Bigotry at the Ath: A Response to the CMC Forum

In the opening line of her recent Forum piece “Why is CMC Promoting Racism and Sexism?” CMC Freshman Liat Kaplan wrote, “I’m not going to summarize political scientist Charles Murray’s recent Ath talk here because if I do, the stress will probably give me a heart attack.” Bracketing a discussion of Kaplan’s coronary arteries, it’s clear that Kaplan should have consulted her notes on the talk – if she took any. Kaplan’s portrayal of Charles Murray’s Athenaeum talk is as false as her ill-thought-out cries of bigotry.

Kaplan asserts that during his speech Murray claimed “that poor people, especially people of color, are genetically predisposed to be less intelligent,” – a thesis which appears in Murray’s 1994 text The Bell Curve. This assertion is factually inaccurate, and wildly so. The subject of Murray’s Ath talk was his more-recent book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, a study on class inequality. Murray clarified in the first five minutes of his speech that he excluded race from consideration in Coming Apart, in order to pinpoint the effect of college admissions on class inequality. The words “The Bell Curve” never left Murray’s mouth.

As a preface to his talk, Murray carefully noted that he was only presenting sociological evidence, not a normative stance on the issue of class inequality. It is difficult to reconcile this very overt sidestep of ethical issues with Kaplan’s claim that in Murray’s address “whole swaths of humanity [were] categorically deemed inferior.” The only very vaguely sexist thing Murray said, over the entire course of the talk, was that wives tend to civilize husbands and make them more productive; however, he noted that this was putting “not too fine a point on it,” and added the caveat that this thesis was only one explanation for the empirical truth that married men tend to be more economically productive than their unmarried counterparts.

What claims did Murray make at the Ath? During his talk, Murray focused exclusively on his thesis in Coming Apart, which is that the new upper class and lower class which have formed in America diverge more sharply than ever before in terms of core values like family and community life. The causal story which Murray emphasized in his Ath talk was that the college admissions process tends to concentrate high-IQ persons together at elite colleges and universities, where they often marry each other, become members of the new upper class and have children who lead sheltered lives in their upper class social bubble. Members of the new upper class, on Murray’s account, are typically insulated from an authentic understanding of the lives of their lower-class counterparts, which poses a grave problem for democracy since, in most cases, America’s governing elite wind up being members of the new upper class – individuals with little understanding of the lives of their constituents.

A crucial point here is that Murray’s thesis in Coming Apart is compatible with a wide range of normative stances. Murray seemed to indicate that he didn’t favor a class of elites who had never lived outside the bubble, but rather thought that a healthy democracy required its leaders to understand the lives of all their constituents. This remarkably progressive vision strongly contradicts the elitism Kaplan attempts to read into Murray’s argument. And although The Bell Curve did not feature in Murray’s talk, a similar principle applies. Even if one accepts the empirical truth that average IQ varies along ethnic lines, one can still, of course, recognize that the evolutionary and historical forces which contributed to racial IQ disparities were arbitrary and oppressive, respectively – and ought to be corrected for through affirmative action or educational reform, for instance. The bottom line is that Murray’s Ath talk involved statistical data, not the highly offensive ethical claims Kaplan thought she heard. The reason students didn’t angrily condemn Murray as a racist or a sexist during the Q & A is that he didn’t defend anything even remotely close to a “racist” or “sexist” position.

My last Claremont Independent article argued that the censorship of oppressive viewpoints is virtually never justified, and, coincidentally, considered Murray’s The Bell Curve. So instead of critiquing Kaplan’s views on censorship here, I’d like to conclude this article with a discussion of the problem of bigotry.

In her article, Kaplan repeatedly characterized Murray as a bigot. A bigot is defined as “a person who strongly and unfairly dislikes other people, ideas, etc.” While Murray’s views may not align with Kaplan’s own, they emphatically do not make him a bigot.

Each of Murray’s views is the result of fair and thoughtful consideration – for instance, Murray recently changed his mind, on reflection and decided to support the legalization of abortion and same-sex marriage. Charles Murray is remarkably open-minded for a man Kaplan essentializes as a racist, sexist, “old white rich man who thinks that women and people of color are inferior beings.” Indeed, Murray is far more open-minded than Kaplan herself. While Murray grounds his viewpoints in statistical evidence and careful reflection, Kaplan writes angry tirades only marginally evidenced by a single peremptory Google search. While Murray favors the open exchange of conflicting viewpoints (and explicitly thanked Claremont McKenna for hosting exactly that kind of exchange at the Athenaeum), Kaplan favors a McCarthy-esque policy of censoring individuals with whom she harbors moral disagreement. Consequently, the true bigot in this episode is Kaplan. If Kaplan genuinely felt Murray’s talk dehumanized and devalued her as a human person, she has some serious soul searching to do.

