Synthetic Race and Modernity (Part 3)

Clearly the overall social context we find ourselves in makes it difficult to resolve persistent issues regarding racial injustice. Therefore, in order to most effectively mete out justice to various races, our social framework must be revised. Starting with the theory of identity: the synthetic paradigm of race implies that human identity is not unified and fundamental, but is multi-faceted and culturally created.

 This is especially true in the case of miscegenation, where it is quite obvious that one’s identity is being drawn from a number of sources. Even for those who are supposedly not “mixed,” their culture still “forms them into certain kinds of persons” and heavily informs their “modes of reasoning” (Parekh 240). As such, human identity is centered around the fact that each individual is culturally mediated, and is not socially independent. Since equal rights are derived from our shared humanity; and since the synthetic concept conceives of shared humanity being mediated through diversity, equal rights would include: 

    1. some basic rights that all citizens possess; 
    2. special group rights which account for their differences and allow for their expression (Parekh 243, 245). 

By allowing this, it must be ensured that neither group gains any kind of significant advantage over the other (Parekh 245). Such rights would make it illegal to act against a group simply because they cause discomfort, yet do not inhibit either your basic or special rights. This view requires us to adopt an aesthetic lens where variation is viewed as a good thing. In other words, when difference is encountered, the goal is not to search for underlying similarities, but to see the beauty contained in those differences. Such a perspective would at least mitigate potential discomfort in the face of diversity and produce a greater amount of interracial harmony instead of mere tolerance. 

Rejecting a uniform conception of identity and society would also require policies that address social issues in a way that is not applicable to all groups. In the case of groups that are already at a disadvantage due to their history of oppression, “universal” policies turn out to be of little to no help to them. As discussed previously, the synthetic paradigm of race would imply that minorities would have to be enabled, not simply allowed, to fully participate in the processes of society in order to autonomously define themselves. For instance, policies would have to be enacted which would allow them to have a stronger influence in the government (Parekh 246). Policy would also have to be geared in a way to acknowledge the economic differences that exist in virtue of a group’s history, such as increasing the salaries of low-skilled workers, who tend to be minority members. This is special treatment in a sense, but only because of their past experiences which put them in a relatively powerless position in society. This clearly goes against the idea that racial minorities must “earn” the right to participate thusly; it does away with the idea of personal merit in the realm where a group has been oppressed. This also seems to be a reasonable method for bringing about racial justice. First of all, any policies passed would have to ensure that no group gains an advantage over another, meaning that special policies could only have a reparative or equalizing effect. Secondly, given the tempered dictums, not only would it be safe to give political privilege to certain members of a minority group, but it may even be advisable given their familiarity with the struggles of the relevant group. Not only would they know which problems to address, but their sympathies would give them some idea of how to properly address the issue. 

To some degree, the synthetic concept of race would require the elimination of instrumental reason. The synthetic concept of race means that our universal humanity is expressed through diversity, rather than through similarity. As such, race or social misfortune can no longer be used as an excuse for exploitation or as a source of competition. Generally speaking, this means that workers – minorities in particular – must become ends in themselves, which means they and their work must be seen as valuable. The value of the worker comes from their basic and undeniable humanity derived from their diversity, and the value of their work would have to come from a holistic view of business. The holistic view would mean understanding how each role supports the other, thus making each role equally valuable to the company as a whole. Subsequently, it would be unfair to refrain from providing a living wage, as a minimum, to each worker given their value to the rest of the company. This is not only just in a broad sense, but would be a step towards reversing the deleterious economic affects of past racial oppression.

In summary, the synthetic paradigm of race leads us to a conception of human identity that is culturally imbedded. As such, humanity is expressed through diversity and culture, rather than through uniformity to universal reason. Furthermore, since race does not indicate anything about one’s humanity, that social classification cannot be used to justify labor exploitation and unfair competition in business. This concept of race also requires that we equalize the socio-political situation of minorities, rather than simply giving them legal rights to practically inaccessible opportunities. This requires us to sacrifice some aspects of modernity, but the payout would be this: a smaller disparity of wealth between all racial groups, a comparable amount of legal representation and cultural input between racial groups, and an overall harmonious and friendly interracial existence.

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Matravers, Derek. Pike, Jon. Debates in Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Anthology. Routledge 2003. Parekh, Bhikhu. Contemporary Liberal Responses to Diversity. Print.

