Saturday, June 27, 2015

After Charleston, We Need a Dialogue on Individualism

Speaking in response to the Charleston Massacre perpetrated by a raving racist, President Obama used the “N-word” in an interview, which got some people flustered. Writing about this controversy, the New Jersey Star-Ledger editorialized, National dialogue on race is much bigger than Obama's N-word. The editors wrote:

President Obama took on the incendiary subject of racial justice on the Marc Maron podcast Monday, even using the N-word to illustrate the most important lessons arising from the Charleston massacre.

The reaction from those who can best benefit from these lessons, however, makes you wonder whether he's wasting his breath.

The context couldn't have been more clear: "Racism: We're not cured of it," Obama told Maron. "It's not just a matter of it not being polite to say 'n----r' in public – that's not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It's not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don't overnight erase everything that happened 2-to-300 years earlier."

The overarching point was that alarming disparities still exist in America today – in the form of segregated schools, housing discrimination, and the deprivation of civil liberties and economic opportunity – and that they can be traced to the injustice passed down from the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

The Star-Ledger also cited what it called “an alarming succession of divisive incidents”:

Trayvon Martin. Ferguson. Eric Garner. Freddie Gray. Charleston.

All of them drew the nation's attention to a racial injustice that is endemic, yet there's still a sizable population that would just as soon dismiss them as anomalies.

I left these comments:

“The overarching point was that alarming disparities still exist in America today – in the form of segregated schools, housing discrimination, and the deprivation of civil liberties and economic opportunity – and that they can be traced to the injustice passed down from the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.”

Where does racial segregation exist in America today? Not in the schools, where children are segregated by neighborhood, but not race. Not in housing: Where are the laws dividing neighborhoods by race? Where are people legally denied civil liberties or economic opportunity based on race? “Disparity” doesn’t prove racism. The fact is, the very act of taking a racial headcount in a neighborhood or school in order to uncover statistical disparities is racist, which in turn encourages racism by encouraging people to think in terms of race, not individual character.

Exploiting the Charleston massacre to begin a so-called “national dialogue on race” is to elevate a mentally deranged collectivist ideologue to a status that is a grave injustice to the victims and to the fundamental principle of America. There’s no escaping the fact that lumping people together according to race fits the very definition of racism. Putting race at the forefront of a national dialogue won’t accomplish the goal of racial harmony, because the only antidote to racism, and only path toward peaceful coexistence in a racially diverse culture, is individualism.

Racism is a subset of collectivism. Collectivism holds that the group—society, the tribe, the economic class, the race, etc.—is the fundamental focus of moral concern. Therefor an individual must be judged primarily according to his group identity—in this case, his race. Dylann Roof didn’t shoot his victims because he rationally judged them to be individually bad, but because he irrationally judged the racial group they belonged to as bad.

Individualism holds that the individual, regardless of his accidental, unchosen group characteristics, is the fundamental focus of moral concern. Therefor, every individual must be judged on the content of his character—his chosen actions, values, and ideas—rather than the color of his skin. This is how we should judge others. An individualist could never do what Roof did, because an individualist sees individuals, not the group as morally separate from the individuals who comprise it.

Racism has been subsiding in America for generations, and today is at the lowest point in my lifetime. The fact that any remark or action that can be construed as racist or even racially offensive brings instant, widespread public rebuke, is proof of that. In a nation in which interracial marriage is socially acceptable; in which the utterance of the N-word incites disgust; in which a mixed race president is twice elected: Yes, racist acts such as Freddie Gray and Charleston are anomalies. This, despite the Left’s continuous efforts to keep the “dialogue on race” going.

But, for many on the Left, that’s the point. The Left is ideologically collectivist. They divide people into racial groups, scour the statistics looking for disparities, and then use the statistical disparities to find racism where it doesn’t exist. Why? To expand the power of the government to regulate and redistribute in order to equalize groups in the name of “racial justice.” The group, in other words, is the Left’s focus of moral concern. In this fundamental ideological sense, the Left is on the same collectivist page as Roof. Talk about “a politics that breeds division": That’s the Left’s modus operandi. Modern racism is less a holdover from slavery and Jim Crow and more an ongoing legacy of the Left.

We don’t need a dialogue centered on race. We’ll never be completely “cured” of racism as long as race continues to be “the issue.” We need a dialogue on individualism. We must learn to view our fellow human beings as individuals rather than as members of black, white, yellow, brown, or red tribes. You’ll never get rid of “institutional discrimination” by institutionalizing racial identity.

But since the Left so desperately wants this dialogue—Very well, I’ll accommodate. My contribution to the “national dialogue on race” can be summed up thusly: Race doesn’t matter. To the extent people understand that, racism and racial discrimination have no chance. Individualism and collectivism are mutually exclusive—and that’s the basic choice.

Related Reading:

Individualism vs. Collectivism: Our Future, Our Choice—Craig Biddle for The Objective Standard

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