There’s Nothing Wrong With Racism (Except the Name)
And how I became a political dissident…
by Professor Geoffrey Sampson (pictured)
‘RACISM’ IS certainly a horrible word. Words ending in -ism are normally formed from adjective roots: nationalism, specialism, communism. The correct word is ‘racialism,’ and this was the usual term until the shorter word came in quite recently, at a time when standards of education had decayed sufficiently for people to have lost touch with the patterns of English vocabulary.
But objecting to ‘racism’ as an emotion, rather than objecting to the word, is just silly. It is as silly as objecting to people’s sexual feelings, and for similar reasons.
In Victorian times, it is often said that piano legs used to be draped, for fear that the sight of naked legs, even wooden ones, might inflame men’s lusts. In time to come, the current hysteria over ‘racism’ will seem as ridiculous to us or to our descendants as horror of naked legs seems now. True, the draped piano leg story is actually an exaggerated myth — the Victorians never took fear of sex that far. But even fifty years ago, like many Englishmen of my social class at the time, I was brought up to think of the desire to get involved with women’s bodies as something utterly disgraceful and never to be admitted, even to oneself.
Once adult, though, I came to appreciate, intellectually at least, that this attitude makes no sense. The process of biological evolution ensures that organisms must normally have the patterns of behavior which lead to their genes being replicated in many copies. For a man, the most direct way to replicate his genes involves getting mixed up with a woman’s body, so biology ensures that he will want to do that. It is silly to be ashamed of feelings which are biologically so inevitable.
But evolution doesn’t care about the physical location of the genes which are replicated. The logic of the process means that organisms will have whatever reactions lead to greater numbers of the identical DNA sequences coming into existence in the world. Copying them directly through sexual activity is only one way to achieve that.
Normal people strive to advance their children’s interests, bringing them up as well as they know how, often spending large sums on their education, leaving their property after death to their own children rather than to someone else’s, and so on. Everyone recognizes this tendency to favor one’s own children over other people’s as natural, and it makes sense in evolutionary terms. One’s offspring share a relatively high proportion of one’s own genes. By advancing their interests one increases their chances of replicating their genes, and hence indirectly of replicating one’s own. Leaving your money to your children has nothing to do with taking direct copies of the DNA sequences within your own body. But, if having funds makes it easier to found a family and bring them up to adulthood (which has surely been so for most of mankind’s history, and in many parts of the world still is so), then it does mean that more copies of those sequences are likely to exist in future.
Co-operating in daily life with fellow members of a social community helps them to flourish, and hence increases the chances of copies of their genes multiplying. So, naturally, we are disposed to co-operate actively with communities of people who appear to be genetically similar to ourselves. If we can tell by looking at some people that they share fewer of our genes, we will be at least somewhat less enthusiastic about active co-operation with them; we will to some extent see them as unwelcome competitors for resources. In a word, we are racialists.
People sometimes point out, correctly, that the proportion of mankind’s entire genetic code which differs between the different races of Man is tiny, as if that destroys the logic of the argument. But biology plays the percentages. If people’s appearance implies that they share fewer of our genes, that is enough for them to be disfavored — even if they do share a lot. After all, even distant species — say horses, or even worms — apparently have a surprisingly high proportion of their DNA sequences in common with Homo sapiens; but very few people query the tendency to favor fellow human beings over other animals, when their interests clash. Another confusion within much discussion of racialism is that people suppose that racial feelings spring from mistaken beliefs that other races differ from one’s own in terms of concrete features or behavior patterns which are really the same across the species. A hundred years ago, there used to be absurd ideas, for instance about Black people not feeling pain, or suchlike. People often criticize racial attitudes now by saying things like ‘In all the important respects, people of all races are alike: so it is foolish and ignorant to prefer one’s own race to others.’
