24 May 2014
Here is a statement of the obvious: problems with mass immigration may be caused by racists (closet or otherwise) but they will, nonetheless, be problems. Also obvious is the fact that racism intrudes in the imaginations of most – perhaps all – people. The left, for example, can say things about Israel which, if said about Palestine would attract charges of racism, if not violence. Racism is a very bad thing indeed and, like all really bad things, we won’t understand it unless we recognise it in ourselves. Original sin is still a very powerful explanatory tool.
Having drifted to the leftward in the past decade – what conscious person would not when confronted by the intellectual inanition of transatlantic conservatism? – I tend to be more acutely aware of the confusions and obsessions of the left, also of some of its more mean-minded strategies. Using racism as an multi-purpose condemnation is one of the meanest.
To be clear, it is not racist to criticise, condemn or satirise a nation because nations are not races, they are political entities (I’ve been down this road before). Secondly, a fear of the destruction of your neighbourhood by a sudden influx of strangers is not racist, it is a reasonable anxiety that may or may not be unfounded. Thirdly, concern about the pressure put on our economy – health, housing, jobs etc – by massive immigration is perfectly rational. Personally, I like immigration because I like variety but I’m privileged and I live in London. To turn my comfortable situation into a blind ideology is foolish and politically absurd. Yet that is what the left has done and why it now finds it so hard to deal with UKIP – see John Harris’s wise words of warning in the Guardian.
Now, bear with me, the secular, materialist imagination is suffused with a rather perverse mysticism, most obviously manifested in the claims made by scientists. I have always know this and tried to explain it, but I never seem to get it quite right. Take, for example, the ideas that neurosciences ‘proves’ we have no free will, that the self is an illusion and that we are but an assemblage of matter which was inevitable from the moment of the Big Bang. (All of these claims are pretty much mainstream.) The striking things about these claims is they can only be made intelligible if we assume there is another non-human consciousness that sees the world in a way we cannot. I, for example, act and live as if I have free will, my self is not an illusion and on the basis that I was not inevitable at the time of the Big Bang. I cannot imagine living in any other way and, indeed, the only way to do so would be to turn myself into zombie. Yet my sense of these things, according to the ‘scientists’, is not as true as their view, indeed, it is a complete illusion. These scientists, however, are not zombies so, in making these claims, they seem to be positing the existence of another form of consciousness that can see my awareness – and theirs – as less true than these other explanations for, of course, they would have to be zombies to genuinely see them as true. This other consciousness, apparently, can see a world in which human consciousness is, at best, irrelevant or, at worst, does not exist. Pure mysticism or, in fact, superstition.
What does this have to do with racism and the left? I think – actually I am sure but I am trying to be humble – that this mystical scientism has infected thinking on the left much more than on the right. The structure of much left thinking is that there is a greater truth visible only to the initiated. This truth may be Marxist or it may simply be some cocktail of social justice, technological progress, historical inevitability, whatever. The exact content is not the point, the anti-democratic conviction that the people must be led to see what is good for them is.
(Conservatism betrayed its own pragmatic roots when it embraced a similar structure world view in the forms of neo-conservatism and neo-liberalism. The very prefix ‘neo.’ was an affront to the tradition.)
What I am saying is there is a fatally scientistic aspect to the idea that racism (or sexism, or any ism) can be detected in all the things one dislikes most. There is a link between the reflex charge of racism and and the pitying gaze of the scientists when one points out that they haven’t even begun to disprove free will or establish determinism. Such scientism makes it impossible to understand human affairs, other minds or, to bring this back to the topical, Nigel Farage.