Cant, n. The expression or repetition of conventional, trite, or unconsidered ideas, opinions or sentiments; especially: the insincere use of pious phraseology
My household favors the brand of iced tea that has little believe-it-or-not factlets printed on the inside of the bottle caps. The other day, my son opened a bottle of this stuff, turned over the cap, and reading from it, asked the room: “What was the first human-made object to break the sound barrier?” Dad: “First what object?” Son (not very patient with this sort of thing): “The answer’s a whip.” Dad: “I know, but … ‘human-made’? What happened to ‘man-made’?”
We all know what happened to it, of course. Political correctness—hereafter “PC”—happened to it. To say “manmade” would be wrong. Some female maker of whips somewhere might suffer hurt feelings.
This is the sensibility of our times. Since the late 1980s, when it first came to general attention and acquired a name, PC has been part of our lives. Those of us of a conservative temperament—those, I mean, who demand of any large social change that it be weighed in the scales of liberty, order, amenity, and reason, that it be justified—have been scoffing at, grumbling about, deploring, or excoriating PC for 20 years now, yet its sillier manifestations can still make us gasp.
Item: ‘Stone Age’ is no longer acceptable, joining the list of other words and terms deemed offensive in polite society. ‘Primitive’ also is considered, well, primitive by some. ‘All anthropologists would agree that the negative use of the terms “primitive” and “Stone Age” to describe tribal peoples has serious implications for their welfare,’ the British-based Association of Social Anthropologists said Tuesday. ‘Governments and other social groups have long used these ideas as a pretext of [sic] depriving such peoples of land and their resources.’
We are all familiar with stories of this kind, laughed at around the office water cooler or retailed on TV late-show monologues. PC is now part of the landscape. We are, in fact, at a point where PC fatigue has set in. News items like this one are as likely to generate sighs of resignation as giggles. In that sense, PC has won. To those who still mind it, PC is now just another disagreeable feature of the environment, like bad weather. And of course, a great many people don’t mind it at all.
The Stone Age story illustrates the most prominent fact about PC: it is mainly a linguistic phenomenon. Words and phrases that were commonplace 50 years ago are now taboo. Many ideas that were likewise commonplace may not now be put into spoken or written words. Some of those ideas were actually true so that the taboo on their expression hinders us in dealing with reality—not a problem for those noble dreamers who regard the “reality-based community” with scorn.
Many of these now forbidden words, phrases, and notions were widely considered obnoxious and insulting even in 1957 and had already been banned from polite society for decades. Others were useful and innocuous, and their outlawing seems arbitrary. I can certainly understand a Chinese person’s anger at being called a chink, but why would he mind being called an Oriental or hearing—what any Chinese person of my acquaintance will freely admit—that his countrymen are unusually fond of gambling?
Along with the proscribing and replacing of familiar terms has come a whole new vocabulary employed to deal with violators of these taboos. A recurring feature of our public life is the stylized drama played out when some person of significance utters a word like “faggot” or asserts that black people make good sprinters. The little pantomime that ensues—condemnation, apology, penance, forgiveness—is dressed up in a jargon as prescribed and artificial as Oriental court ritual. The violator is guilty of “hate,” “bigotry,” or “prejudice.” If he uttered taboo words, they were “epithets” or “slurs.” He did not, in fact, utter them: he “spouted” or “spewed” them. (There is a Ph.D. thesis to be written by some student of linguistics about the fondness for “sp—” verbs in this context.) The noun “epithet” is preferentially qualified by one of a small set of adjectives now set aside for this purpose, being hardly ever used elsewhere: “vile,” “abhorrent,” “repugnant,” “hurtful.”
Language has also been overhauled in ways less emotionally charged. Nonfiction writers are pressed by their publishers to alternate “he” with “she” when speaking of unspecified individuals or even to use the preposterous “s/he.” They are told to write “BCE” and “CE” in place of “BC” and “AD,” to write “gender” for “sex,” “human-made” for “man-made,” and so on.
(On the first of those points, and by way of showing that the PC phenomenon is by no means restricted to the Anglosphere, I note the following comment by a friend recently returned from Spain: “In Spanish the ending of a word is used to define whether the subject is male or female. So while in English you can write ‘All of them,’ in Spanish it would have to be ‘todos y todas.’ This is too cumbersome even for PC devotees. The solution: [email protected] I’m not kidding.” No, he’s not. A Google search for [email protected] found 1,370,000 occurrences. I have not been able to locate any definitive advice on the pronunciation of [email protected], but then I don’t yet know how to pronounce “s/he,” which I spotted recently in a White House press statement. In this essay, I shall use only generic “he” on the principle declared by Winston Churchill: “The male embraces the female.”)
