image of burning buildings

As Minneapolis is burned and looted by yet another crowd that is convinced that “institutionalized racism” is responsible for all of their problems, it is worth asking the question, about blacks in America: “Why do they feel justified engaging in political violence?”

Despite little evidence of bias in police use of force, and none whatsoever in fatalities (including shootings), and despite the fact that whites never riot when a white person is killed by police, black Americans seem to think that any killing or abuse of a black person by police, if they have a video of it, justifies extreme levels of “protest” that, frankly, border on insurrection.

What causes black Americans to think and act in this way? Why don’t other “oppressed” minorities, like Latinos – who face per-capita levels of police-related violence similar to that of blacks – riot when one of their own is killed? Why, when statistics clearly show little or no bias in police interactions with minorities, when controlling for levels of crime, do people persist in the belief that “racism” explains this diversity in police-interaction outcomes?

The culprit is the theory, accept as gospel by the left, and even by some on the right, known as “critical race theory”, AKA “institutional racism.”

Critical Race Theory: an identitarian mythology

Critical race theory, which began to become popular among legal academics in the 1980s, supposes that all of black America’s ills (and those of other minorities, too) are due to “institutional racism.” The theory and its proponents notoriously do not rely on statistics or measurement to justify their claims. They rely instead on narratives and anecdotes. The theory begins with assumptions that one must accept about the reasons things are the way they are, and proceeds from there to justify its assumptions with stories. Statistics get in the way; this is why stories are preferred instead. As the UCLA School of Public Affairs describes on its website:

CRT recognizes that racism is engrained in the fabric and system of the American society. The individual racist need not exist to note that institutional racism is pervasive in the dominant culture. This is the analytical lens that CRT uses in examining existing power structures. CRT identifies that these power structures are based on white privilege and white supremacy, which perpetuates the marginalization of people of color. CRT also rejects the traditions of liberalism and meritocracy. Legal discourse says that the law is neutral and colorblind, however, CRT challenges this legal “truth” by examining liberalism and meritocracy as a vehicle for self-interest, power, and privilege. CRT also recognizes that liberalism and meritocracy are often stories heard from those with wealth, power, and privilege. These stories paint a false picture of meritocracy; everyone who works hard can attain wealth, power, and privilege while ignoring the systemic inequalities that institutional racism provides.

Note the use of terms like “recognizes,” “identifies,” etc. These are synonyms for “concludes.” In other words, CRT begins with conclusions, and then seeks justification for them. It is not “analysis” of any sort, but whole-cloth speculative thinking that insists its conclusions are correct, without supporting data.

As for the idea that racism can be “pervasive in the dominant culture” without any individual racists, well… how does one challenge an argument such as this? You can’t. That’s the point. CRT is specifically constructed in such a way as to prevent rational critique. As federal judge Richard Posner put it:

What is most arresting about critical race theory is that … it turns its back on the Western tradition of rational inquiry, forswearing analysis for narrative. Rather than marshal logical arguments and empirical data, critical race theorists tell stories – fictional, science-fictional, quasi-fictional, autobiographical, anecdotal – designed to expose the pervasive and debilitating racism of America today. By repudiating reasoned argumentation, the storytellers reinforce stereotypes about the intellectual capacities of nonwhites.

Not only do CRT adherents refuse to provide data, detailed mechanisms, or any other explanations for their claims, but they claim that even asking for such evidence is an act of “institutional racism”:

In 2019, a Williams College professor announced that she was taking a medical leave, citing the college’s “violent practices,” which encompassed “[t]he problem of anti-blackness and transphobia on campus.” A student group, the Coalition Against Racist Education Now, endorsed the claim that “discursive and institutional violence” pervaded life at the prestigious liberal arts college. In a subsequent meeting for faculty of color called by the administration, one professor asked about the exact nature of the violent practices endured by the faculty member who had made the complaint. To which another professor responded that “to ask for evidence of violent practices is itself a violent practice.”

An innovation on an old trick: conspiracy theory

The structure of CRT is is similar to another kind of theorizing used that has become popular in recent years:

A conspiracy theory is an explanation for an event or situation that invokes a conspiracy by sinister and powerful groups, often political in motivation, when other explanations are more probable. The term has a pejorative connotation, implying that the appeal to a conspiracy is based on prejudice or insufficient evidence. Conspiracy theories resist falsification and are reinforced by circular reasoning: both evidence against the conspiracy and an absence of evidence for it are re-interpreted as evidence of its truth, whereby the conspiracy becomes a matter of faith rather than something that can be proved or disproved.

