The Dartmouth Observer
Wednesday, July 31, 2002
Here is a sensible article by Richard Goldstein entitled "On Being Called a Commie: Red-Baiting in a World Without Reds" in the most recent Village Voice.
It is one thing to see that certain edicts coming out of the Ashcroft and Bush regime represent McCarthyism with a new haircut. It is a different thing to understand that progressive movements are still struggling to break free from the legacy of his witch-hunting.
Tuesday, July 30, 2002
I wanted to start off this post with a delayed thank you to Chien Wen and John Stevenson for inviting me to be part of this conversation, and another delayed thank you to my fellow posters for their insight, eagerness in debating intellectual and political ideas, and open-mindedness. This blog is one of the wonderful but all-too-rare occurences of truly intelligent discussion about academia, politics and culture here at Dartmouth and outside of Hanover. I consider myself lucky to be a part of it.
I received an invitation from the Student Assembly a few minutes ago to share my ideas on door locks. Eagerly I went to the online survey to express my views. Quickly though, I sensed a strange bias. Firstly, I was suspicious of the survey's request to disclose gender. Who really cares whether men and women feel differently about this issue? After all, if some people feel unsafe (and with good reason, I might add: there have been not one but numerous incidences of women being harrassed and assaulted by strangers in dorm bathrooms: search the D's website if you don't believe me) then it's the College's responsibility to make people feel safer and more secure. Door locks do not impinge on anyone's civil rights, and they are common practice at virtually every college campus across the nation, with very good reason. Don't allow a few disgruntled students to make this into a bigger issue that it already is.
Secondly, in response to Brent Kesler's post regarding his personal experiences with depression: I certainly empathize with your difficulties addressing an often daunting mental illness, and I am glad that you are no longer in such a precarious position. However, I will say that, while I do realize that male depression is a serious concern, I do think that it is not only possible, but necessary to evaluate claims of victimization, and that in this case I think that the victims of patriarchal practices are firstly and predominantly women. Men suffer the side effects of their own system, undoubtedly. But men (not all men, of course, but most do buy into the patriarchy to some extent) perpetrate the vast majority of gender violence. Violence, I argue, that is physical, sexual, and mental, and which almost universally victimizes women.
Finally, for all those crazy guys out there who are taking Global Feminism with Means this summer, I found an excellent article about postmodernism and women/feminism. I don't think it's on the web, but its in the Oxford Readings in Feminism Series, Feminism and "Race". The article is entitled, "Exploding the Canon" (although it's not about the literary canon like I'd thought, in case you were wondering Chien Wen) by Jane Parpart and Marianne Marchand. It's excellent and also provides a concise, though perhaps limiting, idea of postmodernism.
More on Race Wars
This article by Ross Clark from Britain's 'Spectator' shows how the problem of excessive racial political correctness is playing out across the pond. School children attending public schools now have to report their ethnicity to the government as part of a racial identification program. According to Clark, "as a result of the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000, all public bodies are obliged to monitor the ethnic identity of their users and, should the profile of their usage indicate the merest statistical bias against any ethnic group, is expected to devise policies in order to correct it." Hence, public schools now require children to fill out race identification forms.
The thinking here is awful. Instead of trying to correct racial discrimination, and to end racialized thinking, the British government is balkanizing its own society by pitting ethnic groups against each other because of perceived or statistical racial discrimination. No longer is it necessary for people to be race-blind when making decisions of hiring, school admittance, or allocation of public funds. Now, people have to make sure that there is adequate representation in order to avoid unintentional bigotry. That's fascinating: so racism can now be a subconcious affair, as opposed to overt discrimination! Tessa Jowell, Britain's Culture Secretary (Orwellian enough for you?) says that "attitudes and routine practices and procedures can be a major barrier to change, and may be excluding or marginalising groups unintentionally."
The danger of this thinking has been articulated on this blogsite before. The original goal of the Civil Rights Movement (and incidentally, various anti-colonial movements as well) was to build a society in which racialized thinking would be outdated and repulsive. Instead of working towards that goal however, modern multiculturalists are trying desperately to bring back racist thinking and action. The idea they criticize is the notion of a race-blind society. As Clark says, "like Basil Fawlty ordering his staff not to mention the war in front of his German guests, the government is becoming so hung up about trying to be anti-racist that it risks achieving the exact opposite of what was intended."
Sunday, July 28, 2002
While I haven't read the book (and don't plan on doing so), this critique of conservative pundit Ann Coulter's latest book seems to me spot on. The reviewer points precisely out the sort of stuff we don't want on this website: i.e. making utterly inane comments like "Liberals hate America" and "Principle is nothing to liberals. Winning is everything." Apparently, Coulter's an impressive television personality. Well, having to put your thoughts down on paper is a different thing altogether, and from what the reviewer has to say, she isn't terribly good at it.
Hello, everyone. This my first post to the Observer, and I'd like to thank Chien Wen for inviting me.
Laura Dellatorre's post of 22 July inspired this piece. In her post she states:
"While so-called liberals (especially, I've noticed, white male ones) are eager to discuss how men are raped, harrassed and generally hurt by men, too, the fact of the matter is that their physical anatomy/socially-designated gender does not make them particularly vulnerable to this. Personal discomfort may. That's a seperate issue, and while important, does not fit into the rubric of feminist studies. Sorry guys."
Because of my personal experience, I must disagree with her premises and conclusion. First, her premises.
1) Quoting McKinnon: "the condition of being a man is not defined as subordinate to women by force." True. However, not all suffering results from force. Some results from psychology--whether rooted in cruel parents, chemical imbalance, death of a loved one, or some other trauma. In some cases, suffering may have no apparent cause.
2) Dellatorre only addresses men suffering violence at the hands of other men. She does not consider men who committ violence against themselves.
I will now reveal a bit of my personal history. In the fall of 2001, I stopped doing my classwork. I withdrew from friends. I started sleeping more and eating less. I developed a drug problem, abusing alcohol, cigarettes, and . . . other substances--anything I could get my hands on.
By winter, I was on Academic Risk, my grades dropping from pretty okay to abysmal. My friends at Alpha Theta asked me to resign my offices. I finally began to consider that I might need professional help. I sought counseling at Dick's House and was diagnosed with major depression.
I count myself lucky to have depression. My condition has been thoroughly studied and documented. Treatment is easy and straight-forward in less severe cases. The downside, however, is that once treatment begins, things get worse before they get better. Much worse. I nearly committed suicide three times. When a few moments' pain seemed to outweigh all possible pleasure I could get out of the remaining seventy years or so of my life, suicide suddenly looked like a rational decision.
I've suffered this depression since I was twelve. It could have been treated at any time--I only needed to ask for help. Yet, I didn't. I could break down my psychology in a full exposition, but four words can sum it up: big boys don't cry.
Just as we teach girls to shut up the assertive side of their psyches, we teach boys an equally harsh lesson: shut up their feelings. They must reject intimacy and emotion. Emotional expression is a privilege reserved for women. For all our talk of “sensitive men,” we expect them to conform to the strong silent type. As Terrence Real notes in I Don’t Want to Talk About it,
“But the loss cuts deeper than mere matters of style. Many boys are taught to be so proficient at burying their exuberance that they manage to bury it even from themselves. Recent research indicates that in this society most males have difficulty not just in expressing, but even in identifying their feelings” (146).
Being a man means denial of vulnerability. I don’t show my pain, for they’ll know where I hurt. I don’t show my love, for they will see I cannot stand on my own. I don’t show my joy, for they’ll know what to take from me. I must be strong and capable. I must be able to hold it together.
Men what to believe they are strong, capable, and able to hold it together. This was difficult for me. Growing up, I was never athletic. I couldn’t pass a football worth a damn, I couldn’t catch, I couldn’t run fast, I wasn’t strong. I was never a hit with the ladies. I failed to be a man in every manner save one: when I suffered, I suffered in silence. When I had no other claim to strength, I had that.
Of course, if I wanted to prove my strength, I could easily show the pain I had endured. But that would be whining, and admitting vulnerability. Suffering must be done in silence. So I thrust myself into my own pain, relishing it, and how strong it made me. Silence is the loudest cry.
The problem--at least one of the problems—was that I would not admit my pain, my weakness, even to myself. Even when my mind screamed at me to get help, I told it to shut up. It just wanted the easy way out. It just wanted to say I had some sort of psychological problem so it could have an excuse to break down and cry. But I would not let it. I endured in silence.
Over time, I began to enjoy my suffering. The more I hurt, the stronger I felt. So I just let my pain slowly take over my life, until it crushed me in the fall of 2001.
