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The ‘soft bigotry of low expectations’ is getting harder

Idea that 2+2=4 is western imperialism

In the 1970s, the BBC screened a dramatised documentary series about the fight to abolish the slave trade. Even a year of the virus limiting new series, at a time of great BBC eagerness to talk about racism, has not made them screen it again.

– I see one reason why they have not: the series displayed sleazy white slave traders and abusive white slave owners prominently, but it also showed white people eager to end the slave trade and (much worse) black people eager to continue it. One episode included the king of Dahomey’s threat: “if you do not allow me to sell you my slaves, their fate will be a great deal worse” (a very brief scene of the Dahomey murder spectacle lent meaning to his remark). After abolition was voted, it showed a white slave trader assuring the Dahomans, as a drug dealer might his suppliers, “It is one thing for parliament to pass a law …”, hinting at the Royal Navy’s long and hard campaign to enforce it.

– Only recently did I spot another reason why they would not want to show it again – the scene in which a corrupt old white slave trader warns his young colleague that “it’s more than your life’s worth” to doubt the ability of their slave-selling hosts to count very accurately the quantity of trade goods being handed over in exchange, and to assess their quality knowledgeably. The traders well knew that Africans counted two plus two as four, just as they did. Any trader who imagined that black ability to add diverged enough from white to enable an attempt to short-change them had learned otherwise long before the 1780s.

– The southern Confederacy thought the same. Until its death throes, it forbade enlisting a southern black as a Confederate soldier because, as one Confederate senator put it, “If blacks can make good soldiers then our whole theory of slavery is wrong.” (Perhaps also because even southern white Democrats realised that southern black desire to fight against blacks being freed was likely to be a very minority taste.) But there was one exception. Every regiment had its regimental band, which played to set the pace at the start and end of marches, used trumpets to signal commands in battle – and fought when other duties did not supervene. From its start to its end, Confederate law said any black could enlist as bandsman, with the same pay and perquisites as a white – a very rare example of formal legal equality. (Playing music requires the ability to count time. For the woke, ‘dismantling the legacy of the Confederacy’ apparently includes dismantling its realisation – shared by the Victorian composer Dvorak – that blacks often excelled in music so much as to overcome prejudice against black ability. Today, it’s ‘racist’ to value instrumental skill.)

‘Politically correct’ has meant ‘actually wrong’ ever since the first commissar explained to the first party comrade that it was neither socialist nor prudent to notice a factual error in the party line. ‘Structurally racist’ is PC’s modern companion. No longer are the woke content merely to imply (“mathematics is racist“, “punctuality is racist“, “politeness is racist“) that blacks can’t count, can’t tell the time and can only behave crudely. They’re starting to say it in words of fewer syllables.

So how does one avoid being a racist when cancel culture calls it ‘racist’ to expect any black man you meet to be able to add? First, decide which you would rather oppose: ‘structural racism’ or actual racism. If the latter, then decide whether you have the courage to do more than dislike it in the privacy of your own mind. The BBC series showed the voyage of the Zong, when the captain threw many slaves overboard to check a pandemic onboard – or was it just to convert them into insurance losses? The scene was directed to imply that some officers did not entirely like doing this – but it would not have helped anyone’s career to have refused. Only in a metaphorical sense will white intellectuals today throw overboard an off-message black colleague. Perhaps the Zong’s crew consoled themselves that, after all, it was only black people being thrown overboard. Perhaps woke whites today console themselves that, after all, as Joe Biden put it, if you don’t vote Democrat then “you ain’t black”. Besides, if

“Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.” (George Orwell, 1984)

then clearly it is the duty of Critical Race Theory to ensure that is not granted.

