Race Nominalism, Part III: Toward a Nominalism of Race

In Part 1 of this series, we began by examining the theoretical lay of the land. “Race realism” is an extremely important term in the anti-Cathedral discourse, spanning Neoreaction, the “alt-Right” and all its variants (“alt-West” etc.), Human Biodiversity (HBD), and so on. But there is as yet no standard definition of “race realism,” so I attempted to provide one. To recap, in brief, race realism is the belief that (a) universals are real; (b) race is a human biological universal; and, optionally, that (c) race has a mystical or trans-empirical existence. I designate “weak” race realism the position that race is a real human biological universal, but that it lacks such trans-empirical existence, in other words holding points (a) and (b) but not (c). Generally speaking, Neoreactionary and “alt-Lite” perspectives tend toward this view, while neo-Nazis and the “alt-White” accept point (c) and are thus categorized as “strong” race realists.

In Part 2 I spoke at some length about the philosophy of universals (like “chair-ness”) and particulars (such as a particular chair). The basic point is that, obviously, to be a coherent view, “race realism” necessarily requires that universals are real. This directly touches upon one of the central debates in philosophy, between nominalism—the view that universals do not really exist—and realism. I noted that the Western (Christian) intellectual tradition strongly tends toward realism, but the Buddhist intellectual tradition rejects realism out of hand. Now I turn to the task of formulating a Buddhist-philosophical response to all of these issues.

(One obvious question here is: why bother? This is a great question, and one that I will address in my next series of posts. The short answer is that I believe anti-Cathedral discourse is the single most important intellectual-historical development since at least the end of the Second World War. Most Western Buddhists fully buy into the ideology of the Cathedral, of course, but this is only because most Western Buddhists aren’t really Buddhist in any meaningful sense. So, I see the formulation of a Buddhist critique of the Cathedral, as an essential element of my broader critique, both of modernity in general and of Buddhist Modernism specifically. To the extent that the “alt-Right” is arguably the most visible and influential voice currently opposing the Cathedral, I believe it makes sense to start there.)

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Despite all of this rather long and elaborate wind-up, the actual point I would like to make is relatively simple: we do not need to accept the metaphysical reality of universals, in order to benefit from the most salient insights of “race realist” analysis. For example, we can benefit greatly in terms of education policy.

One of my favorite bloggers is a teacher who writes under the name educationrealist. I’d like to zero in on one particular post. In this post, he goes through the numbers to demonstrate that the “achievement gap” between white and black students is best understood as an artifact of IQ distribution, rather than evidence of “systemic racism” or anything along those lines. (Differences in average IQ among racial groups are well-documented, and if you have a problem with this fact, I encourage you to do more research). His conclusion:

If IQ is the root cause of the achievement gap, the vast majority of those low income children with vocabulary deficits have cognitive abilities much lower than average. It would also follow that blacks and Hispanics, on average, have cognitive abilities lower than whites and Asians. Coupling those facts with previous research, it would mean the achievement gap can’t be closed with the tools we have at this time.

It would not follow that all poor kids are unintelligent, that “blacks/Hispanics aren’t as smart as whites/Asians”, or that IQ is genetically linked to race (emphases original).

Now, at a first glance, the second set of conclusions might seem to contradict the first. What else could the statement “blacks and Hispanics, on average, have lower cognitive abilities than whites and Asians” mean, other than “blacks/Hispanics aren’t as smart as whites/Asians”? Well, for one thing, it might mean that not every white student is smarter than every black student, but this is obvious and trivial. I think educationrealist is getting at something far more important here, which is why he adds the last conclusion, that IQ is not (necessarily) genetically linked to race. Educationrealist certainly knows that IQ is heritable (i.e., smart parents tend to have smart children). Indeed, this is one of his major points in the linked article. Implicit in this final conclusion, then, are two important points:

(1) The heritability of IQ between particular parents and their children does not entail a universally-valid IQ distribution among parents of similar race.

(2) Statistical distributions, of IQ or anything else, do not constitute prima facie evidence for the existence of race as a metaphysically-real universal.