This is all familiar. On the evidence of my own social contacts, I believe that most people born after 1970 have internalized the PC taboos and comply with them unthinkingly. Such complaints as one still hears come from the over-forties. Even they have a defeatist air. I repeat: PC has won. It is now the cant of our age.
A New Decorum
What accounts for this victory? It won’t do to say that PC was imposed on us. We are a free people. We can be persuaded, but not easily browbeaten. If PC is now part of our everyday language, it must be because we wished it so—or at least were insufficiently passionate in wishing it not so.
We accepted PC because it appeals to the feeling, widespread in times of rapid social change, that a new decorum is called for to eliminate previous ugliness, unfairness, or unkindness. Seen from this point of view, PC is not altogether a bad thing. Every human society needs a decorum. Probably every society needs speech taboos. (I note that “taboos” appears on anthropologist Donald E. Brown’s list of “human universals.”) New social circumstances call for an overhaul of the agreed decorum, for a reformation of manners.
The original Society for the Reformation of Manners was established in London in 1691, amid the dynastic and religious upheavals of the later Stuart dynasty. The Society’s explicit aim was to remoralize Britain after the excesses of the Stuart Restoration, which had itself been a reaction to the Puritanism of Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth. (Ironically in the context of modern PC, one of the society’s main objects was the suppression of homosexuality.)
The phrase “reformation of manners” was then taken up by various causes in the 18th and 19th centuries, notably by William Wilberforce for his anti-slavery campaigns of 1789-1807. It might very well have been a slogan of the PC movement in the later 20th century. In all cases, the general idea was the same: We used to think like this, which led to much suffering. By persuasion and legislation, we shall bring people to think like this, and society will be improved thereby.
The great changes that followed World War II—new styles of work, fast-rising prosperity, the spread of higher education, the growth of the welfare state—gave Americans both more freedom and more equality than any previous generation had known. This new society needed a new decorum: new habits of speech and social exchange.
PC is the realization of this need for a new decorum. It has intellectual roots, as any social movement must. The PC I am discussing, in fact—the PC of speech and manners—is the offspring of a powerful ideology. One might call the ideology Strong PC, with the derivative speech-and-manners aspect being Weak PC.
Strong PC, which has now attained near total dominance of our universities’ humanities departments, belongs to the cast of mind—traceable back through the Critical Theory of the 1930s, via Marx, to the 19th-century German idealists and beyond—that places power at the center of human affairs, reducing all of history, sociology, psychology, even literature to a “who, whom” game in which someone is always oppressing someone else. It has close affinities with the “blank slate” theories of human nature that took over the human sciences in the middle of the 20th century.
The Strong PC ideology has found its natural home in the academy and its most prominent expression in the cult of Diversity. You can’t cross a modern campus today without encountering a Museum of Tolerance, a Tunnel of Oppression, or an Office of Diversity Programs. (Washington State University has a chief diversity officer with a full-time staff of 55 and a $3 million annual budget.) College freshmen are relentlessly badgered with Strong-PC propaganda. Intensive efforts are made to instill guilt and shame in those who are white, male, heterosexual, and able-bodied.
Ordinary citizens, however, are largely indifferent to, or ignorant of, this intellectual background. To most, PC is a way of dealing more fairly with their fellow citizens, of acknowledging others’ rights to as much of the glorious new freedom, prosperity, and equality of the post-World War II world as we enjoy. PC has been, for most Americans, not an ideological crusade but a reformation of manners—a necessary, and to many, a welcome one.
Familiarity Breeds PC
The greatest driving force behind PC was the desire to rectify relations with people of other races. The key role of multiracialism in PC’s rise can be seen by comparing the American experience with the British.
To this writer, raised in Britain but now long resident in the U.S., the triumph of PC across the pond has been surprising. When the first stirrings of PC began to be talked about in Britain, it was thought to be an entirely American phenomenon and was widely mocked for just that reason.
As an aspect of the general oddity of Americans, PC did not seem especially new to the British. They had a long tradition of regarding their American cousins as mealy-mouthed canters, given to prissy bowdlerizations of the common language. British schoolboys of the 1950s used to chuckle at Americanisms like “back of” for “behind,” “rooster” for “cock,” “chickadee” for “tit,” “rock” for “stone,” and “pocketbook” for “purse.”
