I’ve been called a racist twice in the past few months. What makes these accusations truly fascinating is that I never talk about race, especially not in the two posts that prompted the name-callings.
The first post was written about a Supreme Court case in the USA and the cultural relativism of the political left; the second was about immigration. Race never got into the picture, I was only talking about culture and ideology. The confusion manifested in the responses was scary but not atypical. We have the second, maybe third generation by now growing up with the relativist mush of cultural Marxism and multiculturalism that are just as dangerous as economic and political egalitarianism. The problem is not that they do name-calling instead of reasoned arguments but that they are slowly infusing even the libertarian party and the libertarian movement with some seriously bad Marxist ideas.
Calling someone a racist is not an observation, a statement based on anything objectively measurable or even definable but an insult. It is designed to end conversations, to shut your opponent up. ‘Racism’ is the ultimate trump-card; once it’s played, you lost. Its misuse has already stripped the word from any real meaning. It can mean any of the following:
- Expressing a negative opinion about any identifiable group of people, about actions they may take or policies they may advocate.
- Stating a fact that can be interpreted in negative way about any identifiable group of people.
- Opposing the ideology of an identifiable group of people, even if the identification is based on nothing else but the shared ideology.
- Disagreeing with clearly and explicitly racist policies favouring some racial minorities.
- Criticising policies disproportionately impacting some racial minorities.
Pointing out that the Greek economy is performing poorly compared to the German and that productivity may have something to do with it? RACIST! Pointing out that you are just quoting respectable sources? Double RACIST!
Opposed to affirmative action? RACIST!
Critical of Islam? RACIST!
You don’t like communists? RACIST!
What is race, anyway? The world Atlas I grew up with had a double page with composite drawings of the different races and sub-races around the world emphasizing their most typical physical characteristics. There were around three dozen identified. The origin of the notion of race, as we today understand it is in taxonomy, a 19th century approach of science to classify and categorize everything. Humans are the most adaptable species on the planet resulting in a great variation in physical features in different geographic regions.
By now, this classical definition of races is mostly discredited through our better understanding of genetics. There is no such thing as a single ‘race’ gene, but there are about 500 ethnic groups with distinctly identifiable (and therefore genetic) features. The study of these variations is fascinating, but irrelevant to my subject.
What is relevant is the politics of race. When the original taxonomies were established, for all sort of (mostly political) reasons quite a bit of ranking got into the picture. The ranking was necessary for the dominant cultures to justify the conquest and domination of ‘lesser’ races. This idea that biological differences (race) are the cause of the different levels of success of different cultures has been debunked a long time ago but it still lingers around.
Like most people I know, I do not care about race at all but sometimes find political racism irritating. Political racism does and will exist as long as there is political profit in it. Political profit WILL exist as long as the confusion about the related notions of race, culture and ideology can be maintained.
Political profit in racism will exist as long as the political classes can keep suppressing honest talk about it, as long they can maintain an educational system brainwashing generations into mindless acolytes of moral relativism and cultural self-doubt.
Political profit will exist as long as the political classes can set different groups in society against each other, until those groups recognize that they are just pawns of the political chess game.
I am not particularly hopeful that this will happen any time soon.
My personal interpretation of racism is a very narrow one:
Using the power of the state, the power to compel, to treat identifiable racial groups differently.
I do not believe in ‘personal’ racism, the prosecution of thought crimes. Stupid ideas should be confronted, not supressed. I also find the use of fuzzy notions very dangerous. The guy who called me a racist, the one who is clearly confused about the meaning of the word is also the one with the power to censor my posts in a particular FB group.
The open expression of stupid and even racist ideas is far less dangerous than the bigoted suppression of free speech and free thought. I am convinced that the people shouting racism at every opportunity they get are far more fundamentally racist than the people they are trying to shut up, but that should be a discussion for another time.
Some deny – if not the existence, then the importance of culture in our lives. We are all individuals, they claim, and identifying individuals with their cultural background is a form of racism. This is the ‘wide’ interpretation of culture basically equating ‘culture’ with human civilization in general.
