Do scientific formulations of ‘racial difference’ continue to circulate?
The perception of the “sources of truth” shifts with time. The concept of “race” was originally based on scientific reasoning that, in the age of Enlightenment, when science was replacing religion in the minds of people, made it plausible and justified slavery.
Over a century after the abolition of slavery miscegenation was still illegal in parts of the US. The idea of race, its deep roots, haven’t gone away and new theories, including some based on genetics, are coming back to support the idea of races, and the almost inevitable consequent debate on superiority/ inferiority.
The resurgence of racial science is being debated but I would argue that limiting the discussion to this specific subject is overlooking important factors that influence other areas of society and should be considered in a wider psychosocial context.
I intend to look at key elements that are common to a range of discriminations and abuses, and the way they are connected. These elements relate to a need for “the other” necessary to recognise the “self” and it applies to all disposable “others” from old people in industrial societies to children in developing countries, from illegal migrants to forced labourers, from child soldiers to sex slaves, from civilians in war zones to those in the way of development.
Those who assume they are entitled to safety, to a secure life unhindered by the possibility of harm, are condemned to a state of anxiety. The illusion of freedom we have been sold is to a large extent a cheat. Our false sense of security, our impression of making choices of our own free will rely on the acceptance of a manufactured reality, one where the definition of “reality TV” can be used for the most unreal programmes ever produced. Without going as far as fearing a future of Orwellian dimension, we should be vigilant and vocal in the critique of power. There is a continuum linking organised transatlantic slave trade, the systematic extermination of ethnic groups, the collateral victims of modern warfare and the victims of man made global environmental disasters.
The comeback of racial science
The 1980s have seen a comeback of scientific theories related to race, proposed by researchers who mostly refuse any racist connotation. Many recent racial theories claim validation through genetics and look at heritable characteristics.
Prime examples are the theories expressed by Arthur Jensen in his “g Factor” and those by Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein in “The Bell Curve”. The g factor is an attempt to provide a method to measure intelligence, adopted by a number of researchers who, by applying the g factor criteria, concluded that some races are measurably more intelligent than others.
The scientific world is divided on these issues and there are critics such as Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin who have discredited these theories that nevertheless hold a disturbing fascination for the public and the press. Eugenics has been revived too, and there are worrying examples of it being applied to vulnerable individuals such as in the case of Project Prevention (Children Requiring a Caring Kommunity or C.R.A.C.K.) an American non-profit organisation that pays drug addicts $ 200 to 300 for volunteering to be sterilised.
The proposers of racial science aren’t necessarily charlatans. As recently as 2007 even James Watson (Nobel Prize, co-discoverer of DNA with F. Crick) referred to research proving the inferior intelligence of black people. He subsequently apologised, but the idea that racially related differences can be measured with IQ tests persists, and the validity of such tests isn’t questioned enough.
In Race: Science’s Last Taboo, Rageh Omaar (Rageh Omaar – Race and Intelligence: Science’s Last Taboo Channel 4 (UK) 2009 interviewed a number of scientists on both sides of the fence, all equally convinced of the correctness of their position, none able to provide a conclusive answer to the question of racialdifferences, especially when it comes to intelligence.
The concept of intelligence itself should be questioned, as there may be many kinds, each suited for a different purpose, none superior or inferior in absolute terms.
IQ tests, is it a farce?
The inherent weakness of IQ tests is the reference points and units of measurement they employ.
Lacking an agreed definition of intelligence any mention of absolute and comparable values has no ground to stand on.
A series of tests and evaluation scales have been developed and applied to population samples2, these include complex elaborations such as Eysenck’s theory of personality.
Most theories that seek to prove the immutable essence of intelligence through IQ tests seem to start from assumptions and proceed backwards to find the evidence to support them.
[Eysenck's theory of personality is based on the Maudsley Medical Questionnaire, Eysenck Personality Inventory (EPI), Eysenck Personality Questionnaire (EPQ) and Sensation Seeking Scale, the Eysenck Personality Profiler (EPP)]
These also seem to camouflage their racist slant behind a set of data, which only “accidentally” shows connections between race and intelligence. Key assumptions of modern racial science are that intelligence can be measured, and given a numeric value on a given scale, it can be inherited genetically, is permanent and immutable, does not evolve and is not affected by social and economic factors.
