‘Positive’ Discrimination’s Little Mentioned Obverse

Medical journals these days have become megaphones for the wokest of opinions. Contrary ideas are expressed about as often as paeans of praise to capitalism were published in Pravda. It is this that gives the medical reader the impression that he is living in neo-totalitarian times.

It was only to be expected, then, that the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) would weigh in on the recent ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States outlawing positive discrimination in the selection of students for state-funded educational institutions. As Mr Coolidge replied to his wife when she asked what the preacher had said about sin, so the author of the article in JAMA responded to the ruling: he was against it.

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The article was titled “The Supreme Court’s Rulings on Race Neutrality Threaten Progress in Medicine and Health”, and its crucial argument is contained in the following sentence: “If [American society were racially non-discriminatory, where people of all races were treated equally], there would be little difference in access to resources, opportunity, and the burden of disease.” In other words, all differences in group outcomes are the result of discrimination in the worst sense.

This, of course, is the argument that all anti-Semites have been waiting for, and was in fact used in Germany. The only explanation for the prominence of Jews in such prestigious fields as medicine, science, law, journalism, university teaching, theatre, cinema and business, out of all proportion to their numbers in the population, was that they were favoured by a conspiracy, such as that outlined in that well-known work of political analysis, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

In the Stalinist sense of the word objective, then, one might say that JAMA is “objectively” anti-Semitic, since what applied to the prominence of Jews in Wilhelmine and Weimar Germany applies to the United States today.

But it is not only anti-Semitic, of course: anti-Indian and anti-Chinese as well, since these groups are now following the trajectory of the Jews in America. It never seems to occur to those in favour of positive discrimination that you cannot have the positive variety without the negative, or for that matter, the negative without the positive. One might have expected the writer in JAMA to have remembered the numerus clausus operated against Jews by Ivy League universities well into the 1950s, a policy that positive discrimination now forces them to follow, consciously or not, with regard to Indian and Chinese applicants.

The matter is not absolutely straightforward, of course; in estimating the worthiness of young people for admission to colleges with more applicants than places, character surely plays, or ought to play, some part. A young person who has struggled through the most adverse circumstances to achieve a good result may in fact be of higher calibre than a young person who has gone through life like a hot knife through butter, to achieve only marginally better results. But if one selects the former rather than the latter, it is not on grounds of race: it is personal to his circumstances. This, it goes almost without saying, will give those who believe in positive discrimination their opportunity to continue as before.

This will come at a cost, however. It will inevitably suggest that being black is, in and of itself, ineradicably and biologically as it were, a circumstance to be overcome like a physical handicap. I am not very keen on the notion of unconscious bias, but one can surely espy it in the arguments used by the article in JAMA. Without special dispensations, such as Indian and Chinese students have not needed, notwithstanding racial prejudice against them, blacks cannot succeed or compete equally. Unconsciously, then, JAMA believes that blacks are inferior as far as intellectual capacity is concerned. 

Here let me put my oar in as an amateur constitutional lawyer. There are two possible basic views of the American Constitution. The first is that it holds the ring within which desired social ends may be pursued; the second is that it is itself an instrument to bring about those desired ends. The second, and in my opinion very dangerous, view is that which the judges held who dissented from the majority view in this case. Not equality under the law, but equality of outcome, was what they thought the Constitution was about, and any policy that produced what to them was this (or any other) desirable result was therefore justified. Equality of outcome at any price: as Lady Bracknell said in respect of the French Revolution, “I presume you know what that unfortunate movement led to.”

If reports from Australia are to be believed, the American Supreme Court ruling has some obvious relevance to the referendum about the so-called Voice. It is curious how, a third of a century after the end of apartheid in South Africa, and after decades of furious criticism of that country for having made race the central criterion of political rights, a country such as Australia is following suit—or perhaps I should say, some people are trying to make it follow suit.

I know that people will object that the object of Australian racial legislation is intended to be very different from apartheid’s: the first is to raise up a race while the second was to keep a race down. Actually, this is not quite right with regard to apartheid and the Afrikaner Nationalists. Their initial object was to raise up the Afrikaner population both politically and economically by comparison with the English-speaking population. In those days, race relations in South Africa meant those between Afrikaners and English-speakers: the Africans were regarded more as part of the landscape or as beasts of burden than as real competitors for political and economic power. To begin with, the Afrikaner Nationalists were far more concerned with the problem of the poor whites who were almost entirely Afrikaner, than with the threat of the blacks, and their policy was to promote positive discrimination for themselves.

