Ben Shapiro think it’s crazy and libelous that people call him a racist when he points out that black people commit violent crimes at a higher rate than their white peers. These are the facts, liberals, and facts don’t care about your feelings. To Shapiro, he is supremely rational and unbiased because he uses numbers and its only because of postmodernist social justice movements who eschew objectivity that anyone could possibly have a different view than the one he puts forth.
This isn’t an anti-Shapiro piece, but he does serve as a great example. Herein lies the implicit racism that’s fairly prevalent among Shapiro and his ilk. To them, racists are people who use the word nigger to denigrate others. They just follow the facts where they lead, and how could that possibly be racist?
But when you take Shapiro’s argument to its logical conclusion, it tacitly implies that there is something inferior about black people. Shapiro never asks why there’s a disparity between white and black crime because doing so would lead to one of three conclusions, neither of which he is comfortable with.
The first says that black people simply have a genetic makeup that’s second-rate to that of the white race. This conclusion would make Shapiro an explicit racist.
The second says we are unsure of the natural and environmental conditions that cause the disparity. This would be an admission of ambiguity, which cuts against Shapiro’s entire “intellectual” shtick. How can one own the libs with facts and logic if they admit they’re not in a position to know all things?
Finally, the third conclusion would put forth the contextual and historical argument that people who are discriminated against by the state and economically disadvantaged are far more prone to commit crimes and engage in illicit behavior regardless of race or nationality.
This could conceivably be consistent with a conservative worldview that said coercive state behavior breeds resentment, despair, and the dissolution of the nuclear family, but that’s not the conservative perspective the American right has decided to take. The American right instead predicates it worldview on the fact that some people are simply better than others and individual decisions are what differentiate us. This is essentially a modernized view of Max Weber’s “Protestant work ethic,” which claimed the west was rich because it was filled with Christians who work harder and smarter than the rest of the world. It’s the same ideology that says Muslims hate us because the Koran tells them to and not because of American aggression, an argument Shapiro makes explicitly.
Part of the intellectual vacuum that has become post-William Buckley conservative journalism includes the decontextualization of racial politics. This isn’t uniformly the case. Writers like John Podhoretz, for example, continue to put forth an enlightened conservativism that is informed by history. The writers like Shapiro get all the clicks, however. To them, the world may as well have started yesterday when it comes to race. Blacks, Mexicans, and whites all started on a level playing field and the results are what they are. Asians make more money than white people, so how could it possibly be about race!?
If you could remove the preconceptions and biases of American politics from the equation, I’m fairly certain virtually no one would advance this bankrupt ideology. Let’s take two groups of people.
Group A is a people that were enslaved for some 200 years. They were literal human property, stripped of all freedom and barred from any meaningful social interactions in which there wasn’t a strict hierarchy enforced by violence. They knew if they did something so much as talk back, they were liable to be brutally beaten. After finally gaining their freedom, they were barred from all institutions for another 100 plus years. They weren’t able to access banks, get market rates to buy property, take adequate public transportation, or get an education in the best institutions regardless of how capable they were. Further, housing policies enacted by the state and social policies enacted by their neighbors made it such that they were forced into living in squalid conditions with one another and away from the rest of society. Because there were no good jobs available to them nor capital loans with which they could invest, poverty was forced upon them and their communities.
Group B has always had access to institutions. They and their families before them have been the dominant economic and social group for hundreds of years. Group A provided their economic prosperity for 200 years through forced labor in which they were the owners of both the land and the human chattel that they turned group A into. Not only have institutions always been available to them, those institutions compete with one another for who can cater to them most adequately. The only historical limitation to their education has been their own competence. To acquire capital, they have always been able to simply walk into a bank and receive market-rate interest.
Now fast forward about 50 years. To the conservative, that’s enough time to level the playing field between the two. Sure, racism happened in the past, but it’s over now. Slavery ended more than 150 years ago, it’s time to stop using it as an excuse. To any thinking person, this is preposterous. Even if we’re going to grant the proposition that your familial past doesn’t deeply affect your own reality, which is an entirely anti-scientific thing to grant, these effects are still happening. Black people still live in the ghettos they were forced into after slavery. Banks still redline these areas such that bank loans are either denied or granted with astronomical interest rates. Studies show that a white individual with a criminal record is more likely to get a call back on a job than a black without a criminal record when both have identical qualifications.
In other words, institutional bias hasn’t gone anywhere. Black people still lack anywhere close to parity when it comes to access. To ignore history is to ignore modern reality. And yet Ben Shapiro sees no reason why this economic depravity should translate into higher rates of violent crime.
There’s a broader phenomenon in American political life that goes beyond race politics. It’s a lack of context writ large, an ahistoricity of the most insidious form. That is to say, not only do people know virtually nothing factual about America’s past, they take pride in their lack of knowledge.
In fact, history has become a partisan caricature. The founding fathers are the most obvious and insidious form of this phenomenon. Any detailed reading of the lives of the founders shows deep nuances, contradictions, and most notably ambiguities. To caricature them as being small government libertarians or religious conservatives is not only a gross over simplification, it’s simply untrue.
Just as the founders laid a framework for the country that would and will forever define it, misconstruing their motives and behavior leads to a foundational misconception of the history of this country. This thread runs through to Ronald Reagan, who is seen as the purified form of the conservative ethos.
An intricate understanding of history, the kind that Shapiro and company lack, strains a social system that is predicated on empathy. As much as the right screams individualism, no such thing exists. We’re a society strung together to make up the macro sociopolitical environ. A change in one part of the system causes disruptions in the others. A society truly predicated on individualism wouldn’t undergo rapid social movements as occurred with acceptance of gay marriage. Societies are, by definition, collective.
Ideologies that lack historical context lack empathy. Societies that lack empathy lack cohesion. Systems that lack cohesion fracture and don’t properly function. They elect loudmouth plutocrats who disrespect women, Muslims, and immigrants. They choose congressional members that can’t come to compromise.
If the American empire is to fall, it will not be due to any external enemy but because we weren’t able to see one another as equals deserving of respect. That starts with understanding each other’s history.