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Synthetic Race and Modernity (Part 2)

Can the synthetic paradigm of race deal effectively with racial injustice? At first glance, it seems like this concept has the potential to accomplish racial justice in America. However, the concept would require political decisions that run against some basic American intuitions: first of all, the idea that any group should be completely enabled to play an active and significant role in society goes against the ideal of individualized merit. Second, the idea of humanity being expressed through diversity goes against the idea that people are equal in virtue of their similarities rather than differences. Furthermore, since legal rights have already been extended to all American citizens regardless of racial identity, it seems unnecessary to adopt a view of race that would require us to compromise our basic values. However, it is undeniable that racial prejudice and injustice are still present in the United States. If legal equality hasn’t completely solved the problem, some new solutions must be implemented. I believe that the problems faced by racial minorities exist in virtue of our historical context. There are certain ideological features of the modern era which not only enable racial prejudice, but may encourage it to some degree. In order to establish this, first I will analyze the ideological attributes of modernity, and then demonstrate how racism fits into our historical context.

First of all, modernity is marked by a focus on the individual (Ahern 564, 565). Ontologically speaking, the individual is said to have a socially independent identity (Powell 56). This means that his identity is not derived from his place in the social order. People are generally seen as equal in terms of their human capacities (reason, emotions, morality etc.), and are believed to possess an equal right to pursue their own goals (Powell 31, 35, 44). In light of the former, it would therefore be unjust for the government to intervene in the private pursuits of its citizens (i.e. religious freedom, career opportunities, etc.). In order for citizens to be protected from government interference, they are given certain rights which the government may not violate. As a further safe-guard, the people have the right to govern themselves through voting and through holding public offices. Thus, any citizen is allowed to run for public office, regardless of their position in society.

Inevitably, a conflict between group interests and individual interests arises. The key to resolving the conflict is an appeal to universal reason, or the general will (Lopez 913). Given our views of the individual and his rights, the general will would seem to dictate laws that protect the rights of particular groups of citizens as much as possible without violating the rights of others. By doing so, the individual’s rights are not only protected, but the good of society overall is promoted since each person is left free to contribute to society and/or pursue their goals in whatever way they see fit. In order to make this resolution effective, the aim of social organizations becomes making people rational, such that their public interests are separated from their private interests. In doing so, they will be able to think in terms of what is good for society as a whole (i.e. all other individuals), rather than focusing on what benefits benefit one particular section of society at the cost of another.

Modernism is also linked to the rise of capitalism (Lopez 914). This economic system is marked by a kind of reasoning called instrumental reasoning. This kind of reasoning emphasizes thinking in terms of which means will obtain a particular end; the end justifies the means (Lopez 914). This kind of thinking could be tempered by the emphasis on universal reasoning discussed previously, thereby reducing the potential detrimental consequences of instrumental reason. Another significant feature of capitalism is the insistence on individual merit (Lopez 914). People do not earn their social positions through birth or natural right, but rather through their own efforts (Ahern 564). This works both ways: whether the person ends up successful or ends up failing, he is receiving what he put into the situation (Powell 188). This encourages a spirit of competition, which only further prompts the use of instrumental reason. Thus, there seems to be a tension between capitalism and individual rights.

If individualism is such a major component of modernism, how is it possible that blacks and other non-whites were denied the rights and privileges enjoyed by whites? This is easily explained by the fact that racial minorities were believed to lack the same faculties as the dominant group, and thus were considered inferior to whites. Since they lacked those qualities which were the foundations for equality, by no means could they be afforded the same rights and privileges as those who were already in charge. The conflict could thus be understood ontologically: whites were individuals, but non-whites were not. Since they lacked the relevant qualities necessary for citizenship and equal rights, there could be no injustice in exploiting them for economic gain.

The formal situation is presently different. Legally speaking, each citizen – whether they be members of a majority or a minority – is now viewed similarly: they possess the same basic human capacities, and therefore ought to be treated equally. However, the challenge that minorities face comes from the view that our basic humanity is based in our common capacities; our common humanity is based on the things that we all share. This view of the person minimizes the role that culture plays in shaping each individual (Parekh 239, 240). At best, liberals will acknowledge that “culture helps individuals develop their capacity for autonomy,” but once their individuality is developed, those cultural aspects of their existence are transcended and become irrelevant (Parekh 239). Said otherwise, once the individual’s autonomy is developed, the cultural aspects of their personality cease to play a large role in influencing how they interact with the world and others.

Viewing human identity thusly has had adverse consequences. If our moral and rational capacities are essentially socially independent, and any cultural attachments are irrelevant to our basic identity, then human beings only need to be treated “equally in those respects in which they are similar and not those in which they are different” (Parekh 242). The most obvious instance of this was the Jim Crow laws: although whites and non-whites had access to the same kinds of services, they could not access the same facilities. Since neither party was being denied any kind of service, they were still being treated equally. However, they were seen as so different that they could not be allowed to utilize the same instances of the relevant services. For example, one defense of the Jim Crow laws contained the assertion that by segregating whites from blacks, the latter would be protected from the bigoted opinions of the former (Wikipedia). In other words, the law implicitly acknowledged that the lack of uniformity was a problem, and the rationale behind the law explicitly acknowledged that diversity was an obstacle to the well-being of society.

