Tuesday, 17 January 2006

Do you have a people?

The announcement by the Stats Department that they will very kindly allow you to declare your ethnicity in the next census as 'New Zealander' has prompted discussion on how you define yourself.

Some people define themselves by what they call 'their people.' Do you have a people? Willie Jackson says he's spent his life looking out for "his people" -- when resigning as a Labour MP Tariana Turia declared "it came down to a question of integrity and I had to act for my people" -- her present Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples said in his maiden speech that "the hurt to my people" in being called "haters and wreckers" by Helen Clark was "very deep."

So Willie, Tariana and Pita seem to think they have 'a people,' and they're basing it on their race. They are making a virtue of their skin colour, about which they have no choice, but because of which they demand special 'race-based' favours. Such is the mistaken value of ethnicity:

ETHNICITY: The elevating of one’s racial identity and associated cultural traditions to a position of supreme importance – a racist version of collectivism, under-pinned by post-modernism in philosophy, and still very fashionable in academia.
How about you? Do you have 'a people'? If so, how do you decide who that 'people' is. Think about it for a minute, and while you do, let me ask you a question and offer you a proposition.

Do you choose 'your people' by something you can't do anything about, like your skin colour or the colour of your hair, or by something about which you have some choice. For instance, your kind of people might be tennis players. Or stamp collectors. Or foodies. Or Formula 1 drivers. Or thinkers, achievers, bon vivants, or humourists. All of these various 'persons' have something in common: they have chosen their pursuit, and they could have chosen otherwise. By contrast, defining yourself or others primarily by race, about which none of us can do nothing, takes away an important element of our humanity: our ability to make choices.

What I want to suggest to you is this: that the foundation of what it is to be human is our ability to make choices; fundamentally, our faculty of free will consists of our ability to choose to think, to turn on what makes us distinctively human: our brains. Defining 'your people' not by things that are consciously chosen but instead by things over which you have no control denies what it is to be human -- and this is the very evil of racism: that it de-humanises people, and views them as little more than as various kinds of cattle. This is the very reason Ayn Rand identified racism simply as a "barnyard form of collectivism" -- a grouping of people on the basis of attributes that deny their humanity.

This is the sort of view that still unfortunately persists in the Twentieth- and Twenty-First-Centuries, and which still allows all sorts of bad stuff to proliferate: from the persistent demands of the Turia/Sharples Maori Party for race-based favours; to the soft bigotry of low expectations decried by Walter Williams; to the outright evil of trainloads of human beings poured into the gas chambers and crematoria of Nazi Germany, buried in the mass graves of Bosnia, and bombed in the present mass murders in Iraq. When you ask yourself in depair how these horrors of 'ethnic cleansing' and inter-tribal warfare are able to happen, it starts with the de-humanisation of human beings; racism is the pre-eminent form of de-humanisation.

Recognition of free will is the enemy of racism. It is also the foundation of a genuine individualism.

Defining oneself by one’s race and tradition -- things over which one has no control -- is utterly incompatible with defining oneself by one’s conscious choices. Deriving pride in one's own achievements rather than just those of one's ancestors -- this is the very essence of individualism.

So, do you have a people then? And what exactly will you be writing on your Census form?*

Linked Articles: Cue Card Libertarianism - Ethnicity
Conservative, Liberals & Blacks - Walter Williams
Tragedy in Iraq - Not PC
Cue Card Libertarianism - Individualism

*Yes, that last one is of course a trick question -- as every good libertarian would know. ;^)


  1. You write that being able to define oneself as a New Zealander is better than defining oneself according to race or ethnicity because one cannot do anything about the latter. However, is it not true that for all except a handful of immigrants who might choose to define themselves as NZers in the census, being a New Zealander is *also* something you can do nothing about? It is in almost all cases an accident of birth, pure and simple, is it not?

    For me personally, in contrast to some other ex-pats I know, I find that the longer I spend away from New Zealand, the less I feel like a have "a people" according to the traditional definition. Accordingly, were I to fill out the coming census - which I won't be as I'm out of the country - I would write New Zealand European, and for the first time in my life I would feel that it actually fits.

  2. BB, you said:

    "You write that being able to define oneself as a New Zealander is better than defining oneself according to race or ethnicity because one cannot do anything about the latter."

    Ah, I don't actually say that -- I was simply using the census definitions as a hook for the later point. Perhaps that confused things a little and I could have been clearer?

    Although as you say later, the choice to be a NZer may indeed be a volitional one: Returning to NZ you may be able to say as most imigrants can, that's right, I chose to be a NZer... what have you done besides being born.

    "Accordingly, were I to fill out the coming census - which I won't be as I'm out of the country - I would write New Zealand European, and for the first time in my life I would feel that it actually fits."

    Yes, that's what a bit of time outside our small shores for a time does for you, doesn't it. :-)

    As for me, I won't be filling out my census because, like all good libertarians, I'll be burning it. Just like we did last time. (That was the answer to the 'trick question' you see. ;^> )

  3. Yes, me and a bunch'a Chch libs filled out our census forms on local TV with the ink of flames last time 'round.

    But as for ethnicity it's Kiwi, for reasons I've stated before and which are neatly summarised on the outside packaging of a MacDonalds Kiwiburger.

  4. I remember raising this very issue at a uni tutorial around 15 years ago saying that talking about race and sex is no more legitimate that talking about hair and eye colour - there are no stats about whether blue eyed people do better than the brown eyed or brown hair over blonde hair. However, all are as relevant.

    It is an obsession with classification that is driven by a desire to find patterns and commonality that causes this. Simple answers are wanted to questions when things are far more complicated - with 6 billion people - than many are willing to accept.

  5. Yes, but then while you were born with your blue eyes and good looks you did not disembark LibertyMom with your ethnicity ready-made. That's why you can't dismiss it the way you're angling to.

    And, by the by, there's nothing irrelevant about the human face- least of all the eyes and hair. And if you want some stats about that just start keeping count of each new blonde joke you laugh at.


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