Monday, December 12, 2005

Racism in Australia

In the past, I've claimed that racism has little to do with the facts, but rather is about dehumanising people.

We have recently have had some riots here in Australia, reports of which are frightening to read.

There simply is no philosophical argument for racism. In fact, it can perhaps be attacked as a Sorites, or line-drawing, paradox. In short, the grounds for discrimination are arbitrary, and thus unsupportable.

The question is why we have significant numbers of people who are so easily whipped up into violence? It would be easy to suggest that pure youthful rebellion could be the cause, but I think that the media, governments and other sources of authority have themselves to blame also.

For any Idealist, it is difficult to see terrorism and incomprehensible foreigners in complex terms. When the world is seen through black and white, polarity is the only possibility. The representation of the world in these terms by the media, the government and other figures of authority has been quite sad in my opinion. As I see it, more intelligent reporting and representing could easily have avoided this sad outcome.

When people are angry, that anger demands an outlet. Unless that anger is properly connected to the real cause of people's unhappiness, it can only ever find an inappropriate expression.

The human mind can never wholly eliminate either good or evil, but either can be exaggerated. The rioters no doubt included people with whom I would get along in other circumstances. Casting them in the light of rednecked morons, while containing an element of the truth, is not the whole truth either. That is only to compound a problem of polarisation with further polarisation.

I condemn their actions, but I also find the entire situation sad, and all too avoidable. I hope we see a strong response to this by the government and media sources.



Anonymous Paul said...

You raised some very important questions:

“The question is why we have significant numbers of people who are so easily whipped up into violence?”

The answer, I believe, is that people are mostly mistaken about what is good, bad and indifferent. The only good in my view is moral good, the only evil is moral evil, and everything else is is indifferent. You may recognise this as the Stoic view. If people, and most people do, value external things as good, or bad, they will seek to acquire or avoid them and when they fail they will be frustrated and upset. Our society places a very high value indeed on external things; this is the purpose of the multi billion dollar advertising industry. People are easily persuaded they are “entitled” to various things, from a job, to a new car, to a beach free from people they don’t like. They are also easily persuaded they have a right to be free of things that are supposedly bad, like people that don't agree with them, insults etc. So when they encounter these things they may become angry.

”When people are angry, that anger demands an outlet. Unless that anger is properly connected to the real cause of people's unhappiness, it can only ever find an inappropriate expression.” The real cause of people’s unhappiness is their judgements about things. If people took the view that their task is to live a good life, they would not be violent or angry. But most people think their purpose is to obtain what they mistakenly believe is good, ie anything but living a good life. Unfortunately few people have the inclination or take the time to think about these matters.

12/14/2005 01:43:00 PM  
Blogger MelbournePhilosopher said...

Great response Paul, thanks. I don't have too much to add, as I am mostly in agreement.

My (fairly informal) study of chaos theory tells me that almost every system has states in it -- analogies of the matter, liquid, gas states of matter.

The transition from one to the other can happen quickly, and is always based on an inter-relationship rather than a single powerful cause.

As such, I have always believed that helping society is in fact the best way to help myself, even in a greedy sense. Doing so contributes to the state of affairs.

If more people adopted this attitude, the state of affairs would be better for each person than they could achieve alone, at least on average.


12/14/2005 03:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Becky said...

One thing I've noticed about the Melbourne media coverage of the Sydney riots is that there's a lot of focus on "could the same thing happen here?", with most commentators coming down on the "no" side.

That might be quite true, but it still seems to be to be a slightly funny way to approach it. It's an Australian problem, and a global problem, not just a Sydney one. It might make us feel better about ourselves if we think of the rioters as totally different from we civilised people, but it's not going to really help the situation.

12/16/2005 01:36:00 PM  
Blogger MelbournePhilosopher said...

Well, I suppose yes it's odd that it's the main thrust of so much of the debate.

On the other hand, I don't have a whiff of that kind of sentiment among my usual friends. I'm not familiar with everyone in Melbourne of course, but there do seem to be some real differences.

Also, there's always been a bit of Sydney / Melbourne rivalry that obviously hasn't disappeared here!

It would be interesting to see a piece written on how much of the problem is due to federal policy vs due to state policy.

Certainly I agree that it's a problem that needs national attention. I wouldn't call the rioters "inhuman", but I don't really identify with them much either.


12/16/2005 04:46:00 PM  

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