Monthly Archives: July 2020

Critical Race Theory

I first became aware of critical race theory when a commentator to a Psychology Today blog (cancelled after publication by a woke editorial staff) confidently demolished my arguments with the initials “CRT”. I was puzzled because to me, CRT stood for “cathode ray tube”, which seemed hardly relevant.

I soon discovered what CRT stands for:

CRT recognizes that racism is engrained in the fabric and system of the American society. The individual racist need not exist to note that institutional racism is pervasive in the dominant culture. This is the analytical lens that CRT uses in examining existing power structures. CRT identifies that these power structures are based on white privilege and white supremacy, which perpetuates the marginalization of people of color (Wikipedia).

CRT is apparently a third-stage derivative of Critical Theory, a mid-20th century movement derived from Marx and advocated by German writers Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer.  The second stage was Critical Legal Theory, a 1970s movement applying some of the same ideas to the study of law.

There is a huge CRT literature, much of written in impenetrable prose full of jargon and familiar words with new and often obscure meanings. But there is a way to evaluate this field and indeed any other that pretends to embrace all of human experience in a scientific way: What are its values? What are the facts with which it deals? And how good is the logic of its arguments? Boiled down to these fundamentals, CRT can be easily assessed.

Applied to standard social science — much of sociology, personality and social psychology — these questions can be simply answered: Values? Just finding the truth. Facts? Demographic data, results of experiments, randomized samples, etc. Logic? Well, just logic: “If A implies B, then produce A and see if you get B”, and so on.

CRT is different. Values?  Enhance the power of black and other “marginalized” minorities. Facts?  “Insistence on ”naming our own reality’”. A society’s “truth” is often just a way to exert power; truth has no independent existence.  Some “borrowing of insights from social science on race and racism”[1] is OK. But mainly, the emphasis is on ‘counter-story telling’ and personal experience. Logic? CRT undervalues logic; the term “racial logics” is sometimes used. Some versions of CRT even consider logic a feature of “whiteness,” as in White logic, White Methods[2].

In short, CRT is neither legitimate social science nor law in the Western tradition. It is a ideological politico-religious movement whose aim is not truth or understanding but power.  CRT is antithetical to science. It has no credibility in discussion of race.

[1] Richard Delgado (1990) When a story is just a story: Does voice really matter? Virginia Law Review Vol. 76, No. 1 (Feb., 1990), pp. 95-111.

[2] Tukufu Zuberi & Eduardo Bonilla-Silva eds. (2008)

A Platform for Activists

This correspondence relates to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education by Katherine Mangan. The article was highlighted by a picture of four rather grumpy looking young interviewees and headed: What College Activists Want.

From an editor: On 7/16/2020 11:44 AM, Rachel Mull wrote:

Dear Professor Staddon,

Katherine Mangan passed along your email. To answer your questions:

In the past several weeks, racial-justice advocates have gained widespread support for their cause, with sustained calls for change at institutions of all kinds. Colleges are likely to face pressure from student activists and their allies well into the academic year. This article gives Chronicle readers a window into the viewpoints of a few such students.

Additional Chronicle coverage of this movement offers analysis, and will continue to do so in the future. Criticism is the domain of The Chronicle Review [Here is a relatively balanced example.]

Thank you for reading.

Rachel Cieri Mull

Senior Editor

The Chronicle of Higher Education


Dear Rachel Mull:

Thanks for responding. I take your point about newsworthiness, and thanks for the link — which also seems to be promoting the activists’ cause.  My problem is that as someone who has worked in a US university for decades, I see little evidence for many of the claims these kids make and little or no representation of that point of view in CHED.  A couple of examples:

“it was a jarring reminder for Maliya Homer of how vulnerable she felt as a Black woman.” But the question is: How rational is it for Ms. Homer to feel that way on the campus of a university where such events essentially never occur? Does she need a course in statistics? In other words, is it her problem or ours? (Of course, it is a problem for government and law enforcement, but that is another matter.)

