Why we talk about “reality-based world”

Stupid is as stupid does – as Ta-Nehisi Coates lays bare in this withering response to a recycled apologia for racism appearing in the National Review.

His main point: Advising the assumption of criminality for all young black men one encounters fails not only because it is morally bankrupt, but because it is factually false. If the purpose of the advice is “safety,” it is not and cannot be effective. “That is not surprising,” explains Coates with great restraint, “given that this is the kind of advice which betrays a greater interest in maintaining one’s worldview than in maintaining one’s safety.”

The problem is the same with this world view as it is with the one that encourages parents to rely on filtering software to control what their children see on the internet. The problem is the same with the world view that insists “abstinence-only” sexuality education is the solution to teen pregnancy and STIs, and the one that believes LGBT people will disappear if only we can be denied equality, dignity and safety. Setting aside the obvious moral problems, they are wrong because they don’t work. None of these approaches can do the things they purport to do, because none of them have a basis in reality.

These are not, as some demand that they be framed, examples of “disagreement” in which one position has merit equal to its opposite. They do not even have the same frame of reference. In each case one position is evidence-based – founded on what is objectively true according to the experience and knowledge of the people who are in a position to have those things about a given topic – and the other is a theoretical abstraction whose only purpose is justifying or imposing a world view disconnected from fact and reason.

You can usually tell which position is the one not founded in the reality-based world. It is the one whose proponents never make an evidence-based argument, but rather focus on the proponents of the opposing argument and make appeals to emotion.

Hence you will see Eugene Delgaudio being repeatedly invited to respond to the charges against him in the Board’s Committee of the Whole and given unlimited time to make his arguments, but choosing instead to repeatedly complain that he has been denied the opportunity to respond to the charges against him because of political animus.

Or you will see commenter Barbara Munsey invited, when she objects to anything critical of Mr. Delgaudio, to make reasoned arguments from fact – but choosing instead to talk endlessly about the words other participants have used, or what she thinks someone else called her or him (even supplying her own words for this purpose that no one else has used).

When an argument is, in fact, stupid*, as was the essay in National Review, it is entirely appropriate to use reasoned argument to explain why it is stupid*. Coates has handily given us a model for doing just that.

There’s another commonality with these arguments that I’ll go into more at another time, but it’s worth noting, as did both Coates and Andrew Sullivan, that the National Review writer is recycling yet subtly altering the exact same argument made a year ago by “self-described racist John Derbyshire,” one so obscene that he was fired from the National Review for making it. Sullivan:

The difference is that Derbyshire tells his children to avoid all “blacks”, while Hanson focuses on advising his children solely about young black men. Any young black men they don’t know.

Is that the distinction National Review will now cling to as the acceptable face of prejudice?

* stu·pid: adjective \ˈstü-pəd, ˈstyü-\ lacking intelligence or reason; marked by or resulting from unreasoned thinking or acting

One thought on “Why we talk about “reality-based world”

  1. Elder Berry

    The National Review article was hideous as well as stupid. The criticism was justified and well-reasoned. Thanks for calling attention to it.

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