Owen: Today I’d like to talk about prejudice. Can we all agree that the dismantling of prejudices that we’ve seen in recent decades and years is a good thing?
Gregor: Not at all. I think it’s been catastrophic.
Owen: Catastrophic? How so?
Gregor: You could argue that a people really is just the sum total of its prejudices. So this “dismantling” of them, as you call it, is just a dismantling of a people’s identity.
Owen: Oh come on. The Germans are still the Germans. They still have love their beer and sausages even if they’ve learned to be more tolerant. Their prejudice wasn’t any essential element of their identity. It was an just irrelevant surface accretion, of no intrinsic value, like barnacles on a boat.
Isabel: Well I don’t think many of the “New Germans” love beer and sausages. The intrinsic value of the old prejudice was that it would have kept the non-beer-and-sausage-loving “New Germans” out.
Owen: So you’re now arguing that prejudice has practical value, utility, rather than merely what we might call aesthetic value as a component of a people’s identity?
Isabel: Yes. And the dismantling of prejudice, as you describe it, really just means the totalitarian repression of its overt expression. It means sending people to prison for saying the wrong things, hounding them from their jobs and so on. It involves a loss of freedom, subjecting people to harm and fear. It is not cost-free. It injures human well-being.
Owen: I acknowledge that. But the benefits outweigh the costs, in my view.
Isabel: The benefits of prejudice outweigh its costs in my view.
Owen: By why would we need prejudice? How can you seriously say that prejudice produces benefits?
Gregor: The world is too complex to work out everything from first principles every time. We need instincts to guide us to the right answer.
Owen: So we should act just like a horde of wild animals, abandon reason, let ourselves be driven by instinct alone?
Isabel: These are refined instincts.
Owen: What do you mean by that?
Isabel: Refined by millennia of experience, culture, the history of our ancestral community. They have passed the test of time.
Owen: But if that’s your criteria, the mere venerability of age, you could say that a bunch of cannibals on a Pacific island somewhere should go on eating people, because their “refined instincts”, which have “passed the test of time”, inherited from their “ancestral community”, tell them to do so.
Gregor: But their society is not successful compared to other societies, such as our own. You’re obsessed with universalism. I’m not trying to erect “do what your ancestors did” as a universally valid principle of conduct. I’m saying it makes sense us, for Europeans, because our societies have demonstrably been successful in offering freedom, prosperity and the potential for self-fulfilment to the people who live within them.
Owen: So those of us who have the good fortune to be born in these “successful societies” and, presumably, belong to these societies by descent, should simply follow our “refined instincts” and forget about using reason as a guiding principle for our action?
Isabel: There’s something to be said for that. Reason is an imperfect guide. Instinct, prejudice, often takes us to the right answer where reason fails.
Owen: Why is reason an “imperfect guide”?
Isabel: Our reason can only operate on the basis of our knowledge. And our knowledge is limited. Here’s an analogy. Let’s say we tried to terraform Mars or some other planet. All of our best scientists got together, spent years, decades even, studying the issue, and brought all of our accumulated knowledge to bear on it. They would attempt to construct a vastly complex ecosystem, so they’d map out a food chain that was intended to be sustainable. Animal A eats this plant, Animal B eats Animal A, this bird eats this insect and so forth. After making this extraordinary effort, we’d actually try and install the ecosystem, introduce the different species, make it work. Of course it would almost certainly fail, and probably very quickly. Why? Because a system like that is too complex for us to understand. However great our knowledge is, it isn’t great enough. There are things we don’t know and we don’t know that we don’t know them. However detailed the plan was, there would be some subtle thing that escaped the scientists’ understanding: some tiny microbe that performed some vital function in the food chain, perhaps, whose absence then caused the whole thing to unravel.
Owen: That’s a bit abstract. Can you give me some examples of instinct taking us to the right answer where reason failed?
Gregor: Looking at the 20th century, we can see the intellectuals got it wrong, time after time. They were entranced by Communism, multiculturalism, state interventionism in the economy, the European Union. Each time the clever people made catastrophic misjudgements, the instincts of ordinary, unintellectual people acted as a restraining influence upon them.
Isabel: I think the ideology of Equality, or the religion of Equality as I put it, offers us a very clear example of it. These ideas were minted in the mid-18th century. So scientific knowledge is still in a fairly primitive state. This was about a century before Darwin expounded his theory of evolution. Some of the intellectuals who spawned these ideas didn’t even believe in basic biological inheritance.
Owen: What do you mean by that?
Isabel: They didn’t believe that parents passed their characteristics on to their children! They thought that everything arose from lifetime experiences, that all difference was socially conditioned. So you have this bunch of intellectuals who alight on the idea that “People are all the same”. I mean really they’re just concerned about the social and economic unfairness within a specific society. Some people have to pay taxes. Some people are exempt. But rather than just focus on these specific grievances, they feel impelled to express their discontent in grandiose, universalistic terms. So “People are all the same” becomes this religious dogma that governs the society they help bring into being. And this dogma forms the basis of the multicultural experiment in Europe. “Even if the brown people coming in will have a few rough edges, after the first generation, they’ll be just like us, except for the colour of their skin”, said the multicultists. Because “People are all the same”, right? But we now know that isn’t true.
