Monday, March 12, 2007

Two Controversies Surrounding the Issue of Racism


Most people agree that racism is wrong. More under debate is the issue of what constitutes it.

Does, for example, voicing the view that there are too many immigrants in Britain amount to racism? Some may hold that it does. I would dispute this and say it depends on what one's motivations are. If it is a question of wishing to preserve 'racial purity' or something along those lines then there can be little doubt. If, on the other hand, it is due to worries over Britain being 'overcrowded' or the potential costs of immigration then I would not call this in and of itself racist. I believe it is possible to hold this view without necessarily discriminating inherently against people of a different race or culture, or believing that people of certain ethnicities are inferior in whatever area you wish to attribute. Although it may of course lead to propping up or giving ammunition to people who do hold racist views. I for one do not hold such views and have no objection to immigration, I believe it can often bring benefits. But by simply writing off all those who disagree with me as being racist I will not do my own argument any favour; it will simply be intellectual laziness and a disingenuous method of arguing.

This issue was brought to the news last week, the story being outlined here. I understand why 'Star' wished to raise attention to the matter. What I am suspicious of is the demand for Oxford to fire Coleman, which Oxford has said it will not do anyway. I go along with the freedom of speech argument. Academic institutions should be places where any views should be open for discussion and argument. If a view is simply not credible it will not be taken seriously. Take David Irving, the holocaust denier in jail in Austria. Despite the fact that his persecution by the authorities played into his hands as it enabled him to play the victim and be a martyr for the far right, nobody save for a few groupies took his ideas seriously. The fact that 6 million Jews did die in the holocaust has been established as a historical fact, and no credible historian would claim otherwise.

On the other hand it is possible to debate on the benefits of immigration. It is one thing argue that migrants should be welcome on humanitarian grounds, another argument to say that they bring economic benefit to the country at large. It would appear that the jury is still out on the issue.

Coleman has not, to anyone’s knowledge, been putting forward his own views as being those of Oxford. Star argued that advertising his appearances at the Migrant Watch events as being ‘David Coleman, Professor of Demographics, Oxford University’, would be using his status and the name of Oxford to give the organisation academic ‘credibility’. Hmmm. Whether they like it or not, Coleman’s position and his subject matter do give him some qualification to speak on related matters, whether or not you agree with the conclusions he draws.

At a university students are able to disagree with and to challenge the views of an academic when they wish. In fact, education is supposed to facilitate critical thinking in individuals.

The Head Office of Star stopped the campaign in the end, and have distanced themselves from their Oxford branch. This could well be due to the fact that they are publicly funded.

Meanwhile, is Coleman actually a racist? Not having attended any of his lectures nor read his papers I cannot say for certain. However, I looked online and found nothing that looked heavily incriminating in that direction. Yes, he is the co-founder of Migration Watch (see here). The titles of some his papers seem to indicate that he argues from a Malthusian standpoint (i.e. that overpopulation causes poverty and other social ills). Racists can seize upon this view, and it does tend to blame the poor for their problems, rather than focusing on inequality and exploitation, prime causes of poverty. Malthusianism was sometimes tied in with eugenics early last century.

But it is not necessarily racist in and of itself, although it is very easy to use it for such ends. Some people’s views of what constitutes racism are clearly broader than others.


Secondly there was the Mercer affair. Patrick Mercer had made some comments that were insensitive, especially in the current climate. But they did contain an element of truth – namely that the army is a place in which bullying is common. He stated that soldiers with ginger hair were also subject to bullying, which he interestingly claimed was more severe.

Now I don’t wish to claim that the bullying of ginger haired people is the same as racism. It does not have the same historical significance or context. Gingers have not been sold into slavery, deported, been victimised by imperialism or sent into concentration camps. This is partly what makes race such a sensitive issue. Having said that, though, I do not believe that the bullying of ginger haired people is acceptable. Indeed there are wider issues of bullying concerned. Race can simply be a pretext for bullying. Then again, there are wider factors surrounding racism, it is not a simple discrimination along grounds of appearance in the form of one's skin colour, or the way one dresses, what food they eat etc.

Another factor is scapegoating – finding an ‘out group’ then blaming them for your own grievances and for social ill in general, attributing to them traits you find repellent or are afraid of in yourself (also known as projection). I have no idea where the anti ginger tendency originated from – but one thing it does have in common with racism may be fear of ‘the other’ – an irrational fear of anybody who looks different or who is different in other ways (having ginger hair is less common than say, blonde or brown hair).

