The issue of the week in England was racism. The three stories that brought the topic to the fore were the trial of two of Stephen Lawrence's murderers, the eight match ban handed out to Luis Suarez of Liverpool FC by the FA and Diane Abbott's tweet denouncing all white people as pracitioners of 'divide and rule.' Together, they illustrate the mess we are now in on this subject.
Under the apartheid system in old South Africa, the Population Registration Act of 1950 required every citizen to be classified by race. This led to such nonsenses as the 'pencil test' (no, ladies, not that one). The fact that categorisation had to be done by such ridiculous means rather suggested to me at the time that - as well as being immoral - apartheid was plain stupid. I can't help feeling that the angels on pinhead-type discussions about whether Suaraz and Abbott are 'racists' suggest the same about anti-racist legislation in Britain.
Stephen Lawrence's murder was a terrible crime. Murder has always been regarded as a terrible crime under the laws of England. It was no more terrible however because he was killed for being black. To suggest otherwise, as his mother and the political parasites who have fed on her grief for a decade do, is racist. A human being had his life taken from him. All decent human beings should feel equally troubled by that. Those who are more troubled because he was black are just as racist as those who are less troubled.
Diane Abbott's stupid tweet has highlighted the hypocrisy of all those who make a good living out of 'diversity issues' and racism. In their eagerness to big up the issues - all the better to prosper from 'fighting' them - they become guilty of the 'crimes' they oppose. In post-apartheid South Africa, black and coloured people still have to be categorised, because under current law black people benefit more from 'positive discrimination' than coloureds. Some version of the pencil test is still being applied and there is a common saying among coloured people now that;
We were not white enough under apartheid, and we are not black enough under the ANC
Why care about these intellectual inconsistencies? Because, for one thing, the Lawrence media circus has cost the people of England - all of us, of whatever colour - one of our most important legal protections, the rule against double jeopardy. The loss of that protection is, quite simply, a greater tragedy either than the death of Stephen Lawrence was, or the escape without punishment of two of his murderers would have been. Blackstone's formulation that;
better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer
...seems to have lost its force in modern England. He would have been as horrified and afraid as I am at that. Why should I be the only libertarian blogger not to quote the famous lines from A Man for All Seasons in this connection?
William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!
Even a libertarian state would be barely counterbalanced by other forces (e.g. churches, charities, corporations and professions) but a social democratic state is a gorilla in a flea circus. Civilisation requires that individuals be protected from such enormous force and the rule against double jeopardy was a key example of such a protection. A state able to persecute individuals by repeated prosecutions can weaponise the justice system for use against anyone who annoys it.
If you legislate against racism, you end up with inarticulate young men being pilloried for the stupid things they say in heat. You end up with Manchester United cheating at football. You end up with young people afraid to befriend black or Asian schoomates for fear that, should any argument arise, they can be demonised by the simple deployment of a fearful magic word. In short you end up with injustice. Not the odd example of a guilty man going free, but a systemic injustice that divides ethnic groups and, ironically, promotes racism. If Stephen Lawrence's death was worse because of the killers' motivation, then his murder is more important than mine would be. That is racism in itself and is likely (though it hasn't succeeded yet) to provoke racism in me.
I don't deny racism exists. I have seen and experienced it. It is a crassly stupid viewpoint and its expression is impolite at best. There is no place at my dinner table for anyone who espouses it. Nor however, is there any place there for thugs and hypocrites who seek to exploit it to make a parasitical living, to attack freedom of speech or to weaken the only form of equality for which I give a damn; equality before the law.
Picture credit (and I think it's a splendid picture, though the artist would probably disagree with every word above) Beth Consetta Rubel