, they must be proved or asserted separately. Yet, curiously, leftists so rarely question the moral premise. Why? Note, at least in my observation, conservatives more frequently rebut the moral claim, perhaps out of a sensitivity to the issue on account of historical assocations between the two premises. I think if we can explain the reason for the difference in attention given by leftists and rightists to the moral premise, we can explain much of the dialectic surrounding white supremacism, and perhaps by extension race more generally.
First, there is a tendency by leftists to treat white supremacist rhetoric as inherently threatening and dangerous. They often seem to believe people are inherently susceptible to the rhetoric. Whether they attribute it to the strength of white supremacist rhetoric or the idiocy of people isn’t always apparent. If the former, then they must be at least subconsciously assessing the case in order to determine its strength. If the latter, then they must believe it appeals to some kind of brutish self-interest. They often resort to strawmanning and caricatures, seemingly because they are themselves unaware of the beliefs stated by those they have in mind. By their own rhetoric, they would even themselves prefer it that way, e.g. if they’re ignorant of white supremacist rhetoric they can’t be susceptible to it. They do not seem to believe one can be fully cognizant of white supremacist rhetoric and reject it. If they believed that, they might otherwise give authentic representations of the beliefs of their opponents. Instead, they tend to conflate the first and second premise into one, thereby obscuring the empirical question on account of a supposed moral belief they assume their opponent to hold.
Second, the fact of a conflation between the two premises into one appears to inhibit rejecting the moral premise. In other words, for many leftists there are not two separate propositions: if you believe there might be biologically grounded racial group differences, supremacism necessarily follows. It hasn’t occurred to leftists there are two separate premises at play. Indeed, when I have asked leftists I know about it, they tend to revert to the same rhetoric about white supremacism, Nazis, etc. They do not treat it as a helpful analysis bringing clarity to the issue – indeed, I have even been called a white supremacist attempting what I thought was clarity. Leftists never get around to rejecting the moral premise as such because they believe they reject it in the empirical premise. Thus, rather than disclaiming supremacism as such, they disclaim propositions of empirical content on moral grounds.
This empirical-moral mismatch seems to drive a lot of leftist rhetoric on the issue, which thereby shapes the dialectic between them and actual proponents of white supremacism. In fact, there are at least three groups concerned: the first are leftists who reject both premises, the second are white supremacists who accept both premises, and the third are those who accept the empirical proposition while rejecting the moral premise. The third gets caught in the crossfire, leftists attributing their acceptance of the empirical proposition to a kind of “not-so-secret” agenda of white supremacism, often overlooking actual white supremacists (much rarer than the third group, in my observations).
Leftists lumping the third group with white supremacists does not seem driven by a rational, or strategic, decision. Rather, it seems overtly a matter of pattern-matching: the Nazis promoted race science, therefore race science is evil. Anything that suggests biological influence of observed group differences is race science, therefore it must be opposed at all costs. As a result, because of their inelegant equivocation between the third group and white supremacists, the third group tends to come to the conclusion that leftists are idiots. And not without some justification, considering their obstinate conflation of the empirical proposition and moral premise. Especially when those in the third group with otherwise progressive views about helping minorities get called Nazis. In practical terms, this leads to the third group forming more of a tribal alliance with conservatives, even in some cases inclining them more to supremacism than they might be otherwise.
If the true target of leftists was the elimination of white supremacists, it seemed they would accept the third group and, like them, reject the moral premise. But this never occurs to them. There seems to be a blind spot in their way of thinking about the issue. Even accepting the premise of human biodiversity is too near supremacism for them. I’m not sure why this is, as it seems to be the kind of thing where you would only make a person aware of their mistake, and they would correct it. But many leftists are obstinate to the idea the moral and empirical can be separated. If so, perhaps they have a very ground-level belief that the moral and empirical are inextricable from each other, so much so that even hypothesizing biodiversity as a cause necessarily requires one is also a white supremacist. In their minds, holding to the first premise but not the second is illogical.
That is not an enviable position. It probably also explains the largely emotional histrionics associated with the left’s treatment of the matter. If they believed the first and second could be neatly separated, they would not default to treating anyone considering the empirical proposition as a white supremacist. What is curious is that their association of the first and second premises as necessarily connected is almost identical to white supremacist rhetoric. In their minds, if they accepted the empirical proposition, then because they do not reject the moral proposition, they must logically be white supremacists. This also seems to drive a lot of their behavior. It is almost as much – if not more – about persuading themselves they can entirely reject the empirical proposition without needing to verify it scientifically. As such, they consider even science on human biodiversity – even when it performed by non-whites – to still suggest white supremacism.
One might even make the claim many leftists are unconscious white supremacists. Certainly, if they do not reject the moral premise – and the moral premise appears the substance of justifying white supremacism – then it follows they implicitly accept the moral premise, and with it, white supremacism. This trap is actually very easy to escape: simply accept the separation of propositions I have shown, in which case it is very easy to avoid white supremacism. Of course, if they accept the separation of premises, then they must also accept many they label as white supremacists, or Nazis, or similarly, are not. Their apology for labeling many people so libelously would be greatly appreciated, and it would heal a rift in the American public that doesn’t need to exist.