Owen: How do we know that?
Gregor: We could read the newspapers (laughs). But I know you love to disregard practical realities.
Isabel: Take the emotion of empathy as one example. Since the time this experiment began in the late 40s and 50s, we have acquired important scientific knowledge about the emotion of empathy. We now know that empathy is unconsciously regulated by genetic affinity. We instinctively empathise more greatly with people of our own race. This has been shown in scientific experiments. They hook people up to equipment that can monitor their brain function. We know which part of the brain regulates the emotion of empathy. Then they make people watch pictures of other people suffering. And they found that the “empathy circuits” in the brain fire more when the people suffering are of the same race as the person watching. This is an unconscious instinct, not a choice.
Gregor: What you call prejudices have been honed by millions of years of evolution. For them to have persisted for so long and become as widespread as they have, they must have had survival value.
Isabel: Exactly. They must in some way have facilitated the reproductive success of the tribes that practised them.
Owen: OK. How does, say, prejudice against homosexuals, which is virtually universal, have any kind of utility? It’s just senseless cruelty and barbarity.
Isabel: I beg to differ. Consider it in evolutionary terms. One tribe competing against other tribes. Numbers matter. How many spearmen can you bring to bear?
Gregor: How much cannon fodder have you got for the wars?
Isabel: Right. Homosexuals, if allowed to openly indulge their proclivities without shame, aren’t going to be making any contribution to maintaining the tribe’s population, are they? But if homosexuality is deprecated or harshly punished, the homosexuals are more likely to repress their instincts, form heterosexual partnerships to keep up appearances and, in the end, produce offspring, albeit half-heartedly.
Owen: So you’re actually justifying prejudice against homosexuals?
Isabel: It depends what you mean by that. I don’t know if I’m justifying it. I’m saying it has evolutionary utility. A tribe that practises this “prejudice” will likely prosper more greatly than a tribe that doesn’t practise it, other things being equal.
Gregor: When we talk about prejudice, what do we really mean? You, the Equality ideologues, call it hatred. But that’s deceitful. Prejudice is really just “expectations formation”. We are constantly forming expectations about the people and things we come across in life. It would be impossible to navigate the challenges of life without doing that. Anyone who had switched off this process of expectations formation would have been wiped out by evolution long ago. Even the much less brutal challenges of the modern world would probably prove fatal quite quickly.
Isabel: If I see an unknown negro, I immediately form expectations about him based on his generic characteristics. Of course, this is done for the most part unconsciously. Describing it in this way makes it sound like a deliberative process. Based on information I’ve previously acquired about negroes, I would probably form the following expectations about him. He is much more likely than average to be a violent criminal, to be of below average intelligence, to be unemployed, to be physically fit, to be nurturing some grievance against Europeans, to support left-wing political parties, restrictions on free speech and immigration policies that will alter the demographics of my society to the disadvantage of Europeans.
There is no hatred involved in this picture of probabilities that I form in my mind. Nor is there any conclusiveness to it. At every point, I acknowledge that this individual negro may depart from this group-based statistical norm. Any individual can sit anywhere on the vast spectrum of human variation. The question is whether the prejudice is based on accurate information. Does this informal set of probabilities that I have automatically assigned to the negro conform to the known facts, or is it grounded in fantasy?
Owen: But don’t you acknowledge that these expectations have in the past often shown to be wildly wrong?
Isabel: How so?
Owen: Well, take prejudice against negroes in the past. You may claim that you acknowledge the possibility that negroes can be extremely intelligent. But in the historical record we can see plenty of examples of people who considered negroes to be a lower form of life, incapable of equalling the higher, intellectual achievements of European man.
Isabel: This is true. I freely acknowledge that this process of expectations formation occasionally misfires. And the expectations come to be refined or even, in some cases, confounded by experience. It doesn’t follow from that, however, that the process of expectations formation has no useful value or should be shut down completely, even if that were possible, which it isn’t.
Owen: Surely we should strive to judge people by their own individual merits rather than engage in “expectations formation” based on their generic characteristics.
Gregor: Of course we should. And we do. When I have enough knowledge about someone as an individual, I judge them as an individual. But there are many contexts in which we don’t have that degree of knowledge.
Owen: Such as?
Gregor: Most contexts really. Whenever we come across unknown people in real life, or some new politician appears on the scene, we virtually never have complete or even comprehensive knowledge about the other person. Prejudice is just a tool for managing uncertainty.
Isabel: It’s really just a set of predictive algorithms, and we would be lost without it.
Owen: I honestly can’t believe this. In my view, the triumph over prejudice that we have seen in Europe over the last few decades is one of humanity’s greatest achievements. I find it incredible that obviously intelligent people such as you can see it as a bad thing.
Gregor: Owen, the jihad attacks we’re now seeing routinely, the “new normal” as they put it; the tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of British children who have been enslaved, raped and tortured by the new brown-skinned “Britons”; these are the practical results of your “triumph over prejudice”. Prejudice was the guard at the frontier. Prejudice was the sentinel on the wall. You took it away. With catastrophic consequences. This is what happens when your fine, philosophical abstractions collide with reality. And yet you cling to them even after the collision has taken place.
Isabel: We’ve just had a few minor scrapes so far. The real collision is yet to come.