On being a racist

I’ve argued before that there’s no such thing–that is, no such natural kind–as racism, but as the word is commonly used, I am clearly a racist.  It took me a while to find my peace with this.

It was the babies that first made me aware of it.  I generally find white babies cuter than black babies.  For a long time, I was ashamed of this.  Oh, I knew the reason for it.  I grew up in a nearly all-white region of the midwest, so it’s natural that I would grow accustomed to this racial look. But I was still ashamed.  The poor, innocent babies!  Don’t they all deserve to be found equally adorable?  Shouldn’t I make an equal fuss over each of them?  Actually, I’ve never been around any black babies, so my biased responses haven’t affected them one way or another.  But still…

I also as a general rule find white women more attractive than black women, but I don’t recall feeling guilty about that.  Probably because I was always given the impression that women find our desire for them insulting.  If I thought I owed anyone an apology, it would have been attractive white women.  Besides, everyone knows that there’s no fairness in sexual attraction.

What should our attitude be toward visceral preferences of this sort?

One answer:  we have a duty to fight and overcome them.  I may not be culpable for a preference I didn’t choose to have, but I am responsible for whether I accept or reject it.  The question is whether the recognition of cuteness is a real value response.  If it is an apprehension of some real quality of preciousness in new human beings, then our responses can be correct or incorrect, proportioned or not to their object.  If there is some absolute hierarchy of cuteness, then it would be proper for all races–even those with the objectively ugliest babies–to acknowledge it.  On the other hand, if cuteness is more than aesthetic, then it should be seen equally in all races, since they are one by nature and by grace.

This all sounds very clear, but followed consistently, it would mean the renunciation of love and loyalty, of every particular attachment to friends, kin, and countrymen.  We certainly do not calibrate our affections according to an absolute scale of ontological value, and a world where we did would be monstrous, lacking both the nobility and the human warmth of a world with loves for particular others.

It’s also a very arrogant–I might almost say “racist”–view that only people who reject a preference for their coethnics are moral.  The inevitable conclusion would be that a white urban cosmopolitan is morally superior to a black African peasant who’s never thought to repudiate his natural affection for his own kind.  I intuit that he is as right to prefer black babies as I am to prefer white ones, and that we should stand together against any liberal scolds who say otherwise.

To avoid the logic of the universalists, one might deny that our finding babies cute is a value response at all.  Perhaps it is just an arbitrary preference, one favored by evolution for obvious reasons, but without objective ground, like a preference for vanilla or chocolate ice cream.  Such preferences are neither correct nor incorrect, neither moral nor immoral.  I don’t like where this reasoning leads either, since it would seem to save our affections from being declared immoral only by declaring them meaningless.

How to escape this dilemma?  How can the black peasant and I have different preferences while both being objectively right?  There is the practical defense.  I don’t encounter any black babies, but I do encounter white ones, so I have the instincts I need to help care for the people I will actually be in a position to help.  The black peasant’s instincts are analogously correct for his situation.  This is true as far as it goes.  It takes us from “meaningless” to “meaningless but useful”.  This still isn’t true to the experience, though.  When I think a baby is adorable, I don’t just mean that it is a source of pleasure to me.  I seem to see something in this child that calls for adoration.  People who don’t think babies are cute aren’t just missing an instinct to make them good parents; they’re failing to see something objective about the world.

I would prefer to say that all babies are truly adorable, but that I have a better perception of the adorableness of some of them.  Why would that be?  Is it because my racism keeps me from seeing how cute babies of other races are?  No, it’s the other way around.  The level of cuteness-recognition I have for babies of other races is the default, the appreciation I have apart from cultural enhancement.  My racism is this culturally enhanced ability to appreciate my own kind.  It’s a positive thing.  Without it, I wouldn’t be any more positively disposed toward other peoples, only less positively disposed toward my own.

