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White Ethnocentrism: Can Americans Really Be Brainwashed?
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November 25, 2008, 04:00 AM
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One of the great intellectual divides is the venerable nature/nurture dichotomy.

Conservatives tend to be on the side of nature:

Race exists as a biological reality; there are race differences in socially important traits like IQ; people`s brains are wired to prefer people like themselves; they are more likely to contribute to public goods like health care and education if the beneficiaries are of the same ethnic group; people trust others more if they live in homogeneous societies.

The left takes the opposite tack:

Race doesn`t exist; the idea that it does exist is a fantasy of moral reprobates. To the extent that differences in traits like IQ are interesting at all, they are the result of capitalism, discrimination, or general evil. If it weren`t for white people behaving badly, we could easily build a strong, racially diverse multicultural society where all people can live happily ever after.

I am not going to try to convince you of the merits of either side of this debate. Over the years, VDARE.COM has certainly published some of the premier writers on the nature side.

But if you pick up the New York Times, you`ll get a very different version of these issues. It`s a version which, sad to say, has a lot more influence.

So what makes culture so powerful and how does it work at the psychological level?

Psychologists have shown that there are two different types of processing systems—the implicit and the explicit.

Implicit processing is the way the ancient parts of our brain operate—automatically and unconsciously.

Say you are talking to a salesman about a used car. Without any conscious effort on your part, your brain is processing an enormous amount of information. Some parts of your brain are processing the colors and shapes of the furniture, while others are responsible for recognizing the face of the salesman and picking up on his emotional expressions. Your brain is also assessing how similar this salesman is to yourself, and, without any conscious awareness on your part, it is making you trust him more if he is more like yourself. Furthermore, if he is from a different race or ethnic group, it is flagging that fact and it is coloring your interactions with stereotypes—whether negative or positive—that your unconscious mind associates with that race or ethnic group.

These implicit mechanisms - psychologists call them "modules" - are like zombies or robots. They go about their business without any conscious effort, and quite a few of them are beyond our control.

A good example is the face recognition module. If I am looking at someone I know, I can`t help but recognize him. I can`t simply turn off the module. The module takes in the information from the environment and simply does its thing in a preprogrammed way.

Importantly, the implicit brain includes mechanisms related to ethnocentrism. There are several different evolved mechanisms that make us prefer people like ourselves and be wary of people in outgroups.

Phil Rushton`s Genetic Similarity Theory [PDF] is a good example.   Birds of a feather do indeed flock together. People tend to make friends and marry people who are like themselves on a wide range of traits, from IQ and personality, to ethnic group and even wrist size.

Research in Genetic Similarity Theory finds a biological basis to this flocking tendency. Each system of genes wants to reporoduce itself, and has the best chance of doing so if it chooses to mate with a system of genes which has some overlap.

But some aspects of ethnocentrism may be learned as well. The human mind is prone to rapidly learning negative stereotypes about outgroups. And even if these stereotypes are learned, they act just like the biological ones—they are triggered automatically via implicit processing.

The point is that in either case people tend to have negative stereotypes of other races and they prefer people from their own race. But, of course, that`s not the end of the story—only the beginning.   

The other part of the brain is the more recently evolved part—the part responsible for explicit processing. Explicit processing involves language and thought.

The implicit brain processes information in a zombie-like reflexive way, but explicit processing is effortful and controlled. It`s the kind of processing that we use when we are solving a problem in math class, where we have to make a plan to solve the problem.

And it`s the part of the brain that takes in cultural information. When a person reads the New York Times, there a lot of explicit messages—immigration is good; people who oppose immigration are uneducated racist Neanderthals; there are no genetic differences between the races, yada, yada.

It`s easy to see that there can be conflicts between implicit processing of our ancient brain and the explicit messages one gets from the New York Times. The implicit part of the brain makes you more comfortable socializing with people like yourself. In fact, the implicit part of the brain leads white people to seek out implicit white communities —  communities like NASCAR, country music, and certain kinds of rock music (like AC/DC) where the faces are pretty much all white.

White flight is one of the most salient phenomena of the late 20th century. And where are these white people fleeing to? To the suburbs where there are lots of other white people and where their children go to schools with other white children. 

