When is a first strike not a first strike?
When it's Anticipatory Retaliation.

October 01, 2005

Why Bill Bennet's Statement Is Neither Racist Nor Lovely


Bill Bennet has apparently ruffled a lot of feathers recently by making the point that aborting all the black pregnancies in the land would reduce the crime rate. And the PC brigades are out in force attempting to cash in a little anti-conservative treasure. None of this is very encouraging, because everyone is thinking in terms of a broad fallacy. No one is bothering to make sense. Bennet obviously thought he was making a clear empirical point, using it to bolster a case that there are lots of things one could do to reduce the crime rate that would be more objectionable than simply putting up with crime. This was, in fact, one of the more subtle points of Seymour Martin Lipset's classic: American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword. Lipset's point being that it's our unwillingness to give automatic deference to authority that partly explains higher historical crime rates in the US, at least until Europe began to pass us in the robbery, burglary and home invasion category. And that if we changed that basic relationship to authority, the whole tapestry of our civilization could come unravelled... Compared to that, a high crime rate is a small price to pay.

Bennet's thinking probably went something like this: There's a high correlation between the percentage of black people in a population in the US and the crime rate. Therefore, if you reduce the percentage of black people you'd naturally expect the crime rate to drop. Makes perfect sense. It doesn't inherently have anything to do with race, because the same thing might happen if we reduced the percentage of short people provided there were some non-causal correlation between being short and being a criminal. And the not-so-obvious fallacy in this thinking is that the eventual crime rate of infants born today doesn't necessarily have any relationship to the current crime rate of their parents... especially if something fundamental changes. But it's not racist. It's just wrong. That is, believing that such a thing is coherent betrays a fundamental confusion in Bennet's thinking; but it's probably one that he shares with 99% of the public, including most blacks.

In the 17th Century, England was in the midst of a crime wave so destructive that it nearly ruined the culture. During that period there were many who believed that there was something about the cockneys that made them a "criminal class." People wrote a great deal about the phenomenon, as the prisons filled with convicts and the overflow were first placed on prison ships anchored permanently in the harbor. Then the ships filled, and the "assignment system" began to ship convicts to Australia, turning it into a continent-sized penal colony. England was in big trouble.

However, as Robert Hughes documents in his fascinatingly addictive book The Fatal Shore the Australian-born children of this criminal class became so law-abiding that if they were issued a summons to appear in court on such-and-such a day they'd walk a hundred miles barefoot just to comply. The crime rate of this generation was not only far less than their parents, but less than 1% the crime rate of England itself, including all those marvelous sterling families that had launched the fallacy of the "criminal class" to begin with.

The meme is that we assume the conditions creating the present set of circumstances will continue to produce the same results even if the context totally changes. And clearly, for the kind of thing that Bennet talks about to happen there'd be a HUGE change in context. That's why his extrapolation makes no sense at all. If we're allowed to think in terms of a fundamental change in context it would be just as reasonable to propose that the generation of blacks born on this day will end up as law-abiding Rethuglicans who see Ronald Reagan as their role model, rather than Martin Luther King, perish the thought. I daresay Bennet didn't even have a "criminal class" theory to fall back on. He just lacked the imagination to extrapolate from a trend that's producing more and more middle class black people who eschew the basic assumptions made by their parents. I don't think Bennet was racist. Not even slightly. He was just unimaginative and uninformed. And ironically he seems to have lacked sufficient faith in his own conservative principles that he could imagine them being spontaneously adopted by a black population thoroughly fed up with the prescriptions of the social democratic Left, which hasn't done diddly for blacks in two generations.

And the other fallacy is the one spontaneously adopted by our self-righteous Left, who not only don't comprehend the fallacy in Bennet's thinking (ascribing it to racism simply because they like the sound of it) but fearfully seem to make the same assumptions he does: that one can expect the same trends we've always seen even when the context is totally upended. It's perfectly logical to say that if presently-assumed trends continue unabated then a reduction in the proportion of black people in the population will reduce the crime rate, all else being equal. That is, it's logical except for the fact that the presently assumed trends are totally hogwash. A trend continues until it runs into its operational limits. It then runs out of steam, and changes. And how it changes is notoriously unpredictable because there's a bit of chaos involved. No one knows what will happen. Not Bennet. Not me. Not even Dr. Shackleford.

And that's why beauty is sometimes a better guide to the future than numbers.

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to Demosophia and The Jawa Report)

Launched by Demosophist at October 1, 2005 06:54 AM | Missile Tracks

Retaliatiory Launches

The Bennett psuedo-controlversy reeks of more double standards.

Bill Bennett rhetorically suggesting that black babies be aborted to reduce the crime rate, a suggestion he immediately condemned as immoral = BAD!

Gloria Feldt, Kate Michelman, Gloria Steinem devoting their LIVES to promoting abortion in the US and internationally, which impacts blacks more than whites = GOOD!

Posted by: Mark at October 9, 2005 10:58 PM

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