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November 16, 2006

Webb of Confusion

This, on Webb's populism, strikes me as quite right:

Let me try to explain it succinctly. Those who've grown up among the Ulster diaspora are particularly prone to taking sides, to looking at the world as a battle of "us and them". When voting, they're not really looking at what a candidate is for, but rather who a candidate is for. Right-wingers have successfully wooed Ulsterites by characterizing "them" as San Francisco liberals. Webb is arguing that the more appropriate "them" would be Wall Street profiteers.

True enough, and it's precisely that aptitude for target choice that makes Webb's election thrilling. Nevertheless, the racial undertones of his op-ed are troubling. The financial, journalistic, and political elite certainly come in for a lashing. But I got the distinct impression that Webb was also hinting at a Protestant-Jewish overclass that was promoting, on eugenic grounds, the interests of Asians and South Indians while blocking Mexicans, Blacks, and Scots-Irish. But as I said, it's vague stuff, so I'll leave it to individual interpretation. What do you make of this graf?

an unspoken insinuation seems to be inundating our national debate: Certain immigrant groups have the "right genetics" and thus are natural entrants to the "overclass," while others, as well as those who come from stock that has been here for 200 years and have not made it to the top, simply don't possess the necessary attributes.

November 16, 2006 | Permalink


It could just be that he is pointing out how some members of our society are trying to justify their immense wealth and power as a matter of natural attributes. This would mean that they shouldn't be penalized for controlling so much of the country's wealth, because despite whatever evidence is to the contrary, they didn't acquire it from gaming the system.

I'm not sure if the foregoing makes much sense, but that puts it right there with Webb's graf, I guess.

Posted by: Stephen | Nov 16, 2006 12:46:19 AM

Sounds perfectly reasonable to me. Obviously I can't rule out some dog whistle that I don't know about. But it sounds like a straightforward description of what Bell Curve right-wingers appear to believe.

Posted by: hf | Nov 16, 2006 12:55:11 AM

Do Bell Curver right wingers believe Scots-Irish are dumb? As that's who the last clause is referring to.

Posted by: Ezra | Nov 16, 2006 12:59:00 AM

You should read more Steve Sailer. Asians and Jews are high IQ groups, whites are average IQ and blacks and latinos are low IQ groups. So if you believe IQ is innate and that it is natural for society to favor high IQ individuals then a sort of racial hierarchy is inevitable. Webb is reacting against this but on what grounds is not precisely clear. Obviously the whole subject is very sensitive.

Posted by: James B. Shearer | Nov 16, 2006 1:04:49 AM

Why do you think the last clause is referring to Scots-Irish? As I said in the earlier thread I think in context it is a clear reference to black Americans. As far as I know Bell Curvers have nothing in particular against Scots-Irish.

Posted by: James B. Shearer | Nov 16, 2006 1:08:23 AM

Ezra said -

Do Bell Curver right wingers believe Scots-Irish are dumb? As that's who the last clause is referring to.

Absolutely, at least among the more "intellectual" of them, who are capable of distinguishing that caucasians come from a variety of racial backgrounds too. I have known a few people who don't even think it's particularly racist to believe that some races have an inherent, genetic predisposition towards more or less intelligence, honesty, the whole gammit of skills and abilities. And a few of them had no trouble putting the Irish into the catagory of lower intelligence. Though they would add, that their strength is in sheer physical strength and endurance, as though generalizing them with some "positive" traits, makes it ok to generalize them with negative ones.

Folks who take that mentality to the level that you see in Webb's descriptive, attempt to generalize skill-set, racialy/ethnicly across the board. To a small degree, I think this is with some eugenics in mind. I think though, that the "elite overclass" being insinuated, is based more on social theorists who place too much emphasis on genetics than any attempt at practical public policy. Certainly we musn't forget the insane attempts at eugenics as public policy, our own country delved in, in the fifties, but to take people like that too seriously is a mistake. That said, I would have thought the same thing about womens rights before the last six years happened.