It was my need to believe I fit this definition of a man that made me suffer, that kept me from getting the help I needed. Only when I woke from a drug frenzy to find my academic career in ruins and my friends shaking their heads was I able to admit that I could not stand alone.
My masculinity made me torture myself until I prayed for death. Feminist studies on the role that gender plays in pyschology helped me recover. I suspect that many men, if not most, fight a similar battle. And we have the knowledge to end their suffering, reconnect them with their emotions, and help them relate themselves to the world, and take the time to truly understand and listen to the women in their lives. But these men do not suffer opression, or physical violence committed by other men, so this does not fit into the rubric of feminist studies. Sorry guys.
When D'Souza was praising colonialism for its effects, he was not doing so conscious only of his own profit from it. D’Souza, in fact, argues a very valid point about colonialism in India. He also proposes a very strong argument for the necessity of more extended colonialism in places such as sub-Saharan Africa.
D'Souza openly admits that there were great sufferings in India as a result of British rule. He does not, however, dwell on these but rather elaborates on some of the benefits, from which India greatly gained. It is a fallacy to imagine that life in India was better for Indians before the British administration. There were kings, princes, the burnings of widows. For the common people there was no democracy, no real judicial system, no constitution nor guarantee of human or civil rights. India was a checker board of principalities, resembling, in some ways, medieval Europe, which was, as all know, a true paradise for the working classes, as Monty Python aptly pointed out!
Yes, the pale-skinned male is an oppressive, imperialist, domineering, greedy, exploitative savage and nothing else. And whilst the this white man demon was subjugating the world, he caused much suffering. The French and the Dutch established police states, the Belgians and Americans exploitative extraction economies, and the British plantations. Of course, we should turn a blind eye to the modern Turkish (so to speak!) and Japanese, not to mention the earlier Incas, Bantu, Chinese, Moguls, and Mongolians, this last group which rightly punished the white man of Eastern Europe for those crimes which he would later commit during his history.
I think that my point is clear. Colonialism has been a real policy during some part of the existence of most nation-states. This was going to happen, whether or not the leaders were white and male. The global economy was not such that ideas, goods, and culture could be traded simply by hopping on a 747 cargo jet. No, it required conquest. Conquest provided something that nothing else during earlier times could: DIVERSITY. This diversity came at a cost to those who lived under colonialism and D'Souza does not deny this. What he points out is that when history was ready for change and colonialism no longer benefited the Empire (actually, colonialism was not profitable to the West and Europe knew this), the nations kicked out the colonial administrators (or any white male in position of power) and, in the best cases, constructed states. These states were founded upon principles conspicuously familiar to those states in Europe, which had long been ruled by evil white males, for most of the history of western political philosophy is white and male. And what can the West show for itself? Democracy, human rights, civil law, public justice, the modern concept of freedom within the state, etc. This is not to say that I somehow endorse that white males are the only ethical and intelligent beings in the universe. That's like saying that the Chinese man is some kind of ubermensch because his ancestors developed the wheelbarrow. D'Souza is pointing out that the legacy of strong colonial history is what has permitted India to become an independent democracy. He also laments that the history of colonialism had not been better established, for when the Europeans left Africa, they left a political and economic vacuum.
There is no denying that colonialism has had an overall positive effect on the former colonies. The question is: were the hardships of colonialism worth today's benefits? Was colonialism worth the suffering so that newly industrializing countries could be better off than 18th century Britain? Would anyone say that it would have been better that India should presently be in a more backward political and economic state and that it suffer ten-fold the growing pains it bears now for the sake of keeping Whitey down? This last comment of mine probably sounds very biased, but I really do wonder. Is colonialism morally justifiable? Is it morally reprehensible not to colonize? Do the ends justify the means? This was effectively the question we asked in the "Widow's Challenge." It is this question with which we wrestle endlessly.
But colonialism happened and there is nothing that can be done to change that. Today we see the benefits of colonialism. This is not to say that colonialism has not left painful memories. Hopefully, however, with those painful souvenirs is posited infinitely more potential to become a vibrant, ethical, and happy state.
After following Chien Wen's suggestion that I read D'Souza's Two Cheers for Colonialism, I would like to make a few brief comments in response.
When D'Souza refers to his "beliefs in freedom of expression, in self-government, in equality of rights under the law, and in the universal principle of human dignity" as ideas produced by Western civilization, I might remind him that those self-same rights were not extended to a man of color such as himself until India won independence, and feminist and anti-racist scholars and activists (those representing groups not included in Western ideas of humanity until quite recently) challenged the blatant denial of these rights to non-white, non-male humans. D'Souza ignores the sometimes wrenching battles that Indians and other colonized countries had to fight to wrest their independence from reluctant colonizers.
Britain certainly did not colonize India to spread liberal ideals of government, or even to spread capitalism. They colonized India as they colonized other countries: to exploit for economic gain and political power. They conveniently forgot all their liberal ideals since Indians did not fit their idea of human. The principle of human dignity certainly was not transmitted by the actions of the British in India. If anything, the worthlessness of Indian lives was perhaps the most obvious lesson of colonization. One wonders how exactly Indians could have taken from colonization a concept of self-government and human equality. Only through challenging British ideas of who deserves full human rights did Indians gain independence. They must have gotten a belief in their own human dignity from somewhere besides a British education.
D'Souza, and indeed Chien Wen himself, are quick to use their personal lives as examples of the benefits derived from colonialism. D'Souza discusses the differences between his grandfather and himself, for instance, to illustrate the benefits of colonization:
"While I was a young boy, growing up in India, I noticed that my grandfather, who had lived under British colonialism, was instinctively and habitually antiwhite. He wasn't just against the English; he was generally against white people. I realized that I did not share his antiwhite animus. That puzzled me: Why did he and I feel so differently? Only years later, after a great deal of reflection and a fair amount of study, did the answer finally hit me. The reason for our difference of perception was that colonialism had been pretty bad for him, but pretty good for me. Another way to put it was that colonialism had injured those who lived under it, but paradoxically it proved beneficial to their descendants."
If D'Souza is so eager to bring his personal experience into a "political" discussion (what exactly is political, of course, is highly debatable and deserves its own post) it is worthwhile to note that D'Souza is not the prototypical post-colonial individual. He is the privileged son of a Johnson and Johnson pharmaceuticals executive, and has the rather rare good luck of attending Dartmouth. By any standards, D'Souza is impressively advantaged. Needless to say, the vast majority of his fellow Indians are in a far different position. And precisely because of the oppression they live under and must endure, they are not given the tools D'Souza has been given to share their opinions.
One must consider, finally, the role a commentator such as D'Souza plays for the guilty colonizing powers. How nice to learn that, after all, we aren't heartless greedy pillagers of another society's culture and resources. His belief in Western ideals is conveniently aligned with what guilty Westerners want to hear, and that gets him noticed. D'Souza is an apologist, in other words, and just like conservative anti-feminist women are all the rage nowadays, he is just another puppet in the patriarchal imperialist machine.
Who's Afraid of Partisanship?
In his Dartmouth Observer post yesterday, John Stevenson claims that he wants "less politics please both left and right." Perhaps Stevenson can better explain his own confusing political statement that: "As usual, the Nation is passing off its partisan bigotry against so-called neoconservatives." Apparently, Stevenson is upset by the tenor of Eric Alterman's column Who's Afraid of Cornel West? in The Nation magazine, where I am now an intern, having graduated from Dartmouth and left behind my days of editing The Free Press a little over a year ago. (Disclosure: I fact-check Alterman's column after it is written.) Stevenson writes that the provocation for Alterman's column was that "four academics: Irving Kristol, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Hilton Kramer and the intellectual historian John Patrick Diggins, withdrew from a conference when (Princeton) public intellectual Cornel West was invited to replace Richard Rorty."
"Four academics"? In the very column which Stevenson provided a link for (and I assume read), Alterman notes that while Cornel West is a serious scholar on the topic discussed at the conference, two of the conservative participants who withdrew were not even academics. Why does Stevenson write that these four neoconservatives were all academics? It was ridiculous for them to walk out in protest. Nothing in Stevenson's post convinced me otherwise. Eric Alterman put it well:
"The Chronicle [of Higher Education] reports that this Gang of Four felt West to be "not enough of a scholar" to justify their presence. This is a bit like a little league coach claiming Barry Bonds is "not enough of a hitter" to play a game of sandlot ball. Kristol and Kramer have made careers as ideological entrepreneurs and polemical publicists. They cannot boast a single work of lasting scholarly significance between them. Gertrude Himmelfarb and John Patrick Diggins are both serious, albeit unusually combative and ideology-minded, historians. Both have shamed themselves with this act of combined intellectual cowardice and conservative political correctness."
