(Presented on the 21. May, 1997 Meeting of the LU Students of Objectivism.)
DISCLAIMER: LU Students of Objectivism is not an official spokesman of Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism. While this essay is an attempt to apply Objectivist principles authentically and sincerely, any mistakes or misrepresentations are those of the writer alone.
The University of Pennsylvania, 1992. Undergraduate student Gregory Pavlik writes an article critical of affirmative action programs, and is subsequently charged by certain members of U Penn's faculty with racial harrassment. Though the charges are eventually dropped, Mr. Pavlik is understandably shocked.
Brookline High School, Boston, 1989. The Boston school board decides to eliminate AP European History from Brookline's curriculum on the grounds that retaining it would be Eurocentric. A parents' committee forms to petition for the return of the class, but is quickly denounced as "racist" and "fascist" for doing so. The class eventually returns, but only after an obscure Massachussets law requiring a student petition to be heard is found.
The University of Texas, Austin, 1990. Professor Linda Bradkey of the English Department calls for a new freshman remedial composition class, English 306, in which students will be asked to write about racial, sexual and other cultural differences. The textbook to be used is an anthology of different authors, all of whom agree with the same left-leaning ideology. Professor Alan Gribben, himself a liberal, rises to oppose the course on the grounds of its political motivation and apparent lack of instruction in composition. Because of his stand, Professor Gribbens' character is slandered, his academic reputation is ruined, and he must eventually seek employment elsewhere. The English Department eventually votes to adopt the course (without the same textbook), but it is never implemented because its supporters resign.
I have just given you a few concrete examples of the pervasiveness of a movement known as multiculturalism. I must be honest that these were some of the milder ones which I could find. I assure you, there are many more which will amaze if not astound you. If you want a full catalogue of the horror stories associated with this movement, I recommend Richard Bernstein's Dictatorship of Virtue, a book which I have just recently completed as part of preparing for this speech.
Indeed, multiculturalism is a widespread and influential ideology. Of all places, this philosophy is most easily found in the universities. According to Bernstein, 48% of four-year colleges already have a multicultural general education requirement. He points out that at the University of Wisconsin, the only subject required of all students is a multicultural course. Even at schools where there is no such prerequisite, the presence of multiculturalism is nonetheless apparent. Programs such as African-American studies, Women's Studies and Gender Studies have proliferated across the country.
Having given you a little context, I shall procede to address three major questions. First of all, what is multiculturalism? Secondly, since multiculturalism claims to be opposed to racism, what is racism? Finally, is multiculturalism really the cure for racism? The answer which I will present will be "no".
I. WHAT IS MULTICULTURALISM?
The doctrine of multiculturalism is best explained by reference to its three most prominent components: its advocacy of collectivism, egalitarianism, and diversity. I should also add that a great number of the ideas I will be presenting tonight were inspired by Objectivist Peter Schwartz's lecture, "Multiculturalism and the Anti-Conceptual Mentality", which is available from Second Renaissance Books.
Collectivism is the philosophy that the fundamental unit of reality is the group. According to this philosophy, the individual gains reality and identity only by virtue of being a member of a collective. Precisely which group is found to be important has varied throughout history. Prime examples include the tribe, the nation, the Holy Mother Church, the proletariat, and others. In each case, the individual is subjugated to the alleged importance of the group.
How does collectivism argue for such a point? It begins by invoking the premise of determinism--the idea that the individual has no free will. The individual is said to be destined by nature or nurture to be the person he or she is. Since one is either born of the collective (as in the case of the tribe) or raised by it (as in the case of the nation), it is clear that the premise of determinism necessitates the idea that the individual's identity is determined by the group.
Multiculturalism is clearly a version of collectivism. According to it, one gains one's identity from a very important group--one's culture. According to multiculturalists, culture consists of three primary components. The most important of these is the set of physical traits such as skin color or sex. The first component determines the second, which is the set of perceptual concretes associated with a particular ethnicity such as clothing, food, geography or language (on the premise of determinism, all of one's actions and behaviors are dictated by one's blood). The final component is the set of ideas and values--philosophy or religion. This last component is also determined by the first. If one's identity is primarily the result of physical influences, then ideas are mere epiphenomena--mere byproducts--which are not determined by choice.
As Mr. Schwartz explains, the "-culturalism" part of multiculturalism is its collectivist part. What about the "multi-" part? What is so important to multiculturalism about the existence of many cultures?
