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This month I’m finishing a three-part series on the “Dissident Right,” or the mostly online world of right-wing politics that has attracted millions of followers. If you did not read the first installment, please click over and read it now. It has extremely important background information, including what the Dissident Right is, what groups are included in the Dissident Right, how the Dissident Right differs from the “alt-right” or the “New Right,” and an overview of the key themes or commonalities among the Dissident Right groups.
I noted that the Dissident Right, in both its leaders and followers, is primarily made up of younger (post-Boomer) men. I said that a number of their leaders are from elite backgrounds and concentrated in global cities, and that they should not be intellectually underestimated. I also highlighted five commonalities to cover in more depth:
- Atheist or New Age Metaphysics
- Nietzschean Ethics
- Red Pill Sexuality
- Transgressive Affect
- Genetic Calvinism
In the first installment I talked about metaphysics and ethics. In the second installment I discussed red pill sexuality and transgressive affect. This month I’m going to wrap up by discussing genetic Calvinism.
Genetic Calvinism is the term I use to refer to the Dissident Right’s views on race. Unlike the term “red pill,” basically no one uses this term internally in the Dissident Right. It was coined as a critical description by the Catholic neoreactionary blogger Social Pathologist. It never spread, but it captures something important about how they think.
The Dissident Right does not have a single, unified view of race. But almost all the groups in it subscribe to some variation of what they call “race realism.” That is, they think race is real, that race matters, and that racial differences at some level exist and will always exist.
Race realism exists in a wide spectrum of forms. One the strongest and most common is called “human biodiversity” or HBD. The person most responsible for developing the HBD idea is Steve Sailer, who is undoubtedly the single most influential figure on Dissident Right thinking. Sailer is very intelligent and extremely formidable as a writer and analyst. His work extends far beyond race, and he’s extremely knowledgeable about sports, film, etc. A survey of professors by the academic journal Intelligence ranked him as the most accurate media figure writing about intelligence research. (Steve Sailer is widely read by large numbers of people on the conventional right. Many wonkier people on the left like Matthew Yglesias appear to read him as well. Commenters have noted how frequently “Sailerisms” show up in the work of people like Ross Douthat, who has in the past explicitly acknowledged using Sailer’s ideas at a time when Sailer was more mainstream).
HBD is Darwinism applied to human beings. The idea is that as humans settled in different geographies, various populations genetically diverged as they adapted to their specific locales. They believe this has various consequences. One is that racial and ethnic groups as traditionally understood exist genetically. They say that while humans do exist on a genetic continuum without any hard or bright line boundary condition separating them into ethnic groups, they do cluster into such groups. That’s one reason you can find out your ancestry with 23andMe, for example. Or why AI software can determine your race from a medical image. Another implication of the HBD view is that racial and ethnic groups vary materially on various traits.
To be direct: HBD advocates believe that blacks are genetically less intelligent than whites (as well as believing in other genetic race differences). Since IQ is heavily correlated with all sorts of life outcomes, they thus believe that black-white gaps in society are innate and can’t be closed. Genetics are destiny in this case, hence genetic Calvinism.
It’s important to note, however, that other than some members of the rather small alt-right group itself, very few people on the Dissident Right are white supremacists as you might naively understand that term. For example, they readily acknowledge that East Asians have higher IQs than whites. They would say that races or population groups are stronger in some traits and weaker in others, and that none could simply be classified as overall superior. They do see culture as somehow linked to biology, however, and oppose diversity in part on that basis. They think every ethnic group should basically have its own homeland where it is dominant and gets to live according to its own cultural preferences. Steve Sailer himself explicitly rejects a white nationalist approach, preferring that the US adopt a citizenist approach that also involves immigration restriction.
Some of the Dissident Right subgroups I identified would reject these biological interpretations of race. The Dissident Left certainly would. The manosphere is very multi-racial and focuses its evolutionary explanations on intersexual dynamics, not race. Even they, however, speak frankly about race in ways others might find uncomfortable. For example, they will say straight up that Asian men are rated as less attractive by non-Asian women. They would bluntly state that as a simple fact of reality (which is in fact supported by statistical analysis from online dating sites). As the case of the manosphere makes clear, people on the Dissident Right holding to some form of race realism, even to HBD, are not all white. There are plenty of non-whites, for example, in the Proud Boys. You may have seen one of the various articles on “multiracial white supremacy,” showing that this has been recognized even in the mainstream press.
