Make a cup of tea: it’s a big one. But a necessary one.
I have let a thread flow on Emma Raducanu and subtle racism exhibited, unsurprisingly, by the British media. Enter stage right a bunch of
race realists racists.
But here’s the thing. You may get bored of me banging on about “conceptual nominalism” (the belief that abstract ideas and universals only exist in the minds of conceivers, not out there in the aether as objective, mind-independent facts) and the importance of getting your ontology right. Well, it’s pretty useful, don’t you know, when talking about…anything and everything, including white ethno-nationalism.
This will be a two-part piece due to the amount of content I will need to present.
There is one particular commenter who wears his colours proudly and openly, and that colour looks to be white. The thread is now 1300 comments long, so it is a job for me to find just a couple that sum up his views. I have thrown some together, highlighting words and phrases that might need some focus:
This will actually be quite easy to debunk if you even give it a few minutes of thought, but these things take time. There are obvious contradictions and incoherencies in there, but much will have to wait.
This kind of racial categorisation gives rise to a sort of genetic determinism in him:
Man is not a modernist “individual”. He is not created equal. He is not defined by a desire to unfetter his personal will by overstepping the natural bounds. He can’t overstep his natural bounds. He is bounded and, in so much as that gives him the most fundamental and final difference and specificity, he is determined. His life begins from that position of difference and specificity, and all his inhering assets and capabilities are devoted to its preservation and communication to the future. He lives authentically only in so much as he is able to give expression to this most human cause, without the impress upon him of dictates and falsehoods that are foreign.
So it’s not nature and nuture, it’s nature, stupid. One of the common ploys is to try to turn the tables on anti-racists by calling us racist:
So far, you equality boys, you anti-white boys, haven’t come up with a single positive argument for your understanding of human existence. It’s all incredibly shallow and ideological, and revolves around the assumption that anyone who loves his or her people and desires their survival and continuity must be evil cuz waycism. We should be contesting final values, on the basis of which some determination might be made. But just shouting your weedy memes at “the waycist” doesn’t cut it. Your learned, mechanical hatreds don’t cut it.
Now come on, what is the philosophical value which you contend to be the ultimate good in all human history, and which you propose to be the guiding idea today and forever? What?
He would need to establish Heidegger robustly when he comes to a conceptual nominalist’s blog and attempts to splurge his nationalist garbage. Which he hasn’t done. He shouldn’t come here and demand things of us. The burden of proof is on him.
I mean, reading his comments sounds very much like 1930s Germany and the rise of Nazism. After all, Heidegger was a member of the Nazi Party until the end of the war, had a dodgy (very polite euphemism) attitude towards Jews, famously said nothing about the Holocaust, so on and so forth. Indeed, my interlocutor’s claims seem to come straight out of Heidegger’s “black notebooks” – incredibly controversial as they are. Please read “Heidegger’s ‘black notebooks’ reveal antisemitism at core of his philosophy | Martin Heidegger | The Guardian” for details of his rampant anti-Semitism. A philosopher can say brilliant or interesting things in one area of, say, phenomenology, but still be racist.
The commenter is – in terms of Jonathan-Haidt-style political psychology – a classic political conservative: he is obsessed with purity, traditional and the in-group.
But, in giving in to yet another instance of Brandolini’s Law (taking vastly more time to unpick people’s bullshit than it does for them to defecate it), and doing the good deed for all you decent folk out there, here is how I see it.
To set you up a bit more, here is what he added after my challenge:
Supervenience is pretty much secondary in the mind-body debate now. The weight of opinion is towards one or other variety of emergence. Not that I am relying on that for my argument. Morality is the socialised action of the higher emotions, which exist uniformly among most of racial humanity, and do so to commend adaptive life-choices. That’s its root.
Essentialism is not limited to existence of “the soul”. Essence is there at the very first enduring separation of organic matter from the inorganic….
I might add, the question is not whether essentiality is in the living organism, but whether essence precedes existence or vice versa. Make your stand accordingly
I did laugh at “exist uniformly among most of humanity”, also known as “don’t exist uniformly among humanity”.
Where to start?
