But how? It’s fascinating.
Anyway, this piece is also fascinating if somewhat wrongheaded.
Telling people to “just stop talking about” subject X is a terrific way to provoke them to do the opposite.
Black American culture, for example, grew from implacably oppressive slavery followed by a Jim Crow hegemony that recapitulated slavery in essence. These were people living in what my linguist’s training reveals as a life bound in orality rather than literacy. To live restricted to casual speech rather than the artifice of writing creates a psychology ill equipped to score highly on the distinctly modern stunt known as the IQ test. Speech emphasizes immediate experience over the athletically hypothetical. In speech, one focuses on a sequence of events — one damned thing after another — rather than on layered particularities along the lines of “If it had . . . , then it would . . . ” The latter sort of mental work, which is what a psychometric test requires one to perform, can seem irrelevant to an oral culture unless it is absolutely necessary — which it rarely is, given the broad generalities that suffice for basic human thriving. (…)
McWhorter awkwardly sweeps past one obvious objection, with an unconvincing “nonetheless”:
[L]egions of whites in America have grown up in similar environments (as J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy eloquently testifies). The fact nonetheless remains that as a hopelessly nerdy kid, I was told warmly but firmly by older southern black relatives that I needed to stop thinking life was in “them books” — i.e., sources teaching me to look beyond my immediate experiences and ready intuitions. Given that these adults had grown up in an America that largely denied them quality schooling and restricted them to menial labor, it was hardly surprising that my geekiness did not strike them as useful or even congenial.
Can we go back to those “legions of whites” (i.e. gentiles, obviously) for just a sec, though?
It also seems to me that if relying upon one’s “immediate experiences and ready intuitions” had in fact been a sound approach to survival, and later, prosperity, we would have heard far less about black crime/unwed pregnancy/unemployments rates all this time. (Imagine such a paradise…)
To put it bluntly, by blacks’ own admission/complaints, this approach apparently didn’t/doesn’t pay off, and might therefore be categorized as, dare I say it, “stupid.”
(Likewise the African-American glorification of church-going, which, while producing awe-inspiring music, doesn’t seem to have made a perceptible dent in their levels of income or incarceration…)
I’m reminded of those annoying (white) people who excuse their parents’/grandparents’ annoying and ultimately counterproductive financial habits with “Well, they grew up during the Great Depression.” Fine, but it has been over for 70 years, SO YOU CAN STOP WASHING OUT AND HOARDING THE EMPTY PLASTIC BREAD BAGS and other stupid, time- and energy-wasting behaviours poor people do that keep themselves poor.
Also, this is false:
Given a choice between history’s having produced Beethoven — or Ray Charles, or Hamilton — and its having produced penicillin, all would choose the latter.
McWhorter is fastidious about language, yet sloppily lets in this “all.”
Were you to ask any number of (high IQ) misanthropes, from Leopold and Loeb to various high ranking Nazis, many would reflexively pick Beethoven over penicillin (at least in drawing room debates, and presuming they were in robust health at the time.)
It doesn’t matter whether or not Faulkner would “rob his mother” in real life; that this is his (and my) default, orientation indicates that McWhorter’s “all” is a lazy and delusional conclusion.
We may consider ourselves lucky that neither Faulkner nor I were/am in charge of public policy or have access to the launch codes for nuclear weapons.
But what if we were?
To presume we do not exist indicates a flaw in McWhorter’s overall worldview, and his understanding of human nature, that unfortunately casts doubts on the soundness of an otherwise worthy essay.
But hey, I don’t write for National Review…