The illiberal Right and the illiberal Left

November 3, 2021 • 9:45 am

I was going to write about this article today, but it almost seems outmoded in light of the drubbing Democrats are taking in various places. Clearly, the extreme “progressive” wing of the party is pulling it away from victory.  Youngkin won in Virginia largely because he played up the “Critical Race Theory in School” argument, but I wouldn’t want that victory to mean that schools should stop teaching about the real oppression in American history or about the Civil Rights movement, the odious treatment of Native Americans, and so on. We just have to do this sensibly, and I hope there’s a way that’s sufficiently sensible that Republicans can’t make hay of it.

But I digress. Below is a piece written on Bari Weiss’s site by David French, identified as “a senior editor at The Dispatch a columnist for Time, and a member of Persuasion’s Board of Advisers.” And I think it’s sensible and strikes the right tone.

Click to read for free (but do subscribe to her site if you read it often). Do note Norman Rockwell’s famous painting, “The Problem we all live with” (1964), depicting Ruby Bridges, the first black child to desegregate an elementary school in New Orleans in 1960.  She faced enormous opposition, of course, as shown by the n-word on the wall, the splashed tomatoes, and the four U.S. Marshals escorting her to the classroom.

There’s an introduction by Bari that includes this:

In the essay below, David French reports on the fallout of these bills in states like Texas and Tennessee, where he lives with his family. It is there that parents have complained about Norman Rockwell’s painting The Problem We All Live With (shown above) which depicts the courageous Ruby Bridges. David suggests that in the attempt to respond to left-wing intolerance the right is creating their own.

French is a conservative—not just that, but, as he notes, “a pro-life, ideologically conservative Evangelical Christian who upholds traditional church teachings on sex and marriage.”  As he says, he has all the bona fides that should make the Right appeal to him. But it doesn’t, for he sees the Right as illiberal (French, a free speech advocate, was once the president of FIRE):

But something is going wrong on the right. An increasing number of politicians, lawyers, and activists are responding to fears of left-wing intolerance with their own efforts to censor, suppress, and cancel. They’re doing so in different places and different jurisdictionsthe very places and jurisdictions where the right is dominant and where, all too often, the echoes of America’s most painful past can still be heard.

The most prominent example of right-wing illiberalism comes from the series of so-called “anti-CRT” bills being passed in legislatures across the country.

According to a Heritage Foundation tracker, the bills have been introduced in more than 20 states and passed in seven. They promise to protect children from a divisive and hateful ideology, but they’re largely a mess. They’re vague and poorly drafted, and they leave teachers utterly confused.

This has led to Right-wing censorship that has gone too far (remember, the Left does this too, but with different books). French mentions that a member of Texas’s House Committee on General Investigating sent a letter to all school districts demanding that they reveal whether they have any of 800 “problematic” books and identify other ones. These are, of course, books that emphasize the more unpleasant aspects of America or American history.

And it also happened in French’s home state, Tennessee:

In addition to the hundreds of books listed in Texas (including “The Indian Removal Act and the Trail of Tears,” “Between the World and Me,” and “The Confessions of Nat Turner”), what other books “might” make students feel discomfort? Our local experience in Tennessee sheds some light.

I live in Williamson County, one of the nation’s most prosperous counties and a bastion of state Republican power. This summer, an activist group called Moms for Liberty filed a formal complaint with the Tennessee Department of Education alleging that four young-elementary books—“Martin Luther King Jr. and the March on Washington,” by Frances E. Ruffin, “Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story,” by Ruby Bridges, “The Story of Ruby Bridges,” by Robert Coles, and “Separate Is Never Equal,” by Duncan Tonatiuhviolated the state’s new, expansive anti-CRT law.

I’d urge you to read the entire complaint. It does not refer to a single example of actual critical race theory. The objection is instead to the effect of photographs and accurate depictions of the Civil Rights Movement. Exposure to these historical details, we’re told, “makes children hate their country, each other, and/or themselves.”

If you think I’m exaggerating, here are some of the objections to “The Story of Ruby Bridges”: “Pages 20-21 show images of white people yelling and protesting with accompanying text, ‘The crowd seemed ready to kill her.’” And: “Pages 12-13 show more white protestors surrounding Ruby and reads ‘Men and women shouted at her. They pushed toward her.’”

To be clear, the complaint is complaining about photographs and descriptions that depict what life was actually like for black Americans living in the Jim Crow South.

The many problems with  “Ruby Bridges Goes to School,” according to the complaint, include “photographs of a neighborhood sign that reads ‘WE WANT WHITE TENANTS IN OUR WHITE COMMUNITY’ and a smiling white boy holding a sign that says ‘We wont [sic] go to school with Negroes.’”

The complaint also takes issue with Norman Rockwell’s painting The Problem We All Live With, which depicts Ruby Bridges walking to school with the “n word” in the background and originally appeared, in 1964, in Look, a general-interest magazine published in Des Moines, Iowa. That’s right: They’re complaining about Norman Rockwell.

These people don’t want to face up to the fact that there are unsavory parts of American history. I shudder now to think how my own secondary-school texts glossed over the problem of civil rights and the genocide of American Indians. French ably defends the view that this history needs to be taught:

Why would parents appeal to a law meant to combat critical race theory to censor deeply troubling but wholly uncontroversial books? Because the law allows them to do just that. It bans any “concept” that  “promot[es] division between, or resentment of, a race, sex, religion, creed, nonviolent political affiliation, social class, or class of people.”

This extraordinarily subjective standard permits parents to object whenever their children express anger or discomfort.

There is no question that stories of American segregation are difficult to hear, but when they read about Ruby Bridges or Martin Luther King Jr., children are reading about national heroes. Consider Rockwell’s painting. That young girl, in all her courage, is an example for us all. And if one doubts the need for instruction about racism, one need only read recent stories from the same school district in the same county. For example, in 2019, the Tennessean reported that white middle school students locked arms in a hallway to form “Trump’s wall” and let only white kids pass.

Appropriately, my friend and William and Mary classmate Jim Batterson, who comments here, just sent me an email and photo when I was writing this. This typifies the everyday racism that obtained in Virginia when we went to school. He was in Newport News, I in Arlington. His class of 550 students had just three African-Americans and two Hispanics. Jim said this (posted with permission):

Here is a pic from my 1966 high school yearbook showing the cafeteria staff. Please notice that all are black with the exception of the cafeteria manager and that all blacks are listed by first name while the white cafeteria manager is given the honorary prefix “Mrs.” and no first name…a sign of respect for an adult. I expect things were the same at your northern Virginia high school. I think this is a good and simple example of racism. I also have a pic of custodial staff that is captioned similarly.

and the custodians—same deal:

It’s this kind of historical racism that kids need to learn about, and that we can’t let go down the drain because of the “CRT” fracas.  In the end, French also calls out the illiberal Left as well:

America is confronting two powerful illiberal movements, and where you stand on their relative threats can depend greatly on where you live. If you’re a conservative professor or student under fire in the elite academy, the travails of elementary school teachers in a Nashville suburb aren’t much on your mind. You’re fighting for your reputation and career against some of the most elite and powerful cultural forces in the United States.

But if you’re the parent of a black child who comes home in tears explaining that she wasn’t allowed past “Trump’s wall,” if you later witness a member of a school board audience shout “you’re in the South” when another parent laments the omnipresence of Confederate symbols, then the struggles of Ivy League conservatives don’t have much purchase.

And the consequences, which we’ve seen this morning:

But might does not make right, and if we use power punitively, then we create a nation of warring illiberal jurisdictions. Many of the same people who flex their muscles in Red America to pass expansive and vague anti-CRT laws cry foul when Blue America forces public school teachers to use preferred pronouns.