I mean, it’s a garbled mess, it really is. That’s not just me being all liberal and offended by him. I am both those things (though saddened more than offended), but it really is a cobbled-together mass of contradiction and faulty axioms. GIGO. Garbage in, garbage out.
So, as ever, we need to start at the bottom, because things built on foundations – built out of those foundational bricks – supervene on those foundations.
I’m obviously going to start with ontology, and belabour the points I have so often belaboured. I hope you understand how important I think these foundations are and why I bang on about them so much. I am just about to release a new book called Why I Am Atheist and Not a Theist in which I build my whole worldview up from the bottom. It’s a touch more philosophical than some of my other religious treatments in establishing my ontological framework, which then informs my epistemology, natural theology and then morality. The problem is, most people do it backwards, or start in the middle. I often talk about bottom-up construction of worldviews rather than top-down. It’s a common thread around here. Indeed, check out last week’s offerings:
And while you’re at it:
- The Second Amendment and Rights
- What Is Personhood? Setting the Scene.
- Life starts at conception, but what about personhood? Revisited.
- Human Rights Don’t Exist until We Construct and Codify Them
- Philosophy 101 (philpapers induced) #2 – Abstract objects: Platonism or nominalism
- Species Do Not “Exist”: Evolution, Sand Dunes and the Sorites Paradox
This is very much the same argument as the 2nd Amendment argument I have so often had, except my interlocutor substitutes “natural rights” off the pitch and replaces it with “natural race”.
The problem is, someone like this is an essentialist and an ontological realist in terms of abstracts. He thinks “races”, “species”, “moral obligation” and any other number of abstracts exist in some kind of Platonic realm objectively, outside of our human minds, that any given entity has some kind of “essence” it should conform to otherwise it’s not being naturally right. Or, even more bizarrely, those ideas inhere (necessarily?) in all human minds. Except they don’t in mine, so there you go.
“Human rights”, “races”, “species” don’t exist. By this, I mean, as I so often state, they do not have ontic existence – they do not exist outside of our minds. Like all abstract ideas, for a conceptual nominalist like myself, the existence of such mental entities (labels, morality and so on) is entirely in our minds. They, like any aspect of language itself, are arrived at by consensus. When we agree on the meaning of any word, we codify that by putting it in a dictionary. The same with moral abstracts: when we agree, we codify them into law if we can, and they only become pragmatically meaningful when we codify, enact and enforce them. Otherwise, they just sit in whatever mind is conceiving them.
My idea of what a hero is will be different from yours and any other person’s. When I look at the chair, I get a sense of chairness from it and have an understanding of the idea of a chair. However, a chair might feel like a bed to a cat, or to an alien it could be something entirely different, or to someone from the Amazon Rainforest, yet again something different. this is because there is no objective idea of what a chair is that our minds tap into. It is not top-down epistemology but bottom-up mental construction. Definitions are usually functional so that a chair fulfills the idea of being a chair by fulfilling the function it provides to the people who are perceiving it.
When I invent the idea of a grashextiquet (the refraction of early morning sunshine through of a droplet of dew on a honeysuckle plant into the eyes and perception of a badger), it must somehow then pop into the Platonic realm or exist in God’s mind, and this must still take into account people’s disagreement with this definition, perhaps a changing thereof, maybe over time with the development of language and its application by a wide range of people. So on and so forth.
Evolution and Races
Let’s have a look at evolution and what is known as the species problem. Even Charles Darwin understood the nature of nominalism and how it affects how we categorise species and label them in the arena of evolutionary theory. The nature of evolution means that every single organism is part of a transitional journey from one point in time to another in terms of the properties of those organisms. What we do is we attach labels to categories along that continuum of time in an arbitrary fashion. It is like applying a digital idea to a spectrum. Let me remind you of my favourite picture:
Arguably, at no single point along that journey of text from red to blue does the text stop being red and become blue. It’s fuzzy. We kind of intuit it. In a sense, there is no such thing as red and blue (outside of our minds, objectively). We invent these labels and attach them to a range of colours as we see fit. However, there will be disagreement as to what constitutes red and what constitutes blue. In Photoshop, for example, there are individual codes for every instantiation of colour. The same could be applied to evolution. If we look at the evolution of man, we could apply an individual label for every single generation of organism throughout the whole continuum. Even that has problems because there will be numerous differentiated organisms that coexist contemporaneously.