And some who do view race as a purely social construct nevertheless reject the idea of multiculturalism and support self-determination and the territorial integrity of ethnic groups. Practically speaking, that means for white Americans, since those rights for other groups are pretty much acknowledged by society already. In other words, they want whites to start practicing identity politics too. They will cite, for example, Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam’s findings that diversity reduces social trust and causes people to “hunker down” as a reason to reject ethnic diversification of society.
As you can see, the Dissident Right’s views on race, like much else of what they believe, derives from their materialist (atheist) metaphysics. A naturalistic, that is to say Darwinistic, view of human beings flows directly from this. I’ll repeat that the overwhelming majority of Dissident Right people are either atheists or have some sort of New Age spiritually. There are not a lot of Christians or serious adherents of other traditional religions in their ranks.
The Truth About Genetics
Is there any truth to the idea of genetic differences between races? David Reich, who is the world’s leading ancient DNA researcher, wrote a piece for the New York Times saying:
As a geneticist I also know that it is simply no longer possible to ignore average genetic differences among “races”… We are learning that while race may be a social construct, differences in genetic ancestry that happen to correlate to many of today’s racial constructs are real.
I am worried that well-meaning people who deny the possibility of substantial biological differences among human populations are digging themselves into an indefensible position, one that will not survive the onslaught of science. I am also worried that whatever discoveries are made — and we truly have no idea yet what they will be — will be cited as “scientific proof” that racist prejudices and agendas have been correct all along, and that those well-meaning people will not understand the science well enough to push back against these claims.This is why it is important, even urgent, that we develop a candid and scientifically up-to-date way of discussing any such differences, instead of sticking our heads in the sand and being caught unprepared when they are found.
Reich is Jewish and his father is the former director of the US Holocaust Museum. So he is someone very attuned to the potential misuse of genetic science and hardly friendly to the views of the Dissident Right. Even he sounded this warning.
The NYT also wrote about Dalton Conley, a Princeton sociologist who went back to get a second Ph.D. in genetics (!) in order to disprove the arguments geneticists were making. Instead, he came around to their point of view, saying, “I tried to show for a range of outcomes that the genetic models were overstating the impact of genetics because of their crazy assumptions. But I ended up showing that they’re right.”
Yet for all the arguments about genetics and intelligence, we still actually don’t even know which genes affect our intelligence, much less how they do or don’t vary between races. This 2017 Vox article talks about a study of the matter that shows what researchers are up to. These researchers basically took white individuals whose genomes had been sequenced, then ran them through a bunch of statistical number crunching to spit out correlates for various traits. They found a bunch of new genes related to intelligence, now up to 52. But the scientists involved expect to find thousands of genes associated with intelligence. And all of these findings are just statistical correlations. Nobody has any understanding of the biological mechanisms involved with these genes, even if they are actually involved in intelligence somehow. Undoubtedly there is a genetic component to intelligence, at least at the level of individual differences. But we are not yet very advanced on the specifics.
There are also a number of unexplained phenomena related to intelligence. One is the Flynn Effect. The Flynn Effect is an increase in IQ over time first noticed by James Flynn. For whatever reasons, the tested IQ in various countries has steadily increased over time. British IQs increased by 14 points between 1942 and 2008. Using the 1997 IQ baselines, the average American IQ in 1932 would only have been 80 – very low – which is obviously not an accurate reflection of how smart people were back then.
It’s not clear why this is. Better nutrition is an obvious example, but starting in the postwar era it’s hard to believe the average person was malnourished. Also, the Flynn Effect has petered out and IQs are now declining in some countries. Again, no clear explanation.
Reich wrote in the NYT, “Since all traits influenced by genetics are expected to differ across populations, the genetic influences on behavior and cognition will differ across populations, too.” But we have not yet begun to unravel the complexities of this or many other changes.
