Steve Sailer's groundbreaking AmCon feature on Presidential candidate and Illinois Senator Barack Obama is making waves in the blogosphere. Andrew Sullivan, who gets sixteen times Sailer's daily traffic, posted on it. Why does this 'obscure' writer get so much attention from numerous cultural giants? He's diligent, empirically-minded, and well-written. And I suspect his readers, while less numerous than some of the more 'mainstream' internet pundits can claim, have a per capita level of influence that makes them much more difficult to simply dismiss than their numbers alone would suggest.
Matthew Yglesias is upset by the one marginally approving thing Sullivan had to say. Yglesias is a predictable leftist blogger and staff writer for The American Prospect. In a recent entry he reports that more broadly-based NCAA basketball displays greater variance in skill level than the more selective NBA. Just like local residents taking to the track on a Sunday afternoon in suburban San Diego will display more variance in running ability than those who run in Beijing next year. Fascinating!
He trenchantly debunks Steve by arguing that most media figures haven't raised the same issues about Obama as Steve has. Really, that's the extent of his argument. Oh, and he admits to not having read Dreams, on which Sailer's essay is based.
Yglesias' comments section is long on mean-spirited personal attacks on Sailer, but, unsurprisingly, short on actual challenges to the content of Steve's feature. No big deal. Realists on human nature are used to such substanceless vacuity.
But as if posting on his home turf, with the vast majority of readers holding the same views he does, isn't enough for Yglesias, he is also actively barring comments from those trying to come to Steve's defense. Perhaps he saw how Gladwell was humiliated on his own website when most of the commenters who chimed in sided with Sailer when the two debated the effectiveness of car dealer price discrimination, and wanted to avoid a similar fate.
Here's what I attempted to add. It was, without explanation, twice rejected:
I haven't seen this much puerility since grade school.Squelching opposing viewpoints is, startlingly, a tactic frequently employed by many ideologues. It's conspicuously present in the debates on climate change and immigration, but that's not all that it pervades.
One can scarcely find a comment that isn't consumed almost entirely in ad hominem vitriol.
Dreams obviously raises questions about the post-racial Obama we've incessantly been hearing about, from none other than the Senator himself in his more recent book.
Matthew, unfortunately, hasn't read Dreams or even all of the Sailer piece he's discussing, so can offer little, other than to point to those in the media who've tirelessly boosted Obama's personae following the DNC speech in '04 and who have not speculated as Sailer has. That, of course, is as logically falacious as having smeared the minority of Americans who were opposed to the Iraq war in early '03,
pointing out that most did not come to the same conclusions that these naysayers had. Epicycles didn't beat Galileo, irrespective of who bought into them.
I wonder if he's read some of the reporting on Dreams as well. On his website, Steve excerpts from reports by Newsweek, CBS, and the Washington Examiner that all deal with how Obama's past contradicts markedly with what he says about his past today.
Where do commenters specifically disagree with Sailer? Have they even read his essay? Is it not interesting that Obama is primarily thought of as a black man in spite of the fact that he was raised and nourished almost exclusively by his white relatives, or that he is as biologically black as he is white?
How many are aware that Obama was captivated by a fervent black nationalist? Despite Sailer's repudiation of white nationalism, the commenters here pillory him for his supposed involvement in it, while seemingly denying Obama's self-described infatuation with black nationalism. Inane.
Just as many putative Darwinists are blithely unaware of the title of Darwin's most infamous work (and similarly ignorant of his 'follow-up', Descent of Man), so are many clueless didactics unaware of the full title of Dreams. Sailer didn't pin racial differentiation on Obama. Obama brought it up a decade ago.
It is, of course, Obama who unequivocally speaks of the humiliation he feels (or felt) in being white. Just as the ubiquitous but elusive 'ignorant southern tough' laments the black man stealing his white women, so Obama laments white women being attracted to black men. He's even apparently disgusted by his mother's doing this, despite the resulting procreation that brought Obama into the world.
Who before Sailer has has brought all these things to light? Why remain so purposefully ignorant of what has transpired, especially when it involves a potential future President of the US?
Obama very well may have morphed into a character much different than the self-portrait he paints in Dreams. In the words of Keynes, "When my information changes, I change my opinion." An epigone, I ask these commenters here who've not yet read either Sailer's essay or Dreams itself: What, sirs, do you do with new information?
Parenthetically, Karl [a particularly ridiculous commenter], do us a favor and look up the etymology of the word "eugenics". You may see that you, too, "advocate eugenic ideas" in some of the ways that Galton first considered them. We embrace such ideas with regards to a host of plants an animals. But in terms of the contemporary understanding of the word, do you also condemn a woman who chooses to abort a fetus with Down Syndrome? Or the vast majority of Chinese scientists who support eugenic practices for nationalistic reasons?
As frustrating as it must be to deal with such hateful intolerance, Sailer still comes out ahead. His article is getting lots of exposure. Many of his detractors are revealing themselves to be intellectually bankrupt--unfamiliar with the source material being dealt with, ignorantly attacking Steve for positions he doesn't hold, and blithely unaware that their 'defense' of Obama is being undercut by Obama's very own words. While Yglesias may be trying to stack the deck in his own favor by silencing those who don't echo him, Sailer's piece is made available nonetheless.
This instance is a microcosm of what is taking place on the internet at large. By allowing users access to limitless information and viewpoints without those who would try to destroy them for seeking it out being made aware, and conversely allowing purveyors of information and views to make them known anonymously or at least with some degree of physical security, is a monumental sea change from only a decade ago.
Similarly, access to web forums in real time allows for polemical Thermopylae. Instead of being verbally overwhelmed, a lone erudite and persistent person can outdo a hostile horde. He can repudiate each charge in the tranquility of his own home or office. Though the number of commentators may favor his detractors, even alone he can match their words tit-for-tat. Those silently taking in the spectacle can make up their own minds in a similarly tranquil environment. Exposed to what conventional omertas used to keep hused up, some are convinced immediately, and others change their minds over time.