April 3, 2006

Law School Confidential

A reader writes:

I'm currently in a Federal Criminal Law class [at famous law school A] . My professors are 1) a current federal prosecutor and 2) a federal judge.

We spent several hours on the federal death penalty [FDP], and more than half of that time was used to talk about the racial disparities in the FDP. Blacks make up about 50% of FDP prosecutions, though I believe (this wasn't mentioned in the class) that they tend to have a lower proportion of actual death sentences than whites when measured against prosecution rate (the Great White Defendant effect among juries, maybe? In either case, it's a question for people more knowledgeable than me).

Rather than focusing on things more properly in the ambit of a law school course, such as the actual statutes or caselaw affecting the subject, the class discussion meandered widely and vaguely over this topic of race - about how "troubling" and "disturbing" it all as, how it pointed to inherent inequities in the justice system, etc. Notably, this went on and on without the professor ever actually coming out and saying with finality something like, "the system is racist."

The discussion turned to the actual question of causal factors only near the end. Which is in itself somewhat striking - the implication throughout had been that no evidence of causation was needed: the fact that the FDP results were racially disproportionate to population was taken as res ipsa loquitur ["the thing speaks for itself"] by everyone there. Anyway, after reviewing many common theories of how racism might have produced the skewed results, the professor tossed out the observation that, "And there's one guy who says blacks just commit more murders than anyone else. [laugh, shrug] Which I really just don't buy, frankly." There were the perfunctory snorts of laughter from most of the students as well.

According to the website of the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics "Blacks were 7 times more likely than whites to commit homicide in 2002." Blacks, who make up about 1/8th of the population, have committed about 52% of the homicides since 1976. Historian Roger Lane has demonstrated that the black-white murder gap has existed in Philadelphia all the way back through 1839.

Now, as a natural coward when it comes to social situations like this, I declined to mention anything as rude as the actual statistics. No matter how definitively I showed that reality was starkly at odds with their beliefs, I would have been a racist for saying so. I mean, really, why would I know such a thing unless I was a closet KKK-er looking for reasons to justify my obvious hatred of blacks?

It was an amazing thing to watch nonetheless. Here you had an elite educated cohort of individuals looking at an issue which will one day be within their professional ken and for which there were readily available and unambiguous statistics, and every one of them to the individual person was studiously looking away.

Something else that's characteristic is that this law school is located in an expensive inner suburb of a city with a notoriously dangerous black ghetto. Most of the law students in that class, when looking for housing, have personally thought long and hard about the tradeoff between the cheap rents available in the blacker parts of town versus the physical safety of living in the high rent whiter parts of town. Yet, there is zero connection in the minds of these high IQ people between their personal lives and this issue.

An awful lot of supposedly intellectual discourse in America is intended not at all to discover the truth, but to demonstrate status and to inculcate the proper status markers in young aspirants to the elite. This lengthy session at a top law school serves to demonstrate to future lawyers that the better sort of lawyer is too refined to mention the bleeding obvious. Only crass, unrefined people use Occam's Razor when thinking about social issues. Analogies to Victorian socialization of the upwardly mobile to never mention anything having to do with sex are obvious.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

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