It is also unclear to me what problems, if any, Stevenson has with the other Nation column for which he provides a link. Stevenson may decry the politics of partisanship, but if he disagrees with Alterman's arguments, he should note them and take them on rather then claiming they are the result of "bigotry." If Stevenson wants to say he is sick of both sides, it should be noted that Alterman is not claiming to be an intellectual here: Alterman is writing a media column in the politics (not the arts and culture) section of a well known political magazine and is right to attack neoconservatives for pretending to be intellectuals when they are playing politics or worse, being racist. Is it always unacceptable partisanship to point out when someone is acting in a hypocritcal manner? Stevenson seems to be attempting to claim a position above the political fray, and yet his post sounds suspiciously like a conservative political commentary, exactly the sort of maneuvering that Alterman is decrying. My reply: more politics please and less ill-informed posturing.
Saturday, July 27, 2002
Who's Afraid of Cornel West?, the Nation asks.
As usual, the Nation is passing off its partisan bigotry against so-called neoconservatives. The theme of this piece is that neoconservative intellectual engage in intellectualism to undermine the revolution of the Sixties:
“American neoconservatives like to present themselves as people who "care deeply about ideas," in truth "they are engaged in intellectual life...not out of curiosity or natural inclination, but out of a purely political passion to challenge 'the intellectuals,' conceived as a class whose political tactics must be combated in kind." Hence, the "quasi-militaristic rhetoric," the "cavalier use of sources and quotations," and the frequent "insinuations of intellectual bad faith and cowardice, even treason." This style marks them, Lilla notes, as a new breed: the "counter-intellectual."”
What I love about the Nation’s editorials and observations, it’s hard to tell the difference with partisan publication of both the left and the right, is that neoconservatives are an ubiquitous elite who manifest their political bigotry whenever something happens that they don’t like. Like Gary Trudeau of Doonesbury right-wingers, they are everywhere but America is too stupid to notice, except for the noble anti-elite elite of the left. Borrowing from the tradition of C. Wright Mills’s The Power Elite to further partisan anti-rightist interests, articles from the Nation contend that the neoconservative elite are homogenous, cohesive, and autonomous (except for the homocons who have sold out their sexual identity which demands they be left-leaning), and represent the most exclusive segment of society. Political scientist James Meisel, in reference to C. Wright Mills, cleverly summarizes the attribute that the Nation imputes to the neoconservatives, “group consciousness, coherence, and conspiracy.” (conspiracy meaning common goals and intentions, not secret societies)
However, enough of the psychology of the Nation, why did the author of this article, Eric Alterman, who also wrote The Conspiracy Continues... an excellent example of the neoconservative conspiracy theory, write an article about conservative intellectualism? His provocation: four academics: Irving Kristol, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Hilton Kramer and the intellectual historian John Patrick Diggins, withdrew from a conference when (Princeton) public intellectual Cornel West was invited to replace Richard Rorty.
According to Alterman, Cornel West might: “remind audiences that their putative hero died a proud socialist…his passions derived from an honest engagement in the life of the mind, something the neocons long ago forfeited in their love affair with power.” The lesson that we can learn from West: “follow [our] ideas wherever they might lead, and to take on all comers in a spirit of good faith and honest engagement.”
All I have to say is: less politics please both left and right. (That goes for the New Criterion also.) We don’t need conspiracy theories and self-righteous partisan politicking pouring off the pages of the Arts and Cultures section.
Welcome to the Dartmouth Observer.
You are probably wondering: who are we and what are we all about? A good question. The Observer was conceived by Chien Wen Kung ’04 and myself a few weeks ago as a publication intended to promote intellectual discourse on the Dartmouth campus from a non-partisan perspective. I deliberately borrowed those words from CW. (Be sure to check out the archives for the debate that has been on going on for two weeks.)
This journal is a forum for topics that are only hesitantly discussed in the larger Dartmouth scene. Gender, race, political correctness, identity, poverty, the role of the individual, religion, and the nature and role of the government are all topics that can never exhaust my patience nor in which my interest can be quenched. All those who post here are under no ‘requirements’: Karsten Barde, Anthony Bider-Hall, Laura Dellatorre, Jonathan Eisenman, Alexander Horn, Paul Pope, Vijay Rao can all attest to this. We only ask that what is posted is well written and that you care about the subject. We hope soon that the members of this community will begin to argue with each other more often to help draw out the substance of the things that we debate about.
Where else can you find a journal that can easily switch from a discussion of the core curriculum to race to feminism and colonialism? This journal is an important part of the underground Dartmouth community where we discuss the most important aspects of our lives and beliefs openly and forthrightly without glossing over the differences that divide us nor the ending the common love of truth that unite us. This underground community will help reclaim the original meaning of the word ‘university’ which is a conflation of two words: ‘unity’ and ‘diversity.’ Notice both at play in our work.
Therefore, I pray that you, the reader, if you are not already a part of our community will join us, engage the debate and take your place in the larger Western discourse which began with Socrates.
Friday, July 26, 2002
Chien Wen wrote "Kelley's what John calls a 'post-Marxist' " What did I mean by that?
Robin Kelley, in his speech, his discussion last night and in his book that Karsten let me borrow, makes a structural argument against capitalism, institutionalized racism and institutionalized sexism. He contends that it is in the nature of Western economics and American thought to discriminate, exploit and marginalize. If one listens to him, he sound like another one of my favorite post-Marxists, Catherine A. MacKinnon. The only way to affect change is to overthrow the system, hence his affinity for the black radical leftist movements. He even spoke warmly of groups that resisted "Franco the Fascist" , another straw man that politicized scholarship of the 30s and the 60s has conjured for us to hate, who struck at the "democratically elected" (similar to the same way Yasser Arafat was democratically elected) socialist government.
The real story of the Spanish Civil War is that one Leftist group attacked the other in a mad bid to wipe out the competition. Spain, like the Weimar Republic, had a parliamentary coalition that could not restrain the militants in the street (sounds like Palestine), so the Left pulled out the guns which Stalin was more than happy to supply as he ran off with Spain's gold. Enter the Nazis and the Fascists who armed Franco to test out their own weaponry. Franco ended up winning the Civil War, thank God, and manage to accomplish his war aim: get the world's attention, and all of their armies, off and out of Spain. He wanted to go back to the periphery of Europe and succeeded. George Orwell in his essay "Spilling the Beans on the Spanish Civil War" shows us how the leftist intellectuals blamed Franco when it was the Leftist groups, especially those who were backed by Stalin, were to blame for the violence. Of course the Left was still caught in a masturbational fantasy over Stalin, then... But I digress.
However, what Kelley didn't realize is that his sweeping theories, like Marx, hinged everything on group characteristics. It was a Marxist struggle of groups, with a postmodern twist of intersecting identities, against the evils of white, capitalist penises. (Save for the ones who were so convinced of their nonexistent guilt that they had joined the reparations movement.) Structures of domination --race, class, and gender-- oppressed people. In fact, the people were defined by the experience of their domination. They more 'minority' groups that one could apply for, the more you were oppressed.
Even though I was disappointed with Mr. Kelley theories, his observations are astute. He correctly chastised those who also tried to make the black middle class and the black elite (they do exist contrary to what some 'justice' theories may tell you) feel guilty. "Where are the black elites? What are they doing for us?" Gone are the days of everyman having a right to his own life, now it was a giant stick-up game where you try to convince the other person to hand over their wallets as punishment for their success. The Catholic Church (of the Middle Ages) would be proud. Also I want you to go back to the 'us' of the quote. Notice how individuals no longer exist: just the old them and us game all over again. Except this time, it pretends to be academic and vaguely philosophical.
Also, Kelley was critical of those who wanted to romanticize Africa. Finally, common sense. The truth of the matter is immigrants from African, Haiti, Jamaica all do better than native blacks because they have social capital: a stringent work ethic, long range plans, and education. This is more than I can say for the large numbers of people that I grew up with who today are still trapped in the ghetto. Though he was skeptical of forcing Africa to pay reparations for starting the slave trade. Personally, if we are going on a looting spree, we need to hit up the Arabs and the Africans long before we get to Europe. They started the slave trade idea for the West. We will just take back all the oil the Arabs nationalized as a start but with the Africans, we will have to be a bit more creative.