Tyler Yarbrough is concerned about Emmett Till, but who isn’t? I can’t imagine anyone who doesn’t deplore what happened. I suspect that the frat boys [“a photo emerged last year of fraternity members posing with guns in front of a bullet-pocked memorial sign to Till.”] were just reacting against the pressure to conform (has anybody investigated?). I well remember how I behaved as a college kid in less tumultuous times.

A confederate statue is just a statue; it doesn’t “say” anything. It means different things to different people. Many, myself included, don’t see those statues as anything more than relics of history reflecting the importance of the figure not his virtue.

What do southerners, white and black, really think? If only a minority see these statues as celebrating slavery and a majority see them as reminders of Southern history, then should the  minority, who see them as somehow supporting racism, automatically have their way — never mind the illegality of toppling?

“Among their key demands: Students need more minority faculty, staff, and administrators they can feel comfortable confiding in and seeking advice from.” Knowledge has no color; white kids have sought comfort from black nannies in ages past; why should not black kids do likewise with whites?  Segregating students and faculty by color turns history on its head, and is racist besides.

I could go on. The point is that these are emotional and contentious issues. They should not be presented without a context. Perhaps next time, if you pick four students, there should be two on each side of the debate.

John S.

Possum’s Handy Guide to Wokeness

Rational people in Western society have been puzzled in recent years by a series of disturbing words, some new, some old with new meanings.  Information and analysis is now available to help the ‘unwoke’ to appreciate, if not fully understand, these powerful new concepts. Our account might even interest the occasional ‘wokester’ who has a side-interest in reason. The  guide follows:


This has become a big issue in 2020. It was kicked off by black writer Ta-Nehisi Coates in a June 2014 Atlantic article. Are African Americans worse or better off than if they had remained in Africa with their ancestors ? REPARATIONS: Taking Ta-Nehisi Coates Seriously looks at the pros and cons of the idea.


“Aggression means “an intent to harm”; microaggressions are usually unintentional.  What are they then?  Microaggression, Mens Rea and the Unconscious Mind and It’s All About Power explain and Blinded with Science! If civil speech is violence, what is real violence? reassures the ‘unsafe’.


This paradoxical idea was mooted a few years ago by scholars of race and ethnic studies. Recently it has given birth to the racism vs, anti-racism dichotomy, aka “you’re either with us or against us”. The New Racism, Part I: How ‘Race and Ethnic Studies’ Made Color Blindness a Bad Thing and The New Racism, Part II: The Sociologist’s Toolkit: Justifying Racism Through Language explain what is going on.


Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (appropriately: DEI) have become a new religion among administrators everywhere, from schools and colleges to big business: “demographic diversity is a proxy for perspectival diversity…” says one historian of science. Well, no it’s not: Diversity and Inclusion of Identity Groups Often Means Uniformity and Exclusion of Ideas and  Is Diversity an Enemy of Excellence? explain why.


This has become a popular theme and a very successful book, but as social science (as opposed to propaganda), it is nonsense.  A parody, Did the Hoaxers Do Anything Wrong? shows that white fragility is a meaningless insult.


This has become a biggie. Now systemic racism is everywhere. We all know about individual racism: how is systemic racism different? Does it even exist?  How Real Is Systemic Racism Today? , The New Racism: How activism and pseudo-science have corrupted sociology and Response to Vicky: Is racism everywhere, really?


How can we recognize prejudice? It isn’t always easy.  Is stimulus generalization prejudice, or just an automatic learning process? Offense intended? Or not? gives an example.


A powerful new social-justice philosophy that proves and empowers: “My ongoing general motivation for the past twenty years or so has been to help with the project of unwhitening mainstream political philosophy…” says Charles S. Mills, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the CUNY Graduate Center.  For more see…

The New Racism: How activism and pseudo-science have corrupted sociology

This post originally appeared on the Psychology Today blog in May 2018, but has been deleted for reasons unknown.

