FYE on you! 5

You want to become a scientist, an engineer, a mathematician, a doctor? Okay, but you have first to become a racist, and if you’re white, a penitent, and if you’re black, a victim.

The re-education camps of America, aka the universities, have a name for their introductory course of indoctrination for newcomers: the First-Year Experience, commonly referred to as FYE.

John Tierney reports and comments at City Journal:

The programs often start with a “common read”, a book sent to everyone the summer before school starts, and proceed with lectures, discussion groups, seminars, courses, exercises, field trips, art projects, local activism, and whatever else the schools will fund. The programs are typically run not by professors but by “cocurricular professionals”—administrators lacking scholarly credentials who operate outside the regular curriculum. They don’t need to master an academic discipline or impart an established body of knowledge. They create a cocurriculum of what they want students to learn, which usually involves a great deal of talk about “diversity” and “inclusion”.

These professionals seem to lean even further left than the faculty, and in some ways they have more influence. They get to the students early, before classes begin, and they’re inescapable. By choosing your courses carefully, you can avoid the progressive sermonizing that passes for scholarship in some departments, but everyone has to undergo the orientation and first-year programs. You may have come to study computer science or literature or biochemistry, but first you’ll have to learn about social justice, environmental sustainability, gender pronouns, and microaggressions. You may have been planning to succeed by hard work, but first you’ll have to acknowledge your privilege or discover your victimhood. If you arrived at college hoping to broaden your intellectual horizons, you’ll quickly be instructed which ideas are off-limits. …

When administrators of these first-year programs convened this year, they chose to be addressed by author Julie Lythcott-Haims.

As an undergraduate at Stanford, she had been required to take a course called “Western Culture”, but she and other students succeeded in eliminating the requirement by joining with Jesse Jackson in protests where they chanted, “Hey-hey, ho-ho. Western Culture’s got to go!”

In Africa the doctrine is known as Boko Haram.

She went on to Harvard Law School and a brief career in corporate law before returning to Stanford as the dean of freshmen, which enabled her to put her cultural philosophy into practice.

As dean of freshmen, she insisted on choosing books that “fostered a sense of community and belonging”. And now, after leaving academia, she has written just such a book herself, Real American, which she calls “a post-poetry memoir”.

She said in her address:

Mine is a memoir of being black and biracial in a country where black lives weren’t meant to matter. … I am privileged. I have privilege that I’m aware of and more privilege that I don’t even know.

The daughter of a white British immigrant and black American doctor who was once assistant surgeon general of the United States, she grew up in good neighborhoods and thrived at school academically and socially. In high school, she was a cheerleader and president of her class as well as the student council. But despite those successes, despite the degrees from Stanford and Harvard, despite the well-paying jobs and a bestseller she published on how to raise children, her memoir is a saga of oppression.

She has discovered the awful cloud behind all those silver linings by dredging up an incident from her high school days. The great pivot point of the book, the moment that would haunt her for decades, was her discovery of graffiti on a birthday card that a friend had taped to her locker. Someone, presumably a classmate jealous of her achievements, had defaced the card by scrawling the N-word, misspelled as “Niger”. 

This is the story of how despite all that privilege and opportunity, America made me loathe my black self, my brown skin …

… she tells the audience. It’s not clear why one semiliterate teenage bigot should represent America, but Lythcott-Haims quickly segues into denunciations of the police, Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, and whites in general, to repeated applause from the (mostly white) audience. She explains why she has left a wide margin on each page of the book (“As a black woman I do not have access to the full page”) and reads a passage: “You think your whiteness makes you better than the rest of us. You make us your scapegoat. Your excuse for your violent rage.”

What violent rage, we ask rhetorically, would that be?

In her memoir, the well-meaning liberal whites are continually guilty of unintentional slights. Don’t try suggesting that she overlook them, because she classifies “Get over it” as yet another microaggression. The nonliberals in the book are simply evil. When Peter Thiel and other classmates of hers launched the conservative Stanford Review, she is “scared to death of these unhooded whites printing their disdain for our existence”. When she sees Clint Eastwood speak to an empty chair representing President Obama at the Republican National Convention, she believes that it “symbolizes the chair underneath the Black man about to be hanged from a Southern tree”. 

Yes, it’s all part of her mission to “foster a sense of community and belonging”, as long as the community doesn’t include any Republicans.

The writing is dreadful, but you have to give her credit for knowing her audience. The first-year administrators give her a standing ovation, and afterward they wonder to one another what she charges for a campus speech. The intercollegiate competition for black authors has driven up their speaking fees …

Last year, when the University of Oregon assigned Between the World and Me for the common read, it paid Ta-Nehisi Coates $41,500 for a campus appearance (while also meeting his contractual requirement to be supplied with Nature Valley Oats and Dark Chocolate granola bars), and afterward students complained that the university hadn’t gotten its money’s worth. Coates was scheduled for a speech and question-and-answer session lasting 75 minutes, but he left the stage after 40 minutes without taking questions. Somehow, it didn’t feel very inclusive.

For colleges that can’t afford Coates, the first-year conference is a chance to scout for cheaper alternatives. Besides Lythcott-Haims, there’s another autobiographer, Patrisse Khan-Cullors, who gets a warm reception for her book When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir.

