Frost on “racism”

Frost. May 18. 2013. More thoughts. The evolution of a word

The word “racist” is so common today that you may have trouble imagining a time when neither the word nor the concept existed. Yet such a time did exist, and not so long ago.

The first appearances of this word seem to date to the 1920s in French and to the 1930s in English. At that time, “racist” was a translation of the German völkisch and, as such, referred to the “blood and soil” nationalism so prevalent in Germany and in other countries that looked to Germany as a model (Taguieff, 2013, p. 1528). It remained a rather esoteric term during the interwar years, being narrow not only in its range of meaning but also in the political spectrum of those who used it—essentially the left, if not the far left.(1)

All of this changed with the Second World War. At first, the word “racist” was used mainly in postwar Europe—as part of the effort to root out ex-Nazis and their collaborators. Bit by bit, however, it became more widely used elsewhere, particularly in the contexts of race relations in the United States and colonialism in Africa and Asia. It also began to appear in the emerging context of Afro-Asian immigration to Western Europe. “Racists” were no longer Nazis. They could in fact be people who had valiantly fought against Nazi Germany.

I have never understood the logical foundation to the opposition to racism qua racial/ethnic preferentialism. Racism, so defined, can be viewed as a Good. And the protection of the right of individuals to define what is Good is a liberal good. Therefore, it should be a liberal good to defend the right of individuals to be racist.

Obviously, there are powerful forces which seek to prevent this obvious conclusion from being drawn. One pseudo argument frequently made is that “racism is irrational”, where “rational” contra “irrational” is used in the queer Enlightenment sense of “what a person would want if they were not deluded or crazy“.

Around this argument is then build a byzantine theory of racism as madness which is firmly grounded in Frankfurt school thinking concerning oppressive ideologies. The type of madness that racism is said to be is equated with “unnatural” and “externally imposed upon” – with “social construction” loosely and pejoratively defined.

This meta-perspective is then linked to an eschatological ideology which sees its project as the vanquishing of this supposed madness.

But the myth of racism as socially imposed madness is undermined by the behavioral genetic literature, which clearly indicates a substantial “natural” component to racism.

[My thinking here is that maybe 50% of the variance in racial/ethnic preferentialism is genetically conditioned and that maybe 50% of the genetically conditioned variance is domain specific (and not just conditioned via domain general mechanisms a la Cosmides & Tooby). As such, maybe 25% of the variance is genetic domain specific. I based the latter on Bates and Lewis (2010). quote:

This study is the first, to our knowledge, to provide genetic evidence that in-group favoritism, at least at the level of religion, ethnicity, and race, is underpinned by both a CAM and essentialist favoritism systems, each with significant genetic and environmental components. These results are compatible with recent behavioral research and game-theoretic modeling (Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Hammond & Axelrod, 2006) and suggest that human in-group favoritism is best understood in terms of a multicomponent architecture supporting both essentialist domains (Gil-White, 2001; Hirschfeld, 1996) and a flexible CAM supporting dynamic group affiliation (Cosmides, Tooby, & Kurzban, 2003). With regard to the relative influences of the CAM system and the essentialist systems on each of the favoritism traits, squaring the factor loadings demonstrates that the CAM accounts for 35%, 69%, and 21% of variation in religious, ethnic, and racial favoritism, respectively. These data indicate that the CAM only partially mediates religious, ethnic, and racial favoritism, and that substantial influences on favoritism also occur at the essentialist-system level.

To the extent that this is recognized, the argument transforms to that that racism is a genetically conditioned “madness” akin to criminality.

This repositioning though requires a new theory of racism as madness. By the modified theory, madness is conceptualized as what is detrimental to society and racism is madness because it is detrimental in the context of multiracial societies. (In a parallel manner, insufficient genetic pacification is madness in context to modern societies.) Paul Rubin, for example, basically makes this argument against Frank Salter. But this modified theory, obviously, begs the question: Why are multiracial societies valuable? – i.e., Why is diversity good?

One reply seems to be to deny the sanity = legitimacy of questioning this value qua social Good. But this question is well grounded in the principle of national self determination.

The more frequent reply seems to be to try to eliminate national consciousness — and so the tendency for people to ask the question.

BBC: EU should ‘undermine national homogeneity’ says UN migration chief

The EU should “do its best to undermine” the “homogeneity” of its member states, the UN’s special representative for migration has said.

Peter Sutherland told peers the future prosperity of many EU states depended on them becoming multicultural.

Guardian: Neo-nationalism threatens Europe

The European project was inspired by the injunction “never again”. Never again would European nations allow virulent and competitive nationalism to tear them apart as they had done in two disastrous wars. Never again would the fate of minorities be left to national parliaments, and racist and populist sentiments. According to Europe’s founding myth, a new commonality, beginning with a European common market, respect for democratic institutions, human rights, and the rule of law, would define the European project.

This is like the existentialist resolution to the question of the meaning of life: Live life such that you don’t ask the question. It works so long as you can convince yourself not to ask the question.

I appreciate this. But this doesn’t challenge my view that there is no logical foundation to the opposition to racism qua racial/ethnic preferentialism.

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