The Ethnic Theory Of Plane Crashes

Steve Sailer writes for VDARE in 2008:

I spent a few hours poking around on the Internet and found, which lists every “fatal event” involving a scheduled airliner. According to the rigorous definition they employ, there were 45 fatal airline events on Earth between the beginning of 2004 and October 2008. I entered all 45 into an Excel spreadsheet and looked at the results.

  • First, not one of the 45 crashes involved a Japanese airline.

This is not to say that excessive deference to captains might not be a problem. After all, American airlines have been fighting it for almost 30 years. But apparently it`s the kind of problem that a highly competent country like Japan can train its aircrews to avoid.

  • Second, my spreadsheet quickly suggested a far more general “ethnic theory of plane crashes”—one that Malcolm Gladwell would never, ever mention.

The International Civil Aviation Organization summarizes the number of departures by region, allowing us roughly to estimate rates of crashing per flight.

North America (the U.S. and Canada) accounts for 42 percent of the world`s airline departures, but only seven percent of the fatal events on AirSafe`s list of 2004-2008.

But Latin America has only seven percent of the departures, but 18 percent of the fatal crashes, since 2004. Thus, airlines headquartered in Latin America have been 16 times as dangerous as airlines based in North America.

Africa and the Middle East, lumped together, are 42 times as dangerous as North America—with five percent of all departures and 33 percent of all crashes.

In summary, First World airlines are fairly safe.

In contrast, the old Second World (the ex-Soviet Union) looks quite dangerous, with nine crashes among its airlines.

And the Third World (Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, South Asia, and Southeast Asia) is, unsurprisingly to VDARE.COM readers, highly dangerous relative to its small number of departures. Third World airlines accounted for 29 of the last 45 fatal events.

None of this is astonishing. Third World and ex-Soviet countries are much more dangerous in general (here`s a website that tracks Third World bus plunges), most likely due to lower levels of general competence.

Still, that`s a rather important thing to know. Wouldn`t you say? Useful when booking your next overseas trip?

Malcolm Gladwell`s books are sold in vast quantities in airport bookstores to frequent fliers. So you might imagine he`d want to clue his loyal readers in on how to minimize the danger of dying in a crash. But that would involve violating the taboos against political incorrectness—which could make him as popular on the corporate speaking circuit as Charles Murray.

Forget it!

And “The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes” is perhaps the best chapter in Gladwell`s new opus.

“Rice Paddies and Math Tests” isn`t the worst chapter, either, but it`s still lame.

Gladwell argues that the reason Chinese kids are good at math is because they work hard.

Math requires hard work, no doubt. But discounting aptitude this completely is something that only somebody as bad with numbers as Gladwell would do. Anybody with any skill at math knows that, no matter how hard you try, you`ll always run into somebody who is better at it than you are.

Why do the Chinese work hard? Because, according to Gladwell, their ancestors worked in rice paddies, which demand much more effort than the wheat fields harvested by lazy Europeans.

To explain why whites are so lazy, Gladwell contrasts the “autonomous” work of Chinese rice growers to the closely managed work of European farmers:

“The peasants of Europe worked essentially as low-paid slaves of an aristocratic landlord, with little control over their own destinies. Growing rice is too complicated and intricate for a system that requires farmers to be coerced and bullied into going out into the fields each morning. By the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, landlords in central and Southern China had an almost completely hands-off relationships with their tenants: they would collect a fixed rent and let farmers go about their business.”

Malcolm apparently believes that European aristocrats would, in the manner of Parris Island drill sergeants, wake up their tenants each morning and force them out of their beds!

These Da Vinci Code-quality howlers pop up repeatedly in Outliers.

Nonetheless, Gladwell is certainly right that rice farmers work hard. Not surprisingly, though, he fails to mention the even more relevant contrast to rice farming: the “female farming” cultures of tropical Africa, which demand mostly just hoeing by women, with very little labor from men. By Gladwell`s logic, that might explain a lot about African-American culture, but he wouldn`t go there even if he ever thought of it.

Rice growing makes the Chinese hard working, which, in Gladwell`s theory, makes them good at math.

(Of course, vast numbers of Chinese live in the wheat belt, around the Yellow River. Indeed, that`s where Chinese culture originated. But never mind that…)

Is Gladwell arguing, as geneticist Henry Harpending and evolutionary theorist Gregory Cochran document in their upcoming book The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution, that the life or death Malthusian struggle to grow enough food to survive caused humans to evolve rapidly in recent millennia?

Is Gladwell theorizing that rice growing selected Chinese genes for hard work and/or math?

Of course not! It`s all a cultural legacy from working in the rice paddies, he says.

No nature, just nurture. Nobody here but us chickens.

Let`s try a reality check. Why don`t the rice paddy cultures of Southeast Asia, such as Cambodia and Indonesia, produce math wizards? There has been a sizable Filipino population in California for several generations, but very few make it to Cal Tech.

It`s a puzzlement. At least to Gladwell.

We journalists don`t have to be smart. But we do have to be clever in understanding what makes us money in modern America.

For example, there`s a huge market for books offering non-genetic explanations for the lower intellectual performance of blacks—look at how over 1.5 million copies have been sold of Jared Diamond`s rather boring Guns, Germs, and Steel. Stephen Jay Gould`s anti-IQ book The Mismeasure of Man has been similarly successful.

Gladwell`s insight, however, is that the market for these books is largely driven not by blacks searching for arguments for why they aren`t really less intelligent on average. After all, blacks aren`t prominent in the publishing and book promotion businesses. Instead, most of the excitement about these books is generated by Jewish media figures looking for arguments about why Jews can`t possibly be smarter on average than gentiles.

Thus, Gladwell includes a chapter focusing on a famous Jewish lawyer, “The Three Lessons of Joe Flom”, that makes the curious (but no doubt popular) claim that Jews became so successful in the professions by the middle of the 20th Century because they were lucky to have parents who were garment workers in the sweatshops of New York. Therefore, any group could be as successful as Jews if they just had the same opportunities.

He argues:

“Or consider the fate of the Mexicans who immigrated to California between 1900 and the end of the 1920s to work in the fields of the big fruit and vegetable growers. … [Historian Daniel Soyer writes] `If you are working in a field in California, you have no clue what`s happening to produce when it gets on the truck. If you are working in a small garment shop … you can see exactly what the successful people are doing …` “[pp. 148-149]

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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