The last post was about descriptions of alienation in Philosophy and the Mixed Race Experience. Several of the contributors also write about the ethics of advocating for mixed-race identity. The most thought-provoking essay about that is the one at the end, which I wanted to discuss in its own post: Jason D. Hill’s Who is Afraid of Racial and Ethnic Self-Cleansing? In Defense of the Virtuous Cosmopolitan. Earlier posts about choosing not to racially identify are here and here.
My first reaction was that the article was wrong in a really interesting way. I could see its point, but it seemed like there was something psychologically wrong with the author. It took me a while to realize that the safe space of my book had been colonized by the oppressor, and the mechanism was a tragic mulatto. Hill was making two insidious assumptions. First, that there’s some sort of universal, objective reasoning faculty shared by all humans. Second, that humans have an unrealistically high level of free will. In other words, he’s using the neoliberal subject as the starting point of his analysis. I turned to the author bio in the back:
In addition, he has written for various magazines and newspapers in which he has brought the tenets of cosmopolitanism to a wide audience. He has been interviewed regularly in various media outlets from NBC’s Today Show, to Wisconsin, Chicago, Toronto, Atlanta, San Francisco, and New York public radio. He is deeply committed to moral foundationalism, moral universalism, and the absolutism of reason…Other books in progress are: Towards a Neo-Liberal Cosmopolitan Business Ethics and Fatalism and Alienation in the Victorian Novel.
Someone who writes non-ironically about “neoliberal business ethics” and appears on the Today Show is not a revolutionary. “Cosmopolitanism” sounds suspiciously like “globalization”. Foundationalism. Universalism. Absolutism of reason. What he means is objectivism. It had to be carefully obfuscated, because the book’s editor (Tina Botts) put this on the second page of her introduction:
Moreover, the charge is that philosophy is (notoriously) in denial about its white bias, laying claim to being uniquely based in “reason” and “objectivity” while at the same time understanding only the work of persons of European descent who write about the concerns of persons of European descent as sufficiently philosophical to be taken seriously as “reasonable” or “objective”…
However, many of us whose racio-cultural identity and work-product fall outside of these European-based parameters, and who also lay claim to using “reason”, and to seeking “objectivity”, often find that we come to entirely different conclusions than our white colleagues on the same philosophical questions. For this reason, the sentiment exists among many of us charged with “bias” that it may be time for philosophy to take a look at its own (Eurocentric) biases. Philosophy will only be better for it. The suggestion offered up for philosophy to consider is that if there is a vantage point coming out of the black experience, and a vantage point coming out of the experience of living one’s life as a “woman”, and a vantage point coming out of the mixed race experience, then perhaps there is a vantage point coming out of the white/European experience as well. Perhaps all vantage points are “biased”, including the mainstream philosophical vantage point in the West. Perhaps all vantage points are the product of experiences, including the classically philosophical (Eurocentric) one.
The question of where Jason D. Hill gets his views is an interesting one. This is what he discloses in the book:
I was, therefore, never raised, in the twenty years I lived in Jamaica, with a racial identity and had no idea I was “black” until I came to America in 1985. I was literally regarded as “brownas”, which meant someone whose skin color was literally light brown with no racial insignia affixed to it. Still, to have had the privilege of not having a racial identity because I was not racialized by a society that had formal criteria for determining race made it possible for me to reject all notions of race and the attendant communities associated with them in favor of a more inclusive and egalitarian identity marker; a domain from which no one could ever be excluded from the pantheon of the ethical and, a fortiori, the human community.
He writes about himself in third person, using over-the-top and grandiose language:
Virtuous cosmopolitans have no historical or biological identity. Rather, they are orphans forged in the crucible of their own moral imagination and an apocalyptic vision of life’s most exalted possibilities that will give rise to a tumultuous and binding moral revolution.
Virtuous cosmopolitans have given birth to themselves and have chosen to be born. The accidents of birth–bloodline, parents and family–are journalistic minutiae, incidentals of history and largely irrelevant in the face of what lies ahead: the future and the attendant emergent new moral beings that are possible.
Virtuous cosmopolitans have renounced heirship, legacy and heritage. They never chose them and since they were bequeathed to them without their permission, virtuous cosmopolitans cannot lay claim to a love of them for they cannot love anything that they never consciously chose. That which was foisted upon them–race, ethnicity, national identity, and religion–have to be appraised and evaluated against the backdrop of their emergent value schema. Contextually, they mean nothing to them.