And here, I think, is the point I have been driving at in this series. It is foolish and irresponsible to pretend that blacks and whites and Asians and Hispanics do not have statistically significant differences in average IQ. Throwing money at the “achievement gap,” under the facially ludicrous assumption that better and/or higher-paid teachers can make low-IQ students perform as well on average as high-IQ students, is not going to make it go away. Nor is asserting that this inconvenient truth is solely the result of “systemic racism” and other sociocultural factors, rather than being at least in part due to biology, going to fix anything. On the contrary, any policy response predicated on IQ or HBD denialism is only going to make the problem worse and exacerbate racial tensions.

At the same time, nothing in the preceding necessitates committing to “race realism.” Point (2) above is especially important in this regard: at the end of the day, probability distributions (such as the likelihood of having a given IQ) are the integral of many different particular data-points. Now, it is certainly possible to argue that universals are real, and race is a real universal. To continue with the mathematical metaphor, we may treat integrals as discrete objects. However, my point is that we are not obligated to do so, and that there is no straight and clear line from mathematics to philosophy, far less to politics.

In other words, we may notice the racial distribution in IQ, and plan accordingly, without thereby committing to the view that “whiteness” and “blackness” are ultimately real property-universals, or that the “whiteness” universal possesses the sub-property of greater intelligence than certain other race-universals, etc. In fact, we may notice this distribution, and rightly consider it an extremely important fact to guide our practical action in the world, without committing to any explanation of why it exists. It may indeed prove to be the case that sociocultural factors are, in the end, the underlying causal factors driving the differences in IQ distribution. This would not make a whole lot of difference for any individual student currently alive–IQ can change a bit over the course of a lifetime, but only within certain relatively small congenital limits–but would have enormous implications for social policy.

Of course, it could also be the case that the opposite is true, and IQ will prove to be definitively linked to genotype. This would still have very little to do the point I am making, which is that the conceptual utility of “race” as a universal exists whether or not “race” is ultimately real. In other words, even if “science” ends up “proving” that “whites are smarter than blacks,” this would still be at most a statistical reality, a conceptual universal superimposed upon actual particular individuals. It would tell us nothing a priori about any of those individuals. It cannot, in principle, serve as evidence for realist metaphysics, about race or anything else.

Dharmakīrti developed an entire theory of language based on a completely nominalist ontology. Now, in Dharmakīrti’s view, language necessarily involves the use of universals. However, if we investigate these universals, we find that they only possess a kind of “transactional” (vyavahāra) existence. They’re only “real” insofar as they are useful for communication; they aren’t ultimately or “really real” (paramārthasat). According to Dharmakīrti, the only things that are really real are particulars. But this did not prevent him from acknowledging the central importance that universals play in our ordinary, day-to-day discourse, or the influence they can exert over our thinking and our lives. The key is to remember that these universals are, at the end of the day, nothing more than figments of our imagination, artifacts of ignorance.


Race Nominalism, Part II: Buddhism, Nationalism, and the Philosophical Assumptions of the Alt-Right

In the previous post, I started by laying out a tripartite definition of race realism. To review, race realism is a form of (a) realism about universals, in which (b) race is a human biological universal, that (c) may or may not have a trans-empirical existence. (Originally I expressed point (c) in terms of ethics and politics, but this is inaccurate; for Vox Day and others, race realism entails a certain degree of racial separatism, which is an ethical/political stance. What I was trying to capture is the fact that White Nationalists of the “Alt-White” tend to get starry-eyed when talking about the “mystical” qualities of the white race.) Here, I’d like to develop the idea further by zeroing in on the idea of realism about universals. Despite the near-total lack of attention paid to point (a) in the emotionally- and politically-charged discussions of race, I believe it is of central importance, which is why I’ve incorporated it into the title of this series of posts.

One of the oldest and most fundamental distinctions in philosophy is between realism and nominalism, or the view that universals do not exist. A “universal,” in the most basic sense, is just what two or more particular things have in common. So, for example, a realist would argue that all chairs share or participate in a universal “chair-ness,” while a nominalist would argue that the only thing that chairs share in common is the name “chair” (the word “nominalist” derives from the Latin word for name, nomen, for this reason). I don’t know if the first people to designate the position called “race realism” were consciously thinking about universals, but either way it fits perfectly. That is to say, race realism is quite literally realism, in the technical sense, about race as a universal. Thus, from a race realist perspective, all members of the white race share in the universal “whiteness,” all members of the black race share in the universal “blackness,” and so on.