Finally, in his book Yo Mama is DisFUNKtional, Kelley spends a long time bashing 'negrocons.' (Strangely close to the "Attack of the Homocons" argument of the Nation.) After he uses racial slurs to somehow mystically negate their argument, he bashes D'nesh DSouza (For the record, D'Souza needs to be bashed because his argument is weak and simplistic, not because he makes you feel bad; I will engage in some D'Souza bashing soon myself) and then goes on to tell the beauties of the radical left. I will of course review the book in detail when I reread it to dive deeper into these racist arguments against black conservatives (or in the words of our beloved Montgomery fellow: negrocons).
He also wisely pointed out the links between the anti-globalist (of the left, those of the right have serious issues), the anti-Israel crowd, the social justice crowd, the radical feminist crowd, and anyone else who is both highly skeptical of the system and is prone to political fanaticism.
Racism isn’t the problem, Mr. Kelley, it's race and all the racists who keep telling the world to think in terms of it. In order to end racism and in the words of Thurgood Marshall "remedy the effects of prior racism", we must destroy the seed, race, from which racism springs socially, psychologically, and etymologically. Soon, I will explain the origins of race and race thinking. You will be amazed that once race was used to promote civil rights and social justice. Then I will share my thoughts on D'Souza's End of Racism. Do yourself a favor: check Kelley's and D'Souza's books out from the library; don't buy them. They receive money.
Chien Wen, if only the U.S. could be a bit more like Singapore!
Without British colonialism, I would not be here today; I might not even have been born. While I acknowledge colonialism's flaws, I am grateful to the British for what they've given me, my parents, and my country. Laura, and anyone else with an interest in colonialism and its legacy, should read the following article by Dinesh D'Souza, who like myself comes from a country with a colonial past. Ignore whatever prejudices you may have towards him, and consider what he actually has to say. It is balanced, logical, and grounded in the personal details of his life.
Thursday, July 25, 2002
Some thoughts on Robin Kelley
John, Anthony, Karsten, and I were among the people who attended this evening's dinner-discussion with Montgomery Fellow Robin Kelley at the Malcolm X Center (the Cutter-Shabazz House). Apparently, he was much improved from the public lecture he gave the previous day, but I was still extremely disturbed.
Kelley's what John calls a "post-Marxist;" I prefer the term "radical socialist." How people can still take radical socialism seriously boggles the mind. There was much inflated talk of changing the world through reparations to - get this - all oppressed groups, from Blacks to women to former colonies, but typically, no one had a clue as just how to go about effecting such change. Nor was there any questioning of the assumptions upon which these radical ideas are formed. There was much talk about "injustice" and "inequality," as if the two were identical concepts. They are not, and if liberals really want progress, they will need to discriminate more carefully between the two; you cannot change the world if you are unable to evaluate it disinterestedly. Furthermore, simple logic tells us that only some inequalities are unjust. Most inequality is in fact natural and necessary for the functioning of the world.
What should concern us are problems such as poverty, illiteracy, and unemployment - real problems - and not abstract concepts of "injustice," "inequality," and "repression." Appropriating wealth and redistributing it among the less well-off may satisfy liberal guilt, but will they actually ameliorate these problems? We could well recall at this moment Dinesh D'Souza's argument in The End of Racism that Black culture, and not racism, was the main obstacle facing poor Blacks today. D'Souza's thesis is of course terribly un-PC, which explains why many people refused to take it seriously. But I think it has its merits. Racism as a way of thinking cannot be eliminated, but the tangible effects resulting from racism in contemporary America are few and far between. Just because there are proportionally fewer Blacks in prominent fields does not imply structural racism.
While Kelley did come across as a thinker, albeit misguided, I disagree with his appraisal of slavery as the most important event in American history. That event would have to be the founding of America upon the Enlightenment principles enshrined in the Constitution. Without those principles, slavery would still exist. This skewed way of looking at history again suggests how a fine mind can become racialized to the extent that it loses the ability to see the object as in itself it really is.
Wednesday, July 24, 2002
The administration's definition of diversity echoes Trustee Susan Dentzer's famous quip about wanting students to have "structured choices" for their social options. That is, they want diversity, but within certain limits. For instance, where are the conservatives in all this? Don't they contribute to the diversity of Dartmouth as well? Oh wait, they might not agree with our definition of diversity. So let's not hire conservatives. After all, they're a bunch of racist, misogynist, God-fearing white males who support Israel. We'd rather have Communists like Robin Kelley.
Seriously, this is a problem. It has nothing to do with political affiliation and everything to do with the principles upon which this weblog was founded (were this College excessively conservative, I would argue for the other side): different and opposing views make for a more enriching learning experience. Race, class, gender, etc., as Vijay has noted, tend to be only tangentially related to the quality of education.The CIDE Report states that "many students spoke with joyful enthusiasm about courses that had been intellectually and emotionally challenging and 'pushed them to the limits of their thinking'." I do not understand why such courses necessarily have to be about "diversity." The best class I've taken at Dartmouth studied dead, white people, most of whom (save Jane Austen, George Eliot, and Christina Rossetti) were males.
The Problem With 'Diversity'
One of my pet peeves is the way Dartmouth defines the term diversity. About a year ago, the College's Committee on Institutional Diversity and Equity (CIDE) issued a report recommending that the College do its utmost to increase diversity and the perception of diversity at Dartmouth. This is how the committee (and by extension the College) defines 'diversity':
"Diversity is used in this report as a broadly inclusive term embracing race, ethnicity, religion, nation of origin, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, socio-economic status, work affiliation with the College, etc. Thus, we have incorporated international diversity as an important dimension of a more broadly inclusive concept."
This "broadly inclusive concept" fails to recognize intellectual diversity, or the possibility that people of similar ethnicity or sexual orientation might actually (gasp!) think differently from one another. The report goes on to give its four main 'Rationales' for diversity, none of which hold up to close scrutiny.
I won't bore you by going through all of the details, but there's one glaring problem with these 'Rationales' that might not strike most people. The second reason the report gives for increased diversity on campus is quite compelling. According to CIDE, "a growing body of empirical evidence points to the educational benefits of diversity for all students. Social psychologist Pat Gurin found that students who experienced greater racial and ethnic diversity in their in- and out-of-class encounters showed superior intellectual motivation, cognitive development, and growth in academic skills." This is quite good. If more minority students attend Dartmouth, our academic and cognitive growth will be greatly enhanced, right? Well, not really. Unfortunately for CIDE, the evidence cited is not entirely "empirical". Pat Gurin, you see, is slightly biased when it comes to the issue of racial diversity on college campuses. She is a Psychology and Women’s Studies Professor at the University of Michigan. She was also the Dean of the undergraduate University for a short period of time. The actual work that the CIDE report cites is the “Expert Report of Patricia Gurin” which is part of a larger University of Michigan publication titled “The Compelling Need for Diversity in Higher Education.” This work forms part of the University of Michigan’s defense in two infamous Affirmative Action cases, Gratz et al v. Bollinger and Grutter et al. v. Bollinger. Both these cases were brought against the University when white students who applied to the University’s undergraduate and Law school programs were denied admission despite the fact that minority students with lower test scores had been admitted, as part of the University’s goal of increasing diversity. So, the CIDE report cites a work written by a University of Michigan Professor to defend her school’s racially biased admissions policy in a lawsuit against the same University of which this Professor had been the Dean and is still an employee. Perfectly “empirical” and unbiased, if you ask me. (Both these cases are in the appeals process, and will be making it to the Supreme Court soon. For more info, check out the Center for Individual Rights)
The report is filled with such holes, and CIDE is unable to make a clear case for increasing its brand of diversity on campus. The problem is not that the College is making bad arguments to support a good policy, but that it's trying to defend an indefensible position. Unfortunately, Dartmouth has simplistically equated diversity of thought with diversity of groups. Rather than fostering a community where individual free thought and expression reign supreme, the College is looking for a way to provide a sort of aesthetic diversity by which we ‘prove’ to the rest of the world that we in fact must be intellectually robust because of all the pretty colors. The danger of this kind of thinking is that we are beginning to fall into the trap of not just equating superficial diversity with intellectual diversity, but that we are assigning an intellectual identity to individuals based on which group they belong to. The logic for simplifying diversity of ideas and ideologies to diversity of race and sexual orientation is that individual members of the same race or sexual orientation must all have the same ideas and ideologies. One doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to see the flaw in such logic. A much better solution will be for Dartmouth to renounce this ‘group-think’ in favor of promoting free expression and intellectual discourse, as well as focusing on a notion of diversity that centers on intellectualism. Then maybe we can be truly diverse.
