And how I became a political dissident…
by Professor Geoffrey Sampson
‘RACISM’ IS certainly a horrible word. Words ending in -ism are normally formed from adjective roots: nationalism, specialism, communism. The correct word is ‘racialism,’ and this was the usual term until the shorter word came in quite recently, at a time when standards of education had decayed sufficiently for people to have lost touch with the patterns of English vocabulary.
But objecting to ‘racism’ as an emotion, rather than objecting to the word, is just silly. It is as silly as objecting to people’s sexual feelings, and for similar reasons.
In Victorian times, it is often said that piano legs used to be draped, for fear that the sight of naked legs, even wooden ones, might inflame men’s lusts. In time to come, the current hysteria over ‘racism’ will seem as ridiculous to us or to our descendants as horror of naked legs seems now. True, the draped piano leg story is actually an exaggerated myth — the Victorians never took fear of sex that far. But even fifty years ago, like many Englishmen of my social class at the time, I was brought up to think of the desire to get involved with women’s bodies as something utterly disgraceful and never to be admitted, even to oneself.
Once adult, though, I came to appreciate, intellectually at least, that this attitude makes no sense. The process of biological evolution ensures that organisms must normally have the patterns of behavior which lead to their genes being replicated in many copies. For a man, the most direct way to replicate his genes involves getting mixed up with a woman’s body, so biology ensures that he will want to do that. It is silly to be ashamed of feelings which are biologically so inevitable.
But evolution doesn’t care about the physical location of the genes which are replicated. The logic of the process means that organisms will have whatever reactions lead to greater numbers of the identical DNA sequences coming into existence in the world. Copying them directly through sexual activity is only one way to achieve that.
Normal people strive to advance their children’s interests, bringing them up as well as they know how, often spending large sums on their education, leaving their property after death to their own children rather than to someone else’s, and so on. Everyone recognizes this tendency to favor one’s own children over other people’s as natural, and it makes sense in evolutionary terms. One’s offspring share a relatively high proportion of one’s own genes. By advancing their interests one increases their chances of replicating their genes, and hence indirectly of replicating one’s own. Leaving your money to your children has nothing to do with taking direct copies of the DNA sequences within your own body. But, if having funds makes it easier to found a family and bring them up to adulthood (which has surely been so for most of mankind’s history, and in many parts of the world still is so), then it does mean that more copies of those sequences are likely to exist in future.
Co-operating in daily life with fellow members of a social community helps them to flourish, and hence increases the chances of copies of their genes multiplying. So, naturally, we are disposed to co-operate actively with communities of people who appear to be genetically similar to ourselves. If we can tell by looking at some people that they share fewer of our genes, we will be at least somewhat less enthusiastic about active co-operation with them; we will to some extent see them as unwelcome competitors for resources. In a word, we are racialists.
People sometimes point out, correctly, that the proportion of mankind’s entire genetic code which differs between the different races of Man is tiny, as if that destroys the logic of the argument. But biology plays the percentages. If people’s appearance implies that they share fewer of our genes, that is enough for them to be disfavored — even if they do share a lot. After all, even distant species — say horses, or even worms — apparently have a surprisingly high proportion of their DNA sequences in common with Homo sapiens; but very few people query the tendency to favor fellow human beings over other animals, when their interests clash. Another confusion within much discussion of racialism is that people suppose that racial feelings spring from mistaken beliefs that other races differ from one’s own in terms of concrete features or behavior patterns which are really the same across the species. A hundred years ago, there used to be absurd ideas, for instance about Black people not feeling pain, or suchlike. People often criticize racial attitudes now by saying things like ‘In all the important respects, people of all races are alike: so it is foolish and ignorant to prefer one’s own race to others.’
Well, in the first place, even if all races certainly do feel pain, it isn’t quite true that no socially significant biological differences exist. The case widely discussed is intelligence (IQ). There is overwhelming scientific evidence that races differ to some extent in their average intelligence levels — yellow-skinned Orientals tend to be rather brighter than Whites, Negroes tend to be rather less bright (though this is a statistical pattern only — plenty of individual Blacks are more intelligent than plenty of individual Orientals). There was a storm of controversy in 1994 when Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray discussed this in their book The Bell Curve, but the findings were already long-established by then. The suggestion that these differences could merely be statistical errors created by factors such as cultural bias in IQ tests was analysed and refuted in detail by Peter Urbach in 1974 (British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, vol. 25, pp. 99-135 and 235-59). For Urbach, the attempts to ‘explain away’ the IQ findings were like the doomed attempts by the 17th-century Catholic Church to explain away the evidence that the Earth goes round the Sun, by postulating ever more cumbersome special assumptions.
