The old fable about the emperor’s new wardrobe, which only the honest and competent could see, ends with a small boy shattering the delusion, simply by speaking the truth. What Hans Christian Andersen had in mind in his fable is disputed today. Partly that’s because Andersen’s original ending for the tale was somewhat different. (Also, critics, being inherently envious of the genuinely creative, like to insert their own notions into everything, no matter how ridiculous.) Nevertheless, the fable stands as a parable about people’s willingness to swallow and even repeat a lie if doing so might be to their advantage.
But that first ending…according to Infogalactic, it might have derived from an incident in Andersen’s childhood:
Andersen’s decision to change the ending may have occurred after he read the manuscript tale to a child, or had its source in a childhood incident similar to that in the tale. He later recalled standing in a crowd with his mother waiting to see King Frederick VI. When the king made his appearance, Andersen cried out, “Oh, he’s nothing more than a human being!” His mother tried to silence him by crying, “Have you gone mad, child?”. Whatever the reason, Andersen thought the change would prove more satirical.
Whether or not it’s the real reason for the change, Andersen’s mother’s reaction is both typical and instructive. The powerful can inflict great suffering on any of the “common folk” who dare to challenge them. Pre-teen Andersen would not have known this; his mother certainly did.
These days, you don’t have to be a king to put the screws to someone who says something contrary to “received wisdom.” You merely have to be vindictive enough, and loud enough, to make him an embarrassment to those who have some degree of power over him. “Cancel culture” is based on that effect. Few among us in the Internet Commentariat are courageous enough to risk its ire.
Just recently, an accomplished man who seems more courageous than most had occasion to say a couple of things that the Cancelers took amiss. One was that he’d been wrong in saying that aversion to the COVID-19 vaccines is wrong or ignorant. The other was even more controversial:
26 percent of blacks said uh no it’s not okay to be white. 21 percent weren’t sure. Add ‘em together that is 47 percent of black respondents were not willing to say it’s okay to be white.
That…that…actually that’s like a real poll. This just happened.
Did you have any idea? Would…would you have imagined that that could have happened?
So I realized…um…as you know I’ve been identifying as black for a while…years now…because I like you know I like to be on the winning team…and I like to help and I always thought well, if you help the black community that’s sort of the biggest lever…you know, you could…you can find the biggest benefit. So I thought well that’s the hardest thing and the biggest benefit so I’d like to focus a lot of my life resources in helping black Americans, so much so that I started identifying as black to just be on the team I was helping.
But it turns out that nearly half of that team doesn’t think I’m okay to be white, which is of course why I identified as black because so I could be on the winning team for a while. But I have to say, uh, this is the first political poll that ever changed my activities. I don’t know that that’s ever happened before.
You know normally you see a poll, you just look at it you go ah whatever…you know, oh this is interesting what other people think. But as of today I’m going to re-identify as white, because I don’t want to be a member of a hate group. I had accidentally joined a hate group.
So if…if you know nearly half of all blacks are not okay with white people according to this poll — not according to me, according to this poll — that’s a hate group. That’s a hate group and I don’t want to have anything to do with them.
And I would say you know based on the current way things are going, the best advice I would give to white people is to get the hell away from black people. Just get away. Wherever you have to go, just get away. Because there’s no fixing this. This can’t be fixed. Right? This can’t be fixed. You just have to escape.
To the best of my knowledge, Scott Adams was sincere about all that. He really has become convinced that American blacks constitute a hate group, and that he wants no part of it.
It might be awfully hard to cancel Adams, a highly successful cartoonist and a medium-gauge Web commentator, but I’m sure the forces of the Left are putting their full efforts to it.
No, I’m not here to talk about cancel culture, or its myrmidons, or how they operate to silence those who have displeased them. Neither am I about to discuss polls, how they’re often biased, or the wisdom of trusting them. What’s on my mind this morning is the associated phenomenon we call virtue signaling, and how it contrasts with argument from hard data.
Another commentator, perhaps not as widely admired as Scott Adams, reacted to Adams’s video thus:
Was Adams’ video a racist rant, or the sound of a man giving up? The man who partnered with someone to rebuild Detroit is now saying that such efforts are no longer worth his time since the only outcome is that he is called a racist. And what of the videos he mentions of black attacks on non-blacks? Attacks on blacks, whether they are actual or manufactured, receive no end of press. When the reverse is true, the media and federal, state, and local governments turn handsprings to avoid mentioning the races involved. What are we to make of that? Are these attacks racism or karma?
So far…well, I won’t say “so good,” but at least not openly dismissive nor contemptuous of Adams’s statement. But wait: there’s more!
No matter that I have never uttered the N-word and have never held a racist point of view in my life. By the color of my skin, the people pushing this agenda have decided I must be whatever they define me to be. Which is racist. And evil. Just as evil as the white supremacists that the DOJ claims are hiding behind the stack of tomatoes at your local grocery store. And I refuse to bow to evil racists or submit my grandson to them. No matter their side, and no matter their color.
That’s the conclusion of Lincoln Brown’s piece – the part he intends for you to take away with you: “No racism! Evil, evil!” But it has nothing to do with Adams’s statement, the poll on which it’s based, or his reversal of convictions. It’s pure virtue signaling: “Hatred is bad! I’m a good guy! I don’t hate anyone!”
I don’t know Lincoln Brown. Therefore I can’t testify to his actual convictions, only to his words on the screen. Also, I’m an outsider. I have no idea whether Brown feels that he must say the above to retain his perch at PJ Media. I will say this: I would not have regarded Brown’s essay as worthy of my talents, for one reason above all others: It evades the issue.
The issue, for those who’ve slept through this piece up to this point, is whether the results of the Rasmussen poll are adequate justification for regarding American blacks – at least those who don’t think “it’s okay to be white” – as a hate group.
Brown can’t simply dismiss Adams’s sentiments as factually wrong. It’s plain that they make him uncomfortable, in which I’m certain he’s not alone. But he’s unwilling to joust on the ground of the poll itself: that is, whether it accurately summarizes the sentiments of American blacks, and if so, whether that justifies Adams’s new position. Instead he rang off with a pious statement that disavows racism: a Last Graf likely much more acceptable to PJ Media’s editors. From that, I infer that he regards the poll itself as an unsafe subject.
Facts that cross-cut the “received wisdom” often seem unsafe.
I’m not going to repeat any of the well-worn mantras about how facts are stubborn things, et cetera. My Gentle Readers have seen those often enough that they probably get after-images of them when the lights suddenly go out. What’s most important here is the core of effective disputation: that is, how to argue your position, especially when those who oppose you are many and vitriolic.
If the basis of an argument is facts and the inferences that can be reasonably drawn from them, that argument is potentially profitable. It can be resolved, and not on basis of differences in the debaters’ eloquence or snark. But when the basis of a dispute is fear — fear of the consequences of dissenting from the most militant sentiment – there is no argument worthy of the name. There is only success or failure in propitiating those who might decide to harm you.
Facts are as important in the discussion of America’s racial animosities as in any other subject. Yet today, the tendency is to avoid citing the facts and discussing what they imply. It can get you canceled. Consider what’s being done to anyone who diverges from the Left’s position on homosexuality or transgenderism. The Left is no less militant about race: specifically, that we white folks are inherently racist and thus deserve to be humiliated and mulcted for it.
My own position, which is radically different from what I espoused as a younger man, is founded on a combination of enduring statistical facts and personal experiences. That it’s essentially congruent with Scott Adams’s conclusion is irrelevant. If you want to argue with either of us, you must not simply castigate us as “bad;” you must show where and how we’re wrong.
And to this point, no one has been willing to do so.