May 21, 2008

Race, Racism, and Charity

I rather enjoyed Mr. Zmirak’s recent post.  I particularly agree with his point that Christianity defines the meaning of raw data on IQ and ethnic differences.  It might be hard for secularists to imagine, but recognizing inequality between individuals and groups as well does not compel ordinary Christians to hate other people.  With John, I believe this information should make us more charitable and more willing to find ways through charity and the laws of softening the rough edges of a free society for those dull and irresponsible individuals that are, in certain important respects, permanent children. The Bell Curve, in spite of the mountains of criticism to which it was subjected, raises this very point near the end of the book in relation to structurally unemployed blue collar workers who are being displaced by mass immigration and an “information-based” economy.

It is, however, very optimistic to restore the old American consensus on voluntary, private actions, including unkind ones like racial discrimination. Our entire culture and most of our institutions of moral teaching—schools, churches, television, universities, the arts—are devoted to making racism, private or otherwise, the summum malum.  Even many libertarians adhere to this view, particularly the so called “modal libertarians” at Reason and elsewhere. 

It’s quite an act of mental gymanstics for someone to think racism is absolutely despicable and also to say it’s trumped by an absolutist notion of individual freedom. Rare will be the philosopher who can sustain this view.  This moralistic view of racism often tranforms from one of moral disproportion to a denial of reality, where any recognition of individual and group differences of white and black people is labeled racism, racialism, or simply evil. 

Racism used to mean race hatred or irrational attribution of negative traits to a group solely because of their race.  Now it means any recognition of race and ethnicity at all.  Surprisingly, Takimag’s own Justin Raimondo forcefully defended this 1970s High School Social Studies view of the world.  Nonetheless, even as the meaning of racism has expanded, the moral meaning has become more narrow and uncompromising.

Like many conservatives, I don’t share this expansive view of what racism is, nor the view of racism in general as the greatest evil.  I do think real racism is wrong-headed and often mean-spirited.  But it’s chiefly an error of the intellect, a misunderstanding of why groups are different.  It can translate into mean-spirited action, but it is not itself action.  I view racism much the way I view liberalism itself:  regrettable, mistaken, often the sign of an immature and resentful consciousness, but certainly not worse than acts of violence, fraud, law-breaking, and the like.  My view is certainly outside of the mainstream in these respects.

So long as racism is considered a great evil by people, those some peoples’ defense of liberty will tend to be limited to those liberties important to them:  free speech, low taxes, the right to smoke weed, the right to cohabitate, the right to have an abortion, etc.  Even in the past, the “liberties” of the founders came from a particular tradition and were adapted to a particular view of life.  I would hazard the suggestion that 18th and 19th Century American voters did not preserve a free society out of abstract concern for drug-transporting mules and the rights of gay couples to cohabitate, so much as they had a particular self-reliant vision of how they wanted to live their own lives and saw government as interfering with it.  They were voting on the basis of their perceived interests. 

By contrast, many voters today see their interests and the problems facing society differently, particularly in relation to economic security and related concerns about private racism. Even most libertarian-leaning voters view the evils in the world differently than those of the past, and it would be quite a bit to ask them to trump government action against the greatest evil by theoretical concerns for voluntary associations.  Libertarian-leaning liberals would just as likely make an exception for racism and, before long, become full blown liberals.

Anti-racism is at the heart of much of the suicidal anti-western apparatus at work in our society, both governmental and otherwise.  This evil can arguably be addressed by government action, and it would demand great restraint for the votaries of modern thinking on racism to restrain themselves chiefly on the basis of abstract philosophical concerns like consistency and the “human right” to discriminate.

Modern anti-racism depends in part upon the idea that great disparities in outcome between the races are due to past discrimination and widespread “invidious” racism.  This exagerated account of racism’s existence and this lopsided view of racism’s moral meaning are the weak links in the modern liberal order. This is why, I believe, that facts and speculation about racial difference are suppressed so aggressively.  Discussions of genetics, IQ, and the like permit another means of explaining minority underachievement that does not attribute pervasive evil to American’s majority-white leadership, past and present.  Discussions of anti-social minority behavior in particular suggests that white racism may be counterbalanced by other evils perepetrated by minorities today.  No group is without sin, of course, but anti-racism largely functions to condemn whites and elevate the moral status of minorities.  Frank exploration and discussion of real racial differences would undermine the myth of “invidious” racism and thereby restore the moral authority of whites to act normally and with moral authority as the majority.

In other words, addressing the web of lies, evasions, and myths surrounding anti-racism is absolutely essential for a conservative reform of public and private life, just as Christianity is essential to guide our use (and prevent our misuse) of any facts that may emerge from our examination of human differences.

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