The administrators pack another ballroom to hear about All American Boys, a novel written to protest the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. The protagonist is an amalgam of the two martyrs, with a few details changed. Instead of pounding a white man’s head against the sidewalk, as Martin did, or shoplifting and then assaulting a police officer, as Brown did, this young African-American man is a peaceful, law-abiding customer at a convenience store, wrongly accused of shoplifting by a white police officer who slams his head against the pavement. The novel’s coauthors, one white and one black, extol their collaboration as a model for how the races can learn to communicate with each other—or at least communicate in one direction, as the white author, Brendan Kiely, tells the audience. “The most important thing I can do as a white man is listen, listen, listen to the truth coming from communities of color across the country,” he says. “I especially want to reckon with whiteness. Because as a white person I can’t talk about racism or dismantle the system that supports it or eradicate racism itself without first grappling with whiteness. It is whiteness that perpetuates racism.”

How does a white person “reckon with whiteness”? What must he do to “grapple with whiteness”? Presumably, that’s what FYE teaches you.

Clearly, since “whiteness” is what “perpetuates racism”, and since white people cannot be anything but white, the only way to bring about the elimination of racism is by extinguishing the white race.

The disadvantage of the social surgery would be the loss of the most important academic subject, the laying off of thousands of “diversity” officers, the obsolescence of hundreds of books, and – well, what do you do when your enemy vanishes? Whom shall you hate for all your frustrations? Whom blame for your failures?

While the days of hate last, while accusation, shame, guilt, obsequiousness can still be freely indulged, enjoy the presence of whiteness while ye may! Carpe diem.

The crowd applauds and listens raptly as Kiely sketches the possibilities for using this book on campus. “We should be talking about race consciousness in all our disciplines of higher learning,” he tells the administrators. “You can talk about it in your math classes. You can talk about in your education classes. You can talk about it in your humanities classes.”

He doesn’t explain the connection between calculus and Trayvon Martin, but then, he doesn’t have to. This audience knows that racism is the all-consuming topic in higher education. It has been the most popular theme for common-read books for the last three years, according to the National Association of Scholars (NAS), which has tracked these programs across the country for the past decade. The latest report by the NAS, a group dedicated to reviving traditional liberal arts education (and a haven for non-progressives in academia), analyzes some 350 schools’ common-read books and finds a “continuing obsession with race” as well as an “infantilization of students”.

The obsession depends on the infantilization.

Can real education ever be resurrected? Will a deeply humiliating defeat of the race-obsessed Left in the forthcoming elections restore common sense to the institutions of learning – and save the white race?

Heart versus head 3

At a congressional hearing on reparations in June, 2019, passionate Ta-Nehisi Coates argued with brilliant thinker Coleman Hughes:

 

We declare Hughes the winner of the debate.

What are our readers’ opinions?

Posted under History, Race, Slavery, United States, Videos by Jillian Becker on Tuesday, August 25, 2020

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Free thought as heresy again 9

The Left has captured the culture. That’s well known and oft repeated. Education is now religiously Leftist from kindergarten to doctorate. The entertainment industry – stage, film, television –  faithfully carries the sacred messages. The media, both “mainstream” and “social”, are packed with acolytes.

Not only the guardians of the culture have converted en masse to the Church of Marx. Big panjandrums of our capitalist economy are dropping their checks for hundred of millions of dollars into the collection boxes of the Left’s terrorist curates – buying time, they foolishly hope. That would be more surprising if we didn’t have Vladimir Lenin’s (possibly apocryphal but highly plausible) prophecy that “the capitalist will sell you the rope you’ll hang him with”.

And now it is all too horrifyingly possible that the Left will re-capture the legislative and executive branches of the US government. As for the judicial branch, seven of the Supreme Court  justices – all nine of whom were formerly Jewish or Catholic which was not harmful to determinations of law – are dancing arm-in-arm leftwards through a side door into the C. of M., where doctrinal orthodoxy is strictly enforced. Could SCOTUS become the tribunal of the next Inquisition?

A dark age lies ahead. But need we despair? There is consolation to be found in the records of the fast fading era of free thought (roughly 1700-2000), that will still be available to us in books.

Or will they?

Oh, oh! It seems that books by or about the great  – mostly white – scientists, inventors, discoverers, philosophers, visionaries, economists, historians, educators whose ideas debunk the doctrines of the C. of M., are to be removed from libraries, bookshops, even probably our private rooms, and destroyed. Blotted out of human memory. They will not be published  again; or if published by some rogue publisher, not advertised;  or if advertised by some mischance, not sold; or if sold on a black market market of color, confiscated and destroyed.

On the other hand, books supporting the doctrine of the C. of M. (chiefly concerning anti-racism and the evil of being White) will abound. Vast libraries will be built to contain them. There’ll be at least one in every hotel bedside drawer. There’ll be cutely illustrated versions of some on the shelves of kindergartens; thousands to be checked out by students in all grades or else; and subterranean university bookstores will be chockfull of them.

Bruce Bawer, observing the trend, writes at Front Page:

Of America’s most powerful and prominent cultural institutions, it’s quick work naming those that aren’t entirely left-wing satrapies. TV? Fox News, although things are looking less and less encouraging there. Colleges? Hillsdale, I guess, though how many Ivy League faculty members would ever admit to having heard of it? Newspapers? The New York Post (sometimes), Wall Street Journal (kind of)and perhaps one or two others from sea to shining sea. Silicon Valley? Nothing. Hollywood? ¡Nada! Big business? Hmm: what is there, nowadays, honestly, other than that My Pillow guy?

