“No such thing as racism” as a Copernican revolution for anthropology

A “Copernican revolution” happens when the appearance of occupying a special location is shown to be a mere effect of perspective.  Our case is not special; it only appears so because it is necessarily the vantage point of our observations.

When we argue about how meaningful talk about “racism” is, we tend to get bogged down in terminology, i.e. whether one can find a natural definition of “racism” that will do all the work people are giving it.  That’s not the main point.  When I say “there’s no such thing as racism”, it’s a shorthand, like Mencius Moldbug’s candidate for the “Red Pill”, “America is a communist country”.  Moldbug immediately admitted that there are possible meanings of his statement that are false, and similarly “there’s no such thing as racism” has meanings that are false.  However, what people usually mean when they affirm the existence of something called “racism” is also false, and realizing this jolts one’s perspective, rather like realizing that America is in some sense a communist country.

Anthropology, certainly in the popular mind, and from what I have seen even as a discipline, is built on two principles.  First, aboriginal cultures have constructed beautiful ways of life that command our respect.  Aspects that seem silly or arbitrary to us, that were once dismissed as evolutionary holdovers, on close analysis perform useful functions.  Second, Western culture is built on white men’s hatred of “the Other”; most features of our social world are ultimately about white men oppressing these Others.

So here’s the Copernican insight:  White people are just like aboriginal savages, and Christianity is just like any other religion.  Of course, this must be qualified.  They have their idiosyncrasies, just as it’s certainly not true that the universe is exactly homogeneous.  However, sameness should be our starting point.  Now, one often sees that the tribes anthropologists study have ingroup-outgroup consciousness, distinct gender roles, regulation of female sexuality, religiously inspired taboos, discouragement of out-marriage, mythically-grounded tribal pride, territoriality, and so forth.  Anthropologists have no trouble identifying the psychological and social functions these things serve.  It is unsurprising that many tribes evolve to manifest them, and that these tribes should try to preserve such adaptive features.  Yet, when social scientists see the same things in white Christian societies, they attribute it to “hatred of the Other”, i.e. “racism”, “sexism”, and “intolerance”.  This hatred is a psychological force which only white Christians are presumed to feel, making them oddly unique among the peoples of the Earth.  This uniqueness is not explained, and given that social science is mostly done in historically white Christian societies, a perspective effect is certainly plausible.

Let us suppose as a first-order simplification, that there is “no such thing as racism”, by which I mean white Christians are psychologically and socially the same as other people.  They experience only the same environmental, psychological, and social forces as other peoples experience.  When we see an African tribe and a group of suburban American whites doing the analogous thing, the default assumption should be that they’re doing it for the analogous reason or cause.  And indeed, one finds that white gentile behavior matches the patterns seen among other peoples.  The hypothesis of a special seething hatred of Otherness found only in white Christians in fact brings no explanatory benefit.  We can explain or predict white Christian behavior just as well without it.  Attributing a distinct malevolence to our people doesn’t seem to be demanded by the record.

Notice this is a modest claim.  I haven’t claimed that Western civilization and its people are in any sense just as good as aboriginals or oriental civilizations.  We may perhaps have more of the traits of aggression and corruption that tend to be found among the peoples of mankind.  Perhaps we have less empathy or spirituality or whatever values the student of human societies esteems.  However, these are matters of quantity, not basic qualitative differences, and anyway such value judgment rankings are arguably out of place in a scientific study of peoples.

That’s what a racist like myself means when I say “there’s no such thing as racism”.  We’re basically just like other peoples.

25 Responses

  1. I don’t really understand the utility of this. Lefties claim racism = prejudice + power. You say we can assume whites and HG tribes have similar kinds of prejudices. Fine.

    But haven’t you noticed for lefties the power side of the equation is FAR more important than the prejudice side? This is in a sense even true, for the sheer amount of destructive power white Westerners command in the form of nukes and every other kind armament is many orders of magnitude more powerful than some HG tribe with a hundred bows.

    But beyond this, it is just simply so that lefties are interested in power, not prejudice. They would gladly let you have your prejudices if you only they could take away your power. That is what it is about. Discussing prejudices is entirely pointless there – the correct question is more like “are people like me really powerful, in what ways exactly, and do we intend to stay so?”

  2. Anthropologists are mostly very twisted liars, as if the field attracts such people.

    Here is an excellent illustration:

    The great success of Occidental peoples throughout history can be explained by the distribution of wildlife and crops which happened to leave Europe with a very favorable mix for civilization development, and left others like Polynesians without such means. (this is the proposition of the famous ‘Guns, Germs, and Steel’

    The great evil of Occidental peoples however, wars, colonialism, genocide, are a product of inherent evil in the white race which falsely believes in its supremacy even if it does not acknowledge that concept.

    Never is a scale of evil linked to the scale of success which by their own admission is an accident and not due to inherent racial characteristics.