Roseanne’s crack that “they’re just like us!” [is] an allusion to the bland family sitcoms of the nineteen-eighties, when syrupy, anti-racist “very special episodes” dominated prime-time comedy … treating color blindness as a virtue.
From the New Yorker, April 4, 2018, before the defenestration of Roseanne Barr. [my emphasis]

Martin Luther King wanted his children to be “…judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character…”. That’s color blindness: treating people as individuals not as representatives of a race.  How is color blindness not a virtue?  Is it racist now? Where on earth does such an idea come from?

The answer is ‘race and ethnic studies’ which pops up in several traditional disciplines, such as cultural anthropology, political science, social psychology and sociology.  The problems I will describe infest all, but I will focus on sociology, where MLK’s idea of color blindness has been turned on its head.

Sociology began as a science. Max Weber, Émile Durkheim and other founders of the field insisted on objectivity: empirical measurement and logical argument. Remnants of that tradition remain, but a non-scientific movement now threatens to take over.  

Sociology is complex because it necessarily intersects with psychology, economics, politics, anthropology and even evolutionary biology. Sociologists are no smarter than other social scientists.  No one could possibly master all these disciplines. It is no surprise then, that this mélange has evolved in directions that often have little connection with one another.  As we will see, the activist branch that studies race and ethnicity has explicitly abandoned any allegiance to science.

Contra Karl Marx, science is about knowledge, not action. But politics is part of sociology, which means that straying from the scientific straight and narrow is all-too-easy: from scholarship to social justice is but a single step.  For Marxists the point is not understanding the world, but changing it — by politics and, if necessary, by force. Scholarship and science have become tools for activism in the branch of sociology I will call CBR (“color-blind racism”, from the subtitle of a book by Bonilla-Silva, discussed below).

Color-blind racism

The study of race and ethnicity is possibly the dominant, certainly the most visible, part of contemporary sociology (‘gender studies’ is a close second). Most Americans believe that color-blindness is the civil-rights ideal.  The new CBR movement in sociology, on the contrary, believes that color blindness is itself racist..

How can color blindness be racist? The claim makes sense only if one accepts the CBR conceptual framework, which is tough because while claims and allegations are many, facts are few. Indeed, the elements of this kind of sociology are not facts of the usual social-science sort: surveys based on random samples, verifiable measures of achievement, interests or ability, family size, income or other demographic information.  Instead, interviews, stories, anecdotes, non-random samples are the norm. There is even something called “snowball sampling” which finds people by going from one interviewee to a friend to friends of friends, and so on; about as non-random a process as you can get. It is obviously impossible to generalize from a snowball sample to the population at large, Yet, a typical study generalizes from a snowball sample of black professionals to black professionals as a whole.

CBR arguments don’t proceed from factual premises to logical implications. They are usually more like claims or assertions than logical inferences. They are comprehensible only by those who have taken the time to learn the vocabulary of “frames”, “discursive analysis”, “story lines”, “narrative” and the like. They are qualitative not quantitative, closer to postmodern philosophy, to (biased) journalism and to literature, than to empirical science.

Here is a typical claim (from a 2015 New York Times Opinionator piece entitled  “American Racism in the ‘White Frame’”):

“To understand well the realities of American racism, one must adopt an analytical perspective focused on the what, why and who of the systemic white racism that is central and foundational to this society.”

Here is another:

“color-blind racism is theorized as covert and highly institutionalized. As such, analyses of contemporary racial reproduction often emphasize the structure of colorblindness, particularly the habitual routines and discursive patterns of everyday white actors … this work may conceal whites’ innovation in reproducing, revising, and at times resisting white supremacy and corresponding logics.”

“White frame”? “White supremacy?” “White logics?”  The systemic racism of color blindness is simply assumed; no proof seems to be needed.

CBR conclusions frequently violate longstanding legal doctrine such as mens rea, the idea that intent is necessary to prove guilt. Color-blind racism is unconscious, but whites are guilty anyway. Some claims are simply political and not scientific at all, urging action by government, companies or institutions. These ideas are the topic of academic books in multiple editions; they are promoted not just through writing and teaching, but by educational as well as non-educational methods: by curriculum design (down to the K-12 level), by policy diktat from sympathetic administrators (‘implicit bias’, ‘hate and bias’ inquiries, ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ training and the like), by ‘no-platforming’ intimidation and exclusion of contrary views by agitators, and sometimes by ‘Antifa’ and violent demonstrations.  Just where this activism leads, I will get to in a moment.

