>So my question is: Are normative and positive issues (believing in 
>differences and supporting racist policies) more confused and mixed 
>in the debate on race than what we find in other debates? And if so, 
>why? Is there a "rational" reason for this?

I think normative and positive issues get mixed up with great 
frequency in political discussions. Consider the issue of welfare. 
The normative question is (roughly) "is it right for the government 
to transfer money from richer to poorer people." But in practice, 
people who think it isn't are also likely (although not certain) to 
believe that most of the recipients are not "deserving" (in a 
positive, not normative, sense--are welfare queens, or lazy, or 
whatever) and those who think it is are also likely to think that 
most of the recipients are poor for no fault of their own, that 
getting out of the poverty trap is extraordinarily difficult, etc.

I think this in part reflects issues of cognitive dissonance. It is 
uncomfortable to believe both that a certain policy is morally wrong 
and that the absence of that policy has serious bad consequences--so 
most of us persuade ourselves either that the policy that seems just 
to us also has good consequences or that the policy that we think has 
good consequences is also just.

That said, I think the race case is particularly tangled for two reasons:

1. People who believe blacks are poor because of discrimination would 
like objective evidence for their beliefs. The obvious way to get it 
is by looking at average wages, life expectancy, and similar 
objective measures. But that evidence is worthless if there are 
substantial innate differences, so they want to believe, and have 
others believe, that there are no such differences.

2. People who are arguing in favor of the "nurture" side of the 
debate in its strong form do so (I think) with a bad conscience, 
since the general evidence that a lot of characteristics are heavily 
influenced by heredity is so strong, as is the evidence that 
different human subpopulations differ substantially. If they abandon 
the indefensible part of their position--the claim that everything is 
nurture and/or that human subpopulations are so mixed that there 
cannot be any significant difference in their innate 
characteristics--they are left with only an empirical claim (that the 
actual differences in behavioral, as opposed to physical, 
characteristics happen to be too small to matter), and one that might 
easily turn out to be false.

If you are defending an important claim that, if tested, might easily 
turn out to be false, the obvious way of doing it is to demonize 
anyone who might want to test it--or has tested it. Hence you get 
cases such as the Canadian professor who published a book arguing for 
a coherent pattern of racial differences (and providing a theory to 
explain it) being the subject of a criminal investigation (eventually 
dropped) and attempts to get him fired (he had tenure), and 
eventually being forbidden to teach classes.

The alternative, of course, is to abandon the claim as unimportant, 
recognize that getting statistical evidence on the consequences of 
discrimination is a harder problem than simply measuring averages, 
and fall back on the (in my view) more defensible moral 
argument--that moral judgements ought to be applied to individuals, 
not to groups.

The one person I know of who has offered convincing evidence that 
differences in outcomes in the U.S. between blacks and whites are not 
primarily due to genetic differences is Thomas Sowell--precisely 
because he was willing to consider the question seriously. In _Ethnic 
America_ he provides figures on West Indian immigrants to the U.S. 
which show that they do quite well; if I remember correctly, their 
mean income passes the national mean in about a generation. West 
Indians are, judging by their appearance, "blacker" than most 
American blacks, so if the reason American blacks do badly is 
genetic, it ought to apply even more strongly to West Indians.

Of course, the same thing is true if the reason is discrimination. 
Sowell's conjecture is that it is cultural--essentially that 
plantation slavery in the U.S. South produced a less functional 
culture than peasant slavery in the West Indies (again, I'm going by 
memory, so may not be doing full justice to his argument).
David Friedman
Professor of Law
Santa Clara University

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