[Paleopsych] John Derbyshire: The Great Syllogism
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John Derbyshire: The Great Syllogism
National Review Online
June 10th, 2003
Reader, I have been vouchsafed a revelation, a sudden flash of
understanding, a satori, a glimpse of the inner workings of the
universe, of the waters that are under the earth, of the hidden
tissues that connect aspects of reality not normally thought of as
being related to each other in any way at all. Illuminated by that
flash was quite a large part of the entire political landscape of the
present-day USA, as if seen from a plane through a sudden gap in the
I am going to lay out my revelation in three parts: a preamble, then
a syllogism, then a conclusion. The syllogism seems to me so
all-encompassing and revelatory that, shucking off false modesty, I am
going to call it The Great Syllogism. (Students of classical logic
may complain that it is not, strictly speaking, a syllogism at all
more like a dilemma. Syllogism has taken my fancy, though, and
Merriam-Websters Third seems to permit this usage. How many students
of classical logic are there nowadays anyway?)
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.
Not so much a preamble as a actual amble, conducted here in the outer
New York suburbs, through some leafy streets with houses standing on
plots that vary from one-sixth to one-half of an acre, and that show
up in real-estate catalogs, when they do show up, at prices from the
low 300s to the high 600s. The time: around nine thirty on a weekday
morning. My state of mind: I had finished my breakfast, read the
newspaper, seen the kids off to school and the wife off to work,
attended to some e-mail chores, and read some news and opinion pieces
on the internet. Among the latter was Peter Woods review of John
Ogbus Black American Students in an Affluent Suburb. Then I set out
to walk my dog.
There arent many people around in the burbs at this time of the
morning. Other than a couple of encounters with neighbors, the human
beings I saw fell into three categories.
* Garden-service contractors. These people pull up in vans and
trucks, unload mowers, trimmers and blowers, and set to work
keeping the gardens neat and tidy. Lots of these, very noisy and
a bit of a nuisance on that account, but better they should do
this on weekdays than at weekends.
* Home-improvement contractors. I passed three or four houses that
were being fixed up in one way or another having an extension
built, getting a new roof or siding put on.
* An elderly lady out walking. She had a baby with her, presumably
a grandchild, in a stroller being pushed by a childrens nurse.
The garden-service people are solidly Central-American Indian types,
though often working for a white boss. They are small-built,
dark-skinned and black-haired. When I give them a friendly greeting
they seem pleased and greet me back, smiling, but in a way suggesting
that Good morning! is just about the limit of their English-language
The construction people are a mix of white and Hispanic, the one
constant factor being that everyone acting in a supervisory way is
white. One of the roofing team the owner of the firm, it sounds like
is talking up to his man on the roof. He is doing this through a
third party, who translates his Noo Yawk English into Spanish.
The elderly lady out walking with her grandchild is white, but the
childrens nurse pushing the stroller is a Mayan sculpture come to
life. The wordless smile with which she returns my greeting shows
I dont see any black people at all, nor any East Asians.
(1) At any point in time this one, for example the United States
economy needs different kinds of workers in different numbers. It
needs a certain number of lawyers, accountants, architects and
doctors. It needs a certain number of network supervisors, computer
programmers, web designers, schoolteachers, tax preparers and nurses.
It needs a certain number of garden-service workers, lumberjacks, auto
mechanics, plumbers, steel-fixers, cops, soldiers and child-minders.
(2) Always scornful of privileges bestowed by accidents of birth or
place, this country has a deep attachment to the idea of meritocracy.
In recent decades we have developed an equally strong emotional
investment in the concept of racial equality.
(3) Our very best efforts at creating a meritocratic education system
always turn up the same unhappy results: students of Ashkenazi-Jewish
and East or South Asian ancestry are over-represented among the
educational successes, while students of West African ancestry are
over-represented among the educational failures.
(4) All sorts of theories are available to explain (3) John Ogbus is
only the latest. Unfortunately we dont know which theory is true.
Possibly just one of the theories is true. Possibly the true cause is
something nobody has thought of yet. More likely the truth contains
elements, in different proportions, from several theories.
