The Right Stuff
November 18, 2013
It seems that the most fashionable position one can take on the issue of race today is an outright denial of the entire concept. This talking point is currently all the rage with people that like to think of themselves as intellectual and politically savvy. It is particularly popular among liberal, college-educated, bourgeois whites. Forever seeking to one-up other whites on the political correctness scale, these run-of-the-mill edgytarians eagerly grab hold of the line that “race does not exist” and vainly attempt to validate themselves by regurgitating it ad nauseam whenever the topic of race is discussed.
Racism, as we all know, is a deadly sin against the Science God, but race denialism takes the postmodern religion of scientism one step further. The assumption is that the practice of categorizing humans by race is not only immoral, but that it necessarily leads to wrong or misleading conclusions in real life. In addition to the point that it is objectively false and scientifically invalid (therefore sinful) to make value judgments based on race, the race-deniers claim that all observations and statistical correlations based on race necessarily have zero utility. Some will argue that that there is no way even a flawed or imperfect generalization of race can provide value as a heuristic for navigating everyday life. All concepts of race must be discarded in the name of sacred science and equality.
The rhetorical assault on the category of race typically takes two forms. One is an attempt to dismiss it out of hand based on the fact that it is a “social construct.” The assumption here is that social constructs, being the product of human minds and not actual facts of nature, are necessarily “false”or “bad” just because. Of course this rather crude and amateurish attempt at philosophical deconstruction flounders when confronted with the argument that social constructs are in and of themselves morally neutral. They can be either “good” or “bad” depending on their function and the subjective value judgments of people. As has been pointed out elsewhere, just saying that a concept is socially constructed is not sufficient reason to do away with it. If you want to argue for invalidating a concept you are going to have to work just a little bit harder than that. Either that or go back to Existentialism 101 and start over, because you are outclassed and should not even be playing the game.
When the first rhetorical strategy inevitably fails the next tactic is usually to go after the the category of race as being too ill-defined to be of any use. Human traits exist on a continuum, so the argument goes, and there is no clear differentiating factor that separates one from the other. Skin color for example can vary from pale white to deepest black. Where along this spectrum can you draw a line and say that this delimits a “race” category? This argument is a clumsy manifestation of the continuum fallacy, sometimes referred to as the heap fallacy or the beard fallacy. The basic idea is the mistaken notion that not having a clear dividing line between states means that the states themselves do not exist. For example, if I have one grain of sand this is not a pile of sand. If I add a grain, this too is not enough to constitute a pile of sand. Likewise for a third grain of sand. The philosophical noob will conclude from this that no addition of one grain of sand will ever be enough to create a pile, and thus piles of sand cannot actually exist. Considering that piles of sand can and do exist in the real world, the problems with this line of reasoning should be rather obvious.
A similar fallacy purposely defines the category too rigidly and then demands an impossible burden of proof as a necessary condition for meeting this definition. We can show how this works by using the example of baldness. If we arbitrarily define baldness as having no hair at all, then obviously no person in history has ever been bald. Every seemingly bald person has at least some hair follicles on their head, thus baldness is just a delusion and an invalid social construct. In order to prove baldness exists you would have to come up with a person that had absolutely no body hair at all, clearly a nigh-impossible task. The irony here is that using this argument to deny the existence of race logically entails some kind of racial essentialism, and essentialism is a big no-no in postmodern leftist ideology. It is the very idea that people may assign essential characteristics to racial categories that leads the leftist to want to deconstruct the notion of race in the first place. So in using this argument the leftist is breaking one of their own sacred rules.
Obviously the category of race clusters humans according to ancestry and physical traits. Yes, these delimiting factors can be called “arbitrary” but that does not mean that they have no utility and contain no information. Some claim that since the mapping of the human genome using the category is irrelevant and outdated, but this is just wishful thinking and an attempt to project a politically correct premise on to scientific research. While there is debate over the topic in scientific and anthropological circles, largely for PC reasons, many studies have been done that confirm traditional notions of race as having both utility and predictability. Most significantly, genetic markers for various “racial” traits and places of ancestry have been found to have an extremely high correlation to an individual’s self identified race. As one study found:
“Of 3,636 subjects of varying race/ethnicity, only 5 (0.14%) showed genetic cluster membership different from their self-identified race/ethnicity.”
An amusing irony of the argument that “race does not exist” is that it claims this sort of racial self-identification is erroneous or invalid. While anyone could theoretically make this point, in reality it usually involves privileged white progressives arguing against the idea of “black identity” because they feel threatened by it, which is itself a hilarious form of anti-racist racism and an expression of white privilege.