I remember, years ago, when I began my First Amendment litigation career, hearing FIRE’s two founders, Alan Charles Kors and Harvey Silverglate, challenge the idea that Americans were “too weak to live with freedom.” They believed that you trained even young Americans to venture forth in a pluralistic nation with confidence in their ideas and the fortitude to weather dissent.

That means encountering teachers and teaching you may not like. It means encountering words that trigger strong reactions. And, parents, that even means sometimes helping your children learn difficult truths and to question or even unlearn lessons they’ve learned at school. It’s not an easy path, but it’s a better path than the one we’re on nowwhere scholars are under fire from left and right, and in some schools even Norman Rockwell is out of bounds.

And that is an eloquent ending.

Sci Am reports on a science fellowship cancelled because all the candidates were white men

October 31, 2021 • 12:15 pm

This article is from the newest Scientific American, which has become obsessed with “progressive” ideology.  The title tells the tale, and I offer the story to readers because I want their opinion. The upshot is that a prestigious fellowship given out by the American Geophysical Union (AGU) requires a panel to nominate a short slate of candidates for a pretty prestigious “AGU fellows program”. The slate then goes to a higher committee to choose the winner.

But this year all of the final few nominees were white males.  Because of this—not because the nominees weren’t highly qualified—they decided not to award the fellowship at all. The finalists weren’t diverse enough, and the reasons for the rejection appear to be twofold. First, because the all-white panel is said to be a result of racism—of “implicit bias”. Second, cancelling the award was said by some to send a stronger message to the AGU that they have to step up their diversity game than merely raising the issue loudly and often.

My own feeling is that the accusation of racism is not justified until they show that it is not a “pipeline” problem in the area of “cryosphere research”—that is, there might be relatively few women or minorities even available for selection. Inequity only reflects racism when there is a proportionality of minorities in the candidate pool that is significantly lower than in the outcome. But there’s one more thing: we need to know about the credentials of the candidates. It might be that there is no racism or sexism here if you vetted the c.v.s of the candidates blind to their sex or ethnicity, and the top candidates were still white males. These are mid-career awards, for one thing, and the pool of mid-career applicants might be lower for some groups because they’re just getting into the field, or because they aren’t as interested in the field.

In other words, those who cancelled the award have not shown to my satisfaction that there was any bias involved in the award at all. Now if they feel that sometimes diversity should trump quality, then they need to make that explicit. For only then can they justify what they’ve done in the absence of supporting data.

I’ll try to summarize briefly. Quotes from the article are indented.

The fellowship and the process:

The AGU fellows program, established nearly 60 years ago, recognizes members who have made exceptional contributions to their fields through scientific innovation, breakthroughs and discoveries. It’s a high honor. Fellows often serve as “external experts, capable of advising government agencies and other organizations outside the sciences upon request,” according to AGU.

The selection process this past spring was an arduous, careful operation from beginning to end.

Candidates, typically middle- or senior-level scientists, are first nominated by peers. The nominees are divided into groups with 20 or 30 names, and then organized by scientific disciplines within AGU — atmospheric sciences, ocean sciences, planetary sciences and so on.

Committees representing each section review the pool of nominees, select a few final candidates and send them on to an upper-tier committee. This last group, the “union committee,” makes the final selections.

The process proceeds the same way each year and concludes, ostensibly, with the same outcome: a new batch of AGU’s best and brightest scientists.

The outcome:

Five of the nation’s top ice scientists found themselves in a conundrum.

They’d been tasked with a formidable job: reviewing candidates for the American Geophysical Union’s fellows program, the most prestigious award given by the world’s largest earth and space science society. But when the group looked at its list of candidates, all nominated by peers, it spotted a problem.

Every nominee on the list was a white man.

“That was kind of a bit of a showstopper for me,” said Helen Fricker, a glaciologist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and one of the five committee members.

. . .The homogeneous pool of nominees didn’t sit right.

Fricker had been named a fellow herself in 2017, when relatively few women were recognized.

“One of the reasons I was put on the committee was because I’d been quite vocal about the year that I’d been a fellow, I was very much in the minority, and we needed to do better and get more women,” she said in an interview.

So the committee members made an uncomfortable decision. They declined to recommend any nominees at all.

Fricker’s statement implies, but doesn’t say explicitly, that they are failing because there are not enough women that get the award. But how many women are in the applicant pool, and how do their credentials compare to that of other people? They give other statistics about a disproportionality of men, not just in the AGU fellowships but in Nobel Prizes and other science awards, all apparently reflecting bias. (Doudna and Charpentier are apparent exceptions.)

The one worrying issue here is that the article says that the number of nominations of women has dropped in the last five years, with 2021 as a low point. What does that mean? To Fricker and others, it apparently implies increasing sexism and racism.

The evidence for these accusations is below:

Suggestions of sexism and racism:

First, Fricker says that their bold action sends a needed signal to the AGU that couldn’t be sent just by lobbying:

“Everybody’s given us all this great advice on what we could have done. But honestly, I don’t think anything would have had the impact of what we ended up doing,” she told E&E News. “If you just go forward and put names forward and then say, ‘OK, we’ve put these names forward, but honestly guys this is a terrible pool and you need to do better next year,’ nothing would change.”

That seems a bit unfair, for it violates Kant’s view that people should never be used as means, and here the rejected people are used as means to send a message to the AGU. But to Fricker that’s okay:

“It was a very sad, sort of tough thing to have to do, because there’s people on that list who were truly, amazingly deserving,” Fricker said. “But the honest truth is that they will get nominated again and they will become fellows. There’s no question there. It will just be a fairer process.”

Pardon me if I don’t believe her.

Here’s where the implicit bias comes in—a construct that has been shown to be unworkable:

Despite persistent problems with diversity in science awards around the world, researchers say there are plenty of ways to tackle the problem.

Implicit bias plays a major role in who receives science awards, according to Mary Anne Holmes, a geologist and professor emeritus at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. It’s an unconscious bias or prejudice that can lead people to identify more strongly with people from their own social groups..

If awards nominators or selection committees are composed primarily of homogeneous groups — for instance, white people or men — that can lead to an unintentional skew in the people who are nominated or selected for awards.

. . .“We’re all committing acts of implicit bias every day, all the time, without meaning to be biased,” Holmes said in an interview.

Implicit bias training for awards selection committees “is huge,” she added.

Accusations of bias ring hollow without the necessary statistics: number of candidates and quality, ideally assessed without knowing sex or ethnicity. One solution is to go out, as one group did, and publicize to letter writers to write for qualified women or minorities. In one case noted, this upped the number of women getting fellowships in the earth and planetary sciences section.

Upshot:  It’s unfair to turn down all the final nominees because they were white males. Who knows if they’ll apply again, much less make the cut? If there is bias, implicit or explicit, they have to make a case for it, as well as a case for prioritizing diversity for the awards. I’ll cite here some data and one solution offered by a brave person:

Raymond Bradley, director of the climate system research center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, was among the first to publish a statement to AGU’s online member forum, AGU Connect. He called for the committee members to resign.

“What the committee should have done is what they were tasked to do, which is to select from the nominations they received the best people and put them forward,” Bradley said in an interview. “At the same time they could recognize that there aren’t enough nominations being received from women and underrepresented groups, and they could shake up their members and say, ‘Hey, come on, let’s nominate more people.’”

AGU data from the past few years suggests that there are significantly fewer female fellow nominees than male nominees. Of those nominees, a slightly greater percentage of women than men go on to be selected as fellows, Bradley pointed out.

“This hardly supports the idea that there is some sort of implicit bias in the selection process,” he said in a follow-up email. “The problem lies in the low number of nominations, and that depends on the effort people make to submit candidates for Fellow.”