A rock, for example, in the British usage of the word, is at least a yard wide, so retailed American news reports of demonstrators “throwing rocks” at police brought to our British minds an image of so many Ajaxes heaving mighty boulders, till our schoolmasters ex-plained that “stone” is used in the Bible to mean “testicle” and so was ruled out of American English at an early date as unacceptable. (“Purse” was an 18th-century slang term for the scrotum.)
The American language, we were thus given to believe, was strictly policed by armies of sour-faced old maids. We British were more sturdy, less afraid of body parts, closer to the clear original springs of Anglo-Saxon. One of the landmarks in my hometown in the English midlands was the Cock Hotel, an old pub located at a key road junction. The bus that took you there from the town center displayed a sign at front and back saying “The Cock”—not a thing you would see in the U.S.
There was a similar division over race words. Agatha Christie’s 1939 bestseller Ten Little Niggers was published in Britain under that title until 1965, but Christie’s American publisher insisted on a title change to And Then There Were None for the very first U.S. edition in 1940. Similarly, none of us thought there was anything odd about the name of Guy Gibson’s dog in the classic 1954 British war movie “The Dam Busters.” It was a black dog, and that’s what black dogs were commonly called—one of my uncles had a Nigger, too. The year after “The Dam Busters” came out, my sister was accepted into a good girl’s secondary school in our town and was given a booklet specifying the school rules and dress code. The colors of the school uniform were given as “sky blue and nigger brown.” (There was a minor fuss in Canada recently when a black customer took delivery of a Chinese-made sofa bearing a tag that described its color as “nigger brown.” Plainly someone was using an out-of-date dictionary. My edition of A New English-Chinese Dictionary, issued in 1975 by the Joint Publishing Co. of Hong Kong, has an entry for “nigger brown,” the Chinese translation being shen zongse, literally “deep brown.”)
Similarly, “blackface” was shamed out of American entertainment by the early 1950s, but lingered on in Britain in the immensely popular “Black and White Minstrel Show,” which ran on British TV until 1978. Yellowface lasted somewhat longer than blackface in the U.S., David Carradine still playing kung-fu master Kwai Chang Caine in 1972. (The movie detective Charlie Chan was played through the 1930s and 1940s by, successively, a Swedish-American, a German-American, and an Anglo-Irish Bostonian.)
The British were able to maintain this blithe attitude to the sensibilities of black people because they never saw any. Certain small districts in the bigger British seaports—London, Liverpool, Cardiff—were multiracial, but most British people never saw a black person from one year’s end to the next. My schoolyard playmates—with whom I used to select partners for games via the traditional chant: “Eeny, meeny, miny, mo, catch a nigger by his toe”—were uniformly English, their grandparents born, with one or two exceptions, within five miles of the school. To us, an Irishman was exotic. We occasionally got glimpses of black servicemen from a nearby USAF base, but their blackness was swallowed up in their Americanness, a thing so strange in itself as to swamp all other strangeness.
The much more careful, more circumscribed race speech of middle-class Americans was the source of great amusement to those Brits who were aware of it.
“I presume the Loved One was Caucasian?”
“No, why did you think that? He was purely English.”
—The Loved One, Evelyn Waugh (1947)
These amused observations were commonly followed by some remarks on American hypocrisy about race. As precious as the language might be (it was said), the American reality was harsh. Genteel Americans would not utter the N-word, but they kept the N’s in their place nonetheless. Waugh’s mortician followed up with: “This is a restricted park. The Dreamer has made that rule for the sake of the Waiting Ones. In their time of trial they prefer to be with their own people.”
Considering that Britain’s wealth was, as George Orwell never tired of pointing out, built on the labors of dark-skinned coolies in distant places, this supercilious attitude toward America and her race problem was a hypocrisy greater than the one being scoffed at. The distant places being distant, however, and ruled over by a small specialized cohort of the lower-upper-middle classes, the British were not obliged to think about them and could be smug in their cost-free tolerance. Thus, when PC first appeared, it was assumed by the British to be just those vinegary old maids at work again.
As it turned out, American PC has been less thorough going than the British variety. The United States has been a multiracial society from its founding, the red and black always mixed in with the white. The care with which educated Americans have always deployed racial terms—the absurdly exaggerated care, as it seemed to British observers—was a natural response to this familiar fact. With the reshuffling of the racial deck that occurred in the 1960s following the Civil Rights movement and the end of legal segregation, PC supplied the necessary adjustment of language and manners—a move from one way of dealing with the old familiar situation to another.
