In his recent work The Utopia of Instincts Dr Richard Swartzbaugh considers race to be a development of egoism. He considers that the idea of race is not properly a question of the classification of biological, psychological and cultural differences, but is a recent phenomenon. It is, he contends, a reaction to the “impersonality” generated by the growth of technics in industrial societies. Since the white race is the most technologically developed of all the races it is among its members that true racial awareness has first arisen. The origin of “racism” is to be found in egoism. He writes:
“Self-effacement is the fundamental contradiction in human life and the one which, extended from technics and narrowly technical social relations to social relations in general, becomes morality. The original technological impulse develops directly into the moral impulse, which is the terminal phase of human self-alienation.
“The history of the human species is not complete, however, without the consideration that there develops, slowly at first but then with ascending intensity, a resistance to this self-effacement, which is here called egoism.
“The ego is not limited to the individual but can possess whole groups, from the tiny family, the primary ego group, to the tribe and finally the race.”
Swartzbaugh’s concept of race is a Hegelian one and seems oddly at variance with his profession of anthropologist. He states, for example, that “race is a step…in the movement of nature towards defined form” and it is “more than an alliance, it is a phase in the movement of nature towards self-consciousness or perfectly focussed egoism.”
This is metaphysical mumbo-jumbo. To attribute to “nature”, which is merely an abstract noun, the potentialities of “self-consciousness” is nothing more than an invocation of the “ghost of God” dressed up in a new shroud. There is not one scrap of evidence that can be produced in its favour, nor does Swartzbaugh attempt to offer any. Consciousness is a characteristic of only certain animal species and in its conceptual form, as a formulated awareness of the distinction between me and not-me, is confined to human beings.
Swartzbaugh maintains that it is “a common mistake by philosophers…to equate the ego with the solitary person …This is far from the truth. Where the ego must pass from one human lifespan to the succeeding one, it necessarily creates in the process the primary ego group, the parental or nuclear family…but more than this, where provoked…the ego may break out of the confines of the original family to form a greater ego group..the race.”
Swartzbaugh does not show how this mysterious migration of my particular ego from one lifespan to another takes place. However, long before modern research established the biochemical uniqueness of individuals, Dr James L. Walker effectively disposed of the belief that one can transmit one’s ego to one’s offspring. In The Philosophy of Egoism he writes:
“Men flatter themselves that they can perpetuate themselves and not merely the race; a simple error, for if we allow half the effect to each parent the result is that A’s offspring is half A; his grandchild is one-fourth A; his great grandchild is one-eighth A; the next genration is one_sixteenth A, and thus (ultimately) his descendants will have nothing more in common with him than any of the individuals of his race.”
And this is to consider the question only at the biological level! The mind boggles when considering how the “Stirnerian ego” (Swartzbaugh claims to have been heavily influenced by Stirner), the “who” of me, can be “passed into the “who” of another, for that which is uniquely mine cannot be transferred to anyone else. When I die I die.
I do not deny that racial differences exist, nor that being of the Caucasian race is one of my qualities. These are facts which have to be taken into account if I want to see things clearly. The cult of ethno-masochism whose adherents ask for punishment because of the colour of their skins, or because of misdeeds allegedly committed in the past by others of the same racial stock, is not my scene. Race as a neo-Hegelian and purposive category, however, is a different matter. I no more accept its existence than I do race elevated into some kind of mystical soul, or race as a source of pseudo-identity for those who seek to gain a power that is not their own. Having rid myself of the delusion of equality I am not about to take on other delusions in its place.
The Sin of Selfishness
Selfishness, the putting of one’s own interests before those of others, is a stock subject for denunciation by Christian preachers, as anyone who listens to religious broadcasts on the radio can testisfy. But even those who have ostensibly discarded the supernaturalism of Christianity and other traditional religions still shudder at the idea that I could deliberately place myself at the centre of my life.
Humanists are prominent among these. They lay such emphasis on “the human” as a normative concept that it comes as no surprise to find that they are opposed to selfishness and urge that, as one of their leaflets puts it, we must live “considerately and unselfishly”. Wherever a moral code exists—and humanists are, par excellence, moralists—there is always included a command to deny oneself in order to benefit others. Selfishness is a sin and altruism must take precedence over egoism in our motives.
This attitude is exemplified in the works of the well-known humanist writer, the late Margaret Knight. In her book Morals Without Religion she states that “it is natural for us to be to a large extent self-centred and to be hostile towards people who obstruct us in getting what we want,” but it is “also natural for us to co-operate with other people, and to feel affection and sympathy for them. In more technical terms, we have both egoist and social instincts which may pull us in different ways.”
