Wednesday, March 02, 2016


Charges of racism seem to be an inexhaustible element of public discourse in the United States. Race is injected into a wide swath of public debates and the allegations of racist motives are regularly used to discredit and silence opposing views. Some people claim that the United States is an inherently racist country; others that the single minded search for any hint of potentially racist or race-tinged thought has reached the point that it is doing more harm than good.

Certainly, overt and institutionalized racism has declined steadily since the second World War. Certainly there are those, in all races who still harbor racist attitudes, and there is a corresponding disparity in perceptions of just how racist America really is. A simple explanation for this phenomenon is found not in comparing attitudes and conduct to some mythical non-racist standards, but in understanding different peoples' priorities in considering matters of race.

Let us assume you have two people of different races, each of whom honestly considers herself non-racist. Now construct a list of attitudes and actions that are, or could potentially be considered racist, and rank them, from most obviously racist to spurious at best. this list would range from the egregious, such as lynching a teenager for kissing a person of a different race, to things like refusing to hire a person because of their race, to telling stereotyping jokes, etc, to the silly, such as objecting to terms like "black sheep" or "black mark, to the weird, like complaining about "cultural appropriation" to the just plain ignorant, such as claiming that the word "niggardly" has anything at all to do with race.

If we take our two subjects and present them with this list and ask them to prioritize each item on the list against other social concerns, such as economic efficiency or freedom of expression, it is likely that there would be a great deal of agreement at the more flagrant examples; both would agree that lynching is abhorrent racism. There would most likely be agreement that discrimination in employment and housing are improper, and that stereotyping jokes do reflect racist attitudes. But as you go down the list, it would be expected that there will be a point that the two people will disagree on whether a particular act or attitude is sufficiently serious that it should override other concerns. there will be a disagreement on the priority that a potential racist thought or action should be given in everyday life, and it is at this point that one person will accuse the other of racism. And it is not just an accusation as to that contested point; it will be assumed that the point of disagreement, e.g. that "Taco Tuesday" should be condemned is simply the point where the closet racist lets the mask slip, Thus, what should be simply a good faith disagreement as to whether an arguably innocuous, or even an obviously innocuous view can be transformed by racial prospectors into invidious racism. This is why the vast majority of people honestly do not consider themselves racist, and those who suspect others of racism readily think they have evidence to support their suspicions.

The clearest example of this is affirmative action. There are competing priorities here: countering the prospect that qualified minorities will be denied opportunity because of their race, and ensuring that race-neutral merit is the basis for allocating potentially limited opportunities. Neither view is necessarily racist. The allegation of racism, when it inevitably comes out is not directed at the principles underlying either position, rather it is directed solely at opposition to the accuser's position. The allegation is not that merit is racist it is that prioritizing merit over racial considerations is.

Of course, there are racists. There are those who believe that there are certain genetic traits that justify treating races differently. But for the majority of people what determines how they treat one another regardless of race depends on their experiences. It is much more likely that a black man who loves his wife and raises his children, and respects others has much more in common with a white man who loves his wife and raises his children and respects others than either has with a black drug dealer who abuses women or with a white methamphetamine addict who steals to support his habit and abuses women.

Sure, there are racists. There are also race hustlers who would contort facts and logic to smear otherwise decent people in support of  a cynical narrative that is destructive to people of all races.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016


A libertarian view begins with the premise that liberty is incompatible with coercion, and that a civil society should not substitute instruments of violence for persuasion. This view requires that all uses of force be justified, because force is never assumed to be just. There are certain categories of force, such as government force used against one person for the exclusive private advantage of another, or force used to protect subjective sensibilities, or to vindicate matters of etiquette that should never be justified.The rules for use of force should be predictable and of general application, neither singling out nor exempting particular parties. No person who is capable of reason should be subjected to force solely on grounds that it is for his or her own good.

Force and governmental violence is sometimes necessary but its legitimate use usually signals the breakdown of reason. The lapse of reason is not always on the part of the person against whom the force is directed. Force, or the ability to resort to force by authorities, is a tempting shortcut to assure compliance with questionable policies or to promote partisan interests, or worse, to attempt to compensate for incompetence in administering the laws. It is the enabler of oppressive laws and a hallmark of governing interests at odds with the will of the people.

Force is inherently inelegant and imprecise. There is no guarantee that "non-lethal" force will remain "non-lethal" just because the circumstances do not justify more severe measures.