Foundations for common sense
Matthew Archer reflects on 2023 and why Aporia is necessary
Note: Thank you to everybody who ordered the 2023 Aporia Annual. For those in North America, Bo Winegard will be biking to the end of the road sending out your copy in the first week of January. For everybody else, bear with us as we have to ship a couple of boxes to Europe first! Updates to follow.
Written by Matthew Archer.
On October 4th, BBC Radio 4 aired an episode of the Moral Maze. For those unfamiliar, the show’s regular panel cross-examine diverse witnesses on the underlying morality of some recent event. This episode loosely focused on the BBC’s mission to deliver impartiality. The overarching ethical question was whether such a mission is possible or whether it’s more like an asymptotic Platonic good, a north star for institutions and individuals to aim at.
The most revealing tussle that evening was between self-declared ‘literal communist’ Ash Sakar and former Supreme Court judge and historian Jonathan Sumption. Sumption is regarded as a sensible conservative and marks the boundary of mainstream acceptability — he said lockdowns were probably a bad idea and said removing historical statues in the wake of George Floyd was absurd. So when Sakar asked Sumption a loaded question about race, my ears perked up.
SAKAR: Let’s say there’s a very celebrated and famous judge and after their retirement they pop up on telly and they say “by the way, I truly believe that black people genetically are predisposed to be less intelligent and more criminal”, would that make you think differently about their career in the judiciary?
JONATHAN SUMPTION: Well, if he expressed a view as extreme as that, yes, it would, not because I would conclude that he brought that view to bear in his judging time, I would conclude that somebody who took that view should probably never have been appointed as a judge in the first place.
ASH SAKAR: So I guess you do accept that there are certain things that are so beyond the pale, so unreasonable, that you can’t help but mistrust someone’s impartiality or suitability for power?
JONATHAN SUMPTION: Yes, there are, and I think you’ve just given a good example of that.
Sumption went on to say that such a view implies contempt or disapproval towards a whole class of people, that very few people take views which are that extreme, and that this isn’t the kind of opinion about which there is room for legitimate differences.
Wait a minute, are we...the baddies? I don’t think so. I simply assume someone as clever and conservative as Sumption is far too astute to touch a third rail. But it needn’t have been that way.
The Sakar-Sumption exchange demonstrates the importance of Aporia’s mission. One of our tag lines is Widening the window — referring to the Overton window of acceptable political discourse. There’s nothing in the way Sakar posed the question that prevented a well-educated fellow like Sumption from saying something like, ‘Well, it sounds like a bizarre thing for a public official to say, but I’d need more context.’ At the very least, he didn’t have to categorise such a statement as extreme. Let’s play the Uno Reverse card and change Sakar’s hypothetical to:
By the way, I truly believe that white people genetically are predisposed to be less intelligent and more criminal than Japanese people.
I hate to pull rank here, but... as a white person, yes I would certainly want more context. However, I wouldn’t automatically assume the judge to be some extremist talking about a topic without room for legitimate differences. If he were Japanese, I’d naturally be more inclined to think chauvinism/xenophobia/racism might be at play, but I wouldn’t jump to that conclusion. I’d just be curious about what the judge had been asked to provoke the response. At Aporia, we think that’s the sensible position. We think that the Sumptions of the world are being a bit silly, especially if they’re lying. Not only is it immature, it’s unbecoming of a so-called intellectual, let alone a former Supreme Court judge, to rely on appeals to emotion. And if Sumption was merely ignorant of the hereditarian evidence, he unintentionally demonstrated the difficulty of impartiality by reacting just like a social justice warrior.
We hope Aporia can improve this. Of course, race is only one of the important topics we care about. I write about it here only to emphasise that it’s a high-leverage debate, especially in the US and the UK, our two most read countries (with Canada and Australia close behind). As you can tell from flicking through our top twenty articles, we think there are many high-leverage discussions to be had where a sociobiological perspective can offer something unique, whether it be embryo selection as foreign aid, speculative evolutionary psychology (do women really select for intelligence?), or debunking psychotherapy. Lots of magazines say they offer you content you can’t get elsewhere, but we really believe it. Just try finding a publication that offers nuanced articles on Roman dysgenic decline, the problem with the luxury beliefs theory, universal genius income, the genetics of elite groups, or the fact-checking of interracial crime data.
This unique offering has found an important audience. Typing ‘.edu’ into our email list search bar reveals hundreds of addresses. Many of these are either Ivy League or top West Coast colleges. The thought of a dog-eared copy of our first annual magazine being passed from dorm to dorm, like Samizdat in the Eastern Bloc is somewhat surreal. In addition to students and academics, I see the famous names of entrepreneurs, journalists, fellow writers, and politicians. Since January, we’ve gained over 7,000 readers. I want to thank all of you.
To the lucky 150 readers who ordered, we hope our first annual magazine sits proudly on your shelf, a trustworthy reminder that amicable and intellectually rigorous responses to difficult questions are possible — that you need not respond like Sumption.
Sociobiology offers an intellectual foundation for good old-fashioned common sense.
Here’s to 2024.
P.S. Speaking of 2024, please tell us what you’d like to see more of next year in the comments below!
Matthew Archer is the Editor-in-Chief of Aporia magazine. If you’d like to support our work, please consider becoming a paid subscriber.
If you’d like to contact us, please email: AporiaMagazine@protonmail.com
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