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The Decentralized Totalitarianism of Today’s Anti-Racists

Anti-racism has emerged as a powerful movement in recent years, especially in 2020. Anti-racism goes beyond simple non-discrimination, and so while many Americans believe that our society has made progress in eliminating racial prejudice, anti-racists do not agree. At the grass-roots level, it manifests as Black Lives Matter (BLM), a movement that seeks to stir people who otherwise might be indifferent to deaths of young black men, especially those deaths that take place in confrontations with police. In the realm of ideas, the movement manifests as Critical Race Theory (CRT), which is promulgated by college professors, human resource professionals at large organizations, and even administrators and teachers in many K-12 schools. Within contemporary anti-racism, BLM and CRT are two important streams, which sometimes blend together.

Unfortunately, each of these two streams is poisoned by an untruth. In the case of BLM, the untruth is that young black men are often killed by police because of racism. In the case of CRT, the untruth is that white supremacy permeates American life, so much so that combating racism requires radical change in all of America’s formal institutions as well as its informal cultural norms. The centrality of these untruths to anti-racism, when coupled with their propensity to inflame passions, leads to an instinctive totalitarianism which rejects all attempts at correction or critical examination.

Black Lives Matter and the Myth of the Racist Cop

Incidents in which black men have died at the hands of police have come to figure prominently in our public discourse. In any such instance, how do we know whether the death was due to racism or to some other reason? It is impossible to know what is in the hearts of policemen. But here are some reasons to be skeptical about racism as a blanket explanation for all police shootings.

First, although blacks do account for a disproportionate share of those killed by police, in terms of absolute numbers, more whites are killed by police than blacks. Indeed, whites are the victims of over half of all police shootings. By definition, this tells us that most police killings are not motivated by anti-black racism. The whites who are killed certainly die for other reasons.

It might still be the case that all killings of blacks by police are motivated by anti-black racism. But it would be strange if other reasons accounted for so many police killings overall, but did not apply to any police killings of blacks.

Second, as years of publicized incidents show, essentially every police killing is preceded by a challenge to the policeman’s authority. This might involve resisting arrest, either intentionally or unintentionally failing to obey a policeman’s instruction, or acting in a threatening manner toward a policeman. We do not always know whether race is a motivating factor in any given incident of police violence, but we do know that it is not the only factor or even the most important factor. Indeed, in most cases, the challenge to a policeman’s authority is the preeminent factor.

Certainly, someone who challenges a policeman’s authority does not deserve the death penalty. And whatever penalty the person deserves, it should be handed down later by a court using due process, not administered at the discretion of the policeman on the spot.

But attempts to delegitimatize police authority in the eyes of the public inevitably backfire. Consider an imaginary society that insists that police never use physical force to obtain compliance. In such a society, if a suspect refuses to be arrested, he would later turn himself in or be tracked down and placed under arrest.

An obvious problem with such a policy is that it would give suspects a strong incentive to resist arrest.  To deal with this problem, the penalty for resisting arrest would have to be very high, especially for suspects who do not soon turn themselves in. Indeed, disobeying a policeman’s order would have an automatic, severe penalty.

But imposing a strong penalty for disobeying a policeman’s order has the potential to give power to police that they could abuse. What if a policeman’s order needlessly harms a citizen or violates the individual’s civil rights? This sort of abuse would have to be deterred, ideally by allowing the citizen to take the policeman to court. If the court agrees with the citizen, the citizen receives compensation and the policeman is punished. The punishment has to be sufficient to deter the police from harassing or abusing the rights of citizens.

We will not get closer to an ideal system of restraint, respect, and rights by spreading the lie that police violence comes from racism. Insinuating that police deserve less respect is no way to save black lives.

Such an imaginary system of criminal justice is not workable in our society as it actually exists. But it does suggest principles that should guide us. These principles are restraint, respect, and rights

Police should act with restraint in dealing with suspects. When a suspect resists arrest or runs away, it should be acceptable, depending on the level of risk that the suspect poses, to let the suspect escape, to be pursued later. Nonviolent but mentally impaired individuals should be dealt with gently.

Police also have to respect civil rights. Neither “qualified immunity” nor any other doctrine should permit police to get away with abuse of power. Although citizens should not challenge the authority of police on the spot, they should have recourse through the courts to seek compensation for civil rights violations and punishment of police who commit such violations.