One field in which there’s at least a soupçon of ideological diversity is the book trade. Yes, staffers at the major publishing houses are overwhelmingly on the left. Ditto bookstore employees. Plus the people who give out the major book awards. Not to mention that the heftiest advances for political books go to Democrats. Since the turn of the century, the biggest nonfiction book deal, amounting to at least $65 million, was for Michelle Obama’s Becoming (2018) and for an as-yet-unpublished opus by Barack; second – raking in $15 million – was Bill Clinton’s My Life (2004); third – at $14 million – was Hillary’s Hard Choices (2014).

One more thing about the reflexive leftism of the book scene. Thanks to today’s lethal cancel culture, even classics are at risk. Recently, in an article for the School Library Journal headlined “Little House, Big Problem: What To Do with ‘Classic’ Books That Are Also Racist”, Marva Hinton identified both Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird as racist. No, she didn’t just say that they contained racist language, which would have been fair enough; she asserted that these two books – both of them key texts in the history of the American struggle against racism – are in fact racist.

Hinton quoted Julia E. Torres, a Denver school librarian, as saying that when she’s consulted by teachers who want to assign Harper Lee’s novel to their student, she often suggests replacing it with Samira Ahmed’s dystopic novel Internment, “about a teen sent to a U.S. internment camp for Muslim American people”. Alternatively, Torres “suggests they teach To Kill a Mockingbird using excerpts or through a critical consciousness lens, which would include lessons on white saviorism and the weaponization of white women’s tears”. Check, please!

I’m not familiar with the novel Internment – just out in paperback from Little, Brown – but it’s part of a full-court press by the book business to normalize Islam and demonize “Islamophobia”.  Also in on this effort are the major pre-pub reviewing outlets, all of which gave Internment starred reviews that were short on praise for aesthetic values and long on PC drivel. (“Taking on Islamophobia and racism in a Trump-like America…” – Kirkus.  “A very real, very frank picture of hatred and ignorance…” – Booklist. “An unsettling and important book for our times.” – Publishers Weekly.)

In 2006 I published a highly critical book about Islam. Even then, it was savaged by bien pensant book-world types. But criticizing Islam has become so verboten on the left that I doubt any major publisher today would touch a book like While Europe Slept – even though the problems described therein have grown far, far worse.

Meanwhile, to peruse the latest catalogues from those same publishers is to discover a blizzard of dreary-sounding new or forthcoming novels that, judging from the plot summaries, are drenched in identity politics. (Two quick examples from Knopf, perhaps the most respected of literary publishers: Burning by Megha Majumdar, about an Indian girl who’s falsely accused of terrorism and turns for help to a trans woman; My Mother’s House by Francesca Momplaisir, a novel that takes on “the legacy of colonialism” and “the abuse of male power”. …

Amazon’s current list of top ten bestsellers includes several far-left books on racism: Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility, Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist and Stamped from the Beginning, Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk about Race, and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me. You might think there’s a market for at least one book criticizing these authors’ views; but I’ve been assured by industry insiders that no major New York house would even consider publishing such a book.

Even in book publishing, then, the left is way ahead. But this isn’t good enough for Alex Shephard, a young staff writer at the New Republic, who in a recent article maintained that the book industry is “overdue” for a major “reckoning”. Here’s his article’s subhead (italics mine):

The industry is facing demands to live up to its stated values. That might mean ditching writers like Donald Trump Jr.

And later there’s this (italics again mine):

…these publishing houses are, like many corporations in the country, being asked by their employees and customers to live up to a set of values. And that would seem to be impossible while also publishing the likes of Tucker Carlson…

What does Shephard mean by “stated values”? Simple: left-wing ideological purity. In his view, conservative books are, with exceedingly few exceptions, “valueless”. (Shephard implies that “quality control” alone would eliminate most conservative titles.) Also by definition, they’re awash in “factual inaccuracies”. Because of course you can’t possibly mount a convincing non-leftist argument for anything without radically distorting the truth. (As Shephard puts it: “Being forced to tell the truth is not an existential issue for most of publishing; it is for conservative imprints.”)

Hence, if book publishers began to be serious about fact-checking, it would, argues Shephard, “make it impossible to publish a great many conservative books”. Indeed, even the “more ‘respectable’ side of conservative publishing”, as represented for Shephard by Jonah Goldberg’s 2008 bestseller Liberal Fascism (note, however, those scare quotes around the word respectable), would be challenged by a responsible fact-checking apparatus.

According to Shephard, another attribute of many conservative books is that their authors aren’t serious. He quotes Kimberly Burns, a book publicist: “I’m OK with books being published from different political viewpoints – in fact, it’s necessary for debate and being able to see a whole picture … The problem is when authors write things only to get themselves attention or to make news, instead of to enhance a dialogue…” Apparently this isn’t a problem with left-wing books.

Bottom line: Shephard really likes censorship of his ideological opponents. And he really admires his fellow “woke” types who put pressure on publishers to cancel books. He notes with obvious satisfaction that Henry Holt, the publishing house, “drew fire for its decision to continue publishing Bill O’Reilly after multiple accusations of sexual harassment were made against him”. (There’s no indication that Shephard believes multiple accusations of sexual harassment should affect Bill Clinton’s publishing career.)

