Powerful nations do not remain so forever. Only 100 years ago, the British Empire was so expansive that there was always daylight somewhere on its imperial holdings. To compare, the largest nation by land area today covers only ten time zones.
Yet that vast and incredibly powerful British Empire no longer exists; the United Kingdom today is a union of four small nations on two islands and there are indications it may soon lose Scotland and Northern Ireland. The United States is presently the most powerful nation the world has yet seen with roughly 800 military bases abroad; possessing more than one-fifth of the world’s economic activity within its borders; the leader of an increasingly globalized culture; and, more than four decades after the last manned lunar landing, remains the only nation that has met a dream as old as humanity itself by landing humans on the moon and returning them safely to Earth.
Despite America’s tremendous feats, the actions of its detractors—mainly in the form of regressive leftists—only furthers the agenda of ethnonationalists and raises the probability that at some point, decades down the line, America will fragment.
Achieving real racial harmony will be one of the most consequential and defining issues of our generation.
As a progressive, I have been largely dismissive of conservative answers to racial harmony, but now I am forced to ask: what if they’re right?
Not on everything—no one side has the monopoly on the truth—but some key assertions certainly seem on point.
I disagree with some conservatives that the answer to solving racial problems is to stop talking about them; I am a staunch supporter of the First Amendment—not only on principle, but also for the practical reason that sweeping problems under the rug merely allows them to fester and can have devastating consequences later. Problems must be tackled head-on.
Where I do agree with conservatives is the idea that it is important to set aside our smaller identity groups in favor of nationalism and love of country. In-group and out-group biases are likely older than our species and will never be defeated. The illiberal, or regressive, left’s big mistake is that instead of seeking to ride with and utilize human nature, illiberal leftists, like many authoritarians in history, seek to bend it.
While to a certain extent human nature is malleable, much of it is not. Just as the project to build a New Soviet Man failed, so will the regressive leftists’ efforts to divide along identity groups without a powerful backlash and without resulting in significant and perhaps irreparable damage to social cohesion. Group biases are primal and in order to solve racial problems, we must ride the wave, not build a dam.
Biases are a natural adaptation. Per Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, strongly-bonded groups are able to work with greater efficiency than groups of loosely-affiliated people, making this a useful human adaptation and part of the reason why we have achieved incredible success as a species. Many of these in-group affinities are necessary, like nationalism—which leads us to stand against foreign threats like the Soviet Union during the Cold War, or the scourge of Islamist terrorism today.
Others times, they are completely artificial and used for entertainment. Rivalries between sports fans are a good example of this. Race is another arbitrary group, but one that has no apparent net positive benefits and is an unfortunate byproduct of an otherwise useful adaptation.
Despite the claims of ethnonationalists, racial biases can be overcome; social justice movements on our college campuses, however, are incredibly misguided on how to go about this.
The solution is not to teach people to walk on eggshells and exercise extreme caution for the fear of triggering people with microaggressions.
Rather, the solution is to provide incentives to allow mixing between people from various racial categories. Only then will real and organic bonds form, and only then will we be able to reach a place of greater equality.
Seeking to reinforce divisions by decrying the asinine non-issue of “cultural appropriation” and any number of the other myriad of different imaginary offenses will only exacerbate the problem.
Progressives cannot continue to tell white Americans that they are the source of all of America’s problems and not expect a backlash. Already, a compelling argument can be made that the advent of Trump is partially a consequence (amongst many other factors) of the regressive left’s exaltation of identity politics.
I am not one to favor anecdotes, but on this I can speak from personal experience. My own Texas suburb was incredibly diverse. There were few Asian Americans (like me), but my primary and secondary schools were populated by as many Hispanic Americans as white Americans and a sizable number of black Americans.
From kindergarten onward, we were accustomed to seeing those with different skin tones, and friend groups were often multi-ethnic. The atmosphere was also very politically incorrect. It was not uncommon to use racial slurs as a joke and for all participants to laugh.
Imagine my surprise when I arrived at my university to find, even in a very conservative campus, a great deal of political correctness and care with which people handled issues surrounding race. Many times people are so concerned about offending those of different ethnic backgrounds that they avoid making those friendships.
What was different about my primary and secondary school experience was that we were so accustomed to people of different races that the attitude was quite literally one of colorblindness, an idea championed by conservatives as a solution to racial problems and summarily rejected by many progressives.
Another was the intensity of school spirit fostered at the high school level. Anyone that’s from Texas is familiar with the almost cult-like devotion Texas A&M students possess for the university. My high school was modeled after Texas A&M and adopted a similar focus on school spirit.
