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Thread: What is racism, and is it wrong?

  1. #1
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    Default What is racism, and is it wrong?

    Since the threads these days seem to be strikingly full of accusations of racism and bigotry, which are generally just flung back again with extra knobs, I wondered whether there was some sort of collective opinion on what constitutes racism, and, indeed, whether it's wrong to be racist.

    There are, as far as I'm concerned, different levels of 'discrimination' available (in racism and other intolerances). I'm going to use an example to illustrate this - a settled Irish person and a Traveller are the two possible candidates to have committed a theft:

    1. neutrality - neither is more likely to have been the thief, it all depends entirely on the evidence.

    2. bias - the Traveller is more likely to be the thief, but we'll have to hear all the evidence.

    3. prejudice - obviously, it's going to be the Traveller, they're all thieves.

    4. bigotry - of course it's the Traveller, and anyone who says otherwise is some kind of bleeding-heart cretin.

    Obviously, you can apply this the other way round - that makes no difference.

    Most people have some bias, at the very least, and if they don't try to overcome it, it can slip towards prejudice (literally - pre-judgement). Some people overcompensate for their bias, and end up either biased or even prejudiced in a direction opposite to their inclination - this is usually a liberal problem.

    As far as right and wrong goes, it's an article of liberal belief that racism, and all forms of intolerance, are automatically wrong, there are other opinions (usually, it's natural to be racist, it's good to be natural, it's good to be racist), but why is this the case? After all, racism was considered perfectly fine for most of human history...[yes, so was slavery, etc], so anti-racism requires a defence. Can anyone defend it?[/b]
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  2. #2

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    We hold these truths to be self-evident...

    I am now, may it please your Honors, obliged to call the attention of the Court to a very improper paper, in relation to this case, which was published in the Official Journal of the Executive Administration, on the very day of the meeting of this Court...

    [quote6mzf9iv]The truth is, that property in man has existed in all ages of the world, and results from the natural state of man, which is war. When God created the first family and gave them the fields of the earth as an inheritance, one of the number, in obedience to the impulses and passions that had been implanted in the human heart, rose and slew his brother. This universal nature of man is alone modified by civilization and law. War, conquest, and force, have produced slavery, and it is state necessity and the internal law of self preservation, that will ever perpetuate and defend it.
    There is the principle, on which a particular decision is demanded from this Court, by the Official Journal of the Executive, on behalf of the southern states? Is that a principle recognized by this Court? Is it the principle of that Declaration?

    [Here Mr. Adams pointed to the Declaration of Independence, two copies of which hang before the eyes of the Judges on the bench.]

    It is alleged in the Official Journal, that war gives the right to take the life of our enemy, and that this confers a right to make him a slave, on account of having spared his life. Is that the principle on which these United States stand before the world?. That Declaration says that every man is "endowed by his Creator with certain inalienable rights," and that among these are "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.''

    If these rights are inalienable, they are incompatible with the rights of the victor to take the life of his enemy in war, or to spare his life and make him a slave. If this principle is sound, it reduces to brute force all the rights of man. It places all the sacred relations of life at the power of the strongest. No man has a right to life or liberty, if he has an enemy able to take them from him. There is the principle. There is the whole argument of this paper.

    Now I do not deny that the only principle upon which a color of right can be attributed to the condition of slavery is by assuming that the natural state of man is war. The bright intellect of the South clearly saw that without this principle for a corner stone, he had no foundation for his argument. He assumes it therefore without a blush, as Hobbes assumed it to prove that government and despotism are synonymous words. I will not here discuss the right or the rights of slavery, but I say that the doctrine of Hobbes, that War is the natural state of man, has for ages been exploded, as equally disclaimed and rejected by the philosopher and the Christian. That it is utterly incompatible with any theory of human rights, and especially with the rights which the Declaration of Independence proclaims as self-evident truths.

    The moment you come to the Declaration of Independence, that every man has a right to life and liberty, an inalienable right, this case is decided. I ask nothing more in behalf of these unfortunate men, than this Declaration.

    [/quote6mzf9iv]

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    I'm sure instictive racism had some beneficial effect at some point of our species existence, prior to the somewhat civilised world we live into today..I think it's mostly obsolete nowadays though as society has grown too large for it to have any rational meaning..

    i.e. once upon a time we lived in small groups, where everyone knew everyone..and everyone and everything outside that group was percieved as a theat and competitor.. and rightly so, as they'd percieve you in the same light.

    Nowadays we know only the tinyest fraction of those that we'd call our group.. i.e. you could be serving a serial rapist in a sweet shop and know no difference, and yet have no prejudices whatsoever toward the person.. Yet when someone with a foreign accent and strange appearance enters, defences are raised.. It's irrational.. Essentially we're all strangers in modern Ireland, regardless of race and our once self preserving instinct has become confused..