Thanks for inviting me to join, John; it's certainly an honor to participate in this forum. I sent this to The Dartmouth today, in reply to your commentary on my column. Should it not see the light of day in The D, I've added it, in draft, below. Of course, I have more rhetoric on the subject should the course of The Observer be steered in this direction.
To the Editor:
I should like to, at the risk of turning the paper into a sounding board for myself and Mr. Stevenson, reply to his column entitled “Coming Out of the Closet” (Wednesday, July 24). First, however, I would like to upbraid you, editorship of The Dartmouth for altering the title on my submitted work from “The Widow’s Peak” to “Rhetoric and Sacrilege.” Not only did you ruin my attempt, albeit in poor humor, to retain the word “widow” in my letter, but in your ultimate editorial wisdom, you allowed the “balding author” bit to remain. A widow’s peak, friends, is what I am sporting in my advancing age.
Notwithstanding editorial blunder, I should like to take Mr. Stevenson to task on a few points he has made within his latest epistle. Firstly, his suggestion that “liberal Christianity” emerged as a response to orthodoxy in a modernizing, secularizing society, in my admittedly limited course of study into early Christianity, seems incorrect. In fact, Christian orthodoxy came into being as a response to heresies in the early Church. Gnostics and other offshoot sects that emerged throughout the Mediterranean and North Africa necessitated response by Church fathers (Irenaeus comes to mind) to coagulate and homogenize; heterodoxy led to orthodoxy, not the other way around. Mr. Stevenson’s assertion that Christian Orthodoxy is tolerant is by and large historically inaccurate.
Who were these early orthodox Christians? These were people who so zealously martyred themselves that edicts had to be issued to control the zeal of some early Christians to do so and to follow in the way of Christ. If one reads of the martyrs, such as those of the Church of Lyons or St. Polycarp, one does see that they certainly, as Mr. Stevenson believes, felt that they did not “have anything to fear from the ‘outside’ world.” A healthy belief, especially when shared by the sort of people that fly planes into buildings under God’s watchful eye.
While I very much respect Mr. Stevenson and his intelligent insights into virtually every topic, the column he wrote ends like the tract of Talib. The lessons of history will bear out that while for an individual like Mr. Stevenson, the faith advocated in his column can be nothing but a reinforcement of the strength of the beliefs Mr. Stevenson has, vis-a-vis their sanctification in the eyes of God. Less moral individuals, however, have a blessing to carry on their homicide bombings with impunity in the eyes of God. Perhaps not Mr. Stevenson’s God, but then again, that was the God that sanctioned pogroms, Crusades, and Inquisitions. This, I hope, should highlight for those of you that need it the necessity of a code of ethics separate from the dictates of a deity. Thus, when we spoke of an objective and universal code of ethics versus a morass of relativism, I offered the distinction, or as Mr. Stevenson refers to it, the hesitancy, in my delineation of religion as a different topic of conversation.
Monday, July 22, 2002
Hi everyone. This is my first time posting, so apologies if this looks funny or the links don't work. I am taking valuable time away from reading Catharine MacKinnon on pornography (check out her article "Francis Biddle's Sister: Pornography, Civil Rights and Speech" in Feminism Unmodified) to share with you all some thoughts about porn and masculinity. Chien Wen, I'm sure you're delighted!
Recently, I have been in some serious debates with several people regarding the place of men's and gender studies. The argument goes, men suffer just as much at the hands of patriarchy as women do, particularly because of the demands of being "masculine". Supposedly, by acknowledging this and exploring how much we are all oppressed by larger forces, feminist ideals will be strengthened. While I agree to a certain extent, it bothers me because it seems to deny the unique situation that women are in, and to allow people in power (namely, white upper-class men, no matter what some may claim) to appropriate the tools of feminist analysis for their own gain. It somehow rings false to me. In a strange reversal of Audre Lorde's crucial declaration, the slave's tools are rebuilding the master's house.
Thank God, MacKinnon has saved the day for me yet again. She points out in her tart and succinct way that:
"Men are damaged by sexism...But whatever the damage of sexism to men, the condition of being a man is not defined as subordinate to women by force. Looking at the facts of abuses of women all at once, you see that a woman is socially defined as a person who, whether or not she is or has been, can be treated in these ways by men at any time, and little, if anything, will be done about it."
While so-called liberals (especially, I've noticed, white male ones) are eager to discuss how men are raped, harrassed and generally hurt by men, too, the fact of the matter is that their physical anatomy/socially-designated gender does not make them particularly vulnerable to this. Personal discomfort may. That's a seperate issue, and while important, does not fit into the rubric of feminist studies. Sorry guys.
On another note, I disagree with MacKinnon's suggestion of making pornography a civil-rights violation in part because of this excellent article. The system has to change completely, and the fact of the matter is that that is not going to happen for awhile. To paraphrase, (male) desire runs deeper than xenophobia, and the implications of gender figure more deeply in the human psyche than implications of race. Women, whether they realize it or not, still have a long way to go in attaining full personhood in the eyes of society.
On Dartmouth's New English Major
Before you read what I have to say, read this piece by Columbia English professor Andrew Delbanco. Food for thought. Another good read is Literature Lost, by John Ellis (neither, by the way, is a stodgy conservative reacting blindly against progress; both are well-respected critics who care greatly for their profession and, more importantly, literature itself).
Dartmouth undergraduates choosing to major in English will soon be forced to take a class on critical (i.e. "literary") theory (at present, only honors majors are required to take English 14 or 15). The English Majors Career Information Sheet states that "By focusing on major theoretical schools of the twentieth-century - such as structuralism, post-structuralism, feminism, Marxism, deconstruction, queer theory, psychoanalysis, and post-colonialism - an English major learns how to integrate an array of demanding analytic paradigms." Just before this, we are told that "A corollary set of intellectual skills developed in the Dartmouth English major is a knowing deployment of a sophisticated critical vocabulary."
1) I refuse to use the term "literary theory," because the theories in question are everything but literary. There's plenty of linguistics, sociology, pseudo-psychology, and radical politics in there, but nothing literary in the aesthetic sense. As John is fond of reminding me, if you want to know everything about everything, major in English (and make sure you take plenty of classes in postcolonialism, race, class, gender, etc.).
2) Theory is the latest stage in the development of literary studies. Love it or hate it, it's influence cannot be denied. However, knowledge of theory is, I argue, only necessary for those of us considering graduate studies in English. The rest of us mere mortals who wish to avoid the farce that is the MLA's Annual Conference don't need theory. For instance, I am majoring in English because I enjoy the pleasures of good prose, poetry, and drama. There's something to be said about reading the epiphany scene in Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as Young Man and saying, "Wow, that was amazing! That must be the most brilliant passage of prose I've ever read. Now let me try to figure out, on my own, why I like it so much." I do not want a deconstructionist to come along and say that what I've been reading is just a collection of words without definite meaning. His theory is not only spurious and self-defeating, it also destroys notions of beauty and truth that I think are extremely valuable in an age of globalization, technology, and yes, multiculturalism. I always thought that liberalism had a great deal to do with idealism and ideals such as truth, beauty, and virtue.
3) Theory does not necessarily make for better, more original arguments. If anything, having at your disposal "analytic paradigms" makes for less, not more demanding work. What happens is that you learn how to fit the text to the theory, when it should be vice-versa. As a result, the process of careful, sympathetic, and disinterested reading - far more valuable than anything but Derrida, Butler, or Foucault - is lost. The best class I've had so far at Dartmouth was on 19th-century English and American literature from the Enlightenment to Modernism. No theory was employed, but our project was original as they come. We read texts as different as Franklin's Autobiography, Blake's Marriage of Heaven and Hell, and Austen's Northanger Abbey (find the links on Amazon on your own!) alongside each other to see what meaningful conclusions we could make about 19th-century literature in English as a whole, above and beyond the categories of Romantic, Victorian, and American that usually accompany them. It was truly sensational stuff, as anyone who took the class will attest.
3) Theory is far too easily abused. A smattering of theory is okay, but far too often, it gets hijacked by radical "intellectuals" for whom literature is secondary to politics. Here on the Dartmouth campus, literature professors tend to be in the news because of their illiberal campaign against the Greek system, or for rebutting government professors on the subject of politics. You know who they are; I will not name names. Additionally, theory claims to promote critical thinking and skepticism about language, power, gender relations, etc. How ironic, then, that theory should degenerate into dogma ("We live in a patriarchal society!! You must accept this extremely general observation as fact before you take this class."). Question everything, theorists claim, except theory itself.