In Britain, on the other hand, the almost perfectly monoracial society of my own childhood was transformed, in a single generation, to multiracialism. It was not a mere reformation of manners that was called for, but a revolution. That revolution duly took place. As revolutions will—and aided by the absence in Britain of any constitutional free speech guarantees—the PC triumph in Britain left the old order in ruins, to the degree that citizens now fear to speak about problems of multiracialism in any terms at all.
It is actually a criminal offense in today’s Britain to use “threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour” to stir up hatred against anyone on grounds of color, race, nationality, or ethnic origin. New legislation will shortly add religion to the list, and there is of course a corresponding raft of laws against “sexism” and “homophobia.” In Oxford last year, a student was fined £80 on the spot for inquiring jocularly of a mounted policeman if his horse was gay. “He made homophobic comments that were deemed offensive to people passing by,” explained a police spokesman, apparently baffled that anyone might object to the fine.
And Britain’s PC revolution has, as revolutions will, devoured its children. It was not imposed on an unwilling population over there, any more than it was here. There was a need for a new decorum to cope with society’s new shape, and PC filled the need. The white, Christian, Anglo-Celtic inhabitants of middle-class Britain welcomed it on that basis. Now they are stunned and demoralized.
Following a 2001 riot by Muslims in the north-English town of Blackburn, Tony Blair’s government commissioned a report that noted widespread and increasing residential segregation in that town, coupled with a great reluctance to talk about it. According to the Daily Mail:
The report highlights the phenomenon of ‘white flight’ from parts of Blackburn as Asian Muslims move in to neighbourhoods—with pubs closing, shops changing in character and white children gradually becoming the minority in local schools.
Estate agents told how white people stopped buying property in such areas, fuelling segregation, but white residents were reluctant to speak openly about their reasons for leaving.
TV documentary producer Stephen Scott told the Mail, “Many people we spoke to wouldn’t appear on screen. We found a great nervousness—people didn’t feel able to speak openly about their unease about the way things were changing and about the gulf between the two communities. We were very struck by that. They struggled to find a way to say they didn’t want to be taken over. They had no way of expressing it. They were afraid of saying the wrong thing and coming across as racist.”
Thus PC, which only reformed manners in the U.S., has revolutionized them in Britain. The sons and grandsons of those who cheerily mocked American race manners now slink around in fear of the PC police—who are the actual police, with full powers to fine, arrest, and charge.
Clear Your Mind of Cant
A reformation of manners cannot be considered complete until people’s thinking has been changed. It is all very well to scrub the language clean of racism, homophobia, and the rest, but how can we be sure we have accomplished that inward revolution, too? Perhaps people follow the linguistic codes for social and prudential reasons, while nursing incorrect thoughts in the dark inner chambers of their minds.
Is it, in fact, possible to reform thought by reforming language? These are deep waters, in which philosophers and linguists have been fishing for centuries. Confucius was, I believe, the first to assert that if you get the language right, all else will follow: “If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. When affairs cannot be carried on to success …” etc. (Analects, XIII.3.) Stronger forms of the same idea emerged from the Boasian anthropology of the early 20th century, culminating in the famous—or notorious, depending on your point of view—Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis of the 1950s, which argued that the grammatical forms and categories of a language mold the thought of speakers.
Dr. Johnson disagreed, calling language “the dress of thought.” But even Johnson knew that the utterance of sweet nothings, once it becomes habitual, might seduce a lazy mind into thinking that those polite vapidities represent actual facts.
My dear friend, clear your mind of cant. You may talk as other people do: you may say to a man, ‘Sir, I am your most humble servant.’ You are not his most humble servant. You may say, ‘These are bad times; it is a melancholy thing to be reserved to such times.’ You don’t mind the times. You tell a man, ‘I am sorry you had such bad weather the last day of your journey, and were so much wet.’ You don’t care six-pence whether he is wet or dry. You may talk in this manner; it is a mode of talking in Society: but don’t think foolishly.
—Boswell’s Life of Johnson; May 15, 1783
This injunction illustrates the importance of italics. The great Tory had no particular objection to cant, so long as it stayed on the tongue. He saw it as a useful and irreducible component of everyday behavior, “a mode of talking in Society.” Several modes, in fact. Elsewhere Johnson speaks of “lovers’ cant” —the affirmations of eternal fidelity and unqualified adoration by means of which, with more or less sincerity, the swains of Johnson’s day (courting fashions have since changed somewhat) pressed their claims to intimacy on the objects of their passion.