The reason I bring up the distinction between realism and nominalism, in relation to questions of race and the Alt-Right, is because I am interested in the ways in which philosophy impacts religion, culture, and politics. Rod Dreher, for example, has argued that nominalism was the “worst cultural decision ever made” by the West, and while I think this point needs qualification, it is true that the Christian tradition has historically tended toward a certain degree of realism about universals, most especially the Good. Thus realism about universals goes hand-in-hand, historically, with the achievements of Christian civilization in Europe and America. And nominalism, especially about the Good, has (arguably) played a central role in the collapse of that civilization.

However, the situation is quite different if we examine the question from outside of a Christian, Euro-American context. On this note, there’s something very interesting that happens in Vox Day’s list of 16 points defining the Alt-Right. On the one hand, Vox maintains (point 4) that “Western civilization is the pinnacle of human achievement.” On the other hand (point 5), Vox insists that all nationalisms are supported by the Alt-Right. Now, whether Western civilization is the pinnacle of human achievement or not, I think two things need to be said here. First, Buddhist civilization, and the civilization of the Indian subcontinent in general, is remarkable in its own right. And second, as noted above, there is an intimate, perhaps inseparable, relationship between the achievements of a civilization and the philosophical and religious ideas which animate it. Therefore, while those who are concerned with preserving or renewing Western culture are doubtless well-served by thinking within a realist philosophical framework, it strikes me that that Buddhist nationalism or a “Buddhist Alt-Right” might look toward a different set of foundational philosophical assumptions for guidance.

For example, Buddhist nationalists might look to Dharmakīrti (ca. 600 AD), one of the most famous and influential Buddhist philosophers, and the source of my pen name here. But one of the most interesting things about Dharmakīrti’s philosophy, and Buddhist philosophy in general, is how hard-core anti-realist it is. So, as a Buddhist sympathizer with the Alt-Right, I find myself taking a critical look at the idea of “race realism” through a Buddhist lens. And the first thing to note is that, from a Buddhist standpoint, any kind of realism, about any kind of universal, is simply wrong. The underlying reason is that Buddhist philosophy insists that universals are conceptual, and as Dharmakīrti writes, concepts are just ignorance (vikalpa eva hy avidyā).

Given that Neoreactionary and Alt-Right thought require “race realism” as an axiomatic starting point, this might seem to lead to the conclusion that Buddhism is incompatible with Neoreaction and the Alt-Right. In fact, I would argue to the contrary. From a Buddhist perspective, it is not necessary to reject the underlying thrust of the ethical and political arguments of these positions, only the commitment to “race” as an ontologically real universal. What is needed, in other words, is not a race realism but a race nominalism. In my next post, I will sketch the contours of this “race nominalism.”

Race Nominalism, Part I: Taxonomizing Racial Discourse

When I started this blog, there were many unknowns. For starters, I didn’t necessarily have a clear sense of the “voice” I wanted to have. References to monarchy in the first post were a function of my interest in neoreactionary thought; but I had really only read that Nick Land piece and a tiny bit of Moldbug, and in the interim between then and now, an interaction with Vox Day has prompted me to rethink the relationship between Neoreaction and the “Alt-Right,” as well as my own position. Also, when I wrote that first post, I wasn’t yet taking Trump seriously. But an essay by John Michael Greer a.k.a. the Archdruid, “Donald Trump and the Politics of Resentment,” provided the single best analysis of Trump and Trumpism that I have yet seen.

Recently the question of the association between Trump and the so-called “Alt-Right” has made headlines, in large part due to a stunningly ill-advised speech by Hillary, and so I thought the topic would make good fodder for the kind of analysis I hope to be doing more of in this space. Specifically, I would like to begin by touching the third rail of American politics, the most difficult and contentious part of Alt-Right ideology: race. The Alt-Right, like Neoreaction, often describes itself as “race realist.” But what this term means isn’t necessarily all that transparent; after poking around a bit on Radix, American Renaissance, The Right Stuff, and Vox Popoli, I still have yet to find a clear, concise definition. So, at the risk of getting something slightly wrong, I will provide one:

Race realism is the belief that (a) universals are ontologically real; (b) “race,” defined as phylogenetic human sub-species, is a biological universal; (c) qua universal, race is correlated with particular psychophysical characteristics, but cannot be reduced to them: Whiteness (or Blackness, or whatever) transcends even the claimed biological basis for race.

