John Derbyshire gets left behind

My thoughts about John Derbyshire are complex because I am such a fool for math. But his argument concerning PEPFAR had to be addressed. Pete Wehner, with whom I usually have serious problems, has written one of the most eloquent defenses of PEPFAR and, consequently, a comprehensive slap at Derb and his Shockleyian attitude:

Here are a few facts that undermine Derbyshire’s case: (a) Africans have fewer sex partners on average over a lifetime than do Americans; (b) 22 countries in Africa have had a greater than 25 percent decline in infections in the past 10 years (for South African and Namibian youth, the figure is 50 percent in five years); and (c) America’s efforts are helping to create a remarkable shifts in how, in Africa, boys view girls — reflected in a decline of more than 50 percent in sexual partners among boys.

So Derbyshire’s argument that our AIDS efforts are “more likely to be negative than positive” because they will continue to subsidize and encourage “unhealthy, disease-spreading habits” is not only wrong but the opposite of reality.

Because Wehner has written this better than I could ever have, you really must read the whole thing.

One thing Wehner addresses which is something I remember seeing in The Corner some years back is a reference to a sinking of an overcrowded Egyptian ferry in the Nile. In response, Wehner notes this passage from the Derb:

In between our last two posts I went to Drudge to see what was happening in the world. The lead story was about a ship disaster in the Red Sea. From the headline picture, it looked like a cruise ship. I therefore assumed that some people very much like the Americans I went cruising with last year were the victims. I went to the news story. A couple of sentences in, I learned that the ship was in fact a ferry, the victims all Egyptians. I lost interest at once, and stopped reading. I don’t care about Egyptians.

The point is not that what Derb is saying is what many of us sort of feel anyway. [I recall Jonah Goldberg defending Derb some time later with this.] The point is, as Wehner so elegantly puts it:

Cultivating what Adam Smith (in The Theory of Moral Sentiments) called “sympathy” and “fellow feeling” is a complicated matter. Suffice it to say that very few of us care about the suffering and fate of others as much as we should. Yet most of us aren’t proud of this fact; we are, rather, slightly embarrassed by it. Not John Derbyshire. He seems eager to celebrate his callousness, as if it were a sign of manliness and tough-mindedness. I haven’t a clue whether this is a pose, done for shock value or some such thing, or real. All we can do is judge Derbyshire by his public words. And they are not only unpersuasive; they are at times downright ugly.

Sorry Derb, you deserve this. Maybe you wear it as a badge of honor. But we must all venture into this world containing all people, each of whom is as stupid and repulsive as you. What you seem to lack, on paper anyway, is an appreciation that we are all human. The treatment that Bill Shockley got at the hands of the public was sad, but right. He was a genius operating as an Asperger’s kid. Someday, we may write the same about you.

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Ron Gordon

Math nerd in his early 40's who seems to have an opinion about everything and an inability to keep it to himself.