We can all think of other varieties of cant. One that I myself find particularly irritating is the habit that Third World bazaar hucksters have of addressing prospective customers as “My friend.” “When and how did I become your friend?” I want to yell at them, but of course that would be uncharitable. They are being no more dishonest than the stranger who inquires about my health. They only have an inadequate grasp of the rules of modern English cant.
The important thing, as Dr. Johnson said, is to clear our minds of cant. We may say cheery falsehoods to each other, in contexts where we all understand that it is only “a mode of talking in Society” that is being employed. In the interior of our skulls, however, we should not entertain cant nor any other kind of detectable falsehood.
Easier said than done. Thinking is hard work; cant provides a ready-made substitute. By way of example, consider the words spoken by our president, George W. Bush, at the funeral service for Ronald Reagan: “He believed that bigotry and prejudice were the worst things a person could be guilty of.” This remark excited some discussion on the blogs, the general opinion being that Bush’s cant generator had run away with his tongue, causing him to make his predecessor seem foolish. The worst things? Worse than homicide, rape, or grand larceny? Worse than bilking your clients, cheating on your wife, betraying your friends, or disowning your children?
Then someone noticed that Reagan actually had expressed the notion Bush attributed to him. In a 1938 letter, Reagan had written, “I was raised from childhood by parents who believed bigotry and prejudice were the worst things a person could be guilty of.”
Was this just cant at a very high level? Or has PC, the cant of our age, actually infected presidential minds to such a degree that they really believe “bigotry and prejudice” to be more flagitious than, say, deliberately spreading lethal diseases? Given what we know of the personalities and inner lives of Reagan and Bush, I think we have to conclude that, yes, these are real beliefs sincerely expressed.
If two such successful members of the high political class truly believe this gibberish about “bigotry and prejudice,” we have to suppose that many other movers and shakers do, too. That matters a great deal all around.
The Four Horsemen of the PC Apocalypse
There are at least four areas in which the apparent internalization of PC cant has been particularly poisonous: education, immigration, law enforcement, and war.
Education. Educational practice has long been a playground for PC’s “experiments against reality,” with the ludicrous No Child Left Behind Act, legislating that all students must be above average, as the culmination of those experiments.
Much energy has gone into a sissifaction of the schools—an effort to get boys behaving like girls. Fighting—a normal activity among small boys—is now considered an offense so horrible as to justify suspension and psychiatric intervention. “Use your words,” our sons are told, when they would rather, and would be better and healthier, using their fists. Schoolyard confrontations that would once have been taken to the gym to be decided with boxing gloves on now end with clenched-teeth apologies and grudging handshakes under the anxious eye of some senior staff member, usually female. Repeat offenses are dealt with via tranquillizing medications.
The converse thing—getting girls to be more boyish—has, where it has been attempted, mainly worked to the further disadvantage of boys, as with the ruthless application of Title IX of the 1972 education law to destroy athletic opportunities for male students.
The language of education is even more punctiliously PC than that of society at large. I have just returned from the annual field day at my son’s school, the events terminating in a, yes, “tug-o’-peace.” Talking to my son, I contemptuously called it a “tug-o’-mayhem, massacre, and blood-spattered death.” He laughed. He liked that. He’s a boy.
Immigration. PC has rendered this topic, a matter of tremendous national moment needing serious discussion, well nigh unmentionable, except within the narrow confines of a few vacuous PC-approved clichés: “nation of immigrants,” “out of the shadows,” etc. Efforts to broaden the conversation are countered with savage reprisals from the heaviest artillery pieces in the PC armory. Reductio ad Hitlerum is frequently and shamelessly deployed. The other day I heard columnist Linda Chavez on Laura Ingraham’s radio show being challenged to defend her assertion that opponents of the recent Senate immigration bill “hate Mexicans.” In a trice, Ms. Chavez was accusing immigration restrictionists of favoring eugenics. Eugenics!
Law enforcement. The fact, borne out by every statistical inquiry under the sun, that some racial groups are more inclined to criminality than others, is of course anathema to those who have internalized PC precepts. Any program of law enforcement that delivers disproportionate numbers of black or Hispanic perpetrators to the courts and prisons is ipso facto considered to be “racist.” Such programs are strongly discouraged.