Some try to get around this problem of racial self-identification by acknowledging the social or cultural category of race while denying the biological category. This makes no more sense than any of the other arguments. First of all, it defeats the purpose, since the entire point is to deny that accurate predictions based on racial categories can be made at all. Admitting that the social category of race can be useful, even if just for identifying and calling out racism, gives up the whole game. The social category of race must be based at least in part on physical features while the cultural category must be based on place of ancestry. It follows then that these characteristics must be sufficient to allow for the practice of socially grouping people in the first place, which is what the entire argument is seeking to deny. Distinguishing between the social and biological categories is ultimately a weak and meaningless attempt to rescue the original premise.
What is so maddening about the idea that “race does not exist” is how disingenuous the argument is. The issue is not so much that progressives really believe this because of science, but that they want to believe it because of politics. The idea that human characteristics and behaviors can be grouped and predicted based on race is anathema to them because they have an irrational fear that this will lead directly to out of control white racism. Progressive ideology justifies and perpetuates itself based on the ridiculous notion that whites are always just one step away from yet again donning Klansmen robes, burning crosses and embarking on an orgy of lynching blacks and dragging their bodies through the streets behind pickup trucks while waving the Confederate flag. An honest look at present day political life and race relations shows just how absurd this belief is.
Despite their rather crude and disingenuous arguments, I seriously doubt that any progressive liberal that lives in a “diverse” area actually goes about their day using the assumption that “race does not exist.” Even so, it presents an amusing thought experiment to imagine what society would look like were people to actually try to apply this idea to real life. First of all, to actually take this notion seriously would mean ruling out any observations or claims regarding racism itself as necessarily false. After all, observations based on the category of “race” necessarily yield no useful information or predictable conclusions. So if you are walking down the street and you happen to see a “black” man being horribly abused and discriminated against by a “white” man (which you would be very unlikely to see in any event), you would just have to assume that he probably deserved it, since drawing any conclusion that took flawed notions of “race” into account is off limits and can’t actually tell you anything. Calling this situation “racist” would be a huge mistake.
Eliminating the notion of race would require huge changes to the structure of government. In terms of education, all social engineering schemes based on the premise of narrowing the test score gap between “blacks” and “whites” would have to go right out the window. “Blacks” and “whites” don’t actually exist. To use any observed correlations with “blackness” and “whiteness” is necessarily false or useless. There is no test score gap. There is just a group of undifferentiated human students. Their test scores fall along standard bell curve distribution. If the left side of this curve contains almost all of the students whose arbitrary and meaningless physical characteristics were at one point associated with something called “blackness,” well, that is neither here nor there. There is no actual information in this observation and it’s probably a grave error to even casually notice it.
Programs aimed at the social advancement of “black people” such as Affirmative Action would have to be immediately discontinued, as would any legal protections for “minorities” in the employment sphere. There would no longer be any special benefits to hiring “black” people or risk associated with firing them. So if a business needs to cut back and it just happens to select an arbitrary collection of employees with darker skin for layoffs, this presents no problem whatsoever. The problem would be if you were to notice it and bring it up. That would be unscientific.
In the private sphere, retail stores, markets and restaurants accustomed to catering to “black” customers would have to change their business strategy. They couldn’t actually observe market trends and associate certain non-mainstream products and preferences with their customers. Products traditionally associated with flawed concepts of “race,” and even sometimes actual physical characteristics of “black” people themselves would have to come off the shelves. Non-racially biased sales data would likely indicate the best course would be to sell what sells better in the country at large. These would necessarily be products that appeal to “whites” since they are the majority non-demographic, and their preferences would dominate the non-racial marketplace. Grape soda, fruit punch, pork rinds, chitlins, pigs’ feet, hair straightener and other such products would be pulled in favor of gluten free pasta, organic produce and all natural sparkling spring water. Fried chicken joints would shut down en-masse only to be replaced by the Olive Garden.
While these examples are obviously exaggerated, one thing we can predict is that eliminating the concept of race would probably result in a sudden and drastic drop in the actual quality of life for “black” people, many of whom are dependent on the identity of “blackness” for their income and who have cultural preferences associated with this identity. This would all be perfectly fine though, since as any good white progressive knows there is no authentic “black” culture anyway. Black people are equal to white people in all ways, even if we can’t actually observe this or prove it in any way at all. Any cultural or behavioral differences are simply a response to “stereotype threat” and racism. The only reason there are any differences between races is because we think there are. Absorbing all people into a single universal monoculture is the entire point of the anti-racist endeavor. How else can progressives know that they have finally achieved equality?