Since racial differences are traditionally thought to be biological, and are expressed culturally, diversity of lifestyle turns out to be another obstacle to equal treatment of other racial groups. Believing that human equality reduces to similarity produces an expectation for cultural uniformity. A lack of uniformity comes to be interpreted as a serious essential difference, which either means that the other group shouldn’t be treated equally, or they need to be assimilated (Parekh 243). If the difference turns out to be persistent, it could be interpreted as potentially dangerous to society, or it could indicate that the group in question is somehow dangerous (i.e. the association of rap with gang culture) (Parekh 241).

The problem of diversity can be addressed politically through rational conformity to the general will. When each citizen transcends their personal interests and adopts “a general point of view” in order to make decisions tailored towards “the common good,” the problem of diversity is solved by laws which honor the rights of each citizen (Young 221). This method of political discourse has two consequences: first, it could lead to the explicit exclusion of groups who are supposedly unable to meet this standard. In tandem with this point, it could also lead to the suppression of diversity where certain practices are potential threats to the liberty of others. Secondly, it could lead to the implicit exclusion of groups who are not able to meet this standard because their social conditions and history deprives them of the necessary attributes for political participation.

Understood thusly, there are privileged groups that exist within a modern, liberal society. For the most part, these are white males: given their history, they are in a position to access the educational tools to make themselves rational. As such, they are socially conditioned to possess the traits that are relevant and necessary to entering public debate. They do not believe that they are advancing a particular agenda, but rather acting on the best interests of society. However, such a perspective ignores the diversity that is common to a modern democratic society. By trying to transcend particularity, political debate ignores the history of racial oppression in America. Thus, even though racial groups who once experienced oppression have the same rights as their former oppressors, active political attempts to rectify the social ramifications of their past experiences are un-guaranteed. In fact, to pass legislation “favoring” those groups would be non-liberal since they would be favoring one group over another in virtue of their differences. The correct course of action would be to pass legislation which addresses the similarities that people have, otherwise you are acting beyond what their rights merit.

The final problem that modernity poses to racial justice regards laissez faire/capitalist economics. The political obstacles just mentioned exacerbate the after effects of social oppression experienced by minorities throughout history. As such, they tend to belong to the lower rungs of society. Compounded with the individualistic ideal – that each person is ultimately responsible for their own lives – the facts about minority poverty make it more difficult for them to obtain justice. Since their histories are ignored in order to arrive at decisions which are aimed at preserving fundamental rights, and since it is already believed that they are responsible for their fate to some degree, there is no injustice to be perceived. They are not only met with indifference (“we don’t have to enact policy”), but with derision. Since it is believed that each individual is responsible for his/her destiny, and since minorities are impoverished, they are believed to be responsible for their economic status. As such, they are met with derision when they ask for policies geared towards fixing their situation.

The emphasis on using instrumental reason in business makes it permissible to use race as a competitive mark. Not only that, but it turns out to be profitable for business owners to give the lowest wage jobs to those who are not in any position to bargain for higher pay due to their lack of skill. Hence, the use of instrumental reason perpetuates situations of racial injustice. The permissibility of low-skilled exploitation could be further explained by an individualistic perspective: they have placed themselves in their position, thus I am not responsible for enabling them to work themselves out of poverty. So, not only is the use of instrumental reason a source of economic injustice, but so is the individualistic ideal.

In my next and final post for this series, I will discuss what changes the synthetic concept of race requires us to make in order to effectively resolve persistent problems of racial injustice.

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Matravers, Derek. Pike, Jon. Debates in Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Anthology. Routledge 2003. Parekh, Bhikhu. Contemporary Liberal Responses to Diversity. Print.

Matravers, Derek. Pike, Jon. Debates in Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Anthology. Routledge 2003. Young, Iris Marion. Polity and Group Difference. Print.

“Modernity.” Encyclopedia of Case Study Research, 2nd ed. 2010. EBook.

“Modernity.” International Encyclopedia of Organizational Studies, 2008. EBook.

Powell, Thomas. The Persistence of Racism in America. Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, Inc. 1992. Print.

Synthetic Race and Modernity (Part 1)

It has been a long time since I have written something on here, and I have been scratching my head as to what I could possibly write after having taken such a long break due to school. Well, school provided me with the answer. I’ve decided to post two of my favorite papers from the end of this semester. I will publish them in parts, since they are fairly long. Without further adieu, here is the first part of my Advanced Social and Political Philosophy paper, which analyzes race, its role in modernity, and how a synthetic concept of race can be used to alleviate lingering racial injustice.

