Culturalism or...?
0 comment Wednesday, September 10, 2014 |
On this blog, we return every so often to the discussion of culture vs. race, or nature vs. nurture, if you like.
Over at TakiMag, there is a piece by John Derbyshire in which he addresses this issue.
Derbyshire discusses how some, who, although believing that human beings evolved in Africa 50,000 years ago, then stopped evolving suddenly after dispersing throughout the world, in groups widely separated from one another.
That does seem quite a contradiction for those who believe in evolution. How does one rationalize or explain away this sudden stop in what is supposed to be an ongoing process? How can it be that the races of human beings, despite the great variations in appearance, are still somehow exactly the same in all the ways that matter?
He discusses how the idea of the 'psychic unity of mankind' was developed by Adolph Bastian and then later by Franz Boas, who is one of the most influential figures in anthropology and sociology. So much of the 'thinking', if it can be called that, of liberal egalitarians is based on Franz Boas' theories.
This idea of the "psychic unity of mankind" is a sort of blank slate principle. It says that all human beings everywhere have the same physiological nature, most especially the same brains, and that all observed differences, both group and individual, are the result of "culture" acting on this infinitely plastic substratum�writing words on this "blank slate."
"Blank slate" is in fact sometimes used as an identifier for this point of view�this belief in the psychic unity of mankind. It is also sometimes called a "Boasian" viewpoint in honor of Franz Boas�poor Bastian seems to have been forgotten.
Those of you who like to trace things back through the history of philosophy will recognize culturism as an extreme form of existentialism. In philosophical jargon your essence is what you are, as it might be put on a police WANTED poster: white male, 190 lbs, married two children, etc. Your existence is that you are�the fact of your being in the world. The old philosophical conundrum is: Which comes first, essence or existence? Do you come into the world with preset atrributes�the essentialist position? Or do you come in as a blank slate, and have to get some attributes for yourself, as the mid-20th-century Existentialists argued, or have them imposed on you by your social conditions, modes of production, and so on, as classical Marxism argued? ''
I had never thought of this culturalist 'blank slate' theory as being existentialist, but it is that. And as Derbyshire notes, our offical dogma in this society is 'an extreme existentialist one.' It's usually expressed as the utopian notion that we can all, or each of us as individuals, do anything and be anything we wish to be. And if we fail to do so, it's because of some environmental cause; opportunity has been cruelly denied us, holding us back from achieving our dreams.
Obviously, as we've discussed here before, if we believe, as the doctrinaire blank-slate egalitarians do, that everybody is equal in potential, then we have to find some explanation for why certain groups fail to achieve on an equal level. If we refuse dogmatically to accept that because races are intrinsically different, each group has differing abilities, then we have to resort to blaming any disparities on 'racism'. Of course, the all-encompassing belief in racism accepts as a given that White people are being gratuitously malicious towards nonwhites, thwarting their every effort to achieve. This is unfair to minorities in that it gives them a false diagnosis of the problem, rendering a realistic solution nearly impossible, but even more, it is unfair to Whites who are labeled as born 'racists' who are guilty whether they acknowledge it or not. It is slanderous; it amounts to calling Whites an innately evil group of people, and the only people capable of what is now considered (by our liberal society) the worst of all human evils -- ''racism.''
Our educational bureaucracy and our politically correct politicians who set policy are invested in egalitarian belief, and so they are forced to keep re-enacting this absurd play in which certain racial/ethnic groups fall short in academic achievement, followed by the ritualistic response that 'racism' is keeping these groups from ''closing the achievement gap.'' The vast sums of money our governments spend on trying to equalize the races is never enough to close the persistent gap, and no amount of money can ever be enough, apparently. Yet this charade goes on and on, with no end in sight. Worse, the 'achievement gap' issue is further complicated by the introduction of yet other ethnic/racial groups who also fail to compete academically as egalitarian dogmas imply they should. So now we have not only the black/White 'achievement gap' to fret about, but also the Hispanic/White gap. And on it goes.