Research suggests that conspiracist ideation—belief in conspiracy theories—can be psychologically harmful or pathological and that it is highly correlated with psychological projection, paranoia and Machiavellianism. Conspiracy theories once limited to fringe audiences have become commonplace in mass media, emerging as a cultural phenomenon of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

I suggest that CRT has made a small, but key innovation on the usual conspiracy theory template: it has substituted “the dominant culture," which need not comprise any “individual racists,” for the “sinister and powerful group” that is the culprit in ordinary conspiracy theories. Aside from that substitution, you have an exact structural match between CRT, or what is termed “institutional racism,” and the key elements of conspiracy theory – both in its reasoning and its effects. (Its effects are stoking resentment and political violence. See exhibit A: Minneapolis.)

Conspiracy theories, including CRT, satisfy the fundamental patterns of myth. Humans love myth, are good at myth-making, and are often easily persuaded by myth. Myths help us to understand the world, or at least to tell ourselves a story that makes it seem like we understand it – which is comforting, even if the myth turns out to have no basis in fact. Or, as the writer Edward De Bono put it:

A myth is a fixed way of looking at the world which cannot be destroyed because, looked at through the myth, all evidence supports the myth.

Circular reasoning, and unfalsifiability

Or to look at it from another angle: any theory that relies on circular reasoning – and is therefore necessarily unfalsifiable – cannot not be taken seriously by critical thinkers. Circular reasoning insulates an argument from ordinary forms of critique by making it unfalsifiable. However, it also renders it illogical and unscientific. This should matter to sociologists, who consider themselves scientists; but it does not appear to matter.

Circular reasoning in critical race theory works in the following way:

  1. Claim that institutional racism exists (“the dominant culture is racist”)
  2. Claim that disparities in outcomes are all due to institutional racism
  3. When any measurement or observation is made that seems to contradict #2, by offering another explanation for a disparity in outcome (such as behavior, intelligence, beliefs or attitudes etc) claim thatthe behavior or trait offered as alternative explanation is itself a result of institutional racism.

In other words, if an alternative explanation for higher arrest rates is, instead of “racism,” higher rates of violent or criminal behavior, then that behavior itself is a response to, or even an unavoidable product of, “institutional racism.” (Sample reasoning: “Well, blacks are more violent because they come from broken homes, and their homes are broken because society keeps them poor and thereby makes it harder for blacks to have successful families.) The follow-up response from a CRT skeptic might be: “Well, poor white people have higher marriage rates and lower divorce rates than blacks, and are less violent.” But that won’t matter either, because that proves that racism, not poverty, is the cause of higher levels of black crime. Again, no specific mechanism by which this “racism” operates need be identified or measured.

Using this tactic, no observation can ever be made that would falsify the proposition, “disparity in outcomes is due to institutional racism,” because as soon as any such observation is made, the content of that observation will, itself, be judged to be a result of institutional racism.

This is circular reasoning, hands-down. Circular reasoning makes the theory unfalsifiable. It can therefore be satisfactory to no one who thinks honestly – even if you believe that institutionalized racism exists. If you are honest, you must at least change #3 so that some theoretically possible observation can falsify claim #2.

If you are ok with unfalsifiable theories, because they tell stories you like, I have bad news for you: for every conspiracy theory, there’s an equal and opposite conspiracy theory. Your pet theory may currently have the political upper hand, but I wouldn’t rely on that being the case for long. Fashions tend to change, sometimes suddenly.

Minority Inferiority Complex: A straw-man conspiracy theory

To illustrate that any conspiracy theory is just as unfalsifiable (and therefore, just as scientifically invalid) as any other, let’s just make one up, and call it “minority inferiority complex”:

  1. Claim that the phenomenon “minority inferiority complex” exists. (“Minorities in every society suffer from feelings of inferiority.")
  2. Claim that minorities fair poorly in society because of this inferiority complex, and their outcomes suffer. They make less money, commit more crimes, do poorly in school, etc. No specific mechanism to connect “feelings of inferiority” with any particular result (“higher crime”) is required.
  3. When any observation is made that offers an alternative explanation for minority outcomes, such as “Black home ownership is low, because banks don’t want to lend to black people,” insist that the reason bank won’t lend to black people is because people with inferiority complexes have higher default rates. When it is pointed out that this might be because blacks are poorer, we will say, “Blacks are poorer because, due to their inferiority complex, they don’t apply for the right jobs, or study the right subjects, or take as many risks.” And so on, ad infinitum.

