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Dennis Prager on Liberalism, Leftism, and Race
Dennis Prager insists on a distinction between leftism and liberalism. "The two have almost nothing in common," he tells us. He points to a number of differences. I will comment on just one:
Race: This is perhaps the most obvious of the many moral differences between liberalism and leftism. The essence of the liberal position on race was that the color of one’s skin is insignificant. To liberals of a generation ago, only racists believed that race is intrinsically significant. However, to the left, the notion that race is insignificant is itself racist. Thus, the University of California officially regards the statement “There is only one race, the human race” as racist. For that reason, liberals were passionately committed to racial integration. Liberals should be sickened by the existence of black dormitories and separate black graduations on university campuses.
a) A minor point: while color of skin is a phenotypical manifestation of race, race is not the same as skin color. Otherwise, how do you explain the differences in attitudes towards blacks and people from India, many of whom are very dark in color? It is their behavior, not skin color, that determines attitudes toward people, and behavior is a better indicator of race than skin color. Most white liberals would not think of buying a house in a predominantly black area. Is that because of skin color or typical behavior patterns? The question answers itself. Suppose that a man from India and a man from Africa are dark in color to the same degree, would you conclude that they are of the same race? Presumably not.
On second thought, my "minor point" is not so minor. To speak of race in terms of something as superficial as skin color is to assume that race is of no significance. But this is an assumption that needs examination. Is sex also of no significance? I say No and Prager says the same.
How can Prager hold that race is of no significance when he also holds, rightly, that sex is of great significance and that the behavioral differences of men and women are rooted in biological differences and are not just a matter of socialization? Is it at all plausible to think that gender differences are rooted in biological differences while racial differences are not so rooted? No, it is not.
b) What is it for race to be significant or insignificant? Is the idea that race has no explanatory connection to any behavioral attributes? But that cannot be right. How explain the 'over-representation' of blacks in the NBA and NFL? Why are blacks, as a group, so much better than other groups at basketball and football? Even if part of the explanation is social and cultural, surely part of its has to do with the biological realities of race.
Consider parallel questions about sex. Are men and women equally capable of being competent fire fighters? Of course not. That fact cannot be explained by differential socialization such as a lack of toy fire trucks in the nurseries of little girls. The explanation must invoke biological realities having to so with muscle mass, upper body strength, etc.
People on both the Left and the Right are coming to realize that race, like sex, does matter. Race is real just as sexual differences are real. ‘Real’ here means grounded in biological reality and not merely socially constructed — which is not to deny that some social construction comes into it. Why is it 'racist' to point this out? It can't be racist if it is true, and there are good reasons to think that it is true. Race is real just as age is real. If one is over 40 years of age one cannot enlist in the U. S. Army. Is there a nefarious ‘ageism’ at work here? Of course not.
Is it 'discriminatory' in a pejorative sense to require that enlistees be in good health, be fluent in English, and have a high school diploma or equivalent? Of course not. Only a foolish person could think otherwise. Is age a mere social construct? Of course not. Age, as it relates to activities like carrying heavy packs and climbing over obstacles is related to ageing, the latter being a biological process.
c) Since Prager is a sex realist he ought to be a race realist as well. Just as it would be absurd for him to say that there is only one sex, the human sex, it is absurd for him to say that there is only one race, the human race.
But surely it is not racist to say that there is only one race, the human race. On the contrary, it expresses the salutary desire to get beyond racial differences and find common ground in our common humanity. That can't be bad! So why do so many leftists think that it is racist to to say that there is only one race, the human race?
It is because they think it implies a denial of black identity.
I suggest that the correct view lies between Prager's race irrealism according to which race is just skin color and to that extent insignificant, and the identitarian view, found both on the Left and on the Alternative Right, that race is constitutive of who one is at a very deep level.
The correct view is that racial differences are real and significant just as sexual and age differences are real and significant, but that for purposes of social harmony and political cooperation we had better not identify ourselves racially but in terms of attributes more conducive to comity. And what might these be?
Some candidates: fellow citizen, rational animal, person, American (for Americans), child of God.
I will leave it to the reader to explain why each of these candidates has become in recent decades highly problematic. For example, if you believe in the nonsense of a 'living constitution' which is in reality no constitution at all, then you are not an American in the sense required to secure common ground. And as I have said more than once, no comity without commonality.
So I end in this dark time with a dark thought: in the end tribalism wins. The reversion to the tribal is proceeding apace, and the great American experiment may be nearing its end.