Natalie Solent

Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing.

E-mail: nataliesolent-at-aol-dot-com (I assume it's OK to quote senders by name.)

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I also sometimes write for Samizdata and Biased BBC.)

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Saturday, August 16, 2003
The Ratchet. All restrictions on freedom of association are bad, but perhaps the most harmful restrictions of all are the new type of anti-discrimination laws that work by measuring outcomes rather than monitoring procedures. These laws act as a ratchet. They lock in any existing correlation between any undesirable characteristic and being black. They make it almost certain that the correlation will increase rather than decrease.

The old type of anti-discrimination law worked like this. Companies, banks, landlords and so on were required by law not to discriminate by race. Sometimes the authorites or investigative journalists would run a test to see if the procedures for giving people jobs, housing or credit were fair - they would mock up two similar applications, say, equal in every substantial qualification but with one candidate called "Edward Smith" and the other "Samuel N'Dema." If the company only called Smith to interview, they were in trouble with the law.

I really have taken this freedom of association stuff to heart, and I have gradually come to the conclusion that having *legal* penalties for such racist behaviour is a bad thing; as bad or worse for the N'Demas of this world as for the Smiths - this despite my firm belief that the company in this case would deserve censure and boycott (assuming all the circumstances were as they appeared to be.)

But that's an opinion for the deep-dyed libertarians. I won't justify it here, I'll just ask you to take it on trust that there really are people who hold it in all goodwill. What I'd like to concentrate on here is not those types of anti-discrimination law, the sort that demands interview procedures be colour blind for instance, but the type that replaced them after they had seemed to reach a plateau of effectiveness. Because after ten or twenty years it became clear that, although it was no longer the case that anyone dared hang out a sign saying "No blacks need apply", blacks weren't getting any further in gaining positions of real power and influence. (Most of this piece is about blacks rather than minorities in general, as they have made least progress.) 'Right,' thought some angry people, 'it's time to stop talking about theory and start talking practicalities. What counts is results. We don't care about all your excuses and stratagems. From now on we will look at how many blacks are at administrative level x, and it had better equal the percentage of blacks in the British population or else.'

This change was a disaster for those it was meant to help.

Why do I put it so strongly? Because the biggest problem facing black people in Britain (and the US) is crime by other blacks. This truth is often denied, but you watch the loudest deniers choose which tube carriage to get into late at night and you will get an education. Even black women will avoid a group of young black men. Imagine the tragedy of a black mother who watches her son go from being a lovable kid to being one of those rowdy, threatening youths. Eventually her fear for him may well turn into fear of him.

People are not born criminal, they grow into it by degrees. Yet a healthy society has various antibodies against the descent into criminality. They are the systems that provide incentives against anti-social behaviour. 'Pay attention to the teacher and you will do well at school.' 'Do well at school and you will get a good job.' 'Get a good job and you can marry the girl of your choice.'

How old fashioned it all sounds! For black and white alike, welfare has stripped away the link between "steadiness" and success in finding a marriage partner. Two generations have grown up fatherless - but I digress. My subject was meant to be the sort of anti-discrimination law that works on outcomes rather than procedures. These types of law have worked (along with welfare) to strip away the self-correcting mechanisms that could have pulled back many black youths from the first steps in crime.

Let's start off with the observation that black school leavers are less qualified than their white counterparts. (It does not affect my argument whether this is through the racism of their teachers or their own bad behaviour. ) By insisting that they will not be openly penalised for this in the job market, the anti-discrimination laws ensure there is less of an incentive to study. The problem never gets solved. It just gets papered over. Although the rising generation may never explicitly make the calculation "I don't have to work so hard because I'm black," that is the message that will filter down through the millions of little allusions, jokes, observations and examples that make up each individual life experience.

And of course, many of them do explicitly make that calculation. They don't work and mock their classmates who do. It has its inevitable result: blacks really are, on average, less well educated than whites. Prejudices come true.

It goes wider than just education. If real deficiencies do not attract any penalty there is less of an incentive for any behaviour that trades present inconvenience for future gain. Yet understanding that tradeoff that is, I suggest, the key to most of the satisfactions the world has to offer in work or in relationships. Black youths who have never had to take that lesson to heart cannot fail to be dimly aware that they are sadder, cruder, less accomplished and complete people than they might have been. Yet, they like all of us, have a burning need to believe that they are in the right. This passion leads them to glorify their own deficiencies and scorn the whole business of 'white' education, not to mention 'white' respectability. If their ancestors, who wore their black respectability with fierce pride and strove for black education with all their might could see them now...

