Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Few Thoughts on Racism

Shawn Darling, a very left-wing Facebook friend, believes I have not spent enough time on this blog discussing racism. I have pointed out to him that I do not do so because race is not something I am particularly concerned with. I am interested in a wide variety of things, and while I consider racism to be evil, racism has nothing to do with many of the things I regularly write about, such as free market economics, so I don't really discuss it that much. But just for Shawn, I will discuss the foundation and evolution of racism.

Humans are biologically xenophobic. Our closest relative, the chimpanzee, goes to war against other troupes, killing all the male members (and even the female ones at times). To the chimpanzee, the out-group chimpanzee is one who can be killed and even eaten.

Humans are similarly programmed. It makes evolutionary sense. Those who were racist killed those not related to them when they saw them, which would include any non-racist people. Since the non-racist people wouldn't kill anyone, while the racist people would kill anyone who was not like them, any non-racist people would have been wiped out. What is left is a fundamentally racist foundation for human behavior.

If this is the case, how did we get to the state we are in, where racism is seen by many as a despicable world view? Well, there are several factors at work. The first is the emergence of trade, which encouraged people to trust others. This probably emerged first between tribes that were related, then expanded to less and less related tribes. The other is not entirely unrelated, which involves the splintering of groups that retained cultural identity. As more and more people had the same cultural identity, it became harder and harder to identify in a concrete way who was not a member of one's tribe. Symbols emerged to facilitate this -- but when expansionist religions emerged, into which people could convert, people were able to become symbolic members of one's tribe. Since there was a shared ideology, racism decreased. What was once racism was converted into more expansive forms of tribalism, such as religious discrimination. (One can see just how much this is true by the absurd accusation of anti-Jew Arab Moslems of being "anti-Semitic" when Arabs are Semites -- what is meant is that the Arab Moslems are anti-Jew, but the religion has been confounded with the race.)

The expansion of the idea of who is in your tribe continued until it reaches its pinnacle in classical liberalism, which considered all people, regardless of race or sex, to be equals. Of course, that attitude took time to spread (as did ideas of expanding tribal membership to those who practice the same religion), but spread it did. Now racist attitudes in places where liberalism has been dominant for a long time are increasingly rare. However, this does not mean that they are gone. In fact, since racism is a kind of collectivism -- where you consider not the individual, but the group -- collectivist thinking has a tendency to lead people down the path to racism. Historically, socialists were anti-Semites, since Jews were associated with the banks and finance. National Socialism, of course, took this attitude to its logical conclusion, making anti-Semitism at least officially unpalatable for the anti-liberal left since the end of WWII.

Of course, none of this addresses specific issues of race. Rather, it deals with the fact that racism is a fact of human psychology and history. Racism is the standard way of thinking of humans, and it takes effort to overcome it as a species. By raising our children among other races, our children learn to see them as "self" rather than "other," and thus is racism overcome. But this does not mean that other "others" may not arise. We distinguish ourselves in a variety of ways, and we do so in ways that are similar to how others do so. Thus, it is possible for collectivists to come along and insist that this or that group is inferior or superior. For Marx the proletariat was superior to the bourgeoisie. We have those who think the poor superior to the rich, the rich superior to the poor; politicians superior to businessmen (or the average person); left superior to the right, right superior to the left, both superior to liberals, liberals superior to both (which would in fact be anti-liberal for a liberal to think); etc. The racism present today may be less obviously racist, since it is not tied to ancient notions of race, but to other groups. But collectivism is collectivism -- such thinking posits "us" vs. "them," with all the consequences thereof.

As for the specific racial problems of the present day in the United States, one can certainly begin with slavery -- as one should. Afterwards, we had the rise of racist laws to prevent racial minorities from competing with the majority. (Anti-competitive laws are of course anti-market.) These laws were designed to keep a variety of groups from competing, be they black, Hispanic, Irish, Chinese, etc. Unions in particular pushed for these laws, to protect white union members from competition. They no longer do this explicitly, but instead push for increased minimum wage laws, which have the same effect, negatively impacting youths and minorities, particularly blacks and Hispanics. Their push for trade and immigration restrictions are similarly motivated. (It is ironic, then, that the unions do not support the GOP more, since the GOP wants immigration restrictions that would benefit the unions.) Anti-immigrant and anti-trade attitudes have their source in humans' residual racist attitudes. Even well-intentioned programs, such as affirmative action, are based on a racist belief that minorities cannot get ahead without the good, wise white man ensuring their path on the race is all downhill. (This is also based on the primitive belief that the world is a zero sum game, that where there are winners, there must be losers.) Welfare falls too into this category -- less so in places like Europe, perhaps, but certainly targeting blacks and Hispanics in this country. The more our government has tried to "help" minorities (outside of eliminating racist laws -- which amounts to the elimination of an evil once perpetuated by the government), the worse off they have typically become. Those who have refused the help and rather chose to participate in what little bit of a free market economy we have left are those whose lives have in fact improved. In fact, this situation is so apparent that those who have chosen the economy over government -- people like the Chinese, Indians, and Japanese -- now face discrimination by our government against them and in favor of those who have turned to that government rather than to the economy. Of course anybody who knows anything about public choice is not in the least surprised by this fact. Of course, "benefit" is a generous term, since the only way the government can ensure a group continues to support them is if they make sure the group thinks they need the government. Keep them poor so they still need to be helped. (This is why I would never vote for anyone who considered the poor to be their constituent -- it is in the best interest of any politician to expand their constituency!)

Notwithstanding the occasional return to fundamentally racist collectivism, the trend has been away from racist attitudes precisely because we have been expanding our ideas about who is in our tribes. This has been driven the most by free markets and free trade, which make people have to interact with each other to such a degree that they learn that the other is in fact a person, just like them. Thus, those who are anti-market oppose this development.
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