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Can racism be "logical"?

orthogonal (588627) writes | more than 9 years ago

User Journal 10

Of course it can be.

Take a hypothetical variety of racism for instance: if you agree to paint yourself blue and preferentially aid others who are painted blue, people who painted themselves red and preferentially aided red-painted people would naturally prefer to not see you in an position of power or influence, as you would use that position to aid blues (and thus hinder reds who might otherwise have gotten the benefits you preferentially give to blues).

Of course it can be.

Take a hypothetical variety of racism for instance: if you agree to paint yourself blue and preferentially aid others who are painted blue, people who painted themselves red and preferentially aided red-painted people would naturally prefer to not see you in an position of power or influence, as you would use that position to aid blues (and thus hinder reds who might otherwise have gotten the benefits you preferentially give to blues).

It would also, in this case, behoove you to not only discriminate in favor of blues, but against reds, as reds in power would, perforce, discriminate against you.

At some point, tension might increase until you were legitimately physically afraid of reds, because reds would see an advantage in harming you if they could get away with doing so.

While you'd know that some reds were actually peaceful, good people, you'd have no easy way to determine which reds were good, as it would be risky to associate with any reds, because the bad ones would take advantage of you.

As you became less and less willing to take the risk of trusting a red, so reds would observe your unwillingness to "reach out", and they would be logically inclined to not risk reaching out to you.

At some point, atrocities would be committed by either side: muggings, lynchings, rapes, and eventually a state of war might exist between red and blue.

With war, with the entire survival of one group or the other as a free people undominated by their enemies at stake, even "good" reds would be honor bound, for the survival of their race/people/nation to attempt to kill and harm even blues they knew to be "good", and vice versa: surely we have seen good and honorable men fight fiercely and honorably to kill other good and honorable men, when each side feels its children and way of life at stake.

So, yes, racism can be logical, because once racism starts, the short-term benefit is to rely on a stereotype rather than pay the cost and take the risk of examining people as people and not as members of groups. In the long term, this leads to positive reinforcement of both stereotypes and inter-group enmity -- but it can be awfully hard to endure high short-term costs for even high long-term rewards.

(And honestly, if you can commit genocide or enslave the opposition, your group will, by and large and up to the last century or two, also get a high reward: witness the genocide of Khoisan and to a lesser extent pygmy peoples in Africa by Bantu peoples, or of aboriginal Americans ("Indians") in both North and South America by Europeans, or the near-genocide of Basque and Celtic peoples by Indo-Europeans and Germanic peoples in mainland Europe. Or Armenians in Turkey in 1917. Genocide and enslavement are morally wrong, but they often greatly benefit the perpetrators: ask any American farmer where he got his land.)

If I know that 9 of 10 Maori will kill me because I am Mori (and indeed the peacerful Mori were wiped out by quite intentional Maori genocide and enslavement), I'd be a fool not kill every defenseless Maori I come across -- and a Maori, reasoning that I would so reason, would be a fool not to kill me.

(I will leave the logic of superstition to the reader, but I will hint that we all desire explanatory stories, and even Newtons' physics is subtly wrong, but good enough for most purposes involving human-perceptible masses and speeds. And that the religious, according to several studies, enjoy better health than atheists.)

Given that humans form kinship and pseudo-kinship ("clan", "tribe", "people", "nation") groups, and given that humans can model and predict the actions of other humans, xenophobia and racism are, regrettably, perhaps inevitable.

And recall that all of history's Cains had children, and the Abels did not; it is no surprise to this humanist and atheist that the mark of Cain is a standard and fundamental part of the heritage passed down to every human.

cancel ×


Mod parent up! (1)

BandwidthHog (257320) | more than 9 years ago | (#10378685)


wow (1)

lithron (88998) | more than 9 years ago | (#10378751)

Racism breeds racism, and not in the 'passed down though the generations' way.

In my relatively short life I've seen more of red on red, and blue on blue violence and problems than anything else. Groups that think themselves superior, or seperate from the rest of society tend to fold in upon themselves. /me tempts fate by not posting anon.

Clarification? (1)

peacefinder (469349) | more than 9 years ago | (#10378816)

Do you mean "racism" or "prejudice"?

Do you mean "logical" (that is, supported formally by axioms and rules) or do you mean "pro-survival"?

If you mean to say that sometimes prejudicial judgements are pro-survival for an individual, then... yeah, sometimes they are. If you mean to say that racism can be shown logically to have a moral justification, then I think you're rather far off the mark.

As far as I can tell, racial categories have little objective biological meaning. While I can tell that Nelson Mandela and Bill Clinton have quite distinct ancestries, there are many, many cases where the boundaries between races are blurry. Genetically, the difference between members of any two races is vanishingly small. I think it's much more helpful to focus on the essential unity of humanity than continue the tradition of splitting kinky hairs from straight ones.

But then, I'm a liberal.

Logical, sure (1)

MooCows (718367) | more than 9 years ago | (#10378827)

Of course it's logical .. it wouldn't happen if it weren't. :)

Still, as with any vicious cycle, the solution is either to
A. escape from the cycle
B. destroying a piece of the cycle.