Likewise, everyone should respect police. In addition to penalties for resisting arrest, there has to be strong community support for police. The check on police power should be the legal framework that governs police practice, not ad hoc defiance of police authority. 

We should work to improve that legal framework in order to promote restraint and rights as well as respect. Police should be given instructions, training, and incentives to help them to make good decisions in stressful circumstances. And again, there also need to be sanctions to deter abuses.

But we will not get closer to an ideal system of restraint, respect, and rights by spreading the lie that police violence comes from racism. Insinuating that police deserve less respect is no way to save black lives. It promotes a norm of challenging a policeman’s authority. If your goal is to reduce police violence, increasing the propensity to challenge a policeman’s authority is going to have the opposite result.

Critical Race Theory and the Myth of Structural Racism

Charges of racism against the police as well as a large and growing number of other institutions, receive their intellectual underpinning from Critical Race Theory. CRT is the doctrine that American life is suffused with racism. CRT says that because America has not been purged of this “systemic racism,” it will always be characterized by white supremacy.   

CRT is promulgated by self-described “anti-racists,” such as Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to be an Anti-Racist, and Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility. Rather than view racism as one of many imperfections that our society should seek to overcome, these authors treat racism as the very essence of America. This doctrine is what stimulated the New York Times’ 1619 Project, which sought to refocus the entirety of American history on slavery and racism. It led the Smithsonian Institution to create a poster (which was later retracted in the face of criticism) alleging that important social norms, including the scientific method and a work ethic, are the products of a “white-dominant” culture.

CRT blames any and all adverse outcomes for African Americans on systemic racism and white people as a whole. So, for example, when the proportion of blacks with high scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) is below that of whites, CRT asserts that the SAT is racist and must not be used by colleges in admissions decisions. But it seems likely that other explanations help account for the difference. Performance on a test in high school depends on many complex factors, including innate ability, family upbringing, peer characteristics, and educational experience.

One may claim that, regardless of the variety of causal factors affecting outcomes, when the outcome is on average less favorable for blacks, there must be some form of racism embedded in each and every causal factor. The term “systemic racism” is sometimes used in this way, to imply that only racism can explain such outcomes. 

Just as we cannot query what is in the hearts of policemen to know whether racism triggers police shootings of young black men, we cannot query society to know whether “systemic racism” causes adverse outcomes among blacks, such as lower SAT scores. But it is unlikely that everything can be traced to a pervasive, invisible force called “systemic racism.”

CRT’s proponents cannot be reasoned away from their position, because they presume that arguments are won on the basis of who has power, not on who has the better intellectual case.

Most Americans believe in equal opportunity. This may be difficult to define exactly, but while people may disagree on what conditions are needed to create equal opportunity, it seems that Americans have a rough consensus that it involves applying the same rules to people of all races.

CRT instead insists that a state of equal opportunity would lead to equal outcomes. If we have unequal outcomes that are adverse for minorities, CRT treats that as proof that we do not have equal opportunity.

Glenn Loury, an economist who has spent most of his career looking at sources of differences in racial outcomes, has distinguished between a bias narrative and a development narrative.

The bias narrative calls attention to racial discrimination and exclusionary practices of American institutions—black Americans not being treated fairly. So, if the gap is in incarceration, the bias narrative calls attention to the behavior of police and the discriminatory ways in which laws are enforced and attributes the over-representation of blacks in the prisons to the unfair practices of the police and the way in which laws are formulated and enforced.

The development narrative, on the other hand, calls attention to the patterns of behavior and the acquisition of skills and discipline that are characteristic of the African American population. So, in the case of incarceration, the development narrative asks about the behavior of people who find themselves in trouble with the law and calls attention to the background conditions that either do or do not foster restraint on those lawbreaking behaviors.

Loury argues that the bias narrative mostly held true through the middle of the 20th century, but has far less explanatory power today.

And the development narrative—the one that puts some responsibility on we African Americans ourselves, and the one that wants to look to the processes that people undergo as they mature and become adults and ask whether or not those processes foster people achieving their full potential—that, I think, is a much more significant dimension of the problem today relative to bias than was the case 50 years ago.

To get Americans to focus solely on the bias narrative, CRT’s proponents employ a form of totalitarianism, aiming to crush all dissent. They treat the development narrative as illegitimate and racist. They cannot be reasoned away from this position, because they presume that arguments are won on the basis of who has power, not on who has the better intellectual case.