This too shall pass. Years ago, the left decided that Stalin in Russia was “not real socialism”, nor Mugabe in Zimbabwe, nor Chavez in Venezuela – but only long after Orwell, and the year 1984, and the Soviet Union itself, had died. One day, the woke will decide that it is “not real anti-racism” to claim that black people have open minds on whether 2+2=4. Later still, they might decide it was “not real anti-racism”. But for now, just as it was once an insult to “the workers’ state” to mention how many workers Stalin killed, so we are still well into the period when asking how many black people were murdered in Ferguson or Minneapolis by the riots, or since the riots, is as ‘racist’ as classical music, mentioning the holocaust during a class discussion of racism, skiing, cheese, advising persons of colour to exercise, camping, quantum theory, acronyms, alfresco seating, grammar, beer, snow ploughs, evergreen trees, praising the fund-raising efforts of Captain Tom, individualism, interracialmarriage or questioning the existence of structural racism.

I had a very much longer list of increasingly bizarre things that exemplify structural racism – none of them repeated from my last list – but as I typed links to the structural racism of such innate features of the human condition as time and sleep, I reflected that the first was passing, and soon I should start doing the second.

[ADDED LATER: there’s no need to go to university to not-learn maths. Not-learning maths is coming to a school near you – if you live in Ontario. The Ontario Grade 9 curriculum’s “decolonial, anti-racist approach to mathematics education makes visible its historical roots and social constructions”. Education Minister Stephen Lecce says math is “subjective” and “used to normalize racism and marginalization of non-eurocentric mathematical knowledges.” This will come as a surprise to anyone who thought that teaching the use of ‘Arabic’ (actually Hindu) numbers, plus the huge Hindu invention of the zero, is the very reverse of normalising ‘eurocentric’ Roman numerals – but I guess, to the woke, II + II = IV in any other notation is just as oppressive.]

28 comments to The ‘soft bigotry of low expectations’ is getting harder

  • Zerren Yeoville

    Meanwhile, the idea that 2+2=4 is clearly falling out of fashion in (you guessed) California…

    “In the Name of Equity, California Will Discourage Students Who Are Gifted at Math.”

    It seems that the movie ‘Harrison Bergeron’ (based on a Kurt Vonnegut story) looks less like mere cable-channel sci-fi and more like a prescient piece of crystal-ball gazing:

    “The film takes place in a dystopian future in which the US government mandates total egalitarianism in all things, by having everyone attach wearable mind “handicapping” devices to their heads and showing only mind numbing shows on TV. The story centers on a high school student named Harrison Bergeron whose extreme intelligence makes him something of a pariah.” (Summary on the YouTube link)

    Watch the opening classroom scene in which the teacher is grading the work of the students … and the viewer slowly begins to realize that something is not quite right when one student is congratulated on a C while another student is praised for ‘improving’ from a B-plus to a B-minus … and the titular character’s A-plus is as big a cause for concern as if he had scored an E-minus.

    Is this a glimpse of future reality?

  • Hugh

    You’ve a way to go before you beat John Brignell.

  • Mr Ed

    Will they stop before they come out and say ‘2 + 4 could equal 4’? I doubt it, as this is not about Maths, but is part of the revolt against reason itself, of which Mathematics is a significant part.

    And the introductory word ‘Nope‘, indicative of an absurd proposition about to follow imho.

    And to update the Democrats, to show why they push this absurdity: “If blacks can make good workers or professionals, then our whole theory of society is wrong.”

    And they know it is wrong.

  • David Bolton

    When I saw that tweet, the phrase “special kind of stupid” popped in to my head.

  • decnine

    I agree with pretty much all you say. I also take encouragement from the word blindness that the Labour Party has inflicted upon itself. Starmer’s dreaming about reconnecting with Labour’s roots is an impossibility. So long as the rhetoric of structural this that and the other persists; so long as Labour embraces loopy ideas like White Supremacy, Labour will lack a vocabulary to recognise where they have gone wrong. It’s as if they have put Voldemort in charge of their thought processes. The thing that Labour most needs to stop doing is crapping on their own white working class roots.

