[As Dafydd indicates, he sent me a defense of R.S. McCain’s quote by e-mail and I invited him to post it here as a guest post. — Patterico]
Guest post by Dafydd ab Hugh of Big Lizards infamy…
I believe this is my first post on Patterico’s Pontifications since 1952, when I wrote a piece here defending Democrat Harry S. Truman’s staunch defense of South Korea against the marauding commies from the north. As I recall, Patterico was in favor of detente with Puerto Vallarta at the time. Of course, I could be mistaken; it was a long time ago.
I sent the following to Mr. P. earlier today, after reading the long McCain quote (the other McCain) on Patterico’s Pontifications — one of my two favorite blogs!
The issue at hand is a short quotation by conservative Robert Stacy McCain (no relation, so far as I know); you can read Patterico’s original post here.
He expanded upon the quotation in a later post, wherein he gave us the complete context of McCain’s remarks.
The question is whether the paragraph originally quoted by the owner of this blog constituted racism; Patterico says it does, while I disagree. My reasoning follows…
Now that I have read the full context, I am quite satisfied that McCain’s statement was not, repeat, not racist, racially separatist, or racially prejudiced. I truly believe Patterico has misread the man — though his inartful phrasing certainly contributed to the confusion.
Let’s look at the paragraph that causes most of the cringies:
As Steffgen predicted, the media now force interracial images into the public mind and a number of perfectly rational people react to these images with an altogether natural revulsion. The white person who does not mind transacting business with a black bank clerk may yet be averse to accepting the clerk as his sisterinlaw, and THIS IS NOT RACISM, no matter what Madison Avenue, Hollywood and Washington tell us. [Caps in original]
I don’t know how many paleocon writers Patterico has read, but many tend to write in an expansive and verbose, quasi-nineteenth century diction akin to a book like, say, That Hideous Strength (C.S. Lewis) or the Father Brown stories of G.K. Chesterton. In particular, they often use archaic forms of speech — and very old-fashioned, hard-right concepts that sometimes don’t translate well into 21st century English.
It’s irritating when one first encounters it; but after a while, one slips into that mindset and is able to understand what’s being said… much like the lag time between the start of a Shakespeareian play and the point, a few minutes later, when one abruptly begins to parse the cadences of 17th-century English drama.
With this in mind, let’s look at the term “natural.” To an old-right writer like, say, Chesterton, “natural” does not mean good, lovely, free & easy, or admirable; that meaning of natural is really post-hippie era… when hippies appropriated Earth-related terms like natural, earthy, letting it all hang out, and suchlike precisely in reaction to the rejection of the natural by many religious conservatives. Many Christian writers would say, for example, that it was natural for a man to feel the impulse to sexually savage any attractive woman he meets — and “natural” in that sentence is to be considered bad, savage, bestial. The opposite would be our higher selves, which are UN-natural, being gifts of inspiration and conscience from God. (Compare the famous quotation by Thomas Hobbes, 1588-1679, that in the natural state of Mankind, “the life of man [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”)
McCain is about my age, a year older; but I guess he learned to write by reading conservative philosophers of the Chestertonian era; I know several others in McCain’s age group who did the same.
Thus, to someone who writes and thinks in contemporary English, saying that a “revulsion” felt by many people to miscegenation was “natural” means only that it’s a very common thing and not to be marveled at; it emphatically does not mean that the writer necessarily shares that revulsion, nor even that he excuses it. McCain makes this clear in the very next paragraph:
And so when we see an overreaction to this programme, with people urging a return to Jim Crow or even advocating the formation of separate racial nations, the first thing we must understand is that we’re looking at a reaction that is not entirely illogical. What is necessary is to realize what is causing the reaction and to realize how emotionalism may prevent us from properly combatting the programme. WE MUST BE RATIONAL AND PRAGMATIC, for our adversaries are extremely rational and pragmatic in pursuing our destruction. [Caps in original; and note the archaic, English spelling of “programme;” McCain grew up in the American South, not Great Britain… Brit spelling is an affectation.]