The narrow interpretation is the one focusing on cultural achievements in the arts, philosophy, literature, etc. A ‘cultured’ person in this sense is someone who is well acquainted with humanity’s cultural achievements.
I disagree with both of these interpretations. The first one is an absolutely incomprehensible denial of our social nature; the second is in a way doing the same by narrowing the definition to the objectified outcomes of cultures.
I could call my interpretation the ‘socializing force’ definition of culture. It encompasses everything affecting your personal development in society. Some of these are:
Language – shared history – shared ideology – social norms – behavioral norms – political culture and so on.
I will look at these individually but before I do, we have to discuss some caveats.
Culture is a very important influence on who we are, how we behave, etc., but it is NOT deterministic. Culture does not define who we are as individuals, but by the laws of statistic can describe the general attitude of a group of people. Culture can only predict collective behaviour.
Talking about culture does not have to be judgemental. Unfortunately, very often it is, because people tend to contrast other cultures with their own cultural biases and preferences.
But most of what we can say about culture can be interpreted in different ways.
I found the Lao to be genuinely peaceful, nice and friendly (in big contrast with many of their neighbours). A friend, who is also acquainted with them says that they are sheepishly docile. We could say that Arabs are assertive, some may say that they are aggressive or obnoxious. Some may say that the Japanese are very polite, some may say that they are dishonest.
All cultural traits can be subjected to this sort of interpretation. How you relate to a certain culture is a matter of personal preferences, very often influenced by your own cultural biases. The stronger your biases are, the more judgmental you will be about the differences.
I left Hungary in 1979. The first time I was able to go back for a visit was 1992, after the fall of communism. I was, at some point, standing in a foyer of the apartment of a friend about to leave but unable to stop talking. We all must be familiar with such moments. At some point I asked myself: why do I feel so comfortable? Then it hit me: I AM HOME. The physical distance between us is the one I am most comfortable with. The speed and the cadence of the conversation is the one I am most familiar with. How we are paying attention to each other, how we grab or yield the floor to another speaker is the one I am most used to.
The first cultural difference I discovered in Paris was the fact that the Chinese tend to drag their feet.
I noticed it because I found it irritating. Walking in front of my parents as a kid I was slapped several times with the command: “Stop dragging your feet!” For Hungarians, dragging your feet is a sign of sloppiness. While I cannot know for sure, for the Chinese, it may be an expression of humbleness.
Some of these norms are so deeply ingrained that we are not even aware of them, but when confronted with other ingrained norms, they can cause discomfort and even friction. Can we really fault the British when the very highly animated behavior of Italians, Croats or Hungarians makes them feel uncomfortable?
There is a beautiful illustration of this in the movie “Tea with Mussolini” where a British secretary ‘translates’ a business letter from her Italian Boss to his English business associate.
When a Hungarian friend took his new Dutch girlfriend to be introduced to his family at a Sunday lunch, she locked herself in the bathroom because she was convinced that the conversation she did not understand will end in a bloodbath. It was just a friendly, animated Hungarian conversation.
When my sister first left (then still communist) Hungary for a short trip to West Germany, her most important impression was the cleanliness of the place. I had to ask her how does she thinks the Germans see Hungary? And Hungary even then was incomparably cleaner than India.
Going to work the morning after I came back from my first trip to India, someone held the elevator door open for me. It was a wonderful experience. He made me feel at home. Such courtesy from a stranger in India would have been unimaginable.
How you treat your environment, how you treat your fellow men are essential parts of culture.
The Indians (just like the gypsies) live on a pile of garbage and it does not seem to bother them. Is pointing this fact out racism? Does this fact alone make their culture inferior to other cultures?
I have to stop for a second to make an important distinction. Ladakh, Punjab and Kerala, where Budhists, Sikhs and Christians live are noticeably cleaner than the Hindu and Muslim parts. But what does that mean? There is no such thing as an objective standard of cleanliness. Every difference we encounter in other cultures is judged in relative terms. Hungarians are cleaner than the Indians but not as tidy as the Germans.