Unlike Communism or Nazism, CRT’s totalitarianism is decentralized. Social media mobs and “woke” bureaucrats do not take orders from a single leader, as with Hitler or Stalin. But the denunciations and demands of CRT intimidate others just the same. University administrators force professors to sign “diversity statements.” Organizations force employees to undergo “training” in “unconscious bias” and diversity and inclusion. And the adherents to CRT punish infractions against the doctrine by reliably firing transgressors. In one recent example, a school principal in Vermont was fired for expressing the view that BLM was too coercive and too hostile to police.

In light of such incidents, many people disagree with the anti-racists but are afraid to speak out. Many other people do not realize that BLM (the movement, not the phrase) is based on a false premise. Most people do not know what CRT is, how it is embedded in many institutions, and how false and dangerous it is. To overcome these dogmas will require knowledge, courage, and determination on the part of those with the ability to see through them.

Reader Discussion

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.

on December 07, 2020 at 16:17:37 pm

I agree with the bottom line of this essay, that the American people must oppose the false assertion that we are a nation of systemically-racist institutions, laws and people and we must defeat critical race theory on which that false assertion depends. But I disagree with two points in the essay:
First, I disagree that the accusation (of systemic racism) and its underlying theory (critical race theory) are "myths." They are not myths; they are lies. A myth is a story founded in religion, history, custom or folk lore that is intended to explain the purpose of life and the meaning of death or to account for nature or how a society or culture in particular or how humans or the world in general came to be as they are. A myth does so by detailing the adventures of heroes or explaining the activity of the supranatural. A myth is considered to be true. It's factual foundations may be undermined, even disproven by science, including anthropology, or by the careful study of history, but its existential or transcendental truth remains a reality for believers in the myth. A myth is not a lie; it is a living truth on which people build countries and cultures and stake their lives.

A lie is, well, a lie! A lie is a deliberately-expounded falsehood propagated for the ideological reason of exerting undeserved political power over others or for the personal reason of material greed and self-enrichment.

That America is systemically-racist is a lie, not a myth. Critical race theory and the proposition of structural racism in America are lies, not myths. BLM's propaganda of racist police forces is a lie, not a myth.

And I take issue with the essay's author on one other matter: that the totalitarian socio/psychopathic forces he calls "myths" (but which are actually lies) are "decentralized." They are not; they are highly centralized. Indeed, to the contrary, these socio/psychopathic forces are highly centralized, almost a matter of command and control, if one considers that these socio/psychopathic forces are conceived by, emanate from and are implemented by the cohesive, unitary forces of group-think, thought-control and information-management represented by the corporate powers that run major media, Big Tech, Wall Street, K-16 education and the Democrat Party.

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paladin
on December 09, 2020 at 18:13:21 pm

Spot on. They are not even “merely lies,” but Orwellian propaganda. Embrace realty - a boy in a dress is still a boy no matter who he likes to have sex with, and Belligerent Looters Murder is a terrorist political arm of the DNC.

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Jonathan Galt
on December 09, 2020 at 22:23:17 pm

Excellent exposition. Thank you

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Adler Pfingsten
on December 07, 2020 at 17:11:30 pm

"In light of such incidents, many people disagree with the anti-racists but are afraid to speak out."
[If they do, they are immediately shouted down, cancelled or otherwise attacked. One wonders why Mr Kling selected the Vermont schoolteacher and not, say, the bomb that was placed at the home of a Trump supporter in Michigan.]

"Many other people do not realize that BLM (the movement, not the phrase) is based on a false premise.
"{it is not simply a false premise; rather it is a deliberate and calculated lie as Paladin asserts.]

"Most people do not know what CRT is, how it is embedded in many institutions, and how false and dangerous it is".
[Nor do they recognize or acknowledge that in order to instantiate the "solutions" emanating from the false premises / LIES, the additional lies necessarily propounded to generate and sustain the false solution. Witness the Defund the Police lie and the Solution of "Violence as a Public Health Issue" wherein we find that the "Violence Interrupters of the DC Cure the Streets Program" is working as well as expected.]
From todays' Power Line Blog:

DC Violence Interrupter Charged in 2017 Homicide

A violence interrupter with the D.C. Attorney General’s Office is charged in a 2017 homicide, the Metropolitan Police Department said. . .