I’m not a geneticist, but I personally think we’ll find that genetics are far less determinative than many believe them to be. Think about obesity, for example. Is there a genetic link to obesity? There seems to be. But almost nobody was obese 50 years ago and now we have a huge problem with it. Clearly our genes didn’t change in 50 years. It’s similar for things like the massive increase in near sightedness. Something caused black out of wedlock births to rise from around 22% to 70%, and white out of wedlock births from about 4% to about 32% since 1950, but it wasn’t evolution.
Back in the 19th century, people thought the Irish were intractably violent. See the film The Gangs of New York, for example. Nobody thinks that today. People on the Dissident Right like to point to things like the 70% black out of wedlock birth rate. But in the 1950 the black out of wedlock birth rate was lower than today’s white rate. They love to tweet pictures of rioting in South Africa or other African dysfunction. But you never hear about nearby Botswana, a politically stable country with relatively low levels of corruption that has steadily grown its per capita GDP from $1,344 in 1950 to $18,113 this year. It’s now classified as an upper middle-income country and still growing. (It’s also mostly Protestant Christian, by the way).
Undoubtedly there are race linked genetic traits, such as the famous case of sickle cell anemia. But in that case we know the genes in question and what they do. I will wait to see what geneticists do or don’t find about how genetic traits vary between human population groups. I’m not afraid of what they will find. Christians do not value people based on genes, but because they are made in the image of God and because Christ valued them enough to die for them. Also, call me a fundamentalist, but I don’t see where the Bible talks about particular ethnic groups having biological superiority over others, apart from obscure early Old Testament references to the Nephilim and the like (who are all long gone).
However, I do believe US conservatives have adopted positions on race that are not true, such as the utopian idea of a “colorblind society.” It’s obvious from looking around that race and ethnic groups, however defined, have real and persistent social significance. Interethnic tensions appear to be a permanent feature of human society, even in the church (see below). “Black lives matter” is a much truer statement than “I don’t see color.” Conservatives have to move beyond simplistic and naïve views about a colorblind society and start operating in the world of reality. Grappling with Robert Putnam’s findings is a good place to start.
Why the Dissident Right Will Continue to Draw Converts
Despite vast social opprobrium of Dissident Right thinking, especially on race, I think it will continue to draw converts. While its red pill gender theory may remain the biggest gateway to the Dissident Right, race issues are an attractor in their own right. In part this is because there are a number of “push” factors in our society inclining people in a Dissident Right direction. I will highlight four: the majority minority society, white identity creation activities, the explicit embrace of anti-white rhetoric, and pervasive dishonesty on race.
1. The majority minority society. In 1970, the non-Hispanic white population share in the United States was 83%. The US was essentially a white country with a longstanding black minority of 11%. Today it is a highly diverse multi-cultural society. By 2045 it is projected to become a majority minority country. Among people younger than 15, it is already majority minority. In the latest census, the white population of the country actually declined. In 1970, white culture was American culture and was officially endorsed. Today, that position is explicitly rejected, even reversed – white culture is often explicitly denigrated.
Now racial categorization and identification are not static entities, and the majority minority country will not be what many people think of by the term. But this event has been heavily promoted in a simplistic manner in recent years. The emergence of a majority minority country has been discussed and celebrated at many conferences I’ve attended, for example. Here in the Midwest, a major concern of civic leaders is actually that their communities are too white. They fear, correctly, that minority talent will not want to relocate to their cities, putting local employers at a disadvantage in recruitment.
Demographic change is an example of what Michael Anton calls a “celebration parallax.” That is, you are allowed to notice it if you celebrate it. But if you notice it in order to criticize it, you are accused of believing in a “great replacement conspiracy theory” or some such.
As whites are transformed into a minority in a country where they were once an overwhelming majority, they are going to start acting like a minority. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the appeal of the Dissident Right is strongest among younger cohorts, where demographic transition is most advanced. As the Economist magazine recently wrote:
As America becomes more multiracial, and whites lose the status of dominant group, their sense of racial solidarity may grow and the taboo against white pride may fade. A recent attempt to launch an Anglo-Saxon caucus by Republican House members could be a portent. Already many rural and suburban whites, who in Minnesota might have defined themselves as Swedes or Germans as well as Americans, define themselves as white…This second white tribe thinks more like a minority than part of the country’s biggest single group.