This is how it always is with love and loyalty.  I know intellectually that other peoples are of equal value to mine, just as I know intellectually that other individual people are of equal value to the ones I know and love, but it isn’t given to me to see this.  Appreciation of the value of individuals must be through their particularity, since only in this way can we see them as more than instantiations of an abstract type.  We know intellectually that each person is a precious creation of God and should be treated as such, but we only see this in the few that we love.  That the rest are lovable is something we take on faith.  Our particular loves may even make this act of faith easier.  I’m more inclined to believe that every person is lovable when I’ve found it true in those souls I know best.  Being a racist, I readily believe that other peoples are correct in the special affection they reserve for their own–correct both morally, in that it reflects the virtue of piety, and intellectually, in that I tend to believe that what they’re seeing in their people is really there.

Racism tends to broaden the mind.

21 Responses

  1. […] On being a racist […]

  2. This implies that liberalism basically wants to turn us all into a sort of universal racist, equally hateful or indifferent towards everyone, with a few exceptions for the equivalent of your token black friend.

  3. […] Source: Throne and Altar […]

  4. As I wrote in my comment on your previous post, you need permission to let this sprout grow.

    With respect to the beauty and cuteness in other races, I think a person’s natural response to a beautiful woman or a cute baby is complex. It combines aesthetic appreciation with biological drives of sexual desire or the impulse to protect. We might call this “love,” in two rather different meanings of that word. Or maybe we could call it “attraction.” I am able to recognize that there are women from races other than my own who are very beautiful, and likewise babies who are very cute; but in both cases I feel less “attraction.” I feel that someone ought to kiss or tickle them, but that someone is not me.

  5. «Qu’est-ce que le moi ? » – What is the I ? asks Pascal

    He continues, “Suppose a man puts himself at a window to see those who pass by. If I pass by, can I say that he placed himself there to see me? No; for he does not think of me in particular. But does he who loves someone on account of beauty really love that person? No; for the small-pox, which will kill beauty without killing the person, will cause him to love her no more.

    And if one loves me for my judgement, memory, he does not love me, for I can lose these qualities without losing myself. Where, then, is this “I,” if it be neither in the body nor in the soul? And how love the body or the soul, except for these qualities which do not constitute me, since they are perishable? For it is impossible and would be unjust to love the soul of a person in the abstract and whatever qualities might be therein. We never, then, love a person, but only qualities.

    Let us, then, jeer no more at those who are honoured on account of rank and office; for we love a person only on account of borrowed [or sham]qualities.”

    What is “cuteness” but one of these « Qualities empruntées. »?

  6. Reblogged this on Philosophies of a Disenchanted Scholar.

  7. This is the pensee that I react most strongly against, since it amounts to an argument that love itself is an illusion.

  8. One of the truisms I keep hearing is that, in a good marriage, love gets deeper as time passes and your wife gets less beautiful. Something similar happens when the man starts to lose his physical and mental vigour. What is not often remarked is that the history of passion created by the wife’s physical beauty and the man’s virility is a part of what helps make the deeper relationship later in life possible.

    Now, great passion in youth is not absolutely necessary for a marriage. It is not the only prop. But it sure helps.

    Much the same with cuteness in babies.

  9. That pensee seems to deny that we are beings who have, or will have, a history.

  10. “[I]t amounts to an argument that love itself is an illusion.” No, it merely describes its object.

    “That pensée seems to deny that we are beings who have, or will have, a history.”

    What do I like about this particular rose? Well, its shape, its colours, its scent, the texture of its petals. I may like the appearance or the flavour of the hips it will, all being well, produce later in the season
    What else is there? There is its potential – for cuttings, for its seed and its pollen that can be used for producing more roses of that variety or for developing hybrids or new varieties.

    When, however, I try to think of the rose itself, abstracted from all these qualities, I must confess I find myself thinking about nothing.

  11. “I am able to recognize that there are women from races other than my own who are very beautiful, and likewise babies who are very cute; but in both cases I feel less “attraction.””