Posted by: DuWayne | Nov 16, 2006 1:34:10 AM

Seems pretty straightforward to me: european immigrants are fabulous individuals whose success is natural and deserved, while the other kind, including the kind that came here in chains, are too dumb to make progress.

Posted by: craigie | Nov 16, 2006 1:36:01 AM

the scots irish have been here a lot longer than 200 years--they were shipped over here in indentured droves very early. I don't think it necessarily means them. I also don't think it can mean, on its face, the jews since they, too, have been over here for more than 200 years. I think "genetics" is a code word for "race" but I don't think it makes sense to see this as also being a code word for "jewish/protestant" overlords.


Posted by: aimai | Nov 16, 2006 2:15:57 AM

I think the genetics and eugenics arguments are just ways for the simpleton to look at life. In reality there are too many variables that make us who we are, and to boil them down to just genetics is just silly. Even if genetics were the sole factor, just those alone are too complex for most people to generalize. Jews, Blacks, Latinos, are all quite varied in a genetic sense. Some subgroups within them are even known for their genetic individuality like the askanazie jews.

It boils down to people who may be experts in one field, say economics, foreign policy, or politics writing papers to change the world. They want a simple way to explain why so many asians are in my physics and math classes, so many latinos are at the drive through.

It plays nicely to our ego to think that any success that the majority have is genetic, and shared by the rest of us. While at the same time it frees us from any responsibility if the other groups just have a genetic predisposition to low class status.

generally its crap.

Posted by: david b | Nov 16, 2006 3:20:36 AM

to paraphrase gertrude stein, a redneck is a redneck is a redneck.

iirc, ezra, you were born and raised in southern california and now live in d.c. therefore, you weren't surrounded by scots-irish.

thank your deity that you weren't. they aren't the biggest ethnic group in central indiana, but they have large numbers.

they often tend to be belligerent, willfully ignorant and resentful of anyone not like them -- or who they see as higher than them in the social-economic ladder.
they share too much of a mindset with richard nixon, except he was a lot smarter than they are.

and it isn't genetics that make them that way -- it's ethnic group solidarity.

you hard-core democrats may cheer on webb's election to the senate over allen, but to me, he was truly the lesser of two evils.

there's a saying in central indiana -- you can take the billy out of the hills, but you can't take the hills out of the billy.

and it surprised me that paul gigot and those slime in the wsjb opinion department ran his essay. i guess they think the enemy of my enemy is my ally.

Posted by: harry near indy | Nov 16, 2006 5:23:53 AM

Gertrude Stein is spinning in her grave at the use to which you put her words, bigoted asshole.

Posted by: NBarnes | Nov 16, 2006 5:52:54 AM

By calling the attitude he describes as a stealth force in the national debate, Webb is pretty clearly implicitly criticizing it. It's true that Webb is trying to identify a common cause between poor whites and poor minorities by criticizing a pernicious Social Darwinism, but he's not criticizing all the winners in this elitist vision, just those who subscribe to the vision.

Posted by: apantomimehorse | Nov 16, 2006 5:57:16 AM

It seems obvious to me he's criticising the point of view that says, for example, Asians and WASPs are inherently "good immigrants", whereas other groups are feckless and lazy. And that because these differences are inherent, the inequalities between ethnic groups are natural and there's no point trying to rectify them.

I don't think he's trying to set the underclass against the overclass along ethnic lines. He's disputing the validity of the concept of an ethnic overclass at all. Certainly it's an attempt to bridge the divide between the white working class and the working class in minorities, but I don't think he's doing so in opposition to any particular ethnic grouping, except in so far as the people who espouse Bell Curve type ideas are of a given ethnicity.

Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Nov 16, 2006 7:25:06 AM

I've heard Webb talk of Scots-Irish in this context before, which is why I'm pretty sure he's referring to them. I could be wrong, but I don't think so.