That suggests that, as Bradley notes, proponents of more diversity should expend more effort at unearthing nominees, more “shaking up of the membership.”

Please weigh in below.

Deconstruction of a Twitter fracas involving Ibram Kendi

October 31, 2021 • 9:15 am
The tweet by Ibram X. Kendi quoted by Hashmi and Greenwald below was later removed by Kendi.  You can see the article on The Hill to which Kendi refers here, and the original survey is here.

 

Now clearly Kendi removed it (though he denies it; see below) because it appears to show that lying about your race if you’re white improves your chances of being accepted in college. I can see no other reason for the removal, especially given the pushback he got from people like Greenwald.

However, the original survey of 1250 college students doesn’t have a control group: the percentage of students who didn’t fake minority status and still got admitted to college. You could sort of have a control by looking at the percentage of students who got into college in each of the four categories: Black, Native American, Latino, and Asian/Pacific islander. If there were huge disparities in the acceptance figures among these liars—say that those who pretended to be Black or Hispanic got in much more easily than those who pretended to be Asian/Pacific islander. Even that has problems, but would show that claiming you’re of oppressed minority status makes a difference in admission, facilitating it in the expected direction (Blacks and Hispanics are favored over Asians). But I can’t find that data.

Absent the control percentage, of students who didn’t lie and got in, you can’t make an airtight case for the advantage of lying.  I suspect, however, that fewer than 3/4 of applicants get into college. (But even that’s problematic, because the survey didn’t specify that the students got into the college of their choice, just got into a college.) All you can say is that there is a reason students lie about their ethnicity (the most common reason given was to get financial aid), and that nearly every college in the U.S. is looking for good minority students, exercising affirmative action to take them. (I am, by the way, in favor of a form of such affirmative action.)

The other thing to ponder when “deconstructing” these tweets is why Greenwald says there are “numerous obvious falsehoods” in what Kendi said.  I couldn’t see any immediately, but the second tweet below clarifies things a bit:

What Griswold means is that if one-sixth of white applicants lie about being Native Americans, and 77% of those get in, then one expects (if these results are general) about 12.8% of the truly white students in a college would be classified as Native Americans. (The true figure, of course, will be lower than this because not all students in a college are white). Still, I don’t know of any college, except perhaps ones in the Southwest, where even 5% of students are classified as Native Americans.

What this comes down to is that the data in the surveys cited by Kendi are surely bogus. That doesn’t mean that Kendi screwed up big time, because this line of reasoning takes time, and he may simply have tweeted out what he read as the headlines or bullet points in the survey or The Hill article.

Where he messed up was simply posting the tweet, probably because the data seem to go against his thesis that there is structural racism everywhere, which would predict that members of minorities don’t get preferential admission to college or financial aid. If they didn’t (and of course they do), there would be no motivation for white students to lie. In other words, the data (though they may be faulty) appear at first glance to falsify Kendi’s main thesis: there is inequity everywhere, and if you see it it reflects “structural racism” acting at the present. Everyone involved in colleges knows that this is not true for the admissions process, at least for black and Hispanic students.

In the end, though, Kendi probably did the only thing he could do: delete the tweet, for the man is loath to admit he’s wrong.  But he screwed up again when he started defending his original tweet, saying stuff like this:

Again, what we need here is a control group: a group of similar white students who didn’t lie about their ethnicity, and whether their admission rates were substantially lower than 81% (the admission figure quoted in the survey for students who lied). If there is such a difference, then Kendi is wrong.  But I suspect that lying does help one get into college or get financial aid, and students realize it (remember, over a third of  the sample lied about their ethnicity).  And if that is true, then the “tortured line of thinking” is not tortured at all.  If there is an advantage of lying, then it’s not just that you “think” you have an advantage. (That’s why Kendi deleted his original tweet.)

This is not to deny that there is structural racism in various institutions or organizations. But if a more sophisticated analysis and explanation for the data show preferential college admission of minorities, then there is no structural racism in the college admissions process.  Indeed, there, at least, it’s an advantage to be a minority.  And we know this because colleges practice affirmative action.

I suspect that Kendi’s answers reflect his being flummoxed by all this. If I were Kendi, I would have simply removed the tweet. He’d still be excoriated by people who captured the screenshot, but he’s going to get into more trouble if he tries to debate. I’ve given him some material to defend himself in this post, but there’s simply no doubt that there is no “inequity” in college admissions for blacks or Hispanics.

The tweets may reflect reasons why Kendi doesn’t engage in live debates.

Reviews of John McWhorter’s and Steve Pinker’s new books

October 27, 2021 • 9:30 am

Two books that you’ll probably want to read are just appearing, and readers sent me links to one review of each.  The books are John McWhorter’s Woke Racism (see below for subtitle), which came out yesterday and is already #78 on Amazon, and Rationality (subtitle below) by Steve Pinker, which comes out tomorrow and is #653 on Amazon (it will go higher).

McWhorter’s book is 226 pages long with a hardback price of $19.06 on Amazon, and Pinker’s is a mere pamphlet for him at a scant 432 pages—and a bargain at $19.69 in hardcover.

The longish review of Woke Racism is at Quillette, so you can probably expect that it’s laudatory. I haven’t read it as I write this, but will before I continue this post. Click on the screenshot below to read it for free (but you can also subscribe to Quillette).

Pollen’s review, though it is laudatory, really summarizes the thesis of the book rather than evaluates it (there’s not a critical word in his piece though the NYT review I just found, also laudatory, detects some flaws). Pollen does give a good summary of what McWhorter says, though if you read McWhorter’s excerpts on his old Substack site, you’ll already know much of what he has to say. Regardless, I’ll read his book.

There are four parts of McWhorter’s argument as outlined by Pollen, and I’ll separate them. Quotes are indented:

a. McWhorter’s thesis. We are in the “third wave” of anti-racism, the first two being the “fight against slavery and legalized segregation. Number two was “the struggle against racist attitudes, which sought to instill the idea that racial prejudice was a moral defect.” This is presumably the era of Martin Luther King, Jr: from the Fifties to the late Sixties.  This third is the current brand of anti-racism, apparently construed by McWhorter as “woke racism,” although of course there are temperate and rational anti-racists. Those aren’t McWhorter’s targets.

b. The third wave is not only nuts, but harmful. 

In his new book, Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America, John McWhorter demonstrates that there is far more Martin Luther than Martin Luther King in today’s anti-racist movement. McWhorter, a linguist and a professor at Columbia University, is a critic of luminous intelligence, and his book’s apparently oxymoronic title plays on Robin DiAngelo’s (equally oxymoronic) Nice Racism: How Progressive White People Perpetuate Racial Harm. DiAngelo’s dubious contention is that white progressives are often more injurious to the cause of racial equity than skinheads or bedsheet bigots, because their racist transgressions are the result of well-meaning ignorance. McWhorter asks the corollary: can even those supposedly enlightened and self-appointed champions of anti-racism (whom he calls “the Elect”) think and act in ways that harm black America?

McWhorter seems to concentrate on Ibram Kendi and Robin DiAngelo as avatars of “third wave antiracism”, though, according to the NYT review, he gives short shrift to their arguments themselves (he has analyzed those arguments elsewhere). It will behoove you to read Kendi’s How to be an Antiracist and DiAngelo’s White Fragility, though they may cause you “harm” by creating “offense”. You can’t really fathom the irrationality of the current movement without reading at least those two books.

c. The third wave is not just like a religion; it is a religion:

The central tenets of the third wave are provided by what McWhorter pointedly calls a “Catechism of Contradictions.” These include such prescriptions as: embrace multiculturalism, but don’t culturally appropriate; silence is violence, but remember to defer and elevate oppressed voices above your own; more black students should be admitted to top schools (via adjusted test scores and grade standards) in order to foster diversity, but it is racist to acknowledge that students are admitted for these reasons, and it is racist to expect them to represent a “diverse” view.