    To be honest, I find all women of certain races unattractive. I find all African women unattractive. I find all Dravidian women unattractive. Ditto pure-blooded American and Australian aboriginal women. I find Northern European women much more attractive than all other women. Aesthetically, I think Northern European men are more handsome than other men. Some east Asian women and some Hindu women can be attractive. I guess I’m much more racist than others here.

    Same with babies but I do have an instinct to protect babies of all races since they’re so helpless.

  12. I am a racist, I am a white african, but I have always thought that black babies were kinda cute, its when they grow up that I don’t like them anymore.

  13. Only a White man would try to man-handle his visceral responses so as to make them conform to a moral theory.
    I agree that being a racist fosters open-mindedness, and vice-versa.
    I take comfort in the notion that God died for Negroes, since it makes it easier to believe that he died for me.
    I remember something from GKC: “No humpback nigger half-wit may be painted without his nimbus of light,” or something like that.

  14. “We never, then, love a person, but only qualities.”

    “… This is the pensee that I react most strongly against, since it amounts to an argument that love itself is an illusion.”

    I think this is a pretty direct manifestation of Pascal’s Jansenist mood. There are corollaries with other thinkers, like Konstantin Leontiev, who insisted (following after monks like Ignatius Brianchaninov, and arguing against Dostoyevsky) that love in the Christian sense is something only perfected saints can do, and therefore presuming to love people is prideful and spiritually dangerous for most people; the only valid virtue for lay Christians to pursue is obedience. Attempting ‘love’ only leads to what Brianchaninov calls ‘fleshly love’ which deludes itself into thinking that it’s a spiritual love whereas it is merely the natural motion of hormones, or a mental self-presumption, easily reversed into its opposite of hatred. It strikes me that Pascal is trying to disillusion the reader in a similar way: “You think you love a girl? Oh yeah? Well what if she was crippled and her skin ruined by smallpox and she became NNN pounds overweight, as is within the realm of possibility? You think you love your friend? Well, what if he smashed his head and turned into a drooling idiot incapable of holding a conversation?”

    Actually, I realize now there seems to be a rather odd similarity between this hard-boiled monasticism, and liberal ideals. The perfect monk is supposed to love all people exactly equally, and so is the perfect liberal.

    The natural corollary of this, when combined with an intuition that very few people are saved, is a state Leontiev himself even calls “transcendent egotism”, wherein a person’s only valid concern is their own eternal salvation. As Leontiev points out, unlike Earthly egotism this leads towards altruistic behaviour, though that strikes me as rather hollow. In general, looking at people this way, the natural thing to do is never become attached to anyone, but rather to reduce people precisely to their qualities viz. their advantages and disadvantages for one’s salvation. To the extent that a person is advantageous to my spiritual state, I associate with them, and certainly no further; and because most people are assumed to be hell-bound and influenced by the Devil, the vast majority of people ought not to be associated with at all, beyond passing attempts at charity. I don’t think the ‘salvation’ that results from this behaviour will be an actual salvation. In the end, it was Dostoyevsky who pointed out that Hell is the inability to love.

    That said, there is a very definite and sobering message to Pascal’s pensee, so I would not throw it away entirely: it takes effort to love a person and not their qualities. It requires merely to take it on faith that there is more to a person’s “I” than just a sum of properties which might be changed, subtracted, subject to defect, etc.. We are capable of loving ourselves to the extent of believing this holds true in our own case, so Pascal is just wrong when he refuses to extend this kind of faith to other people.

  15. I thought you were on to something with your breakdown of the 5 (or was it 6?) different meanings that “racist” is commonly used for and pointing out that only one or two of them are malicious or potentially immoral.

  16. It means someone who’s not liberal or leftist wrt race.

  17. […] On being a racist is a meditation on having normal, visceral, and healthy attachments to one’s own historical human kind—being a “racist”—and how that’s a good thing. It is simply brilliant, and beautiful: […]

  18. […] Malcolm X met the Nazis. Down the Jewish rabbit-hole (video). Outsider trolling. Bonald on […]

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