Over on my local blog, midcornwall.com, a post hit off about the BNP and caused what is, for that blog, a comment storm. Racists and non-racists battling it out in the safety of total anonymity. I didn't censor anything (save for some dumb insults) and after about 60 volleys I started writing this post.
The racist arguments in the comment were not the kind of nonsense I was expecting, and the 2 or 3 people wielding them seemed smart. The problem the racists were having wasn’t so much with what they believed it was that they weren’t listening to the others. It wasn’t that they were ignoring them, but that they were deafened by their own convictions.
I started writing a comment to the blog and that comment essentially turned into this essay. What I want to know is simply, "Are the racists right?" I am not, in any sense of the word, a racist.
I know the racists think they are right, and I know the non-racists know the racists are wrong, but where was the answer?
That’s what I wanted to find. I want to stress that I am here only discussing the rational racist position, that is, the racist who argues a biologically significant distinction between races in terms of any given race’s value from evidence. People who just hate the "darkies” but don’t think about why, well, this essay isn’t for you.
The View from Nowhere
If you want to provide scientific arguments and evidence that whites are better than blacks you can find this. If you want to disprove these arguments then you can find counter-evidence and counter-argument. And because racists are very passionate about their racism and non-racists equally about their non-racism, it means that you can't really get any further into the debate this way. It just ends up as lots of intellectual shouting and little intellectual listening. The only way I think you could really attempt to approach the issue is as objectively as possible. The issue of race is entwined with so many other concepts (cultural, social, moral, biological....) and so much subjective opinion that non-objective debate is meaningless and pointless.
What I want to do in this essay is really, and for the first time in my life, strip away all my beliefs about race and the race debates. Forget the fact that for a middle class white guy I have always been about as non-racist as you can get.
If you are a racist and you read this its really important that you accept that I have tried to be maximally objective. If you can’t accept that then you should stop reading now.
- I'm not going to rely on any science or studies or assumptions supporting or refuting any racial claim.
- As much as possible I am going to keep things logical.
- I’m going to try to be impartial.
- I'm not going to worry about offending anyone but I won’t try to offend anyone.
What is a race?
Clearly there are races. To say that there are not really doesn’t help the objective methodology. Chinese are a different race to Australian aborigines, who are a different race to Europeans who are a different race to Africans who are.... and so on.
- Non-racists: It seems to me that the non-racists do not like to admit this fact. They bandy around terms like "social construct" and "cultural classification” which don’t seem to do justice to the wonderful diversity of the human species.
- Racists: the racists on the other hand take the racial distinction, the fact there are races, and from this create huge bastions of racism; the core foundation being the premise that one race can be superior to another race.
If the non-racists won't accept there are racial differences then they are not entering the battle field: they cannot put themselves in a position to really fight the racists. You can see evidence of this on the comments on the midcornwall.com post: the non-racists seemed reluctant to accept racial differences. To fight racists you must accept that there are racial differences.
One way you might want to make this palatable for the non-racists is to say:
There are no races, just racial differences.
- African people generally have more frizzy hair than European people.
- Chinese people generally have straighter hair than African people.
- African people have a higher propensity for sickle cell anaemia than Arabic people.
- European people generally have a lower tolerance to sunlight than Australian Aborigines.
- African people generally have a higher tolerance to alcohol than Polynesian people.
So far so good. I think the racist and the non-racists, if we are being objective, can agree on these racial differences. The schism comes when the racist camp tries to take the same methodology of difference and apply it to what are considered significant differences culturally.
- Europeans are more intelligent than Ethiopians (A position in the midcornwall.com comments)
- Black people are more likely to be criminals than white people (Again, a position argued)
And so on... all just catch-alls for the idea that one race is superior to another.
The Importance of Significance
There are racial differences, but what is crucial is whether or not these differences are significant. If Africans have frizzier hair, so what. That’s not an issue. If Africans really are generally and demonstrably more stupid than Chinese then I think it would be naive to say this wasn’t a significant cultural issue.
So in light of this I see the racist debate so far as:
- Racist: there are significant racial differences
- Non-racist: there are no significant racial differences.
- Irrational non-racist: there is no such thing as race.
The Importance of Origination
If you take any purported racial difference, be it the potential for a long term, high-sheen, sustainable afro, or being more likely to be in prison compared to the white guy, the very first thing you must ask about this purported racial difference is this: what is the origin of this difference? The way I see it there are two core starting points for any purported racial difference:
- Prenatal Origination: the difference occurs because of something before the birth of individuals in the relevant group: genetics/ biology/nature
- Postnatal Origination: the difference occurs because of something after the birth of the relevant groups: culture, education, media, society... life and death and the world: nurture and environment.
The rational racist needs the differences he finds significant to be prenatal in origination, otherwise there is just no purchase on his notion of racial superiority or significant difference.
So with these points in mind, I’m going to take a look at some of the racist arguments on the midcornwall.com discussion.
Example 1: Ethiopian Intelligence
"The lowest average IQ in the world is to be found in Ethiopia, where it is 60+.”
One of the cornerstones of the racist framework is the argument that some races are less intelligent than others.
According to one contributer on the post Ethiopians have the lowest IQ. The contributer clearly believes that this fact is unquestionable and irrefutable - although how you can get a good range of test subjects in a water, nutrition and economically impoverished country like Ethiopia is anyone's guess ("If you can align the triangles I'll give you a biscuit"). But for the sake of argument let’s grant him that: The Ethiopian IQ is lower than the world average.
We have seen that, when presented with any purported racial difference, the rational approach is to ask if it is prenatal in origination and if it is significant. The racist needs a yes to both of these conditions for her arguments to work.
