The recent incident at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin raises once again the question of race. To me, few things are more tedious than this subject, but it remains one for heated argument, given America’s history.
For purposes of this discussion, let’s clarify two terms: race and culture.
Race: A sub-group within a species that shares a particular characteristic or set of characteristics not held by others in the same species.
Culture: The art, language, religion, philosophy, behavior, technology, and other achievements of a group of people.
We’ve been told by well-meaning agents of government, schools, and churches that racism–the belief that one racial group is superior to another–is wrong. I’m going to go further than that. Racism is stupid. Human beings are nearly identical, in terms of genetics, no matter who their ancestors were. We all ultimately come from the same stock, a group living in the Great Rift Valley in central Africa. The human genome project used the DNA of four or five humans to sequence what we all have. It is true to say that skin color, eye color, certain bone structures, and so forth are genetically determined. So is susceptibility to some diseases.
That being said, a basic scientific principle needs to be remembered here: There is more variation with a group than between groups. Who is taller, a man or a woman? Obviously, the question is nonsense. Any one reading this has known tall women and short men. One can say that on average, men tend to be taller, but there’s a huge area of overlap in heights. The same kind of thing applies to all manner of physical characteristics.
Consider especially one absurdity of the neo-Nazi killer in Wisconsin. Now the motives of that man will likely always be obscure to rational people, but we’re left to presume that he did what he did because the people attending the Sikh temple were not “white.” As Weer’d Beard points out, many Indians are the descendants of the original and genuine Aryans. I suppose that it comes down to this: Knucklehead didn’t like how they looked. Or perhaps it was their turbans.
Whatever the reason, it was crazy. Speaking rationally and scientifically, all races are equal. That statement is true, but it’s also trivial. I say that because arguing over a person’s genetic heritage is a waste of time. My ancestors come from various parts of northwestern Europe, and I like to joke that this is what gave me my intolerance for hot weather, but realistically, it’s meaningless. Yes, I get sunburns easier than people from the equatorial regions, but no matter how much I want to dodge responsibility, my urges to listen to Wagner and go on rampages is all mine and not the fault of my Norse ancestors.
So what does matter? Are there any valid measures for ranking groups of people?
To answer that, consider culture. What must a group of people do to be considered successful?
1. The basic requirement is that a group can secure its own needs–food, housing, health, and so forth.
2. Then the group has to pass on its way of doing things to the next generation.
Lots of groups achieve this much. Those that fail the first two don’t last long enough to be remembered.
3. Having succeeded in mere survival, the group must add some distinct and new thing to the totality of human achievement.
Yes, that one is vague. We can argue all day about whether a particular thing–statue, language, farm implement, etc.–is worthy, but I hope that my readers can see the general idea here.
Finally, there’s this last item:
4. The achievements of the group have lasting influence, not only within the group, but on other groups as well.
We can measure the relative worth of a culture according to this yardstick. This is not a call for one culture to dominate another. Groups of people have the right to choose whatever mode of living that they wish without having to seek the approval of others. What it is intended to do is to provide a measure that will encourage each group to do better.
Culture is affected by many things–geography and climate, history, and so forth–but the choices made by the persons in that culture also matter. But being human is fundamentally about rising above where we started. We are not forced to be merely the expression of our genes, and going on about one’s genetic heritage only holds all of us back. I don’t care who your parents were. I care what you do.