But this really misses the point. We don’t prefer people who share more of our genes over people who share fewer because the latter have particular outward features that we dislike. We prefer the former because they share more of our genes, and we all want our own genes to become numerous. Biology forces us to want that, which is why it forces us to want to get our bodies entangled with the opposite sex. If some politically-correct person announces ‘I have no racial feelings at all, myself,’ the appropriate response is ‘Oh, so does that mean you are asexual, too?’ That might wipe the sanctimonious smirk off his or her face.
All this does not, obviously, mean that it is all right to act oppressively to members of other races — any more than it is all right for a man to have his way with any woman who takes his fancy. Racial and sexual feelings are natural and healthy, but there have to be social mechanisms controlling how they are manifested in terms of concrete behavior.
Until very recently, we used in Europe to have an excellent mechanism: the nation state. When I was a child, England and other European nations were racially very homogeneous. Except for a small Jewish community (who don’t look much different from the indigenous English anyway), virtually everyone living in England was related to everyone else — I don’t know the maths, but two inhabitants of England chosen at random in 1950 must on average have had numerous common ancestors only a few centuries earlier. Interaction with members of distant races was mainly a matter of international trade, where it doesn’t matter what individuals’ attitudes to one another are because they are swapping goods anonymously to achieve mutual advantage.
Over the last half century, the situation has been transformed through massive immigration flows, so that now England is less like an extended family, more like a hotel. It is now very easy to find pairs of English residents who share no common ancestors for tens of thousands of years past, perhaps longer — and who know this as soon as they see each other. Our governors, by permitting large-scale immigration, have destroyed the mechanism which previously guarded against adverse consequences of natural racial feelings. But, while destroying one mechanism, with mulish stupidity they have refused to recognize the problem which that mechanism solved. No British government in my lifetime has ever said ‘We are going to change the racial make-up of the population, and here is how we are going to solve the resulting problem of racial animosities …’ Instead, they have introduced a series of laws and social policies whose intention seems to be to root out natural racial feelings from people’s minds.
That is like someone being given charge of a well-organized armory, where gunpowder, and metal tools that could make sparks, are stored in separate rooms, naked lights are held behind sealed glass partitions, and so forth, and saying ‘We’ll sweep away all these artificial barriers to efficient working’ — and then, when people say that will be dangerous, announcing that the tools will be given stiff lectures about the immorality of striking sparks. You simply cannot change basic biological nature by law. Of course, racial diversification is only one of the issues created by large-scale immigration. Also very significant is cultural diversification: people from distant lands bring alien assumptions, attitudes, and ways of life which are in no sense biologically innate, but result simply from distant societies having happened to develop independent and very different cultures.
In turn-of-the-millennium Britain, one hears voices advocating ‘multi-culturalism,’ meaning that all cultures should be regarded as equally worthy. In one particular respect — variety of cuisine — most of us would agree that immigration has brought a real benefit to this country. But, as an Italian has said, ‘Multi-culturalism is not couscous, it is the stoning of adulterers’ (quoted by Theodore Dalrymple, Spectator 27 Oct 2001). The fact that Britain is so attractive to migrants that they are risking death night after night trying to get in by clinging to trains heading through the Channel Tunnel is an outcome of the particular cultural assumptions which have guided the development of British life down recent centuries. If ‘multi-culturalism’ implies no longer accepting those assumptions, it is just wicked madness. Cultures can be adapted, and it is obvious that anyone who wishes to enjoy the benefits of living in Britain ought to accept a corresponding duty to adapt to British culture.
Race isn’t like that. People cannot change their racial make-up. In that sense, it is understandable and in a way admirable that many people urge the elimination of racial feelings. One can sympathize with someone who says ‘Wouldn’t it be better if people saw mankind as just one human race without distinctions?’
Perhaps that would be better. But it is like asking ‘Wouldn’t it be better if water flowed uphill as well as down?’ Possibly it would, but there is not much point discussing it. It isn’t going to happen.
If I am told I am a ‘racist’, I don’t splutter indignant denials. I borrow the response of Hove residents asked if they live in Brighton, and just say ‘Racialist, actually.’