Shephard approvingly mentions Simon & Schuster’s 2016 decision to drop the book Dangerous by Milo Yiannopoulos, whom he identifies as “a troll known for shallow publicity stunts”. And he tells us that he’s spoken to employees at another publishing house, Hachette, who “expressed discomfort about the company’s conservative imprint, Center Street, which publishes Donald Trump Jr., among others”.

Boy, I’ll bet they did. Since Shephard’s article appeared, Hachette staffers – largely lower-level Gen-Z brats – have said that they won’t work on J.K. Rowling’s forthcoming book because she’s criticized transgender ideology. Hachette is the same house that, in response to workers outraged over unproven quarter-century-old sex-abuse allegations, canceled Woody Allen’s about-to-be-published memoirs in March. Allen was never charged with any crime, let alone found guilty of one; years later he was permitted to adopt two children. Yet thanks to those junior Jacobins – every one of whom should’ve been fired – Allen was unceremoniously cut adrift.

And Shephard fully approves. He actually calls Allen a “pariah”. The ease with which this smug punk swats away the legendary writer-director is chilling. No matter what you may think of Allen or his films, the whole ugly spectacle is just too reminiscent of the way things worked under Stalin and Mao. And it’s all too representative, alas, of the atrocious attitudes of the rising generation of lockstep cancel-culture creeps who, like it or not, are well on their way to becoming our nation’s official cultural gatekeepers.

The case against reparations 4

It is surely true to say that no matter who you are or where you come from, you have ancestors who were slaves and ancestors who owned slaves.

That alone is an argument against the idea that, on the grounds of an ancestral debt, people living now who do not and never have owned slaves, owe reparations to other people living now who are not and never have been slaves.

Yet a number of Americans – all Democratic Socialists, in a range of skin colors, some of them male but awfully sorry about it – who want to be president of the United States, are considering a policy of paying reparations to descendants of black slaves who were brought to America from Africa.

Those who are for it do not stipulate who will pay the reparations. All American tax-payers, including the descendants of slaves? All white American tax-payers? All Americans who have some white ancestors? Or only the descendants of slave owners?

Coleman Hughes, an undergraduate philosophy student at Columbia University, has written an article at Quillette which asks all the right questions about reparations, and gives all the right answers. It is a brilliant piece of lucid argument.

Coleman Hughes

In 2014, Ta-Nehisi Coates was catapulted to intellectual stardom by a lengthy Atlantic polemic entitled The Case for Reparations. The essay was an impassioned plea for Americans to grapple with the role of slavery, Jim Crow, and redlining in the creation of the wealth gap between blacks and whites, and it provoked a wide range of reactions. Some left-wing commentators swallowed Coates’s thesis whole, while others agreed in theory but objected that reparations are not a practical answer to legitimate grievances. The Right, for the most part, rejected the case both in theory and practice.

Although the piece polarized opinion, one fact was universally agreed upon: reparations would not be entering mainstream politics anytime soon. According to Coates’s critics, there was no way that a policy so unethical and so unpopular would gain traction. According to his fans, it was not the ethics of the policy but rather the complacency of whites—specifically, their stubborn refusal to acknowledge historical racism—that prevented reparations from receiving the consideration it merited. Coates himself, as recently as 2017, lamented that the idea of reparations was “roundly dismissed as crazy” and “remained far outside the borders of American politics”.

In the past month, we’ve all been proven wrong. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris have both endorsed the idea, and House speaker Nancy Pelosi has voiced support for proposals to study the effects of historical racism and suggest ways to compensate the descendants of slaves. These people are not on the margins of American politics. Most polls have Harris and Warren sitting in third and fourth place, respectively, in the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, and Pelosi is two heart attacks away from the presidency.

Let me pre-empt an objection: neither Harris nor Warren has endorsed a race-specific program of reparations. Indeed Harris has made it clear that what she’s calling “reparations” is really just an income-based policy by another name. The package of policies hasn’t changed; only the label on the package has. So who cares?

In electoral politics, however, it is precisely the label that matters. Given that there’s nothing about her policies that requires Harris to slap the “reparations” label onto them, her decision to employ it suggests that it now has such positive connotations on the Left that she can’t reject the label without paying a political price. Five years ago, Coates, his fans, and his critics more or less agreed that it would be political suicide for a candidate to so much as utter the word “reparations” in an approving tone of voice. Now, we have a candidate like Harris who seems to think it’s political suicide not to. The Overton window has shifted.

In one sense, Coates should be celebrating. He, more than anyone, is responsible for the reintroduction of reparations into the public sphere. Most writers can only dream of having such influence. But in another sense, his victory is a pyrrhic one. That is, the very adoption of reparations by mainstream politicians throws doubt on the core message of Coates’s work. In his 2017 essay collection, We Were Eight Years in Power, Coates argued that racism is not merely“a tumor that could be isolated and removed from the body of America,” but “a pervasive system both native and essential to that body”; white supremacy is “so foundational to this country” that it will likely not be destroyed in this generation, the next, “or perhaps ever”; it is “a force so fundamental to America that it is difficult to imagine the country without it”.

Now ask yourself: How likely is it that a country matching Coates’s description would find itself with major presidential contenders proposing reparations for slavery, and not immediately plummeting in the polls? The challenge for Coates and his admirers, then, is to reconcile the following claims:

1. America remains a fundamentally white supremacist nation.

2. Presidential contenders are competing for the favor of a good portion of the American electorate partly by signaling how much they care about, and wish to redress, historical racism.