Well, in the first place, even if all races certainly do feel pain, it isn’t quite true that no socially significant biological differences exist. The case widely discussed is intelligence (IQ). There is overwhelming scientific evidence that races differ to some extent in their average intelligence levels — yellow-skinned Orientals tend to be rather brighter than Whites, Negroes tend to be rather less bright (though this is a statistical pattern only — plenty of individual Blacks are more intelligent than plenty of individual Orientals). There was a storm of controversy in 1994 when Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray discussed this in their book The Bell Curve, but the findings were already long-established by then. The suggestion that these differences could merely be statistical errors created by factors such as cultural bias in IQ tests was analysed and refuted in detail by Peter Urbach in 1974 (British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, vol. 25, pp. 99-135 and 235-59). For Urbach, the attempts to ‘explain away’ the IQ findings were like the doomed attempts by the 17th-century Catholic Church to explain away the evidence that the Earth goes round the Sun, by postulating ever more cumbersome special assumptions.
But this really misses the point. We don’t prefer people who share more of our genes over people who share fewer because the latter have particular outward features that we dislike. We prefer the former because they share more of our genes, and we all want our own genes to become numerous. Biology forces us to want that, which is why it forces us to want to get our bodies entangled with the opposite sex. If some politically-correct person announces ‘I have no racial feelings at all, myself,’ the appropriate response is ‘Oh, so does that mean you are asexual, too?’ That might wipe the sanctimonious smirk off his or her face.
All this does not, obviously, mean that it is all right to act oppressively to members of other races — any more than it is all right for a man to have his way with any woman who takes his fancy. Racial and sexual feelings are natural and healthy, but there have to be social mechanisms controlling how they are manifested in terms of concrete behavior.
Until very recently, we used in Europe to have an excellent mechanism: the nation state. When I was a child, England and other European nations were racially very homogeneous. Except for a small Jewish community (who don’t look much different from the indigenous English anyway), virtually everyone living in England was related to everyone else — I don’t know the maths, but two inhabitants of England chosen at random in 1950 must on average have had numerous common ancestors only a few centuries earlier. Interaction with members of distant races was mainly a matter of international trade, where it doesn’t matter what individuals’ attitudes to one another are because they are swapping goods anonymously to achieve mutual advantage.
Over the last half century, the situation has been transformed through massive immigration flows, so that now England is less like an extended family, more like a hotel. It is now very easy to find pairs of English residents who share no common ancestors for tens of thousands of years past, perhaps longer — and who know this as soon as they see each other. Our governors, by permitting large-scale immigration, have destroyed the mechanism which previously guarded against adverse consequences of natural racial feelings. But, while destroying one mechanism, with mulish stupidity they have refused to recognize the problem which that mechanism solved. No British government in my lifetime has ever said ‘We are going to change the racial make-up of the population, and here is how we are going to solve the resulting problem of racial animosities …’ Instead, they have introduced a series of laws and social policies whose intention seems to be to root out natural racial feelings from people’s minds.
That is like someone being given charge of a well-organized armory, where gunpowder, and metal tools that could make sparks, are stored in separate rooms, naked lights are held behind sealed glass partitions, and so forth, and saying ‘We’ll sweep away all these artificial barriers to efficient working’ — and then, when people say that will be dangerous, announcing that the tools will be given stiff lectures about the immorality of striking sparks. You simply cannot change basic biological nature by law. Of course, racial diversification is only one of the issues created by large-scale immigration. Also very significant is cultural diversification: people from distant lands bring alien assumptions, attitudes, and ways of life which are in no sense biologically innate, but result simply from distant societies having happened to develop independent and very different cultures.
In turn-of-the-millennium Britain, one hears voices advocating ‘multi-culturalism,’ meaning that all cultures should be regarded as equally worthy. In one particular respect — variety of cuisine — most of us would agree that immigration has brought a real benefit to this country. But, as an Italian has said, ‘Multi-culturalism is not couscous, it is the stoning of adulterers’ (quoted by Theodore Dalrymple, Spectator 27 Oct 2001). The fact that Britain is so attractive to migrants that they are risking death night after night trying to get in by clinging to trains heading through the Channel Tunnel is an outcome of the particular cultural assumptions which have guided the development of British life down recent centuries. If ‘multi-culturalism’ implies no longer accepting those assumptions, it is just wicked madness. Cultures can be adapted, and it is obvious that anyone who wishes to enjoy the benefits of living in Britain ought to accept a corresponding duty to adapt to British culture.