Want to understand the clash of social and behavioral norms better? Watch Dusan Makavjev’s Montenegro. Want to understand Gypsies better? Watch Emir Kusturica’s Black Cat White Cat.
Language is possibly the most important element of culture. It defines how we see the world, how we interpret it, how we interact in it. English is still gaining prominence around the world because it is so damn pragmatic. Just like Latin was in its time. Language can be more important than ethnicity in the definition of an identity. Canada is described as a Country of two solitudes. Language has a central role in it.
My wife and I are from neighbouring, but different cultures. Our histories are intertwined. When it comes to the history of our own lifetimes, they are almost identical. Our political identities have been formed in a very similar fashion. I am the grandson of class enemies on both sides, she is the granddaughter of some kulaks. A gut level understanding of the scum of communism is in our blood.
Historic events touching on the lives of a large number of people do leave an imprint. Can we fault the Jews for distrusting the Germans? Or the Armenians hating the Turks? Not all Germans and Turks were bad. Now let’s suppose that the present wave of middle-eastern immigration will not work out for the Germans and some of them would want to immigrate to – let’s say – Israel. Would Israel be justified to reject them? Could we at least understand their position? I know Jews who would never buy a German product on principle.
In the course of the military campaign of 1526, Suleiman the second took 1.5 million Hungarians to the Istanbul slave markets. Altogether, in the course of 150 years, more Hungarian slaves have been taken by Muslims than the number of black slaves taken to America. Being the defenders of Christendom is still part of the Hungarian psyche. Can anybody be surprised if they are not too keen to embrace the new invaders shouting Allah Akbar, Fuck you and literally throwing shit at them?
My son lives in Mexico. He seems to like windsurfing so I asked him why doesn’t he get a board and keep it in their cottage close to the sea.
He cannot, he said. Nobody keeps anything valuable in their cottages because they would get robbed. Why doesn’t the law do something about it? – I asked.
Because everybody knows that the perpetrator of the break-ins is the son of the police chief – he said.
Now stop for a second and think why this is not surprising to you? Most of the third world is corrupt. I was explained at some point how getting a police job works in India. It is an investment. You basically ‘buy’ the position and pay a due to your superior who in turn does the same to his. Promotions are not earned but bought. Third world governments tend to be more ‘obvious’ showing that the state in essence is just a criminal organization. About ten years ago there was a scandal in one of the Toronto suburbs that is inhabited mostly by people from South-East Asia. Some government officials were selling driver’s licences. For some money, people were given licenses without any tests. India is in the news about a series of exam cheating scandals in Madhya Pradesh and in Bihar. If you grow up with this, it is part of your culture.
The extent of political participation, membership in various civil societies, clubs, charities, etc. are very important parts of political culture and cultures can be very different in this respect. One of the greatest damage communism caused in the countries it touched is the destruction of civil societies. Russia, where communism lasted the longest, still did not recover from the damage.
I left the best for last. I am a libertarian. I was born in a communist country and I was supposed to become a good communist. I never did. I am a libertarian by choice. It is a part of my identity. If I was asked who I am, it would be part of my answer. Your religion, your political views are an important part of who you are. When I call someone a fascist, a Christian, a communist, a Muslim I do not describe immutable facts of their existence. Being any of these things requires a conscious choice. Some ideologies, such as Islam, are not very easy to walk away from as doing so may damage one’s health, but it is not impossible.
One of my Facebook critics advised me to think of people as individuals.
Honestly, I am trying. My only problem is that I don’t really know what an individual is. Who are you and who am I? What does it mean to be you? The moment you start thinking about it you must realize that you are defined by a number of circumstances. Where you were born and growing up, what is your first language, what sort of ideologies were you indoctrinated into as a child, etc.
I described above three major areas of identity. Race/ethnicity, culture and ideology. The difference between them is the amount of control we have over them. I cannot change my background. I am a white male. As I was born in Hungary, my first language is Hungarian. I speak three languages. I could learn a fourth, but it is unlikely that I will ever forget the first.