However, let that pass. Let us accept instead that those who favour racial discrimination in political rights in Australia are well-intentioned; that, having observed what is undoubtedly true, that the situation of Aborigines in Australia is often far from optimal, they truly wish to raise them up to the general levels of good fortune in the country. It would surely be incumbent upon them to think about the likely practical effects of their proposals, insofar as concrete form can be given to anything as vague as they have suggested.

The problems are so obvious and so numerous that they must surely have occurred to them. For example, who is to count as an Aborigine with a racially reserved vote? Is the government going to produce an anthropological table similar to that produced by the plantation owners of Saint-Domingue, with sixty-four degrees of whiteness, and with social and political status according to those degrees? Or will it take the old Texan view, one drop of blood, all … a word which I dare not use? Perhaps it would prefer the South African solution, with a tripartite division: white, coloured and black, which had the merit of simplicity if not of biological truth? Will someone, one of whose great-great-great-great-grandparents was Aboriginal, have one sixty-fourth of the vote of someone both of whose parents were Aboriginal, with all grades in between? Where political privilege comes, can fraud be far behind?

No doubt those who promote the idea of a separate vote for Aborigines think that this will in some way undo the injustices or tragedies of the past, as if by the operation of some healing time machine; but far from dressing the wound and assisting it to heal, any such vote rubs salt into it. Whatever powers given to a self-appointed elite as a result of the vote, they will never be enough to satisfy them or the bureaucratic nomenklatura class that will arise as a consequence. Their power, influence and prosperity will depend upon keeping the wound open and grievances fresh. The vote will reverse Lenin’s famous dictum that the worse things are, the better. For the political entrepreneurs, the better things are, the worse; contentment is their most feared enemy.

It is in the nature of human tragedy that it cannot be overcome by political fiat. If anything, such fiat, because simplistic, tends to make things worse, and not in the Leninist sense, according to which something better will emerge from the deterioration.  Let us hope that Australia does not vote to become the South Africa de nos jours.  


3 thoughts on “‘Positive’ Discrimination’s Little Mentioned Obverse

  • Michael says:

    If sneaky, sneaky Albanese’s proposed megaphone Voice to everyone on everything goes into the Constitution, we will be in a different nation, with different governance. Australia will descend, slowly at first, then quickly, into identity politics tribalism, riven by all its attendant strife and dysfunction, or worse.

  • Michael says:

    If Albanese’s proposed megaphone Voice to everyone on everything goes into the Constitution, we will be in a different nation, with different governance. Australia will descend, slowly at first, then quickly, into identity politics tribalism, riven by all its attendant strife and dysfunction, or worse.

  • rosross says:

    Discrimination is discrimination.

    There are many excellent human ideas which fail because they do not take into account human nature, which will always change the form and nature of the idea, no matter how noble it may appear or indeed could be.

    One human quality which is more common and more destructive than others is tribalism. Many cultures and indeed religions, remain tribalistic in nature and that means they will always promote, look after, prefer their ‘own.’ Such preferences are not surprising but they are best avoided in a modern world where the concept of democracy has sought to create a more level playing field where people are not segregated or classified according to their class, religion, tribe, culture.

    Do Muslims prefer to hire Muslims? Yes. Do Jews prefer to hire Jews? Yes. Do castes in India prefer their own? Yes. All of this is human nature and all of it limits the ability to maintain standards and integrity.

    As an aside, during 30 years spent living and working around the world and flying in and out of Heathrow hundreds of times, it became clear that the Indians had taken over Heathrow. From a few, it grew over years into many and this is because people suggested, hired, promoted their own kind. Such an approach may be comforting for those involved but it does not create efficiency, quality or high standards and eventually becomes almost cult-like and will be resented by others, i.e. those who are not of the tribe.

    In India and Africa people look after themselves first, their family second, their extended family third and actually don’t give a toss about the rest. I have had people say as much to me, bemoaning the lack of independence we have or had in our Western cultures.

    This is the major problem with aboriginal communities and the source of their dysfunction. They are tribal. A strong man and his family will run the show and control, often with violence, the rest. Family, extended family, skin, kin, clan connections will dictate who gets what and this no doubt is why communities are torn apart by violent family and clan divisions.

    So, whether it is a religious tribal connection, or a cultural tribal connection, or any tribal connection, the problem is, was and always will be, tribalism.

    If the Western world has offered no greater gift it is a democratic system where colour, creed, gender, race, etc., are secondary to citizenship. This is the gift which has been denied to those in aboriginal communities.

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