Ethics Quote Of The Month: Prof. Glenn Loury

“You can’t have an under-representation without having an over-representation. Are the people who come out on top guilty of “privilege”? Did they “steal” their success? Do they owe their success to the denial of opportunity to someone else? Even if so here or there, is it universally true in every case? Is that a dictum that we have to adhere to? I would submit that this is the wrong way to think about social outcomes. You can see that it’s the wrong way from the places this sort of thinking leads you. “

—Glenn Loury, Merton P. Stoltz Professor of the Social Sciences and Professor of Economics at Brown University, an African-American, in the inaugural essay of the new Journal of Free Black Thought.

You won’t see Loury interviewed on CNN , MSNBC, NPR or the networks. He undermines the narrative—a lot of them, in fact. In his essay, his primary target is Black Lives Matter, as part of his warning against the ascendancy of “bad ideas.” He writes,

“Racial essentialism is one of these bad ideas…If we can’t find some way of countering the underlying problematic ideological commitment to race as an essentialist category, we’re in trouble. Martin Luther King had the right idea with colorblindness, yet today it’s regarded as a microaggression to say one doesn’t see color. Of course, it’s impossible literally not to see color, but despite pressure from cultural elites, we needn’t give it the overarching significance we now do. In fact, if we’re going to make our experiment in democracy work, we mustn’t give it such significance.”

He goes on,

I’m against Black Lives Matter as a political movement because it’s a racially essentialist movement. This is not to cast aspersions—I just mean, literally, it essentializes blackness. We can’t say “all lives matter” because those words now, in our current context, signify the speaker is anti-anti-racist. However, it’s simply true…Second, the notion that race is the central thing driving the disparities in outcomes that rightly concern us is wrong. Monocausal explanations of racial gaps don’t hold up to scrutiny, and we should disabuse ourselves of the mistaken notion that they do. Third, our political institutions ought not to be so organized that people who are actors in them think of themselves fundamentally as representing races. That’s racist; that’s South Africa circa 1960….”


“There’s another problem with our current, racially essentialist disparity fixation: You can’t fetishize group disparity without implicitly indicting groups that were successful. If you insist on viewing social outcomes in terms of essentialist groups, in terms of racial differences in success, then you’ve got some losers, some “victims” of the system, who are on the bottom, and you’ve also got some winners, who are on the top. But what about, say, the Jews? How can you avoid antisemitism, given this way of construing group differences? If you think that blacks and Latinos are underrepresented, how do you avoid the conclusion that Jews are overrepresented? Similarly, how do you address black and Latino underrepresentation in STEM disciplines without seeking to reduce the number of qualified Asians in STEM? Those fractions have to add up to one.”

Loury’s analysis is spot on, not that he had to risk brain cramp to complete it. That Black Lives Matter was racist in intent and message was clear from the beginning, yet irresponsible (or dim-witted) politicians and greedy (or cowardly) companies and organizations rushed to grovel at its altar. It is going to take a lot of non-white iconoclasts to dismantle this particularly dangerous and divisive bad idea.

How dangerous is it? If you didn’t read it before, when I highlighted Bret Weinstein’s essay about the Derek Chauvin conviction in May, do it now. Heck, read it again. It’s titled “The Day American Justice Died,” and he could well be right. Weinstein believes that one bad idea has led inexorably to another: the Black Lives Matter racial essentialist movement exploited the death of George Floyd to move America toward mob justice. To refresh your memory…

“…Until recently in America, it was understood that, even when the facts made a person’s guilt seem inescapable, the accused was formally innocent right up until the moment that they were convicted by an impartial jury of their peers. And conviction in America was no small formality. Our founders bent over backwards to give the accused the absolute benefit of even a single, reasonable doubt. That counterintuitive structure of our legal system, burdening the state and arming the defence, exists for a crucial reason: to protect citizens from the vast power of the state and its frightening capacity to usurp liberty. But America allowed itself to skip the formalities when it came to Derek Chauvin; we all knew, thanks to a shocking video, what had happened before any of the considerable exculpatory context was known….

…And so the conviction of Derek Chauvin sets a disturbing precedent. Today, when people are angry enough to demand something — when they are willing to march and burn and disrupt and intimidate — their understanding of events becomes gospel, and a trial is just one more tool at their disposal. The right to a fair trial is suddenly turned into a mere privilege — something that is only guaranteed so long as the mob isn’t against you.…”

It was Black Lives Matter, its “bad idea” and BLM’s opportunistic or intellectually lazy allies that created this crisis. Chauvin did not get a fair trial, but was presumed guilty from the start, while a cowardly judge refused to declare a mistrial or even sequester the jury while outside events made it undeniable that an innocent verdict would mean cities burning and people dying. Then there was the little matter of reasonable doubt, which was stronger in the murder trial than in hundreds of criminal acquittals.

I have some hope that the appellate system will show its integrity by over-turning Chauvin’s conviction and in doing so yank back to life the justice system that Black Lives Matter has placed on death’s door. It did, after all, do the right thing with Bill Cosby because his rights were compromised. Cosby not only is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, he is a worse human being than Chauvin and one who has harmed far more people. Luckily for Cosby, however, his is black, and the bad idea works to his favor, not his detriment, as in Chauvin’s case.

5 thoughts on “Ethics Quote Of The Month: Prof. Glenn Loury

  1. Living in hope, while not ideal, is far better than living in despair.

    Chauvin’s case serves as a kind of bookend to the O.J. Simpson trial, but not in the sense that in one, the guilty was found innocent and in the other, the outcome was reversed. Based on the facts as I understand them, Chauvin appears least arguably guilty of some criminal behavior. At the absolute minimum, he was recklessly indifferent to Floyd’s life-threatening distress.

    But the reason this seems to me to be a bookend for O.J. Simpson is that both were about race and the power of the mob, and significantly, the races of the principles were opposites. Both shared an absurd amount of drama and public interest, both had suspicious juries, and both were mob driven even if in slightly different ways. Most significantly, the mob won both times because of its looming presence, and fears of racial strife if the “wrong” verdict were delivered undoubtedly colored, and more likely dictated, the outcome.

    At the time, I failed to consider the impact of the O.J. Simpson trial on future of race relations. Looking back it looks like a seminal moment, the moment at which mob justice became a viable option. It has taken 26 years and a global pandemic for the tree planted in 1995 to bear its rotten fruit, but the time has now come when every trial must be viewed with suspicion when disparate races, particularly black and white, are in putative opposition. Fears of race riots have been proven successful at least twice, and anything that is successful will be repeated.

    Like you, Jack, I long for an appeals court with the courage to reject this fearful trajectory.

  2. I’m not sure being black does anything for Cosby these days. I think ever since The Cosby Show, he’s been considered a traitor to his race. I don’t think race hustlers give a rat’s ass about what happens to Bill Cosby.

    • Being black doesn’t help, but not being white does. If Chauvin were black, no one would be rioting over his acquittal. If Cosby were a white serial rapist whose victims were mostly black, the uproar over his acquittal would be coming from more than just #MeToo activists.

  3. I was already familiar with Prof. Loury and his viewpoints, having seen him on the web as well as on Fox and Newsmax in the past. He was on Tucker Carlson’s new show back in July holding forth on all the reasons Blacks ought to celebrate Independence Day enthusiastically. To the Left, I suppose he’s just another “mediocre Negro.”

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