Any test tailored to the mainstream belief system of a place and time may prove conclusively the inferiority of a sampled group. The debate around hypothesis such as those expressed in the Bell Curve neglect to consider that the same group may prove vastly superior when taking a test based on different criteria.
The relativity and subjectivity of any idea of superiority/inferiority is so blatantly obvious that the seriousness with which some researchers present theirfindings in this area is farcical.
Sadly History proves that farcical ideologies and fanciful scientific evidence have all too frequently succeeded in gaining the public’s acceptance. The lack of questioning of these theories in the public debate, and the sensationalist press coverage they receive, are a matter of concern. In the case of The Bell Curve the book was published without the customary peer review, and informed critique only appeared long after the book had sold a considerable amount of copies.
Fundamentalism as a prerequisite for racism and discrimination
Fear and ignorance combine to create a fertile ground for fundamentalism.
Fundamentalism implies blind acceptance of concepts of good and evil. Once these are established it becomes surprisingly easy to condition large numbers of people to support the most atrocious deeds. Tariq Ali looks at the growing fundamentalist attitude in all sides of modern society in his The Clash of Fundamentalisms raising some extremely important points on this alarming development.
In The Genius of Charles Darwin Richard Dawkins Channel 4 (UK) 2009 met American creationists who, in their absolute refusal of the theory of evolution, exemplify the utter blindness a fundamentalist faith can generate, the complete removal of questioning and observing abilities.
Endless atrocities committed by groups of humans on others were made possible by a temporary suspension of the critical ability of the perpetrators. In all cases the victims were not perceived as human, the psychological mechanism behind these atrocities can be seen as a mass loss of consciousness.
The German people supporting the Nazi party weren’t inherently evil. They decided not to see. The same applies to all populations who have been on the winning side of conflicts and exterminations or races that have been in the dominant position. The US using the nuclear bomb in Japan, the napalm in Vietnam, all the way to the most sophisticated weaponry tested in the current war in Iraq provide typical examples of this tendency.
The heart of the matter is the idea of us and the others, where the others are disposable, less than human beings. The African slaves deported to the US during the transatlantic trade were posing no problem to the conscience of good willing European Christians, they were the “others”.
My mother was a teenager in Italy during WWII, I asked her if at the time she had ever questioned the sudden disappearance of whole families. She said all that people knew came from newspapers and the radio. Only towards the end of the war rumours started circulating, timid whispers against the bombastic officialdom. Similar accounts appear in interviews with German and Polish civilians who, more or less consciously, decided to ignore the horror developing around them, as it was directed against the “others”.
During the war in the ex-Yugoslavia the news reports were presenting harrowing images of the massacres of civilians in Bosnia. The general public in Italy was unusually shocked. Remarkably people were much more disturbed by these images than those possibly even more shocking of the genocide in Rwanda occurring in the same period. What made the perception of two equally appalling events different was that the images from Bosnia came from towns that looked like the Italian ones and were only a few miles away, with people who looked the same, wore the same clothes, drove the same cars. It was impossible for people to remove themselves psychologically from the horror. These “others” weren’t others enough and here possibly lies one explanation for a key mechanism of the human psyche that plays an important part in all disguises of modern racism.
In a trip to Italy in 1998 I noticed a compound built in an open space where kids used to play football; men were idling among the low buildings, smoking, hanging clothes on the line, two rows of high fence topped with barbed wire surrounded the barracks, in between the two fences police patrols, with machine guns and dogs, were walking the perimeter. I was told this was one of the temporary accommodations for illegal immigrants. The site disturbingly resembled a concentration camp. In a residential area of a modern European city, under the eyes of people leading a peaceful, comfortable life, and no one asking questions. The people in the compound are “others” and we don’t dare call this racism, we have practical reasons to take control of their lives, to remove their individual identities and personal stories, to seclude them and expel them, to prevent them from disturbing our peace.