The catechism, in this case, is not a metaphor: McWhorter earns his subtitle, and he is not being rhetorical. He does not argue that third wave anti-racism is “like” a religion—it is a religion in all but name. It is religious in the infinite elasticity of its arguments and in its claim to be an all-solving theory, which banishes irony and contradiction and treats all opposition as blasphemy. We see also the prayer sessions and genuflections, the insistence on sin, the creation of saints (see the George Floyd murals), and the same extraordinary moral arrogance masquerading as humility and meekness. Church leaders, in sympathy with white protestors at a rally in Cary North Carolina, actually washed black protestors’ feet. This is not a distortion of religious thinking, as critics like Andrew Sullivan (a Catholic) have claimed. It is religious thinking to a T. It is Christianity in drag

. . These ostentatious outbursts of self-flagellation are quasi-Christian displays of self-incriminating and self-mortifying masochism. Perversely, people want to feel bad about themselves and to be told that they are sinners, so that they can throw themselves on the mercy of their clerics.

It’s useless to quibble about whether it really is a religion because it lacks a supernatural being; the point is that it is a largely irrational and delusion belief system that shares many characteristics with Abrahamic faiths.

d. The new anti-racism is pretentious and condescending to black people. Further, it will do little to bring about equality as it is mostly performative. 

It is hard to see how any of this will redress real “structural” inequalities. “People supposedly committed to political transformation,” McWhorter writes, “breezily ignore the yawningly abstract relationship between testifying to ‘privilege’ and forging change in the real world.” How, for example, will DiAngelo’s micro-behavioral prescriptions make poor black communities less poor? How will dropping to one’s knees and admitting one’s privilege end the mass incarceration of black Americans caused by the disastrous failure of the War on Drugs? How will separate graduation ceremonies and separate national anthems raise standards in public schools, boost literacy, or make vocational training more accessible? None of these concrete problems receive a fraction of the attention given to the regulation of conduct and demands for intellectual rewiring.

As I’ve said before, Grania used to dwell on this issue when confronting woke words or actions. “What will it change?” she asked, and she lived in South Africa during the apartheid era. When people demonstrate against Americans trying on kimonos at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, how does that reduce racism against Asians? When people cancel bird names and change the name of Audubon societies because of accused racism, does it help the situation of black Americans? Well, I suppose you can make the case, but those acts are clearly exculpatory and performative. Surely there are meaningful acts that can do a better job, and those are the actions that McWhorter and Lowry have been prescribing. We’ll see if they’re discussed in McWhorter’s book.

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You can’t read the full review of Rationality since nearly all of it is paywalled on Arc Digital, but I got four whole paragraphs in an email from the site. (If readers have access, please send me a copy of the full review; I don’t think McWhorter would mind as it’s for publicity purposes.) If you are a subscriber, click on the screenshot below.

Here’s the excerpt I got:

I wasn’t the biggest fan of Steven Pinker’s earlier blockbuster Enlightenment NowWhile it was crisply written and argued, it seemed incurious and even blasé about the many sources of dissatisfaction which had led to the re-emergence of radicalism in many developed states. Pinker also had a bad habit of gish-galloping past strawmanned iterations of doctrines he disdained as irrational, from postmodern leftism to Nietzschean reaction, offering zingers rather than analysis. While his optimism resonated with me, as someone who has grown weary of the cliché of left-wing melancholia, Pinker’s “stay the course” diagnosis also struck me as inadequate to the challenges humanity faces in the 21st century.

Now that is bad writing, loaded with jargon and ponderous. But press on, for the review is positive:

So I was surprised by how much I enjoyed his latest book, Rationality: What it is, Why it Seems Scarce, Why it MattersA far less ambitious book than Enlightenment Now, it may disappoint those looking for another “state of the world” liberal manifesto. That said, it plays heavily to his strengths as a renowned cognitive psychologist.

Many of its summaries of logical reasoning, critical thinking, and fallacious argumentation are top notch introductions which anyone could benefit from. Pinker still occasionally reaches too far when trying to engage in moral and political philosophies where his grip remains superficial, and as cultural analysis no one will get much from Rationality. But these are relatively minor complaints about what is a useful and always readable book.

We live in an era that simultaneously worships intellect and resents it. Even in the most relentlessly rad left circles I’m most familiar with, where discrimination of all kinds is avoided with incomparable zeal, the one form of social ranking that remains not only permissible but accepted is intellectual: who is the smartest, knows the most, has published the most books, etc. Much of this is the long term product of our Enlightenment heritage’s focus on reason as the Archimedean lever which can move the world for the better.

And there is more to read, but I can’t get to it . . .

h/t Steve (not Pinker!)

The lies of the Art Institute of Chicago

October 26, 2021 • 11:00 am

If you’ve read this site, you’ll know that the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) recently got rid of 80-odd volunteer docents, peremptorily firing them via email despite the fact that most of them had worked (for free) for many years and knew tons about the art. They were good guides and cost the AIC nothing.

The reason was clear: the docents were mostly older white women of means, who had the time for the rigorous training and heavy schedule of giving tours. But because the docents didn’t “look like” the population of Chicago (i.e., there were few African-Americans or Hispanics among them), they had to go—en masse. They’re being replaced by a much smaller and less well-trained staff of paid volunteers, with promises that someday real volunteers will return. In the meantime, the newly-fired docents have been told they can apply for the paid jobs, but given that these jobs are meant to increase racial diversity, they don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell. Their consolation prize is a three-year free membership to the AIC. Big whoop!

I’m all in favor of diversity, but firing a well-trained group of ardent volunteer guides and art-lovers is not the way the AIC should have gone about it. I won’t go into the alternatives, but the readers here suggested many.

In the meantime, I heard from one reader who is a member of the AIC and wrote to them in protest. This reader got a mealy-mouthed generic response that had a list of frequently-asked questions about DocentGate and their answers. I’ll show two. The two documents I mention here, by the way, are available via judicious inquiry.

From the FAQ:

Why is this decision being portrayed in the media as being about socioeconomics and race?

Unfortunately some have tried to portray this positive evolution of a hybrid educator program into a discussion of identity politics, which it is not. We are simply updating an education model to best serve Chicagoland students. During this time when tours have decreased due to the pandemic, we will use paid educators, and as demand for school tours increases with recovery from the pandemic, we will bring in additional paid educators and institute a new hybrid model that incorporates volunteers with updated training.

Note the weaselly first sentence which says it is “not” a discussion of identity politics. But, as I’ll show you in a minute, that’s an arrant lie, for a letter from James Rondeau to AIC members shows it’s all about identity politics. As I said, increasing diversity among guides is a laudable goal. But why does the AIC lie about it here?

One more lying answer:

Why was the program unsustainable? 

The docents went through rigorous training, and the demands of the program were unsustainable in numerous ways. In nearly all recent news articles, the docents themselves acknowledge how difficult the work was to manage—a topic that the docents and museum had long been discussing. Many talented and qualified candidates could not participate because of the time the training required and when the training was offered.

Part of the reason we are taking this time to step back and evaluate is to make it easier for all volunteers—current and potential—to engage and contribute in the future. We‘re committed to creating a new program that does not have so many barriers to entry. We value the docents’ knowledge and experience and look forward to the insights they will bring to the advisory council that will be consulting on the direction of the new hybrid model.

