"Racism:" A Still-Needed Classic

Monday, January 15, 2024

A few years ago, I came across a Marginal Revolution post by Tyler Cowen, who was re-reading the collection of essays first published as The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution, and then later in an expanded edition known as The Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution.

Regarding its chapter on racism, Cowen cites a quote and expresses an admiration that I share:

"Like every other form of collectivism, racism is a quest for the unearned." Ouch, it would be good to resuscitate this entire essay (on racism).
That would indeed be a wonderful thing, especially considering how far our culture has fallen short of Martin Luther King's dream of Americans living "in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

We instead have a culture obsessed with race and seemingly determined to keep it that way, with hypocritical virtue signalers adding a new "anti" variety of racism to the mix with plain old-fashioned bigotry -- the former helping revive the latter by giving it an appearance of credibility it does not and never has deserved.

Cowen's quote deserves a fuller context, so I shall oblige:
Image by That's Her Business, via Unplash, license.
Like every other form of collectivism, racism is a quest for the unearned. It is a quest for automatic knowledge -- for an automatic evaluation of men's characters that bypasses the responsibility of exercising rational or moral judgment -- and, above all, a quest for an automatic self-esteem (or pseudo-self-esteem).

To ascribe one's virtues to one's racial origin, is to confess that one has no knowledge of the process by which virtues are acquired and, most often, that one has failed to acquire them. The overwhelming majority of racists are men who have earned no sense of personal identity, who can claim no individual achievement or distinction, and who seek the illusion of a "tribal self-esteem" by alleging the inferiority of some other tribe. Observe the hysterical intensity of the Southern racists; observe also that racism is much more prevalent among the poor white trash than among their intellectual betters.
I love this quote, because it shows how easily racism can die, and yet how hard at the same time.

While one cannot end racism in society today, in part because one cannot make others think, one can start today, by purging it from one's own soul as a happy by-product of pledging to put in the work to judge everyone's character objectively, and first-hand, starting with one's own.

This is a sacred obligation to oneself, for the simple reason that one's life is best served by having the most accurate, true-to-reality appraisal of everyone -- good or bad -- that one deals with.

It was shocking to me when I realized that the second blog post I linked above was written over twenty years ago. Things were bad then, and have gotten much worse since.

But just as individualism is the cure for racism, it is also the basis for hope. One can continue the noble and life-improving fight for equality by starting today, with oneself, and continue by helping the best people one knows understand how they can join the cause and why they should.

-- CAV

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