You can see him trying to cleanse the blackness right off, but he has a point. What if your parents have two different religions? You have to renounce one or both, for all the religions claiming to be the One True Way. I’m vegan, and my parents aren’t. I want other people to be vegan. I believe one of the things that defines our humanity is our expanded prefrontal cortex, which gives us the ability to suppress instincts and do “unnatural” things. Buddhism has universal Buddha-nature instead of universal reason, too. Nothing can change if tradition is a moral justification.
He places his arguments in a long tradition of cosmopolitans being the board members of transnational corporations:
Going back to the Cynics and then the ancient Stoics, the cosmopolitan is one who gives up partisanships and any form of parochial commitment to the city-states and the nation, along with ethnicity and racial and national affiliation.
Voltaire and Ben Franklin were abolitionists, which is supposed to be reassuring. It’s less reassuring that his answer is neologisms, Rachel Dolezal, and “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me”:
Strong or radical cosmopolitanism in this paper which calls for–on ethical grounds–the repudiation of all personal associations with racial and strong ethnic identities will mean, among other things, adopting neologisms that complicate the received wisdom behind the allegedly real markers of race. Adopting these neologisms is more revolutionary than simply applying the term “mixed race” to oneself. The virtuous “mixed race cosmopolitan” who playfully classifies as white or Indian, or European or black when the person may be regarded as purely black, white, or European by the mainstream society does more to complicate and subvert the still reified notions of race than do mixed race or particular raced persons.
Standing above concerns of holding identities with higher or low prestige value, the post-human radical cosmopolitan (and her concomitant moral psychology) is a social disruptor who, over time, I argue, can achieve a society in which race as a personal (as opposed to a political tool of advocacy) disappears from the moral and social consciousness of persons regardless of their externally defined racial designation. How other people regard them simply ceases to have any effect or significance in how they create a personal identity.
The advocacy of self-erasure is explicit:
Some may say to them that theirs is a highly evacuated self that is devoid of its historicity. But they invert the dictum: You can’t know where you are heading unless you know your history with their own mantra: You can’t arrive at the place you’re creating unless you forget your history…
As hard as they have tried, virtuous cosmopolitans have never been able (nor were they ever truly interested) to subject history–their own or others–to critical scrutiny and to hermeneutical re-interpretation. They knew that behind that enterprise lies a distortion of reality on the order of: one is the product of one’s environment. They rejected that bromide–uttered like a metaphysical absolute or law of nature with cool disregard and simply adduced themselves as evidence of its utter falsity. They showed that some burning vision and relentless drive had inspired them to make themselves superior to circumstance.
Psychology, sociology, and neuroscience have nothing to teach us about ourselves, because he personally transcended them with sheer awesomeness. He didn’t, though. He’s totally a product of his environment, and he writes about it more honestly elsewhere: Jamaican, gay and Ayn Rand made it OK: My amazing “Atlas Shrugged” love story.
He had the militant atheism of youth:
I had never felt entirely comfortable growing up in Jamaica. The religious mysticism that permeated the culture was at odds with my growing atheism and I was suspicious of the justification given in the Catholic school in which I was educated for accepting on faith the edicts, precepts, tenets and dogmas promulgated by the church. I was expelled from class for a day in my elite private high school for actually suggesting, in a religious education class, that it was not scientifically possible for the Virgin Mary to have conceived of Christ without having had sex with her husband, Joseph. God, I had submitted, was a surrogate father for Joseph’s child; a surrogate who would grant legitimacy to the claims made by Christ that he was indeed the Son of God and, a fortiori, confer the imprimatur of truth and infallibility vis-à-vis the outrageous claims he had made.
His sexuality was a significant omission from the cosmopolitanism paper:
I also knew I was gay, and growing up in the most homophobic culture in the world, I had absolutely no intellectual ammunition to fight the conventional and religiously inflected sexual mores that buttressed the arguments against homosexuality so endemic to Jamaican culture. I could not understand why being Jamaican — an ascriptive identity I inherited through an accident of birth — assigned me a to group identity I shared with people with whom I had little in common, save the same nationality…
The logical application of her theory of sex eased the psychological pain I felt over being gay in a society in which homosexuality was and continues to be criminalized. Ayn Rand was and is — through her propagation of individual rights, of the sovereignty and inviolable right of the individual to choose for himself a rational course for his own happiness — a most stalwart emancipator of gay oppression. The state had no business criminalizing what acts persons performed sexually in the privacy of their bedrooms. And since I did not and am yet to find an official Objectivist theory of homosexuality and why it could or should be construed as immoral, Ayn Rand, in those early years of tortured agony over my sexual orientation, provided me with a philosophical framework and intellectual ammunition within which to carve out, not a politicized gay identity, but one simply as an individual who happened to be gay. I did not back then, nor do I now politicize my sexual orientation. It belongs to me and, quite frankly, it is nobody’s business unless I choose to make it so. My life belonged to me and no one else.
