In all the ideological confusion that seems to swirl around this country and through our two great political parties these days, I have come to formulate one solid and inviolable rule for myself: I never support, caucus with, or vote for people who want to see me and mine either dead or disadvantaged. This is as much a matter of principle as it is a survival tactic. As I pass through middle age on the way to elder status and then to my eventual rendezvous with and ride on a beam of light, I have come to terms with who and what I am, what I have achieved, and whom I will love and cherish. I have no regrets—but that’s another rule, up for discussion at some other time.
The persona which I place at the center of this One Rule has several dimensions: male, American citizen, inheritor of the Western tradition, and member of the Caucasian race. Let’s take those in inverse order.
First, my race. As someone who worked for fifteen years in the biological sciences, ten of those years concerned with genetic analysis, race doesn’t mean much to me. Genes get traded back and forth pretty freely on this planet, and any one of us humans has fractionally more in common, genetically, with the average chimpanzee than we share, on a SNP level,1 with any other human being—the diversity in our genomes is that great. But only a small percentage of those genes contribute to a person’s visible phenotype, the markers by which one person recognizes the race of another: hair type and color, skin color, certain facial and body features. And none of those phenotypes is immediately important to function or survival. Much, much more of our genetic variation has to do with physical and mental strengths and weaknesses that are smeared across the entire species and found in all races. These are things like immune resistance, ability to process certain chemicals inside our cleansing organs, susceptibility to microbial and auto-immune diseases, et leaping and bounding cetera. And most genetic variations do not absolutely confer any absolute benefit or disadvantage but simply establish a predilection that works in consort with age, accident, and environmental factors.
My bottom line is that we are all one species, one humanity, and race doesn’t confer any special status for either good or ill.
But if someone looks at me and thinks “white,”2 and then assigns to that designation a legacy of past misdeeds and takings of advantage—summed up in the phrase “white privilege”—then that’s a person with whom I won’t be caucusing. Sure, I have had advantages in my life. My parents were established, professional people years before they began rearing sons. I can reliably trace the family back through four generations on either side, and all of them were people who believed in educating themselves, working towards definite goals, building for the future, contributing to their community, and raising children with these values. Over the generations, that kind of lifestyle tends to build wealth—not just through inheritance of land and cash,3 but through aspects of character, attitudes, and ideals that give an individual advantage in any situation or society.
I cannot give up this sense of myself or these attitudes and ideals—nor the knowledge, skills, and preferences they have enabled me to acquire over a lifetime—to the benefit of any other person on Earth. Disabling myself won’t make anyone else whole.
Second, my inheritance of the Western tradition. This is not the same thing as being a member of the Caucasian race, because Western ideas and values are open to anyone who will subscribe to them. Yes, many valuable cultures exist on Earth, both now and in the past. But the culture that we trace back to the Hebrew monotheists, the Greek philosophers and playwrights, the Roman lawgivers and builders, and the seeds these cultures scattered again and again throughout Europe and then, by adventurous expansion, to much of the rest of the world—that is a unique heritage. The West was the first culture to examine the life and needs of the common man against the prerogatives of nobles, chiefs, and princes. The West created and expanded ideas about the rule of law rather than the whim of tyrants, the supremacy of justice over might, and the preference for rights rather than privileges. The West created the principles of open markets, prescriptive economics, and private insurance against foreseeable accidents. The West established standards for some of the greatest and most expressive art, music, architecture, and infrastructure on Earth. The West took the advanced mathematics of the Arabs and extended it with the principles of calculus, the practice of double-entry bookkeeping, the application of mathematics to ideas about physics and chemistry, and development the scientific method, which guides and extends rational inquiry beyond the limits of fanciful belief. By unlocking the talents of any or all members of society through the mechanisms of trade, economics, and investment, rather than relying solely on the talents of those in a leisured noble class, and by offering everyone potential advancement into a propertied middle class, the West increased the effective use of human creativity and ingenuity.
The world is a different place through the spread of these Western ideals, principles, and technologies. We live longer, more interesting, healthier lives than our ancestors of just a few generations ago. Our children will do better.
Third, my status as an American. I take pride that this country was the first nation founded on rational principles, argued over and examined by its citizens after the War of Independence, ratified in its Constitution, and still holding strong and solid after two centuries. This is the first country that has no real “national identity” in the same way that Swedes, Japanese, or Frenchmen can distinguish people native to their national territory from mere passersby and immigrants. The first colonies were a mixture of British, Dutch, and French settlers, and though the British eventually dominated the early culture, we have happily collected immigrants and their cultures ever since to make something unique in the world. With our founding in the Western tradition, as above, with its ideals of tolerance, equality, and justice, we have remained open to practically all comers. We learned early the secret of what biologists call “hybrid vigor”: that we’re stronger as a mixture, a fortuitous amalgamation, than as a hothouse flower of cultural and genetic purity. Our language also takes after the ability of English to absorb, change, and grow. The American spirit, not being dependent upon any one viewpoint, cultural tradition, or ethnic makeup, will endure for centuries where more rigid, protective, class- and caste-ridden societies will crumble and fade.