What we do is arbitrarily draw lines in time and say everything to the left of that line is this species and everything to the right of that line is that species. For example, we might draw a line in time and say that everything to left of that line is homo antecessor and everything to the right of that line is homo heidelbergensis. However, this does not mean that a homo antecessor male and female gave birth to a homo heidelbergensis at a particular point in time. Remember, everything is transitional. Evolution moves in very slow incremental changes.
Because we create these arbitrary categories, we think that these categories really do exist outside of our minds. The layman will think that at some point in time, precisely, one species literally and meaningfully turns into another. However, this is a mischaracterisation of evolution based on the simplistic way that we categorise and chop up the continuous spectrum of change. We do this for human development, species and any number of things. Adults are and have been demarcated and defined throughout the world at anywhere between 12 and 21 or thereabouts, depending on time and place. And that’s not taking into account actual individual differences – they are general blanket labels applied irrespective of whether one has or doesn’t have the host of expected (nebulous) characteristics of “adult” (also irrespective of potential sex differences) at the given specific age. “Adult” is a useful, practical category invention from which we can derive social utility.
This concept applies to anything abstract, either it is digital and we make up the digital categories and decide what properties qualify a given label, or we arbitrarily demarcate different categories along a continuum.
This happens for species. This happens for races.
Does the concept of human ethnic races exist objectively outside of our minds so that if all sentient life were to die, that concept would still exist in the universe?
So these ideas exist subjectively, and when we agree on them, we codify it into some book or law that hopefully has some pragmatic use (or doesn’t – it can be just for fun!).
There is no such thing as a human race or the English race in any objective sense. Goodness, “English” is a term contingent upon the vagaries of history, geography and language! The only way you get such labels is by subjectively and conceptually creating them. And to do this, you need to survey all properties that humans might have, from the phenotypical and genotypical drawers, and choose a bunch that you like and ascribe these to a label. In this case, take the word “race”, and perhaps narrow it down to “white race” or “English race”, and then choose a bunch of properties, and write them in the respective column.
But be warned – others may disagree.
For example, I disagree there would even be a column “English race” – to me, it makes no sense. I’m not just saying this, I really mean it. I know for sure if all humanity suddenly died, such a demarcation would be meaningless. Its meaning is contextual. It has meaning to the person who uses it because they have ascribed their own contextual meaning to it. But if I asked anyone on these threads, or an Amazonian, or someone from the Ivory Coast or Jamaica or Indonesia or Truro or Birmingham or Scotland what “English race” meant, we would have a right variety of definitions.
When he states “ethnicity is not subjective”, he is entirely wrong. It most definitely is subjective. Otherwise, who defines ethnicity? Who arbitrates disagreements? What about ethinicity+ or B-ehtnicity, or any other form of it I make up on the spot? Is it now objective? Of course, the problem here is that my interlocutor does the classic thing (and I was pointing this out on my other thread with a fellow skeptic about moral objectivity) – he is conflating objective properties with objective labels and abstracts.
What I mean here is that a bunch of people might have a bunch of properties that in their fundamental form (before human abstraction) exist objectively. But this doesn’t make the designation of an arbitrary selection of some of those total properties into a criterion for categorising, and that final category, objective. I’m not saying that a human being doesn’t have a particular skin colour (as abstracted and interpreted by my subjective eyes and brain – Kant anyone?) isn’t in some sense an objective piece of data. I am saying using that or some other qualities and applying them to any given label is subjective.
This is the Fallacy of Composition.
(And that’s not to say we can’t get practical utility from categorising things, as long as we understand the method and reality of doing so – it doesn’t make it objective fact, even if we codify it into law. We can change laws, don’t you know?)
If I select twenty people and select the four people between the heights of 5ft 8 and 6ft as “H race” and then disadvantage everyone else on account of not qualifying for that race, I can’t claim I have objective facticity on my side. Yes, we could argue those heights objectively exist, but “H race” does not – that was my conceptual construction. The notion of “race” is obviously a conceptual construction. Because race just means “particular similarities” (or, indeed, “not these differences” – disqualification rather than qualification), and who gets to decide what similarities or properties qualify for any given definition of race?