25 thoughts on “Bigotry at the Ath: A Response to the CMC Forum”

  1. Lol. You are 100% right on. I wonder if she’ll try to defend her point or just back out when she reads this…

  2. This excellent rebuttal is a wonderful example as to how the CMC Forum has disintegrated into a meaningless platform for liberals to angrily rant and completely slant the facts. Her article was so factually inaccurate it is downright appalling….kudos to Clay for enlightening not only her but also the rest of the feminist community here at CMC.

  3. Problems with this argument:
    1. The IQ is racialized, everyone knows that.
    2. Even if it wasn’t, did you actually say “evolutionary forces … contributed to racial IQ disparities” ??? You, my sir, are a eugenist and a racist.
    3. Actual statisticians think Murray’s data is trash.
    4. You can’t ignore the fact that he’s said problematic things in the past, such as deeming insignificant the scientific and philosophical achievements of women, even if they didn’t come up in his talk.

    1. Problems with YOUR rebuttals to his argument:
      1) It’s almost funny when you say that Clay is a racist when he is just looking at statistical evidence showing the IQ difference in races. For example take another gene, like height. In places like the NBA, there are taller people than the general population and if those taller people marry other tall people they will inevitably keep the gene pool of tall people within themselves. That is essentially what happened with colleges and white people so whether that was right, racist, bigotry, whatever you wanna call it….that’s what happened and that’s what he means by evolutionary forces.
      2) You actually CAN ignore things Murray has said in the past if has no relevance to the current argument. Murray focused on privileged upper class white America, and at no point did he say anything about women or blacks, Nor does anything he has ever said apply to the current argument. I would urge you to look for flaws in this particular argument, because by focusing your efforts on past things Murray has said, you only make Clay’s argument look that much stronger. Now I know its hard to come up with good points when logic is actually used in an argument, but we must hold ourselves to this higher standard of discussion. Otherwise, many debates would degenerate into name calling and slurs, and who wants that?
      In conclusion, you essentially pointed out NO flaws in the actual argument and resorted to the tactics used by Liat in her article. These tactics are condemned by Clay in both this article and his last one(See: Let us strive for reasoned discussion and discourse in order to broaden and push our intellectual limits and our beliefs.

      1. There has been SO much academic research done into the fact that the IQ selects for white people that it’s just not acceptable anymore to use data concerning IQ/race correlation as legitimate data in anything, that was my point. Height can be empirically measured; intelligence cannot, not in the same way.

        Perhaps you’re right that Murray’s Ath talk didn’t have anything to do with this particular problem. That doesn’t mean Liat can’t call him a racist, because anyone who seriously tries to consider that race is scientifically linked to anything is using some seriously outdated methods (read: racist).

    2. Interesting comment. Good point on the number 2, I misspoke. I had in mind cultural and historical forces when I typed the word ‘evolutionary.’ I do not subscribe to the viewpoint that evolutionary forces contribute to racial IQ disparities, they’re way too long term. I apologize for the mistake. As a separate note, however, I’m not convinced you understand what the word ‘eugenist’ means.

      Your (1) and (3) are empirical claims which I would have to do extensive reading to develop an informed opinion on, and I won’t have time to do that until after finals. Regardless, a) you’ve totally failed to substantiate them, and b) the conclusions Murray drew from his data don’t make him a racist, they make him misinformed. Murray would be a racist (and a bigot) if he clung to his views on racial superiority if persuaded to abandon his reasons for those views.

      In response to the (4), sure, I agree that we shouldn’t *ignore* the potentially problematic views Murray has espoused in the past. I would have been interested to hear Murray either defend those views or explain that he’s changed his mind in the Q&A. However I can and do absolutely insist that Murray’s viewpoints, however controversial, aren’t grounds for banning him from speaking at the Ath. While holocaust-denial, for instance, is demonstrably false, Murray’s views are controversial precisely because they’re not even in the same universe.

      Looking forward to your response.

      1. On 1) – Scripps professor Jennifer Armstrong gave an excellent lecture about this for Scripps’ Core 1 class on the history of the IQ. If you’re interested, here’s a few of the assigned readings for that week:

        Boas Anthropology and Modern Life Dover Publications (1987) (1928 original publication)

        Dar-Nimrod I, Heine SJ. Exposure to scientific theories affects women’s math performance. Science (2006) 314:435.

