Wednesday, January 23, 2019

In defense of James Watson

Dear H-,

James Watson, the man responsible for discovering the structure of DNA and thus paving the way for entirely new branches of science, for whole fields of medicine, for new problems in ethics and a fresh perspective on mankind, has been stripped of his awards -- for not being Martin Luther King Jr.  The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, the lab Watson ran for decades and which he personally made famous, has publicly repudiated the ninety-year-old man for having the opinions of ninety-year-old men.


The opinion, in this case, was that all races aren't created equal.  He saw we had different noses, and seeing some of them were pointy and some of them were flat, decided some of us could have flat brains.  Not the nicest thing anyone's ever said but excusable in a geneticist.  The argument against it is that we are all the same -- that no differences among races exist in our brains, neither in size nor in the innumerable connections within it -- something which isn't only difficult, but impossible to prove.

We have the father of DNA but not the father of cognition.  We don't know why synapses firing makes us think one way or another, and as of yet have to read our behaviors instead of our CAT scans.  Our brains aren't quite good enough to understand our own brains.  We're working on it but we haven't quite conquered Alzheimer's, or depression, or anxiety, or autism.  Not all our thinking has even been progress.  The same year James Watson got the boot our intelligentsia were forcing us to say some men have vaginas.

This being said, it looks like humans haven't always been humans.  We know we came from somewhere but we can't agree where we're going, or that we're going anywhere at all.  We agree that we're changing and refuse to say any of us have changed.  Well, James Watson believes humanity is moving and he ventured a guess where we've moved.  He decided that somewhere, in the most mysterious and misunderstood part of the body, the part responsible for churning out voodoo and Hamlet and quantum physics and Communism, that some of us are different from others, and that these differences run sometimes in races.  Whether or not this is true is beside the point.  The point is that it's possible.  If what the evolutionists say is true, it's already happened to our genus homo -- and now we've shamed him for believing, as all intelligent evolutionists must believe, in the possibility of its happening again.  We told everyone to believe in evolution and then banned the man who said we're evolving.

What we can believe in is outcome.  We take a look at the world around us and know, without thinking too hard, that some of us must be geniuses and other men idiots, that some of us are kind and others are cruel; that a great chasm separates our sinners and saints, and that some are born to lead nations and others to flip burgers.  We see vast differences between races in outcomes.  We admit, further, that destiny is more complex than chemistry.  You can have the best brains in the world and the worst parents.  You can have the best ideals and be stuck in the ghetto.  The country you're born in is probably the religion you're born in.  You're a member of the majority or the member of the minority.  You might be sweet as molasses and ugly as a mole rat. All of these things contributing, in one way or another, to our destiny -- and confounding our explanation of it.  Simply put, we guess at who we are and why.  James Watson took his guess and found he was living in the wrong century**.  We ought to give him a break.  He isn't a monster.  He downplayed the other variables -- like we're downplaying the importance and complexity of genetics. 

What we can't fault him for is his eyeballs.  It's entirely possible, in the present society, that the black people he worked with were sub-par.  At least he says they were.  Maybe they got their jobs from affirmative action -- our fault, not the black race's.  Maybe they failed to inspire him, or to lead to any meaningful scientific conclusions.  Maybe his assistant threw the wrong papers in the trash, or showed up late for work.  Maybe James Watson wakes up in the morning, finds black people listening to Lil' Yachty and never Beethoven, and concludes that something must be wrong with them.  Does this make something wrong with him?  He sees Childish Gambino's This is America praised in the New York Times, and finds Beyonce twerking in the Louvre and barking unintelligibly.  He sees millions of black people, old and young, educated and ignorant, in high stations and low, worshiping her for making this "bold and brilliant" performance next to creations of actual boldness and brilliance -- and decides said legions of people who adore her must be inferior.  Is this his fault, or theirs?

I don't deny that black people, in these United States of America, many times at least, have a better excuse than black people in Africa.  I'm well aware that they were brought here on slave ships, many times kept from reading, told they were inferior, emancipated into indigence, barred from getting good jobs, beaten at random by police, herded into a prison-for-profit system, released into the worst ghetto, dropped in-and-out of bad schools, have been terrified of the black world and kept in it by the white -- that these people, some of the most oppressed in modern history, have suffered more and many times worked harder and gotten less from a society that at least historically has hated them.  To expect large numbers of renaissance men from any such society isn't just unfair, but insane.  But when you see Lil' Pump or Beyonce or Spike Lee or Valerie Jarrett placed at the forefront of black culture or politics, during the same life which saw Ronald Reagan, Ayn Rand, John Williams, and Steven Spielberg, who can blame James Watson entirely?

We know Rodgers and Hammerstein are unusual even for Americans, and that the average Yankee couldn't tell you what's in The Federalist.  We never said the average white man was a genius.  But Africa never made The Federalist.  They never made anything remotely like The Sound of Music.  James Baldwin, grandfather and patron saint of Black Lives Matter, said he despised black people for not having any Rembrandts.  Is Watson any worse than Baldwin?  Watson never said he despised them.  This great genius of Western Civilization, to be remembered forever alongside Isaac Newton and Louis Pasteur, only questioned why they didn't have an Einstein.  It is black people's job to give us one -- not to throw Watson in a tower like Galileo.

Your father,
-J

PS: There are some things that need to be said here, first of all that I know black men who are great men.  Better than I am.  Stronger, more reliable, more useful.  Not smarter than me (I've only met two or three people who are) and certainly not more beautiful, but in all other ways better.  The best neighbor I've ever had is a black man.  I know Africans who work harder than me and are excellent American patriots.  Good solid Republicans.  Sharp people.  Not the majority (excellence by definition never is), but a few winners.  Ta-Nehisi Coates, despite his limitation to the field of racial controversy, is the best writer I'm aware of today.  He's a short-sighted devil but a great essayist.  What I've read of Zadie Smith's essays are thoughtful, beautiful, and inspiring.  Barack Obama, despite his selling us out at every possible chance, was one of the most gifted orators, outside of church, that Americans have had since Ronald Reagan.   Candace Owens and the Blexiteers mean the black race's days may very well be ahead of them.  And then we have the historical greats -- Frederick Douglass -- W.E.B. Dubois -- Ella Fitzgerald -- George Washington Carver -- Louis Armstong -- Martin Luther King Jr. -- people of force and brilliance and dignity in general.  The black race may be down for the moment, but they aren't without their geniuses too.  The problem is, most of their geniuses are stuck dealing with the racial question -- something central to their existence, and peripheral to ours.  They're thus more valuable to themselves than anybody else. 

*Ben Franklin once told his friend, who was attacking the foundations of religion, He who spits against the wind spits in his own face.  As I've said before there's a time and a season for everything -- including speaking your mind.

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