Legally speaking, all people are considered equal, and thus any member of any racial group may attain citizenship and possess the same rights as their white counter-parts. Even though our perspective on race has changed to some degree, racial injustice persists, and thus our perspective must be altered further. In this paper, I will explain the synthetic paradigm of race; this concept conceives of race as artificial, culturally mixed, and basically aesthetic. However, the social and philosophical implications of this concept turn out to be antithetical to modern thinking, which emphasizes a socially independent identity, individualized merit, and economic competition. Although we may be reluctant to relinquish these ideals, I will demonstrate that retaining them has a cost: the perpetuation of racial injustice. Although adopting the synthetic concept of race requires us to ground human identity in diversity and necessitates corrective egalitarianism in politics and business, it yields a greater amount of racial justice socially, politically, and economically.

The synthetic paradigm provides tools to critically analyze the concept of race as it has evolved throughout history. Under this critical framework, race is recognized as a concept that was invented during the period of the Spanish colonization of the Americas (Vacano 157, 158). As such, the analytical aspect of this paradigm recognizes that race is first and foremost a socio-political concept used to do two things: first, organize the world according to somatic classifications; second, the use of somatic classifications to organize social arrangements (Vacano 145). The first way this is done is through polity membership: one’s race determines one’s civic and economic standing (Vacano 143, 153). Furthermore, race is a concept that shapes social interactions between citizens. This is accomplished through moral evaluations about somatic traits which are determined via an aesthetic lens (Vacano 145, 151).

Additionally, power relations and political goals play a powerful role in shaping how racial interactions ought to proceed (Vacano 146). For instance, Vallenilla Lanz believed that a central government and a strong sense of national identity could resolve racial conflicts and transcend particular racial identities (Vacano 84, 88, 89, 101). This later changed with Jose Vasconcelos, who saw regional multiculturalism as the true means for achieving racial harmony (Vacano 126-129). Lastly, race is a flexible concept which can change over time. For example, there was a period of time in America when the Irish were not considered white. Only after setting themselves apart from other non-white racial groups through certain behaviors, and through the political actions of the powers that be to make it easier for the Irish to become naturalized, were they considered white. Thus, we see that race’s social role and inclusiveness is flexible and changes given certain socio-political circumstances.

This critical view of race also opens up the possibility of creating a substantial racial lens that is different from the traditional understanding of race. Under a traditional understanding of race, where biology and moral value are metaphysically linked together, miscegenation is seen as a negative process. In racial intermixing, the substance of the “bad”/”inferior” race dilutes the substance of the “good”/”superior” race. The critical-synthetic paradigm of race bars us from seeing biology and moral value as being metaphysically linked, and instead commits us to understanding race as a cultural identity (Vacano 154). As such, miscegenation is not only a neutral event, but potentially positive (Vacano 149). In addition to the mixing of phenotypes, cultural mixture occurs in the process of raising a child with a mixed origin. As such, miscegenation becomes a creative process which gives rise to new modes of living.

Even so, it is still possible to see miscegenation as negative, since there would be no way to classify people. As such, a positive aesthetic worldview would have to be adopted, where diversity is seen positively. Such a worldview implies a theory of human identity which emphasizes diversity and change as being fundamental to human nature. If diversity and change are actually what make us human, then there is no such thing as an inferior race. Subsequently, moral worth cannot be metaphysically connected to one’s biology, at least not as in the traditional understanding of race. Equal, positive moral worth instead rises from the diversity of one’s existence. Not only is it therefore wrong to exploit another human being in virtue of their differences, but it is right to encourage and allow for differences between people and groups.

The synthetic concept of race may also allow for the autonomy of racial groups. This means that racial groups ought to have the freedom to define themselves, rather than allowing some “superior” race to impose definitions on them, which has usually been the historical case (Mills 13, 14, 16, 20). Indeed, since racial stereotyping has caused terrible suffering throughout recent history, racial groups must be afforded the autonomy to define themselves. Since race plays out in socio-political realms, racial self-definition would require that the various racial groups in a society be enabled to invest in any social region that interests them. In doing so, they take charge of their own racial identity and discourage oppressive stereotypes.

In my next post, I will briefly analyze modernity, and how racism fits into it. Especially for this series of posts, I strongly encourage feedback and critiques, whether positive or negative.

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Mills, Charles W. The Racial Contract. New York: Cornell University, 1997. PDF.

Von Vacano, Diego A. The Color of Citizenship: Race, Modernity, and Latin American/Hispanic Political Thought. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Print.