We lost every football game. We didn’t care. We loved our team and had tremendous Farmer Pride just the same. When our school was close to winning the state softball championship, upper and working class students alike rode buses, drove for hours over the vastness of Texas, and stayed overnight in the state capital to cheer on the softball team. When outsiders attacked our school on social media, we responded mercilessly.
The reason why I point it out is that it was precisely in this atmosphere where I found racial attitudes as relaxed as I have ever found them. Having been immersed in a school with a multi-ethnic student body with politically incorrect attitudes and that level of harmony and colorblindness, I was convinced our nation had solved the issue of race.
My high school had fostered a culture of intense school pride, the analogue for which being patriotism. Many regressive leftists choose to instead mock patriotism and seek to unfairly blame America for the world’s problems, failing to recognize the positive characteristics about our country.
I was unpleasantly surprised after graduation. The problem with the social justice movement is that it preaches exactly the opposite of what led to racial harmony where I lived. We had an intense and powerful in-group bias towards members of our school.
The social justice movement would rather see ethnic enclaves that champion their own cause, attempt to diminish those that they consider privileged, and label those that refuse to meet their ethnic obligations as “self-hating.”
While the social justice movement began well-intentioned, it will be a failure in creating real and organic bonds between people of different identity groups and worsen the current situation.
We should celebrate America’s diversity; it is a tremendous source of our strength. Nevertheless, we must always be ready to identify first and foremost as Americans.
The regressive left argues that the identities of historically marginalized peoples are all-important and any shred of criticism (such as against Islam) is heresy. Meanwhile, the white working class, simply for being white, is to be mocked, and problems in white working class communities are to be dismissed.
These attitudes win no allies. Instead of championing common humanity, regressive leftists seek to enforce different levels of rights and displays different levels of concern for different groups. The resentment this inspires is a pristine opportunity for ethnonationalists.
The belief that one segment of the American population can be denigrated indefinitely and attacking the only identity that binds all of us together, our common American identity, will most certainly backfire. It is not hard to imagine a future in which people frustrated over the racial blame game embrace ethnonationalism as the solution and openly advocate for splitting the country across racial lines.
I am reminded of George Friedman’s book The Next 100 Years, where he, looking back at the twentieth century, makes the insightful observation that the world appears to turn on its head every two decades.
Paraphrasing Friedman: in 1900, Europe had achieved its zenith and there was no place on Earth free of European influence. 1920: Several European empires had completely disappeared and those that remained were significantly weakened with Germany crippled and poor. 1940: Germany had not only returned, but was on the verge of conquering the European continent.
1960: the Third Reich is gone, the world is divided between a preeminent superpower, the United States, and the second superpower, the Soviet Union, which had lagged far behind. 1980: the Soviet Union had achieved military parity with, or surpassed, the United States while America is in decline, one-third of the global population is under communism, and the USSR appeared indomitable.
2000: the USSR is gone; the United States appeared to have no significant foreign threats and had experienced one of the most prosperous decades in its history.
The very next year, 9/11 happened, the dot-com bubble burst, and the post-Cold War liberal democratic order ceased to be a certainty.
What Friedman demonstrates is that the world constantly changes in ways that are completely unexpected. We do not know how current trends will play out in the future and what unintended consequences will happen as a result. What we do know is that division and alienation are not pathways to greater harmony.
A social justice movement that will succeed will not seek to blame one segment of the American population for all our ills, nor will it seek to blame and tarnish a nation that, though imperfect as any other, has continually strived to become a more perfect union.
A real solution will be one in which we achieve a substantial level of colorblindness, where we can appreciate our diversity but, without a doubt, unite and identify first as Americans.
Ethnonationalists are wrong to believe this is insurmountable; in fact, it’s not very hard at all. Research demonstrates that when people have other reasons for group biases, sports teams being an example, racial biases fade away.
Today, animus between progressives and conservatives is a substantially greater source of bias than race. Beyond merely promoting policy that will enable underprivileged minorities to access equal opportunities to succeed, fostering a colorblind love of country will be a critical component of bridging racial gaps and ensuring real equality. Policy should be encouraged to close racial disparities, but culturally, we ought to embrace a colorblind mentality.
Encouraging racially diverse neighborhoods and schools, and building voluntary institutions to foster the growth of social capital across racial lines, are of paramount importance. Progressives and conservatives both have worthwhile contributions they can make to achieve this dream and make America more united than ever before.
I love America and I do not want to see my country fragment at any point in my lifetime, especially not over something as silly and as avoidable as the popularization of ethnonationalism.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.