Editors note: the following is an email from John Derbyshire. It is my hope that it will further clarify some issues that were raised in the interview I posted recently; specifically those surrounding race and homosexuality. The email is reprinted with his permission.
Preface: I am strongly hostile to the hysterical approach to these matters, which unfortunately is the prevailing one at this time. We are all supposed to declare ourselves absolutely free of any negative feelings towards other groups whatsoever, or else we are EVIL! RACIST! HOMOPHOBIC! etc. etc.
Well, fiddlesticks. My model here is the British writer Sir Kingsley Amis.
An interviewer asked him whether he was antisemitic. Sir K replied: “Very,
very mildly.” Asled to explain, he said: “When I’m watching the credits
roll at the end of a TV program, I say to myself–’Oh, there’s another
I grew up in England where that level of antisemitism was pretty well
universal. It was perfectly harmless. Jews thrived and prospered.
(Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet was full of them.) Negative feelings on that
level are, I believe, perfectly normal and healthy. I doubt any human being
is free of them. So long as the laws are firm–if you beat me up, you get
arrested for assault and battery, regardless of any group you or I might
belong to–and so long as public authorities do not practice favoritism in
state-supplied goods and benefits, I think people’s prejudices should be
I do not support laws against private discrimination. If I do
not want to hire black people (or white people), that should be my right.
If I do not want to let a room in my house to a homosexual (or a
heterosexual, or a Muslim, or a Christian), that should also be my right.
These things are no proper business of the public authorities.
Homophobia: I described myself as “a mild, tolerant homophobe.” This means that I do not like homosexuality, and I think it is a net negative for
society. As a conservative, inclined to give the benefit of the doubt (when
there is doubt) to long-established practices, I cannot help note that there
has never been a human society, at any level of civilization, that has
approved egalitarian (that is, adult-adult) homosexuality. Male-male
buggery has been proscribed in every society that ever existed. I am
inclined to think that there are good reasons for these universal
prohibitions. To say the least of it, male homosexuality is very
unhealthy–much more so than, for example, cigarette smoking. A lot of the
people who howl “Homophobe!” at me whenever I write anything about this
topic are people who have to swallow a bucket of pills eight times a day
just to stay alive. Is it any wonder I have trouble taking them seriously?
Homosexuality both male and female is also antisocial, in a profound sense.
I do not believe that any stable society can be founded on any basis other
than heterosexual marriage. Under modern conditions, I think you would have
to add “monogamous,” too.
That’s the “homophobe” part. Now here’s the “mild, tolerant” part. I think
homosexuals should be left alone by the state. While I do not think, as I
have said above, that private discrimination against them (or any other
group) should be outlawed, I do not believe that homosexuality should be
criminalized. Where it currently is criminalized, I should like to see it
de-criminalized. I think homosexuals who are willing to give normal life a
try should be offered all possible encouragement and support, public and
private. Those who are determined to live as homosexuals, or who feel they
have no choice in the matter, should just be left alone. It goes without
saying–I hope–that I would like to see anyone found to have beaten up a
homosexual to be charged with assault and battery, and dealt with
Racism: All I mean there is that I believe that race is real, and
important. Nowadays, that makes you a “racist.” Again, I consider myself
mild and tolerant here–I don’t believe in any discrimination by public
authorities, and of course I am familiar with the awful historical record of
the United States in the matter of race slavery. I take individual people
as they come, as I believe every sane person does. I can imagine
circumstances where I would certainly practice private discrimination; but,
as I have said, I don’t see anything wrong with that.
It seems obvious to me that race is a fact of human life, and that in
certain situations it needs to be taken into account. Races are just
common-ancestry groups. In the words of that Belgian author whose name
escapes me, they are “extremely large extended families that interbreed to
some extent.” They are, of course, very fuzzy around the edges–I see that
across the breakfast table every morning. (My children are, as they are
sick of hearing: “Half English coal-miner, half Chinese peasant, one hundred
percent American.) But that is true of all sorts of common categories:
“age,” for example, or “height.” It doesn’t stop those categories being
real, and even occasionally useful. (There is a good article in the current
Scientific American about how racial classification is useful in guiding
doctors towards proper drug treatments.)
Unfortunately, most of the truths about race are statistical truths. This
makes them hard for ordinary people to grasp, as most people can’t
understand statistics, even at the most elementary level. If you stand up
in a room full of people and say: “On average, men are taller than women,” I
guarantee–I GUARANTEE!–that some person will stand up and say, in great
indignation: “What about Jenny? She’s taller than you, she’s taller than
most men.” People just don’t GET statistical truths. Statistics makes them
angry. (Let me tell you, as the author of a pop-math book, there are people
made angry by just ordinary math!) You see this in the obloquy that now
attaches to the word “stereotype.” In fact, stereotypes are very useful as
a way of organizing the world. Human life would not be possible without
them! I wrote an article about this.
To take an actual example from the world of race: I have spent most of my
life mixing with Chinese people. It seems obvious to me that Chinese people
are, on average, a bit smarter than white Europeans. A great deal of work
by professional psychologists seems to confirm this impression; I don’t know
of any that contradicts it.
What are the consequences of a truth like that? (Supposing it IS a truth.)
Well, if East Asians are indeed smarter, on average, than the rest of us,
they will be disproportionately represented in our best colleges and
universities (as they are). They will gravitate towards certain high-paid
jobs demanding high intelligence (they do). Since they are, as a group,
distinguishable by the naked eye, this will lead to a certain amount of
social grumbling and demands for quotas–to social friction and political
I don’t have a pat solution to this. I do, however, feel sure that our
current approach–which is, to deny that race exists, and that there are
differences between races in things other than mere physical appearance–is
wrong-headed and counter-productive. I don’t believe you can get anywhere
by denying reality. You have to find some way to face it, to deal with it.
We haven’t. We haven’t just haven’t, we seem to have made a collective
decision to pretend that there is no problem, or that the problem is
“cultural” (whatever that is supposed to mean). This isn’t going to get us
So I believe race is a real thing, that races differ–statistically–in
important ways, and that private racial discrimination is not immoral, and
certainly should not be illegal. In the current American climate, I think
that makes me a “very mild, tolerant racist.”
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