Point (a) is the classical definition of “realism,” and I will return to it in the next post. Point (b) is the main issue at stake in most discussions about race realism. I think White Nationalist types would take point (c) to follow naturally and inexorably from point (b), but it is at least logically possible to separate them. So let us provisionally designate “weak race realism” as an embrace of points (a) and (b), but not (c). “Weak” race realism is thus the belief that race is real, but only as a biological universal, and does not necessarily come with any further ethical or political ramifications. “Strong” race realism, by contrast, insists on a political project of racial separatism, at least in part because “strong” race realists insist on a biological basis for individual and cultural ethical (or ethically-weighted) characteristics, such as sneakiness and greediness in Jews, violence and stupidity in Blacks, etc. This is, obviously, horrifically racist; but in my experience, “strong” race realists delight in the charge of racism.

As I understand the current state of discourse, substantive disagreement on point (b) exists along relatively predictable nature vs. nurture lines. Few reputable scientists or intellectuals are willing to outright deny the fact that there is, for example, a racial gap in measured IQ or criminality. Some might still claim that tests measuring abstract or spatial reasoning skills are “culturally biased,” but this is a self-evidently unserious position. Instead, those maintaining the position that race realists tend to designate “race denialist” generally tend toward a cultural explanation for these facts, pointing toward poverty, malnutrition, systemic racism, etc. (Personally, I lean toward agnosticism on the etiology of racial differences. Like every nature vs. nurture dispute, this situation strikes me as more of a feedback loop than an A-to-B causal progression. But my views here are somewhat beside the point.)

Let us designate the following positions as equivalent: “race denialist,” “mainstream,” “anti-racist,” “anti-fascist,” and so on. While their reasons for doing so may vary, what unites these views is a repudiation of point (b). That is, the “race denialist” position is generally either that there are no biological universals, or that “race” is not a biological universal. Phenotypical differences between human population groups are obvious, but these are taken to be insufficient evidence for the existence of real biological races. As this position has dominated mainstream political and academic institutions since the end of the Second World War, there is an impressive array of arguments and data backing it up. Again, I am more or less agnostic on point (b), but race realists (whether “weak” or “strong”) clearly face an uphill battle in terms of identifying the specific alleles or other genetic attributes associated with “race.” For now, it should suffice to say that the data are inconclusive.

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So much for Part I, in which I have attempted to survey the lay of the land with respect to the “Alt-Right” and race. In Part II I will attempt to bring new conceptual resources to bear on the question, and see if we can’t examine these issues from another angle.

Nālandā was one of the largest mahāvihāras, a word that often gets translated something like “[Buddhist] monastic university.” These were enormous complexes home to upwards of 10,000 monks, plus attending lay staff, spread out in a network across northeast India and Bengal. The organization and character of these great monastic institutions is one focus of my current research.

Navya means “new.”

What is the significance of this title? When I registered the domain space some time ago, I was only trying to come up with a cute name for a quiet little corner of the Internet where a Buddhist monarchist could write anonymously about politics and culture. Of course I will write about these things and more besides, but the campus protests of the past few months have helped to clarify my vision for this space. It strikes me that, ideology aside, my single greatest critique of the campus protestors concerns their vision of what a university is or ought to be. In the West, the university grew out of monastic education centers, right around the time (ca. 1000-1100 CE) of the final flowering of the mahāvihāras. Over time, the religious character of centers of higher learning has been progressively abandoned in the West, as monastic and academic institutions have gone their separate ways. In the Buddhist world, however, this never really happened, except very recently in certain limited contexts as a result of globalization.

So what am I doing here? My intent is to probe the assumptions and the practices that govern the modern state, with a particular emphasis on the ways in which education (broadly conceived) figures into the process of social and political organization. For, in the Buddhist world, kingship, political dominion, monasteries, and military and economic power have always operated closely together. In thinking through and writing about these issues, I hope to begin articulating a new vision for the university, to renew our moribund and decadent society—serving, perhaps, much the same role as Christian monastic scholars did after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire—creating a truly new Nālandā, a new university, for the new dark age.


Buddhaśaraṇaṃ gacchāmi

Dharmaśaraṇaṃ gacchāmi

Saṅghaśaraṇam gacchāmi


Bhavatu sarva maṅgalam