More on “racism” etcetera
suggested by current discussions of racism and antisemitism:
The natural outlook is that there are a variety of peoples — East Asians, Fukienese peasants,
Westerners, Jews, Irishmen — that are distinct enough to possess qualities that might be good or bad. Since qualities differ, it is
natural to feel more or less attracted or tied to one group or another and on occasion to feel that there are groups one would
rather not have much to do with. Moderation is necessary though. As they say, we’re all human, we’re all different, we all have to get along,
and there’s good and bad in all of us.
Words like “racist” and “antisemite,” at least as currently used, implicitly deny that commonsensical understanding of things
by suggesting that it’s pathological to pick out a group and attribute some bad quality to it. Such words therefore push the discussion toward the destructive demand that the significance of group differences be comprehensively eradicated by force. So in most instances the words are objectionable. It’s worth noting that both are recent inventions. I believe “antisemite” is from the 1880s or thereabouts and “racism” from the 20s or 30s. (Neither is in the OED.)
Still, the words weren’t invented to enforce ideological conformity and the power of a new ruling class, but to describe
novel trends in thought that treated the conflict of races as the fundamental reality of politics. Those trends were rooted in a
denial of transcendent moral order, which resulted in a tendency to treat conflict as the basic social reality, and also in a
tendency to explain all human things by reference to the physical side of life. Such trends and tendencies are quite natural if
the idea of a natural harmony is rejected and the only rationally compelling reference points are taken to be human desires and
fears, and the things studied by modern natural science. So the words do have a legitimate use in describing a particular kind of
That kind of thought still exists among atheists who accept the reality and importance of the biological side of human life,
including the reality and importance of biological differences. The problem is that modern political and moral thought in
general, including the thought of the mainstream churches, is atheistic: it takes human desire and the modern natural sciences
as the sole authoritative guideposts. To the extent modern thought admits the reality and significance of group differences it
is therefore tempted to accept racism and antisemitism in the exact sense — the view that conflicting biological groups are the
ultimate human reality.
Hence the hysterical cries of “racism” and “antisemitism” in response to any suggestion that there are group differences that
matter. If you accept the existence of such differences, it is felt to be only natural that you will go on to accept something
like Naziism. The two positions are felt to be equivalent, and to constitute a terrifying immediate threat. The reason is that
on some fundamental level people are tempted by both. They are likely to remain so as long as reason in morals and politics is
identified with a combination of hedonism and scientism.
Posted by Jim Kalb at December 28, 2002 08:56 AM | Send
One can disprefer (to coin a word which serves this context better than the harsher word, “dislike”) certain “group characteristics” of a group and therefore prefer not to live among that group predominantly (I would prefer not to live predominantly among Blacks — such as in Uganda or an inner city neighborhood in this country — or French in France, or among Hungarians, to cite just three, while I WOULD enjoy living amongst Belgian Flemings, English in England, and white U.S. Southerners, to cite just three more) and at the same time feel that that group is made up of fine people, as fine as anyone else, and fully support that group’s defense against injustice whatsoever or ill-treatment. This fact is hard or impossible for liberals to understand. They think that once any differences are perceived or acknowledged by anyone, the next step is stringing the barbed wire, hanging the sign “Arbeit Macht Frei,” recruiting German and Ukrainian camp guards, and firing up the crematoria.
I knew an Armenian-American (the Armenians, by the way, are the people whose last names end in “ian,” like Sebouian, Ohennessian, Krikorian, Avasian, and Abajian — fine people, and I’ve never met one I didn’t like) who was born and raised in Colorado and the southwest, who HATED it when he had to spend a year in Minnesota — like Garrison Keilor, he found the Scandinavians and Germans there soooooooooo boooooring. He told me he never would want to settle there, for precisely that reason. At the same time, that particular friend of mine would defend very vigorously, I have no doubt, the right of Minnesotans not to be ill-treated in any way because of (what he saw as) their ethnicity-related boringness (and I hope the same can be said of Garrison Keilor). He would also feel that his unfavorable opinion of Minnesotans, and his preference for living, working, or pursuing graduate studies somewhere where Scandinavians weren’t predominant, was none of the government’s — or anyone else’s — business.
What immoralities comprise “racism” and “anti-Semitism”? It seems that if we can identify the underlying immoralities, we can begin having the discussion Mr. Kalb and others want to have.
This question first came to me when I kept seeing the slogan “EEO is the law” and similar slogans plastered on every official calendar, computer screen, and bulletin board in the workplace. I was angered by this slogan because I thought that instead we should see universal truisms such as “honesty is the best policy,” “sloth is the devil’s workshop,” “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” “thou shalt not steal,” “be polite,” and “zero tolerance for violence.”
I spelled his name wrong — Garrison Keillor’s name (the author of the Lake Wobegon stories about growing up in Minnesota) has two L’s.
We don’t have race problems in America. We have political problems. What is commonly called “racism” isn’t anything of the sort, since our objections to one another aren’t fundamentally based on race, but on behavior. Where race enters in, it’s only because, for various historical and political—not genetic—reasons, the members of certain races tend to exhibit similar behavioral traits or habits. Since race is, generally speaking, an easily identifiable attribute, we consequently end up making judgments about the likelihood of this particular member of the race in front of us possessing the behavioral traits common to the political group in question.