Posted by: Ezra | Nov 16, 2006 8:13:46 AM

"What do you make of this graf"?

What I make of it is that we (and that includes me) have elected a novelist to the Senate.

Posted by: ostap | Nov 16, 2006 8:39:19 AM

thank your deity that you weren't. they aren't the biggest ethnic group in central indiana, but they have large numbers.

they often tend to be belligerent, willfully ignorant and resentful of anyone not like them -- or who they see as higher than them in the social-economic ladder.
they share too much of a mindset with richard nixon, except he was a lot smarter than they are.

and it isn't genetics that make them that way -- it's ethnic group solidarity. "

lol I don't know if I should agree or condem. My family and I are moving out of Indiana. We just got tired of hearing "I'm not a racist, but those blacks..."! Or the little extra effort make to be nice to my wife when they find out she is Jewish.

This is just perfect: "they often tend to be belligerent, willfully ignorant and resentful of anyone not like them". Willfully ignorant - yep.

Posted by: mickslam | Nov 16, 2006 9:15:52 AM

Someone may have mentioned this, but Scots-Irish people are overwhelmingly Protestant themselves. They don't call it Katholic Kentucky.

Posted by: aeroman | Nov 16, 2006 9:20:04 AM

Disclaimer: I'm one of "belligerent, willfully ignorant and resentful" Scots-Irish people myself.

Posted by: aeroman | Nov 16, 2006 9:22:42 AM

Even growing up as part of the Ulster diaspora it is not always easy to understand why we are like we are. Reading The Scotch-Irish by James Leyburn and Albion's Seed by Fischer helped me by putting my own family history into a broader historical and cultural context. I haven't read Webb's book yet but hope to do so soon.

I don't know if Bell Curvers think us dumb but I do know it doesn't help close the current cultural divide that the Scotch-Irish a/k/a rednecks, particularly southern rednecks, are one of the few, if not only, remaining groups that the pseudo-intellectual elite consider it politically correct to revile.

Posted by: Molly McRae | Nov 16, 2006 9:31:45 AM

EZRA! A Protestant-Jewish overclass? The whole point of Ulsterist Ressentiment is that the drunkard criminal Catholic peasants are destroying our sacred values by imposing the Pope's secret directions and flooding our schools with their dozens of illiterate children.

Posted by: Marshall | Nov 16, 2006 9:38:41 AM

Count me as among those who find efforts to explain & describe why & how certain Americans are the way they are by where they may have come from 200 years ago, a place they have zero in common with now, to be next to worthless.

Posted by: DRR | Nov 16, 2006 9:39:04 AM


Just think about GWB and how his grandfather went to Yale for a few minutes.

Posted by: mickslam | Nov 16, 2006 9:47:54 AM

I think Webb is saying that some bigots believe certain groups of immigrants are destined never to be on top of the pile, as are other ethnic groups -- like his own beloved Scots-Irish -- who have been in the U.S. for centuries, and entirely because they don't have the genetic makeup to succeed.

He's talking about the views of people like the late Al Campanis, who said blacks don't have "some of the necessities" to be effective managers (and, even more bizarrely, said something about their lack of buoyancy).

In the end, I think Webb's attacking the notion of a permanent underclass.

Posted by: peter snees | Nov 16, 2006 11:04:32 AM

I think he was trying to keep things generic. There are various ethnic groups who have high self-regard and disdain other ethnicities.

He's saying everybody should just cut this out.

Posted by: NotThatMo | Nov 16, 2006 11:16:49 AM

Webb's argument is against the establishment of an aristocratic class. As someone else post, he is not against wealth in general. He is against the kind of aristocratic class stratification that dominated Europe. I don't see this as confused or racist at all sense he includes everyone in there, and you are adding the differences through your own interpretations of what he said.

Posted by: akaison | Nov 16, 2006 11:20:16 AM

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