4) Let's examine those sentences from the Information Sheet more closely. Let's hope that they weren't written by an actual professor of English. What does it mean to "integrate an array of demanding analytic paradigms"? Perhaps what the author meant to say was, "understand theories in relation to each other." The hideous sentence, "A corollary set of intellectual skills developed in the Dartmouth English major is a knowing deployment of a sophisticated critical vocabulary" should simply be, "English majors learn how to write well." I am not being pedantic here. The rise of theory has been accompanied by a decline in the standard of writing. Witness the turgid prose of Homi Bhabha, Judith Butler, and their legions of acolytes.
Thanks to John Stevenson for inviting me to post on this weblog.
There is an interesting piece on National Review Online by Stanley Kurtz today about the kind of academics involved in Middle East Studies. He argues that "incredibly, the massively increased government subsidies to academic 'area studies' programs authorized by Congress in the wake of September 11 are being used to line the pockets and promote the work of the very people most bitterly opposed to the war on terror." The problem, according to Kurtz, is not that there are scholars of the Middle East critical of the American Government, but that these scholars are getting undeserved funding bonuses meant to bolster our national security.
Kurtz wrote a fantastic critique of the current state of Middle East Studies in The Weekly Standard last November, literally calling it a 'Scandal'. Basing his arguments on a recent book by Martin Kramer, Kurtz traces the current problems of Middle East Studies to Edward Said and "Orientalism." According to Kurtz, "the founding text of postcolonial studies, 'Orientalism' effectively delegitimated all previous scholarship on the Middle East by branding it as racist." This led to a phenomenon where no western scholar was willing to study (and presumably criticize) radical Islam, due to fears of being labeled a racist, or worse, Orientalist. The resulting problem is quite disturbing:
"Throughout the 1990s, American academics simply refused to study Islamic terrorism... Osama bin Laden could only be an embarrassment to scholars who saw political Islam as benign. To this day, American scholars have produced not a single serious study of bin Laden, his ideology, or his influence. Six months before September 11, Sarah Lawrence professor Fawaz Gerges ... asked: 'Should not observers and academics keep skeptical about the U.S. government's assessment of the terrorist threat? To what extent do terrorist 'experts' indirectly perpetuate this irrational fear of terrorism by focusing too much on farfetched horrible scenarios?'"
Clearly it's a problem that Congress is giving greater funding to these academics who seem completely uninterested and blind to the dangerous effects of radical Islamic terrorism.
I am interested in publishing this in the "D". I woould appreciate any feedback that you could offer me. New visitors to this site: make sure you check the archives whose links are on the side of your screen.
Coming Out of the Closet: The Fundamentalist Manifesto
In my piece entitled “The Widow’s Challenge, Part I”, I critiqued the liberal side of the Christian faith that emphasizes social justice and community service over a relationship and absolute devotion to a Person. By reader response through email and in person (all of which I highly recommend), it seems that my comments on what I termed the "liberal side of the faith" were not as clear as they could be. Mr. Eisemann wrote in his letter to the editor on Monday that he would gladly discuss any subject with me, and then notice his hesistation, even religion. I will now attempt to flush out some of the criticisms that I hinted at in my asides (on religion) to encourage us all to participate in the discourses that shaped our world and culture. I contend that the secular world has completely misjudged fundamentalists. I shall limit my arguments to Christianity knowing that the topic of religion is potentially explosive and even brings the honest Jon Eisenmann to pause momentarily.
Liberal Christianity, and indeed most liberal strands in most religions, formed as a reaction to the orthodox interpretation of Christianity. This branch emphasizes that community service, and moral causes are the rasion d’etre of the Church. For them, the Scriptures have no meaning in-and-of themselves, and must be interpreted ‘in context.’ Like peacocks, they are quite to show their colors to demonstrate that they are not the bigoted and close-minded side of the faith.
This is their attempt to respond to the great challenge of today's world, which is to find something to believe in while believing in nothing at all. The liberal approach also provides room for people who want to be Christian without Christ and the cost of discipleship. When people speak of the sacred and of ‘religious values’, or of Christianity as a cause and not fanatical devotion to HIM, they are trying to keep a toothless tiger of religion/ the sacred around and call it the thrill of the jungle. The liberals religionists, who like divine sanction for their noble causes, rightly recognize that orthodoxy and literalism in interpretation is not conducive to promoting our own personal agenda. Instead, orthodoxy is corrosive to self and draws the worshiper into an intense, personal relationship with the Creator and an overflow of love for the Creator is created, which causes the true worshipper to live for his fellow human being. It is about becoming radically reoriented (read: repentance) from your agenda to His.
Orthodoxy, or to use the pejorative term given to the true believers, fundamentalism, is thus portrayed in the popular imagination as bigoted, selfish and self-righteous. A good number of people who might be attracted to the faith see, not the religion, but the religionist who are hypocritical and course. As Christians in name, and fundamentalists in thoughts, actions, words and deeds, we must deal with the reality of the hypocrites and Pharisaical moralizers who never hesitate to pronounce judgment on others and thus drive them away. These are ones that Jesus warned about; they see corruption everywhere save themselves. Their rulebook is in their hands, disapproval oozing from their pores. Their endless, ‘you ought’s’ and ‘ought-not’s’ cause everyone else expect the equally self-righteous to pale in comparison.
This is compounded by the patronizing attitude with which modern secularists approach religion in general and Christianity in particular. The enlightened would like to create a safe-space for those who need their emotional crutch, which they sometimes call religion when they are being nice. For them the old gods are of the ancient regimes and have no place in modern society. However, we orthodox believers are quickly being shut out of the modern social discourse, our external legitimacy being stripped by aggressive secular fundamentalism as the world lies in the grip of fanatical suicide bombers and internal legitimacy challenged by the growing power of the ‘new, tolerant (read: socially acceptable), reformed religionists.’
In stark contrast to the popular caricature, Christian Orthodoxy is the most tolerant form of (religious) belief because we don’t have anything to fear from the ‘outside’ world. Archbishop Desmond Tutu communicated this blessed assurance when he said, “We have nothing to fear from (those who do) evil; this is God’s world and He’s in charge.” Because Christianity is a profane faith, in the Middle English sense of the word, orthodoxy does not allow you to meditate quietly in your corner or be content to congregate in the Church and speak of Jesus there; instead, Christianity operates profanely, that is outside the temple (pro-outside or in front of; fanus- temple). This faith demands that you go into the rebellious world and let them know Whom you have discovered.
The fundamentalist knows that the problems of this life do not exist outside of himself but inside. The deadly contamination of sin is not in the physical world. The problems are not alcohol, food, or other people; the problem exists in the very core of his being. Martin Luther grasped this when he wrote that it is not alcohol or women that causes a man to sin but only himself. Banning either will not suppress his lust.
The attitude of abject depravity reminds the fundamentalist of the irony and hypocrisy of being judgmental. However, this depravity which the grace of God covers, produces a zeal and an indestructibility on the part of the believer and thus, he will not have to fear the power or success of others. Biblical, orthodox Christianity is the radical lifestyle that has yet to be tried by the millions who profess, and ultimately blaspheme, the name of Christ.It is on this truth, that fundamentalist Christianity is the most tolerant and non-judgmental religion, that I make this appeal to all the closest ones out there. Liberate yourselves and don’t be afraid to let them know. Come out of your closets; out of the veneer under which you hide your faith for fear of being patted on the head (Aren’t you go a good boy with that Bible in your hand?) The one thing that the world cannot deal with is the Christian faith, will all the backing of the eternal Godhead, lived out loud, in the open, naked and unashamed.
Sunday, July 21, 2002
"The Organization Kid" is an interesting piece, though I admit, I did run through it quickly because yes, I am still awake at 1:28 AM and will be getting-up in six hours. Many interesting points are made on the lives of America's youth. Brooks's main point seems to be that we students in North America don't share his values or those values belonging to the generation of our parents (by these, I'm being statistically presumptuous, for I am talking about White American baby-boomers).
I am sceptical when I read Brooks's article. It is true that students' lives are more structured than formerly, that students spend more time working and studying than formerly, and that students tend not to question authority as formerly, and that students are more career conscious than formerly. This being said, I must ask: "what's the problem?"
The structure in America's children's lives is a real concern in my opinion. There is little time for children to become real students and learn because of the sheer emphasis on acquiring knowledge. It is believed, for some reason, that the more someone knows, the better off his or her life will be. This is a convenient maxim for any suburban family that wants to baby-sit its child in front of a computer or television screen, in a structured professional care environment, or even doing loads of homework in solitary fashion. I must admit that after I moved to the city (Montreal) from the country (Dalesville), I became such an adolescent at age 12. The problem with youth in North America is chiefly urban in this respect.