Lets go to holy war
Going to war is when the concept of “others” comes into full play. Peter Ustinov in Attention! Prejudice declares: “terrorism is the war of the poor, war is the terrorism of the rich”. The build up of support for the war in Iraq was surprisingly fast. The combined forces of media and official government communication swiftly led to a renunciation to reason by the majority of people. It also led to an equally rapid change of attitude towards the Islamic community. All of a sudden “we” had an “other” to blame for our fear, an other we knew little about, which made it all the more frightening. Millions of people, of different nationalities, languages and cultures, were bundled in a uniform entity to be feared and hit before it could hit us. Canetti opens his “Crowds and Power” with: “There is nothing that man fears more than the touch of the unknown” and continues “It is only in a crowd that man can become free of this fear of being touched. That is the only situation in which the fear changes into its opposite”
The modern world hasn’t shed this ancestral fear. The new race theories are a way to legitimises the destructive fear of one crowd being unleashed on another. A psychological transfer takes place and suddenly the illegal immigrants are threatening the way of life of the wealthy industrialised world, Islam is intent in conquering the Christian-Judaic West, Africans are intent in spreading deadly epidemics. The subjective characters of these “others” are irrelevant, the need to defend our way of life against them results in unity. The primeval nature of this phenomenon goes largely unnoticed, and fragile scientific evidence is accepted as credible justification for the abolition of civil liberties and freedom of expression.
The Australian journalist Wilfred Burchett was the first to arrive in Hiroshima two days after the atomic bomb was dropped. He reported the horror but was silenced. Describing the suffering of the others wasn’t acceptable, American conscience wasn’t to be disturbed by any acknowledgement of the humanity of the others.
The “embedded reporters” in the Iraq war are just an evolution of an old idea; formalising it sheds some light on the sanitised and controlled media (Butler 2009) we are served, and should make us question the credibility of reporting as a whole, evoking the observations on the “virtually unlimited authority” of images discussed by Susan Sontag in On Photography, where the image becomes reality rather than documenting it.
In his seminal Orientalism Said examined the ability of humans to project their imaginary concepts on other groups and disregard reality altogether, in modern society these projection have become more real then reality and dramatic decisions are taken based on them.
In the run up to the war in Iraq dissenting voices of intellectuals such as Arundathi Roy, John Berger, Hanif Kureishi, Ahdaf Soueif, Tariq Ali and many more were not only denied space to express their critique, but were openly accused of treason and complicity with the “enemy”. Judith Butler (2004) eloquently argues this point when discussing “what we can hear” and mourning the reduction of debate to the “With us or against us” of the Neo Conservative rhetoric.
In a 2003 articleMesopotamia. Babylon. The Tigris and Euphrates April 02, 2003 Arundathi Roy said: “In most parts of the world, the invasion of Iraq is being seen as a racist war. The real danger of a racist war unleashed by racist regimes is that it engenders racism in everybody – perpetrators, victims, spectators. It sets the parameters for the debate, it lays out a grid for a particular way of thinking”.
The terms of the debate have changed, not the substance. The African black or American Indian have been replaced by the Muslim, a mythical figure of turbaned, bearded dark ghost from a barbaric past. Bamboozled by an efficient propaganda run by the media, owned in large part by the same corporations profiting from wars and exploitations around the world, the West has embarked on a new colonisation process, masked as liberation and democratisation, one that, not surprisingly, the rest of the world has interpreted as modern day crusades.
Yet the crusades too were presented to us as a noble effort to bring freedom to the oppressed. Little matters that “we” were the barbarians, uncivilised invaders and mindless exterminators.
If the citizens of medieval Europe could be excused for their ignorance, one would have hoped for a better critical ability of the 21st century European and American public, instead we have witnessed a vast abdication to reason, a surrender of the freedom of expression and a farcical pretence of justice.