You can say (1) or you can say (2) but you can’t say them both at the same time without surrendering to incoherence. Coates himself has recognized this contradiction, albeit indirectly. “Why do white people like what I write?” he asked [italics in original] in We Were Eight Years in Power. He continued:

“The question would eventually overshadow the work, or maybe it would just feel like it did. Either way, there was a lesson in this: God might not save me, but neither would defiance. How do you defy a power that insists on claiming you? What does the story you tell matter, if the world is set upon hearing a different one?” [italics mine]

In Coates’s mind, the fact that so many white people love his work suggests that they do not fully understand it, that they are “hearing a different” story to the one he is telling. But a more parsimonious explanation is readily available: white progressives’ reading comprehension is fine and they genuinely love his message. This should be unsurprising since white progressives are now more “woke” than blacks themselves. For example, white progressives are significantly more likely than black people to agree that “racial discrimination is the main reason why blacks can’t get ahead”.

This presents a problem for Coates. If you believe, as he does, that the political Left “would much rather be talking about the class struggles” that appeal to “the working white masses” than “racist struggles,” then it must be jarring to realize that the very same, allegedly race-averse Left is the reason that your heavily race-themed books sit atop the New York Times bestseller list week after week. Coates’s ideology, in this sense, falls victim to its own success.

But a pyrrhic victory is a kind of victory nonetheless, and so, partly thanks to Coates, we must have the reparations debate once again.

First, a note on the framing of the debate: Virtually everyone who is against reparations is in favor of policies aimed at helping the poor. The debate, therefore, is not between reparations and doing nothing for black people, but between policy based on genealogy and policy based on socioeconomics. Accordingly, the burden on each side is not to show that its proposal is better than nothing—that would be easy. The burden on each side is to show that its preferred rationale for policy (either genealogy or socioeconomics) is better than the rationale proposed by the other side. And, framed as such, reparations for slavery is a losing argument.

For starters, an ancestral connection to slavery is a far less reliable predictor of privation than a low income. There are tens of millions of descendants of American slaves and many millions of them are doing just fine. As Kevin Williamson put it: “Some blacks are born into college-educated, well-off households, and some whites are born to heroin-addicted single mothers, and even the totality of racial crimes throughout American history does not mean that one of these things matters and one does not.”

Williamson’s observation holds not only between blacks and whites but between different black ethnic groups as well. Somali-Americans, for example, have lower per-capita incomes than native-born black Americans. Yet they would not see a dime from reparations, since they have no connection to American slavery. But should it matter why Somali immigrants are poorer than black American natives? Insofar as there is a reparations policy that would benefit the poor, should Somali immigrants be denied those benefits because they are poor for the wrong historical reasons? The idea can only be taken seriously by those who value symbolic justice for the dead over tangible justice for the living.

We can either direct resources toward the individuals who most need them, or we can direct them toward the socioeconomically-diverse members of historical victim groups. But we cannot direct the same resources in both directions at once. In 2019, “black” and “poor” are not synonyms. Every racial group in America contains millions of people who are struggling and millions of people who are not, and if any debt is owed, it is to the former.

Secondly, the case for reparations relies on the intellectually lazy assumption that the problems facing low-income blacks today are a part of the legacy of slavery. For most problems, however, the timelines don’t match up. Black teen unemployment, for instance, was virtually identical to white teen unemployment (in many years it was lower) until the mid-1950s, when, as Thomas Sowell observed in Discrimination and Disparities, successive minimum wage hikes and other macroeconomic forces artificially increased the price of unskilled labor to employers—a burden that fell hardest on black teens. Not only did problems like high youth unemployment and fatherless homes not appear in earnest until a century after the abolition of slavery, but similar patterns of social breakdown have since been observed in other groups that have no recent history of oppression to blame it on, such as the rise of single-parent homes in the white working class.

Nevertheless, there is a sense nowadays that history affects blacks to such a unique degree that it places us in a fundamentally different category from other groups. David Brooks, a New York Times columnist and a recent convert to the cause of reparations, recently explained that “while there have been many types of discrimination in our history”, the black experience is “unique and different” because it involves “a moral injury that simply isn’t there for other groups”.

I’m highly skeptical of the blacks-are-unique argument. For one thing, it’s not true that blacks have inherited psychological trauma from historical racism. Though the budding field of epigenetics is sometimes used to justify this claim, a recent New York Times article poured cold water on the hypothesis: “The research in epigenetics falls well short of demonstrating that past human cruelties affect our physiology today.” (For what it’s worth, this accords with my own experience. If there is a heritable psychological injury associated with being the descendant of slaves, I’ve yet to notice it.) 

But more importantly, if humans really carried the burden of history in our psyches, then all of us, regardless of race, would be carrying very heavy burdens indeed. Although American intellectuals speak of slavery as if it were a uniquely American phenomenon, it is actually an institution that was practiced in one form or another by nearly every major society since the dawn of civilization. As the Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson wrote in his massive study, Slavery and Social Death:

‘There is nothing notably peculiar about the institution of slavery. It has existed from before the dawn of human history right down to the twentieth century, in the most primitive human societies and in the most civilized. There is no region on earth that has not at some time harbored the institution. Probably there is no group of people whose ancestors were not at one time slaves or slaveholders.”

