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Monday, February 18, 2008
I'm sure I am not the only one who notices that almost every survey, registration form, or government application now asks for one's ethnicity. A few weeks ago, Theodore Dalrymple discussed this issue and the related topic of taking quick offense to racist jokes or insults in society.
It is strange, is it not, how the more strenuously we deny the importance of race in human affairs, the more obsessed with it and the touchier on the subject we grow. Casual insults are turned into major incidents; people are, or claim to be, traumatised by less and less. It is difficult to resist the conclusion that they almost enjoy victimisation.

Far be it from me to sit in judgement on the question of whether or not the Indian cricketer really did recently call the only non-white member of the Australian team a monkey: an incident, or alleged incident, that almost brought a great sporting contest to a premature end.
The question of whether the Australians are themselves completely without racial prejudice, that is to say have been completely cleansed in mind and spirit by a few years of political correctness, is strictly irrelevant.

What struck me most forcibly about the affair was the way grown men, sportsmen at that, ran immediately to the authorities, as a child runs to his mother when his brother has pinched him or appropriated his toy. Good god, I thought, I've been called a lot worse things in my career, and (what is most galling) sometimes with justification. But a fragile ego maketh a glad authority.

Not long ago I received a letter from the General Medical Council asking me to tell them my ethnicity. The letter said that the GMC had this information on 30 per cent of doctors, but not on me. It was trying to increase the percentage.

My first inclination on receiving this outrageous and disgraceful enquiry (which would not be the less outrageous and disgraceful because of the good intentions of those who sent it) was to write a letter of protest. However, by now I could fill a pretty large volume with letters of complaint that I had never written, and of course my fury lapsed.

If I had written that letter, however, I would have pointed out that one of the reasons so high a proportion of Dutch Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust was because the Dutch kept such good records of people's religions. And one of the reasons the genocide in Rwanda was carried out so efficiently was that every citizen was forced to carry an identity card stating his ethnic group.

Of course, I do not wish to imply that the GMC has anything like this in mind.
But since prudence and an awareness of the worst that can happen seems to be the beginning of political wisdom, it seems to me that, at the very least, the collection of ethnic data should serve an extremely important end that might possibly offset the perils. What could these extremely important ends be?

The supposed purpose of ethnic monitoring is to bring about perfect racial equity in the division of society's spoils (if I may put it like that). This is to assume, of course, that the only possible explanation of differences in outcome between racial or any other groups is the operation of prejudice against some and in favour of others: in other words, that all tastes, ambitions, abilities and so forth are equally distributed among different groups. This is wildly improbable, indeed so wildly improbably that I doubt whether any of the organisations that have asked me for my ethnicity believe it themselves. The worthwhile end of ethnic monitoring must therefore be sought elsewhere.
I think one is forced to conclude that the most important end that weighs against the dangers of ethnic monitoring is the employment of people who do the ethnic monitoring. That is to say, ethnic monitoring is Keynesian demand management.

It is here that one sees the advantage to the government of inflamed sensitivities such as that displayed by the Australian cricketer. It needs the intervention of officialdom to calm them. The more such inflamed sensitivity there is in society, the greater the locus standi of those who seek, at least ostensibly, to assuage it.

The more complaints there are from the people whom administrators administer, the more there is for them to do and the greater their power over those people. That is why, in many public services, the definition of a racial incident is an incident that one party perceives (however unreasonably) to be racial, and bullying occurs whenever anyone feels bullied. It can be a full-time job sorting out these complaints.

I hasten to add, lest I be taken as being in favour of racial and other forms of abuse, that I prefer politeness to rudeness and good sportsmanship to bad. Politeness is a virtue that I myself practice with intermittent success; but the attempt to produce a virtuous population by administrative means appears to me to be destined to fail. And if we go running to the authorities every time someone calls us a name, it will in the end be our own freedom that we undermine. It is our social duty, within reason, to grin and bear insult.


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Darius' book montage

The Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel The Main Thing
Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God
Overcoming Sin and Temptation
According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible
Disciplines of a Godly Man
Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem
When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. . .and Ourselves
The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith
Respectable Sins
The Kite Runner
Life Laid Bare: The Survivors in Rwanda Speak
Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak
A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/calvinist, ... anabaptist/anglican, metho
Show Them No Mercy
The Lord of the Rings
Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass
The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception
Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming
The Chronicles of Narnia
Les Misérables

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