Facing the Firing Squad: Dr. Charles Murray
If Dr. Charles Murray was a cocktail, he’d be double-shot of classic American conservatism served in a tall glass, with a libertarian twist. He agreed to be part of my most recent “Facing the Firing Squad” segment.
MEET DR. CHARLES MURRAY
Dr. Charles Murray is one of the most controversial intellectuals of modern times. His writings and ideas have provoked charges of overt racism and triggered mass protests on college campuses. His appearances have tested the very essence of what free speech means and who it applies to. His libertarian philosophy led to his prescribed set of conclusions known as “Murray’s Law,” which asserts that government-managed social welfare programs, however well-intended, do far more harm than good.
So, what’s he doing answering questions from me? Some might wonder why Dr. Murray is being featured on a personal webpage dedicated largely to the advancement of socialism and secular humanism. After all, Dr. Murray’s core views are pretty much the antithesis of just about everything I espouse. Why would I grant this precious social media real estate to someone who’s allegedly so divisive? Why would I be interested in listening to Dr. Murray, and perhaps more puzzling to observers, why would we be friends (gasp!) — given our severe polarity on so many incendiary political and social topics?
The short answer to these questions is that free expression and the unencumbered discussion of ideas belongs everywhere. Though we share little common philosophical ground, and his research is far beyond my areas of subject knowledge, Dr. Murray is most certainly the bravest academic I have ever known. He’s spent a lifetime conducting research and writing books about how he views society and our world. I may not agree with these ideas, but they certainly merit listening to and even debating — without mob-mentality intimidation and the objections of detractors, many of whom have never bothered to read his writings.
“Read the fucking book,” is my favorite Murrayism — barked on a few occasions I’ve witnessed directed at critics who lazily capitulate to tribal assumptions and false innuendo.
Many readers may recognize Dr. Murray’s name as the combative but mild-mannered co-author of The Bell Curve, published in 1994. This book about race and intelligence lit a firestorm which continues burning to this day. Say what you will about the authors’ conclusions in The Bell Curve, but not many books still generate mass boycotts and protests 25 years after being published. You got to give him that (READ MORE HERE).
Yet, that’s only one chapter in Charles Murray’s extensive biography and expansive list of interests. His 1984 book Losing Ground: American Social Policy 1950-1980 may as well have been the public policy blueprint for the Reagan Administration. A more recent best-seller published in 2012, Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010 is a thoroughly convincing revelation of widening class divisions, which Dr. Murray asserts, led in part to the election of President Donald Trump, who was supported in large numbers by those who felt disenfranchised. He’s got a point. Murray’s detailed research and writings, backed with data, have established him as a definitive personification of classic American conservatism, albeit with a pronounced libertarian twist.
Unfortunately, what’s lost within the inevitable partisan shuffle and deep division in America are Dr. Murray’s teachings, lectures, interviews, and several other insightful books on a variety of other topics — including The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead; Apollo: The Race to the Moon; What It Means to Be a Libertarian; Real Education — to name only a few volumes of his literary output. In all, he’s written 14 books. He’s written too many articles to count. He’s appeared on virtually every major political talk show and forum and written op-eds for every major newspaper in the country. He’s also toured America several times, lecturing, but also listening. That’s one characteristic of Dr. Murray, of many, I admire.
Few are likely to know that after receiving his undergraduate degree from Harvard and his doctorate in political science from MIT, Dr. Murray spent his early years enlisted in the Peace Corps. He lived abroad for many years and has held a lifelong fascination with Asian politics and culture, ever since. He’s been a college professor, a best-selling author, and is now a distinguished fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (READ MORE HERE).
Despite his calm disposition and a self-professed connoisseurship of top-shelf martinis, Dr. Murray still can’t escape the lion’s den of controversy surrounding him wherever he goes — nor would he ever be willing to abdicate an opportunity to defend his work against the barbs and arrows of critics. Months ago, I invited Dr. Murray to speak at a poker-related event held in Las Vegas. I was eager to hear how Dr. Murray, an academic accustomed to commenting upon far more weighty social topics, would translate his knowledge and experiences into a lecture about poker, gambling, and the culture of Las Vegas. True to his nature of taking on the most unique challenges, Dr. Murray accepted our invitation. But that’s when and where another debate began.
To my shock, Dr. Murray was (and remains) so controversial that many among the group anticipated would attend announced their strong objections. Some discussed a boycott. Some feared another Middlebury incident [READ MORE HERE]. And so, the invitation was withdrawn. Upon being repudiated by this small but vocal minority, most would-be speakers would have simply canceled travel arrangements and opted not to attend. Why bother with such a group? But Dr. Murray still came to Las Vegas anyway and participated in the event as he promised.
I think that bold decision and inherent display of civility speaks volumes about Dr. Murray’s character. It also shows a steadfast commitment to free expression and open debate. We may not always like nor accept what we hear from people like Dr. Murray who do challenge our assumptions about politics and society. But it’s far better to listen to those ideas than to fear them, or worse — try to silence them.
Thank you to Dr. Charles Murray for agreeing to “Face the Firing Squad.”
Follow Dr. Charles Murray on Twitter HERE.
DR. CHARLES MURRAY FACES THE FIRING SQUAD:
What are some of the things you stand for?
What are some of the things you stand against?
Using “disinterested” to mean “uninterested.” Pronouncing “data” with a short a.
What living person do you admire the most, and why?
Mitch Daniels. Would have been the greatest president since George Washington.
What historical figure do you admire the most, and why?
Sorry to be trite, but George Washington. He was truly indispensable.
What living person do you despise?
Sorry to be trite, but Donald Trump. And academics who tell me how good The Bell Curve is in private and don’t say so in public.
If money were not an object, what profession would you choose?
Love the profession I have, but I yearn to know what it’s like to appraise a chess position like Garry Kasparov or to appraise a poker situation like Doyle Brunson.
What is it about yourself that you are most proud of?
That I’ve never raised my voice when answering idiotic questions about The Bell Curve.
What is it about yourself that you’d like to change?
I’m a terrible negotiator.
What’s the most exciting thing you’ve ever done?
Maybe the first time I unhooked a bra.
What’s the most unusual time and place you’ve ever visited?
Prince Regent Inlet, Northwest Passage, on a boat stuck in the ice pack.
Name a place you’ve never visited where you still want to go.
Japanese fishing villages.
Favorite book, favorite movie, and favorite musician.
The Cruel Sea, Groundhog Day, and (I’m an old guy) Frank Sinatra.
What upsets you the most?
Deliberate meanness. People being rude to people who can’t talk back.
What bores you?
Cocktail parties. And, lately, public policy analysis.
Do you believe in an afterlife and why do you believe it so?
The literature on near-death experiences makes me open to the idea.