Religious homophobia in the black community explains his alienation from it in addition to his white ancestry.
Objectivism does have a superficial appearance of being principled and rational:
Well, then you are governed by laws of nature as a human being, and one such law requires you to live by reason which is your only source of knowledge, your only guide to action and choice of your values. That’s Rand’s central premise. Second, since as a human being you have to live by your own efforts — if you live off the efforts of others and they withdraw their efforts you will starve to death — then, productive work is your noblest activity.
He objects to race because it was invented to oppress people, but he ignores that it was invented to oppress people for the purpose of capitalism. The origins of “race” as a concept make it tainted, but he implies the history of capitalism is irrelevant. Capitalism follows from the natural laws of the universe, i.e., there’s a taboo on questioning it.
This is the real psychological meaning of objectivism for him:
I grew up in the house of altruism. My mother made it very clear that as a single mother she had sacrificed her life for her children; that she had given up her own happiness, cashed in her entire retirement so that they could have the best education and, a fortiori, the best life possible in this world. If that was not enough, when I and my brother decided at the ages of 20 and 19, respectively, that we wanted to live in America, my altruistic mother gave up her entire career in banking, and, deciding that we were too young, came with us to make the journey easier.
Indeed, if we grant that the educational beginnings of a child’s life are at least partially instrumental in providing a foundation for the rudimentary skills required for future success, then, I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to my mother ,who financed a first-class education in the Caribbean’s top private school for me and my brother.
But this constant referral to sacrifice; this reminder to her children that she had given up everything for their sake; this implicit demand for recognition of this heroic gift on her part from us left an indelible wound in my soul. It made me feel that I had to pay her back, to pay for the sins of my worthless schizophrenic father who had never, could never and would never once contribute to the financial maintenance of his children. The virtue of sacrifice was a constant theme in the household of my mother and grandmother. Life was about sacrifice — giving up something of who you are or might want to be for a greater good. I remember thinking after having read Rand on the theme of sacrifice that since children never asked to be born and never brought themselves into this world that one of the moral tasks of parents was to subordinate their needs and desires to the welfare of their children. Since you brought them into the world if you were conscientious (which my mother certainly was!) it was your responsibility to provide them with the best means to survive independently of you and to give them skills that would make them flourish. The clincher was when I heard my mother once say to a group of friends : “If after all I have sacrificed for my children at least one of them cannot retire me by the time I reach the age of fifty-two, then I have not done something right.”
I felt a cold shudder and, I believe, that at the age of 16 when I first heard this declaration stated openly, that the concept of suicide was first forged in the darkest reaches of my mind.
The logical terminus of that statement was a life that could and should never belong to me.
But then I discovered Rand. The heart needs time to catch up with the insights of reason. It would take me another two decades to dehabituate myself from the morality of altruistic self-sacrifice and several clashes with my own mother who, when I announced I wanted to be a writer, informed me that I was going to be poor.
He was also reacting to a family history of communism.
I think I get it, because Nietzsche served a similar psychological function for me at a similar age. It validated my atheism and gave me something to feel superior about, to compensate for feeling like crap from getting bullied. It’s like when your World of Warcraft character is way more badass than you:
“Our inner truth is the lie we construct to be able to live with the misery of our actual lives”. If it wasn’t for the rabble keeping you down, you’d achieve greatness through sheer strength of will!
One of the things I took from Nietzsche was the idea that belief systems serve emotional needs for people, and “rational arguments” come after the fact. Nietzsche was suspicious of “objectivity” and even being systematic. Just follow your instincts to become the overman.
The preface to The Anti-Christ is sorta Randian, but waaaay more introspective:
This book belongs to the very few. Perhaps not one of them is even living yet. Maybe they will be the readers who understand my Zarathustra: how could I mistake myself for one of those for whom there are ears even now? Only the day after tomorrow belongs to me. Some are born posthumously.
The conditions under which I am understood, and then of necessity–I know them only too well. One must be honest in matters of the spirit to the point of hardness before one can even endure my seriousness and my passion. One must be skilled in living on mountains–seeing the wretched ephemeral babble of politics and national self-seeking beneath oneself. One must have become indifferent; one must never ask if the truth is useful or if it may prove our undoing. The predilection of strength for questions for which no one today has the courage; the courage for the forbidden; the predestination to the labyrinth. An experience of seven solitudes. New ears for new music. New eyes for what is most distant. A new conscience for truths that have so far remained mute. And the will to the economy of the great style: keeping our strength, our enthusiasm in harness. Reverence for oneself; love of oneself; unconditional freedom before oneself.