        Fancher, R.E. Henry Goddard and The Kallikak Family photographs: “Conscious skulduggery” or “Whig history”? American Psychologist (1987) 42:585-590.

        Gould, S.J. The Mismeasure of Man. W. W. Norton & Company (1996)

        Klineberg, O. “Cultural Factors in Intelligence-Test Performance” by in The Journal of Negro Education, Vol. 3, No. 3, The Physical and Mental Abilities of the American Negro (Jul., 1934), pp. 478-483.

        Samelson, F. Intelligence and Some of Its Testers. Science (1982) 215: 656-657.

        Additionally, I don’t think Murray has an excuse, as someone who studies this kind of thing, not to be “informed” about this stuff, as you claim he might not be.

        On 2) – Fair enough, I was pretty surprised when I read that sentence initially.

        On 3) – someone else put it better than I could:

        On 4) – No one said “banning” him from the Ath was necessary. We’re just asking he not be invited in the first place.

  4. Hmm. Lots of interesting stuff going on here. I think Clay is right in saying that Murray’s views on racial or gender equality likely do not affect the accuracy or lack thereof of his diagnosis of the causes of the widening chasm between the working classes and upper echelons of American society.

    However, I think Clay errs on two major points. First, I think his assertion that Murray’s views on racial and gender equality are not bigoted because they reflect an honest personal interpretation of the available data is wrong. I have no doubt that Murray honestly believes that his interpretation of the available data is the most reasonable one, and that it reflects little, if any, personal antipathy towards racial minorities and women. However, bigotry does not just include antipathy towards views different than one’s own-it also encompasses prejudices-i.e., false beliefs about people who are members of a different group. A look at all of the entries for bigotry in the dictionary, and not just the first entry, confirms this. After considering Murray’s claims, numerous other scholars have argued, correctly in my view, that Murray’s claims amount to a prejudiced interpretation of the data. Such prejudices may well be benign, but that does not mean that they are not prejudices, and it does not mean that they do not represent a form of bigotry.

    Second, I think Clay mischaracterizes the nature of censorship. Censorship is generally considered to be the prohibition of the expression of undesirable views or thoughts. It is not clear that Kaplan’s request that the Athenaeum choose not to host speakers like Murray meets this standard. In contrast, a legal prohibition on such speech would certainly meet the standard of censorship. Instead, I think a more accurate characterization of Kaplan’s request is that she asks that the Athenaeum choose not to pay Murray and people holding similar views to come speak at CMC, a private institution, since this could be interpreted as tacit endorsements of inegalitarian positions that she believes to be offensive and factually incorrect. To withhold endorsement as a private institution, and to engage in censorship are different things, and it is worth noting that no matter how the Athenaeum approaches the issue of speakers like Murray in the future, such speakers will nevertheless retain the protections of the First Amendment, and are free to communicate with CMC students in a wide variety of other ways.

    1. In Ward Elliott’s PPE section way back in 2011, we read Murray’s “Losing Ground.” Most of us found its arguments wrong and kind of racist, but we considered it academically and had a reasoned debate before dismissing it. One of the reasons I love my CMC education is that it exposed me to points of view I didn’t agree with, which helped to both solidify and reshape the way I thought about the world. The Ath inviting a speaker isn’t an endorsement of that speaker’s thought, and it’s valuable to hear arguments that people actually use in the real world, even if you’re eventually going to reject them.

    2. Hey Byron,

      1) I’m not sure which dictionary you’re looking at — reasoned non-normative beliefs in gender/race differences made in light of evidence definitely don’t qualify as ‘prejudices,’ which are preconceived opinions not based on reason or actual experience. Murray’s views very clearly don’t fall in this category — while he may have inserted his subjectivity into his interpretation of the data, that’s an inescapable feature of what it means to do sociology. But this is a relatively trivial issue of semantics.

      2) Fair enough, I misapplied the word ‘censorship.’ However I think you’re missing the core of my claim here, which is that excluding entire sets of viewpoints from consideration is unjust. Censorship is one method for excluding viewpoints, but it isn’t the only one — you’re right. I’m discussing a method of exclusion which is analogously unjust, but technically distinct. Good catch.


  5. You had me until you called Kaplan a bigot. In the spirit of allowing all defensible points of view to be considered in an academic forum (what you champion in this piece and your last), you could have said “I read Kaplan’s opinion, and respectfully disagree, and here’s why.” Instead, you insisted on calling her a bigot. We’re not in second grade, can’t we disagree without name-calling?

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