  • You’ve a way to go before you beat John Brignell. (Hugh, May 10, 2021 at 6:31 am)

    Too true 🙁 – they can write ‘structural racist’ nonsense and global warming non-science faster than I can read it all, let alone post about it all.

    This morning, I added to the penultimate position in my list above, the following two links pushing back at woke bigots who find some interracialmarriages structurally racist – but I know that I will not keep up with John (and he will not keep up with the rate at which the propaganda machine churns out unreality).

    ADDED: only after typing this did I see the footnote at the end of John’s page, dated September 2015, when the list had 883 entries, beginning:

    The time it takes to process a new entry increases approximately with the square of the list length, after checking for duplications, spoofs etc. …

    It might be possible to design around that particular problem, but I so understand the penultimate sentence of that footnote:

    … It was taking over my life, which I did not want to end as a garbage collector. There have since been hundreds more claims of an increasingly ludicrous nature.

  • Fred Z

    My adopted younger son is maybe 1/16th black and I was once called a racist for adopting him. I was more startled than offended.

    However, please, we must all understand that bad behaviour and ideas are not new. People are and always will be crazy, lazy, stupid and evil in various proportions.

    I am surprised only that other people continue to claim to be surprised by deviant behaviour and ideas.

  • NickM

    From your link on maths:

    The concept of mathematics being purely objective is unequivocally false

    Isn’t that making a definitive true/false type statement? Isn’t that arguing for a relativistic position in terms of absolutes?

    First they came for the (anti)social sciences and I did nothing (because it’s all a pile of putrid wank anyway) then they came for the arts and I did nothing (like who really cares, anyway?) and when they came for maths and the real, genuine, physical sciences… Well, I dunno really. Because they can twist the curriculum through more dimensions than string theory but you can’t change reality. 2+2=4 whether you teach that as an absolute or not the citadel is still impregnable. The sad thing is we may wind-up with a generation of kids who don’t get the key to that citadel but that doesn’t mean the citadel isn’t there. The bizarre children’s crusade to make a new reality is all very “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”. But… towards the end of that story Borges remarks…

    Ten years ago any symmetry with a resemblance of order – dialectical materialism, anti-Semitism, Nazism – was sufficient to entrance the minds of men. How could one do other than submit to Tlon, to the minute and vast evidence of an orderly planet? It is useless to answer that reality is also orderly. Perhaps it is, but in accord­ance with divine laws – I translate: inhuman laws – which we never quite grasp. Tlon is surely a labyrinth, but it is a labyrinth devised by men, a labyrinth destined to be deciphered by men.

    See what I mean? It is easier to create a false reality than to understand the real thing – which is probably why people do create their bizarre utopias but those false realities can be undone in a way that real reality cannot. Consider the Pythagoreans and the sorry tale of Hippasus who “drowned at sea” for “impiety” in discovering contra Pythagorean dogma that the square root of two is irrational. Well, you can set-up your cult, you can indoctrinate, you can even kill but it doesn’t so much as scratch the true reality which will come out in the end. Here’s a very simple proof. That may have cost Hippasus his life but it’s still with us.

    Anyway, read the whole Borges story here. Was he the greatest author of the C20th? I’m tempted to say yes except I’m also aware of the ghost of JRRT at my shoulder.

  • Paul Marks

    Excellent post.

    As for the denial of objective truth – of objective mathematics, science and history (such things as pro slavery black powers who had practiced slavery long before Europeans arrived), one can argue about Karl Marx himself.

    Did Karl Marx and Classical Marxism accept or reject objective truth – in such things as mathematics and science? One can have a big argument on this question.

    But it is clear that the Frankfurt School interpretation of Marxism (like French Post Modernism) rejects objective truth – such as some children being better at mathematics than other children, and that this is important. Indeed it rejects the idea that 1+1=2 is objective truth (it is just “Whiteness” “White Supremacy” “Power Structures” and so on).

