[PODCAST] #385: Putting College Race Tensions In Context


Thaddeus Russell is back to discuss the recent events, demands and responses at The University of Missouri, Yale, Dartmouth and Occidental College.

Important Themes:
(identified by Professor Glenn Loury of Brown University)

free speech vs inclusion; a preemption of discussion by the throwing of fits
comfort vs enlightenment; absence of scientific discussion, or fear of it
faculty members are placating students

Our discussion includes these topics:
-Thomas Jefferson and the origins of scientific racism
-Scientific racism gives way to racial liberalism
-Problems with integration and assimilation - it's white supremacy
-Racial liberalism spreads to higher education
-"white responsibility" and paternalism
-The resulting legitimate problems and concerns of blacks in higher education
-Achievement gaps
-Silence is violence? All power is discursive?
-Why libertarians should embrace historically black colleges and universities
-Is race biological or a social construct?
-What's happening at Occidental?

Bumper Music:
"The Safety Dance" Derrival

Look Closer:
Thaddeus Russell's Site -

Previous School Sucks Show With Thaddeus Russell -

FIRE Warns Occidental Against Proposal to Create ‘Institutional Orthodoxy’ -

The Current List: Across the nation, students have risen up to demand an end to systemic and structural racism on campus. Here are their demands. -

Students Occupying Oxy College Until Demands For Diversity Programs Are Met -

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  1. Profile photo of Robert

    I honestly skipped ahead a couple episodes to listen to this. Great show! Thanks Brett!

  2. Great show. Btw John McWhorter is a great interview, a linguist by training, and writes great books. His ideas are much in sync with SSP & on more than race. Would love to hear him on the show.

  3. Profile photo of Benjamin

    FWIW, Brett, your characterization of Diamond’s work is bit off. Diamond is – as far as I can tell – the most popular proponent of a geographic/resource-based explanation for the differences in ethnic/geographic outcomes seen over the last five hundred years, or so. The whole purpose of his book is to serve as a kind of answer to genetic explanations for discrepancies, as put forward by people like Charles Murray and Nicholas Wade. Diamond won a Pulitzer for “Guns, Germs, and Steel.” I see his and James Flynn’s theories being the popular other pole to Murray/Wade’s genetic perspective on ethnicity (although I would personally argue that’s a false dichotomy…..porque no los dos?).

    Some crazies on the Left may consider Diamond to be racist…..but they would have to be on a fringe so fringey that it doesn’t even merit discussion. Diamond’s arguments regarding the development of economic and intellectual capital and their distribution between continents and ethnicities are notable for being almost entirely NON-biological in their premises.

    But I’m not gonna lie, when Russell answered “Are you familiar with Jared Diamond?” with “Slightly” my involuntary response was to shout out “WHAT?” I would think a professional historian would read bestsellers/Pulitzer winners that are relevant to his area of study, if only to be aware of what’s in the popular consciousness. It’s not that I’m some huge Jared Diamond fanboy… just seems that, in order to be literate on the academic and/or popular theories which seek to explain differences in racial socioeconomic outcomes (something that Russell strikes me as being very interesting in), that book would be required reading.

    I don’t expect anyone to be an expert in all areas of human knowledge….that’s clearly impossible. But I am concerned by my growing perception that Thaddeus has sort of made up his mind about how to interpret history and is in the business of looking for data points to confirm that interpretation, rather than being open to the evidence or information from other fields and reforming the arch of his narrative.

    For instance, on the point of race….his entire interpretation seems to be sociological/historical, which is odd for something which is supposed to be a question of biology. Just because past descriptions of ethnic groups and their characteristics have been arbitrary doesn’t mean there are not biologically significant differences between ethnicities. Those are two entirely separate questions. One is the history of a concept, and the other is the underlying reality that concept attempted to describe. Greeks used to describe thunder in terms of Zeus’s activity in the sky. Should we dismiss scientific explanations for weather because past explanations for meteorological phenomena have been arbitrary and inaccurate? Observing that “Well, they used to say Jews were great athletes” is completely irrelevant to scientific inquiry into the evidence – or lack thereof – for genetic differences in athletic potential between ethnicities. So using historical precedent for the position that “race is a social construct” seems to be irrelevant. Race has been a social construct before….just as Zeus’s thunderbolts were a social construct….the question we’re addressing is: what is the state of reality underlying the universe we observe?

    If all your training is in history and sociology, it may be that that’s the only lens through which you can see the world. If all you have is the hammer of one mode of interpretation, any historical event or state of affairs must present itself as a nail. I understand the point of having Russell on was to discuss the history and context of present race relations in the United States, and I don’t mean to belittle his contribution to that understanding. It’s invaluable. But as we seek to understand what IS – the reality that our concepts describe – we can’t become myopic.

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