Demographic change has been and will continue to be a major factor driving Dissident Right popularity.
2. The creation of white identity consciousness. My entire life whites have been told, and have deeply internalized the idea, of not thinking of themselves as white but rather as “Americans.” The tone here as always was set by the culture shaping upper classes. Obviously white people understood that they were white in a racial context, but whiteness was, as political scientist Eric Kaufman put it, an “empty symbol.” In other words, whites are not politically conscious of themselves as having a white identity with a set of racial and class relations and so on.
We see this in the rhetoric of activist Chris Rufo, who claims not to be white but “Italian” and who rejects the idea of white identity:
I do not believe that “white identity politics” or “white identitarianism” is a solution; in fact, I think it would be a major step backwards and, potentially, disastrous. We should emphasize the individual and de-emphasize racial categories, to the extent possible. This does not mean that “white” people should not celebrate their heritage. But the right emphasis would be ethnicity/national origin, which is a richer, more specific, and more substantive domain. For example, I’m proud to be Italian and to pass that heritage on to my children.
In an interview with Mark Lamont Hill, Rufo gets very uncomfortable and declines to answer when asked, “What do you like about being white?” I don’t think there’s much unique about Rufo here. Whites have deeply internalized this idea.
However, there is now a push to make white people think of themselves as having a white identity. The Washington Post recently posted a short video called “What is white racial identity and why is it important?” in which the host says, “In this episode, we’re tackling white racial identity and why understanding your whiteness is integral to becoming self-aware as a white person.”
The assumption of these activities that by forcing people to think of themselves as white and think about what it means to be white and think about it in a political context is that this will produce a necessary shift in mentality. White class or racial consciousness is said to be necessary for deconstructing your whiteness, etc.
But you can’t control what people do with their sense of white political consciousness. It could just as easily cause them to adopt a Dissident Right type approach. In some percentage of people that’s almost bound to be the case. Hence the idea of making whites think of themselves as having a white identity is almost certain to increase Dissident Right appeal.
3. The explicit embrace of anti-white rhetoric. In America today, it’s fully acceptable and even rewarded to openly express extreme hatred or contempt for whites. For example, Yale recently hosted Aruna Khilanani to give a lecture titled, “The Psychopathic Problem of the White Mind.” Bari Weiss posted an audio of the talk, along with some select quotes, including:
This is the cost of talking to white people at all. The cost of your own life, as they suck you dry. There are no good apples out there. White people make my blood boil.
I had fantasies of unloading a revolver into the head of any white person that got in my way, burying their body, and wiping my bloody hands as I walked away relatively guiltless with a bounce in my step. Like I did the world a f—ing favor.
We are now in a psychological predicament, because white people feel that we are bullying them when we bring up race. …We are asking a demented, violent predator who thinks that they are a saint or a superhero, to accept responsibility. It ain’t gonna happen. They have five holes in their brain. It’s like banging your head against a brick wall.
Again, this was an officially hosted event at Yale University. It’s straight up hate directed at whites. Or here’s an excerpt from the abstract of a peer reviewed academic journal article:
Whiteness is a condition one first acquires and then one has—a malignant, parasitic-like condition to which “white” people have a particular susceptibility. The condition is foundational, generating characteristic ways of being in one’s body, in one’s mind, and in one’s world. Parasitic Whiteness renders its hosts’ appetites voracious, insatiable, and perverse. These deformed appetites particularly target nonwhite peoples. Once established, these appetites are nearly impossible to eliminate.
Or you may recall the controversy when it came to light that Sarah Jeong, who was joining the New York Times editorial board, had a history of tweeting things about whites such as, “Oh man it’s kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men,” and “Are white people genetically predisposed to burn faster in the sun, thus logically being only fit to live underground like groveling goblins?”