I doubt that the docents would agree with this. After all, the program had done on for 60 years, and even though docents may have kvetched (I’m not aware of any beefs), nobody quit. They canned the program not because there were barriers to entry involving too much training, but because there were not enough docents who were people of color. Why can’t the AIC just admit that this is all about increasing diversity among the docents? They only look worse when they dissimulate and lie about it.

Now about those lies; here are some excerpts to a letter to all AIC members by the President and Director James Rondeau (also available on request). Do you think race isn’t involved? In fact, it’s EVERYTHING. I’ve bolded a paragraph that shows this.

One year after stating our commitment to racial justice and equity, I feel it is critical to do several things, the first of which is to reaffirm this commitment.

Last year, we pledged to renew our ongoing assessment of our organization and its culture, internally and publicly, and prioritize efforts to ensure visitors and staff are welcomed; foster employee engagement and trust; elevate artists and histories that have been marginalized; develop programming that is diverse, challenging, and impactful; continue to evolve educational programming to reflect current social discourse and inspire students from wide-ranging backgrounds; cultivate a visitorship that more accurately reflects the demographics of our city; and honor and embrace our civic role.

This one-year marker offers an opportunity to reflect on the steps we have taken toward addressing these inequities, to acknowledge where progress has been more difficult and slower than desired, and also to look ahead.

We acknowledge that this work—dismantling decades of marginalizing, exclusionary practices and their impact on the present—is continual and ongoing, and we recognize that an anti-racist philosophy must be ingrained into every aspect of our work—every day, in every encounter, in every decision. These ideas are reflected in a new identity, vision, and strategy document. This guiding plan—developed, reviewed, and iterated with colleagues throughout the museum—provides a revised mission as well as new values and equity statements. Moreover, it incorporates equity and inclusion principles into every one of our goals—from increasing the accessibility of our content and ensuring our spaces are welcoming to all to fostering organizational health and honoring our civic role.

. . . Throughout the last year, we have put an enormous focus on staff and internal culture—because to be the museum we want to be for our visitors, we need to create and support a more inclusive environment for our staff. As part of a substantial reorganization, we created a crucial new division of People and Culture, including the department of Inclusion and Belonging, a new team that is integral to both advancing our equity efforts and fostering a supportive anti-racist employee culture. While this team’s work is just beginning, their first priority has been to create opportunities for community and support for employees, especially during moments of institutional, local, and national trauma. Next, they will focus on building actionable working plans to measure progress around hiring and promoting more inclusively, establishing leadership development programs specifically for BIPOC colleagues.

Not about race my tuchas! I’ll send this letter to anyone who asks.

The AIC has apparently already established an “affinity space” (a segregated space) for black staffers, and plans on “launching an Asian/Asian American and Pacific Islander affinity space to offer supportive space for A/AAPI colleagues.”

Finally, two statements in Rondeau’s letter support the hypothesis (see yesterday’s post) that part of the reason for having diversity among the guides is to start interpreting art through an ideologically compatible lens as a way of “disrupting Western culture”. This, of course, is my cynical interpretation of these statements from President Rondeau (emphasis is mine):

We have also focused our attention on our collection—strengthening the representation of works by BIPOC artists in our holdings through important acquisitions and presenting a more diverse representation of artists in our galleries—especially Black artists with connections to Chicago. This work comes to life in a variety of spaces, but particularly in our contemporary galleries. Moving forward, we are evaluating how these works are presented to our audiences with a more critical lens and have instituted a process to reassess label text to provide more diverse perspectives in the galleries. . . 

. . . When we are able to host students on-site again, we are relaunching our in-person school tours with a wholly different program—one developed in collaboration with teachers, artists, volunteers, and school administrators—to prioritize equity and inclusion. This evolving program, virtual and in person, transforms not only the content of our tours but the approach to be one of connection and exchange that uses art as a catalyst for the holistic engagement of students with themselves, each other, and the world around them.

In other words, art appreciation is going to become an ideological tool. Or so I think. But even if I’m wrong here, I don’t understand why the Art Institute had to lie about its motives, and do it so transparently that anyone with two neurons to rub together could see what’s really happening.

USA Today defends firing of Chicago docents, and a new theory on why they were fired

October 25, 2021 • 12:15 pm

The article below at yahoo!news originally appeared USA Today. but I’m linking to the former site because the latter has all sorts of annoying ads, even with Adblock. And the headline made me laugh: of course diversity consultants would recommend that the Art Institute of Chicago should get rid of all its highly-trained volunteer docents, because they were mostly older white women of means, and that creates “inequity.” And, if you adhere to Ibram Kendi, a lack of equity is prima facie evidence of currently operating structural racism. This is what diversity consultants are paid to do. Better ask an ethicist!

The AIC plans to replace the fired docents with a smaller number of less trained paid workers, presumably more diverse. But if the AIC wanted more diversity, which is fine, what they did was go about it in the worst way possible. Click to read.

Now a lot of this article has already been covered on this site, but there are a few new comments which got me thinking, and also got the reader thinking who sent me this link.

Put together these quotes from the piece and see if you can come up with another theory of why the docents were fired—a theory that goes beyond their whiteness and class:

“Sometimes equity requires taking bold steps and actions,” said Monica Williams, executive producer of The Equity Project, a Colorado-based consulting firm whose clients include the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver. “You really have to dismantle and disrupt the systems that have been designed to hold some up and others out.”‘

. . .As a result, Williams said she respects the AIC’s decision, saying more diversity among people who work in museums will strengthen the quality of art education.

“The stories that are told are based on a docents’ experience or expertise, which oftentimes comes from a white space and are not reflective of everyone’s experience,” she said. “So we need to really critically think about how stories get told and who tells them.”

Mike Murawski, a museum consultant and author of “Museums as Agents of Change,” said there has long been a tension between equity efforts and volunteer programs.

“Because of who is leading these groups, there are often gaps in the perspectives and experiences they represent in their work in educating the community,” he said. “So I think a lot of the systemic racism and colonialism that museums have always had in their institutions come through these types of programs.”

. . .But museum consultants say sometimes the way forward is not about making changes to programs.

Docent programs often have “long-standing legacies of how things are supposed to be” that can make them difficult to adapt, Murawski said.

That risks continuing “elements of white dominant culture, colonialism and racism that are systemic within museums,” he added.

“There’s just so many legacy structures and barriers baked into a docent program to begin with that it requires more than just a little editing to fix,” he said. “I think that these programs really need to be put on pause and fully rethought, then rebuilt from the ground up.”

The reader who sent me this link put two and two together (it’s not five!) and realized, as I did when I read it, that this is about radically reforming the whole system of presenting art to the public, so that it’s now viewed not from the artists’ perspectives, but through a lens focused on race and ideology. Remember that some critics of “Critical Theory” argue that its motivation is to overthrow the entirety of Western culture based on Enlightenment values and replace it with an authoritarian one. And so, like the Soviets did, they have to create a class of “approved” art that passes ideological muster. Viewing existing art as expressions of impure thought is the beginning of that.

The reader who sent me the link added this:

My suspicion is that the en masse firing is not merely to get rid of a wealthy, white group of ladies due to diversity issues.   Rather, it’s to bring about a reframing of how art is explained: from one based on aesthetics, formal values, and historical context,   to one based on identity, which might contravene actual meaning of a work of art.

And of course, those erudite docents could have challenged and argued with the pedagogy of the shift, given their knowledge of the collection.   So out they went.

You are, of course, free to broach your own theory, which is yours, or to disagree with ours.

At long last, the NYT covers the Art Institute of Chicago’s DocentGate

October 22, 2021 • 12:00 pm

That’s right, folks, you can hear all the cultural/ideological news here well before the New York Times gets off its tuchas and decides, well, the uproar over firing and cancellation has reached a point where they’d look overly biased if they failed to cover it. And so, in today’s paper, you finally get to read about the unconscionable firing of 82 active, unpaid, volunteer, highly-trained docents by the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC)—13 days after I called it to your attention. (See also here.)