In October 2001 I was expelled from an online discussion board for having expressed the opinion that it was important to try to comprehend the causes behind 9/11, because without that knowledge and understanding we would have no way to prevent it from happening again. I was immediately accused of being an anti American pro-terrorists. What surprised me most was that the people participating in the forum were musicians and artists, until then open minded and reasoning individuals. They had instantly stiffened in a blindly defensive position, turning overnight into patriots and supporters of a holy war against the enemies of freedom and justice.
The debate (or lack of) that took place in the Western world evolved along the same lines. Even moderate people seemed rapidly converted to the cause of war. Dissenting voices were coming from the US too, many had been warning against the dangers of US foreign politics long before 9/11, but one has the impression that, at crucial times, the voice of reason is a faint whisper drowned by the thunder of propaganda.
What is the value of hundreds of thousands civilians killed in Iraq? Why are they invisible to the citizens of the “Coalition of the willing”? How aware are these of their personal contribution to the killing (in tax money at least)? Are they at peace with their conscience because in some way convinced those dead are less than human, (Butler, 2004, Berger, 2007) disposable, not someone’s son, daughter, mother, father?
While examining the framework of the Guantanamo detainees situation Butler raises a fundamental question: who decides, ad how, who qualifies as human? This is a crucial component of the discourse as it applies to all forms of inequality. The obvious answer would have to be that no one can make that decision and that all are human beings and thus have equal rights. This realisation alone would nullify claims of superiority, racial, religious or otherwise. Yet this simple but fundamental step seems one that few have managed to take.
While all religions in some way declare this equality of all beings, it is in the name of one religion or the other that the most execrable persecutions of the “others” took place in human history.
It is like making rules that apply to all but the rule-maker. It is like playing god. It is what radical, extremist fundamentalists excel at and I would extend this definition to include the US neoconservatives maneuvering Bush as well as the leaders of Al-Qaeda, the proposers of racial theories as well as heads of religious groups, the radical Israeli politicians and their Iranian mirror images. And they are not alone. Their followers are responsible too, and should be held accountable, as without their connivence no fundamentalism would be possible.
The horror of torture and systematic humiliation that totalitarian regimes (paranoid by nature) impose on their (real or presumed) opponents is a dark component of human history. The same mechanism reappears in all the situations where a group dominates another, in war, in occupations, in racist biased relationships in school, work or domestic environments.
The unconditional acceptance of diversity is essential to the development of societies where conflict and abuse are moderated. This acceptance entails a deep change in both political systems and individuals; it applies to racial and cultural differences as much as gender, age, religion and sexuality. To achieve this broad acceptance of “otherness” a shift in attitude is required at all levels; this may be a utopian aim, it is nevertheless a worthwhile pursuit, in the knowledge that nothing less would suffice, all other local, specific, individual changes, modifications to the law, formal recognition of rights, won’t effectively modify the substance of these deeper roots of the problem.
This requires a higher level of self-confidence, one that can’t be imposed, an acknowledgment of each other’s fragility and interdependence, the ability to open up and confide in each other, accepting the risks this entails. Lévinas discusses eloquently (Butler, 2004, p: 131, 138) the essentiality of the other for the discovery of the self; it is through the face-to-face encounter with the other, and within an ethic of mutual respect, that we build the knowledge of ourselves.
In this respect it is symptomatic that in the racial hatred, the aggression against the foreigner, the attack against other nations, we are never shown the face of the other, we must not recognise in them the same humanity that makes us people, we must have in mind the symbol these others represent, (Butler, 2009) the menacing shade they cast over our security. Should we be allowed to see the faces of individuals, should the media present us with what are undeniably human beings, our support for the wars, our acceptance of racial science, our agreement with immigration policies would waver.
In LA Hélène Cixous poignantly portrays the world of those with no face, relegated to a claustrophobic space, in her books she refers to women, but the feeling applies to all the “others” who are denied ownership of their life. Occasionally the media presents a case that simultaneously gives a face to the victim and a reassurance as to the justification of our actions. Hence the child who lost his legs and is airlifted to London to be taken care of and releases interviews full of gratitude, or the adoption of orphaned children. We killed their parents, destroyed their homes, maimed them, traumatised them, so now we can help them and show everyone how good we are. The paradox is so utterly evident that only the public’s unawareness is more paradoxical.