Police executing a D.C. Superior Court warrant arrested 39-year-old Cotey Wynn of Southeast D.C. Friday, D.C. police said. He is charged with second-degree murder while armed.

Wynn was under Pretrial Services Agency’s supervision when he was arrested, police said. [In other words, he was out on no-bail for some previous offense.] His arrest history includes felony murder, first-degree murder, possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine and distribution of a controlled substance. Wynn is an employee and violence interrupter with the attorney general’s Cure the Streets program.
[The LIE we are expected to believe is that Doctors, social workers and in this instance an ex-con can replace a disciplined police force.]

"To overcome these dogmas will require knowledge, courage, and determination on the part of those with the ability to see through them."
[Indeed it shall. What IS missing is some sense of what will be required on the part of those "wokesters" either unable or unwilling to see through their own lies].
Perhaps, a somewhat more penetrating *missive* is required.

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gabe
on December 07, 2020 at 19:41:32 pm

This distortion of reality began with Obama. I my blog article I delineate the reasons why BLM is an assault upon reason and freedom and how Obama rhetoric and actions lead to this distorted view of reality. https://rescuingdemocracy.wordpress.com/black-lives-matter-movement/

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Savannah Jordan
on December 08, 2020 at 08:44:43 am

Ms, Jordan
I read your essay. Good stuff! I agree with much of what you say, especially your criticism of Obama for inciting racial division out of his deep hatred of whites, but I disagree strongly with your overall characterization of the man. You say Obama is "a man of extraordinary intellect, imposing presence, a mesmerizing voice and a burning bitterness towards white America." Only the "burning bitterness" is true; the rest is misperception based on public relations distortion and unfounded media hagiography. Obama is not smart, his voice is grating; its tone inevitably one of snark, and his speeches are pompous exercises in self-congratulation devoid of public value and rhetorical power. You made an inexcusable mistake in voting for such a patently shallow, inferior person.

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paladin
on December 07, 2020 at 22:25:23 pm

I also take issue with a couple of points in this essay.

Mr. Kling states:

Certainly, someone who challenges a policeman’s authority does not deserve the death penalty.

This is an inane assertion. People who ski out-of-control or out of bounds do not deserve the death penalty either, yet approximately fifty people die on ski slopes every year. This is not because they deserve to die, but rather because fatal accidents are a natural consequence of colliding with trees and other skiers, and of triggering avalanches. People who abuse fentanyl do not deserve the death penalty either, but dying of a drug overdose is a natural consequence of such activity, deserved or not. "Deserve" has nothing to do with it. Actions have consequences, often regrettable, frequently tragic, and also not to be confused with the sanctions of legitimate state authority. If you threaten a policeman with a deadly weapon, or try to gain control of the policeman's weapon, a natural consequence of these actions is that the policeman will defend himself with lethal force. You may not deserve to die any more than the person who skis head-first into a tree, but your death is no more unexpected a result, and no more morally dubious because in each case the risk was something other than what you assumed it was.

Any criminal sanction, including the death penalty, that is imposed by legitimate civil authority, carries with it the moral authority of the state, and is justified by accepted notions of justice. When a policeman shoots a person who points a gun at him or lunges with a knife, he has the moral authority of self-defense, and has an appeal to justice on that basis. Asking whether the person thus shot deserved it is beside the point; the shooting is not a penalty imposed by the state, it is a natural consequence of posing an imminent threat to the life of an armed person who happens to be a policeman.

The second point I take issue with is the treatment of critical race theory as though it were a philosophical method of analysis or a political perspective. The object of critical race theory is not a political arrangement or social order, but rather the character of a class of people who are considered to have inherited certain undesirable and unchangeable character flaws. It is a bigoted doctrine that is based, not on some some disfavored attribute of "whiteness," but rather on some morbid and bleak view of humanity. It is resentful rather than hopeful, hateful rather than understanding. It is a doctrine that appeals to souls that do not believe they are made for greater things. It foolishly believes that a person may resent their way to happiness. The fact that it is based on pseudointellectual demagoguery does not conceal this situation.

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z9z99
on December 09, 2020 at 20:55:21 pm

Along the same line: “ When a suspect resists arrest or runs away, it should be acceptable, depending on the level of risk that the suspect poses, to let the suspect escape, to be pursued later.”
Encouraging suspects to run away, therefore limiting the consequence of their crime, let alone the consequence of disobeying LEO’s orders (implied - do not run from us) is foolish in and of itself. Beyond believing that LEO has the time and resources to “catch them later”, when they will no doubt, run again.