It would be very difficult to change my temperament, my likes and dislikes and my attitudes. Not impossible, but very difficult as most of it is ingrained in me since my childhood.
The only aspect of my identity that is fully under my control is ideology. What I think about the world and my place in it, right and wrong, allegiances, etc. I came to Canada resolutely rejecting the ideology of the country I came from. It was not a condition of my coming here, but it could have been. It was assumed by the fact that I chose to come here. This assumption, however can be very dangerous as not all immigrants seek freedom for themselves. An alarming number of them are seeking our enslavement.
I understand the concerns of the anti-racists, anti-culturalists. It all steams from a fear of determinism.
A Brazilian libertarian friend is quick to point out that he is NOT Brazilian. Since all Brazilians are socialists, he cannot possibly be one. A Venezuela born commenter was offended by the possibility that she may be identified as a stereotypical Venezuelan. “According to the thought of cultural screening, I should be a socialist or communist, very catholic, love soap operas, look like Miss Universe and have fake boobs. But I am a libertarian, ancap, atheist who hates soap operas and cosmetic surgeries.” The irony of how perfectly she was able to define the national stereotype seems to have escaped her.
I could add my own. I am a Hungarian who does not give a damn about soccer and detest the Hungarian equivalent of country music. Cultural influences are just that: influences that we may embrace or reject.
The essence of methodological individualism is that the individual is ultimately responsible for his own actions and that the future is not predetermined. The point I am trying to make is that we are also responsible for our thoughts, decisions, opinions and most importantly, our self-identification. If you self-identify as a communist, you must, at least to some extent, take responsibility for the crimes communists invariably commit when they are in power. When you say that you are a communist, it is reasonable for me to assume that you will behave like a communist, especially once you gain power.
If you identify yourself as a Nazi, it is reasonable for me to assume that you wish to eliminate the Jews. That is part of what being a Nazi is. ….. Wait a second……. That is also true if you self-identify as a Muslim…….
When you identify yourself as a Muslim, you must share at least some responsibility for the atrocities of your brethren. I do think of Muslims as individuals and I hold them individually responsible not only for their believes but also everything those believes imply because those believes are scary even in their moderate forms. If Muslims do not want to be associated with the horrors of their faith, they can simply renounce it. There is nothing I would like to see more than a grand scale rejections of barbarism. As it happens, the vast majority of Muslims won’t even renounce the perpetrators of the worst atrocities.
In the end, the question is simple:
Is it racism to expect people to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions or the implications of their intentions?
Immigration – My personal stories
Immigration – race, culture & ideology (this post)
Immigration – the philosophical case
Immigration – the cultural case
Immigration – the moral case
Immigration – the economic case
Immigration – the political case
Immigration – Libertarian kumbaya
I think all you write sounds so damn obvious to me, that it is a shame that it needs to be explained.
I cheer and support individual choices. But at times, it seems that most of the libertarian movement believes that individuals exist in a vacuum.
I hate to have to add the disclaimer “not all of them are like that” to any cultural assertion. Unfortunately not only I do, but often that is not enough. People keep thinking that because we believe in individual freedom, every assertion about the environment and groups has to be immediately disregarded.
Maybe we have a better understanding of that because we both grew in an environment that we despised. I won’t compare my experience to yours for a moment – I was never arrested, and oh god, I can’t even imagine how it is to grow up under real, not pretense, communism.
But I was bullied to death, made my first friend when I was 16, and felt my whole life a crushing peer pressure that is basically what still keeps me in therapy to these days – and that is why I am so eager to tell anybody I meet that I am *not* Brazilian. I was just born there. I was supposed to be a good Brazilian, and oh boy, I missed the mark by so much.
Again, maybe that is just me and you don’t relate to that at all, but I think that what experiences like that show us in a deep level, is that although it is totally possible to not become “one of them”, it is so utterly hard – and quite frankly most people won’t even try – that this shapes people in most cases. In every culture you still are left with a lot of room to action, but the particularities tend to shape the individuals in a way that shifts heavily their average behaviors.