Definition of ‘color-blind racism’

According to CBR doctrine, color blindness is any attempt to explain racial disparities by means other than racist discrimination. “This ideology [color blindness]… explains contemporary racial inequality as the outcome of nonracial dynamics”, writes Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, distinguished professor of sociology at Duke University, and currently president of the American Sociological Association, in the fourth edition of his book Racism without Racists (a title rather belied by his frequent use of the term “color-blind racists”).  In other words, CBR assumes, without proof, that non-racial factors are irrelevant, so that any attempt to draw attention to them is ipso facto racist.


 Color blindness is a racist weapon that works, somehow, through whiteness, which seems to be a whole scheme of thought. Whiteness is part of systemic racism: “Exposing the Whiteness of Color Blindness” is a chapter subhead in Bonilla-Silva’s book.  Whiteness is as real an identity as blackness. Neither whiteness nor systemic racism is measurable in an objective way.

Whiteness, “the practices of the ‘new racism’— the post-civil rights set of arrangements that preserves white supremacy”, is apparently hegemonic: “I contend that ‘color-blind’ ideology plays an important role in the maintenance of white hegemony” writes Ashley “Woody” Doane,  a leading ‘whiteness studies’ advocate. ‘Whiteness’ is employed as a method of maintaining control over other groups by the ‘dominant culture’. “Challenging white hegemony” is a major motif for ‘whiteness studies’.  Only race traitors, “whites who do not dance to the tune of color blindness” can escape from whiteness. Color blindness is part of the whiteness strategy and is therefore racist.

Whiteness is also unconscious. A former student of Bonilla-Silva’s raised the obvious question “How does one test for the unconscious?” but, like Bacon’s Jesting Pilate, Bonilla-Silva stayed not for an answer. Others have tried; there is something called the ‘implicit-bias’ test which pretends to measure unconscious processes. But it has little or no scientific basis, despite the existence of a Harvard University web site.  It has been widely administered for some twenty years nevertheless.

Above all, whiteness is a bearer of privilege. The term itself adds nothing new: white privilege is just the same as black un-privilege; to discriminate against blacks is to privilege non-blacks. But the word is another way to make whites feel bad. Books and articles in this area are sprinkled with tendentious phrases like “the manifold wages of whiteness”, “white privilege”, “historically white colleges”, all to emphasize persistent, unjust advantages possessed by whites as opposed to blacks. Again, the injustice of ‘privilege’ is just assumed not demonstrated empirically. The few demonstrable examples of ‘black privilege’ such as affirmative action and ‘diversity’ policies, are either ignored or dismissed as ‘tokenism’.

Racial power

The CBR aim is to challenge all white supremacy: ‘supremacy’ based on competence or effort is not exempt. Bonilla-Silva continues, with remarkable frankness:

“[L]et me suggest a few of the political conditions necessary to fight color-blind racism… First, blacks and their allies would be the core of a new civil rights movement demanding equality of results… To launch a frontal attack on the “new racism” and its color-blind ideology, the black masses must be as racially conscious as the leaders of the new movement. In ideological terms, the movement must break with the hegemony color blindness has over all Americans” [my emphases]

Bonilla-Silva is a major voice arguing for the essential racism of ‘whiteness’ and the need to combat it through political action. In 2017 he said that

“Adding a few scholars of color to mostly white departments did not involve doing what sociology needed the most: restructuring the discipline and, more significantly, redistributing racial power… it has not lead [sic] to changes in sociology’s curriculum; nor has it involved changing our sociological methods…. Another way of doing sociology is possible because critical, engaged, and, indeed, more ‘political’ sociologists are the majority. We might not be at Harvard, Princeton, Wisconsin, Columbia, Michigan, or Chicago, but we have power in our numbers. Although mainstream sociology rules, there are more sociologists who want to be engaged and do ‘liberation sociology’.” [my emphases].