Why were they let go? Because they weren’t sufficiently “diverse,” being mainly, but not exclusively, older white women of means. They had undergone months of training, had to write papers, and did an enormous amount of work—all for the love of art. But the lack of equity did them in. All that expertise, lost. . .   And you know what? The “consolation prize” the AIC gave the ditched docents was a two-year free membership to the AIC. Nearly all of them had worked at the AIC far longer than that.

They were fired by email, and not even by the head of the Art Institute but by Veronica Stein, the executive director of learning and public engagement for the museum’s Women’s Board. They will be replaced by a smaller, less-well-trained group of paid docents ($25 per hour) who will of course be more “diverse”, and that means racially. If the AIC wanted to diversify its docents, which is an admirable endeavor, there are far better and less divisive and injurious ways to do it, as my readers pointed out in the comments. This reprehensible act by the AIC got a lot of people’s dander up, as you can see from the 183 comments on my original post, as well as in the Chicago Tribune‘s and Wall Street Journal’s scathing editorials about the dastardly act.

Now, well after the news cycle has expired, the New York Times decided to report it. Click the screenshot to read:

Now there’s nothing wrong with diversity in volunteers, though if you can’t get it (the AIC said it tried and failed), you just don’t go firing those people who have the means to volunteer because they’re white and female. There are better ways. Nevertheless, the NYT article (which doesn’t say more than you’ve read here) says that the AIC director and Stein were both blindsided by the public reaction. What kind of bubble are they living in?

Look at this dissimulation by the AID director, “focused only on his mission”:

James Rondeau, the Institute’s director, said in an interview that the docents program had long been viewed as logistically unsustainable, and that the Institute had stopped adding new volunteers 12 years ago. He said that the recent vitriol had taken a severe toll on the institution and its staff.

“Clearly we were not prepared for this to become a discussion of identity politics,” he said. “We are only focused on our mission.”

If they were discussing canning the docents for 12 years, why didn’t they tell the docents in advance? They heard about this only when they got their emailed “pink slip.”

From Stein:

Ms. Stein in an interview said she had been taken aback by the sharply negative reactions. “The violent, weaponizing language an overwhelming number of people are using in letters and emails to describe the museum’s evolution has been startling, and if I’m being honest, scary,” she said. “As a result, the museum now has increased security. Our frontline staff have already experienced erratic and harmful behavior. Our goal now is getting the facts out and keeping our staff safe.”

Again, this woman is clueless, but note how she raises the trope of the “unsafe staff” and the critical emails and letters as a way to deflect criticism of the AIC. When you do something wrong, try to paint yourself and your institution as victims, and if you can work in the word “safe” or “unsafe,” so much the better. Stein has learned the victimhood role well (note also “scary”).

Stein, who has a degree from the University of Mendacity, adds this:

Ms. Stein said that the museum was simply trying to rebuild the program, and complained that the museum’s motivations and plans had been mischaracterized. “We can lose focus on the amazing opportunity we have to pay educators,” she said, “especially when we live in a society where that is not the standard.”

Well WHY DIDN’T THEY PAY THE DOCENTS?

The NYT notes that museums around the country are assessing their volunteer programs with an eye towards diversity, and that’s fine. Let a million kinds of docent bloom! But you don’t go about the revision by creating more racial division, much less throwing a group of dedicated people overboard simply because of their race and/or gender.

The AIC blew this one big time. It’s kind of heartbreaking to hear the polite but saddened response of the docents themselves.

. . . . Gigi Vaffis, the docent council president, said she and her colleagues “were surprised, disappointed and dismayed” by Ms. Stein’s letter.

“Regardless of our age, regardless of our gender, regardless of our income level, we know the Art Institute’s collection extremely well and are highly trained to facilitate arts engagement across diverse audiences,” said Ms. Vaffis, who has worked as a volunteer for about 20 years. “Our goal is to facilitate tour conversations that are as dynamic as the audiences we serve.

“We have such value, knowledge, experience and passion — I wish the museum had recognized what we bring to the table,” she continued. “I wish they would reconsider and bring us back.”

Now that is class!  I hope the AIC does the right thing and reinstates the docents, and then they can pay them while replacing the ones who leave with a more diverse group. But that won’t happen. I hope the AIC pays for its stupidity with a big loss of donations. (I like art, but I hate mendacity.)

One good thing, however, is that this, like the Dorian Abbot affair, is at last being covered by the NYT, so they’re finally paying some attention to the backlash against extreme wokeness.

The Wall Street Journal on the firing of the Art Institute’s docents; and a personal observation

October 17, 2021 • 10:45 am

A week ago I wrote a piece on the firing of the Art Institute of Chicago’s (AIC’s) 122 volunteer (unpaid) docents, who were let go because they were not sufficiently “diverse”. The Art Institute now plans to hire fewer docents who will be paid $25 per hour, with much less training, to guide people around the museum. They will surely be ethnically more diverse than the jettisoned docents, who were largely older white women—some of them donors to the AIC.

My post on that got the most attention, in terms of views, of any post over the last several years. Have a gander:

I couldn’t figure out why, but one explanation is that the media, including the local media, didn’t cover it, probably because the AIC’s actions, though reprehensible, are not unusual in today’s “racial reckoning”, but didn’t have very good “optics”. The Chicago Tribune didn’t even report it as news until the paper published an editorial damning the AIC for what it did, “Shame on the Art Institute for summarily canning its volunteer docents.” And then the Trib published a lame response from Robert Levy, chairman of the AIC board, followed by a few letters to the editor criticizing the AIC. and a short and inconclusive discussion on WBEZ, the local public radio station, featuring a representative of the AIC and the docents.

That’s pretty much all the reporting from “MSM”. The most comprehensive coverage was in fact an article by Dennis Byrne on his website at ChicagoNow.com, The Barbershop, which reproduced the letter firing the docents and the group’s response to being ditched.  That site is not read by as many people as is the MSM, so I suppose people glommed on to my summary as a news article. Conservative news did pick it up, but you still won’t find boo about it in papers like the NYT or Washington Post. That’s a shame, because the AIC’s action should kindle a debate about the ethics and tactics of how the AIC acted, and about how to achieve “racial reckoning”. (As many readers observed, there are ways to diversity the docents without firing any of them.)

Now the Wall Street Journal, whose readers surely include many potential donors to the AIC, has written an op-ed outlining the story. Though the WSJ is conservative in its op-eds, and criticizing the AIC has been something largely limited to right-wing papers, this editorial gets the facts right and isn’t aren’t nearly as hard on the AIC as was the Chicago Tribune. You can try to read it by clicking below (judicious inquiry might yield you a copy should you fail), but you won’t learn much more than what Byrne and I put in our posts.

However, here are two items from that op-ed that were new to me:

  • The chairman of the AIC, Robert Levy “insisted that the plan had been in the works for 12 years.”  If that’s true, the man is reprehensible, for the docents were given no warning; they were fired by an email from the AIC’s Woman’s Board Executive Director of Learning and Public Engagement Veronica Stein. Seriously, you don’t tell the docents that their termination is being considered? Who does that?
  • A quote from a docent:

“It was nearly a full-time job,” said Dietrich Klevorn, a docent since 2012. (Ms. Klevorn was the only docent who agreed to speak to the Journal, rejecting the institute’s request that they not talk to the media.) “We had to spend a lot of time physically in the museum studying works of art, researching, putting tours together,” she continued. “We had to be very comprehensive about everything as we talked with them, moving through the space.”