The world is mine
The concept of total world domination is evidently absurd; nonetheless, far from being confined to the realm of fiction, it has been the backbone and leitmotif of empires, religions and races. In the affirmation of one above the others, in condemning the believers of other religions to hell (metaphorically or in actual deeds of aggression) individuals and groups dream of attaining absolute control, one where any “other” and all differences are eliminated, by assimilation or destruction.
This fundamental human behaviour hasn’t changed in its substance over the centuries, and perhaps we should consider ways in which it can be tamed and managed. Tahar Ben Jelloun (1999) criticises the French attitude towards its North African immigrants, seeing a covert racism behind the official policy of integration, where all citizens are equal, providing they accept the French way of life, in a word: providing they can shed their “otherness”. This is an attitude that has become increasingly common in Western countries, in their attempts to create a nominally multicultural society where everyone adopts the same, local and prevailing culture.
In his critique to the French system Ben Jelloun refers to the concept of hospitality as expressed by Derrida in his “On Hospitality” which in turn looks back to the ancient tradition of hospitality in the Mediterranean and Arab worlds, a complex and deeply rooted tradition that adopts an attitude of total respect for the guest, for the same “other” that in the modern Western society is despised by racism, segregated by restrictive policies, and attacked in his own home.
As far back as 1795 in his “Perpetual Peace” Kant mentioned the concept of hospitality as a cornerstone of a peaceful world, he said “The Law of World Citizenship Shall Be Limited to Conditions of Universal Hospitality” and yet the fear of the unknown has consistently prevailed, causing hostility toward the other. It is worth noting that Kant’s essay was being written at the same time as the scientific theories on race were being developed, and the concept of superior and inferior races was being created; Kant himself accepted the superiority of white over black for a period, believing the latter to be less equipped to make informed intellectual choices, essential to creating structured societies.
In examining the race riots that took place in various towns in the north of England in the Summer of 2001 Amin (2002) and Ritchie, in his extensive report on Oldham (2001), examine how tension that was primarily of a socio-economic nature, was presented to (and understood by) the public as racially motivated.
That biased understanding led to the misinterpretation of a complex situation, largely removing responsibility from the shoulders of government and local authorities, to put the blame on the “others”, in this case mainly young British Muslim Asians, who were perceived as biting the hand that fed them, ignoring the cul-de-sac society had pushed them in. Initially welcomed when their labour was required by British industry these people were now no longer required and acceptable, they had to be demonized in some way, to demonstrate their unworthiness. Unsurprisingly far right groups jumped on the opportunity to exploit the events to their ends, and when, shortly after, 9/11 happened the association in people’s mind became obvious: black-asian-mulsim=terroristdanger,all in one, all the same.
I panic, you do what you want
The state of emergency is an expedient commonly used to achieve popular consensus: a population convinced of being at risk will accept a state of emergency and implicitly allow for the suspension of law, the condemnation of people without evidence, on the basis of hearsay or because of their belonging to a racial, ethnic or religious group. In a state of emergency leaders are given carte blanche to act as they please towards their nation’s subjects as well as other nations; once reached a critical point the erosion of civil liberties progresses very fast.
The state of emergency causes the critical ability of people to be temporarily “deactivated”, leaving them in a state of para-hypnosis; as long as this state can be extended, raising periodical alarm signals, those in power will be allowed to act unbridled.
This mechanism is so clear and well documented that it defies understanding how it can work so effectively and in such different cultural contexts. A striking example of shameless partiality are the reasons alleged by the US to justify the invasion of Iraq; ironically these applied more fittingly to another nation, Israel, and if any coherence was to be found in international politics the coalition should have attacked Israel first. While this hypothesis is absurd and not auspicable, it is a useful exercise to analyse the unequal application of principles.
We are told the Iraqi, the Muslim world, are the common enemy, they are the “others” threatening us; the Israeli are our friends, the descendants of those who were, for a long time, the “others”.
