Discover more from For the Sake of Argument
The Tautology of Anti-Racism: Anti-Asian Hate Edition
Solving any problem begins with correctly identifying its cause – armed with a viral strain of anti-racism, we are headed in the wrong direction.
In the immediate aftermath of the Atlanta shooting earlier this month, in which a 21-year old Atlanta resident killed eight including six Asian-Americans, a broad consensus rapidly emerged that the multiple homicide was racially motivated. This “anti-racist” interpretation of the event as a hate crime persisted despite a complete dearth of evidence that anti-Asian hate played any role, and despite the shooter's testimony that it was sex addiction which drove him to murder. To the hammer of anti-racism, everything is a nail.
The initial police investigation has so far brought up no evidence that the Atlanta shooter, Robert Aaron Long, acted on the basis of racial animus. Yet, US Senator Tammy Duckworth told the press that “it looks racially motivated to [her],” while another sitting Senator said, “We all know hate when we see it.” Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, too, condemned the attack, in agreement with the public evaluation of it as a hate crime. Meanwhile, bestselling author Ibram X. Kendi tweeted that here is yet another example of “White supremacist domestic terror.”
It is rare that the perpetrator in a multiple homicide lives to be questioned in police custody. It is even rarer that he is lucid enough to provide a coherent justification for his attack. While it is obvious that an investigation should not end at taking the assailant’s word at face value, the Atlanta shooting is a remarkably straightforward case: Long suffered from what he describes as a sex addiction, and from guilt emanating from the conflict between that impulse and his evangelical beliefs. He wanted to “eliminate” “temptation” for both himself and others. If Long was a white supremacist, motivated to murder from a deep hatred of Asians, why would he also target white and Hispanic individuals? When it’s over, why would he not claim the attack as a victory for his team? The fact that he isn’t is itself telling.
Long’s testimony did nothing to dislodge the assumption that the real motive was anti-Asian hate. The corrosive, irresistible, gravitational pull to label this a hate crime led the New York Times and the Washington Post to publish nine and sixteen stories, respectively, with that angle within two days of the attack. Since then, the narrative has only strengthened, with nation-wide protests being held this past Saturday to “Stop Asian Hate.”
The Protean narrative that this attack was a white supremacist hate crime amid a surge of analogous attacks continually shape shifts, defying all evidence that threatens to undermine it. Anti-Asian hate did appear to rise in 2020. While the increased hostility may plausibly be a result of careless public discussions about the origin of coronavirus, “white supremacy” fails to account for certain trends. In 2020, 50% of suspects in anti-Asian attacks carried out in New York City were black, while 10% were white. Heather MacDonald recently reviewed a series of other attacks on Asians where the race of the assailant was often omitted from the news report. Is there any doubt that it would be radioactive to lead with the race angle, when the attacker happens to be Black?
Anti-racist activist groups, like Stop AAPI Hate, that purport to be unearthing evidence of unfettered anti-Asian hate were already in possession of their conclusion before they began collecting incident reports. They behave with religious zeal: the truth of the central dogma is not derived from observation. It is an assumed truth, and observations are subverted to it or, when they cannot be, rejected.
To reflexively conclude that the Atlanta shooting was yet-another-result-of-white-supremacy is to heroically miss the mark. We are not strangers to quick, and incorrect judgement. We’re also intimate with collective amnesia: up until last year, Asians were considered to be in “proximity to white privilege” and as the Harvard affirmative action lawsuit evidenced, are prone to being short-changed by quick and superficial fixes aimed at creating “racial equity.”
There is a term that aptly describes the belief that racism born of white supremacy is at the heart of all societal ills: tautology. A tautology is an assertion or statement about the world that is true in every circumstance – it is a claim that cannot be falsified. Traditionally, philosophers seek to prove that their arguments are not tautologies, since an idea that cannot be disproven is devoid of meaning.
But while unfalsifiability is a death knell for an empirical assertion, it is taken as further evidence for truth when it comes to anti-racist takes on matters of inequality, race, sex, and gender.
We already saw the compulsion to resort to the race narrative re-emerge since the Atlanta shooting. The mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado last week by a Syrian immigrant was immediately responded to as the story of yet another “white guy” on social media.
We must demand that explanations of social issues and their proposed solutions make contact with reality, and resist the gravitational force of politically attractive and convenient arguments. The court of public opinion is subject to conversion by the loudest voices, but loud and correct are not interchangeable.
Whenever you encounter an argument, run it by the tautology test. Ask yourself, "Under what conditions would this statement be false?" If you can't think of any, or if the argument can be applied infinitely back the causal chain, then you are dealing with an unfalsifiable argument. You are fully authorized to dismiss it out of hand. Christopher Hitchens, as ever, provided the final word on this one: "What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence."
(Image © AFP via Getty Images)
Want to share your thoughts on this essay? Leave a comment below.