Race isn’t like that. People cannot change their racial make-up. In that sense, it is understandable and in a way admirable that many people urge the elimination of racial feelings. One can sympathize with someone who says ‘Wouldn’t it be better if people saw mankind as just one human race without distinctions?’
Perhaps that would be better. But it is like asking ‘Wouldn’t it be better if water flowed uphill as well as down?’ Possibly it would, but there is not much point discussing it. It isn’t going to happen.
If I am told I am a ‘racist’, I don’t splutter indignant denials. I borrow the response of Hove residents asked if they live in Brighton, and just say ‘Racialist, actually.’
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How the British Government classed me as a dissident
A councilor unseated
In May 2002 my life was turned upside down.
I had been living quietly as a computer science professor in a provincial British university. For decades I had had a strong side interest in politics and current affairs. In the years when socialism was still a live movement, I had published journalism and books advocating the virtues of the market economy; and I opposed surrender of British independence to the European Union. In the last few years, since the arrival in power of New Labour, I had grown increasingly worried about the Orwellian way in which government seems no longer satisfied to control our actions by law, but seeks to look into our minds and insist on approved thinking.
In November 2001 I was asked by the local Conservatives to stand in a by-election for a seat on our District Council, which I won thanks to crass public behaviour by my Liberal Democrat predecessor, a recent Mayor of our town. I was appointed to the planning committee, and enjoyed learning how to help make sensible decisions about what could be built where.
The Lib Dems were hopping mad. They are the minority party on the Council as a whole, but, before me, they had had a monopoly on our town’s seats for half a generation. They wanted me out. Searching round my website, they found a way. On 12 May 2002, they planted a story in the left-wing Observer newspaper expressing shock at my unfashionable views on racial matters.
Next morning, I hit the big time. Our New Labour government sees race as an issue on which it can put the Conservative opposition on the defensive. Peter Hain gave an interview about me on the Breakfast With Frost TV programme. (Because key elements of this story are things said on television and radio rather than written and printed, I cannot guarantee that I have every detail word-for-word exact, but if there are any inaccuracies I believe they are trivial rather than significant.) People my age remember Peter Hain as a young twerp who organized demos outside the South African embassy. In May 2002, almost unbelievably, he was the Minister for Europe in Tony Blair’s government. [Shortly afterwards he was made Minister for Wales, which in the arcane world of Westminster apparently counts as a promotion.] “Sampson is proud to be racist”, Hain thundered on television. I was given a chance to reply on Radio 4’s Today programme, and since this is live they could not stop me pointing out that Hain’s statement was untrue: as far as I am concerned it would be daft to be proud of racism — what is there to be proud of? But this was ignored in subsequent TV news broadcasts, which continued to repeat Hain’s denunciation of my “outrageous” web page: “Sampson is proud to be racist … Sampson is proud to be racist …”
Journalists besieged my phone and my doorstep, until I took the phone off the hook, drew the curtains, and ignored the doorbell.
The Lib Dems on the District Council made it clear that they would be happy to bring the useful work of the Council to a halt in order to make political capital out of their opposition to me personally. I reckoned the residents of our District deserve better than that, and it would have meant huge psychological stress for little advantage that I could see; so I resigned my Council seat.
And then, a couple of days later, a policeman from Special Branch asked to visit me. He explained politely that I am now a marked man. He unfolded a series of everyday practices which I should adopt in order to reduce the risk of harm coming to me or my family, now or in the future. I shall not go into detail, but at best these are a thorough time-wasting nuisance. The implications of some of them, if I allowed myself to dwell on them, are terrifying. Looking back, life before May 2002 was a carefree lost Eden.
