"There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it's only a hundred billion. It's less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers." ~ Richard Feynman
The Supreme Court, our unelected and irrefutable legislature of nine, now ponders, or pretends to ponder, the legitimacy of racial discrimination in collegiate admissions. Oh good. One assumes of course that, with unrebuttable presumptuousness, they will merely dress their prejudices in constitutional-sounding awkward English. Still:
What is one to make of racial preferences?
First, some de-twaddling. The question before the Court is said to be whether race may be a factor in admission. This is not at all the question'and we all know it. The question is whether blacks should enjoy special privilege in admission.
Suppose that a college, using race as a factor, decided to give unqualified whites preference over qualified blacks. The federal government would bring its full punitive force to bear on the malfactorous institution. No matter how one may try to disguise it, no matter the weasel-wording and clouding and evasion, the issue, always, is special privilege for a particular race.
I know it. You know it. The Supreme Court knows it.
Second, the dispute has nothing to do with racism against blacks. The white population would, if polled, overwhelmingly support a policy of neutrality with respect to color. The bone in contention is special privilege. Nothing else.
Third, the prevalent racism is not intended as a temporary measure. There is never any talk among its advocates of phasing it out. They want it forever.
Regarding the Court, remember that high office does not of itself confer high competence or principled intention. I do not know how the Nine think, whether they have any particular principles, or even have real contact with the country they rule. One may wonder when any of them last rode a subway or put air in his own tires. They may, or may not, have any idea what they are doing.
Still, if I were among them, I would reflect on affirmative action (can there be a phrase more redolent of the used-car salesman?) thusly:
First, its continuance would illuminate the awful truth that the government is not an impartial institution of the people, but the special tool of some people. To put it clearly: My own government discriminates against me on grounds of race, and does so by law. It is a form of corruption worse than nepotism or croneyism. Nepotism, though it occurs, is disapproved. Racism is the legal bedrock of American politics.
How much damage does racialization do to the social fabric? I don't know. Certainly it gnaws at the loyalty to institutions that gives cohesion to a nation. People decide, as commonly happens in corrupt countries of the third world, to ignore the national government as being at best unresponsive or, in the case of affirmative action, hostile. They shift to local focus. They worry about friends, about their own, but cease to feel attached to the nation, or at least to Washington.
Come almost any election, we have gnashing of hands and wringing of teeth because people don't vote. Why should they? They know that policy is decided not according to the popular will, not according to cherished principles of equal access and opportunity, but according to race, creed, color, sex, and national origin. Resentment flows, lubricated by a sense of futility.
Another result of racial government is that blacks become'are'the focus of a widespread, federally suppressed contempt of which they are quite aware. The inevitable observation is that affirmative action is for losers. If you are good enough, you don't need it; if you need it, you aren't good enough. It's that simple.
Whites know about the large degree of racial privilege dispensed by the universities. Blacks know they know. While some blacks gain, others lose. A black doctor who has earned his degrees will find himself avoided by white patients, not because he is black but because he may be a Bakke case.
Racial preferences inescapably imply inferiority: All blacks with degrees will be presumed to have been given them because of pigmentation. It isn't fair. It is, however, reasonable, given that there is no safe way to check credentials or, having checked them, to act on the results. Might it not be better to hold blacks to normal standards and thus hold them in normal respect?
And doesn't racial preference set blacks up for failure? Consider. Suppose that I, a shiny white blue-eyed devil without too much hair, scored reasonably well on the SATs. I would be accepted only at schools with reasonably good SATs, not by Yale. If I were black, Yale would affirmative-action me. I would then find myself over my head, competing against far better students. The professors might pass me because of racial compassion, or I might hide in Black Studies, but the other students would know what was happening. So would I.
Is this what we want?
The peddlers of affirmative action make the point that universities engage in 'legacy' admissions'that is, they give preference to children of alumni, especially those who have buildings named after them. Usually these students are white. Is this different from racial preference?
Yes. The country is not wracked by division because an under-brained Rockefeller gets into Yale. Nor, crucially, is there a vast federal mechanism working on behalf of students named Rockefeller.
Of course another approach to admissions is possible. One might, if one could not be fired, ask why the government should meddle at all. Right now, universities are mad to collect black students. Why not let them? If a few universities chose to admit only highly qualified whites, or only qualified students, why not also let them? The government being incapable of impartiality, why not try something else? (We could call it, say, 'freedom.')
Maybe we should stop kidding ourselves. Little pretense remains that reason or morality has much to do with government. Everything is done by groups. It is said to be unconstitutional to burn a cross, yet constitutional to burn a flag. Why? Because the first offends blacks; the second, conservative whites. (Personally I couldn't care less about burning either.) Enormous pressure forced VMI to admit girls, yet Wellesley, admitting only girls, gets nary a hard word. Are black colleges forced to become 85% white? No. We believe in high principle, but only for some people.
It never stops. 'Deadbeat dads' are persecuted, pilloried, denied passports, imprisoned. Women who give birth to twelve illegitimate kids by several dozen fathers, none of whose names they can remember, are victims. Why? We all know. It is because we are a government not of men, not of laws, not of principle, but of sacred cows.