Variations of these sentiments are posted every day. Seldom do they come with any negative consequences and in fact are often rewarded. The Times went ahead and hired Jeong, for example. If there is a controversy, the person in question can just claim to have been joking, or using hyperbole to promote engagement or some such until the storm passes.
So long as this is tolerated and even promoted by society’s elites, the Dissident Right is going to look attractive.
4. Pervasive dishonesty on race. Socially acceptable discourse on race today is saturated with pervasive evasions and dishonesty. A simple example is crime. As everyone knows but few people openly say, blacks commit violent crime at much higher rates than other racial groups. But many people probably don’t realize how big the gap is. Blacks commit murder at a rate about eight times higher than non-blacks, for example. This is similar to the murder rate gap between men and women. Also, while the vast majority of murders are intra-racial, to the extent that interracial murder exists, blacks kill whites at a much higher rate than whites kill blacks.
Yet this difference in crime rates is studiously ignored in nearly every “official” conversation on race in America. Race gaps, for example, in incarceration levels or police interactions are treated as proof of racism. That some, not necessarily all, of this gap is a result of greater levels of criminal behavior is typically not even considered, much less addressed. For example, this lengthy New York Times article is saturated with statistics about the racial gap in police interactions in Minneapolis, but never mentions the racial gap in crime. Instead, near the end of the article the NYT tries to suggest the crime disparity is geographic.
Imagine if we were forced to live life pretending that men and women commit violent crimes at the same rate. The fact that more men are in prison than women is publicly attributed entirely to systemic injustice. If a woman expresses fear of walking by herself at night, she’s accused of being a vile sexist. This is about the level of our discourse on race and crime.
This is not to say that there’s no racism or bad behavior by the police. There is. For example, I moved to Chicago about the time that the Chicago Reader was exposing how Chicago police officer Jon Burge and his crew tortured over 100 black suspects into confessing to crimes they didn’t commit, including murder. By torture I mean suffocating them with a typewriter cover and using an electric cattle prod on their testicles. Burge was never prosecuted for his crimes (though did do some time for perjury in a civil case), the city spent $20 million defending him, and he collected a pension till the day he died. Chicago has been paying out $500 million per decade in police brutality claims.
Also, the existence of a race gap in crime rates doesn’t mean an innate or genetic difference is the cause. Again, the Irish used to be considered intractably violent. Levels of violent crime as a whole have also risen and fallen over time. One could argue that racism or any number of things is the cause of these differential crime rates the same as for income gaps, etc. Nevertheless, the gap in crime rates does exist.
Steve Sailer likes to say that political correctness is a “war on noticing.” There are some things you just aren’t allowed to notice, like the fact that blacks commit crime at higher rates than whites. That the American elite studiously refuses to notice this and other dynamics of race suggests that they might secretly agree in their hearts with the Dissident Right’s view of race – or at least are afraid it might be true. They certainly do so in the way they personally live their lives, in terms of where they choose to live and buy property, where their own kids go to school, and how they react if the demographics of their child’s school might change. In another one of his famous quips, Sailer observes that the white elite “talk like MLK but live like the KKK.”
By embracing dishonesty on various racial matters, our society’s leadership forfeited the ability to frame things like crime rates in a proper context. Merely by being willing to discuss true things like differential crime rates, the Dissident Right is able to attract followers and frame things the way they want.
Add it all together – the majority minority country, the intentional creation of white identity consciousness, the embrace anti-white rhetoric, and dishonesty about race – and the recruiting ground for the Dissident Right, especially among young men, is and will remain fertile.
The Christian Response
Race is an area where the church should be an incredible resource for society. Unfortunately, I don’t see it. Instead, the church breaks down into two basic camps. One essentially repeats secular elite positions with a thin veneer of Christianity and Christian lingo added. They have nothing to offer the world I can’t already get in a better form directly from the source.
The second endlessly critiques the first group. However, they seem to have no actual agenda of their own. We know what they’re against when it comes to race, but what are they for? There are massive disparities in income, wealth, etc. between whites and blacks. These gaps are basically incompatible with a healthy and well-functioning society. But I’ve never heard a credible articulation about what to do about them by those Christians who oppose secular race ideologies.