Pretty much like what we've seen in modern and not-so-modern history of mankind.

Prisoner's dilemma (2, Interesting)

OldMiner (589872) | more than 9 years ago | (#10378996)

What you just illustrated was the prisoner's dilemma [] in the context of racism. But the prisoner's dilemma implies that there is no way to communicate save through one's actions. Could one not argue that a regular dialouge which both sides adhered too, even if they were unhappy, would be a low risk environment in which both could choose the "risky" option (be honest, confess concerns) with a low penalty if punished (laughed at, rebuked) versus the much greater certain loss if we adhere to the "safe" choice of the prisoner's dilemma which would otherwise result?

Re:Prisoner's dilemma (1)

Geno Z Heinlein (659438) | more than 9 years ago | (#10379496)

... with a low penalty if punished (laughed at, rebuked)...

For sensible people, perhaps those are low penalties. But some days it seems like the entire planet is run by children in adult bodies who would rather die than be not taken seriously.

Nope (1)

LPetrazickis (557952) | more than 9 years ago | (#10379559)

I'd say that racism is always illogical.

For one thing, you are depriving yourself of the potential achievements of your victims -- halving the probability of Einsteins.

For another, the lie that racism is based on is unstable. The grouping is unnatural, so the mindtrick required to keep it up will fuck up the conspiracy. If someone were to say that whiteys are better than non-whiteys, then another whitey could then say that WASPs are better than regular whiteys and only help WASPs. This instantaneously destroys all the benefits, by eliminating the mutual help component but by still requiring the work need to maintain the discrimination.


Incomplete arguement (1)

Inexile2002 (540368) | more than 9 years ago | (#10382169)

Even if you were 100% correct in your argument, you're still a victim of incomplete thinking. Rationalism, reason and logic have been elevated to almost superstitious prominence in modern thinking and decision making. Logic is just one of dozens of facets of the human mind that can be used to arrive at a course of action or decision. Other facets include memory, common sense, ethics, imagination, intuition etc. (Not my list, btw, I'm paraphrasing John Ralston Saul.) Using just one of these things to arrive at a decision or worse to decide on a course of action is to arbitrarily (and illogically) retard yourself.

The truth is that any half way intelligent person with even a flimsy grasp of rhetoric and reason can make almost anything sound logical. That you make racism logical proves that a) something being logical can't be enough for it to be valid as an idea, and b) even extreme examples like racism can be shown with enough convolution of argument, to be logical. History is full of examples of perfectly logical decisions that failed to use the other parts of the human mind. Thus, logical but they: ignored history, were unethical, were stupid, ignored obvious and better ideas etc.

Look at BSE, Mad Cow Disease. Grind up cows and feed them to other cows. Say it like that and it's stupid. It ignores common sense, but it's perfectly logical in the context of a financial and agricultural production argument. Woops! Logic is contextual! Then look at how they feed cows now. They grind up sheep, pigs, chicken, mix that in with cow, sheep, pig and chicken shit and feed it to the cows. Makes sense in the same perfectly logical context as the old decision, but now it is both stupid and is ignoring the past. Common sense and memory.

Racism, when viewed with the whole of human intelligence, instead of just reason, is seen for what it is. Sorry. You're right, it can be logical, because almost anything given the correct context and argument, can be logical. But it's stupid.

Hm (1)

elmegil (12001) | more than 9 years ago | (#10384585)

With all that "red" and "blue" I couldn't help but think "republican" and "democrat". So are you saying we're seeing the foundations of a "race war" between republicans and democrats?

Re:Hm (1)

orthogonal (588627) | more than 9 years ago | (#10385148)

With all that "red" and "blue" I couldn't help but think "republican" and "democrat". So are you saying we're seeing the foundations of a "race war" between republicans and democrats?


Actually, wrote this is answer to a post on Democratic Underground asking the question, and my first thought was of Richard Dawkins's "Green Beard Effect" thought experiment.

Not wanting to obviously plagiarize Dawkins DOD hoping to come up with a simpler example, I guess I thought of the ancient Picts, who the Romans claimed daubed themselves with blue mud. Red was the obvious "anti-blue".

But being as it I was writing this on democratic Underground, I realized how the colors would be interpreted, and just decided to go with it, and let readers perhaps feel some of the visceral dislike for the "other side" that them wouldn't feel (or at least wouldn't want to admit to) were the differences more obviously "racial".

Of course, while the original poster's question was about "logic", I'm not really talking about formal logic but about an evolutionary stable strategy (or perhaps positively reinforcing strategy).

And as another commenter here has noted, to a large degree the scenario I outlined is another example of the Prisoner's Dilemma -- although it's not perhaps technically a Prisoner's Dilemma (the ratio of rewards needs to have a certain relationship, and it's not clear those rewards can be precisely enough quantified in this case), and it's an example where external factors cause the dilemma to be less easily overcome.

To a large degree it also draws on my (vague) memory of certain simulations that explored evolutionary stable strategies re: race -- in other words, I was saying nothing original here.
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