    As a field, anthropology is one of the many that was created by a school of individuals determined to put the white man ‘in this place’.

  3. Yeah, but the other peoples that we’re just like don’t have the culture of critique.

  4. @Shenpen:

    Regarding the “power” part of the commonly accepted racism definition being so powerful:

    What bugs me about it is that power isn’t some thick aura that covers someone like a coat of chain mail. It’s a lot more like water sloshing around in the bottom of a boat in a choppy harbor.

    For example, Jews in Germany in 1932 had lots of power: they controlled banks and newspapers and universities. Gentile working-class Germans had legitimate complaints that Jews had taken over their own institutions. But by 1937, the Third Reich had risen and now they had lots of power while Jews had comparatively little. But then Germany lost WWII, Jews vowed “never again”, and with the power back in their hands, they influenced much of Europe to make it an actual crime to have the wrong opinions about Jews or the Holocaust.

    On a smaller scale, imagine a scenario where a white Wall Street bigwig is vacationing in Mexico when he is approached by thugs with guns. Power sloshes very quickly in a situation like that.

    If racism = prejudice + power, then that introduces a lot of problems when one of the key variables in the equation is here one instant and gone the next.

  5. John Derbyshire discussed this on a recent podcast, and I think he got it right. The bundle of attitudes that we call racism is distributed unequally within a population, and probably between populations. Within a population it follows a normal distribution, with a minority of rabid racists out at one end, a minority of ethnomasochists at the other end, and most people bunched up near the center. When the fanatics at one end get hold of the megaphone and shame the center, the center moves in their direction. Usually this fanaticization is corrected by negative feedbacks, but it can continue to the point where it destroys the population. You can always tell who is holding the megaphone because they are the fanatics you are not being warned against. When ethnomasochists have all the power, the great peril is “nazis,” when “nazis” have all the power, the great peril is “race mixers.”

    If we compare the racism of different racial populations, we find that whites are somewhat unusual. Until very recently, northern whites had a strong aversion to miscegenation. As you say, all groups place outer limits on exogamy, but northern whites viewed crossing that limit with unusual horror. At the same time, whites are probably the least ethnocentric population that has ever existed. Say what you like about “orientialism,” whites were actually fascinated by the Orient. They studied it, learned its languages, admired its art, and wrote libraries full of books on it. And what about the Orientals? They despised whites until they learned to covet white technology; and then they became technological Orientals who despised whites.

    The doctrine of racism as a pathology unique to whites is, as you say, absurd. History shows us many examples of a people destroyed when their spirit was broken by humiliating defeat, but I can think of no population that succumbed to our disease of guilt, self-loathing and diffidence.

  6. JM Smith, when you write “northern whites” are you referring to U.S. Yankees or do you mean northern Europeans?

  7. But haven’t you noticed for lefties the power side of the equation is FAR more important than the prejudice side? This is in a sense even true, for the sheer amount of destructive power white Westerners command in the form of nukes and every other kind armament is many orders of magnitude more powerful than some HG tribe with a hundred bows.

    Using your own example, those non-Western powers that hold nuclear weapons-India, Pakistan, China and North Korea–should be viewed with the same animosity that leftists exhibit toward Western powers, but they are not.

    There must be something else–not (military or economic) power or prejudice–that distinguishes Westerners from these other groups that hold both power and prejudice, which leftist critics despise. What is that quality?

  8. Northern European.

  9. Is it a recent thing that whites have been the least ethnocentric population? It would be kind of weird for that to coexist with an unusual horror of other peoples having sex with our women. Back when miscegenation really bothered us, were we one of the most ethnocentric populations?

  10. I’m using the word ethnocentric as an ethnic equivalent of solipsism, and mean a profound lack of interest in anything outside one’s own culture. This can be combined with a sense of superiority, but it’s not the same thing. The Chinese were ethnocentric in this sense. They found everything outside China boring. When whites took up exploring in the 15th century, they were certainly motivated by greed, but they were also fascinated by what they discovered. They certainly looked upon many of the people they encountered as inferior, but they didn’t find them boring.

    They were not only disgusted by the idea that dusky men might sleep with white women; many, most were also disgusted by the idea that dusky women might sleep with them. I recently read a book by the nineteenth-century English explorer Richard Burton. Burton was about as far from a prude as a Victorian gentleman could be, but he was revolted when an African chief offered him a night with one of his wives.

  11. One needs to go back to 19C to see the unique pathology of “scientific racism”–racism justified by science and as a scientific attitude and specifically NOT anything traditional or conservative.
    THAT wrecked Europe with arbitrary division into Teutonic race(s), Celtic race, Latin race(s), Slav races etc etc.

    This pathology-scientific racism-was unique-and this is what the
    Left refers to when they claim racism to be a uniquely white pathology.