For instance, it’s because inner-city blacks are often hoodlums and thugs that whites and others shy away from inner-city blacks. We do not feel, however, that same sort of skittishness around middle-class blacks, who act for the most part just like everyone else. No one worries when talking to Walter Williams that he’s going to whip out a gun and jack them for drug money. However, put Williams in a crowd of inner-city gangbangers, in sloppy clothes, using the local dialect, and whites will shy away from him. Why? Racism? No, common sense. The same common sense that makes blacks shy away from men in white sheets even though they don’t fear to mix with white people under other, more normal, conditions.
But even when a person views an entire race as “all the same”—for instance, when blacks see all whites as de facto Ku Klux Klan members or whites view all blacks as “shiftless and lazy”—this is still a political judgment and not a racial one. The attribute(s) being disparaged are behavioral, not racial. The black person isn’t being hated for being black, but rather for being shiftless and lazy, and the white person not for being white, but for wanting to terrorize black people. It’s just that the hatred may be being applied unfairly to many people who don’t, in fact, possess those qualities, on the basis of superficial similarities with others who do.
“The attribute(s) being disparaged are behavioral, not racial”
The only “racial attribute” by your definition is the race of the person itself. Sure the theoretical opinions you propose are behavioral attributes, but since the determination of who to assign these qualities to (in your situation) is solely based on race, they are qualities that you assign the entire race, so they are racial qualities in the sense of who they describe. You are defining “racial attributes” only to mean attributes that describe the race of someone, not any attributes that are assigned to people solely on race, which is a more important meaning in a discussion about racism, in my opinion at least.
Mr. Kalb wrote:
“[T]he words [racism and anti-Semitism] weren’t invented to enforce ideological conformity and the power of a new ruling class, but to describe novel trends in thought that treated the conflict of races as the fundamental reality of politics. Those trends were rooted in a denial of transcendent moral order, which resulted in a tendency to treat conflict as the basic social reality, and also in a tendency to explain all human things by reference to the physical side of life.”
This is a very useful contribution to a definition of racism. My own starting point for such a definition (which I got from Gedalhia Braun’s unpublished manuscript, “Racism, Guilt and Self-Deceit”) is that racism, whatever it is, is something that is morally wrong. If something is not morally wrong, it’s not racist. Thus, for example, the deliberate invocation of lies and hatred against an entire race of people could fairly be called racist. But Mr. Kalb has neatly added a philosophical foundation to this issue by connecting the idea of racism with the modern denial of transcendent morality. People who deny transcendent morality will be more likely to turn any physical differences between peoples into absolutes.
The only qualification I would add to Mr. Kalb’s point is that I don’t think the “anti-transcendence” criterion of racism or anti-Semitism is exclusive, since you might have religious people whose attacks on another group are so sweeping that they rise to the point of being legitimately called racist or anti-Semitic.
Perhaps, as a springboard to further discussion of this topic, it might be useful in the near future to post my chapter on “The Meaning of Racism” from The Path to National Suicide.
I agree that the “anti-transcendence” criterion isn’t exclusive. Another would be obsession.
The main impression the writings of anti-Semites give me is that they think Jews are magical. So an anti-Semite wouldn’t just be someone who on the whole doesn’t like Jews, or thinks that because of history or social position they end up on the wrong side of political or social issues, or has serious objections to Judaism as a religion or to its substitutes among secular Jews. All those things could be in line with how a reasonable person might feel about any group. Instead an anti-Semite would be someone who’s obsessed with Jews.
I suppose the connection between the “obsession” criterion and the “anti-transcendental” criterion would be that without a transcendent reference people become unable to put all finite things into a perspective from above from which they can all be seen to be limited and put in their true proportions. As a result obsession of some sort becomes inevitable.
I think the obsessiveness criteria is a good one, but it should be understood with a caveat. When an important issue is suppressed for a long time, pressure builds. The counterpoint to obsessiveness on the one hand is political correctness on the other. Politically correct suppression of discussion of substantive value-laden differences between religions and ethnic groups creates (e.g.) anti-semitism in the weak-minded. Politically correct suppression of discussion of substantive value-laden differences between races creates racism in the weak minded. So as usual, in order to justify its own existence, since it cannot exist without oppressor-tyrants to oppose, liberalism creates enemies for itself.
Good comment. I suppose one could add that obsession may be the reason an issue is suppressed. If people are obsessed with the mouse or tabby cat in the room then the choices are avoiding talking about it at all or talking about nothing but. So then the question is how reason got lost and degenerated into obsession and how to restore it.
I think the point made in the other thread, that there is often a sort of fallacy of over-concreteness at work, is a good one. For example, Jews are more leftish than most for a variety of reasons. So if you like the Left you’re likely to say “yay Jews” and if you don’t you’re likely to say “boo Jews.”
To some extent that’s OK. With some people, however, the Jews become altogether identified with the Left. As a result The Jew becomes a metaphysical principle of evil and Leftism a plot of the malicious Jews.
On the Left they used to say that anti-Semitism was the socialism of fools. I suppose something of the sort would be true from the perspective of the Right as well. One difference is that the Left can say in principle that religion, culture and ethnicity shouldn’t matter but the Right can’t. So it’s harder to exclude things that sound anti-Jewish from legitimate discussion on the Right than on the Left.
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