And that’s to say nothing of the traumas of war, poverty, and starvation that would show up abundantly in all of our ancestral histories if we were to look. Unless blacks are somehow exempt from the principles governing human psychology, the mental effects of historical racism have not been passed down through the generations. Yes, in the narrow context of American history, blacks have been uniquely mistreated. But in the wider context of world history, black Americans are hardly unique and should not be treated as such.

Finally, the framing of the reparations debate presupposes that America has done nothing meaningful by way of compensation for black people. But in many ways, America has already paid reparations. True, we haven’t literally handed a check to every descendant of slaves, but many reparations proponents had less literal forms of payment in mind to begin with.

Some reparations advocates, for instance, have proposed race-conscious policies instead of cash payments. On that front, we’ve done quite a bit. Consider, as if for the first time, the fact that the U.S. college admissions system is heavily skewed in favor of black applicants and has been for decades. In 2009, the Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade found that Asians and whites had to score 450 and 310 SAT points higher than blacks, respectively, to have the same odds of being admitted into elite universities. (The entire test, at the time of the study, was out of 1600 points.)

Racial preferences extend into the job market as well. Last September, the New York Times reported on an ethnically South Asian television writer who “had been told on a few occasions that she lost out on jobs because the showrunner wanted a black writer.” The article passed without fanfare, probably because such racial preferences—or “diversity and inclusion” programs—pervade so many sectors of the U.S. labor market that any particular story doesn’t seem newsworthy at all.

Furthermore, many government agencies are required to allocate a higher percentage of their contracts to businesses owned by racial minorities than they otherwise would based on economic considerations alone. Such “set-aside” programs exist at the federal level as well as in at least 38 states—in Connecticut at least 25 percent of government contracts with small businesses must legally be given to a minority business enterprise (MBE), and New York has established a 30 percent target for contracts with MBEs. One indication of the size of this racial advantage is that, for decades, white business owners have been fraudulently claiming minority status, sometimes risking jail time, in order to increase their odds of capturing these lucrative government contracts. (A white man from Seattle is currently suing both the state of Washington and the federal government for rejecting his claim to own an MBE given his four percent African ancestry.)

My point is not that these race-conscious policies have repaid the debt of slavery; my point is that no policy ever could. For this reason I reject the appeasement-based case for reparations occasionally made by conservatives—namely, that we should pay reparations so that we can finally stop talking about racism once and for all. Common sense dictates that when you reward a certain behavior you tend to get more of it, not less. Reparations, therefore, would not, and could not, function as “hush money.” Reparations would instead function as a kind of subsidy for activism, an incentive for the living to continue appropriating grievances that rightfully belong to the dead.

Some reparations advocates, however, are less focused on tangible dispensations to begin with. Instead they see reparations as a spiritual or symbolic task. Coates, for example, defines reparations primarily as a “national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal” and a “full acceptance of our collective biography and its consequences”—and only secondarily as the payment of cash as compensation. How has America done on the soul-searching front? As Coates would have it, not very well. For him, the belief occupying mainstream America is that “a robbery spanning generations could somehow be ameliorated while never acknowledging the scope of the crime.”

By my lights, however, we’ve done quite a bit of symbolic acknowledging. For over 40 years we’ve dedicated the month of February to remembering black history; Martin Luther King Jr. has had a national holiday in his name for almost as long; more or less every prominent liberal arts college in the country has an African-American studies department and many have black student housing; both chambers of Congress have independently apologized for slavery and Jim Crow; and just last month the Senate passed a bill that made lynching a federal crime, despite the fact that lynching was already illegal (because it’s murder), has not been a serious problem for at least half a century, and was already the subject of a formal apology by the Senate back in 2005.

If this all amounts to nothing—that is, to a non-acknowledgement of historical racism—then I’m left wondering what would or could qualify as something. The problem with the case for spiritual reparations is its vagueness. What, precisely, is a “national reckoning” and how will we know when we’ve completed it? The trick behind such arguments, whether intentional or not, is to specify the debt owed to black Americans in just enough detail to make it sound reasonable, while at the same time describing the debt with just enough vagueness to ensure that it can never decisively be repaid.

At bottom, the reparations debate is a debate about the relationship between history and ethics, between the past and the Good. On one side are those who believe that the Good means using policy to correct for the asymmetric racial power relations that ruled America for most of its history. And on the other side are those who believe that the Good means using policy to increase human flourishing as much as possible, for as many as possible, in the present.

Both visions of the Good—the group-based vision and the individualist vision—require the payment of reparations to individuals (and/or their immediate family members) who themselves suffered atrocities at the hands of the state. I therefore strongly approve of the reparations paid to Holocaust survivors, victims of internment during World War II, and victims of the Tuskegee experiments, to name just a few examples. Where the two visions depart is on the question of whether reparations should be paid to poorly-defined groups containing millions of people whose relationship to the initial crime is several generations removed, and therefore nothing like, say, the relationship of a Holocaust survivor to the Holocaust.

Among the fallacies of the group-based vision is the conceit that we are capable of accurately assessing, and correcting for, the imbalances of history to begin with. If we can’t even manage to consistently serve justice for crimes committed between individuals in the present, it defies belief to think that we can serve justice for crimes committed between entire groups of people before living memory—to think, in other words, that we can look at the past, neatly split humanity into plaintiff groups and defendant groups, and litigate history’s largest crimes in the court of public opinion.

If we are going to have a national reckoning, it must be of a different type than the one suggested by Coates. It must be a national reckoning that uncouples the past and the Good. Such a reckoning would not entail forgetting our history, but rather liberating our sense of ethics from the shackles of our checkered past. We cannot change our history. But the possibility of a just society depends on our willingness to change how we relate to it.