What led to all this?
My website at that time contained a set of pages on controversial current-affairs issues, including one which made the point that preference for members of one’s own race over other races is a biologically natural, universal aspect of human psychology. The racial tensions associated with the large-scale immigration into Britain that has occurred over the last half century are not a temporary product of ignorant and wicked attitudes on the part of the indigenous population. They are permanent, unavoidable, and consequently can be nothing to be ashamed of.
This is in fact the case. We know that feelings of racial preference are universal, and we understand the biological mechanisms that cause this to be so. Reacting to such a statement as if it were shocking and unsayable does not reveal a superior moral sensibility; it simply reveals ignorance.
There is nothing original to me in making this point. In fact hardly anything in the web page that Peter Hain and the media attacked was about my personal likes or dislikes. (The only real exception, I think, was my condemnation of “multiculturalism”, which is rather separate — culture is to some extent freely chosen, race is biologically fixed. This point was hardly mentioned, at least in those attacks I heard or read, perhaps because on multiculturalism New Labour policy seems to be swinging round to a point of view similar to mine.) The best-known academic analyst of the innateness of racial feelings is Pierre van den Berghe, in writings such as The Ethnic Phenomenon (1981). Like any other scientific theory, van den Berghe’s has been criticized; but the criticisms have been answered, for instance by Frank Salter (in Patrick and Goetze, eds., Evolutionary Theory and Ethnic Conflict, 2001).
Incidentally, many commentators hostile to me seemed to assume that scientists who explain the roots of racial feelings must be sinister Ku Klux Klan types. That is virtually the reverse of the truth. I have no personal acquaintance with the scholars just quoted, but (as I read him) van den Berghe feels that we need to understand the causes of the racial feelings which are in all of us in order to prevent them leading to undesirable overt behaviour. Surely that is a very sensible and respectable point of view. Frank Salter’s political position seems more unusual; if I have grasped it correctly, he believes that the inevitable future submergence of the white race by more rapidly-breeding non-whites will be a fair retribution for centuries of white imperialism. I find it hard to see the logic of Salter’s politics, but it does not prevent him recognizing the scientific truth about innate racial preferences.
The point in my web page which seemed to arouse most hostility of all was in fact a relatively brief allusion to scientific findings that were established decades ago, and which I supposed that most educated people were well aware of, about differences in average intelligence level between the races. We have known for a long time that the yellow-skinned races have on average slightly higher IQs than whites, who in turn have on average higher IQs than blacks. (For up-to-date statements of the findings, see J. Philippe Rushton and Arthur R. Jensen, “Thirty Years of Research on Race Differences in Cognitive Ability”, Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, vol. 11, 2005, or – at a less technical level – Charles Murray’s “The Inequality Taboo”, Commentary, September 2005.) Again, when these findings were first put forward people raised intellectual objections, but the objections were answered long ago. A number of people suggested that the IQ measurements might be culturally biased, for instance, but that makes it hard to explain why Canadian Eskimos score higher than white Canadians — it is implausible that the tests are biased to favour Eskimo culture, but genetically Eskimos are relatively close to East Asians on the other side of the Bering Strait. Peter Urbach examined in detail the attempts to refute the IQ/race correlations (in the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, vol. 25, 1974). Urbach found that the situation was like the attempts by the 17th-century Catholic Church to deny that the Earth goes round the Sun. If, for ideological reasons, one is desperate enough to deny reality, it is always possible to invent a more and more elaborate structure of special assumptions to reconcile one’s ideology with contrary observations; but that is not how to go about finding the truth.
Personally, I don’t doubt that the race/IQ correlations are correct, though I can’t see why they are important. Should I feel humiliated when I meet a Chinese or a Japanese, because I know that on average members of his race are brighter than members of mine? I don’t know why I should; whether I should or not, I certainly don’t. When I found myself being publicly condemned in May 2002 for believing in statistical differences of intelligence among the races, it really did feel as though civilization had slipped back a few centuries and I was being threatened for publicly admitting that the Sun is the centre of the solar system.