Well then! Such men alone are my readers, my right readers, my predestined readers: what matter the rest? The rest–that is merely mankind. One must be above mankind in strength, in loftiness of soul–in contempt.
It’s interesting that Hill talks about the need for racial belonging almost in attachment theory terms. What strikes the reader is that he’s trying too hard to prove that he’s immune to other people’s opinions, to the point that it’s unrealistic. Of course people are the products of their environment. Denying that fact is part of a victim-blaming strategy used by white people purposely ignorant of history. Why don’t black people just pull themselves up by their bootstraps, like all the other races? If all the black people would just act white like I do, they’d improve their sorry state. It’s almost like they’re animals. I need to self-cleanse.
It’s like his philosophy is an expression of dismissive-avoidant attachment.
Regarding his Oedipus complex, I think it’s interesting that he had a “worthless” schizophrenic father. His problem with racism is that it’s psychotic:
“I have never ever in my life sought to actively fight racism. I have simply adduced myself as evidence of its absolute stupidity and irrationality.”
He asked me what I meant and I immediately gave him the answer I thought Ayn Rand would have given him. Racism, I explained, is a form of psychosis — a break with reality. To judge and appraise someone solely on the basis of arbitrary and nonmoral attributes such as skin pigmentation and so-called racial identity is not only irrational and nonsensical it is evil. You never grant metaphysical importance to evil or the irrational because they are impotent. Period. Rand, I explained to him, had discounted the metaphysical value of that which could only destroy but never create.
He was not impressed. “Don’t you want the state to make it so that you would never have to even deal with racists?”
“No! Most certainly not,” I retorted, and felt deep anguish at the look of pain on his face.
“Short of a bloated totalitarian state in which I would rather die than live — this is impossible. The state cannot police tastes and attitudes. I want the state to protect my bodily integrity which is an absolute individual right I hold as does every other human being. I do not want any racist to inflict physical harm on me and the state’s job is to ensure that. But what the racist thinks privately of me is none of my business, and since his thoughts are so vile and irrational, to give them any deep significance would be to admit that he and what he thinks really matter to me in a way that, deep down inside, I can’t admit to. I cannot, and no person of self-esteem could. The state can and should simply keep out of my way because so much damage has been done to racial minorities by the state in the history of the United States on such a massive scale that it makes private racism seem like kindergarten play.”
He has major problems with symbolic castration. He doesn’t respect the Name-of-the-Father and thus the Law. The paternal function went wrong for him, so he doesn’t submit to the symbolic order. He deludes himself that he can define himself without using the language made available to him, but not created by him. Neologisms. A blurring of fantasy and reality. He’s going to save humanity with his heretical ideas. Paranoia and projection. Wouldn’t that make him psychotic, too, in terms of Lacanian “clinical structure?”
The other contributors to Philosophy and the Mixed Race Experience take it for granted that “racial eliminativism” is impossible to put into practice. Ronald Sundstrom:
Psychologists and sociologists friendly to the claims of the multiracial movement have rejected conceptions of multiracial identity as pathological or “broken” identities; they are, of course, breaking with the long tradition of seeing multiracial persons as “mixed-up”, as “marginal” or “tragic”. Asserting that multiracials are thrust in social conditions that require interracial and interethnic repair is not a return to those images of pathology. However, we need not entirely break with that tradition. Multiracial identity is a painful and difficult identity, and its richness as an experience is linked to its traditional problems and struggles.
All the same, it is preposterous to say to multiracial persons, “you are called to repair relationships that you did not break”. It is tantamount to burdening children born out of wedlock with being bastards, and then asserting they are responsible for rebuilding their legitimacy. Nonethelses, multiracialism is burdened with a special measure of responsibility to repair the ruptures around race in their lives, families, and communities. Multiracial individuals are thrust into brokenness, into the ruptures that marks [sic] their condition. They can react like libertarians and assert their absolute autonomy and disconnection, or they can acknowledge the broken world that surrounds them.
Basically, white supremacy damaged this guy, then used that damage to manipulate him into going before national audiences and spreading crypto-objectivism, which can only undermine solidarity. It’s deliberate, and it worked the same 100 years ago. Divide and conquer.
Not only that, but he validates the white people in their victim-blaming and historical amnesia.
The tragedy of the mulatto.