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Jan R.
on December 09, 2020 at 14:54:25 pm

Anyone wondering why a ex-employee of the Federal Reserve and Freddie Mac, and a current 'scholar' with the Cato Institute, should be so interested in critical race theory? This doesn't have anything to do with, I don't know, switching the narrative? Getting conservatives riled up about cultural issues, so that they don't focus on the politico-financial corruption endemic in this nation?

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Niek G.
on December 09, 2020 at 19:42:12 pm

Or maybe CRT is, you know, complete garbage....

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Nicholas
on December 10, 2020 at 12:14:26 pm

"Getting conservatives riled up about cultural issues, so that they don't focus on the politico-financial corruption endemic in this nation?"

Gee, forgive me for thinking that "cultural issues" as espoused by the Left is not in the least bit dissimilar to the endemic politico-financial corruption mentioned; witness the affinity of WallStreet and other "woke" corporations for Social Justice.

Get a grip on your bias.

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gabe
on December 09, 2020 at 17:11:38 pm

The next time someone demands you raise a fist in support of anything, you raise it directly into their nose.

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IainC
on December 11, 2020 at 08:00:06 am

Yes. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is nodding approval.

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Charles N. Steele
on December 09, 2020 at 19:58:35 pm

BLM is 'a movement that seeks to stir people who otherwise might be indifferent to deaths of young black men'? Don't make me laugh -- BLM is a MARXIST movement using race as a bludgeon. It doesn't give a tinker's damn about 'deaths of young black men', or it would be marching on Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore, and all the DEMOCRAT strongholds where perpetual chains have been foisted on 'young black men' who are indoctrinated through public school systems to think there's no hope, that the system is racist ... blah blah blah ... a complete LIE that completely IGNROES the fact that the 75% (give or take) WHITE majority of this country elected its "First African American President (as we were repeatedly reminded ad nauseum for 8 insufferable years) on his promise of 'unity' ... blah blab blah ... and then he set about UTTERLY DIVIDING this country by hurling racial epithets and the opposition, accusing them via strawman 'argument' of being racists, xenophobes, misogynists, etc. etc. all of which were LIES (with the exception of perhaps a statistically insignificant portion of the population. THAT is why Trump was elected -- but there the endless lies and 'racist!' accusations didn't stop, but were simply amplified.

Anyone who believes that BLM is a 'force for good' needs their racist head examined by a clinical psychologist.....

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Matt
on December 10, 2020 at 14:44:25 pm

The article makes the point that over half of police killings are of white suspects, and that it is illogical to suppose that those killings are not motivated by racism but that killings of black suspects are. This point should be taken a step further -- there is a significant percentage of police killings of black suspects that are committed by black police officers. This aspect is always elided by media, which lumps those shootings into the gross numbers during the now all too frequent viral frenzies that accompany white-on-black killings.

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John
on December 11, 2020 at 00:28:55 am

The so-called anti-racist movement is in fact the most racist movement in the country. It is they who categorize everyone by race first, believe in racial discrimination, and believe people should vote based on their race. There is no one more racist than a leftist, and they should be called that at every opportunity. For conservatives to play defense anout racism is a loser's game.

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NickSJ
on December 11, 2020 at 08:06:03 am

I’m sympathetic to Kling patiently analyzing the Black Lies Matter and CRT arguments at face value. But as so many commenters here point out, don’t forget that those making these arguments are literal Marxists and no different from Lenin or Pol Pot; they are simply acting under different constraints.

We need to add to their constraints.

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Charles N. Steele
Trackbacks
on December 07, 2020 at 07:48:53 am

[…] This essay ends with a call for courage. Ironically, it was scheduled to appear a few weeks ago on a different web site, when the editor informed me that a “higher-up” decided that they were afraid to run it. I then submitted it to the Law and Liberty Web site. To their credit, they accepted it. […]

on December 07, 2020 at 07:51:43 am

[…] This essay ends with a call for courage. Ironically, it was scheduled to appear a few weeks ago on a different web site, when the editor informed me that a “higher-up” decided that they were afraid to run it. I then submitted it to the Law and Liberty Web site. To their credit, they accepted it. […]

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.

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