Excluding versus avoiding strangers

John Derbyshire, an American writer of British origin, attracted some controversy with his article The Talk: Nonblack Version published in Taki’s Magazine. In an article for The Atlantic titled Why John Derbyshire Hasn’t Been Fired (Yet), Elspeth Reeve quotes the following passage from Derbyshire’s original column:

(9) A small cohort of blacks—in my experience, around five percent—is ferociously hostile to whites and will go to great lengths to inconvenience or harm us. A much larger cohort of blacks—around half—will go along passively if the five percent take leadership in some event. They will do this out of racial solidarity, the natural willingness of most human beings to be led, and a vague feeling that whites have it coming.

(10) Thus, while always attentive to the particular qualities of individuals, on the many occasions where you have nothing to guide you but knowledge of those mean differences, use statistical common sense:

(10a) Avoid concentrations of blacks not all known to you personally.

(10b) Stay out of heavily black neighborhoods.

(10c) If planning a trip to a beach or amusement park at some date, find out whether it is likely to be swamped with blacks on that date (neglect of that one got me the closest I have ever gotten to death by gunshot).

(10d) Do not attend events likely to draw a lot of blacks.

(10e) If you are at some public event at which the number of blacks suddenly swells, leave as quickly as possible.

This article caused National Review to cut ties with John Derbyshire, as noted in an update to Reeve’s article.

I’m not interested in either defending or attacking Derbyshire’s claims, some of which strike me as defensible, others less so. However, what I’d like to point out is an interesting asymmetry in people’s sense of outrage.

In terms of actionable items suggested by John Derbyshire, the broad upshot is to avoid people whose demographics makes them likely to be dangerous. In other words, Derbyshire is advising his kids (and others who read his column) to incur a small personal cost to avoid the risk of a larger personal cost (for instance, the inconvenience of crossing the street on seeing a suspicious character, or avoiding going to an event because of a risk of violence). Derbyshire does not (at least in the article) advocate the use of state force or private violence to keep out people whose demographic characteristics (age, race, gender) or appearance/demeanor make him thing they’re more violence-prone. For instance, he suggests that “If you are at some public event at which the number of blacks suddenly swells, leave as quickly as possible” — not that you should call the police or a private mafia to have the blacks evicted. In fact, the only item in his list of suggestions that injures other parties is the item:

(10h) Do not act the Good Samaritan to blacks in apparent distress, e.g., on the highway.

However, if you believe that individuals don’t have positive obligations to strangers, this is at worst a minor offense.

Now, contrast this with the standard, and relatively uncontroversial, objections raised to immigration on account of harms to immigrant-receiving countries:

  • Some immigrants commit crime, so immigrants should be forcibly prevented from exercising their right to migrate by entering the country — even the peaceful, non-violent ones.
  • Immigrants vote the wrong way, so they should be denied entry, even though many of them aren’t interested in citizenship or exercising the right to vote. Even guest worker programs aren’t worth considering.

And many more.

What’s common between these is that the arguments forget that our foremost obligation to strangers is to not commit violence against them.

It’s telling that voluntarily avoiding strangers of one’s own nationality without imposing costs on others is considered more offensive, and worth critiquing, than supporting the use of coercive state machinery to forcibly exclude certain other strangers in a manner that imposes numerous costs on others.

4 thoughts on “Excluding versus avoiding strangers”

  1. Brilliant. Ever since I started thinking about immigration, the whole domestic debate about racism has come to seem rather surreal. Maybe some minorities are hurt by racial discrimination. It’s hard to say. But the harms from it are so negligible compared to the way our migration regime discriminates against the foreign-born that it seems strange to give it any thought.

    1. Come now, take a deep breath. Opposing illegal immigration does not automatically equate with hatred of ilelagl immigrants. One can certainly take the position that our immigration laws should be strictly enforced, while recognizing that most (not all!) of these immigrants are personally decent people trying to help their families out.But they should not break our laws to do so. Simple as that. Unless you know the hearts and attitudes of all the anti-immigration (really anti-ILLEGAL immigration) folks, you owe them the courtesy of not assuming bad intentions.

      1. Hi Azis,

        I cannot authoritatively speak for Nathan, but I don’t think either Nathan or I are asserting that hatred of illegal immigrants is the main cause of opposition to illegal immigration. The contention of this post and (in my reading) of Nathan’s comment was simply that state-enforced migration restrictions are a much more severe and consequential form of discrimination (regardless of the intentions behind such laws) than privately held racist attitudes.

  2. I agree. Brillant. Nice connection, also; I enjoyed how the conclusion wasn’t obvious from the start. I have to admit—and I detest how this allegation is throw around so lightly—it seems as though the foundation of anti-immigration is racism. What else could incite someone to, as a party external to this transction, forcefully keep two mutually benefitting economic actors from interacting? I would love to not think it’s racism.

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