But look beyond this and we see many ministries doing absolutely fantastic work in areas that are directly focused on race, or heavily related to it. But most of these groups are too busy doing ministry to articulate a big theory of society in race. They might articulate a ministry strategy, but rarely a theology or political theory of race at the macro level. I think we have a lot of things going well at a practical level. But the voices we hear tend to be those of activists rather than people actually making a difference practically. We need better theory, developed by a different set of people.
Race is not my focus area, though obviously I know some things about it via my work on cities. I do know that Christianity teaches that all men are equally made in the image of God, and have equal value from that. I do know that people from every tongue and tribe are included in the Kingdom of God. And just as Christians of all people should expect to see and encounter sin, the Bible makes it clear that multi-ethnic churches are difficult to pull off. Multiple of Paul’s letters address these very difficulties. In his Lausanne conference address, Tim Keller, a world class church leader, made a similar point, saying, “If you’re going to have an effective center city church in one of these great global cities, you’re going to be multi-cultural. And therefore, people are always going to be charging one another with cultural insensitivity. If you’re not extremely patient with constant charges of cultural insensitivity, you’re not going to be an effective urban church leader.”
These difficulties are in the church, where the members have a shared highest allegiance to Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to aid them. Yet even here we see challenges. How much more so in the world at large? We should expect inter-ethnic difficulties. They should not surprise Christians in any way. And as with sin, I think we should have the best answers for how to deal with it. But our answers today are not up to the challenge.
So who is working on that answer? One person has been John Perkins. I’ve greatly admired Perkins since I first discovered him. His view of race has three elements that are key. 1) He never loses site of his own personal need for the gospel. 2) He’s interested in actual reconciliation. 3) He does not neglect the material aspects of racial uplift. I also liked the original vision of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA – see below). I attended their conference back in 2014. It was clear even then that the more recent accretions to the movement were less than impressive, but the older core themes were great. I think we have to acknowledge that the impact of CCDA was far less than they had hoped, but it’s still worth looking at.
I’m sure there are other people besides Perkins worth looking at too. And there are rich historical resources within the church for thinking about race too. That’s one of the things American Reformer will be bringing to bear.
For my part, I would just say the church (and society at large) has to take seriously the four challenge areas I highlighted earlier
- We live in a multi-cultural society that will be majority minority in at least some sense of that term. It’s baked into the cake. We have to figure out how to live together in that world. I personally believe this has to involve a vision of seeing ourselves as fellow citizens in a commonwealth (see reference to my podcast below).
- We need to find the right answer for ethnic consciousness in a multicultural society, assuming that some kind of white political consciousness may be inevitable at this point.
- At a minimum in the church, anti-white rhetoric needs to be clearly rejected. People should certainly not be rewarded in any way for it.
- We need to start speaking the whole truth on race, and find the right way to talk about uncomfortable issues like differential crime rates.
These are all big to dos. But they are important to take on. And no one should be better positioned to do it in a healthy way than the church.
For Further Exploration
Wayne Gordon and John Perkins: Making Neighborhoods Whole: A Handbook for Christian Community Development. This is their manifesto for Christian community development. Very worth reading.
This Jacobin podcast with political scientist Touré Reed on “The Resurgence of Race Reductionism” is a great listen. Reed appears to be a socialist. His critiques of the secular consensus view on race are far more compelling than most conservative ones. He insightfully notes, for example, that despite endless talk about “structural racism,” the people promoting that idea largely don’t want to change any of the structures or systems of society. Corporate America for example, certainly doesn’t want any fundamental changes to the economic structures of neoliberalism. Rather, they promote diversity training for individuals (not systems change) precisely because it doesn’t threaten their economic interests. Reed is also a fountain of interesting info on the intersection of class and race, such as pointing out that 78% of the racial wealth gap is between the top 10% of whites and the top 10% of blacks.
I myself did a podcast on metaphors of race relations. It examines how the metaphoric language we use to discuss race in America – that of the tort case – is very unhelpful. I suggest a better way to frame the issue: blacks and whites are a recovering dysfunctional family.