To me, it is quite clear that McCain is saying this “revulsion” is an overreaction, and that such irrational emotionalism plays right into the hands of what he calls “communism” (lowercase c, unless Patterico typoed it), and what I would call liberal fascism, after the Jonah Goldberg thesis in his book of that title: We must not react by getting revolted by every interracial marriage; that is an irrational response to the provocation. Instead, we should fight (McCain argues) against the deliberate program of racial provocation by our national enemies — which today is the Hollywood/Berkeley Left alliance.
The next statement also appears to arise from a paleoconservative outlook: that a white man might have a high NTF (“Negro tolerance factor,” a very useful phrase invented by black activists) in dealing with black men in everyday transactions… but still feel panic when his brother wants to marry a black chick. And McCain is correct that this is not racism: There is no hint that blacks, as a group, are inferior, or that they should be treated differently as a group. The same man may have the same reaction to his brother wanting to marry an Italian or a Pole — both of whom are of course white.
It’s not racism; it’s more like tribalism or xenophobia. It’s similar to a blonde family being upset if their beautiful, blue-haired, blonde-eyed daughter decides to marry a swarthy southern-European with dark brown hair; the reaction flows from preservation of the sub-subspecies of blonds, not a belief in the superiority of the yellow-hairs, which would be required for true “racism.”
To me — as to most of the paleo-Right, of which I am not a member, of course — the term racism has been egregiously expanded, and not just by leftists. In addition to being used as a political (or sexual) bludgeon (cf. McCain’s example of the sexual extortion by the black character in the play McCain imagines), it’s used as a sloppy catch-all for any expression of distaste for any element of a person’s looks or behavior that the sloppy speaker considers to be unchangeable. Thus, if someone doesn’t want his daughter to marry a blind man, that father may be called a “racist”… as if the handicapped constitute one of the races of Mankind.
McCain draws the same distinction I would: That father is not racist for not wanting his daughter to marry a blind man; he is stupid, irrational, prejudiced, and unreasonable for a very different reason: because the important components of a marriage are a sense of decency, moral uprightness, loyalty, shared interests, sexual desire, and the willingness to love (v.t.) the partner — none of which depends upon being able to see.
That’s how I read the lengthy McCain quotation, most of which appears to be McCain quoting Kent H. Steffgen, whoever he was. (Steffgen wrote at least a couple books attacking Ronald Reagan as a socialist, of all things.) R.S. McCain is not exonerating or praising those who recoil in revulsion from a biracial marriage, but he is acquitting that person of being driven by a belief in the inferiority of one race to another — at least on the evidence presented at trial.
Let me take it out of the context of race, and perhaps you will see the paragraph as I read it. I could easily write the following words (that is, apart from the run-on sentences, juvenile capitalizations, and antique diction; please note this is a paraphrase, not a quotation, despite using the blockquote style):
As Steffgen predicted, the media now force warrior-woman images into the public mind and a number of perfectly rational people react to these images with an altogether natural revulsion. The male who does not mind transacting business with a female bank clerk may yet be averse to his daughter joining the Marines, and THIS IS NOT SEXISM, no matter what Madison Avenue, Hollywood and Washington tell us.
I could write this despite the fact that I do not share that prejudice; I would love it if my little niece Madison grew up and became a Marine Corps sniper. I would worry about her safety but feel no “revulsion.” However, such revulsion is certainly natural; it’s the natural outcome of emotional, irrational, insufficiently enlightened minds reacting negatively against a conscious attempt to mold them into what they see as a liberal mindset. Such thoughtless revulsion is natural, but it’s not optimal.
That is, I think, what McCain was getting at; and I agree with him.
Take it for what you will.
I can shorten my reasoning above to a single sentence: Patterico, I think, took the word “natural” to mean proper or correct; but I think McCain used it to mean understandable given the provocation of a conscious policy to reprogram Americans to think a certain way — a way of thinking I actually share, given that my wife is a different race than I. Still, I understand why Americans generally would resent being manipulated in such a way.
I look forward to 6,322 comments here telling me I’m full of beans; but I assure you, I’ve been called so many names that I’m immune. So it goes.
This has been a Big Lizards production. So there.
— Dafydd ab Hugh