“The sour faces of the multitude, like their sweet faces, have no deep cause, but are put on and off as the wind blows and a newspaper directs.”

—Emerson

It seems that every few weeks or so I read an article in a liberal publication decrying police discrimination against African-Americans. Of course, it is well-known that they are stopped by the police and arrested far more than whites. And for many liberals, with their superficial point of view, this is obvious discrimination, cause for vociferous outrage and indignation.

But the actual context is not this stunningly simple—not that it should be difficult to understand. Simply put, African-Americans commit a disproportionate amount of crimes, and we must expect police stops and arrests to reflect this; the converse is what would really be puzzling.

Now it should go without saying that to point out this fact of African-American crime is not adverse to the reality that many of the crimes committed by African-Americans are linked to poverty. Nor is talk about the legacy of slavery necessary here. And there can be no doubt that there are instances in which police, like the criminal justice system, discriminate against African-Americans and other minorities. After all, if we look closely, we find that corruption is virtually everywhere in human affairs. But to say all this is not to negate the fact that crime remains just that—illegal—and that the police must enforce the law.

Yet the problem is that in contexts like this, many liberals decry difference per se as discriminatory. In other words, because more minorities than whites are pulled over, arrested, and so on, it must follow that here the general context is discriminatory (as opposed to particular instances)—but that is far from clear.

Similarly, many people look at the number of women and people of color in a particular field and think that if there aren’t just as many women as men, and just as many minorities as whites, then there necessarily is discrimination. But again, the situation is not so simple. Since talent, ability, and achievement are not determined by race or gender, it is incorrect to assume that something is necessarily wrong if a subject or field—say, engineering or philosophy—is dominated by men, that such dominance in itself demonstrates discrimination.

The problem here—the source of the confusion—seems to be that since we are all supposed to be equal citizens in the legal sense, many people therefore think that a field is discriminatory if it doesn’t have an equal number of men and women and whites and minorities. Yet this belief wrongly presupposes that talent, ability and achievement are determined by the “fair representation” of gender and race.

Such representation is really a value judgment after the fact. In other words, people look at the representation of women and minorities in a particular field, regardless of merit and how people got there, and then judge “discrimination” to be at work whenever—surprise, surprise—this or that field doesn’t consist of an equal number of men and women or whites and minorities: an assumption which bizarrely implies that talent and competence are uniform across all people and both genders.

But just as not everyone is the same race or gender, so not everyone is equally talented and competent, and we can only expect differences of representation to reflect this natural difference of talent and competence. It is mistaken, then, to think that something is obviously wrong with the Harvard philosophy department, for example, just because it largely consists of white men. Nor do we find anybody complaining that Women’s Studies lacks a fair number (whatever that is) of men, a complaint that would be like saying that the fact that most nurses are women, or construction workers men, is inherently sexist.

The Causes

“He smiles with condescension; he talks of benevolence and virtue, and those who act with benevolence and virtue they murder time on time.”

—Blake

It is obvious that in matters of intellectual merit and of competence in general, race and gender are strictly irrelevant. If you can’t do a theorem, argue a position, compose a sonnet, or diagnose a patient, then talk about your skin color or gender will not do. So why do we hear so much outrage concerning “equality” from liberals and social justice warriors?

There are several reasons. Perhaps the main one has already been described: people simplify the contexts of things, then project their political agenda. Certainly some of these efforts are well-meaning: people are passionate about their cause, and think they perceive social evils that need to be remedied.

Then there are the frauds. I went to graduate school in English, so I have experienced many of these people firsthand. These are the identity-politics-rabble who affect a stance of moral indignation, while in reality they don’t give a damn about the lives of women and minorities. All show, these committed pretenders try to advance professionally by being on the side of the good guys. They also like to think of themselves as some sort of rebel, though of course also so very knowledgeable and informed, so very deep and weighty.

Finally, there are those who are driven by a most primordial motive. These are the ones who wax indignant about injustice, while their actual motive is to vent some utterly unrelated discontent; for life is hard, and it can be more bearable when a person has something to gripe about. The simplistic liberal or social justice warrior complains about discrimination where a different type of person might simply have a stiff drink. The primordial desire to vent one’s stored up spleen, one’s suppressed human venom—though generally unconscious, this is a powerful force, and history is rife with bloody testaments to it, though they have frequently been sacrificed in the name of “justice.”

An Intellectual Obstacle

“The bulk of mankind is as equipped for flying as it is for thinking.”

—Swift

The average IQ—a limited thing—is a huge problem in the sociopolitical domain. For even if there weren’t so many zealous and essentially careerist pretenders—whether these are politicians, journalists, academics or whatever—it would remain true that most people are ill-equipped for making sense of the complex contexts of things. History is written in blood not just because human beings are brutally self-interested, but also because we are very poor at understanding one another, making conflict frequent and inevitable.

Here consider what is the ordinary person’s procedure when it comes to getting at the truth about something. He is not like a philosopher, or a lawyer, or a scientist. He is not objective and analytical. Rather, he simply looks around for whatever may serve to justify the opinion he already had about something. In large societies like our own we this phenomenon en masse. Thus politics is essentially incoherent, though of course most people, with their usual ignorance, do not see this.

Again, the moral corruption of human nature—the cause of much bias, distortion, rationalization, and more—is not the only reason for the endless misinterpretations and distortions of contexts. The average IQ has very little aptitude for nuance and subtlety. It naturally takes a superficial view of things, and then a person’s emotions—a powerful engine of self-interest—take over, driving him or her to “argue” about what is going on, what is wrong, what needs to change, etc.

And so it should not be surprising, for example, that if you say anything at all critical of women, of minorities, or whoever, many people will respond with the charge of “sexism,” or of “racism,” or whatever. For they cannot do otherwise. Few human beings have any serious interest in knowing the truth, and fewer still have the discernment and disinterestedness it takes to know it. The average IQ is little more than a vehicle for satisfying material needs, which are bound up with emotions.

That is why most lives are spent between work and pleasure, why the conversation and writing of most people is so far from articulate, and interests in things like art and science are forever minority affairs. It is also why arguing with the average person about how we should live is often nothing but a kind of emotionally-charged incoherence.

“The banality of evil” is Hannah Arendt’s infamous (and widely misunderstood) description of what made the Holocaust possible. She meant the tendency of ordinary people to conform and take orders unthinkingly; to basically just go along with the historical tide. This is what most liberals and social justice warriors do, just like most people in general, and whether they are sincere and well-meaning or just deeply self-interested pretenders, we should not allow ourselves to be overly vexed by them: their ignorance is beyond our control.

Rather, have a laugh, remembering Plato’s great line that the gods made man in order to laugh at him.

Read More: “Liberals” Are Not The Enemy