I blogged on the Celebrity Big Brother issue at around the time of the incident. While there was racism involved in the treatment of Shilpa Shetty this was far from the only or even the primary factor. Shetty was different from the others in ways besides race – she was smarter and more successful than they, for instance, and not on their wavelength. Much of the bullying seemed down to jealousy, along with the fact she was not one of them.

What focusing on the race issue seems to do is mask the wider issue of bullying. The question can reasonably be asked as to why it is deemed unacceptable to call somebody a Black c*** but not a ginger c***. And you will come to the stark truth that there are all manner of insults and bullying remarks. Yet you cannot pass a law as to make anti ginger insults illegal, as where would you stop? It would be impossible to make every form of insult a crime, even if they are designed to provoke hatred towards an individual. This is why legislation cannot solve the race issue. To forbid people voicing a sentiment will not cure them of it. At the most it will simply let it fester while driving it underground. The far right are fond of claiming victimhood by stating that they are being persecuted.

The wider issues surrounding bullying deserve some investigation. The State has a tendency to fetishise race. But in order to fight racism we should first understand what it is and what it is not. Arguing for censorship or other measures to extend the arm of the State does no favours. Neither does belittling racism by simply using it as an insult and/or a way of attempting to discredit somebody. It will get to the stage where people are frightened of even raising certain issues lest they offend someone. People may rather remain silent rather then suffering the insults of racist, sexist, homophobe etc.

It probably goes without saying that I do not believe Mercer should have been sacked. His remarks were careless but I by no means consider him to be a racist and neither should any other reasonable person.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

"The Great Global Warming Swindle"

I have no scientific qualifications and I have little knowledge about the science surrounding global warming. Unfortunately I did not see the offending television programme on Thursday either. This article, however, does raise some interesting points. Despite my disagreement with many of their views I have always quite liked 'Spiked'. I tend to go with them on their 'culture of fear' arguments (how the media has a tendency to scaremonger).

It does pose the question: Why are those without scientific qualifications allowed to write about climate change or contribute to the discussion only if they agree with the accepted theory? The scientific world, as always, has it's dissenting and minority views. Although it is hard to believe that Spiked had nothing to do with the programme as they claim, the questions the article poses are nonetheless valid.
George Monbiot and his pals at the Graun put it down to a sinister conspiracy theory, and so do other environmentalists. I believe it os not so simple, and until I see the evidence of both sides and understand the science behind it better than I currently do I shall not adhere rigidly to either side. Yet man made global warming appears to have become the established truth in the current climate. Only a maverick loon or somebody in the pay of big business would doubt this allegedly incontrovertible 'truth'. Why do the media (and for their part, the majority in the scientific community) wish to shut down debate and discredit those who dissent? If one was to claim the Earth is flat they would simply not be taken seriously, as the proof that it is a sphere is taken for granted today.
Global warming perhaps only provokes such feeling because the proof is not so irrevocable as that.

Red Maria posted on this matter herself and I thank her for alerting me on it. Something which I find extremely irritating about the Green movement is the sanctomoniousness and self righteousness displayed by some of it's adherents and promoters. George Monbiot most readily springs to my mind, and so do some of the other Graunistas. Bear in mind that they have no more scientific credibility or expertise than the people they like to discredit. They fail the test themselves, so by their own standards would fall short of the qualifications they demand from the dissenters. They hold the dissenting scientists to be part of a big capitalist conspiracy, which doesn't wash.

Sensationalism sells newspapers. There is always something we should be very afriad of. People should be scared, so silence the dissenters as to better sell this package. Silencing debate is not going to save the planet. Looking at the issue from a less impassioned and calmer standpoint would surely be far more productive in the way of finding solutions as to dealing with potential problems? But no, people must be made to feel guilty. They must be scared so as to make them act.

It seems like a cause like that gives some people a sense of moral righteousness. Perhaps it is an attempt of the middle classes to gain credibility and assuage their liberal guilt. Case in point: A television clip showed a queue of cars outside a recycling unit, causing more pollution than dispensing of their rubbish in the normal manner would have done. Being 'green' is an easy thing for someone to hold up as proof they are kind and caring people, and to hold themselves above those who are wasteful. So easy to moralise about and install guilt into others.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

House of Lords....

I was very surprised to hear about the majority of MPs last night voting for a wholly elected second chamber. It rather took me aback. It must partly be due to the cash for honours scandal, which lost the chamber any shreds of credibility it still possessed. Blair had simply been replacing hereditary peers with his own cronies.

I support this move in principal. I can't think who would defend the House of Lords as it is presently constituted, as it is undemocratic by it's very nature. Then again I do believe in the need for some kind of a second chamber. Giving the commons all the power would not do, as something is needed to keep the government in check. It would result in too much concentration of power.