It seems that power is at least as important to CBR as racial equity — and more important than empirical verification.

And why should the problems and methods of sociology change with the racial composition of scientists? Bonilla-Silva’s frequent references to “white logic” and “white methods” are unpleasantly reminiscent of what was once called “Jewish physics” (Jüdische Physik) in Nazi-era Germany.  Bonilla-Silva is untroubled; he feels that sociology is insufficiently comprehensive because “we made a pact with the devil of ‘objectivity.’”  This is a frontal assault on a basic assumption of all science: that scientific knowledge is universal. There is not, cannot be, a ‘Jewish physics’ — or a ‘white sociology’.

The black identity

Whiteness is “socially constructed”, which “means that notions of racial difference are human creations rather than eternal, essential categories. As such, racial categories have a history and are subject to change”. Are all racial categories “socially constructed” and “subject to change”, as Bonilla-Silva claims? Are all equally valid?  ‘Blackness’ may be different. The early black sociologist W. E. B Du Bois wrote in a dreamy Emersonian style about what he saw as a division — permanent, he thought — in the minds of African Americans:

“The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife… to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He does not wish to Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa; he does not wish to bleach his Negro blood in a flood of white Americanism, for he believes—foolishly, perhaps, but fervently—that Negro blood has yet a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American…”

The idea that there are intrinsic and possibly unbridgeable mental differences between blacks and whites, between white and Negro ‘blood’, was plausible in 1897.  It was on the back burner for several decades. Now the permanence of this division seems to be denied by Bonilla-Silva who calls the racial categories socially constructed and subject to change.  So, a hopeful omen, if there is conflict between “whiteness” and “blackness” it may perhaps be resolved peacefully.


Multiculturalism is an alternative to hegemony. Its unstated premise is that different cultures — identities — can live together peacefully. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines it thus:

“[P]roponents of multiculturalism reject the ideal of the “melting pot” in which members of minority groups are expected to assimilate into the dominant culture in favor of an ideal in which members of minority groups can maintain their distinctive collective identities and Practices.”

Multiculturalism is a utopian project, in the sense that it assumes different cultures can co-exist without restricting the freedom or warping the identity of any one.  This may be true for some small set of closely related cultures. But as a general rule it is nonsense. The Jews could not co-exist with the Nazis and cannot reconcile with the Islamists; people who believe in the subjection of women cannot peacefully coexist with Western culture. Gay-marriage advocates cannot live with devout Christians. Anti-colonialists cannot co-exist with anyone who points to positive features of colonialism. Du Bois himself thought that Black and White were “two warring ideals”. In other words, in most cases of cultural admixture the two cultures must either compromise, separate or let one win out.

Is a peaceful multiculturalism compatible with CBR’s racial agenda? If, as Du Bois so passionately claims, the black identity is inbuilt, perhaps it cannot come to terms with “whiteness”? Or perhaps, as Bonilla-Silva contends, identities are socially constructed, hence malleable, so the ‘identities’ of black and white could perhaps fuse in some sort of compromise. But many voices both black and white don’t want it to change even if change is possible. They resist “white hegemony”. This is the CBR view. Multiculturalism for them seems to mean either separation or eternal conflict.


In CBR social science the existence of racism tends to be just assumed, or proved by numerical disparities, even ridiculous ones such as an admission by a white interviewee that “He is not attracted to black women”. If none of that works, racism is related to a wider ‘systemic’ problem.

In off-the-record Atlantic comments, Ta-Nehisi Coates, perhaps the most visible black writer on these issues, repeatedly affirmed that if, say The New Republic, was at one time 100% white, then it was racist.  Apparently, racial disproportion proves racism. The fact that only one percent of Caltech’s student body is black, is therefore evidence of racism.  It is not just prima facie but proof positive of racism if blacks and whites are not employed/honored/paid in strict proportion to their proportion in the population. The fact that black women are actually paid slightly more than comparable white women goes unremarked.  Facts seem to be just a distraction to CBR.