How did we change our attitude so radically without it being questioned? The Christian world was united for centuries against Jews and Arabs, and then “adopted” the Jews (after having conveniently reduced their numbers) and joined forces to fight Islam.
Another useful if paradoxical exercise would be to imagine for a moment Islam, Judaism and Hinduism allied against the Christian world. To imagine what it feels like having no rights, no voice, no face, no place: undeserving and disposable.
Perhaps what we have to strive for is the removal of binary concepts of good and evil, with us or against us. Black and white is not the colour code of peaceful and respectful societies. Confrontation results in conflict and victims, even victory is an illusory and transient state of which victors are the victims.
I am the Law
What Butler refers to in her “infinite detention” chapter (2009) is in fact a seriously underestimated and dangerous feature of contemporary politics. We are witnessing a growing attitude of heads of state who, with the support of the financial élites and a controlled media, have sought to acquire a kind of absolute power that used to be prerogative of monarchs, beyond and above the law. Expanding on the concepts of governmentality and sovereignty elaborated by Foucault in 1978 Butler (ibid) centers her analysis on the issue of Guantanamo bay and the attitude of the Bush administration that so blatantly flaunted international conventions, putting itself above the law on the basis of “exceptions”.
I maintain that the concept applies on a much larger scale to the way power is developing in the modern world and conditions, in the context of globalisation, a wide range of social, political, moral and legal issues. The reasons employed to support these exceptions and make them acceptable to a large enough section of population are untenable, yet they work. We must accept that they are part of a psychological construct deeply rooted in the human psyche. More work is required to understand this if effective counteraction is to be devised.
The debate must leave the halls of academia and overflow in more public arenas, on television and the web, we need a language of the masses. A widespread awakening is unlikely but a development of a more rational and critical ability of the public is possible, but it requires a will from those in power, it implies self-confidence and the ability to accept the risk of exposing ourselves.
The war in Iraq and the management of the Guantanamo detention centre are prime and most visible examples of this trend, but Putin’s Russia, Berlusconi’s Italy, Chavez’s Venezuela are all exemplar of a tendency spreading among modern democracies, sharing common elements that should be analysed and understood. If we don’t we risk to lose some important conquests, hard won changes such as the end of colonialism and improved social equality for ethnic and gender minorities.
In this context the reappearance of racial science is neither surprising nor unique; it is symptomatic of a resurgence of reactionary attitudes, of an attempt on the part of privileged minorities to re-appropriate a position of advantage they have lost.
These minorities are using a populist language to capture the support of masses that, despite the presumed general improvement of education and access to information, are still prone to fall prey to the carefully managed propaganda machinery. These masses tend to idolise the same rulers who are cheating them of precious liberties, and make popular divas of them.
Allowing a government to set itself above the law and the duty to respect international agreements sets a dangerous and powerful precedent. Who could legitimately criticise Iran or North Korea should they recur to drastic measures in self-defence or follow the way of “pre-emptive attack”? After all they have been repeatedly threatened by an opponent that is clearly capable and willing to inflict serious damage and has demonstrated the ability to do so unprovoked and against the wish of the international community.
What example could the West give to these countries should they decide to ignore diplomatic pressure and international agreements? The game of reciprocal provocation could end in disaster, as it very nearly did during the cold war.
The actions of the Bush administration have seriously damaged the credibility of the West as a whole, created a hostile environment, increased the dangers of conflict and terrorism, weakened the unity of the Western countries and contributed to an increase in racism and fundamentalism on both sides, effectively moving the clock back a few decades.
In his Age of Fallibility, (2007) George Soros aptly summarises the attitude of the US under Bush: “Tyranny, Violence, Ignorance, Arrogance”. Future administrations will have a difficult task repairing the damage done, and it may take generations to reprogram the general public’s attitudes to a more open minded, peaceful and progressive mindset.
The arbitrary interpretation of international law shamelessly employed by governments such as the US and Israel bears an ominous resemblance to the origins of the Catholic Inquisition in Europe, when a radical interpretation of dogma devolved absolute power to the clerical élite, which could hold to ransom communities and rulers.
