Saturday, December 14, 2002

Maybe It's Just Xenophobia

Saturday, 14 December 2002

Trying to mediate a ceasefire in the Ozblogistani civil war over allegations of racism, Ken Parish refers to the Macquarie Dictionary and its definition of racism as:

the belief that human races have distinct characteristics which determine their respective cultures, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule or dominate others. [my emphasis]

It's that "usually" that I think creates the problem for Ken's position: if we're going to debate the topic on the basis of this definition then the notion that one's own race is superior is not a necessary condition of racism, or even a sufficient one, merely incidental (this is the sort of argument you learn to make after you quit the study of economics in favour of the study of philosophy). The sufficient condition for racism is the first part: the belief that human races have distinct characteristics which determine their respective cultures. It's a bugger really, because as Ken says, it puts a lot of issues off the political agenda as per se racist and it creates some uncomfortable questions about a few of the scientific theories kicking around the place. And even more uncomfortable questions about the social theories which maintain that, for example, differences in average wealth between races (i.e. economic dominance) are due to those distinct characteristics which determine the cultures of different races.

On the subject of John Howard's racism, I'm prepared to accept Ken's argument that most of the time he is playing wedge politics: except for that remark he made apropos the child overboard affair that "we don't want people like that in Australia". I think the lesser charge of xenophobia is more likely to stick in this instance, just as he never lied to the Australian people once during the whole affair, he merely passed on the lies that were told to him. I don't know how that defence would hold up in an action for libel but as no specific individual suffered damage to their reputation as a result of the PM's remark, that last point is moot anyway.

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