As I said, the WSJ isn’t nearly as intemperate about the AIC as was the local paper, but it does have a no-nonsense conclusion that also raises the possibility of a phased-in increase in diversity:

Still, the Art Institute hasn’t explained why they had to be jettisoned en masse and not diversified over time. The museum appears to be in the grips of a self-defeating overcorrection. It has adopted the language of diversity, inclusion and equity so completely that it was willing to fire the same upper-middle class volunteers it relies on for charitable donations.

Changes to the program may mean that the museum connects to younger and more diverse visitors, Ms. Klevorn said, but it will come at a cost. The Art Institute “will offer far less opportunity for people to have human docents taking them through the museum.”

In their public statements, both Ms. Stein and Mr. Levy referenced their understanding of the museum’s civic role. Mr. Levy even condemned critics as “egregiously anti-civic,” as though objecting to diversity quotas meant rejecting the nation’s civic institutions. What they don’t seem to understand is that those civic institutions have always relied on the volunteer work of women with enough public spirit to donate their time and enough money to afford to do so. These wealthy women form the mortar of the nation’s civic institutions, and we’ll miss them when they’re gone.

In the name of what they call civic-minded diversity, the museum has thrown overboard a group of people who actually see it as their duty to help the public understand art. That’s not very civic-minded, is it?

That’s not rabidly right-wing, either, is it?  But the piece, appearing in a widely-read venue, isn’t going to do the AIC any good.

But I want to say a few things. Though for several days my site got six to eight times the normal traffic, all because of that AIC piece, and though there were 157 comments, there would have been a lot more comments had I let all the nasty or racist ones through. Yes, there were white supremacist comments, and a lot of people being strident about “reverse racism”.

I let some of those appear, depending on their civility, but I don’t see diversifying the AIC docents as “reverse racism.” Yes, you can characterize it that way, because you’re discriminating in favor of people of color and against whites, but I see it more as a form of reparations rather than demonization.  If you’re in favor of any kind of affirmative action, you can be accused of reverse racism. I’m willing to bear the epithet because I favor some forms of affirmative action. But I hasten to add that the AIC’s mass firing of docents, rather than a program that increases diversity as docents retire, is cruel and hamhanded. However, their desire to diversify the staff is not. (That diversity, by the way, should include class as well as race, as there are few “regular people” docents. And that means paying all the docents, unless some are willing to work for free while others get a paycheck.)

I’m for a reasoned dialogue on race and equity, but some of the comments I got sound just like things that would come out of the mouths of Proud Boys. My conclusion is that there is a lot of pent-up anger about DEI initiatives. Some of it is justified by actions like the AIC’s firing, but there’s definitely an element of racism in some of the comments you didn’t see. And that makes me sad.

You want an example? Here’s one from someone named “Steve”, who’s apostrophe-deprived:

Wake Up White People.

This is what your future will be if you dont start standing up for yourselves and quit being such stupid pushovers.

Don’t let these SCUM guilt you….
Be PROUD to be White….I AM.
Our ancestors/people accomplished 1000x more than any other race. They hate us out of sheer jealousy. And make NO MISTAKE….They DO hate us….HATE US !!!!

Start speaking up!!!!
There is NO SUCH THING as “White Privilege” Its called HARD WORK.

All the Lefts HATRED and Marxist “key Words” are just meant to divide us.

Just remember…. The Left Project and Deflect…
They call everyone else Fascist or Racist… Because that is what THEY ARE….

-S

There are others like this.

And one more just came in while I was writing this; from one “swimologist”:

The ONLY effort that should be made is hiring competent people, race be damned. Many companies used to have aptitude tests for hiring, but reliably low-I.Q. blacks failed them, and lawsuits were filed claiming “disparate impact,” so NOW we these same companies require degrees for jobs that don’t NEED them. Just another way the black undertow plague drags America down.

Writing this website has a downside you don’t see: all the racists, loons, and rude people that infest America and feel they have to have their say here.

h/t: cesar

What, exactly, is critical race theory?

September 30, 2021 • 12:45 pm

All of us bandy about the term “critical race theory”, or use its initials, CRT. But how many of us really know what it is? And IS there really a widely-accepted canon of thought called CRT? If you were to ask me, I’d say CRT is the view that all life is a fight for power and hegemony of socially-constructed “races” that have no biological reality, that all politics is to be viewed through the lens of race, that the “oppressors” are, by and large, all biased against minorities and fight endlessly to keep them powerless, with many of the oppressors not even knowing their bias, and that different kinds of minority status can be combined into an “intersectionality” so that someone can be oppressed on several axes at once (for example, a Hispanic lesbian).

But not everybody agrees with that, and in fact there are widely different versions of CRT depending on the exponent (Ibram Kendi is perhaps the most extreme in his pronouncements), and also on the country. In the article below at Counterweight, Helen Pluckrose, co-author with James Lindsay of the good book Cynical Theories, tries to parse a meaning of CRT from all the diverse construals.

It turns out that because there are so many versions of CRT, perhaps (in my view) it’s best to stop using the term at all.

Click on the screenshot to read:

There’s Materialist CRT, Postmodernist CRT, the British Educational Association’s CRT, Critical Social Justice Anti-Racism, and even a version for higher education confected by Payne Hiraldo (a professor of the University of Vermont).  I won’t give them all here, and of course there’s considerable overlap. Here’s what Helen says are the tenets from the book Critical Race Theory: An Introductionwith her interpolations.  Her words are indented, and the tenets are doubly indented and put in bold:

Critical Race Theory: An Introduction describes it as a departure from liberal Civil Rights approaches:

Unlike traditional civil rights discourse, which stresses incrementalism and step-by-step progress, critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.

and sets out four key tenets:

First, racism is ordinary, not aberrational—“normal science,” the usual way society does business, the common, everyday experience of most people of color in this country.

This is a claim that racism is everywhere. All the time. It’s just the water we swim in. It’s also claimed that most people of colour agree with this.  In reality, people of colour differ on this although a greater percentage of black people believe it to be true than white people.

Second, most would agree that our system of white-over-color ascendancy serves important purposes, both psychic and material, for the dominant group.

This means that this system, which has just been asserted to exist everywhere, is valued by white people both psychologically and in practical terms. Many white people would disagree that they regard racism positively.

A third theme of critical race theory, the “social construction” thesis, holds that race and races are products of social thought and relations. Not objective, inherent, or fixed, they correspond to no biological or genetic reality; rather, races are categories that society invents, manipulates, or retires when convenient.

This argues that races are social constructs rather than biological realities which is true – “populations” are the biological categories and don’t map neatly onto how we understand race – and that society has categorised and recategorised races according to custom, which is also true.  [JAC: I’d take issue with the claim that there is no biological “reality” at all to populations, races, or whatever you call ethnic groups. The classical definition of “race” is incorrect, but the view that races have no biological differences and are thus completely socially constructed, is also wrong.]

A final element concerns the notion of a unique voice of color. Coexisting in somewhat uneasy tension with antiessentialism, the voice-of-color thesis holds that because of their different histories and experiences with oppression, black, American Indian, Asian, and Latino writers and thinkers may be able to communicate to their white counterparts matters that the whites are unlikely to know. Minority status, in other words, brings with it a presumed competence to speak about race and racism.

There is much evidence that there is no unique voice of colour, and although there is good reason to think that people who have experienced racism may well have more perspective on it, they tend to have different perspectives. CRTs are more likely to regard those who agree with them as authoritative than those who disagree – i.e  “Yes” to Derrick Bell and Kimberlé Crenshsaw but “No” to Thomas Sowell or Shelby Steele.