 

Blackwards to tribalism 4

Those glorious Greeks of old conceived and implemented an Idea that took civilization thousands of thought-miles forward: individuals from any country, any nation, any tribe, could live together under the same rule of law.

What bound them, what commanded their loyalty, would be the Law rather than the Land: the Ius not the Rus – in the language of the grand old Romans who adopted the same idea. 

In the Roman Empire, at first, all the religions of all nations and tribes were tolerated, though tolerance and respect were demanded also for the gods of Rome.

It was a demand that the Judeans, who worshiped one god only, objected to. Their obstinacy on that score did not serve them well.

The Judeans became actively rebellious against Rome, whose protection they had originally invited. The Romans put down the rebellions, finally abolishing the province of Judea entirely. The Judeans turned into the wandering tribe of the Jews.

Before the first of the two great insurrections that ended in the dispersion of the Jews, an energetic Roman citizen of vast ambition came to the Judean capital, Jerusalem, from Tarsus in the Roman province of Cilicia in Asia Minor, and started a movement that was ultimately to destroy and replace the Roman Empire.

He called himself by the Hebrew name Saul (later changing it to Paul). He took the idea of the One  God and mixed it up with mythologies of Roman gods, claiming that the One God had a Son who was killed and rose again from the dead. He named the Son by the Greek name Jesus. His Jesus had been a living person, a Judean who had led a small weak rebellion and was executed for it. His followers maintained that he had “risen in the flesh”, and Saul/Paul was so excited by the tale – enhanced by the claim that the resurrected man was the long hoped-for Jewish Messiah (“Christos” in Greek) – that he invented a new religion. It came to be called Christianity. He moved about the Greek-speaking Eastern Roman Empire from whence he’d come, preaching it; finally taking it to Rome itself, where he died. He won converts. No one knows how many in his lifetime. Some of them reverted to their old polytheism or Judaism, but a fair number remained faithful to the new two-in-one divinity. Some converts composed books about the life of “Christ Jesus” – which Paul himself had not been interested in. The books, and Paul’s letters, eventually provided the mythology of the new religion.Through them the two-in-one divinity became a three-in-one divinity, a “Holy Spirit” being added to God-the-Father and God-the-Son.  The Son was chronicled as being begotten by the Jewish God upon a virgin mother (a concept familiar to the polytheists of classical times).

By this means and that means, the religion spread; through Paul the wandering preacher, the books of the myths, and the appeal that the religion itself had (with its promise of a blissful everlasting afterlife for the obedient faithful, and despite the threat of an eternity of torture for the disobedient unfaithful, the judgment being made by the Triple God alone). It became the Catholic Church, highly organized everywhere, headed and led by the the Church in Rome. More than a hundred years after Paul’s death, a Roman Emperor embraced Paul’s religion, and a few decades later Christianity was imposed on the whole Empire as its the official religion. Gone was the tolerance of earlier years. A few decades more, and Rome itself, weakened by Christianity, fell to the barbarians. The Church slowly took the place of the old order. The Church became the Roman power throughout western Europe. (The Eastern Empire, with the Emperor seated in Constantinople, is another story.)

Paul of Tarsus, though he never knew it, sustained and extended the power of Rome through his invention. But the Great Idea of the Greeks in the days of their glory, and of the Romans in the days of their grandeur, was changed.  Sure, individuals from any country, any nation, any tribe, could live as a “community” under the same rule – but it was the rule of the Roman Catholic Church, and that law was a different kind of law. It was the imposition of dogma: an orthodoxy, a uniformity of belief, essentially intolerant. 

Darkness descended. The Great Idea died.

It rose again after many hundreds of years. It was resurrected as the Idea on which the United States of America was founded.  

For two hundred and twenty-two years the Great Idea has made the United States of America, with a population of individuals deriving from many lands united as one nation under the law, free, prosperous, and powerful. United by Ius not Rus. Geographical origin, ethnicity, physical appearance, religion had no bearing on the rights the law gave all who lived under it. The unifying rule of law insisted on tolerance. By doing so, it guaranteed liberty. 

Now, it seems, that is changing. The Great Idea is under attack in the USA.

Tribes are being formed; some friendly to each other, some inimical to each other. Political cliques and cults, secessionists, states’ governments, defy the federal law. Many prefer to think of themselves as Blacks rather than as Americans, and their enemy as Whites. They actively seek to return to the savage ways of inter-tribal strife. It is atavism. It is a drawing down of darkness as intolerance spreads.

A good description of the disintegration is given by Sultan Knish. He writes (in part) at his website:

The Nation of Islam [NOI] preaches that black people are the master race. It doesn’t just hate white people, Jews and a whole bunch of other folks. It hates them out of a conviction in its own superiority. According to its teachings, “the Blackman is the original man” and lighter skinned people were “devils” created by an evil mad scientist to rule over black people until they are destroyed by UFOs.

It even teaches that monkeys are descended from white people.

Progressive media essays defending Obama, Rep. Keith Ellison, Rep. Danny Davis, Mallory and other black leaders for their Farrakhan links have urged concerned liberals to look at the positive aspects of the Nation of Islam, its love for black people, not the negative, its hatred for white people.

But it is the “positive” that is the problem.

