Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Bill O'Reilly, Philosopher

There are times when little commentary is needed. If I were still teaching philosophy, where we often discussed current events, I might well present the following gem of wisdom from Bill O’Reilly for dissection. I guarantee that nearly all (if not all) of my students would have been able to identify the key flaw in his reasoning. On 10/4/05, a caller to O’Reilly’s radio show posited a theory about the high rate of crime among African-Americans:

CALLER: [It’s] because of slavery. If you take someone's language, someone's history, and someone's culture, and then you just release them out into the world, you think they're going to be successful as a people?

O'REILLY: All right. But let me counter that, [caller], and you can comment on my comment. That's the prevailing wisdom in a lot of the precincts, is that because blacks were in slavery in the United States, they were never able to develop an infrastructure of education and culture to compete with the white majority. That is the prevailing wisdom in lots and lots of places. Let me submit this to you, and then you can comment on it.

My people came from County Cavan in Ireland. All right? And the British Crown marched in there with their henchman, Oliver Cromwell, and they seized all of my ancestors' lands, everything. And they threw them into slavery, pretty much indentured servitude on the land. And then the land collapsed, all right? And everybody was starving in Ireland. They had to leave the country, just as Africans had to leave -- African-Americans had to leave Africa and come over on a boat and try to make in the New World with nothing. Nothing. And succeeded, succeeded. As did Italians, as did -- and I'll submit to you, African-Americans are succeeding as well. So all of these things can be overcome I think, [caller]. Go ahead.

(Media Matters for America has the audio here.)

Wow. The thing that gets me is he’s obviously put some thought into this. He’s come up with this idea, pondered it for a while, and thinks it’s convincing — without ever spotted the glaringly obvious flaw in his argument.

Now, I am part Irish, and I know some of the persecution the Irish have faced over the years. It’s hard to conceive that early Irish immigrants were sometimes faced with employment signs that said, “Whites Only — Irish Need Not Apply.” However, PBS had a good documentary on the Irish immigrant experience, and they attributed their success to two main factors. The first was that almost all of them spoke English. The second is that, unusually for an immigrant group, the women tended to outnumber the men, and thus many Irish immigrant women (most often working as maids) wound up getting married and raising families in America. Nowadays, of course, Irish-Americans outnumber the Irish.

Now, as brutal or inspiring as the American immigrant experience can be, is it analogous to abduction and slavery? Hmmm.

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