The ism Conundrum: A Checkmate of Words

In the Western World there is seldom anything anyone fears being called more than a racist. But the phrase is quite confusing due to a ever growing multiplicity of meanings. As far as I can discern, however, all of these various differentials can be boiled down to two basic meanings, what we can call small racism and capital R racism.

Here’s the difference:

  • racism simply means the belief that there are biological differences between races outside of skin color.
  • Racism means one hates/and/or/wishes to destroy/suppress/enslave another individual(s) or group(s) due to their genes alone.

So one can see that the first, and quite benign, example would cleverly ensnare nearly everyone! And this word bears consideration, thus I use it quite expressly ensnare. The word is a trap, a checkmate that would fall like a spiked ceiling upon the inbred hilljack as easily and efficiently and destructively as the refine biologist or the discerning anthropologist! It is, in short, nothing more than a linguistic trick, a verbal illusion. Consider the Merriam Webster’s description of Racism:

  • a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
  • racial prejudice (that is, unfair/illogical/ideologically driven disdain)

You can see quite quickly that only one of these beliefs is inherently irrational. There is a big difference between posting a sign saying: “No Dogs Allowed,” and saying that that the aggregate IQ for the Irish is 92 (this coming from studies conducted between 2002 and 2006, carried out by Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen). Even if you disagree with the IQ researcher’s results, or even with the very concept of IQ itself, the distinction between prejudice and reasoned inquiry within these instances is still as stark as day and night. So too is the distinction between a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits (which it does not seem to be) and simple racial prejudice, equally stark. Therefore, the question begs itself – why conflate these two very distinct approaches to the topic of human biodiversity? Why not use racism as a synonym for racial prejudice and bigotry alone and use some other phrase or word for those who believe (rightly or wrongly) in racial differences?

There are a wide array of answers which are both historical, financial and political – I am unconcerned with any of it. The reason why is that this conflation of meanings is dangerously important, not just because it’s faulty and unfair but also because it actively tamps down on the ability of serious scholars and researchers to delve into topics such as aggregate population IQ, disease prevention (for instance Black Africans and Arabs have higher rates of Sickle Cell than other ethnic groups as a side effect of malaria resistance) which could potentially improve or even save lives.

I am hopeful that we can all agree on this: No amount of offense evasion is worth the death of single human. If this is so then why should offense create a barrier to something as inoffensive as serious intellectual study? And make no mistake, these checkmate words do indeed create a barrier to serious intellectual study. But it’s not just racist/racism rhetoric that is shutting people down, there is a whole slew of checkmate words: islamaphobe, homophobe, sexist, misogynist, institutionalized, the list goes on and on.

Take, for instance, the curious case of Daniel Dennet, a prominent author, analytic philosopher and cognitive scientist, who gave a speech in early 2015 entitled Information, Evolution and Intelligent Design. Midway through the Q&A a particularly well informed member of the audience put a most irregular question to the academic darling, that being, does Dennett believe that there are intelligence quotient differentials between males and females which arise due, primarily, to biological factors. Dennett’s reply was shocking, as he responded by saying only, “-I don’t think it matters-” and, “I don’t think there is any scientific value in pursuing that question and I think there is social dis-value in purusing that question. I don’t think we need to know everything and I think this is one of the things we don’t need to know.” [Dennett, 2015]

This was quite extraordinary to me – the baldfaced cowardice of it all! This is supposed to be one of the Western World’s brightest minds? This social-gadfly who kowtows at every turn to the prevailing academic orthodoxy! And make no mistake, it is an orthodoxy. However it is not one which stems from academia, but rather from the prevailing culture. Much like with politics, culture is upstream from academia. And the orthodoxy of the prevailing culture in the Western World is one of fanatical Deconstructionist Egalitarianism. There is some biting irony in the fact that Dennett, a stalwart critic of the dogma inherent in organized religion, consciously acknowledges that the tendrils of social doctrine control him as a puppeteer might any given marionette! But he doesn’t stop there, he also advocates for the academic doctrine of egalitarianism by stating that questions of human intelligence differentials are of no scientific value! It would be hard to think of a more patently absurd thing for such a highly lauded scientific and philosophical luminary to say.

Consider also the case of James Watson, the biologist that co-discovered the fundamental structure of DNA and spearheaded the Human Genome Project, who gave a newspaper interview in 2007 that effectively ended his career and made him a social pariah. What James Watson said was that he worried about the future of Africans due to the fact that a mountain of research pointed to the fact that, on average, native Africans have an IQ of around 70 (markedly lower than the average IQ of most Western countries). So great was the furor surrounding Watson’s fairly innocuous, albeit completely blunt, statements that he was forced out of his job and shunned as if he were some fetid leper. Indeed, the British based newspaper, The Guardian even released a article about how Watson deserved everything he got and that he should be shunned for his, “Racist and sexist views!”  So deep was the pit into which Watson had fallen that he was forced to sell the Nobel prize he had won in 1962 to sustain himself. If you find this to be poetic justice you might just be insane.

These examples (and there are many, many more) provide the starkest proof of just how powerful these checkmate words can be. James Watson, a juggernaut in the field of science, was brought to heel not by argumentation or reasoned analysis but by being called but a name. A word. The pen is, indeed, mightier than the sword, but might does not necessarily translate to truth.

When one’s foe attempts the game of words and makes his move, his checkmate, the response should not be to assume a defensive strategy, it should be to attack. Violently and aggressively. In making unsubstantiated accusations about another person one is not being dignified, clever or intellectually upright, one is being immoral. For to consistently accuse another man of being a bad person without evidence is the surest evidence that the accuser himself is a bad person. More distressingly, perhaps, than the fact that such people are moral infants is that they care very little for what is true and seem to be exclusively concerned with what makes them feel good. They are, these irrationally outraged word-game players, nothing more than hedonists garbed in the thinnest veneer of intellectual veracity. Such fools do not deserve even to be told the moral and factual distinctions between the words they purport to know and should, themselves be shunned like the cancerous cretins they are.

4 thoughts on “The ism Conundrum: A Checkmate of Words”

  1. Why don’t you spell out where division of race and ethnicity is coming from? The 17th century (1692) British-American slave laws restricted any woman to have intercourse with African American slaves. The colonizing slave-owner white man owned all descendent of black women (1651) that means they remained slaves without any possibility to become equal with white European slave owners by law. None of these laws have existed in human history before. Population control well mixed ethnic groups with degradation, Irish had experienced the well-known British ‘other’ since the 11th century, that in America is alive and present. Teach the past laws in school then people can make a distinction, and perhaps national self-reflection is long overdue.


    1. I don’t spell it out because it was not relevant to the issue I was tackling, which was merely linguistic distinctions of words commonly deployed for the purpose of demonization. Furthermore, racial/ethnic divisions have always existed, the laws you noted did not suddenly create such divisions (though they, in many cases, deepened them). I certainly agree that a thorough and unflinching history of past law should be taught, though in many places it already is.


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