The events of the last decade are alarming and we should feel the duty to alert the public of the dangers represented by the concentration of unregulated power in the hands of unqualified political, financial, religious and scientific élites. Soros, in his Open Society, (2000) and Joseph Stiglitz in a number of recent articles have presented convincing analysis of these changes in modern societies. Both forecasted the disastrous consequences of short sighted, fundamentalist positions in politics and finance. Most of these predictions proved accurate, from the quagmire of the war in Iraq to the dire consequences of the unregulated power of financial institutions.
Give me back my borders!
In the century of globalisation drawing borders around nation-states and local entities is anachronistic. Many feel this as a loss, a source of uncertainty and weakness that leads them to act defensively in self-preservation. Obsolete solutions are then sought to shore up the crumbling sand castle; new scientific evidence emerges to confirm racial supremacies, new intelligence is found to confirm the need for preemptive aggression. Again, the motivation is the usual need for control, for confirmation of the unchangeable nature of things.
The weak need violence to quench their fear of impotence and vulnerability. The weaker individuals and societies are, the harsher and remorseless will be their violence against others. Labelling the US “weak” may sound inappropriate, but there have been repeated instances when the US has shown the world a puerile, capricious and morally weak image.
The question remains: if this fear of difference, of change, of the “other” is innate in our being human, an ancestral survival instinct, can we even begin to hope we’ll be able to overcome it? Will we ever be able to acknowledge we should try to overcome it? If we go by the historical evidence we should say no, but is his realisation enough to make us renounce our attempts to instigate a shift?
Contemporary multicultural societies should inevitably result in a merging that makes any clear distinction between us and the others impossible (Sassen, 2001, Joseph Stiglitz “The cost of the Iraq war” and “International Issues” series of articles available at Columbia University’s site, Bauman, 2001, Castles and Kosack, 1973, Watts, 2002).
If consistent and effective effort was made to develop a truly multicultural attitude in education from primary school, if the media were held accountable for the diffusion of incorrect and unsubstantiated information, if international agreements were respected and enforced with no exceptions, perhaps even our ancestral instincts would evolve to suit a new reality, rather than striving to maintain or create one that is largely fictional.
We are living a moment of crucial historical change, unity is essential toachieve lasting positive results.
A rereading of Lévi-Strauss’ Tristes Tropiques (1955) may be useful to meditate on some innate features of human nature, on the suspicion for the “other” and the seeming inevitability of conflict as an ever present element of our history. As the author says “Every effort to understand destroys the object studied in favour of another object of a different nature.” In today’s multicultural society we still apply a monocultural filter to interpret the world; (Bhatt, 2008, Butler, 2009, Amin, 2002) this must change if we are to hope for a manageable, liveable future. Human beings have the intellectual ability and necessary knowledge to counteract these systemic faults, but in order to succeed those who are aware of the dangers must coordinate their actions and overcome the fragmentation of their initiatives.
The existing well informed, dissenting voices must find an effective way to reach the public, least they get drowned by the white noise of propaganda and mass media disinformation.
Was Aristotle mistaken when, in his Ethics, he theorised men’s ability to strive towards happiness and positivity?
Ali, T. (2002) The clash of Fundamentalisms – crusades jihads and modernity London, Verso
Amin, A. (2002), ‘Ethnicity and the multicultural city: living with diversity’, Environment and
Planning vol 34. pp 959-980
Aristotle (1955 [340 BC]) Ethics London, Penguin
Bauman, Z. (2001) Community: Seeking Safety in an insecure world Cambridge, Policy Press.
