May 22, 2005
Steve Sailer questions Thomas Sowell's recent anthropological construct, "Black Rednecks," by which "Sowell attributes much in current black culture to the Scotch-Irish, such as a tendency to react tumultuously to being 'dissed.' " That is, he links certain unproductive excesses in both cultures that, compared to Puritans and Quakers, were and are relatively honor-preoccupied and brawl-prone.
Much as we like to look hard at our own low-rent-Celt heritage, this didn't ring true for us, either, admirers of Sowell as we are, when we read his recent essay in the Wall Street Journal.
Sailer thinks Sowell is overlooking more plausible iterations in African-American contexts of the African component, partly because the Scotch-Irish had the least interaction with and influence on historic African Americans. Frankly, the Scotch-Irish were socially and economically too depressed to own slaves, too class-obsessed to work or live with former slaves. For one thing, the northern Alabama branch of the Chez Dilys clan report that in the very early 20th century those Caucasian farm children never saw an African American, so far was that poor hard-scrabble territory from a slave-holding legacy.
Here's the flavor of Sailer's quick anthropological tour based on geography and culture.
Slaves tended to be owned mostly by big slave-owners on the tobacco and cotton plantations of the Southern lowlands. The planters were often descended from the second sons of minor aristocrats in southern England—just as poor whites in the lowland South often originated among the servant and farm worker classes of southern England.
... Outside of the tropics, you have to be the Emperor of China or the equivalent to be able to afford a huge number of wives, along with the eunuch guards and all the other expensive rigmarole that go along with maintaining a harem. But, in systems of tropical agriculture where land was traditionally cheap and most of the work is weeding, which women can do as well as men—as opposed to manhandling draft animals for plowing—you sometimes see handsome men with 50 or more wives.
Despite the explanatory power of the Dirt Gap and the Mortgage Gap, these concepts have not been widely discussed.
The problem limiting their popularity may be that they are too objective, too morally neutral.
What people want to hear instead are explanations for why they, personally, are ethically and culturally better than their enemies.
Now there's a dispiriting party-neutral truth.
We're also reading Czeslaw Milosz, The Captive Mind, a profound exploration of the dissolution of art, thought, and truth-telling that afflicted public, and thus private, life in the Soviet empire. This has heightened our own sensitivity to the instinctive pleasure in clear thinking, in refining systems of explanation,
regardless of where that sharper focus leads. One of the humane strengths of the life of the, dare we say God-given,
As Sailer says, "I just assume that the truth is better for everybody....And, besides, at my age, my memory isn't getting any better, and the truth is a lot easier to remember than lies."