As sociologist Kevin Kruse notes in his book White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism, race is never part of the explicit rhetoric of white flight. Instead, white flight tends to be expressed as opposition to the federal government, the welfare state, taxation, and perceived moral dangers like abortion and homosexuality. But at the implicit level, the desire for white communities and the aversion to contributing to public goods for nonwhites are the overriding motivations.

Each of these identities allows white people to associate with other whites without any explicit acknowledgement that race plays a role.

Indeed, the granddaddy of implicit white communities is the Republican Party. In the recent election, the Republicans received at least 90% of their votes from white people. The delegates to the Republican convention in August were 93% white, 5% Latino, and 2% black. If these were all rich white oligarchs at the Republican convention, as Jon Stewart`s Daily Show would have it, that would be one thing.

But most Republicans are not rich white oligarchs. The fact is that the Republican base is really about the Sarah Palin phenomenon—white Christians—many with small town roots in the South and West—who yearn for the America they are rapidly losing: a white America.

But all of that is down deep in their brains, at the implicit level. In the upper reaches of their prefrontal cortex, they would never dream of saying explicitly that they are a party of white Americans. That would be "racist."

The same goes for their spokesmen—although calling these people spokesmen for the Republican base is being a bit generous. "Conservative" commentators like Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O`Reilly studiously avoid saying anything that could be construed as "racist". Nor do they dare to oppose the massive legal immigration that will make the Republican base a permanent electoral minority even if we stopped illegal immigration immediately. That`s because the explicit processing system is in charge, at least at the conscious level.

Here`s how it works. Implicit attitudes on race are assessed by tests like the Implicit Association Test. (You can take the test here.) Subjects are presented with photos of blacks and whites in succession and asked to pair positive or negative words (e.g., "intelligent," "law-abiding," "poor," "success") with the photos.

Eighty percent of whites take longer to associate positive words with blacks than with whites. This is interpreted as indicating that whites have implicit negative stereotypes of blacks.

The interesting thing is that there is a gap between whites` explicitly positive attitudes about blacks and their implicitly negative attitudes. Even white liberals show implicit negative attitudes toward blacks, although their implicit attitudes are less negative than those of conservatives.

In fact, white liberals are more hypocritical about race than conservatives: There is a larger gap between implicit attitudes and explicit attitudes toward blacks among white liberals than among white conservatives.

What`s happening is that the conscious, explicit brain is thinking positive thoughts about blacks because it reads the New York Times. And it is suppressing the negative thoughts that are deep below the surface in the implicit part of the brain. 

In one study, subjects were shown photos of blacks and whites while hooked up to an fMRI machine that takes pictures of the brain in action. When the photos were shown for very brief periods—too short to be explicitly processed, the fMRI showed that whites had a negative response to the photos of blacks. This procedure therefore measures implicit negative attitudes toward blacks.

However, the photos of blacks were presented for a much longer period, so that they were processed by the explicit part of the brain. The difference in negative reaction to black and white faces decreased.

This happened because the prefrontal cortex and explicit processing were activated. In other words, people who are consciously aware that they are seeing photos of blacks are able to suppress the negative automatic responses produced by their ancient brain. The explicit part of the brain suppresses the implicit part.

So implicitly processed feelings and perceptions are suppressed out of conscious awareness. But that doesn`t mean they have no influence. Besides affecting responses on the Implicit Association Test, the implicit brain is seeking out white communities like the Republican Party, and it has negative gut feelings about massive non-white immigration.

This disconnect between the implicit and the explicit brain produces some interesting phenomena. Young children tend to have unabashedly explicit bias in favor of their own race. Explicit race bias emerges early, as young as age three or four, peaks in middle childhood, and then undergoes a gradual decline through adolescence, and disappears in adulthood. Quite a bit of this decline is doubtless due to active campaigns to instill the official racial ideology of the Left in schools. Multicultural propaganda permeates education, from kindergarten through college, pushed by groups of cultural Marxists such as the National Association for Multicultural Education: "NAME celebrates cultural and ethnic diversity as a national strength that enriches a society and rejects the view that diversity threatens the fabric of a society."

However, there is no such decline in implicit racial preferences, which remain strong into adulthood. Indeed, there is also a decline in cross-racial friends and companions as children get older. White schoolchildren are much more likely to have white friends than chance expectation would account for, and this trend increases as they get older.

