Race and Ego

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 generation 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.