The issue is on how a second chamber is going to run as not to resemble a mirror image of the commons. It should be somewhat different in it's composition. If it is to be directly elected then a large number of independents (not affiliated to any political party) should be given room to stand, along with some from smaller parties that would benefit from proportional representation. Voting reform should be another thing on the agenda, another issue that has been delayed for years. Most candidates for the second chamber should be people with a track record in a profession such as law or academia, or another field that does the public a service such as medicine or the trade unions. Spokespeople from religious organisations should be allowed to stand but their numbers should of course be limited. A wholly elected second chamber should mean that the Anglican bishops do not automatically get a seat, especially when it is not even the majority faith among those who are religious. How the candidates are to be selected is another issue, as is when the elections would take place. They should be held at a different time from the commons vote, by all account.

It is worthwhile to bear in mind that this is not yet cut and dried. There may well be opposition, not just from the Lords but by rebel MPs. It may end with something of a compromise, such as 20% appointed and 80% elected.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

This has really made me angry. Yet it is so typical of this government to stifle the media when it is it's own interests. But they will only look worse for doing so.

This country has a government riddled with corruption. It's authoritarian social policies (i.e I.D cards, detention without trial), along with cronyism and now media censorship make it look less like a democracy but far more like a corrupt dictatorship. Taking one look at the opulence displayed by the Blairs says quite a lot.

I, for one, won't be too sorry to see them go. I somehow doubt the Tories could be very much worse. The results of what little good this government has done don't stand up to very much. The harm seems to outweigh any good that has been achieved.
'Education, Education'

When my parents were at school high hopes were put into the prospects of comprehensive education. It had been noticed that there had been a high socio-economic gap between the children attending grammer schools and those in secondary moderns. Comprehensive schools, it was hoped, would alleviate this. Education would no longer discriminate, and all children from all classes and all abilities would be given equal opportunites.

Alas, it was not to be. What we have instead is a new form of two tier education. Well performing state schools look more like grammer schools with their large intake of children from middle class backgrounds, while those not born in such fortunate circumstances tend to be segregated in what look like badly run secondary moderns.
The government could not afford to ignore this problem, but their proposed measures seem to be doing little to change it.

The rhetoric of parental choice did nothing to address the issues surrounding children in those 'failing' schools, as what kind of parent would 'choose' to send their children to a badly performing school? In reality there is no substance behind the rhetoric, save for appealing to the consumerist tendencies of the class it seeked to impress.

I understand parents wanting the best for their children. But the very idea of professing to believe in a religion you do not truly believe in in order to get your child into the right school is abhorrent to me. And what do you tell the child in question when you are taking him and her to the services? Do you lie and tell them you believe everything they are taught in catechism/Sunday school is all true? Or do you tell the truth and say you don't believe it but you are putting them through it for their education? Either way you would be a fraud.

Segregation in schools by class is not easy to tackle. The poor don't have the same choices that the more prosperous have. A school in a wealthy suburb is likely to be high on the league tables, which is not the case for a school in a run down area of the inner city. Knowing the system the middle classes can move to the right catchment areas, guaranteeing their child a place. Besides the fact that they may not know how to work the system so well, poor families have fewer options on where they live anyway. A sought after school is likely to drive property prices in the surrounding area up.

I don't see the idea of poorly performing schools taking on a quota of middle class children as being workable. Their parents simply will not have it. Yet perhaps hihg performers being forced to accept a quota of children from lower socio economic backgrounds/lower achievement record may just be workable.

Poorer children do not tend to underachieve because they are stupid, it is due to a myriad of factors. Culture is one issue. Poorer children may have fewer aspirations, for one thing. If you know the result may well be a dead end job or welfare as you see your parents and their peers then there would seem little motivation. The exceptional may pull themselves out of this but not everyone is exceptional. Somebody born in the right circumstances may do very well, while go with the flow if they were not so fortunate. Doing well when you are in a run school where studiousness is frowned upon by your peers, and your parents don't have a computer or a range of books on their shelf requires much harder effort.

Singling out failing schools and 'naming and shaming' them was an unpleasant measure which the already stressed teachers could have done without. Rather those schools could be given extra help and facilities. A few of the city academies seemed to have worked out well, while others have not been so fortunate.

It is very sad to still see this problem in the 21st century. It certainly shows we are not 'all middle class now', and it brings shame on the UK for being one of the most unequal societies in the West. It is needless to say that educational segregation, whether or not it is a deliberate policy, further obstructs social mobility.