Last night, I said on Twitter that alleged author/editor Vox Day is a dictionary-definition racist.
Well, this is not actually what I said.
I suggested that if I were to say this based on the things he’d said, it would be labeled as a foul calumny.
But let’s let that go, because as it happens, I do think that Vox is a racist by any meaningful definition of the word. And while I don’t think any dictionary of the English language can be looked upon as an authoritative reference for anything but the most general of reference purposes (for those who find this idea radical or confusing, I’ll explain why this would so in a later post), it is important and notable that he fulfills the dictionary definition of racism because of what usually happens whenever people of conscience try to have a nuanced discussion about race in the public sphere.
What happens, of course, is that someone (usually many someones) pop up to say “BUT THE DICTIONARY SAYS RACISM IS…”
And once someone brings up this point, they cannot be dissuaded. The dictionary is the official repository of the English language, right? It is the alpha and the omega of the language, right? That’s the thinking, and it’s as much an article of faith as anything else. No logical argument in the world can prevail against an article of faith, particularly when the interests of the faithful are at stake.
But the existence of Vox Day really is a precious gift from God in this regard, because it gives us an example of someone whose beliefs—as he himself is perfectly willing to state, again and again—fulfill the dictionary definition of racism, and despite this fact, I have yet to see any of the people who would pop up to raise the dictionary objection willing to acknowledge him as a racist.
This leaves us with two broad possibilities.
- The invocation of the dictionary was a ruse from the beginning, an example of shifting goalposts. It doesn’t matter what the definition of racism is, it will always be defined in a way so that no person the objector likes or identifies with can ever be called racist.
- The objections were earnest, but some combination of wanting Vox Day’s approval or fearing his wrath is preventing people from acknowledging that by his own standards he is a racist.
What is the dictionary definition of racism?
Well, the standard repository of knowledge for internet arguments is dictionary.com. The primary definition given there says:
“A belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to dominate others or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others.”
Simple enough, yes?
So now we just have to see if Vox Day evinces a doctrine or belief regarding inherent differences among the various human racial groups that determine cultural or individual achievement. Now, you might say “But you’re ignoring the rest of the definition!” No, I’m not. It says usually. This means if we find the first part, the second part will probably follow. But it’s not a requirement. The usually doesn’t have to be satisfied for the definition to apply.
As it happens, I believe we could extrapolate the usually from his words and actions across various blog posts, but as he and his defenders are quick to jump on any extrapolation made by others and label it slander, we’ll stick to his words only, I think.
And I’m going to answer this question first by referring to this blog post, an interview between a blogger identified as John D. Brown and Vox Day.
The first question Brown asks is:
- Do you believe Black Africans have, in general, less genetic potential for intelligence than White Europeans?
The answer Day gives is:
- Pure Homo sapiens sapiens lack Homo neanderthalus and Homo denisova genes which appear to have modestly increased the base genetic potential for intelligence. These genetic differences may explain the observed IQ gap between various human population groups as well as various differences in average brain weights and skull sizes.
Now, if you were just reading the answer in a vacuum, disconnected from the question, you might be excused for not seeing what’s happening here. The question was about “Black Africans” versus “White Europeans”, testing the common assertion that Day is a white supremacist. The answer he gives wraps this up in his favored scientific theories, but that’s what he’s talking about: Africans and Europeans. Black people and white people. He’s making the assertion that one race, broadly defined, has less potential for intelligence than other races, broadly defined.
Would anyone say this does not constitute a belief that some races have greater potential for achievement than others?
Now, Vox Day would object to it being characterized as a belief. It is settled science, in his mind (which betrays his lack of comprehension of the meaning of the word “science”), and thus incapable of being racist (which betrays his lack of comprehension of the history of science).
But I’ll point out that a belief is not by definition untrue, which means that even if this assertion of his is correct, it still would constitute a belief. So if your only objection to this is “It’s not racist if it’s true!”, we can parse this to mean: “It is racist, I just think racists are right to be racist.”
Barring that spurious ground, is there any way in which this cannot be construed to constitute “a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement”?
Oh, wait! Day himself says elsewhere that intelligence is just one metric, and that of course if you were to pick another metric to judge, we might expect to find that other racial groupings are superior by that measurement. I, uh… I think we should refrain from asking him to spell out exactly what he thinks the Black race are superior at, but I also suspect that if he were to hold forth about the differing superiorities he has observed among the different racial groupings, it would become more and more apparent he was simply putting a scientific gloss on age-old stereotypes the longer he went on.