  12. vishmehr24 @ Your representation of “scientific racism” is not altogether accurate. At the turn of the nineteenth century there were various non-liberal opinions about race, all of which today are lumped together as “racism,” and there was the “science of race” that grew directly and necessarily out of Darwinism. The first set of opinions, which should be called racisms, were not exactly “justified” by science. They were justified by experience. Darwinian science simply explained that experience. It is true that the racism of the Nazis was a new sort of racism, and that many conservatives condemned it, but it is false that conservatives were race-denying egalitarians. A middle-European conservative of the 1930s opposed doctrines of national racial purity, not the reality of racial difference. They did this because they were mostly aristocrats who were comfortable governing multi-national states.

  13. They were not only disgusted by the idea that dusky men might sleep with white women; many, most were also disgusted by the idea that dusky women might sleep with them.

    Maybe the European men just found the native women physically unattractive. Likewise, the same men were likely disgusted by the culture “dusky” men created and wanted their sisters or daughters to have no part in it, even if the men themselves were interested in learning more about those cultures. It is strange to look for a conspiracy theory of European genetic racism rather than a more simple explanation.

  14. Marissa @ I think you are right. The key is the word attractive, which should be read in its literal sense. In the writing of white men from a hundred years ago or more, one finds plenty of acknowledgments that alien women are “handsome” or even “beautiful,” but most of these come across as dispassionate aesthetic judgments. I don’t doubt that many men then found the exotic erotic, but this was then what we today call a paraphilia. The notion that the exotic is intrinsically erotic is a modern myth.

  15. Not buying it vishmehr24. Only a small fraction of liberal and leftist talk about white racism is about late 19th and early 20th century scientific racialism. They think white America is uniquely guilty for 16th – 19th century slavery, for Jim Crow, for displacing the American indian, etc. These have nothing to do with about late 19th and early 20th century scientific racialism.

  16. That’s probably it Marissa. Those men were “unreformed” hence their preferences and un-PC attitudes. One point of disagreement. They didn’t want their sisters and daughters involved with those men for reasons that go beyond culture.

  17. So, is racism ancestor worship or pseudoscience? Because ancestor worship is a duty for Christians:

  18. It was the rise of comparative philology at the beginning of the 19th century, with scholars like Sir William Jones, Rasmus Rask, the brothers Grimm, Schleicher and Bopp that led to the classification Vishmehr24 refers to.

    The term “Aryan” originally described the Indo-European family of languages, with its Western branches of Celtic, Italo-Hellenic, Teutonic and Slavonic and their numerous sub-divisions.

    This betrayed some people into the (manifestly false) assumption that the replacement of one language by another meant the replacement of one “race” by another. It seems never to have occurred to them that one race might adopt another’s language. Now, genetics shows, for example, that so far from the “Anglo-Saxons” replacing the “Celtic” inhabitants of England, the population is almost as “Celtic” as Wales, with a rather small admixture of Germanic (Friesian and Jutish) and a rather larger admixture of Norse blood.

    The attempt to trace the history of a people by a sort of linguistic archaeology has now been largely abandoned.

  19. Michael,

    There was more to it than language and the assumption of replacement. There was, for example, physical anthropology (e.g. measuring cephalic indices), archeology, etc.

    Sykes’ and Oppenheimer’s studies are dated. Newer studies show that the English are 10 to 40 percent Anglo Saxon. The Danes left almost no visible genetic evidence. But no, they did not replace the natives.

    It looks like the IE expansion involved a large degree of but not total replacement. But if you point is that a linguistic group isn’t a race then you’re right of course.

    That course hasn’t been abandoned it’s just that it can be supplemented by so many other sources.

  20. Chesterton’s point was that it was silly to explain Englishness (that was visible to all) by Teutonic, Celtic races (that nobody could see).

    That is, nations existing in front of one’s eyes are real but the races are invented and largely mythical. This thing is modernism in general-to attempt to explain the real and self-evident by abstract and mythical.

    The same problem afflicts HBD. And it would not do for Bonald to confuse traditional self-identity by “scientific racism” that is totally a modern Westen phenomenon.

  21. Does anyone think of Pushkin as anything other than Russian – He is, after all, their national poet – or Alexandre Dumas as anything other than French?

  22. What’s your point? There’s a famous Russian octaroon so ancestry and ethnicity don’t parallel each other? Russia wouldn’t be Russia if it were racially Africanized.

  23. I wouldn’t describe nations as real and races as mythical. I’d describe nations as part real and part abstracted and races as the same but relatively more abstracted.

  24. […] How about denying there is any such thing as racism? Bonald goes full red-pill with this one: “No such thing as racism” as a Copernican revolution for anthropology. It is simply fantastic work. Epoch-making. Instant […]

  25. […] the white race’s case is easy to defend.  It comes down to the very modest claim that whites are just like everybody else.  We’re not uniquely sinful, at least not qualitatively.  Our history is driven by the same […]

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