Built for racism, corruption and self-deception

I believe the most perverse effect of racism is neither the dehumanization nor violence (both are in fact punishable by laws in most countries) but the collective shrinking and sometimes-complete abandonment of our self-perceived (higher than average) morality and ethics in favor of prejudice.

May 10, 2013 –Romania Libera –“ 777[Romanian] families out of 900 that received the right to adopt a child have written in their application that they do not want to adopt a Roma child”

A few disturbing facts.

The Romanian birth certificates do NOT include the ethnicity of the child.

There are no clear-cut physical differences between Roma and non-Roma in Romania besides stereotypes and prejudice.

It is very likely that some of those families (around 10%) did not want a Roma child but avoided writing it as that could have had exposed them as racist.

Statistically at least 5% of those 900 families include a Roma.

Considering the above the even more disturbing conclusion is that well over 90% of what we believe are nice and caring Romanian families that want to adopt a child are in fact racist.

It is also hard to accept that our Romanian or European society is profoundly racists and corrupted. It is even harder to accept that we are too.

The worst effect of corruption for me is similar with the end-result of racism. It is not that it affects the economy but that it leads to a collective abandonment of what should be the most basic societal morality and ethics.

Studies show without doubt that in fact we are particularly good at rationalizing and very skilled at self-deception.

I was for years surprised/annoyed by how very few of my friends will dare to speak up publicly against a racist joke or comment against Roma whenever that happened. I had girlfriends that would never disclose to their parents that they were dating a Roma. But then it was rare or exceptional when I spoke up against homophobes or confront violent, abusive sexist males. I still shut up much more than I should about corruption and the prejudices of those around me.

Many of the best people I know not only accept the systemic corruption and institutional racism as a given but they do not hesitate to use these characteristics of the system to their own advantage.

We are educated towards deceit (our history manuals are basically convenient lies) and the acceptance of authority without dissent. The fact that our brains are built to believe and accept the authority as long as whatever we are told is not stridently against our beliefs is a significant advantage for those trying to deceive.

Habits come from repetition and they are very hard to overcome. Studies show that once a habit is built in, it is a primitive part of our brain (basal ganglia) that takes over when we need to access the habit. This practically reduces to a minimum the thinking process of our brain and allows us to drive (a habit), listen to our favorite show on the radio and drink our coffee or smoke a (another habits) at the same time. It is convenient and makes our lives a lot easier.

Racism, corruption as well as self-deception I argue are some of the strongest habits not only in Romania but also in Europe. It is a habit to think Roma are sub-humans, to give bribes and to see ourselves better than we are. It is easier for our brain to work with habits and therefore much more convenient for us.

Professor Simon B Cohen of Cambridge University discovered that “the capacity to deceive is a marker that a child is actually developing typical social skills.” The fact that developing social skills means developing skills to deceive might seem troublesome enough but it is our capacity to self-deception that is plain scary.

Self- deception is the main reason why “hedonic adaptation” (a phenomenon in which people quickly become used to changes, great or terrible, in order to maintain a stable level of happiness) exists.  The involvement of “normal” people in the killings during the Holocaust as well as those in Rwanda, Cambodia, ex-Yugoslavia etc  is a stark proof of its existence.

An institutional or societal culture that has a high rate of conformism and discourages critical thinking it is almost impossible to change if provides enough to allow life standards that are acceptable or slightly above acceptable. Either the European Commission or the poorest local administration in Romania shares the same characteristics. In my experience so does some of the most powerful NGOs.

The fact that we abandon our sense of justice, morality and ethics whenever it is convenient for us, that we are build and educated flawed (it is very hard and sometimes impossible to change our strong beliefs and very easy to ignore overwhelming proof that goes against our beliefs) proves how good we are at self-deception and a strong argument that we are built for being racist and corrupt.

We can overcame our disgusting habits. But the basic of it is to recognize that they are bad for us. And up to this moment regardless how revolted we are about the racism, corruption and deceit of others we seem to be almost incapable to accept that we are not just victims but perpetrators of racism, corruption and deceit even in the best case when we are guilty of only avoiding to react against any of them.



  1. Let me start by saying that I agree with all your points but on the theoretical level. Yes, we are all those awful things you mention and we tend to apply high standards of morality and ethics mostly to others but overcoming wide spread culturally ingrained racism is a very long process. It takes generations if things go well. Basically what you are asking is, for anyone who actually has some moral/ethical stand to fully rationalize all the time and to challenge the mainstream (common wisdom as they call it) on every occasion. Well, that’s not the way most of us function even if we are „good” people. Generalizing, stereotyping, discriminating (in a different context a good thing) are normal behavior (up to a point) since we can’t be in a state of rationalizing all the time, we rely a lot on memory be it personal or collective.

    It will take a long time to re-format that collective memory for 2 main reasons: discrimination usually goes both ways and controlling in a positive way the level/quality of education of the masses is impossible at least using the current methods.

    One more thing, don’t ever expect things to change with the help or because of that ridiculous organization called EU.

    1. Thanks for this. What I am asking is to try to make a change – if one time in 10 all of us will speak-out against racism, corruption or whatever things are there that we believe should change but we do not have the spine to change it things will improve. Otherwise we agree.

  2. I don’t disagree with your conclusions but I believe two of the facts on which you have built your arguments are not valid.

    First, on the fact that „are no clear-cut physical differences between Roma and non-Roma”. I am sure that in most cases a Romanian will be able to tell if somebody is Roma or not, even if I agree that there may be situations when this is not possible. That’s not to say that the differences are huge, but they still are.

    Then, and this is even more disturbing, there may be people not willing to adopt a Roma knowing that they would face the prejudice of the Romanian society if they did that. If they lived in US those families would happily adopt a Roma.

    I am also a bit pessimistic that just speaking against racism will make any difference. People need to understand that the problem will never be solved until they take some action.

    1. On the differences between Roma and non-Roma we disagree – the other point is very valid indeed. On racism – I am somewhere in the middle. Thanks for reading me.

  3. I enjoy a lot your writing, the way you challenge institutional rigor mortis and personal prejudice. Let me pour some gas on the fire:
    Costin says that some might be afraid to adopt Roma kids ‘knowing that they would face the prejudice of the Romanian society if they did that. If they lived in US those families would happily adopt a Roma.’ Well, I am not so sure about that, I think there might be even some deeper fears that prevent them from adopting, here or in US,: the fear that Roma kids also have a genetic baggage that might prove troublesome in the long run. The notion that cultural and behaviour patterns might be passed down from generation to generation through some sort of genetical encoding is a tabu in our modern society because of what it might lead to (and it actually led to not so long ago). However, even if we never speak openly of that notion, I see it informing our prejudice every day.
    Valeriu, I am afraid we will never curb racism against Roma unless we start exploring the true source of it, the deepest beliefs we, non-Roma, have about Roma. Just think about this: it is ok and quite common for people to say that X has a drinking problem because he/she inherited ‘a drinking gene’ from his/her father(or mother for that matter, if we are to be gender sensitive, too, during this discussion :-)). But we will never say, at least not in the open: X is non-trustworthy because even though he/she was adopted when he/she was a few days old, he/she inherited the ‘gene of untrusworthiness’ from his/her Roma natural parents. The fact that we don’t say it, though, doesn’t mean we don’t think it. And the fact that we don’t admit to thinking it doesn’t mean we don’t think it. See, self-delusion.

    All the best.

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