After you work your way through Helen’s long piece, you realize that you simply cannot use “Critical Race Theory” unless you specify exactly what version you’re talking about. In fact, I’d say it’s best to ditch the phrase altogether and just discuss the claims.  I believe that’s Helen’s conclusion as well:

If it helps to call the current anti-racist theories “contemporary critical theories of race” rather than “Critical Race Theory”, do so, but for goodness’ sake, let’s stop the endless quibbling about terminology and talk about the ideas that have deeply infiltrated universities, employment, education, mainstream media, social media and general culture.

This is vitally important for two reasons.  Firstly, we need to be able address racism in society ethically and effectively. Secondly and relatedly, individuals need to be allowed to have their own views about how racism works and their own ethical frameworks for opposing it. They need to be able to discuss and compare them. This will help with achieving the first goal.

When it comes to discussing contemporary critical theories of race, we need to be able to talk about what the current theories actually say and advocate for and whether they are ethical and effective. Many people from a wide range of political, cultural, racial, religious and philosophical backgrounds would say “No” they are not, and they should be able to make their case for alternative approaches.

It is also vitally important that we are able to talk about how much influence these theories already have and how much they should have on society in general and on government, employment, mainstream media, social media and education in particular, and whether this influence is largely positive or negative. From my time listening to clients of Counterweight, I would respond, “Way too much” and “Largely negative” to these questions.

She ends with what are perhaps the most important questions, and can’t resist injecting her own opinion. Others may differ, but she says she has an open mind:

Most importantly, we need to be able to measure and discuss what effects these theories have on reducing racism, increasing social cohesion and furthering the goals of social justice. Are they achieving that or are they increasing racial tensions, decreasing social cohesion and being the driving force for many injustices in society while creating a culture of fear, pigeonholing people of racial minority into political stereotypes, and silencing the voices of those who dissent? I strongly believe, based on the reports coming into Counterweight, that it is the latter. However, I am willing to be persuaded to think differently, so let’s talk.

In the end, the theory is important only if we can get data supporting or contradicting it.

Bari Weiss interviews Glenn Loury

September 29, 2021 • 1:00 pm

All I’m intellectually capable of doing today is summarizing other articles for you. I’d do a lot better with a good night’s sleep.

Anyway, on her Substack site, Bari Weiss interviews Brown University economist and contrarian Glenn Loury. The edited print version is below; I think access is free but you should subscribe if you read often.  Click on the screenshot below to read the interview.

You can also hear the complete 1 hour, 42 minute video here, though I’m not sure you can hear it if you don’t subscribe. I haven’t yet listened to it.

Weiss, who also bucks the tide of wokeness, is a big admirer of Loury, who at one point—though he’s no longer religious—says that religion saved him from addiction problems.

She begins by pointing out a 1984 essay Loury wrote for The New Republic, “A new American dilemma” (see a pdf here), which partly blamed black poverty on black culture itself. When he read excerpts from that essay (which I haven’t read) at a meeting of civil rights leaders, it apparently made Coretta Scott King weep:

BW: Did it feel like you were saying something out loud and in public that many people you knew and probably many people you grew up with believed, but it just wasn’t allowed to be said out loud at a place like Harvard?

GL: I don’t want to get too partisan about it, but I just want to say I don’t think the people around that table who led those organizations were like: “Yeah, I agree with you. That’s the problem. But we can’t say it that way.” I think they were more like: “That’s not how we talk. That’s reactionary talk that gives aid and comfort to the enemy. We expected better of you than that.” That’s why I think Mrs. King was weeping. At the end of the day, I was standing right next to her. We’re only about 20 people in the room. And I’m standing up extemporaneously giving a 20 or 30 minute exposition. And I looked down and there are tears rolling down her cheek. And I think it was a disappointment. You know, I am this wunderkind, I’m 34 years old and I’m a tenured professor of economics at Harvard. I have all that cache. And there I am. That’s my message. That’s what I have to say.

Loury’s criticism of wokeness and his emphasis on education as a way of black empowerment, without lowering standards, resembles that of his friend John McWhorter (they often have discussions on Bloggingheads.tv).  Also similar is Loury’s analogizing wokeness to a religion. 

BW: I’d like for you to get specific. [About the decline in academic standards Loury perceives in American education]

GL: The diversity thing is going to be one of the things that I’m going to say. The hostility to American interest in the world is another thing that I could point to. The impatience with the fact that when you transform moral judgments about things like gender identity overnight in a country of 330 million people, where everybody is not going to be on the same page at the same time, and the way you decide to talk about that from some lofty, supercilious, self-righteous, sanctimonious moral posture and to condemn the people who are holding their bibles or holding on to their traditions as if they were know-nothings. That smugness infects the university. But I think the diversity thing is related to the standards thing.

Loury has some harsh things to say about newly appointed MacArthur genius grant recipient Ibram Kendi, but we’ll skip that to where Weiss asks Loury to envision a way for black lives to improve that differs from the program of Black Lives Matter (a movement Loury also disses pretty strongly)

BW: And yet corporations and the entire elite establishment has taken up the cause of Black Lives Matter. And the cynic in me would say it’s just about the cheapest and easiest thing that they could possibly do.

GL: Nothing that Black Lives Matter is about has any intersection with the things that actually matter in black lives. What about education? The gap in the cognitive development of the human potential of African-American youngsters relative to others in this country widens. It’s a yawning chasm.

BW: Glenn, if one really cared about black lives and wanted to insist on a movement that actually fulfilled the promise of black lives mattering, what would be the top three priorities of that movement?

GL: I think self-determination and taking responsibility for our lives. I’d say education. I’m sorry this is partisan, but the public-school unions are poorly serving, on the whole, the places where black students congregate and the intellectual needs of those students. Now, there are other people to be faulted as well. But opening up that system to innovation is absolutely imperative to improving the quality of black life in this country.

And the public safety piece of this narrative, that the police are out to get black people, this contempt for law, the lawlessness of the George Floyd protests, the celebration of that lawlessness, the silence in the face of it. Patriotism. And by that I don’t mean blind loyalty to a flag salute, I mean seeing yourself as an integral part of the American project. This is our country. We don’t stand off from it. There is no United Nations where black claims will be negotiated. We must make our peace with our fellow citizens. That has corollaries: two national anthems is a terrible idea, reparations for slavery is a mistake. It wrongly places the nature of the moral problem. It creates these parties as between which a negotiation and a deal is being cut. There are not two parties here. There’s only one party.

And then he makes a statement which I see as largely true but is rejected by much of the left: that race relations in America have improved markedly in the last eighty years. Of course we have a long way to go—the inequalities in education, wealth, and housing are glaringly obvious—but I suppose I’m also Pinkerian in also emphasizing the progress, as Loury does here, with an interesting take:

I could go down the litany of evidence to the effect that the race-relations situation in America in the 21st century is completely and radically different and improved relative to what it was in the mid 20th century. And I think we have to begin to entertain a possibility, which is that the actual success of American history, the fact that we overcame the warts, is the problem. Because the fact of that success in the face of the continuing failure of a large chunk of black society to get on the escalator of opportunity, which defines this country, is just too much cognitive dissonance for a lot of people to grapple with. It’s the presidency of Barack Hussein Obama. It’s the fact that black women are the mayors of a half dozen big cities that I could name. It’s the fact that there are black billionaires. That Oprah Winfrey is Oprah Winfrey and that LeBron James is LeBron James. It’s the fact that every corporate office has an Ibram X. Kendi-loving executive running it. These are the realities of America. Now, in the face of that, you still got jails overflowing with black people. You’ve still got massive poverty and disparity. People do not know the goal in the 21st century with those facts. So they end up, like infants, throwing tantrums in the corner.