Bhatt, C. (2008) The Times of Movement, A Response, British Journal of Sociology, 59:1, 29
Ben Jelloun, T. (1999) French Hospitality: Racism and North African Immigrants New York, Columbia
Berger, J. (2007) Hold Everything Dear London, New York, Verso
Burchett, G. and Shimmin, N. (Editors) (2008) Rebel Journalism: The Writings of Wilfred Burchett
Cambridge, Cambridge University Press
Butler, J. (2004) Precarious life London, New York, Verso
Butler, J. (2009) Frames of war London, New York, Verso
Canetti, E. (1973) Crowds and Power, London, Penguin [Masse und Macht - Claasen Verlag, Hamburg
Castles, S. and Kosack, G. (1973) Ethnicity and Race in Britain Oxford, Oxford University Press
Cixous, H. (1976) LA Paris, Gallimard
Derrida, J. (2001) On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness Florence KY, Abingdon Oxon, Routledge
Derrida, J. (2000) Of Hospitality Palo Alto, Stanford University Press
Herrnstein Richard J. and Murray C. (1996)The Bell Curve, Intelligence and Class Structure in
American Life London, New York, Simon & Schuster
Kant, Immanuel, Humphrey, Ted (Translator) (2003) To Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch
Indianapolis, IN, Hackett Publishing Co, Inc
Lévinas, E. (1972) Humanisme de l’autre homme (Humanism of the Other) Champaign, IL University of
Lévi-Strauss, C. (1988 ) Tristes tropiques Paris, Presses pocket
Ritchie D. (2001) Report published in Oldham Independent Review
Said, E. W. (2003 ) Orientalism London, Penguin
Sassen, S. (2001) Global City, New York, London, Tokyo Princeton, Princeton University Press
Sontag, S. (1979 ) On Photography London, New York Penguin
Soros, G. (2007) The Age of Fallibility: The Consequences of the War on Terror London, Phoenix
(Orion Publishing Group)
Soros, G. (2000) Open Society: The Crisis of Global Capitalism Reconsidered London, Little, Brown
Ustinov, P. (2005) Achtung! Vorurteile [Attention! Prejudices] Reinbek, Berlin, Rowohlt Taschenbuch
Watts, J. (2002) Immigration policy and the challenge of globalisation – Unions and employers in
unlikely alliance Ithaca, New York Cornell University Press
Richard Dawkins – The Genius of Charles Darwin Channel 4 (UK) 2009
Rageh Omaar – Race and Intelligence: Science’s Last Taboo Channel 4 (UK) 2009
From “The American Prospect”
No Choice but War? – Paul Starr Volume 13, Issue 18. October 7, 2002
War Resisters – The numbers are in and the “nays” are growing. – John B. Judis Volume 13, Issue 18.
October 7, 2002
Neither Consent nor Dissent – Bush’s uncontested war. – Benjamin R. Barber Volume 13, Issue 20.
November 4, 2002
Deter and Contain – It worked against Joseph Stalin, so why not against Saddam Hussein? – Morton H.
Halperin Volume 13, Issue 20. November 4, 2002.
A Reckless Rush to War: The Editors on an ill-advised invasion of Iraq — and why it’s not too late
to pull back from the precipice. Volume 13, Issue 19. October 21, 2002
The Pentagon Muzzles the CIA – Devising bad intelligence to promote bad policy. – Robert Dreyfuss
Volume 13, Issue 22. December 16, 2002
The Unconvincing Case for War. – Robert Kuttner Volume 13, Issue 22. December 16, 2002
The High and the Mighty – Bush’s national-security strategy and the new American hubris. – Stanley
Hoffmann Volume 13, Issue 24. January 13, 2003.
Just the Beginning – Is Iraq the opening salvo in a war to remake the world? – Robert Dreyfuss
Volume 14, Issue 4. April 1, 2003
From “Foreign Affairs”
The Real Roots of Arab Anti-Americanism. – Barry Rubin November/December 2002
Iraq and the Arabs’ Future. – Fouad Ajami January/February 2003
Why the Security Council Failed. – Michael J. Glennon May/June 2003
The New Christian Crusaders. – Bill Berkowitz, WorkingForChange.com April 9, 2003
After Iraq: Perpetual War and a Nuclear World. – Ian Williams April 9, 2003
Congress to Pentagon: Iraq Is All Yours. – Erik Gustafson April 16, 2003
The Elusive Weapons Of Mass Destruction. – William O. Beeman, Pacific News Service April 17, 2003