Racial Censure and Thought Police – Undermining a Free Society

2016-03-10 10:10

The furore about “racism” in early 2016 highlights something that few recognize. No one can  define racism - that provocative raison d’etre for all the fuss – let alone control or police it. That is because the term is ephemeral; it morphs according to society’s values. The term “racism” can be construed – depending on who alleges it - as anything from a legitimate observation of variations in racial characteristics and predisposition, to a pernicious state of mind.

Disturbingly, drawing legitimate and valid generalizations based on race has become non de rigueur in South African PC circles - unmasking a crippling inferiority complex on the part of the ruling establishment. Consequently campaigns to “eradicate racism” simply don’t hold water; they are no more than PR stunts.

Government backed lobbies (such as the Sekunjalo Goup’s initiative running currently) that purport to promote the “fight against racism” are in the business of manufacturing issues for public consumption in an election year. Apart from them, many other ill-informed and ignorant people write their own “racism” scripts – on university campuses, in public spaces and in social media where they can be guaranteed some visibility. More often than not these serve as a means to attracting attention and gaining recognition from peers; it is cool to oppose racism - like promoting motherhood, breastfeeding and healthy eating. No one says they are for it - so articulating it comes at zero cost; it is a form of narcissism.

One ANC spokesman has even come up with the idea of running a register of people “found guilty” of racism. Of course, if the demands of campaigners for “the elimination of racism” achieved their objectives, the results would be disastrous at many levels. The thought police would come into their own in much the same way as in the erstwhile Soviet Union or East Germany, where the ruling party tirelessly policed peoples’ sentiments, opinions and prejudices – and prosecuted them for it.

The notion of racism changes over time, is subject to political manipulation and is used by those hungry for power and influence; generally politicians.

“If you have always believed that everyone should play by the same rules and be judged by the same standards, that would have gotten you labeled a radical 60 years ago, a liberal 30 years ago and a racist today”. (Thomas Sowell)

There are a number of definitions of racism from learned sources – amongst them:

• a belief … that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement .. .involving the idea that one race group is superior or inferior to others

• the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.

• prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior.

• hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.

• An irrational bias towards members of a racial background. The bias can be positive (e.g. one race can prefer the company of its own race or even another) or it can be negative (e.g. one race can hate another). To qualify as racism, the bias cannot have a factual basis for preference.

In sociology and psychology, some definitions of racism include only consciously malignant forms of discrimination whilst others include discriminatory behaviors and beliefs based on cultural, national, ethnic, caste, or religious stereotypes. One view holds that racism is best understood as 'prejudice plus power' because without the support of political or economic power, prejudice would not be able to manifest as a pervasive cultural, institutional or social phenomenon.

Bottom line is that – apart from defying definition - “racism” is a moving feast.

Of the above definitions, the last three strike me as irrational and indefensible states of mind and invite censure. The first two, on the other hand, are as much issues of environment, tradition and cultural milieu as of race. Indeed, they qualify as factual observations. Yet in this context even the notion of “superiority” remains undefined: Superior ability? Superior intelligence? Superior physical prowess? Superior what?

The Urban Dictionary proffers racism in political terms - as “a reason to redistribute resources or opportunities between groups on the basis of race alone”. Such an explanation would work equally well for erstwhile apartheid South Africa as for contemporary ANC led racism.

Conclusively, racism is in the mind of who is feeling aggrieved or looking to take offense – and can become a political tool at close to zero cost. It is handy and irrational - like religion, ideologies and superstitions.

Another notion that seldom gets addressed is the “why” and “how” of racism. To deny that races are different is plain stupid - but how did they come to be that way? This we need to know because that is where the stereotypes must have developed in the first place.

The answer lies in the notion of human evolution.

It is a widely accepted fact that mankind evolved in Africa, escaped the continent in miniscule numbers and then colonized the entire planet as he evolved free of the continent's harsh constraints - but when some of his progeny returned to the continent in the 15th and 16th centuries he was a very different kettle of fish. He had evolved with abilities different to those that he left with tens of thousands of years prior. In this way he exposed an asymmetry between peoples.

Of course this did not apply only to Africa; other asymmetries were likewise exposed. So when Francisco Pizarro and a motley crew of a few hundred Spaniards defeated the Inca Emperor Atahualpa in the early 16th century, a model for conquest and subjugation was established in the Western hemisphere as well.

And this process of rediscovery did not end there. It continues to this day with accelerating globalization.

Thus the root cause of “racism” has to be the completion of this circle – the coming face to face with others different from and yet belonging to the same basic species – homo sapiens.

To then dictate what people are required to think, articulate and write about in a heterogeneous population – or to “legislate against racism” as per the current ruling party discussion in South Africa – amounts to the destruction of fundamental democratic principles. In attempting to police and control not just public discourse but what people think, shows a flagrant disregard for the values of an open society, the principle of freedom of association (which includes the rejection or avoidance of others if one so chooses!) and sovereignty of the individual.

Racism is not a sin. It is a state of mind born of many factors; social, familial, societal, historical, cultural - and both personal and group experience. And it takes many forms – some innocuous, others malignant.

None of these can be changed by passing laws and exercising coercion over people. The notion of “legislating against racism” holds us up to public ridicule.

It also betrays a mindset that fully explains the nation’s pathetic socio economic trajectory. Laws solve nothing - people do.

And we have had the wrong people in charge.

With two consecutive presidents playing the “racism” card against whites - the current one sometimes calling for his machine gun to turn on them at public rallies – it seems that we can look forward to neither inspired leadership nor any moderation in this dysfunctional debate.

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