Saturday, March 27, 2010

Social Determinism Isn't Conservative

One of Stephen Colbert's favorite phrases is "I don't see color".  This is meant to satirize modern conservatism's absolute denial of racial thinking - even as profound racial inequality continues to persist, and the movement as a whole seems obsessed with racial thinking.

One of the problems in talking about race is that minor gaffes can be blown out of proportion - witness the Gates kerfuffle.  A line can be drawn between larger socio-economic structural problems and the growing pains of a cultural grappling with historical racism that emphasizes individual conflict resolution.

Those are certainly two different things. But that doesn’t mean they are entirely separate. I think it is right to emphasize that many whites are trying not to be racist, and “trivial slights” should not be mistaken for active pathology.

But racism is obviously a complex psychological phenomenon. People are certainly capable of identifying as non-racist, and on an individual level treating everyone as an equal, yet still holding unconscious racial biases.

One would hope that that social programs should live or die by their efficacy. Those in opposition to them often argue that even if they agreed with them in principle, the government is simply inadequate to run them effectively.  That is a principled, if flawed argument.  Government may be the worst delivery system, but it is better at guaranteeing access than any others.  (Public schooling is a good example of this: private markets simply have no incentive to provide social programs).

Yet as I argued previously, conservatism is a political philosophy that can push one into viewing some racial groups as superior to others. Even to themselves they will not admit to these feelings, because racism is so taboo, but how else to explain the reality of racial social inequality, if social determinism is not evoked? They actively oppose social programs on the basis that all people can choose success, but in light of the fact that racial disparities exist, what is the other explanation except genes?

As I said though, it’s very schizophrenic. These people do not identify as racist – in fact they hate racists. And yet when they spout racist rhetoric online, at tea parties (or in the halls of congress), they somehow manage to separate it from what they believe is actual racism. The lazy welfare queens, gangbangers and “illegals” are simply individual exceptions to their race (which although fit into historical racist stereotypes, the conservatives likely were never aware of them to begin with – “Watermelon are just fruit”).
Yet the underlying driver is always the underlying conservative political worldview which is in fundamental opposition to social determinism.

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