Friday, May 25, 2012

Defending the Indefensible - Why Racism Is not a Crime

Jonathon Rauch wrote what I consider the seminal article on intellectual pluralism in 1995. He defends the idea that prejudiced, even hate-filled speech must be protected and that the antidote is better speech and ridicule of the obviously evil. Early in the article he states:
By all indications, Homo sapiens is a tribal species for whom "us versus them" comes naturally and must be continually pushed back. Where there is genuine freedom of expression, there will be racist expression. There will also be people who believe that homosexuals are sick or threaten children or--especially among teenagers--are rightful targets of manly savagery. Homosexuality will always be incomprehensible to most people, and what is incomprehensible is feared. As for anti-Semitism, it appears to be a hardier virus than influenza. If you want pluralism, then you get racism and sexism and homophobia, and communism and fascism and xenophobia and tribalism, and that is just for a start. If you want to believe in intellectual freedom and the progress of knowledge and the advancement of science and all those other good things, then you must swallow hard and accept this: for as thickheaded and wayward an animal as us, the realistic question is how to make the best of prejudice, not how to eradicate it.
Indeed. There is a real connection between the protections Americans are accustomed to and the superior progress we have made in applying technology and creating a wealthy society. But that comes at a price, the price that repugnant thought and speech will be allowed to proceed unchecked in our society.
By letting people make errors--even mischievous, spiteful errors (as, for instance, Galileo's insistence on Copernicanism was taken to be in 1633)--pluralism creates room to challenge orthodoxy, think imaginatively, experiment boldly. Brilliance and bigotry are empowered in the same stroke.
However, we are so concerned about bigotry with regards to race that we are willing to bend the normal rules of justice to achieve the seemingly laudable end of a society without prejudice.
From the purist point of view, a society with even one racist is a racist society, because the idea itself threatens and demeans its targets. They cannot feel wholly safe or wholly welcome as long as racism is present. Pluralism says: There will always be some racists. Marginalize them, ignore them, exploit them, ridicule them, take pains to make their policies illegal, but otherwise leave them alone. Purists say: That's not enough. Society cannot be just until these pervasive and oppressive ideas are searched out and eradicated.
Our society is creating a climate of persecution and victimization that diversity bullies use to impose their own agenda. Racial prejudice is certainly ugly, but the answer is not speech codes and racial quotas, which do harm to our freedoms and threaten our progress in insidious ways. Diversity is in fact a good thing, but by imposing only one kind of diversity, that of race, we exclude real diversity from our colleges and universities. Victor David Hanson hit the bulls eye in discussing L'affaire Warren:
This melodramatic history is the antithesis of the only diversity that counts, intellectual diversity, for it reduces a complex, variegated, universally flawed humanity into cardboard villains and victims. But the point of multiculturalism has never been “diversity.” If true diversity were the aim, then the university would promote the diversity of religion, region, socio-economic background, and most important intellect and philosophy. And that’s what “diversity” of the sort that allowed a blue-eyed, blonde Elizabeth Warren to pass as evidence of Harvard’s “commitment to diversity” is really about: imposing a leftist ideological conformity predicated on America’s historical crimes and sins.
If America's universities are to remain the center of intellectual achievement for which they were once known, this false pretense of diversity has to end. The imposition of speech codes and all the Marxist-Orwellian claptrap regarding acceptable thought must end. The existence of racists, will be met, not with intolerance, but ridicule and well crafted argument. Ultimately, suppression of speech is incompatible with a free society. Suppression does not persuade, it only intimidates and drives behavior underground. Better to have the debate in the open and allow prejudice to sink or swim on its own merits.


  1. Agreed, someone once said..actions speak louder than words. I hold that if you want to defeat racism and all it's evil cousins...let it be out in the open. If we let bigots, act like bigots, the market will destroy them. Ask Bear Bryant..the reason Alabama integrated was because as segregated they could no longer compete in an integrated world. I would love the businesses I compete with to be racists...I'll draw from a larger talent pool, and have more of their customers. Eventually, he'll realize bigotry is inefficient and ineffective, and he'll change, or die like the dinosaurs, as he should.

    I have worked for a company, that hired the absolute minimum of minorities, all to satisfy the law. Guess what, and they all knew they were the token..whatever..and they performed far below the standard anyone else had they were protected. Guess what, that company is out of business. Enforced equality, is not the same as equality. In a free society, with free thought, associations, and markets, racism and bigotry will crumble under it's own weight..if we only let it.

  2. Link forthcoming.

    Steve, word around the campfire is that Bryant made a couple of secret trips out to L.A. to arrange the game with Coach McKay as he knew people (in AL) would go nuts if this game was arranged in the open.

    The story, however, that Bryant had Sam Cunningham come into the 'Bama locker room after the game for the purpose of Bryant addressing his players: "Team, this here is a man", is most likely bunk.


  3. Your argument in the end amounts to let the powerful bigots be free, because that way somewhere, somehow eventually they will learn and change.
    In the meantime, everybody else shut-up and take it for your own good.

    Why am I not convinced, let me see.

  4. Thabo, nobody has to shut up, nobody has to take it. Please re-read the article, we will meet racism with ridicule and well crafted argument; we just won't make it illegal. What if I had the power to arrest you for not reading my article carefully enough, wouldn't that be ridiculous? We must strip from government the power to determine which thoughts are illegal, no matter how repugnant.

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