Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Prudence, Not Political Correctness

Although there is a kind of double standard regarding what whites and blacks can say publicly regarding their speculations on racial differences, Dusty Baker should not be fired for his recent remarks regarding the supposed ability of black athletes to tolerate heat better than their white counterparts.

What this episode teaches us, however, is the rather illiberal lesson that political prudence may counsel silence on certain charged questions that may not admit of scientific resolution.

Today in the WSJ, John Entine says that Mr. Baker has "nature" on his side when he argues for the physical differences between whites and blacks. According to Entine, blacks dissipate body heat more effectively. Entine admits that genetic differences may be minute, but he argues that professional athletes can cultivate these differences through training to exaggerate their effects. Moreover, the baseball season is very long, allowing for minute differences to become apparent and eventually decisive.

But nature is a very difficult thing to pin down, and it's not clear that these natural differences are as decisive as Entine argues.

This episode reminds us of Thomas Jefferson's anthropological sections in Notes on the State of Virginia, where he argued in favor of racial differences in ways that were sometimes unflattering to blacks. Jefferson, however, never intended his remarks to justify slavery or thought that what he perceived as natural differences meant that blacks did not have the same fundamental or natural rights as whites. Nevertheless, his remarks lent themselves to encouraging slavery. At least Dusty Baker, and Al Campanis before him, were only talking about supposed physical differences and not intellectual ones. (See the book we cite below for more on Jefferson and his Notes.)

The promulgation of ideas and the investigation into nature have consequences which means that sometimes it is better simply to keep quiet. This is especially true (but not exclusively so) in the investigative stages before science thinks it understands the truth about something. Liberalism is uncomfortable with this assertion, for it assumes that scientific and political progress occur together and that the latter is dependent to some extent on the former.

There is an older view of politics, unfortunately in disrepute currently, which does not assume this positive relationship between science and politics and which counsels a reticent prudence in certain matters. But this older view or approach somehow does not amount to what we might call political correctness. Early adherents of this view were practitioners of a certain kind of circumspect writing dedicated not only to protecting philosophy and those who inquire into nature but also to protecting the political community from philosophy.

True or not (and the science is still up for grabs, no matter what Entine says), Dusty Baker's comments and Entine's endorsement of them do little political good. One does not have to be a Left Wing devotee of political correctness or compromise science unjustifiably to recognize that. The political has its own dignity; the regime has a logic all its own and demands an understanding of what supports and what undermines it. The publicizing of preliminary anthropological investigations or observations, no matter how acute or perceptive, may not necessarily support the regime. Prudence often demands silence.

Besides, if you had to win one ball game, would you want Bob Gibson or Sandy Koufax pitching for your team? I can't really decide, but I can guarantee you that I wouldn't want to step into the batter's box against either of them.


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