    Beyond all that, acting racist in a multicultural society brings about a spiralling catch-22 situation.. Acting upon the irrational fears brought about by this instinct leads to segregation, which in turn makes the once a irrational fears a reality, spurring on a stronger form of racism which, left unchecked, could spiral out of control..Which would not be a good thing. Yet if we never acted on the instinct in the first place, we'd proably all get on fine and dandy.. Meaning racism probably bad..
    The one thing I know is I can't know anything else...

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    Politics.ie Member caledhel's Avatar
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    I remember reading something on this that was exceptionally well argued but spoke about scapegoating rather than racism. I wouldn't be able to replicate enough to do it justice but I'll give it a go.

    Human beings are mimetic. They copy each other. This is a fundamental characteristic. Take for example children when they are growing up, they replicate what their parents do. This extends into adulthood. Social norms operate as patterns of behaviour. This is the so called herd mentality.

    Now I can't remember exactly which thinker formulated it first but he extrapolated it in this way.

    When someone does us an injury often it is impossible to directly retaliate because they may have coercive or social power that prohibits it. But the urge to retaliate surfaces in us by striking out at someone else that is "safe" to injure in whatever way.

    Human society has a tendency to deteriorate because of this mimetically aggressive behaviour and becomes increasingly dangerous and dysfunctional. A crisis occurs as the society disintegrates and bonds of mutual trust - the grounds of common action - begin to evaporate.

    The community then turns on a scapegoat upon which they heap persecution, exploitation and degradation - psychological, physical, economic etc. They dehumanise this scapegoat in an effort to reintegrate their failing community. A sacrificial victim is created, preferably an outsider that incurs a low social cost to persecute.

    This works for a time but the cycle repeats itself in ever tighter time periods as the underlying fabric of society unravels because of greater and greater contradictions between reality and permitted truth.

    So we see classic examples of this with Jews, Kulaks, Enemies of the People, Race, religion etc. It is best that the person or people they are persecuting is clearly identifiable as being different and are often caricatured. Any particular injury or threat that is going on within a community can be validly inflicted on this scapegoat. I'm sure we've all seen this happening.

    Now, the more dysfunctional the society, the more pronounced this behaviour. In a criminal society it is a constant feature as these societies are particularly primitive and tenuous. In societies that legitimise criminal methods for communal goods it is also pronounced. More sophisticated societies have elements of them as well and we can observe sectarianism (something we're familiar with here) as one of its manifestations.

    When it comes to dealing with racism, when we oppose the injustice of racism we are opposing this persecution of "The Other". However this behaviour is not limited to race, it can occur because of any difference in manner, choice, custom etc. So, while the modern "herds" of contemporary society may oppose previous forms of this scapegoating they often - mostly without having any understanding of it - replicate the behaviour with new selected groups of Hated Others.

    When one is observing various social phenomena it is important to disentangle this from the problem. There may well be valid reasons for criticism but any such reasons must be evidenced and approached with a just disposition. Otherwise it's just creating a crescendo of antagonism that eventually erupts in calamity.

    It's important to remember that while much of our social relations are coded into us, we are not automata. We have the choice whether we select what is good or what is bad. Cowardice counsels the bad while conscience counsels the good. There is no worse existence than having good cause for being ashamed of ourselves.
    "Better a cruel truth than a comfortable delusion."

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    Quote Originally Posted by ibis View Post
    Since the threads these days seem to be strikingly full of accusations of racism and bigotry, which are generally just flung back again with extra knobs[/b]
    Posted 12 years ago... Ah, how things have changed ;-)

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    Politics.ie Member Henry94.'s Avatar
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    The anti-racism I grew up with and subscribed to was based on the view that any trait you are born with should never be used to discriminate against you. MLK's famous speech was the best expression of that cause.

    Now many of the traditionally oppressed groups reject the idea that their colour for example is incidental. Identity politics has taken over and it does make some good points. The unfortunate side-effect is that it is pushing white people into thinking of themselves as an identity too. The electoral impact of that has been devastating for the centre-left.

    The centre-left needs to bring the white working class back in to the tent.

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    Politics.ie Member Se0samh's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Henry94. View Post
    The anti-racism I grew up with and subscribed to was based on the view that any trait you are born with should never be used to discriminate against you. MLK's famous speech was the best expression of that cause.

    Now many of the traditionally oppressed groups reject the idea that their colour for example is incidental. Identity politics has taken over and it does make some good points. The unfortunate side-effect is that it is pushing white people into thinking of themselves as an identity too. The electoral impact of that has been devastating for the centre-left.

    The centre-left needs to bring the white working class back in to the tent.
    Identity politics can be difficult, I have a young cousin..........her mother is an English born Irish Catholic(forgive the terms) and her father is a sub-Saharan African Muslim, does she get to choose her own identity, or will an identity be forced on her by society........if her life so far is anything to go by, then she doesn't get much choice........
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