Uncritical Race Theory

Moving intellectuals off their desert islands and into reality

“Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.” – John Maynard Keynes

Many intellectuals confidently argue social scientific points without necessarily having any contact with reality. For example, watch Professor and literary critic Addison Gayle brush off a damning statement about human psychology as obvious: “During most of the history of the Western world, these aestheticians have been white; therefore, it is not surprising that, symbolically and literally, they have defined beauty in terms of whiteness.” In this and countless other examples, what is being asserted may sound plausible at first glance, but lacks any empirical verification. Arguing in terms of logic alone instead of direct experimentation runs the risk of implanting false and invincible notions from academic institutions into society.

Too often, arguments in social sciences are advanced non-scientifically. While social sciences are different from humanities, arguments in either frequently follow the same lines. Professors and other social scientists sometimes propose theories as a creative writing exercise. Theories that appear the most astute, intriguing, and powerful are more likely to attract attention than boring, empirically-based theories.

One mark of social pseudoscience is the use of literary techniques; hypothetical scenarios, metaphors, and appeals to emotion are invalid ways of advancing scientific theories.

While hypothetical stories may be useful for arguing a humanitarian point, there’s nothing that a brain exercise can tell us about human beings in the real world.

The metaphors of “intersectionality” and “lenses” through which to perceive human interactions and relationships invites all sorts of new analyses of these relationships, but accomplishes nothing experimentally.

Validity can be attributed to the social sciences only if Karl Popper’s notion of falsifiability is put into practice. As Popper points out, genuine scientific thought requires that theories that are put forward have some criterion by which they might be disproven. Without this wrong ideas may persist.

Take this assertion from chapter 1 of Harriet A. Washington’s Medical Appartheid: “Enslavement could not have existed and certainly could not have persisted without medical science,” (pg. 39). One reasonable way that this could be falsified is by producing a society that had enslavement without having medical science. But this claim is not supported along this line. Rather than showing that attempts at disproving this theory fail, Washington enumerates ways in which medical pseudoscience was used to justify the enslavement of African-Americans in the United States. All this demonstrates is her capacity for rationalizing an absurd claim.

Not all theories even can be falsified. Take Robin DiAngelo’s theory of “white fragility” (as described in a New Yorker review of the book): “their reactions form predictable patterns: they will insist… that they are ‘color-blind’…They will point to friends and family members of color… In 2011, DiAngelo coined the term ‘white fragility’ to describe the disbelieving defensiveness that white people exhibit when their ideas about race and racism are challenged.” Here it is being perfectly spelled out that no piece of evidence could be brought forward that might disprove the notion that white people are subconsciously racist. Theories like this are completely non-scientific and are pointless to try to prove or disprove empirically.

Advancing theories on the basis of their explanatory power and apparent insightfulness is no problem. We have religion for that. The real challenge is putting the tools of the scientific method into use to tailor theories that will correctly fit reality.

If the theories that spew out of offices of social science departments are not put through the same rigor as the natural sciences, we will continue to find ourselves in cycles of intellectual fads, as the eugenics movement was the anti-racism movement of its day.