Various groups and ideologies might want to close the American mind and divert the American spirit, but this sense of freedom amid self-confidence will not be easily set aside.
The United States has invented many new things. One of the best was our ability, after the tragedy of two world wars, to make allies of our former enemies in Germany, Italy, and Japan. And we have done this before, after earlier wars with the Spanish, the Mexicans, and the British. Being of no fixed ethnic background ourselves, we are a forgiving people. The one blight on this record would be what the early settlers in their westward advancement across the continent did to the native people they encountered. But really, it was a conflict mismatch of astounding proportions. On the one side was a thin population of Stone Age people, most of whom lacked the rudiment technologies of agriculture and animal husbandry, concepts of mathematics or economics, and even simple machines like the wheel and the lever. They claimed a vast territory because their hunter-gatherer lifestyle required a great deal of land to support them. Facing these indigenous peoples was a post-Enlightenment, newly industrialized population, inheritors of five thousand years of agriculture, advancing technology, and complex civilization. The Native Americans’ stand against this wave was both valiant and foolish. No one at the time—and no one seriously since then—would propose that a growing population should have remained bottled up on the eastern seaboard simply out of respect for the property rights of people whose culture rejected the notion of property. The result was a foregone conclusion by any rational assessment.
Fourth and finally, my status as a male. Currently popular attitudes tend to views males as superfluous people, perhaps best described as “sperm donors.” But males, when properly brought up, are necessary members of society. Men raised in the Western tradition are the inheritors of concepts of personal honor that go back to Roman-inspired medieval codes of conduct: speak the truth, fight fairly, deal plainly, take responsibility for your actions, protect women and children, defend the weak against predation, be strong in adversity, plan ahead against future uncertainty, and prepare to sacrifice yourself for the good of family and country. Although we now live in a mostly civilized, highly structured, and rule-protected world, pockets of savagery still exist because human nature is dominated by fight-or-flight reflexes. Women may be able to take care of themselves in certain circumstances and with special training, but in biological terms their role is to make themselves vulnerable to attack and adversity while bearing and raising the next generation. In biological terms, it is the man’s role to sustain and defend women in their intergenerational role. You can argue against biology, and individuals can always self-select to go against biology and take up any roles they want.4 But rightly or wrongly, these roles and responsibilities are ingrained in the human condition.
I have always identified with, been ready to accept, and followed the male role. Even if others may now dispute and disdain it, the fact is that society has been structured around these biological roles since before human beings settled down to practice agriculture, animal husbandry, and civilization. A few decades of popular theorizing to the contrary will not wipe out these imperatives.
So this is where I stand: a white, male, American inheritor of the Western tradition. Is this a perfect persona with a perfect history? Of course not, because every group and tradition is made up of and carried forward by imperfect human beings. But it’s a pretty good tradition and I have tried to be a good person within it. I make no apologies, because this is not a perfect world. … But it’s a pretty good one.
1. A SNP, or single-nucleotide polymorphism, is a one-letter change in the coding for any gene. Given that it takes three nucleotides—represented by the letters A, C, G, or T—to code for any of the amino acids going into the manufacture of a protein, and that with 64 possible combinations (four nucleotides times three positions in the codon’s reading frame) being used to call out just 20 different amino acids, there’s a lot of room for typos that end up having no immediate effect on the protein’s structure.
2. I took the Genographic Project genetics tests a few years ago. My Y chromosome haplotype was as expected, centering geographically in northern France and southern England. But my mitochondrial genotype—the part inherited from my mother and her female line through the egg—is the X haplotype, which has an interesting split: about seven percent of native Europeans carry it, but also three percent of indigenous Americans, centering in the Algonquin peoples around the Great Lakes, exhibit this genetic marker. These are the native groups with which my Eastern Seaboard ancestors might conceivably have had sexual contact; so there may be a Native American great-great-grandmother in my genetic makeup. Still, I consider myself and present as Caucasian rather than any degree of Native American.
3. I didn’t inherit a lot of either land or cash from my father, who did well to keep us together through uncertain economic times. But no matter, he gave me a richer inheritance through his example, teaching, and discipline.
4. With the obvious exception that men can raise and nurture, but not bear, children.