In the case of racial differences of IQ there is a huge amount of literature both for and against the differences being prenatal/postnatal. I think the Flynn effect really undermines the racist assumption that these differences are prenatal. We also know that nutrition and early education and stimulation play huge roles in brain development. I could go on, but then I’d just be rehashing non-racist arguments and there are plenty to do that already... so... yet again I am going to concede the racists their point: The Ethiopian IQ is lower than the world average and this difference is prenatal in origination.
The Outdatedness of IQ
If we won’t take the argument on the prenatal/postnatal distinction then we are left with the significance of the difference. And here, for many reasons, there are many ways to show that this is not a significant difference.
The IQ test is over 100 years old. Modern measures of intelligence see the it as a combination of many combining intelligences, for example:
- Linguistic intelligence ("word smart")
- Logical-mathematical intelligence ("number/reasoning smart")
- Spatial intelligence ("picture smart")
- Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence ("body smart")
- Musical intelligence ("music smart")
- Interpersonal intelligence ("people smart")
- Intrapersonal intelligence ("self smart")
- Naturalist intelligence ("nature smart")
- And so on....
So Ethiopians may be the worst at solving Puzzles and lateral thinking. That doesn’t mean they are on average more stupid. It means they are worse at puzzles. I'm crap at spelling and puzzles. Nodoku! I don’t know what studies there are for the above intelligences across the various demographics but it would strike me as odd and counter-evolutionary for one group of people to be better in all of them.
The Irrelevance of IQ and Multiple Intelligences
I have many friends, and I assume they are not all of equal IQ. Some will have higher IQs than me; others won't. What's important is that I couldn't tell you whether Dave's got a higher IQ than Adam. Is Mark's higher than mine? Is Pip's higher than Paul's? I really don’t know. Nor do I really care. People’s IQs just aren't relevant in normal interpersonal relationships.
Nor really are the multiple intelligences above. Kev is a better drawer than Mark, but Mark is a better musician.
I think the point I am trying to make here is that even if you go all the way with the racist argument and end up admitting that there are prenatal differences of intelligence between races, so what? There are differences between people within racial groups and within families and within friends. These are not significant, so why should a racial difference of intelligence be significant?
Example 2: Black Criminality
A lot of the racist comments on the post played on the idea of black criminality. And I think you will agree that, if you're being objective, they were pretty compelling. It certainly seems that in the English speaking world, most criminals are black. Forgetting all other facts, statistically that’s what am betting. Most people in English speaking prisons are non-white.
This one is a bit different to intelligence. With intelligence we focused on the insignificance of any purported racial difference of IQ. Intelligence can be quantified and dissected into constituent parts, but criminality is really just a fact about people being criminalized. You are more likely to go to prison if you are black. That’s the fact.
What is the origination of this fact:
- Are black men in English speaking countries more likely to go to prison because there is something established prenatally in them that promotes this trait over the traits absence?
- Is it because black men, postnatally, are influenced by factors that increase the probability of imprisonment (the factors I am thinking of here are social, cultural, political etc. etc)?
The racist needs option 1. She needs there to be some aspect of the "African genome” that makes Africans more likely to end up as criminals. Thinking with a blank slate here, I can't see what this could be. Racking my brains the idea that something so complex as "criminality” could be contained in a human sperm and egg just befuddles me. As an attempt to explain this prenatal propensity to criminality, one of the contributers on the post quoted the "fact” that: "Orientals have the lowest criminality of any group - they have the lowest average testosterone levels and blacks have the highest.” But hang on a minute, testosterone isn’t criminality. They are not the same thing.
Maybe it’s true that "blacks have the highest" testosterone. I have no idea if this is true or not. This could result in aggression and a higher likelihood of ending up in prison. But the only prenatal "fact” we are allowing here is the "higher testosterone” one.
I think the argument for a prenatal black propensity towards criminality can't stand up. At best it get get as far as 'blacks have higher testosterone', and from there one must make a big leap of racism. (And last time I checked, the sportsmen and high flying businessmen and politicians who we all assume pack in the testosterone don’t get any negative vibe because of this 'fact'.)
So having found it impossible to find any convincing argument that black criminality is prenatal in origination, let's turn to the postnatal.... Do I really have to go over this?
Racist or non-racist, if you accept that there is a statistical propensity for black criminality you have to explain it, either as being to do with prenatal factors like testosterone or to do with upbringing, poverty, education, legal systems, media... all the stuff we call life.
If you stand back from your passions and with a cold heart ask yourself which is most likely, surely, racist or not, if you are smart and rational you must see that the simplest most coherent, most consistent, most in tune with common sense and the way of other things, is that it's the postnatal effects by a very significant margin.
Conclusion for Now
I think to argue with a rational racist you can't fight them at the evidence level. Not because you would loose, but because nobody can win. It is like trying to argue what’s best between red wine and white, using mice as test subjects. Humans, all of us, are so massively deep and complex in so many ways that trying to judge and value us, based upon statistical evidence (the main stay of the racists arsenal, it seems), just can’t latch on at the level it needs to.
Apart from one drunken insult to a Turkish or Greek Kebab shop proprietor in Kings Cross in 1990 I have always been fundamentally non-racist (he refused me an extra green chilli and I told him to "go home"). When one of my friends was racist about the Best Man at my wedding, I told him were to go and haven’t spoken to him since. But my non-racism has always been from the heart, like I think most people's.
Over the last few days writing this and reading the comments on the midcornwall.com blog I’ve taken an objective and philosophical look at racism and some of my thoughts I have written here, and I’m sure I’ll put more up too.
But what I know now is that even when you say, "I will walk with you, racist. I will agree with your assumptions,” the racist arguments don’t have the sustainability against level, passionless argument. You can be a passionate racist, but you cant be a rational one.
Jah man, Crazy.....