Hooke's Law says that when you stretch a spring the force pulling it back will be proportional to the extension. In a normal society something like Hooke's Law would operate on young black men and women as they veered out of the groove of correct behaviour. Small deviations would result in a gentle pressure to get back on the straight and narrow. Anti-discrimination laws might seem at first sight to not to affect this interplay of small corrections, but they do. The public sanction given to the view that fewer blacks in profession x must mean that blacks have been injured, and must not mean that blacks should change their culture, filters down in a million ways. A black boy is sent out of class for acting up: he resists with all his might the idea that he should conclude it is better not to act up. His white teacher, angry and defensive, mentally defends herself against the charge of racism that is certain to come by learning his faults by heart. A black mother reproves her son. He despises her for her surrender to enemy values.

There are currents of thought promoting respectability within the black community, many of them based around churches. Unfortunately they themselves are infected by the same need for victimhood, and switch uneasily between moralising (it should be clear by now that I thoroughly approve of moralising) and bluster, and what moralising does get through the victimhood filter is overwhelmed by the more demanding pressures demanding endless, unwinnable rebellion.

For it is unwinnable. The laws don't do what they want to do. Long before I had anything like the opinions I have now I observed with pain that modern black pioneers frequently seem to come a-cropper. I saw a dispiriting number of reports saying things like 'the first black policeman in such and such an area has left the force,' or 'the first black guardsman has left the army in acrimonious circumstances,' or 'the first black barrister to be promoted to this or that office is suing the Law Society.' This would be a stronger article if I were to quote hard examples. I'm too tired to find them. But trust me, I can if anyone wants to argue (though it might have to wait until next week.) Yet earlier generations of black pioneers were ferociously competent despite labouring under far more virulent racism. Men like the Tuskagee airmen gained the sweetest revenge on their persecutors: the knowledge that they were reluctantly respected. (I am aware that they were promoted by a congressional program; as I said I think that form of making-things-fair legal fiat is far less harmful than the modern system which will not allow blacks to prove they can do it.)

Wait a minute, some will say, how the hell do you know that the troubles of the black policemen etc. weren't caused by the malice of their white colleagues? The answer is that I don't. I accept that certainly some and probably most of them were. And so what? Do you want that situation solved or perpetuated?

Any serious - in fact any unserious - study of the way prosperity varies with race will conclude that in an open society you can be rich, successful and accomplished even if your neighbours hate you and discriminate against you. Look at the Jews. Look at the expatriate Indians and Chinese. People of these races raised themselves under a system of cumulative incentives to responsibility. The melancholy exception is the race everyone's trying to hold in position artificially.

Once the whip of slavery was off their backs, blacks made startling progress when many white hands were raised against them. Whites back then made startling progress, too, in seeing that they had to repent. As I said earlier, I believe that even the early procedures-based anti-discrimination laws may have actually done harm by letting whites off the hook of seeing that they had to change within themselves - but at least those laws mandated finite and just forms of behaviour. In contrast, outcomes-based anti-discrimination laws mandate unjust behaviour and look set to go on forever. Black cultural mores cannot be improved without rational discrimination (not least by blacks) Rational discrimination is one of the medicines that could restore the black body politic to health. Without it, blacks will continue to be worse bets than whites or orientals.

I said just now that minority races can prosper despite being hated. I would go further. Given basic freedoms much of the hatred goes away. I do not say all of it. Race hatred will always be with us, always springing up in unexpected places. But if you were in the re-incarnation base station waiting to be born, which race would you choose to be now?

The angry cries by the black establishment that their children shouldn't have to suffer even rational discrimination because their initial lack of education, or respectability is ultimately the fault of whites are like the angry cries of a man dying after a street accident: "I shouldn't have had to look! I had right of way!" Maybe true, but it would still have been better to get into the habit of looking both ways

A company or organisation will, shutting its eyes, recruit incompetent people if it has to. It will throw money and titles at them. What it won't do is put them at the core, where it really matters. Employees so sidelined resent it and react against it. The white employees casually dismiss them as "affirmative action hires". Their daily experience tells them that blacks can't hack it. In the small hours of the night some blacks begin to believe it too. Even, tragically, those who would, in fact, have made it on their own.

It is my firm belief, based on experience and fairly wide reading, that they are wrong. The blacks are only acting exactly as the whites would do in like circumstances. Anyone, when starved of the opportunity to prove themselves, will feel their soul start to fester.

There is more to Hooke's Law than the proportionality of the extension of a stretched spring and the force pulling it inwards. Once a certain limit, the elastic limit, has been reached, the spring gives up, so to speak. It breaks or sags, permanently pulled out of shape. That's what outcome-related anti-discrimination laws and the culture that goes with them have done to many black youths; pulled their moral development past the elastic limit.