(5) Until we understand the causes of (3), the most meritocratic
system of education we can devise will produce a society with a
highly-paid cognitive elite in which persons of Ashkenazi-Jewish and
East or South Asian ancestry are over-represented, a class of manual
and service workers in which black people are over-represented, and a
clerical or small-entrepreneurial class in which white gentiles are
(6) Such a society would be grossly offensive to American
sensibilities. (See (2) above.) It would also, in all probability,
be unhappy and unstable.
(7) Adjustments to the meritocratic principle therefore need to be
made: affirmative action, imposed diversity quotas in businesses,
anti-discrimination laws, and so on. We must trade off some
meritocracy for social harmony.
(8) The effect of these adjustments is as it is intended to be! to
move up into the clerical class people who, in a pure-meritocratic
system, would be in the manual class. (And, to a less significant
degree, to move up into the cognitive-elite class people who would
otherwise be clerks.)
(9) Corresponding adjustments to shift down into the manual class
people who would, on a pure-meritocratic principle, be in the clerical
class, are politically impossible.
(10) Therefore the manual class is seriously under-staffed.
(11) Millions of Third-worlders are only too glad to come to the USA
to do manual or low-level service work.
(12) Unfortunately the immigration laws do not allow them to come
(13) The immigration laws should therefore be changed to permit a
large inflow of unskilled aliens from the Third World.
(14) Such changes are unpopular with large parts of the American
public, who fear the cultural and economic consequences.
(15) Politicians know (14) and therefore will not change the
immigration laws. And so:
(16) For the sake of social harmony, we have no choice but to turn a
blind eye while several million unskilled aliens enter our country and
stay here illegally.
The paradox is that this particular way of avoiding one kind of social
disharmony racial stratification by class introduces a different
kind: the colonization of large parts of our cities by
non-English-speaking foreigners who, because of their illegal status,
are stuck outside the mainstream of American life. Also because of
that same status, they are looked on with mistrust by citizens and
legal immigrants. This unhappy state of affairs is none the less
considered, by most of us, to be the lesser of two evils. Rough,
dirty and strenuous work must be done. If, as we suspect is the case,
the choice is between having that work done by (a) large angry black
people, or (b) small friendly brown people, well buy the package:
affirmative action plus massive unrestrained illegal immigration.
Our political classes, who of course know all that I have been saying
here, had a plan to finesse the situation by simply regularizing the
illegals, thus at least removing the stigma of law-breaker from them.
That plan went up in the smoke of 9/11. It was, in any case, grossly
unfair to legal immigrants, who have to jump through numberless hoops
to get the right to live here (it took me seven years). We are stuck
with the present situation, with the Great Syllogism. Probably we are
storing up untold trouble for ourselves. The latest news in my own
neighborhood is that an exceptionally vicious Central American gang
named Mara Salvatrucha is now entrenched here on Long Island.
(Working as landscapers and busboys by day and criminals at night,
says the New York Post. Which puts those cheery lawn-service
workers in a new light.)
Americans, though, do not lose much sleep over the prospect of future
evils. This is a big, empty country filled with boundless optimism.
David Brooks has remarked that the usual reaction of Americans when
faced with disapproval, anxiety, and potential conflict is to move
away. Similarly, given the choice between a pressing problem today
and a reckless policy likely to deliver far worse problems tomorrow,
we opt for the second. The future, after all, is full of
possibilities, and by the time that second batch of problems arrives,
we may have found some way to cope with them.
Lets hope that that is what happens. Ross Perot used to speak of the
giant sucking sound of manufacturing jobs fleeing the U.S. to low-wage
countries south of the border. The giant sucking sound I am actually
hearing, ten years later, is the sound of millions of unskilled Third
Worlders being pulled into this country by the vacuum at the bottom of
the labor market a vacuum we have ourselves created by deciding that
such low-quality work should not be done by Americans, especially not
by those Americans most likely to be assigned to it by our educational
We no longer believe in the dignity of labor. We all want our kids to
go to law school, and have convinced ourselves that they have a right
to do so. What do you think the slogan No child left behind means?
It means that no American child should have to become a low-status
worker. Thats what it means, and that is what we honestly and
sincerely wish, because we fear we know what an American-born class of
low-status workers would look like. Everything else follows by pure
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