    The Frankfurt School “Intersectional” movement, such things as Third Wave feminism and Critical Race Theory, reject both reason and evidence – the Frankfurt School will (if not defeated) utterly destroy civilisation. Things are that serious – which is why why even Joseph Stalin rejected the Frankfurt School interpretation of Marxism.

    Now we have a situation where such people as the President of the United States repeat the insane mantras of the Frankfurt School – Mr Biden does not know what he is saying (he is hopelessly senile and put into office by massive Election Fraud), but the people who control Puppet Biden know what these doctrines mean.

    The United States government is now under the influence of the enemies of Western Civilisation – indeed of all Civilisation. Things are as serious as that.

  • Paul Marks

    The genius (and it is genius) of Frankfurt School Marxism is that they do NOT come in saying “we wish to establish a Marxist tyranny – a boot crushing a human face for ever”.

    What they say is “we are against racism, sexism, homophobia……..”

    So anyone who opposes the agenda of totalitarianism (of tyranny) is made into a “racist, sexist, homophobe…..”.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Outstanding post, Niall. Was the BBC series you mentioned “The Fight Against Slavery”, written and narrated by Evan Jones? I have not seen it – given that I was ten or eleven in 1975 my parents probably thought I was too young too see it.

    However someone called “InternetPilgrim” has put up three videos of the series on YouTube. There is a link to Part I here, Part II here and Part II here, so I will try to remedy that lack soon.

  • itellyounothing

    Traitors always lie, whether they be Marxophiles or Jacobites.

    Wormtongues one and all.

  • Ferox

    In this era of the online publishers (Youtube, Google, Facebook, et al) war against “disinformation” – which conveniently is whatever things go against the politics of the people running those companies – I would like to add a codicil to Orwell’s statement.

    “Freedom is also the freedom to say that two plus two make five – so long as you understand that people are going to call you a fool.”

  • AFT

    What these numbskulls don’t understand is that 1+1=2 because the definition of 2 is that it is 1+1 and everything else flows from that, including 2+2=4. And while it might make a numbskull feel smart to snidely ask “How can you be so sure that 2+2=4?”, the question makes as much sense as asking someone how they can be sure that a triangle has 3 sides. “Eh… because that’s what we call three-sided thingies…” Numbskulls. Jeez…

  • Paul Marks

    AFT – they are not “numbskulls” (not at the top) – and they understand these things very well.

    These doctrines are DESIGNED to destroy civilisation The people who created and spread Frankfurt School Marxism were not stupid or ignorant – quite the contrary. They created doctrines designed to do as much harm as possible – and as no one really FIGHTS BACK, they are succeeding.

    Fighting back does not mean saying “Political correctness gone mad Ha Ha Ha” – that is not fighting back.

    Presently even most “conservatives” will not say that Marxists are Marxists – they call them “liberals” or “Progressives”, or “Woke”, or “SJWs” and then stand amazed as these “numbskulls” take over every cultural institution.

    They are winning because they are not “numbskulls” – they are highly intelligent, deeply evil, and totally ruthless.

  • Paul Marks

    Today even professors of mathematics declare that 2+2=4 is to with “white supremacy” and “patriarchy”.

    And yet people still will not fight back – they just make little jokes.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    We should try Britanny’s logic in shops. In Australia we have coins of 2 dollar value. Next time something costs $5., I’ll give two $2 coins, and if there is a complaint, I’ll accuse the other person of being a racist and/or colonialist. Would that keep me from prison?

  • Next time something costs $5., I’ll give two $2 coins, and if there is a complaint, I’ll accuse the other person of being a racist and/or colonialist. Would that keep me from prison? (Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray, May 11, 2021 at 8:17 am)

    I think your chances might be better if you were in Minneapolis and black (of course, many shops there are boarded up these days). However I guarantee that, even in Australia, you would be safer than if you tried it on an African chieftain two hundred and fifty years ago.

  • Clovis Sangrail

    @Paul Marks

    Today even professors of mathematics declare that 2+2=4 is to with “white supremacy” and “patriarchy”.