The egalitarian is forced to resort to the belief that 'culture' causes all significant differences among the races, and that if we just 'assimilate' everyone to our ways, they will be just the same as we are, and will eventually achieve at equivalent levels. If not, it's because we have not done enough to bridge the cultural divide. Or it's because Whites are so incorrigibly 'racist.'
So this stubborn belief in egalitarianism of course entails more spending of money, and renewed efforts to indoctrinate teachers and citizens in the belief that we are all really equal, but for culture, and culture can be taught or shared. More propaganda is generated in an attempt to 'correct' the attitudes of 'racist' Whites, and more 'hate speech' laws are passed to curtail the evil of 'racism.'
According to the blank-slate believers, inequality has nothing whatsoever to do with race or genetics. It has only to do with 'culture', and culture apparently grows out of the ground, or falls out of the sky like rain; it does not grow out of the soul and mind of a particular people or race.
It is not just the extreme left egalitarians who believe this; just visit any mainstream 'conservative' forum and you will find many staunch Republicans protesting that ''Bill Cosby is right; blacks just have to learn how to succeed in majority culture and give up the ghetto culture.''
Thomas Sowell wrote that black social pathologies were caused by their exposure to 'redneck culture' in the South. Again, a 'conservative' variation on the old evil Whitey explanation for everything.
Many 'conservatives' believe that Hispanics ''will assimilate just like everybody else, if you give them a generation or two. After all, the [insert favorite European ethnic group name here] assimilated." They say the same about even more exotic peoples such as Somalis or Hmongs. The belief is that they will all become as American as apple pie, given enough time and exposure to our 'culture.'
For an illustration of how the debate on culture vs. genetics goes, just read the discussion on this blog thread regarding the Walmart trampling death. The 'r-word' flies, and denials likewise follow. This kind of back-and-forth is never-ending.
Stating a belief in innate racial differences, especially where behavior is concerned, draws accusations of 'racism' just about every time.
So most "conservatives" fall back on the idea of culture as being the determinant, although nobody ever answers the question of how culture develops. There is an implicit belief that culture just happens, or that it's comparable to a suit of clothes that we can put on or take off at will.
Everybody is equally capable, apparently, of adopting any culture. How certain ethnicities and races come to have distinct cultures, that are unique to them alone, is never discussed, much less explained.
Derbyshire alludes to the reaction James Watson experienced when he stated a simple belief in IQ differences among the races.
But since the feared results of believing such differences exist are considered undesirable by liberals and egalitarians, the idea of differences must be banished from polite discussion. Any heretic who expresses such a belief must be dealt with by ostracism, job loss, re-education, or whatever means, in order that the forbidden idea not be spread.
But until or unless we can honestly acknowledge the simple and self-evident fact that we are not blank slates and not all ''the same under the skin", this pattern will persist. The endless laments about 'achievement gaps' and 'the failure of our schools' and our 'failure to integrate and assimilate' everyone, and the endless accusations of racism in all its various forms, all will continue, and the frictions attendant on these accusations will increase.
If you read the comments at TakiMag following Derbyshire's article, you will notice that one rather angry liberal commenter shows that he is fearful of the results which might follow an acceptance of innate racial differences. He mentions 'eugenics', for example. I don't know whether the commenter eventually will resort to the old reductio ad Hitlerum, but I would not be surprised.
Why do people, or liberals, I should say, fiercely resist the idea of innate differences? Is it because of their dogmatic belief that we all have a right to self-create and self-define? Or are they really fearful that some kind of totalitarian policies would be implicit in the idea of differences?
Many of the people who express these kinds of fears are members of minority groups (sometimes ethnic Whites) who feel themselves to be endangered by an acknowledgement of ethnic and racial differences. Some of these people identify strongly with nonwhites, and have a knee-jerk resistance to any ideas which they deem potentially ''racist".
I am not surprised that the leftists and liberals cling fiercely to their egalitarian, blank slate belief system. Reality never intersects with their perceptions. But I am perpetually frustrated that many who are somewhat more to the right, who pride themselves on being 'realistic', insist on mouthing the same platitudes as the left-liberals. How do we get past this?

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