Intersectionality promises to package tribal identity politics into a utopia of social justice. But the essence of tribalism is the superiority of your people and the inferiority of all other groups. …

The clown car of identity politics runs smoothest when it has a common enemy: white people. Coalitions like the Women’s March assemble an array of groups who are united by their hatred of Trump, white people, Israel and root beer. And it works as long as no one lifts up the hood and looks at the engine.

Black nationalism is racist, sexist, anti-Semitic and homophobic. The Nation of Islam isn’t an exception. From Jeremiah Wright, “Italians… looked down their garlic noses”, to Eldridge Cleaver, “rape was an insurrectionary act” to Amiri Baraka, the ugliest possible supremacist bigotry is its natural state.

“We are all beautiful (except white people, they are full of, and made of s___),” Amiri Baraka wrote. “The fag’s death they gave us on a cross… they give us to worship a dead jew and not ourselves.”

“I got the extermination blues, jew-boys. I got the Hitler syndrome figured… So come for the rent, jewboys,” the Guggenheim fellowship, PEN and American Book Award winner, and former Poet Laureate of New Jersey ranted.

Baraka was one of the country’s most celebrated black nationalist poets and he was a former member of the Nation of Islam. Baraka’s Black Mass circulated the NOI’s racist creation myth.

It was the NOI’s conviction of black superiority and white inferiority that attracted Baraka and so many other black nationalists. The NOI is one of a variety of black supremacist religious groups, from the similarly exotic Moorish and Black Hebrew churches, to NOI splinter groups such as Five-Percent Nation and black nationalist churches like the one attended by the Obamas and presided over by Jeremiah Wright.

But religious black supremacism is only a component of a larger cultural movement that lies at the heart of black nationalism and mingles historical conspiracy theories with racial supremacism.

The comingling of black nationalism with intersectional politics has produced a new generation (often of second-generation radicals) that dresses up its racism not only in the lyricism of the old black nationalism of Wright and Baraka, but in the obtuse academic jargon of intersectionality.

That’s where Tamika Mallory and Ta-Nehisi Coates come from. But political word salads and poetry only conceal what you choose not to pay attention to. And that’s why we’re talking about Louis Farrakhan.

The mass of progressive media articles, essays and explainers deployed to protect the Women’s March can be summed up as, “Stop paying attention.” And what we’re not supposed to be paying attention to is the slow death of liberalism and its substitution by the intolerant tribal extremism of identity politics.

Intersectionality is a lie. Like the Nation of Islam, it’s not just a lie in its negative hateful aspects, but in its promise of a utopia once the “white devils” and their “white privilege” are out of the way.

Groups of identity politics extremists and their white cishet [pronounced “sis-het”, meaning heterosexual and “not transgendered”, ie. normal. – ed.] lefty allies can only be briefly united by the negative, not the positive. The “call-out culture” meant to spread social justice through the movement isn’t just a form of political terror; it fails to reach the innate bigotry of each identity politics group. …

Identity politics movements can’t fight bigotry, because they are naturally bigoted. Instead of actually rejecting bigotry, they project it on a convenient target like Trump, and then pretend that by destroying him, they can cleanse society. The more targets they destroy, the more they need to find to maintain an alliance whose only true unifying principle is a mutual denial of each other’s supremacist bigotries. And so the battle against racism becomes a war against microaggressions and structural white supremacy.

The whole thing is a ticking time bomb. And it keeps going off every few years. When it blows up, lefty activists rush out, as they are doing now, to plead, wheedle and warn that the real enemy is “white supremacy” and everyone needs to stop paying attention to the racist or sexist views of their own allies.

These “rainbow coalitions” of racist radicals don’t fight bigotry; they mobilize bigots for racial wars.

Tamika Mallory praising Farrakhan isn’t shocking. It would be more shocking if she didn’t. It’s hard to find major black figures in politics and the entertainment industry who don’t hang out with him.

Both Jesse Jackson and Barack Obama, the first two serious black presidential candidates, did. The Congressional Black Caucus hosted him. London Mayor Sadiq Khan acted as his lawyer. The list of black entertainers is all but endless. Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube (both members), Michael Jackson, Eddie Murphy, Spike Lee, Arsenio Hall, Common, Kanye West, Mos Def, Young Jeezy and Erykah Badu to name a few.

Not every individual who meets up with Farrakhan necessarily shares all his bigoted views, but many find his tribal affirmation of black superiority appealing and they value that more than they do any kind of tolerant society. That’s what Tamika Mallory, in her own awkward way, was trying to tell us.

Black nationalism is a tribal cause. It will always put its people first. The same is true of the rest of the hodgepodge of political identity groups that form up the intersectional chorus. No amount of calling out will change that. That’s why the calling out is mostly directed at safe targets, preferably white.

There is no larger unity at the end of the rainbow. Only smoother versions of Farrakhan. Barack instead of Baraka. Rants about “white devils” and “satanic Jews” filtered through academic jargon.

A movement of bigotries can only divide us. And that’s all identity politics has to offer America. Instead of equal rights in a united nation, we will be members of quarreling tribes. And those tribes, like Farrakhan’s fans, will be incapable of seeing members of other tribes as having the same worth they do. …

The left claims that it’s fighting for equality. What it’s actually fighting for is a tribal society where the notion of equal rights for all is as alien as it is in Iraq, Rwanda and Afghanistan, where democracy means tribal bloc votes and where the despotism of majority rule invariably ends in terror and death.