Yet my primary school was ridiculously militarised in its structure. Corridors were silent, we lined-up two-by-two for inspection before entering the school. We had prayer in the morning. We had school wide examinations administered by our principle. We had confessions heard by our Parish priest. Indeed, the rural, French-Canadian Roman Catholic discipline. For all of this, however, we still played our own games outside, still cooked home-made stories and jokes, and still socialised outside of a structured environment. The real structure in town was the arena, where a males played on a hockey team, and all females figure-skated. Rural North America is still littered with individuals, many of whom go to university and become leaders. Brooks should do more research.
But if we are to consider university students alone, then structure would a appear to be a concern and there is no doubt that students need more free time to express individual ideas and thoughts. Brooks, however, seems to be fearful of anything that is not reminiscent of the 1960s and 1970s. He is utterly shocked that students respect authority and that they want colleges to re-establish order in the learning environment. Of course any reasonable student would support a more rigid learning environment rather than what took place during the 60s and 70s. There are many wise members of faculty at universities and though they are not by any means consistently models to be absolutely copied, they have much to give to students and it would be unwise to show disrespect and contempt for their wisdom. Educators educate, students learn (actually, students also educate other fellow students and profs, but this is more involuntary). Just because students don't spend more time protesting than studying doesn't mean that they're mindless. Perhaps they've achieved a higher level of wisdom at an age earlier than their parents!
Moral apathy and relativism? Please! The West, in its entire history, has never been without question pertaining to these. Was America more moral 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago? Was the American college campus a centre of moral virtue during the 60s and 70s? I won't dignify this issue with further treatment.
Students are more career conscious? Many are, this is true. I think, however, that what Brooks really means is that students are more concerned about finding their respective places in society. There's no lack of aspiring politicians, artists, and environmentalists so far as I can tell. Students want a place in society, imagine that! Brooks has this dreadful fear that today's youth isn't rejecting the "establishment" and, conforming to non-conformism, going off into a desert in order that it may try to grow rice without having to step on too many insects on the way. Let's face it, today's students have a sense of responsibility of which most White American baby-boomers could not have dreamed. We are a generation of students that sees what goes on in the world, despite what we may like to admit. We know that most of India isn't satisfied by grooving on Nirvana: India wants food, clothing, and everything else that we are so (un)fortunate to have.
Today's generation of students has no illusions. Neither the Bomb nor sophomoric idealism will save us. We are aware that we are masters not only of our own destiny, but of the world's. We know what the problems plaguing this planet are and we know that our parents aren't going to fix those problems for us while we whine about "the establishment" as we use public waterworks and roads. Time is short for us, and while I believe that we are in need of more profound self-understanding, more reading of the classics, I also know that we, as a generation, have much work to do. The human race depends on us, and we will not fail in our duty to it.
If you have not read some of the articles that we have priovided links to, then you should pause a moment and read this one entitled The Organization Kid. As with Scalia's article, I will only provide some great quotes and reason why you should read it. David Brooks' article crawls right under your skin with his clear-cut analysis.
"I was on campus at the height of the election season, and I saw not even one Bush or Gore poster. I asked around about this and was told that most students have no time to read newspapers, follow national politics, or get involved in crusades. One senior told me she had subscribed to The New York Times once, but the papers had just piled up unread in her dorm room. "It's a basic question of hours in the day," a student journalist told me. "People are too busy to get involved in larger issues. When I think of all that I have to keep up with, I'm relieved there are no bigger compelling causes." "
"The students were lively conversationalists on just about any topic—except moral argument and character-building..."
"...The building's ground level has been turned into the up-to-date student center, where rows of computer stations allow students to check their e-mail and where modern banalities have been painted on the walls: "Only by deliberating together about moral questions will we find mutual respect and common ground.—Amy Guttman." "The locusts sang and they were singing for me.—Bob Dylan." "Race matters.—Cornel West." "If I'm not out there training, someone else is.—Lynn Jennings."" Ok, that is enough good quotes for now. I encourage all of you to read this article and post feedback. If you don't have posting powers, that can be easily be arranged. If you are interesting in education, here are some other articles to read:
Saturday, July 20, 2002
Chien Wen brings up an important issue in his 'rant':"I am equally outraged by the apathy as much as the savagery... how can you not report this sort of behavior if you're aware of it?"
This article makes us aware of an important doctrine that I was pontificating about in Amarna's living room when a guy was being jumped by some skechty characters on Princeton Campus. I sarcastically opined, "Of course the crowd of people who were watching aren't going to do anything about because it's 'none of our business.'"
From whence cometh this doctrine of: it's not my business? I will turn my head when neighbor beats her spouse. The old lady being beaten is none of my business. A Muslium scholar, who was here during Islamic awareness week, commented that our society is going down to hell (no pun intended) because no one has a social conscience anymore. Playing the good liberal/ libertarian, I retorted that we cannot have self-appointed critics poking their noses into everyone's business. She looked at me and commented that there is no society that condones unchecked individualism; it is our moral and social obligation to cry against injustice.
But in this age can does society grant the individual the moral right to crticized the 'life-style choice' of another? (Life-stlye being a programmatic buzzword meaning: 'Any damn way I please.')
American society, in its value-free individualism, which is transported across the world in a phenomena that has been called 'Westernization', 'Americanization', and 'modernization/secularization", removes the moral sanction of the one who would dare to criticize the choices of another. Our only advice is to 'be yourself'; or in the words of Freud, that each person should look to what he feels --feels, not think; he, and no other. This is encompsulated by the person who fed the maid and just assumed that the master was doing her right.
For us, the virtuous man is the one who works in his own (enligtened) self-interest and does not interfere in the affairs of others. Like the preist or the pious Jew in the parable of the Good Samaritan, we pass by the man who has been beaten by highwaymen and leave him, like those robbers did, for dead. However, the man who works for his own good is a problematic concept because of Rousseau's crtique of Locke: natural man is bestial in his morality. The pillar of Locke's social contract collasped and destroyed any hope of redemption.
So, it seems that the Muslium scholar was correct: there must be social critics, much to our chagrin, and if people allow things like the descreation and dehumanization of the maid to occur in Singapore, or any of the nasty cultural practices that exist within some communities here in the States, a great crime has occurred because of our silence. For man to exist, because of the ambiguity of human life, there must be some disctintion between what is good and what is bad. In so far as modern capitalism has taught us the distiction between the good and bad man is whether he can provide for himself-- that is the men who is inner directed; reality teaches us that what we need need most are not men who care for themselves, but rather those who will be bold enough to care for others. Though modern pyschology will tell you that by caring for yourself and knowing yourself you will care for other, we know, like Rousseau, that if you can believe that then I have a copy of the Brooklyn Bridge for sell.
I, too, will have to engage in a personal rant after I pose a question to the reading audience. Whereas the Widow's Challenge, Part 1 and Part 2, has posed a problem of our values and realtivism, I would like to ask another question: Is it possible in American society, where issues of collecitve identity (race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, etc.) shape the cultural discourse, to live beyond them? Is it possible to evolve beyond a neo-Marxist group identity socio-cultural determinism to a post-race, post-gender society?
I am working on a piece which shall argue that not only is it possible, but absoultely necessary for the health of the individual and for the preservation of our cultural and poltical regimes.
Here is an example of some ugly race-thinking from Angela D. Dillard's essay A Multiracial Right? Can the GOP Build a Coalition?:
This is an example of ugly and lazy race-thinking. That's my rant for the afternoon. Please tell me what you think. In an age of structurally increasing ethnic and religious diversity, immigration and the Hispanic population explosion are causing these structural changes to 'American society', is there any way to avoid this kind of neo-Marxist theorizing? Or, is an Elightenment-type "'Universalist' discourse about individualism, the free market, and upward mobility" which "cannot completely erase the particular problems of identity" a modern display in naivette?
Excuse me for this personal rant:
Singapore calls itself developed, first-world, industrialized. Crime and litter-free streets, low unemployment, marvellous standard of living, students in Ivy League colleges writing about the virtues of a core curriculum.
And maid abuse?
This barbaric behavior is by no means unusual. Maid abuse is in the local news fairly frequently, and I suspect most of it goes unnoticed. Reading the article, I am equally outraged by the apathy as much as the savagery. I mean, how can you not report this sort of behavior if you're aware of it?
Thursday, July 18, 2002
I'm curious, how would this fare in the D?