Egalitarianism is the idea that all units of society must be treated equally, in all respects. According to multiculturalism, the primary unit of society is the group. It holds, therefore, that all groups are to be treated equally in all respects. This idea is actually a logical consequence of the last collectivist component of multiculturalism. If the ideas or values on which a group of persons act are mere unchosen byproducts of physical processes, there is no reason to believe any set of values or ideas to be better than any others.
On these premises, multiculturalist egalitarianism lists a set of prescriptions against all conceivable kinds of discrimination. An excellent example of the scope of these prohibitions is to be found in a leaflet released by the Smith College Office of Student Affairs. Among others, they include:
and finally, my favorite:
According to Catherine MacKinnon, a prominent feminist philosopher at the University of Michigan, it is the very concept of difference which is responsible for oppression in the first place. In the book Theoretical Perspectives on Sexual Difference, (one which I read when I used to be a multiculturalist/feminist) she writes in a memorable passage that "[The concept of difference] cannot tear down the master's house, because it has built it." MacKinnon thinks that rape is wrong, not because it represents the use of physical force against an individual, but because it is a form of sex discrimination. It is interesting to note that on these premises, any heterosexual sex is rape--so is thinking about sex. And that is what MacKinnon says.
But the fun doesn't stop here. If we keep in mind the fact that multiculturalism views ideas as mere products of culture, that none are better than any others, that the attempt to treat them as such is the only kind of evil, and that the essence of doing so is to find differences between things, then not only is all sex rape, but so is all konwledge. In a revealing passage from the State of New Jersey's Guidelines for Feminist Scholarship, we learn that:
Mind was male, nature was female. Knowledge was created as an act of agression. A passive nature had to be interrogated, unclothed, penetrated and compelled by man to reveal her secrets.
We can see, then, that according to multiculturalism, the very act of thinking is an act of rape, because it works through a process of differentiation. Or, as Catherine MacKinnon has been apt to say, "To know has mean to f___."
It is not the case that multiculturalism is opposed to certain irrational standards of value. Rather, it is opposed to any and all of them. Any invocation of a standard of value does, indeed, represent a form of discrimination, since it is looking for differences between things and judging them accordingly. According to multiculturalism, the only sign of right or wrong is the presence or absence of discrimination.
When you combine multiculturalism's contempt for rationality with its aforementioned denial of voltion, what you get is an all-out disdain for conceptual thought. It is this anti-conceptualism which explains the third and final feature of the multicultural movement: its advocacy of diversity.
Some have found multiculturalism's reverence for all forms of diversity to be inconsistent with its advocacy of egalitarianism. After all, when a movement claims to treat everyone equally, and then advocates policies like affirmative action, racial quotas and reverse-discrimination, there appears to be a problem. Actually, there is no inconsistency at all. The multiculturalist's advocacy of diversity is entirely consistent with their egalitarianism. Allow me to explain.
A conceptual thinker might think of instances in which diversity isn't important. For instance, having a diversity of freedom and slavery isn't what the normal person would desire. They would want people to be free all of the time. However, multiculturalism claims that diversity as such is good. It assigns some kind of intrinsic value to the respect for the existence of differences. (It doesn't realize, apparently, that such a policy justifies slavery!
The reason for this intrinsic treatment of diversity is multiculturalism's antipathy toward conceptual thought. After all, it views conceptual thought as discriminatory (and therefore, evil) in and of itself. The multiculturalists are thus reduced to the perceptual level. Because they want all groups (rather than all individuals) to be treated equally, they base their equal treatment on perceptual differences, such as skin color or sex, rather than conceptual ones. If this policy offends against ability, for instance (by not hiring a qualified white male for a position), this is fine, because it represents the levelling down of the oppressors. And besides, calling someone better-abled is just a form of invoking a discriminatory standard of value.
(Incidentally, it is this contempt for conceptual differences which explains why it is that many multiculturalists are not interested in diversity of opinion. It explains the "thought police" mentality that exists in the politically correct speech codes of many universities. It explains why dissenting professors such as U Texas Alan Gribben are systematically persecuted by their peers. In response to the claims of the English Department at Texas that the department was, in fact, diverse, Professor Geoff Henley said: "Oh, yeah, theyre very diverse. Theyve got Marxists, deconstructionists, five varieties of feminists, new historicists, ethnic studies, and Third World studies types--very diverse!!")