But that’s speculation, and not at all what I’m resting my case on.
The thing is, even if he does believe that each race is “superior in its own way”, as it were, he makes it painfully, crushingly clear at the drop of a what which “superiorities” he thinks matter most in terms of who should be the dominant over the others: intelligence and what he calls civilization. Let’s use his own words again:
Unlike the white males she excoriates, there is no evidence to be found anywhere on the planet that a society of NK Jemisins is capable of building an advanced civilization, or even successfully maintaining one without significant external support from those white males. If one considers that it took my English and German ancestors more than one thousand years to become fully civilized after their first contact with advanced Greco-Roman civilization, it should be patently obvious that it is illogical to imagine, let alone insist, that Africans have somehow managed to do the same in less than half the time at a greater geographic distance.
That comes from this post, which has some other choice tidbits. N.K. Jemisin is, of course, a Black author with whom he had a disagreement. The really astonishing thing about this post is that he loves to quote it, this same paragraph in particular, to prove that he’s not racist, that he wasn’t being racist when he described her as being “half-savage”.
Can anyone explain to me how this paragraph is not articulating a belief that the potential for cultural achievement is tied to race? I mean, let’s ignore for the moment the breathtaking historical illiteracy of thinking there was no “civilization” to rival Greece and Rome in Africa, and the other attendant mistakes like reducing “civilization” to a one-dimensional bar graph. Ignore all that.
Is he not talking about racial groups having differing potentials for achievement?
If he is, then we must conclude that he is espousing racism, by the dictionary definition.
We can also consider this post, about immigration, which contains further evidence of how deeply his beliefs in a link between race and intelligence affect his worldview.
And then we have this post, where he misreads a scientific finding to claim that Africans are “less evolved” (which is not an actual thing, in evolutionary science) than Europeans. Again, he may very well believe himself to be factually correct, but are we imagining most racists are walking around thinking “I know that it’s incorrect, but I’m going to keep pretending that racial superiority exists anyway?”
The evidence is clear. Vox Day believes in an updated version of the original pseudoscientific construct of race created by white supremacists to justify slavery and colonialism, and by his own words, he believes that race is intimately tied up with intelligence and civilization, and thus achievement.
Oh, but wait! He also says:
I assert that an unborn female black child with a missing chromosome and an inclination to homosexuality is equal in human value and human dignity and unalienable, God-given rights to a straight white male in the prime of his life and a +4 SD IQ.
Well, he can assert that all he wants. But according to the dictionary, he’s still racist, even if he managed to live up to that. I think the posts I linked to above do a good job of dispelling that illusion. To be honest, he fails to live up to it in the course of that abomination of a sentence, simply by positioning Black, female, and queer as negatives.
That’s a side point, though, and not central to the argument here.
That is, we have a dictionary definition of racism, and we have Vox Day fulfilling that definition.
If we are to go by the dictionary definition, Vox Day is racist.
Do I expect Day to read this post and have a “Wait, I think I’m the baddie” moment and have his heart grow three sizes? Nope. I don’t expect him to feel bad and change his ways, which is what he seems to think is the only point of people discussing racism and other issues. I don’t even expect him to read it, say, “Okay, so I am a racist” before continuing with his awfulness.
To put it simply: I don’t expect Vox Day to be anything except be Vox Day. He is, by his own admission, a rabid dog. For all his glowing talk of civilization, he despises its fruits and has nothing but basest contempt for its roots (communalism, mutualism, a concern for public affairs and the common weal.) There is nothing in him of reason, and thus nothing to reason with. Regardless of what I do or don’t do, say or don’t say, he will continue to set fire to everything around him and then interpret it as an unfair attack when the flames burn him, all the while wondering what happened to those lovely bridges he was using to get around and the crops he was counting on to get him through the winter.
If you want a picture of Vox Day’s future, it’s a man, slamming his own face against the concrete repeatedly while shouting “MOLON LABE!” and labeling the concrete as a savage enemy of civilization.
Fight a man like that?
And above all, why?
No, the reason I have spilled almost 2,000 words and counting in this blog post is simply to demonstrate something, once and for all: if anyone who cites that “BUT THE DICTIONARY SAYS…” nonsense will not acknowledge that Vox Day is racist, we can dispense forever with the idea that they are arguing in good faith.
They were either disingenuous from the beginning, or are a moral coward, or are acting in self-interest to protect an ally.