RACISM: Assessing the worth of a person by his skin colour and ancestry. The lowest form of collectivism -- what author Ayn Rand calls a "barnyard" form of collectivism.
Called by its proper name when exercised by a majority or enacted in law as it was in apartheid South Africa, racism is however euphemised as ethnicity when practiced by a minority or when racism is being "politely" smuggled in by multiculturalists under the banner of political correctness.
To judge a person's worth based only his skin colour or his genes is to ignore what makes a person truly human: his mind, and the choices he makes with it. By what he is given by nature, and what he does with that. It is our ability to make choices -- moral choices -- that is part of what makes us distinctly human beings.
The foundation of what it is to be distinctly human is our ability to make choices; fundamentally, our faculty of free will, which consists of our ability to choose to think; that is to switch on what makes us distinctively human: our brains. Defining yourself or others not by things that are consciously chosen but instead by things over which you have no control denies what it is to be distinctively 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 as the collectivism of the barnyard. It is a method of grouping people on the basis of attributes that deny their humanity.
After centuries of the eruption of racial violence and tribal conflict, this sort of collectivism still unfortunately persists in the Twentieth- and Twenty-First-Centuries, and 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 by tribalists in places like Iraq and Sudan and Sri Lanka.
When you ask yourself in despair how these horrors of 'ethnic cleansing' and inter-tribal warfare still happen, it starts with the de-humanisation of human beings. As the ultimate denial of what makes us distinctively human, 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.
The point here is that whatever our genes might say about us, it’s far from all they say about us. In the age-old argument as to whether it is genes or environment that ‘create us,’ what is infinitely more important is to realise that genes and environment are only half the actual picture. The other half of the picture – the one about which we can do something ourselves -- is the faculty that helps make us distinctively human: Free will. The choices we make to do the things we do.
Tibor Machan has a useful way of seeing how these three things co-relate: nature and nurture (in other words genes and environment) give us our personality, the things about which we as adult human beings can do nothing about. But character is what we make of this. Character is what we choose to do to make ourselves. Character, the thing that makes the us in each of us, is made possible by the faculty of free will.
We might have genes that make us potentially great at tennis or golf, at painting or at music, at intellectual pursuits or sporting endeavour – what is critical however is what we ourselves choose to do about those potentials, what we do to either make the most of them, or ignore them.
“Man,” as Ayn Rand affirmed, “is a being of self-made soul.” We are each given our own ingredients, and by the choices we make with what we’re given we go on to make ourselves. That’s what it is to be a human being, and it's on those things that we should really judge each other. As Martin Luther King said so resoundingly in the days before his death, "I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character..." Magnificent!
As anybody who's ever read a newspaper would already know, in the New Zealand of 2007 state-sponsored minority racism is much more of a problem than spontaneous, private majority racism. Sincere opponents of racism must realise that, as with all forms of collectivism, its most potent antidote is individualism.
Individualism is colour blind -- and so should you be, and should the law.
This is part of a continuing series explaining the concepts and terms used by NZ libertarians, originally published in The Free Radical in 1993. The 'Introduction' to the series is here.