Interlude: What is racism? What is thought crime? A piece on the 2016 US Presidential Election

A lot of people seem to be claiming that Donald Trump is a racist, and then citing his wish to ban Muslim immigrants from entering the country, on the grounds of their religion. This is a bit troubling.

You see, it's a common "Social Justice" tactic to use the word "racism" to describe almost anything that affects a group of people in any way, if that group is not "white people". This has spilled over into our political commentary recently and it's rather frustrating, so I will attempt to state this as clearly as I possibly can...


Islam isn't a race. It's an ideology. A religion. A system of beliefs. Arabs, Europeans, Asians of various ethnicity, Pacific Islanders, and more, subscribe to this system of belief. It is not a "race" by any means. It is a collection of ideas.

Based on my previous interlude post about "idea identity," you know how I feel about open criticism of ideas. I think it's vitally important. Anything that silences criticism is detrimental to society - if they critiques are abhorrent for some reason, then silencing them prevents us from, at the very least, recognizing who is espousing these strange ideas, and prevents us the opportunity to address the person and discuss his ideas. If the ideas are considered "good" however, perhaps discussing them will change public opinion and further our progress as a society. There is no good reason to silence discussion. It's necessary for the progression of our society's mental faculties.

My favorite quote on the topic of open criticism is, again, from Christopher Hitchens: "Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence."

Now, about Trump's policy regarding Muslims, if it is not racist, what is it? Is it even morally wrong, or at least, dangerous? I think it is dangerous, and morally wrong. Trump's policy is not racist, but it is what I would call "thought crime," which is judging or condemning someone for what they've thought, not what they've done. This is the antithesis of the philosophy of our legal system, which states that one is "innocent until proven guilty," a philosophy to which I subscribe due to being a proponent of reason and evidence-based logic. If you cannot prove that someone did something, then we cannot know if they did it, and we should not punish them. This is an extension of logic itself, applied to morality and our judicial systems. If the consequent does not follow from the precedents, or if the form of the argument does not hold (a "formal fallacy,") the argument is invalid, and - ideally - we should not convict the person of any wrongdoing until a sound, cogent argument for wrongdoing, can be established.

What Trump's idea suggests, is that we banish people for the sole reason of the identity of their thoughts - not even the specific beliefs they may have, which vary from person to person, but simply the identity of their thoughts. If their thoughts identify as "Islamic," we banish them forthwith! This is illogical and condones the kind of thought crime that we've read about in dystopic fiction novels. Hardly a worthy successor to the kind of freedom and justice the USA used to so proudly proclaim.

What we may do, however, is "vet" (carefully examine) individuals coming from countries that are considered threats or unfriendly to the United States. This is a rational public policy which essentially states, for example:

"John" is from Iran.
Some Iranians are unfriendly to the United States.
"John" may be unfriendly to the United States.

This is a logically sound, rational argument. To determine whether the conclusion is true or false (the conclusion being John's friendliness or unfriendliness towards the United States,) we have to examine what John has actually done, and determine what conclusion follows from the evidence.

If we cannot find any evidence to support the conclusion that John definitely is unfriendly to the United States, then we have no logical reason to deny him entry to the country - assuming he follows the legal procedures to immigrate to the United States.

Trump's proposal is not racist - but it is illogical and the institutionalization of thought crime in the United States, something we should work hard to prevent. If thoughts become criminal, we have no more opportunity for progress. We will have criminalized the very idea of a dissenting thought. We must never allow this, and any example of it already being allowed, must be argued against and changed.

Let me know your thoughts, readers.


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