Of course, ironically, the vehemence with which I was denounced by a Government minister only served to make it pretty clear that he knew that what I wrote was broadly correct. If you are genuinely convinced that what someone is saying is factually mistaken, it is not sensible to drop on him from a great height. It is more effective in practice to point out the flaws in the reasoning politely, and to let reality and common-sense do the rest. Even if my statements about racial differences and racial feelings were in fact mistaken, they were manifestly a sincere contribution to political discourse, and, in a civilized society, entitled to respect as such; and respectful counter-argument is the most effective way to oppose false beliefs. The louder that the Minister for Europe thundered that my statements were “outrageous”, the more obvious it was that in his heart he knows they are true. He knows the truth, but he is determined that no-one shall dare to voice it openly. That is how Britain is governed now.
(The reason why Hain decided to go for me at that particular juncture became clearer when I read a discussion of the episode in Shelagh Shepherd’s Westminster Watch column. I hadn’t noticed, but a few days earlier Hain had been discussing the need for Muslim immigrants to do more to integrate culturally with the indigenous British population. That raised the danger of a Labour minister being denounced as racist, so Hain needed to lay publicly into some Conservative making racially sensitive comments in order to create an appearance of contrast with “Labour’s intelligent, compassionate realism regarding immigration”. I happened to be a convenient tool to serve the Minister’s momentary purpose. Hain is a man of no significance in his own right, he was simply serving as the Government’s voice. In August 2005 a Spectator leader summed up Hain’s career by describing him as “one of Mr Blair’s principal toadies, a man who has evinced little sign of ability in any post he has held, but whose climb up the greasy pole has been marked by frequent somersaults and disdain for anything approaching a principle”.)
A silenced majority
Racial feelings are as biologically inevitable as sexual feelings. Obviously, that does not make it all right to act oppressively to members of other races. Most men find themselves physically attracted to numerous women: a quite crucial part of learning to be a member of a particular culture is learning to control such feelings, and learning what it is and is not permissible to do about them within that culture. It would be difficult or impossible for young men to achieve that, if they were required to pretend that only a few utterly wicked individuals had such feelings anyway.
The current situation in Britain is about as unnatural as that — which became obvious from the flood of letters and e-mails that reached me from strangers, saying things like “Thank you for saying publicly what we all believe but no longer dare to say”. A few messages that came in were from extreme political groups that I would not want to be associated with, but most of them seemed to be, and I am sure were, from ordinary, decent English men and women who are baffled at the way that true beliefs and normal, natural human attitudes are currently being demonized.
There was even a letter from someone in a distant part of the country saying that he too was a university teacher and he thought what I had written was perfectly correct; but he did not dare include his name and address. OK, since I don’t know who wrote the letter, it could have been a spoof, but what would have been the point of that? I imagine it was genuine. But if so, think what it implied. Four hundred years after the Tudors, a British academic does not dare put his name to a statement that he agrees on factual matters with another British academic.
Some people asked me whether I was not worried that I might be encouraging undesirable, thuggish political movements. That seems to me exactly the wrong way round. Because these are things that many people are concerned about, they need to be thoroughly ventilated within mainstream British politics. This country has resolved its political tensions peacefully for hundreds of years because people have been willing to accept the compromises that emerged from the process of political argy-bargy, in which everything was up for discussion. If, now, there is going to be a new convention that forbids open discussion of things to do with race and immigration within the political mainstream, and requires everyone to pretend to believe in officially-approved opinions, then voters will be driven towards the nasty fringe groups because they find no possibility of getting a hearing for their views within the decent mainstream parties. I shan’t join one of the thuggish groups myself, but others will; and the people pushing voters that way will not be people like me — they will be people like the Minister for Europe, who seeks to outlaw honest discussion of issues that matter.