This means that at the same time that explicit racial preference in white children is declining, children are becoming less and less likely to actually interact with and form friendships with children from other races. In effect, schools undergo a process of self-segregation. And among adults, whites are significantly less likely than other racial groups to report interracial friendships and contacts.

The bottom line, then, is that as children get older they become increasingly aware of the official explicit racial ideology, and they conform to it. The explicit processing centers are becoming stronger, so that they are better able to suppress positive attitudes about their own race in order to conform to the demands of their teachers. At the explicit level, they are free from any negative attitudes toward nonwhite groups and may even be politically liberal or radical.

At the same time, however, they are "voting with their feet" by choosing friends and companions of the same race.

And their parents are doing the same thing. I have noted that liberals show a greater gap between explicit attitudes and implicit attitudes and behavior than do conservatives. Indeed, while highly educated white parents tend to have liberal explicit attitudes on racial issues, a recent study shows that these same highly educated whites seek out schools that are racially segregated and are more likely to live in racially segregated neighborhoods. In other words, there is a positive correlation between the average education of white parents and the likelihood that parents will remove their children from public schools as the percentage of black students increases.

Michael Emerson, an author of the study, is quite aware of the gap between explicit attitudes and behavior. He writes:

 "I do believe that white people are being sincere when they claim that racial inequality is not a good thing and that they`d like to see it eliminated. However…their liberal attitudes about race aren`t reflected in their behavior."

The explicit parts of their brains have been programmed to say and believe the right things. But the implicit parts of their brain are controlling their behavior.

This might be cause for hope for those of us whose explicit brain is more in tune with their implicit brain.

But the fact is that if explicit messages on race are repeated often enough, they start to become automatic and implicit. People can be brainwashed. This is the great hope of the cultural Marxists—that constant repetition and propaganda actually could produce what the Frankfurt School — the fons et origo of cultural Marxism in the West — called a "genuine liberal": someone who in his heart of hearts really has the gut instincts of a cultural Marxist; a white person who prefers non-whites on an Implicit Association Test.

They have a ways to go on that. But the election of Barack Obama will probably aid the cultural Marxist onslaught on the educational system. I can`t see any principles of human psychology that would prevent them from getting there eventually. (Of course the collapse of the Soviet Union indicates that religion and national identity are harder to eradicate than Stalin thought they were, and he tried very hard.) It would probably take a 1984-like police state to do it. But quite obviously that is not seen as a drawback by its proponents.

My conclusion: The New York Times is important because it and media like it control the explicit messages on vital issues like race and immigration. The culture of critique has become the explicit culture of the West, endlessly repeated in media messages but packaged differently for people of different levels of intelligence and education.

The message here is that by programming the higher areas of the brain, this explicit culture is able to control the implicit ethnocentric tendencies of white people.

The explicit culture may not be able to prevent white people from moving to white neighborhoods, and it may not prevent them from going to a NASCAR race. But it does make them supine in the face of a massive invasion of other peoples and cultures. It prevents the Republican Party from saying explicitly that they are a party of European-Americans intent on ending immigration and retaining their political majority and their cultural dominance.  And it makes them cringe in horror when someone calls them a "racist".

In attempting to find a way out of this morass, therefore, changing the explicit culture is critical. That`s why media like VDARE.COM and my own The Occidental Observer are so important. To paraphrase Bill Clinton`s presidential campaign slogan, it`s the explicit culture, stupid.

Changing the explicit culture won`t be easy. I suggest that the first step is a psychological one: Proud and confident explicit assertions of ethnic identity and interests among white people, and the creation of communities where such explicit assertions are considered normal and natural rather than a reason for ostracism.

The fact that such assertions appeal to our implicit psychology is certainly an asset. It`s always easier to go with a natural tendency than to oppose it.

And in this case, our natural preference for people like ourselves is intellectually defensible: That is, it can withstand the probing rationality of the explicit processing system.

It`s the ideology of New York Times and the cultural Marxists that can`t withstand intellectual scrutiny.

[Vdare.com note: This article is partly based on MacDonald, K. (2008). Effortful Control, Explicit Processing and the Regulation of Human Evolved Predispositions. Psychological Review, 115(4), 1012–1031. (pdf on request)]

Kevin MacDonald [email him] is Professor of Psychology at California State University-Long Beach. For his website, click here.