    I think only professors of Maths Education!

  • It surprises even me, that, when I wrote the post above, the usefulness of ‘decolonised’ arithmetic to vote fraudsters simply did not occur to me.

    Labour MP thinks 3.5 million is a quarter of UK citizensLewisham East’s Labour MP must believe there are a lot of illegal immigrants if she thinks 4 * 3.5 million is the total number of UK citizens legally entitled to vote.

    If you have a philosophical issue with 2 + 2 = 4 then I guess multiplication is a struggle, a proper fraction is hard indeed, and noticing the improper fraction you get when more people vote than are legally entitled to do so would be very improper indeed.

  • mmacg

    In Maths class in second or third year of secondary school, there is always some lazy moron who whinges “Why do we have to learn this stuff, we’ll never have to use it!”
    These morons “grow up” and become journalists or activists.

    Why does anyone listen to these fools?

    Lucky for them, some of us did “learn this stuff” and use it, otherwise they wouldn’t have their iPhones, laptops, roofs over their heads, frequent flyer miles, etc.

  • bobby b

    “In Maths class in second or third year of secondary school, there is always some lazy moron who whinges “Why do we have to learn this stuff, we’ll never have to use it!” These morons “grow up” and become journalists or activists.”

    Or lawyers. Don’t forget lawyers.

  • TDK

    The thing is, the idea that maths rests upon several unproven axioms is part of Western knowledge. Things like the assumption that two parallel lines meet only at infinity. For example, Instead of taking these on trust or common sense, Godel tried to develop a type of math that did not rely upon axioms and was able to demonstrate that coherent maths was still possible.

    I mention this because the Western canon has investigated these ideas but bad faith actors have misunderstand/misused them for other purposes.

    The key fact to bear in mind is not that Post Modernism brings along a different method or standard for judging objective reality but instead rejects the idea of objective reality in itself. Post modernists and those who do not realise they are following PM precepts rejects the idea of objectivity completely. For them, there is only power. Power determines reality.

  • NickM

    Not exactly…

    From wikipedia (but basically on the money):

    Gödel published his first incompleteness theorem in 1931 when he was 25 years old, one year after finishing his doctorate at the University of Vienna. The first incompleteness theorem states that for any ω-consistent recursive axiomatic system powerful enough to describe the arithmetic of the natural numbers (for example Peano arithmetic), there are true propositions about the natural numbers that can be neither proved nor disproved from the axioms.[4] To prove this, Gödel developed a technique now known as Gödel numbering, which codes formal expressions as natural numbers. The second incompleteness theorem, which follows from the first, states that the system cannot prove its own consistency.[5]

    Gödel also showed that neither the axiom of choice nor the continuum hypothesis can be disproved from the accepted Zermelo-Fraenkel set theory, assuming that its axioms are consistent. The former result opened the door for mathematicians to assume the axiom of choice in their proofs. He also made important contributions to proof theory by clarifying the connections between classical logic, intuitionistic logic, and modal logic.

    Maths in some sense is an act of faith. You can’t prove maths is right from within maths. Think of a Swiss Army knife. A useful tool (I have one) but can you take it apart with itself? The italics are mine and are important because “not disproved” is not the same as “proved”.

  • NickM

    Oh, bugger! Sorry but the blockquote over-rode my italics. It was the bit about the Zermelo-Fraenkel axiom system.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    Niall, how about I self-identify as black if arrested?

  • […] Samizdata, Niall Kilmartin wondered why the BBC hadn’t gotten around to showing a 1970s historical series through the […]

  • Instapundit yesterday linked an article with the lapidary title “Anti-Racist” Education Is Neither. It does not have all the examples of ‘anti’-racism that I list in my penultimate paragraph but it does have others, including one that surprised even me even now: the anti-racist white-ally’s duty

    not to talk about the individual accomplishments of black Americans, because to do so is to “teach students that ‘really good, really successful’ Black folks are exempt from racist structures.”