In my own county of Suffolk (New York), the police launched a campaign against unlicensed drivers. Within three weeks they arrested 50 such, with Hispanics heavily over-represented. The police commissioner, on orders from the district attorney and a local judge, thereupon suspended the program on suspicion of “racial profiling.” A revised version of the program has since been permitted, but presumably, while the program was in suspense, some county residents—myself, perhaps—might have been killed or maimed in crashes with unlicensed drivers, another instance of the “better dead than rude” mentality that has long ruled our airport-security screening procedures.
War. By the turn of the century, many of us feared that PC had so emasculated our language and manners as to have rendered us incapable of any collective action against hostile nations. If you may not speak of—may not notice—the negative characteristics of other nations, cultures, sexes, or “orientations”; if the incorrigible selfishness of us white, male Americans prevents us from seeing that all men are brothers with the same motives and aspirations; if pride in Western civilization must yield to self-abasement before the moral superiority of the non-West; then why should we bother to defend our country? Would we even know how to do so by any method other than “using our words”?
I was therefore glad to see us acting vigorously against Afghanistan and Iraq, imagining that these campaigns would be in the monitory style of 19th-century British gunboat diplomacy: smash their forts, kill a few leaders, then get the Marines back on board and away. I had reckoned without PC and its lunatic spawn, “compassionate conservatism.” We had, apparently, embarked on a campaign to bring to the Afghans and Iraqis the kind of consensual government they surely yearned for, all peoples being precisely equal in their collective aptitudes and desires. The results can be seen on the TV news any night of the week.
The Coming PC Crackup
PC was a response to great social changes. It has not been all bad. Some softening of manners toward other races, and toward homosexuals, was proper. So was a fairer recognition of the rights and abilities of women. We needed a new decorum.
Not all systems of decorum are equal, though. The PC I have been talking about, the Weak PC of speech and manners, has a deep flaw, which probably renders the new decorum unstable. The flaw is that Strong PC, the ideology underpinning Weak PC, is premised on falsehoods about human nature.
This is, I think, quite widely understood now—much more widely than was the case 20 years ago. Consider, for example, the lawsuit recently launched by George W. Bush’s attorney general against the Fire Department of New York. The suit charges that the FDNY practices racial discrimination. The evidence for this charge—the sole and only evidence—is that black and Hispanic applicants scored lower on the department’s entrance exams in 1999 and 2002 than white applicants did. In the 1999 test, about 90 percent of white applicants had a passing score, but only 61.2 percent of black and 77 percent of Hispanic test takers passed. In 2002, the figures were 97.2 percent of white applicants passing, versus 85.6 percent for black applicants and 92.8 percent for Hispanic applicants, an illustration of the simple mathematical truth that you can narrow these gaps by making tests easier. In the limit, when the test is infinitely easy, all groups average 100 percent, and the gaps have vanished!
There is no allegation in the complaint as filed that the Fire Department marked the tests incorrectly. The complaint is, so far as I can understand it, that clever racists in the Fire Department—the same department that lost 343 brave firefighters on 9/11—designed the questions so skillfully that black and Hispanic applicants were bound to score lower than white applicants. We are not told how the FDNY did this or why they do not get themselves off the hook by doing it in reverse: devising questions that disproportionately baffle white test takers.
Thirty years ago, the lawsuit would have met with broad approval. Today, after decades of observing in untold numbers of different situations the intractable gaps in cognitive abilities between whites and Asians, on the one hand, and blacks and Hispanics, on the other, there can be few people who believe that any injustice has taken place. We are not yet at the point where it is permissable to scoff openly at the idea that test scores can ever be equalized across all races, but to judge from private conversations, and some published commentary on the event—Heather Mac Donald’s in City Journal, for instance—we are getting close.
Other educational process are well in motion: the Iraq War, the slow disintegration of No Child Left Behind, the statistics about Hispanics that are emerging—in spite of all the efforts of the PC establishment to prevent them doing so—from the immigration debates. Behind those, like a slow-rising tsunami, are beginning to come the results of research programs in the human sciences: in neuroscience, brought by new imaging techniques; in human genetics, following the 2003 mapping of the human genome; in paleo-anthropolgy, primatology, and evolutionary biology. Aspects of our human nature that have been argued over for millennia by philosophers and ideologues will soon become matters of cold scientific fact.
You may drive Nature out with a pitchfork, said Horace, but she will come running back. So she will. I believe we can already hear the pattering sound of her feet coming up the path.
John Derbyshire is a contributing editor of National Review.