The truth is that a healthy Britain needs a lot more political debate in this area, not less. And who more suitable to participate in such debate than a local councilor from a District with scarcely any non-white residents and no racial tensions? (Not that that last fact exempted us from the requirement to waste large amounts of council-taxpayers’ money on developing Race Equality Action Plans, which seemed quite difficult when it was so hard to find any plausible areas for action.)
I do not feel bad about resigning my seat. If it is really so in 2002 that no-one can sit on a local council unless they are willing to give lip service to beliefs which I know perfectly well are false, then I am better off out of it: that is no way for a professional academic to behave. (Some people seemed to think that I ought to have purged my website of controversial matters when I stood for the Council. Do they want their politicians to deceive them?)
But I do mind very much what the case shows about the decline of political freedom. What happened to me was not normal, traditional British political cut-and-thrust. It was suppression of dissidence, more reminiscent of Soviet-style politics.
Because let’s be clear: the fact that, for instance, I have to flounder about on the ground under my car before driving it, rain or shine, to check that no intruder has attached anything to its underside, is a direct consequence of a New Labour government minister publicly denouncing me as outside the pale. True, the intruder would not be working as a State employee, but it was a government minister who sicked him on. (I can mention that particular security routine because, as luck would have it, I have now been able to give it up. A couple of months after the height of the furore, I developed a medical symptom that means I am no longer allowed to drive at all, and I have got rid of my car.)
Why this taboo?
The fact that a British government is prepared to destroy political freedom in this way makes me angry. The fact of their fastening on this particular area of life as one where alternative views are forbidden made me puzzled, for a while. Why should race in particular be a taboo subject? I do not recall anything in the classic philosophies of morality that implies a duty of special regard for other races or for recent immigrants. The injunctions of “political correctness” seem to be arbitrary expressions of passing social fashion, rather than principles recognized as valid throughout the ages.
The answer to the puzzle, I believe, is that what governments want above all — certainly what this New Labour government wants above all — is power. If the population can be made to feel guilty about having feelings which are innate and unchangeable, it will be a docile population. British governments used to be, and ought to be, organizations that are grudgingly allowed a strictly limited and necessary range of powers by voters who decide their morality and way of life for themselves. New Labour is turning instead into a kind of Church which preaches that we are all damned, but which offers chances of partial absolution provided we acknowledge our sinful state and obey the fathers of the Church implicitly. If the ethnic minorities were not so useful as a tool to help the government pull off this trick, I imagine New Labour would lose interest in them. At present it cherishes them, because they enable it to work this strategy against the rest of us with such success.
We have had bad governments in the past. Arguably, it is in the nature of politics that any government is to a greater or lesser extent a bad government — the most one can hope for is “less bad”. But this New Labour government is more than just a bad government. Unprecedently in my experience, New Labour is an evil government.
What can we do?
New Labour is trying to change Britain from a relatively free society into a society of serfs. At a time when the Conservative Party seems to have lost the ability or taste for real opposition, it may seem that all the cards are in the government’s hand, and there is little an individual can do to resist.
But there have been cases of much more monolithic State oppression that have been overthrown by “little people”. In her inspiring 2002 Reith Lectures under the title A Question of Trust, Onora O’Neill (Lady O’Neill, Principal of Newnham College, Cambridge) suggests how this can happen by describing how humble individuals began to resist tyranny in the former communist Czechoslovakia:
The Communist Party of the People’s Republic of Czechoslovakia used to send bulletins with Party slogans and messages to be displayed in all shops. These mind-numbingly boring Party slogans were so familiar that they became invisible: yet displaying them represented support for the regime and its oppressions, a small connivance, a small lie. Refusal to display those slogans, to endorse that view of the world, was a small act of truth and courage, and ultimately of power, that was open to the powerless. From small refusals larger and bolder action followed.
In 21st-century Britain, no-one is required to display slogans about the dictatorship of the proletariat. But anyone who participates in public life is being frequently required to sign up to the idea that preference for members of one’s own race and nation over others is wicked — implying that there could be a human society in which such feelings were not widespread.
I refuse to endorse that lie.
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