Note that she assumes that egoists can neither feel affection or sympathy for others, nor cooperate with them. She gives no reason as to why she thinks this way, but is content to echo the usual Judeo-Christian prejudice against egoism.
Now, if I feel affection or sympathy for someone because it pleases me to do so, or if I co-operate with others because I see in it an expedient way of serving my interests, how am I being less of an egoist—less “selfish”—than if I am hostile to someone who is a threat to me, or enter into conflict with those whose interests are contrary to mine? Whether I love or hate, co-operate or conflict, I am serving myself, seeking my satisfaction. Whether I behave one way or the other I do so out of conscious egoism.
Knight writes “the essence of humanist morality is disinterestedness—not letting our own claims and interests blind us to other people’s.” Why my “own claims and interest” must necessarily blind me to other people’s she, again, does not say. Once more she assumes that I can only favour my own interests at the expense of others’ interests. Not only this, but her statement logically leads to the conclusion that I ought not to have any personal interest in anyone else. According to the Oxford Dictionary to be “disinterested” means to be “without interest; not interested; unconcerned…free from selfseeking.” Thus, according to Margaret Knight, it would be immoral for me to take an interest in another individual for I would thereby cease to be “disinterested” and become “self-seeking”. I would be guilty of the terrible sin of selfishness! Well might Max Stirner ironically observe that “the hard fist of morality treats the noble nature of egoism altogether without compassion”.
Egoism, in the guise of self-interest, is subjected to a similar misrepresentation in her later book Honest to Man.
Here she claims that “the Christian religion has been led through most of its history to proclaim…a code of morality that is in its essence completely self-interested. It has encouraged a self-centred pre-occupation with one’s own salvation.”
This is a fundamental misconception of what Christians believe. The “self” with which they are concerned is not the self who I am here and now, but a “redeemed” self, a remade self, made over in the image of what they think I ought to be. Christian teaching is not egocentric, as even a cursory reading of the New Testament shows. It is allocentric as the words attributed to Jesus in Luke 9, 23, clearly show: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Here is the quintessence of unselfishness—the demand to deny one’s self in the service of “the other”. In their opposition to selfishness humanists and Christians are at one. To serve “Humanity” is as unselfish as to serve “God”.
Rights and Mights
“Rights” are very much to the fore in the political clamour of today. “Women’s rights”, “black rights”, “gay rights”,”trade union rights”, the “rights” of X, Y and Z—all have vociferous groups busily engaged in demanding, defending or inventing them.
What the bases for these “rights” are, however, is seldom spelled out. Indeed, I doubt if the vast majority of those who shout for them would react with more than a blank look if they were asked such a question. There is one view, which a few may know, which holds that “rights” are bestowed upon us by “nature” and are therefore “inalienable”. Rights, it appears, are objective things, and if there are some nasty people who do not acknowledge this, who, indeed, “trample them underfoot”, this does not alter their “essence”.
This belief in “natural” or “inalienable” rights is no more than an act akin to the old belief that the moon was made of green cheese. An “inalienable right to life” does not save me from drowning if I cannot swim. An “inalienable right to free speech” will not save me from a dictator’s prison or firing squad if I try to exercise it against his decree. Such “rights” are delusions which crumble at the first contact with reality.
In fact, of course, that “right” prevails which has the most might behind it. As it was succinctly put by Ragnar Redbeard: “‘Man has the right to subsistence,’ wrote Thomas Paine. ‘Yes’, replied an observant reader, ‘he has a right to live 1000 years, if he can.’ It is not a question of right, but of ability.”
If I do not have the competence to obtain or do something then, no matter how I might huff and puff, I have no “right” to have or do that thing. Thomas Carlyle once observed that what are called “the rights of man” are really the “mights of men”. How right he was about “rights”!
The use of wit to puncture presence is an age-old part of the intellectual weaponry of scepticism, but it must be used sparingly if it is to retain its effectiveness. To collect into one volume a series of satirical definitions is, therefore, to run the risk of producing something of a hit or miss production. Ambrose Bierce’s famous Devil’s Dictionary probably owes its success to having enough hits to outweigh its misses, but it is a work to sample briefly from time to time rather than to read through.
The same can be said about L.A.Rollin’s Lucifer’s Lexicon recently published by Loompanics Unlimited (PO Box 1197, Port Townsend, IVA 98368, USA). Sparkling entries like “Racist: n, One who calls a spade a spade…”, or “Objectivist: n, A person of unborrowed vision, who never places any consideration above his own perception of reality, who never does violence to his own rational judgement, and who, as a result, agrees completely with Ayn Rand in everything,” contrast with rather boring examples of juvenile humour such as a long list of excruciating puns on film titles. Rollin’s book, however, has enough of the former to more than counterhalance the latter to make it worth getting.