Posted by Brad @ 4:20 pm on May 14th 2012

So What’s John Derbyshire Up to These Days?

Don’t ask. I suppose it’s sort of inevitable that a guy with Derb’s constitutional and inescapable predication for being provocatively oppositional means that he would just be unable to resist doubling down and digging himself deeper, but man. He’s gone from a “I sort of get what you’re trying to do here but what you’re actually doing is revealing more about yourself than the subject” discussion about behind-closed-doors conversations on race, to full-on white supremacy. I’m really just not even sure what else to call it. And for a guy going through chemo right now, at his age, and for his legacy to wind up being defined by this, it’s all just really sad.


  1. What a pathetic little douche he has become. Or always was.

    Comment by Jack — 5/14/2012 @ 10:21 pm

  2. He seems to feel liberated to speak his mind. That’s a better way to end your life than to go to your grave spouting a party line you don’t believe in.

    Comment by Rojas — 5/14/2012 @ 10:37 pm

  3. I would think that going to the grave not being a bigot would be preferrable.

    Comment by Jack — 5/15/2012 @ 10:26 am

  4. I dunno, man. It seems to me that most of the sentiment expressed towards Derb is of the “shut the fuck up” variety. Maybe Derb will end up in that George Wallace place where he realizes he’s been on the wrong side of history and dies smarter; that doesn’t happen, though, unless his sincere beliefs are out there in the open, and unless people engage with them.

    Brad is saddened that he’s speaking his mind. I’m not.

    Comment by Rojas — 5/15/2012 @ 12:03 pm

  5. I’m saddened that he’s going out defined by this, which is a different thing–although there is a bit of what Jack mentions, so perhaps I’d rephrase and say I’m saddened that this is the mind he wishes to speak. That is includes both hypothetical minds (those in which Derbyshire is not a racist) as well as non-hypothetical minds (those in which Derbyshire has other thoughts and ideas beyond whether it’s okay to act inherently prejudicial against non-White Europeans).

    I should even add a third possibility–that John Derbyshire is not actually as racist but that he’s so inclined towards contrarian game-playing that he’s painted himself into a corner and is choosing to keep painting rather than thoughtfully reflect. As you well know, professional arguers often grab onto a position like a pitbull and get taken with the instinct of running with it madly even long past the point where it is useful or even true/believed, and I suspect that some of that is the case here. Where you argue a position that you believe in mostly and at least think is worth advancing, somebody counterpoints, you counter-point to that counterpoint, and after a dozen or so iterations you’re left defending a case that doesn’t look remotely like what you started with and, had it been presented to you cleanly in the beginning as a possible case, you’d have fobbed off on immediately as impossible or undesirable to defend. I suspect a little of that has happened here—there’s only so much doubling down you can do before your position is roughly x100.

    And maybe a fourth. I think a lot of people have a lot of thoughts, many of which they don’t act on, many of which are unexamined, and many of which maybe are acted on or are examined but which aren’t shared. That act of not sharing is not cowardice, anymore than over-sharing is “staying true to yourself” or “keeping it real“. I have thoughts all day long that I will never say to people (part of that is being a Midwesterner, I think), either because those thoughts are errant, neurotic, distasteful, antisocial, whatever. I could pick one at random, put it out in the world, and go to war under its banner—but mostly I just think “God, people like that trailer park lady in line ahead of me buying cheese doodles and lottery tickets with food stamps should die–we’d all be so much better off” or “Chinese people shouldn’t be allowed to drive!” after getting cut off in traffic or “Somebody should beat that kid—he could use a good ass-whoopin!” (or “I can’t believe that parent is whapping that child and cursing at him—she should have him taken away from her”), or whatever, and let the thought waft away in the wind. I don’t write a book about it, or take it as a sign that there is some greater truth behind it that I need to evangelize, and I certainly don’t try to organize my conscious thinking (and life’s work) around it. Frankly, if I had to articulate those thoughts out loud and was challenged on it, it would turn out I didn’t really believe that thing in the first place—but it’s also human nature to want to justify justify justify and rationalize rationalize rationalize, as people don’t like admitting that a good 25% of their thinking in the best cases is just kind of crazy neurotic garbage.

    Those last two points could be viewed as giving Derbyshire a lot of benefit of the doubt, I guess—and maybe it is, although really I tend to view a lot of human failings in those kinds of ways. But in any event, I don’t believe that Derbyshire has nothing to say. I don’t believe that the critical kernel in his thinking on the subjects he chooses to write about—conservatism generally—is is racism. I don’t believe that a person is defined entirely or even primarily by their greatest failings. I frankly don’t even believe, in Derb’s case, that he spends nearly as much time thinking about race as everybody will in relation to him. But, that’s the mind he wished to speak, so that’s the mind that people will know John Derbyshire for, and again, I think that’s a shame—for his sake.

    Comment by Brad — 5/15/2012 @ 1:57 pm

  6. If in your last years, while still of sound mind if not body, you come out in favor of a rather startling set of beliefs, I think it perfectly fair to review your life’s work through a lens of skepticism, one that looks for signs of how much your views were reflected or colored by the extremism you copped to in the end. Its not like Derb never said things that hinted rather strongly to this type of thinking in the past. His supporters and readers that objected consoled themselves with the belief that it was at a reasonably low grade. But if you choose as a follow up to your openly racist manifesto to take on a twilight career writing for an openly bigoted organization, then why am I somehow obliged to ignore all that as not particularly relevant or critically important to your life and work?

    Comment by Jack — 5/15/2012 @ 6:46 pm

  7. Oh, that’s not a critique on Derb’s critics, at all. Although I will add that it’s not like people are going to thoughtfully review his voluminous output on non-racial issues with this new lens and see which might be tainted and which still deserves independent consideration. That’s not really how this works. Rather, the people inclined to dismiss any of his views whatsoever now have a good reason to not seriously engage them and write them all off out of hand (with a “see, I told you so”), and the people for whom Derb might have clarified or crystallized or led towards valuable positions will do the same and move on. Again, that’s nobody’s fault but Derb’s, but on a human level I find that kind of sad, for both his sake and for the discourse generally. Where you are absolutely right is this does present a very clarifying moment regarding his previous thoughts on race. It’s just a shame – and again, I only really mean it on a human level (not a political one) that a sharp guy with a lot of interesting things to say has essentially written off his entire intellectual legacy in a way that makes this the central issue of his work and life.

    Comment by Brad — 5/16/2012 @ 10:47 am

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