Race

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Concepts such as race that cannot be clearly defined frequently form the strongest engines of propaganda and manipulations that function to secure and maintain power for privileged groups. Like good art and pornography, most people will claim to be able to identify individuals as members of various "races," and claim to be able to predict the innate characteristics of members of those "races."

The reality is that the flow of genetic information is like a river that enters a delta or a swamp. It splits and flows in various separate channels but farther along channels rejoin before they split once more. Australian native peoples were well isolated for more than 50,000 years, but in recent centuries that genetic isolation has broken down. Ideology says that there are separate groups. Genetic studies show that only identical twins have exactly the same biological inheritance, and that no humans fail to share more than 99% of their genes.

So "race" is a concept in search of an unambiguous definition, or a word in search of a true referrent or true referrents, but in the mouths of those who seek to rule over others and derive benefit from human strife, it is a potent tool.

Racism, to the contrary, is a reality that anyone who wants the best for our society must deal with. It is a stumbling block for the unwary and heedless. It is a weapon for the cynically manipulative as well as for those who are full of hate. The flames of racial conflict die down, but remain smouldering in wait for conditions that may fan them to life. Whether smouldering or rouring, these energies are destructive to our polity. Too often it seems more prudent to ignore the problem than to have to fight skunks. As Lyndon Johnson (or perhaps it was Stokley Carmichael) said, "Any man can stomp a skunk, but you sure as hell hate to have to do it."

We need (1) a vision, (2) a policy, and (3) concrete plans to deconstruct the concept of "race," to innoculate members of our society against the fuzzy and unscientific thinking that makes such non-entities into potent political forces, and to deal with the lingering consequences that have cascaded down upon us since the time of legal slavery in this country. Common sources of contention among well-meaning people (an accelerants for verbal arsonists) are issues such as reparations, affirmative actions policies, etc. There is at least the possibility of finding objective measures for success in correcting the afterburn of past abuses.

The effects of racism that display a more abrupt outbreak are centered around ignorance, fear, and selfishness. Unfortunately the ignorance of genetic realities can be reinforced by religious orthodoxy and ideological appeals to purity. Fear of the unknown can be more easily maintained in cases where groups do not share a common language and/or where conscious or unconscious cultural features put people at odds. The selfish interests of all parties involved in lack of racial harmony can act as multipliers for the other forces.

For the good of the nation we need to formulate a vision in which individuals are not graded by the color of their skins, their lack of or propensity for display of affect, the language they speak, etc. To actualize that vision we need a policy that is firmly grounded on the principle of equality before the law. And in service of that policy we need to prepare every citizen to detect propaganda, to understand that science does not amount to the quantization of data and the use of elaborate and expensive instrumentation, but that it involves a fundamental respect for truth and modesty concerning how far we may be in any given case from "nailing" the true explanation for some phenomenon. (That would be a corrective for complaints against science such as the recent assertion that scientists don't know what they are talking about since nuclear winter has not occured as scheduled.)

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