As can be immediately seen, this theory is circular and, therefore, unfalsifiable. Any time a critic presents us with evidence of unfair treatment of minorities, such as a statistic showing that minorities are subject to much higher rates of police brutality, we will merely say, “When minorities interact with police, they behave in such a way, due to their inferiority complex, that results in more frequent uses of violence by police.” Or if someone points out that, while they agree that minorities have an inferiority complex, this is because they come from broken homes and bad schools, we will blame the higher minority divorce rates that cause those broken homes on “the minority inferiority complex, which leads to frequent tempers and outbursts and makes them intolerable spouses, poor and violent parents, who by the way won’t help with homework,” and so on and so on, and we will produce witnesses and anecdotes to illustrate the effect. Whatever we do, we will carefully eschew statistics.

The theory is clearly ridiculous. No one would accept it. But it does exactly the same thing as CRT: it supposes that a certain group of people, or a culture, etc. has a certain characteristic (“it’s racist” or “they think they’re inferior”) and then blames that characteristic for every grievance, rejecting all alternative explanations.

A conspiracy theory that stokes political violence

As the prominent narrative pushed by media, educators, cultural elite like Hollywood and (mostly left, but also right) politicians in America, the CRT myth is directly responsible for inflaming racial tensions that lead to violence. It is not hard to imagine that, if a black man believes that police are more likely to treat him violently because they are racist, he will behave differently to them, leading to confrontation and even violence. His suspicion of police and his resentment toward them is a direct product of his unjustifiable belief in “systemic racism.”

I don’t think any of the rioters in Minnesota know the actual numbers on police violence. Just like they don’t know the black/white interracial murder rate disparity. And they don’t care; even if they knew, it wouldn’t change their minds, because critical race theory tells them that statistics, and facts, don’t matter. The only thing that matters is that “society is racist,” and they are its victims.

If anyone still thinks that the multiculturalists and identitarians (identity-politics crowd) pushing all of this care about “democracy,” then you are in for a wake-up call. What they care about is power, and if they can’t get it via democracy, they’ll get it any way they can:

Leading multicultural theoreticians have laid out how egalitarianism operates after democracy outlives its usefulness. Historian Ibram Kendi, author of How to Be an Antiracist (2019), proposes a constitutional amendment to create a Department of Antiracism, powerful enough to function as the nation’s third house of Congress, second Supreme Court, and first Council of Philosopher Kings. The department “would be responsible for preclearing all local, state and federal public policies to ensure they won’t yield racial inequity, monitor those policies, investigate private racist policies when racial inequity surfaces, and monitor [and discipline] public officials for expressions of racist ideas.” Permanently funded and staffed by “formally trained experts on racism,” but with “no political appointees,” the department would be answerable only to itself, neither checked by other branches of government nor constrained by voter disapproval. Kendi is diffident compared to the Equality Amendment to the Constitution advocated by Kimberlé Crenshaw and Catharine MacKinnon, also a prominent feminist law professor. Among other provisions, it commands Congress and the states to “take legislative and other measures to prevent or redress any disadvantage suffered by individuals or groups because of past and/or present inequality” (emphasis added). Because discrimination is “a pervasive social practice of power—epistemic, practical, and structural,” it follows that “no showing of intent is required to legally undo and remedy it.” As a result, it is hard to imagine an inequality that the amendment would not render unconstitutional, since it orders the government to address inequality’s root causes, which are “the social order—its structures, forces, institutions, and individuals acting in concert.”

“Philosopher Kings” refers of course to Plato’s Republic, his prescription for a socialist utopia that eliminated family, religion, and individuality in the service of a state – which, btw, did not feature “equality” as one of its virtues.

You’ll still have a constitution, though. It’ll be about as useful to you as it was to the slaves.

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