Reply to Prof Crowe’s Criticism of the Roots of Racism
Prof Tim Crowe was clearly deeply upset and morally offended by my interpretation of the origin and nature of ‘racism’. I am sorry to have so disturbed him, but the highly emotional nature of his response suggests that it was caused, not by an objective and calm assessment of the facts (or non-facts) provided in my essays, but by self-inflicted outrage.
The opinions expressed in the essays were based upon a long lifetime’s personal experience of how individual people on four continents appeared to respond personally to ‘racial’ differences in others. In this, the distinction between the moralistic way that people frequently claimed to feel about those of other races, and how they actually tended to respond to them in reality, was noted.
As a result of this experience, and other observations, I duly concluded that everybody was, to at least some degree or other, prejudiced against those who were culturally different to themselves. This does not mean that I believe every prejudice to necessarily be a violent or hateful one; rather, that we humans are simply not inclined to view those who are significantly different to ourselves in a favourable light.
I further concluded that if everybody was indeed prejudiced, there was likely to be a good biological reason for this. This prejudice, as I noted in the essay, was not simply against a person’s ‘race’, as popularly defined, but applied across a range of observable cultural differences. While suggesting that in the historical past ‘racism’ had served a protective and positive biological function, I certainly did not indicate that I thought it did so in today’s circumstances. On the contrary, I explained why it was now socially so divisive.
Prof Crowe has clearly and even eagerly jumped to the entirely false conclusion that I think racism is a good thing today. This is astonishing, particularly given the contents of the second essay, and I do not think that he is merely virtue signalling. His moral fervour, however, has possibly led him astray, and I will return to this.
The assertion that everybody is racist to some degree or other was one of the two arguments absolutely fundamental to my hypothesis. If it is not essentially true, then my hypothesis fails. Prof Crowe, however, did not deny its truth, as contentious an assertion and as central to my argument as it is.
If I am correct, then social science really has to explain in rational terms just why it is that every human being, or, pedantically, every normal human being, possesses this particular behavioural predisposition. If every human being is predisposed to be suspicious or averse to those of a different culture or race, clearly it cannot be a moral crime or aberration. A moral crime or aberration is, by definition, something done by particular individuals, that their society as a whole does not naturally do.
If, on the other hand, I am incorrect in my admittedly very wide and general assertion, then my argument fails, but for it to be incorrect it would have to be true that Prof Crowe (and others) did in fact regard people belonging to cultural groups and ‘races’ significantly different to their own, in exactly the same way and in all respects as they regard people of their own cultural group.
I am unable to disprove that Prof Crowe is personally totally free of any prejudicial feelings of any sort against those who are culturally different to himself in any significant way, as he so strongly implies is the case, but nor, frankly, does my life’s experience suggest that it is very likely.
Obviously, I cannot prove that ‘everybody’ possesses prejudicial feelings in respect of those of different culture and race, any more than Prof Crowe can prove that he is morally pure in this regard. As both of us have offered our arguments to the public, however, it is best left to you, the reader, to decide who is most likely to be correct.
You also do not really know what all others feel, but with regard to your own prejudices, or lack thereof, you have full knowledge. If, in all honesty and frankness, you examine your feelings with regard to people who are significantly different to you culturally and racially, do you find that you regard them in exactly the same favourable light that you tend to regard those culturally close to you, or do you not?
If you discover that you are totally without any prejudice, then you have very good reason to support Prof Crowe, Aristotle, Jesus, and Mother Theresa, as he indicates. If, however, you find that you do not feel about those who are significantly different culturally to you, in exactly the same way that you feel about your own people, then you must join the legion of the morally damned identified by Prof Crowe.
The second argument fundamental to my hypothesis was that throughout the whole of human history, right up to the 1950s, racism was the social norm in all societies on Earth, and everybody was expected to be racist in their attitude to outsiders. The very brief current period of anti-racism is a far greater historical anomaly than racism itself, and there probably was a good reason for this.
Once again, Prof Crowe did not dispute this observation; in fact, he agreed with it.
He explains it, however, as due to a lack of humanism in all our ancestors, who did not apparently enjoy the moral enlightenment that we benefit from today. I’m not sure that this spiritual explanation of a historical fact explains it better than my suggestion that racism was socially approved of for so long simply because it had served a biologically positive function over that period, even if it no longer does so under today’s different social circumstances, which have turned it into a decidedly negative social factor.
The emotional and dogmatic nature of Prof Crowe’s attack indicates that he is upset not so much by the factual validity or otherwise of what I wrote, but by the immoral nature of what he thinks I meant. In the first of the two essays, I refer to the unfortunate and pious moralising of ‘racism’ that prevents a proper understanding of what ‘racism’ is, and therefore of a solution to the problem. Prof Crowe’s criticism is an example of exactly this. Instead of trying to understand what I was saying rationally, he no sooner read the essays than he was out on the dusty road throwing stones at what he regarded as a passing sinner.
If ‘racism’ is regarded simply as a moral crime or aberration, then it is self-evidently held to be caused by a moral deficiency in all those identified as ‘racist’. This deficiency must be punished and the ‘racists’ made to publicly recant. Obsessed with punishment, this Old Testament attitude and procedure gives no serious thought to understanding and so resolving the socially destructive predisposition. So, naturally, it continues.
If, on the other hand, ‘racism’ is rationally considered to be an inherent (or maybe acquired) social predisposition that in the past served a positive biological function, but has now, because of changed historical circumstances, become a strongly negative factor, the problem can at least start to be analysed, addressed, and resolved in rational rather than apoplectic, moralistic ways.