Bonilla-Silva, a few years ago gave a talk entitled “Why can’t we just get along” at Brown University (where, in an aside, he assured his northeastern audience that Durham, NC, is “One of the most segregated cities in America” which is almost the opposite of the truth). He described two versions of racism. What he called the folk view is: The irrational beliefs some people have about the presumed inferiority of others.

Bonilla-Silva found the folk view to be inadequate in several ways, the first being that it

“Misses the fact that racism is “structural” or “systemic”, that is, racism is part of the social structure of society, hence we all participate in it and we all participate in it whether we like it or not and conscious and unconscious and in passive as well as active ways — and develop interests that fit our racial location. [emphases in original slide]”

So, like ‘whiteness’, systemic racism is unconscious. Whether they know it or not, white people are racist. Racism is the original sin of the white race.  Whites are a people eternally condemned. No proof is offered for an untestable and slanderous, not to say racist, claim.

Causes of racial disparities

The CBR sociology of race says almost nothing about measurable causes. A causal analysis of racial disparities might look like this: There are manifest inequalities between black and white: education, cognitive skills, crime and incarceration rates, income levels, family structure, etc. There are two kinds of cause for these differentials: exogenous, due to outside forces over which individuals have no control. And endogenous, factors under the control of the individual and his or her immediate family. The main exogenous factor is racial discrimination in employment, schooling and housing. The endogenous factors are behavioral group-differences between blacks and whites: individual interests, motivation, and ability, family environment. These endogenous factors are not entirely independent: motivation, interests and ability depend to some extent on family environment and education.

The allegation that looking for non-racial causes for racial disparities is itself racist has led to successful efforts to suppress research on, and even attention to, those non-racial causes. Endogenous factors — black-white behavioral differences in interests, abilities, family structure and motivation — all are “off the table” for CBR. Ta-Nehisi Coates, in the leaked Atlantic transcript, refuses to entertain the idea that blacks and whites differ in endogenous factors: “obviously that’s out of bounds for us”. Editor Jeffrey Goldberg concurs “No, we’re never running s**t like that, obviously”.

This is the liberal consensus. Discussion of these topics is widely acknowledged to be taboo, even by the pre-eminent scientific journal Nature, which rates research on genetics and intelligence “Taboo level: High” and race and genetics: “Taboo level: Very high”.  One researcher said he felt “ambushed” by discussion of his early findings on race differences: “My friends [including one co-author] said nothing” he reported. The vilification of race-and-IQ researcher Charles Murray has gone on since the publication of The Bell Curve in 1994.

Equality of results

The logic of the CBR argument is straightforward. There are no non-racial reasons for racial disparities. Ergo, without racism blacks, whites, Asians, etc. would be equally represented in every profession.  Consequently, “… blacks and their allies would be the core of a new civil rights movement demanding equality of results…To launch a frontal attack on the “new racism” and its color-blind ideology…the movement must break with the hegemony color blindness has over all Americans” says Bonilla-Silva [my emphasis].

This is a solution with which many CBR sociologists seem perfectly happy. Yet it is a proposition that will dumbfound most Americans, who can live with disparities providing they reflect merit, or even (within limits) inherited wealth — but not color or ethnicity. Few consider the NFL racist for favoring blacks, or Caltech for favoring Asians — because more blacks are good football players and more Asians are good techies.

Forcing equality of result is obviously unjust. It also presents a problem that apparently leaves CBR unfazed: achieving equality of outcomes requires coercion.  Under relatively free conditions, individuals will distribute themselves nonrandomly in different occupations.  The more able, energetic and motivated will tend to move higher in the hierarchy than less talented individuals. Energy, talent and motivation will not be the only factors, but they will be one set of factors. So, if there are racial-group-average differences in these attributes, there will probably be racial disproportion in the hierarchy of wealth, earnings and prestige.  Hence, the only way to eliminate disproportion is by force. If ‘equality of outcome’ succeeds, it will be accompanied by totalitarianism.

