In The House of the Seven Gables (1851), Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote that “the wrong-doing of one generation lives into the successive ones, and, divesting itself of every temporary advantage, becomes a pure and uncontrollable mischief.” Are we Americans paying for the crimes of our ancestors with the decline and imminent ruin of our beloved country? Maybe, but if so, what exactly was the crime? Taking the land from the Indians? Slavery? These are the obvious answers, but I cannot think that the evils we suffer today represent any kind of just punishment or karmic retribution for those events. We have long since done what we could to remedy the inequalities that they supposedly caused.
Perhaps the true answer is the opposite of what we conventionally think: our crime – or, at least, our profound error – is not discrimination, but non-discrimination. We started out feeling that it was not decent, or moral, to “discriminate” against minorities, meaning, mainly, black people; and the principle of non-discrimination gradually took over every functional institution of our society, until these institutions became actively harmful to the interests of the very people they were supposed to serve.
I certainly believed in non-discrimination for most of my life. For a personal example, which is almost amusing to me now, I once went on some dates through the classified ads (this was back when they were commonly printed in the free “alternative” weekly city papers, something I imagine has been supplanted by eHarmony). The ads would often specify the race of the person desired, e.g., SWF seeking SWM. I am a white man, but it offended me that so many white women were specifically seeking white men. I didn’t want to go out with someone who would say that! Also in the spirit of non-discrimination, I went out with a black woman or two. One lady was quite nice – clearly interested in white men (she was a lover of books and culture, and apparently couldn’t find many black men with compatible interests), but the instant I saw her I knew that I could not be attracted to her. It didn’t occur to me that preferring one’s own race might be a natural and healthy thing, or that, at least, people have the right to discriminate in the most personal of relationships, even if they believe in equal treatment in the public sphere. (It didn’t occur to me, either, that a white woman with an interest in black men might not be the best potential partner for me!) To give another example, I remember commenting to a female friend about a certain female acquaintance, that I didn’t think I could date her because she belonged to the Baha’i religion. The friend told me that she knew lots of wonderful Baha’i followers and that my comment made her “angry.” Here, at least, I stuck to my guns, insisting that religious differences were real, not something that could be overcome by niceness and kindness.
Non-discrimination is thought by its practitioners to be a virtue – perhaps the highest and most essential one of all. Yet it seems to be the code of non-discrimination that allows the worst evils to enter and flourish in our society, especially as a foundation for legal processes and decisions. The most egregious examples are probably immigration-related. (In a way, this entire blog is a reaction to mass non-Western immigration, though I usually approach the issue indirectly, by thinking about who we – the non-immigrants – are.) Outrage after outrage takes place, and nothing ever changes. Genetic testing reveals that the vast majority of Somalis brought here for family unification are actually not related to the people bringing them in. Investigations show that the vast majority of Chinese students in the United States faked their transcripts and essays. Vast numbers of Hispanics use stolen Social Security numbers. Is a commonsense decision ever made to put an end to the fraud by simply stopping taking in so many people from the particular countries involved? No, it is not. (The Somali reunification was halted, but apparently is slated to be resumed.) Somehow, the system itself cannot accept a sensible act of discrimination in that most personal – and most publicly important! – of choices, that of who to admit into one’s national family. We end up with a sick perversion of the American Dream, where lying and greed are rewarded and become the foundation of new citizenship. Is this moral? Is this virtue?
Ayn Rand, whose works I admire only very selectively, said that one must never fail to pronounce moral judgment. Laura Wood says that we must not fail to discriminate – in this article, she is referring to “economic discrimination in favor of men” in the workplace, but the statement applies to every aspect of society. Failure to judge and discriminate unleashes evil and mayhem. Even worse is the aggressive, coercive enforcement of non-discrimination through grievances and lawsuits. The great challenge for traditionalists and conservatives is to find a way to rebuild a society that judges and discriminates as it should.