So, multiculturalism's advocacy of diversity is entirely consistent with its egalitarianism.
Having examined each of the major facets of multiculturalism, we can safely define it as perceptually-bound, culture-based collectivism.
II. WHAT IS RACISM?
So far, we have only discussed the question of what multiculturalism is. We have not yet addressed whether or not it is good or bad. Since one of the primary stated goals of multiculturalism is the elimination of racism, whether or not multiculturalism could actually solve this problem is a good standard by which to determine if it is good or bad. Answering that question, however, presupposes that we know what racism is.
A. HOW DOES MULTICULTURALISM VIEW RACISM?
Multiculturalism's view of racism is actually very simple: Racism, it says, is the belief that one race is superior to another.
When multiculturalists look for racism, then, they look for differences in treatment. Any difference in treatment--any discrimination--is seen as racist. This is easily explained by multiculturalism's anti-conceptualism. For example, if a company fails to hire their quota of a certain minority, that is viewed as racist, even if the company's reason for doing so was that the white people just happened to be more qualified. Conceptually, diversity would not be a value in that context.
The "one race is superior to another" definition of racism is really a very easy way to approach things. After all, since multiculturalists tend to rely on perceptual rather than conceptual factors, it is much easier to say "I see a person of one color doing something I like for a person of another color" and call that anti-racism--even if the first person is doing it without reference to the second person's character, qualification, values or rights.
B. HOW DOES OBJECTIVISM VIEW RACISM?
There is another view of racism, however. Since Ayn Rand is far more eloquent than I, I will allow her to spell out the Objectivist view of what racism is:
Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism. It is the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man's genetic lineage--the notion that a man's intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry. Which means, in practice, that a man is to be judged, not by his own character and actions, but by the characters and actions of a collective of ancestors
Racism claims that the content of a man's mind...is inherited; that a man's convictions, values and character are determined before he is born, by physical factors beyond his control. This is the caveman's version of the doctrine of innate ideas--or of inherited knowledge--which has been thoroughly refuted by philosophy and science. Racism is a doctrine of, by and for brutes. It is a barnyard or stock-farm version of collectivism, appropriate to a mentality that differentiates between various breeds of animals, but not between animals and men.
Like every form of determinism, racism invalidates the specific attribute which distinguishes man from all other living species: his rational faculty. Racism negates two aspects of man's life: reason and choice, or mind and morality, replaing them with chemical predestination.
Miss Rand wrote that in 1963, well before the emergence of the multiculturalist movement. And yet, her treatment rings true today more than ever. Racism is not merely the belief that one race is superior to another. No doubt, such a belief would be racist, but it does not give us the essence of what it is to be racist. Briefly put, racism is genetic collectivism. A deeper, conceptual approach to the concept of racism reveals that the fundamental mistake it makes is to assert that one's identity is determined by one's race. It is only because of this mistake that one would be able to judge a member of one race as superior to another, without reference to their character.
What this approach to racism tells us is that there is a particular context in which the concept of "racism" arises: the context in which we realize that individuals have free will and that judging them based only on their race is wrong. This treatment of racism entails further that a mere difference in treatment of races is not the essence of racism. To be racism, a difference in treatment of races must be a difference in treatment because of the difference in race. In short, the perceptual criterion will not do.
III. WHO IS RIGHT?
Which view of racism is correct? To learn if multiculturalism's is, we need merely examine the validity of multiculturalist premises, since those premises are uniquely responsible for its definition.
Multiculturalism is premised upon collectivism, which is in turn premised upon determinism. Is determinism true? No. Humans have free will. As Edwin Locke, and Objectivist professor of psychology at the University of Maryland writes in The Journal of Behavioral Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry:
Volition entails the ability to regulate certain actions of one's own consciousness. Free will actually means the choice to focus one's mind conceptually or to let it drift passively at the level of sense perception...that is, to think or not to think. Far from being the mass illusion that behaviorists claim, free will is actually self-evident. One can observe directly that (given a normal brain state) one has the power to focus one's mind or not focus it....To deny this means to embrace determinism. If one is not free to focus on the facts, check one's method of processing information, to look for logical contradictions and eliminate them, then all knowledge would be impossible, including the alleged knoweledge of determinism ("Beyond Determinism and Materialism, or isn't it Time We Took Consciousness Seriously?", 26: 3, pp. 265-273, 1995).