The new racism

So what is the new racism?  There seem to be at least three definitions: Is it the “color-blindness = white supremacy = racism”, that CBR sociologists attribute to the American people?  Is it the simple “race should not matter” ideal they actually believe? Or is it “equality of outcomes”, the proposal to abolish objective, non-racial measures of ability in favor of totalitarian racial apportionment of jobs, degrees and all other avenues to wealth?  Dear reader, you decide.

John Staddon is James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Professor of Biology, Emeritus, at Duke University. His most recent books are Scientific Method: How science works, fails to work or pretends to work. (2017) Routledge, and The Englishman: Memoirs of a psychobiologist. (2016) University of Buckingham Press.

Op-Ed: Worse than Bigotry: An incident in Wilmington

Cancel culture on the beach

Bigotry is bad. But the steps that must be taken to completely eliminate it are much, much worse.

Here is an example.  The conversation of three cops in Wilmington NC talking to one other in their separate cars was inadvertently recorded by the police system.  Their comments were picked up via a monthly video audit.  The comments were unpleasantly racist. The mildest involved one officer referring to a black woman and later a black magistrates as “negroes”. The officers also speculated about a possible coming civil war and “slaughtering them”.  Another officer apparently felt a civil war was needed to “wipe them off the (expletive) map.” A second officer told this one that he was “crazy: the recording ceased at that point.

The officers conduct was deplorable; no doubt about that. On their other hand, their conversation was intended to be private. The word “negro” was once the acceptable term for African-Americans. It was used by MLK and is still used by black charitable organizations like the United Negro College Fund.

The point is that racial language is so touchy that what is acceptable changes frequently.  You can see the same phenomenon in relation to mental handicap.  Once mentally handicapped people were just called “idiots”.  After the term idiot became unacceptable it was supplanted by “moron” (yes, the Greek-derived “moron” was for a while a gentler and more acceptable term than Middle English “idiot”). Moron in turn has been succeeded by a long list of euphemisms, the current favorite being “special needs.”  If a person or a condition is regarded as socially undesirable, the words used for it tend to change: as one word becomes stigmatized, another will take its place. This is just the nature of language,

Even if they were confused about the acceptable term for people of color, there is no doubt that the rest of the cops’ conversation was blatantly racist. The three officers denied that they are racists.  Their conduct was not public; in effect it was a “thought crime”. There is as yet no evidence that they acted publicly in the way their words implied (an inquiry is ongoing).

Nevertheless, before the results of an inquiry are in, all three cops have been fired.

Many people will regard this as a just punishment. They should reflect on what it means for society as a whole. Racism may be a sin. But the idea of “sin” is a Christian one and it comes along with the idea of redemption — and forgiveness.  The treatment of the officers is not only un-Christian, it is also chilling.

Hasty, arbitrary and severe treatment like this suppresses not just free speech but free thought. Perhaps that’s the idea, although I doubt the officers’ superiors thought much about that. Protecting their fragile fundaments was probably the main thing on their minds. But a more measured punishment would have let the officers and the public know that the Wilmington police department understands justice as well decency: decency of behavior and justice of punishment. As it is, they serve neither society nor themselves by caving to the mob.

John Staddon

Op-Ed: How to pay for it: Covid and after

Because of the covid crisis governments have incurred huge debts. How might they be repaid?

Some kind of tax must be imposed. Increasing existing taxes will be both unpopular and possibly damaging to the economy. How about a new tax? The place to begin to tax is activities which we want to discourage. Hence, existing taxes on alcohol and cigarettes which both raise money and deter an undesirable activity.

Social media has probably been a net cost to society during the current crisis. The internet is a huge benefits to scholars and other seekers after information. But, via social media, it has also amplified some of the worst tendencies in human nature and contributed to civil unrest. Social media are supported by advertising, information/scholarly sites, not so much.

So perhaps advertising is where should look to recover our debt?

A tax on internet advertising need not affect business adversely. Advertising is an arms race: the more you do, the more I must do in response. Almost any economic model will show that we have too much advertising. The advertising industry is “inefficient”.

So, perhaps some kind of tax on internet advertising would raise the necessary amount of money as well as reducing both advertising and, if properly designed, some of the malign properties of social media — and all without damaging economic growth.