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Praise for Fielding’s thought-provoking op-ed

I predict that Jeremy Fielding ’03 will have an outstanding career as a lawyer. The Perspective piece he wrote for the RECORD of December 1, 2000, shows him to be an excellent writer, a clear thinker and a man with the courage of his convictions.

In the politically correct world of academia, any departure from the conventional wisdom is hazardous, and defending racial stereotyping to any degree is definitely out. Questioning an article of the orthodox academic credo will no longer bring out inquisitors with their stakes and fagots, but the academic thought-police are semper paratus.

Jeremy is certainly not even a mild racist, much less any variety of bigot, but I expect in the next issue of the RECORD to learn that an anathema has been pronounced against him by the self-appointed guardians of political rectitude.

Leon C. Baker ’49December 14, 2000

Relax, then respond intelligently to Fielding

In civilized debate, there is a simple way to respectfully react to an opponent’s argument. It’s a simple rule, because it’s mostly a negative one. When you see an argument you disagree with, do not assume it’s motivated by an ugly motive. Instead, if you can (and you should try really hard to), assume that the author has a set of values which are not basically repugnant (though you may disagree with them) and that the argument you see is the product of some intellectual process (though you may find it flawed), and treat it accordingly.

Is that so difficult in the case of Jeremy Fielding [“One-L Says Eliminating Stereotypes Requires Change”; December 1, 2000]? If it is, check out the excerpt from economist Walter Williams’ “The Intelligent Bayesian” in Prof. Singer’s Property casebook, pp. 200-01, which expresses a substantially similar point. (Also available in The New Republic, Nov. 10, 1986, p. 18.) “A white jeweler who does not open his door to young black males cannot be labeled a racist any more than a black taxi driver who refuses to pick up young black males at night. Black females and white females and white males commit holdups, but in this world of imperfect information cab drivers and jewelers play the odds. To ask them to behave differently is to disarm them.”

If Walter Williams, who is by the way black, had written in the RECORD, I bet no one would have called him a racist, much less argued that he deserved “a generous amount of warm spittle.” He would have gotten disagreement (as he did on our Property web site when we covered his article in the readings), but with a bit of respect that was denied to Jeremy Fielding. (Fielding, by the way, does not equate blacks and pit bulls – I read the article looking for such an equation, and didn’t find one. He does use blacks, pit bulls and doors as examples that each illustrate his point, but there’s a world of difference between “A and B share a common characteristic that illustrates my point,” and “A is like B.” Or are blacks like doors now?)

Let’s assume with Cullin O’Brien [“No false premises, but dialogue can’t hurt”; December 8, 2000] that stereotypes about black males are in fact false, and with Brian Fischer [“Fielding identifies ‘criminal’ inaccurately”; December 8, 2000] that these stereotypes are the result of selective policing, or with Benjamin Spencer [“Fielding column emboldens letter writer”; December 8, 2000] that these stereotypes are the result of a biased culture and media. Or let’s assume with Shareen Ahmed [“Critique ignored real source of injustice”; December 8, 2000] that these stereotypes are rooted in fact but are the result of an unjust society. Then we still haven’t dealt with Williams’ and Fielding’s central point. Assume we create a society where no one cares about race; where no group is treated differently on account of race, ethnicity or any other factor; where all people get everything they could possibly need for a decent existence; and where no one jumps to conclusions about anyone except by using all the information available.

In such a world, I suspect there would still be bad people who would want to commit crimes. Let’s assume that, in this beautiful world, after having soberly analyzed all crime statistics, that young white males like myself turn out to be disproportionately represented among criminals … and that I’m walking down a dark street and see a white male walking toward me. I would love to, as Parke, Hall and Pipkin suggest [“Students illustrate Fielding’s circular discourse”; December 8, 2000], familiarize myself with the Other and hear him as the author of his own discourse … but on a dark street in the dead of night, I’d rather not. Then can I please prejudge this white male and cross the street?

Sasha Volokh ’03December 10, 2000

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