From this we can infer immediately that not only is multiculturalism's definition of racism wrong, but that multiculturalism itself is wrong. To the extent that it is prefaced upon determinism, it evades a fact of reality. Not only is it wrong to do this, but when its genetic collectivism is noted, it becomes obvious that multiculturalism is itself a form of racism. It explicitly announces that one's race is determined by one's identity. When, for instance, multicultural educators proclaim that a child must learn about the achievements of their racial ancestors in order to cultivate self-esteem, their racism is evident. One cannot develop a genuine appreciation for one's self because of the feats of their long-dead patriarchs. One must achieve something on one's own. The individual is the primary unit of society, and the individual has free will.
What about multiculturalism's advocacy of egalitarianism? Might not this mitigate its racism? After all, it wants all cultures to be treated equally--even if it thinks that all cultures are genetically predetermined.
Egalitarianism is in no way a virtue. To say that an act is evil just because it treats different groups (or different individuals) differently is to ignore the entire context in which certain forms of discrimination are in fact wrong. The problem with racism is not that it uses any standard to judge people, but that it uses an irrational standard--the standard of racial identity. Discrimination which occurs when a person refuses to hire a minority member, in spite of the fact that this person is more qualified that others, is in fact wrong. But it is wrong because a person's character is essential in such a context, not their race. Egalitarianism drops this context and reifies the idea of discrimination into something like a Platonic form-- to include any instance of differential treatment, regardless of context.
Egalitarianism is a self-refuting philosophy. One cannot say that all ideas or values are equal, and at the same time condemn the particular idea or value that is known as racism. One must hold man's life as one's standard of value, with the only proper equality being an equality of rights--to life, liberty and property.
Not all cultures are created equal--and this is not a racist thing to say. It is not racist because race is not the same thing as culture (recall that multiculturalism included physical traits as part of the definition of culture). Because of the fact of volition, certain characteristics of individuals are chosen, while certain characteristics are not. One's skin color or sex is not chosen, one's ideas and values are. The set of unchosen traits, passed down genetically to members of either sex is one's race. A culture is the sum of all individual achievements accepted by and influencing a society. This acceptance happens voluntarily, and the achievement itself is voluntary.
As a result, it is a blatantly racist injustice to judge a person based on their skin color, but it is quite just to say that the same person participates in an immoral culture, if in fact they do. Someone who performs compulsory female genital mutilations in Africa is immoral. Someone who forces the Indian ritual of sutee, where a dead man's widow is burned involuntarily at his cremation, is immoral. Someone who practices cannibalism in the South Pacific is immoral. Someone who murders three million Jews in Nazi Germany is immoral. Someone who segregates blacks in South Africa is immoral. Not all cultures are created equal; to the extent that a culture practices, ritualizes or celebrates immoral acts, it is quite lower than others who don't.
And diversity? Diversity is not an intrinsic good. There is no such thing as an intrinsic good. A rational approach reveals that the concept of value is not a primary: It presupposes someone to whom something is of value, and something for the sake of which something else is a value. Diversity can be a value--as when, for instance, it is necessary to diversify your stock portfolio--but it is not necessarily a value. This means that when one is hiring, one should not look to diversity, but to the qualifications of persons applying. By the way, the fact that diversity is not necessarily a value does not mean that diversity is bad. If a person ends up hiring 50% whites and 50% blacks in a society where there are only 10% blacks, and if all of those persons were the best qualified the employer can find, then that is fine because the obvious diversity simply doesn't matter. It doesn't qualify the choice, but it doesnt disqualify it either.
I think that it is obvious that not only will multiculturalism never solve the problems associated with racism, but that it will perpetuate them. This is because multiculturalism is a form of racism, and perhaps one of the most dangerous forms we've ever seen--simply because so many people think it isn't.
I would like to close with another quote from Miss Rand. It is taken from her 1977 speech at Ford Hall Forum entitled, Global Balkanization:
There is no surer way to infect mankind with hatred--brute, blind, virulent hatred--than by splitting it into ethnic groups or tribes. If a man believes that his own character is determined at brith in some unknown, ineffable way, and that the characters of all strangers are determined in the same way--then no communication, no understanding, no persuasion is possible among them, only mutual fear, suspicion, and hatred,. Tribal or ethnic rule has existed, at some time...in every period of mankind's history. The record of hatred is always the same.
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