“My English people” becomes literally what he and it says: “my English people”, or, “what I, a subjective individual, designate as defined by the words ‘English people'”. For him, in his little Englander head.
He owns his concept, for sure, but he doesn’t own mine. And I (all arbitrary lines drawn on rock as an accident of history and geography aside) am English, don’t you know. He doesn’t talk for me, and for an awful lot of other English people. And, yes, we can talk and think for ourselves. Hence this piece.
So this chap can argue what he likes, but if he throws in assertions and terminology without showing that they are universalisable – that there is some element at the very least of something I call universal subjectivism – or that we should all have good reason to assent to such demarcations and definitions, then he is on a hiding to nothing.
He is on a hiding to nothing.
My Previous Challenge on Race Ideology
On a slightly related note, I have previously challenged our resident “race realist”, Otto Goat, in a similar context. He looked at what he understood as race by applying his own choice of properties to the label of “X race” or “Y race”. He said the “black race” was more violent by genetic nature and thus we should restrict black immigration. I said that if a predisposition to violence was his defining metric for evaluation for a group of people he has grouped, then he should consider stopping all men immigrating to the US since men are 882% more predisposed to antisocial violent behaviour than women.
Ah, but, but, but…
Whatever. Jog on racist.
Essentially (hah!), my interlocutor here, if he was religious (I have no idea – probably loves Viking mythology because they are white and almost English), would sit very comfortably within Thomism and Natural Law Theory because what he espouses is essentially exactly that.
Natural Law Theory (NLT) is an ethical theory derived from the thinking of people such as Thomas Aquinas that attempts to establish that humans, for example, have an ideal form or essence that dictates how they should act. The form of a particular species of bird is that it has feathers, a beak, two eyes, can fly, has a particular colouration and so on. The essence of a bird can be described by listing, one assumes, its properties. There is, in reality (so they would say), some objective notion of what these properties are.
For all of these thinkers, literally everything has this kind of essence, though those essences will differ between things. The idea that homosexual humans (I use this as an example, many other properties could also be used) are morally wrong is derived from the notion that they have an essence, a natural form, to which they should adhere, but do not. A good badger is a badger that most resembles the essence of a badger. A good human is a human who most resembles the nature or essence of a human. A good race is a race that most resembles the nature of that particular race. Homosexuals or some other group of supposedly morally bad people are morally bad because homosexuality is not a property of the human essence, or essential property.
To confuse matters, we could subcategorise humans in terms of male and female as well. In fact, one of the problems with essentialism and Thomistic philosophy is that you could subcategorise anything further and further to create more and more essences until you eventually have an individual instantiation of a thing. For example, you could subcategorise humans into males and females. But why not continue with other categories? Age, hair colour, size, geographical distribution, skin colour and so on but each of these categories could be sliced and diced even further. Who gets to define the categories? Of course, such advocates of NLT or Thomism would say that God gets to define this, but how do we know what those categories are? We can look around us at the natural world, but as I have at length set out before, categorising the natural world in light of evolution is utterly problematic.
As you can see, I have not dealt with any actual content to his claims – and my there is so much I could say – because his claims are based upon faulty foundations as discussed here. If he’s wrong at the bottom, he’s wrong at the top.
He’s wrong at the bottom.
So, yeah, he’s wrong at the top.
And my little infographics for when words are too much.
Even if there is a Platonic realm (there isn’t) and even if his abstract ideas of English or white race were to correspond 1-to-1 with that abstract realm, he has quite some job showing how he knows that.
For the time being, and for the rest of us, it’s in his head.
We’ll try and keep it there. We don’t want it infecting others like a virus.
Finally, this is how important the ontological foundations I keep discussing are. If you get it wrong at the bottom, you can get to be a racist at the top, and think you are justified being so because nature, because objective facts, because bullshit.
Hopefully, you see how important this is, how important what I am consistently trying to lay out really is. And hopefully, this might be of use to people in posterity, finding themselves in these sorts of distasteful arguments.
Big love, y’all.
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