Inexperienced and unworldly as many of we Dartmouth students are, we should nevertheless struggle with issues of moral dilemma. If for no other reason, it greases the wheels turning in our bright, still maturing, minds. "The Widow's Challenge, Part I and Part II" is an interesting series of Op-Eds and for this reason, I feel that it is important to delve into the question of whether it is better or not to let the widow burn and why this question even be relevent.
The relevence of question lies in the nature of the question: what is the right course of action? Our British administrator friend does indeed have a problem on his hands, for he is perhaps not asking so much whether or not he should allow for diversity of belief but moreover, whether in fact his own beliefs are substantiated in anything as reasonnable as the native Indian ones. What is the wrong with the taking of human life in the first place? What constitutes the taking of human life? These questions are important because they force one to place values on things such as life.
Ms. Alexander values "human life, all human life." If there is indeed an inherent value to human life, what is it? Are we to place a finite value on human life or an infinite value? Are the many worth more than the one? Are we to reason our moral adversaries that she might be allowed to live? If not, are we to use force? How much force is acceptable? Was it worth the many who died during Britain's conquest of India so that our administrator might have the luxury of saving the widow's life and putting his conscience to rest? Is the widow's life worth more than her people's way of life? And this way of life, is it the "good life?" Is there only possible one optimal mode of life? And if there should be, and there is no universaly recognised definition of the good life, is the mere life of more value than the good life? I should hesitate to answer Mr. Sevenson's challenge so promptly, as Ms. Alexander has done.
The fact is that we have no certain answers to the question about what the value of this widow's life is and no certain answers to questions concerning everything from slavery to sodomy. One might say "one must follow her conscience." So must the widow's people. If the conflict is not resolved reasonnably, force might ensue. Then are we decide the winner assuming that might is right? This is how conflict is usually resolved: millions dead, sons and daughters of a generation lost.
I cannot answer the widow's challenge with the authority befitting a British administrator in India. Perhaps I would be wiser to follow the course of Socrates and attempt to "persuade the laws." And if were to fail, what next? Shall I disregard them, disrespect the customs of another people? And if another people were to do this to my customs, what should be my response?
The fact of the matter ends-up being that we can validate none of what we do except by our sincerety, still dreadfully inadequate in the absence of authority. Perhaps we are better to act on pure instinct alone, or better yet what each of us should determine her own reason over instinct, or still more, act on some kind of moral ground, which precedes reason and instinct. Whether that moral ground is common or personal, there is no possible way of telling whether or not it is the absolute moral ground on which all either stand or fall. The most honest answer to this challenge with which I can respond is: "let the administrator do what he wants."
Hello! My name is Karsten, I'm an '04 Geography Major/Govt Minor and this is my first post to the Observer. Today, there are 2 items that I'd like to introduce.
1) NYU Professor Robin D.G. Kelley will be in residence as a Montgomery Fellow this term. His public lecture will be next Tuesday (7/23) at 4pm in Rockefeller 3. His presentation is entitled: "More Than a Paycheck: Lessons From The Reparations Movement." Historian Kelley has written and co-edited a number of books, starting with an intriguing tome about Communist organizing in Alabama during the Depression, and maintaining a consistent focus on the African-American working class. He won several awards for a book entitled Yo Mama's DisFUNKtional: Fighting the Culture Wars in Urban America in which he tears apart urban sociology for its construction of the ghetto pathology, and rips into white male leftists such as Todd Gitlin and Michael Tomasky who cling to Enlightenment ideas of universalism and ignore the compelling contributions of race and gender theory. A labor historian, Kelley believes multi-ethnic working class coalitions have the power to reshape contemporary urban politics. Some successful groups he cites include: SEIU (Service Employees International Union- to which Dartmouth employees belong), UNITE (Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees) and Jobs With Justice-- all of which have webpages you can find on Google. Kelley's most recent book is called Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination (Beacon Press, 2002). John Stevenson currently has my copy of Yo Mama's DisFUNKtional, and I'd be happy to provide more information about Kelley to those interested.
2) Today, the Washington Post reports that Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Joe Biden (D-Del.) is looking to push the Bush administration into a public battle over CEDAW, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, a 23-year old UN document signed by Jimmy Carter, but never ratified. Biden will try to call for a vote on the treaty, and will force the Administration onto the defensive if it voices opposition. Bush has touted our 'rescue' of Afghan women from the Taliban, but the United States is firmly planted among such human rights stalwarts as Afghanistan, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar in refusing to sign the treaty. The document calls for ensuring women "human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field." 170 other nations have ratified it, so what's the big problem?
Ellen Goodman first made a few of the points found in today's Post article a week ago: her article can be found here
My piece on the core curriculum has come out in today's D. Read it here.
Unfortunately, some of the spelling is out of place. In my original draft (scroll down to find it), I wrote that "For instance, how many times did you wish you'd knew the Bible better because the poetry you were reading contained innumerable Biblical references? The same can be said of classical mythology."
The D, unfortunately, has chosen to publish this as "For instance, how many times did you wish you knew the Bible classical mythology better because the poetry you were reading contained innumerable Biblical references?"
On a brighter note, someone has responded to the Widow's Challenge.
Tuesday, July 16, 2002
God’s Justice and Ours Antonin Scalia
Antonin Scalia is a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. This article is adapted from remarks given at a conference sponsored by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life at the University of Chicago Divinity School. In this article, he is speaking/writing about the death penalty and the justice of God. He compares himself to the Thurgood Marshall of the death penalty, that is standing for what he thinks is right, even when its unpopular.
Some quotes (and reasons why you should read it):
"Capital cases are much different from the other life–and–death issues that my Court sometimes faces: abortion, for example, or legalized suicide. There it is not the state (of which I am in a sense the last instrument) that is decreeing death, but rather private individuals whom the state has decided not to restrain...With the death penalty, on the other hand, I am part of the criminal–law machinery that imposes death—which extends from the indictment, to the jury conviction, to rejection of the last appeal...As it is, however, the Constitution that I interpret and apply is not living but dead—or, as I prefer to put it, enduring. It means today not what current society (much less the Court) thinks it ought to mean, but what it meant when it was adopted. For me, therefore, the constitutionality of the death penalty is not a difficult, soul–wrenching question. It was clearly permitted when the Eighth Amendment was adopted (not merely for murder, by the way, but for all felonies—including, for example, horse–thieving, as anyone can verify by watching a western movie). And so it is clearly permitted today."
Dinesh D'Souza at Amherst
I always hesitate before posting the politicized commentaries to this website. However, an article on Free Republic.com about Dinesh D'Souza's (Dartmouth Class of 1983) visit to University of Massachusetts at Amherst on April 24, brings out some of the flavor of anti-American protests. Before we become to enmeshed in a discussion of anti-Americanism, a subject that D'Souza loves bashing 'leftists' about, I would like to state from the outset that D'Souza presents a politicized caricature of the West, which is in direct response to the straw man set up by the New Left in 1960s. His books and ideas could gain more credibility were he to present a more complex picture of the West's historical developments and unprecedented moral and scientific achievements. That being said, the author of this column does the typical conservative make-fun-of-your-opponents-and-give-them-cute names attack. Nevertheless, the author does highlight some important comments made by D'Souza vis-à-vis the 'sins' of the West as painted by neo-Marxists and post-colonialists. D'Souza's commentary is refreshing because he is a recent immigrant and offers fresh perspective on America by affirming it as choice-worthy. The heart of his message, America is a great society so stop bashing it, is what is important thought we wish that he would be less political, polemical and more complex.
The Political Roots of Poverty by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Hilton L. Root
This article explores the link between poverty and political extremism. This debate, which never quite died in the 1990s worldwide economic boom, has been revived since the attacks of September 11th. In the panels that were presented by the Dickey and Rockefeller Centers (of Dartmouth College), professors of literature and the humanities never missed an opportunity to tell political scientists why they were wrong about the “roots causes” of terrorism. This debate, however, was not limited to the college campuses and appeared also in Newsweek in an article called the "Roots of Muslim Rage" which linked violence and extremism to the poverty of the peoples of the countries in question. Both the humanities and said article conveniently ignored the millions at Osama's disposal and the large representation of middle class suicide bombers. I am currently reaching the links between riches and crime, and there are many, but this article gives another perspective on an old debate. It is openly critical of the theory of poverty. Even if you subscribe to this social deterministic philosophy - I am not mocking you here- it is key that you read this because it helps questions some of the assumptions that we make when presuming to pontificate on world issues.
A word about our philosophy:
We have our biases. Any publication worth its salt must present opinions and defend them. However, this is not a political publication: we welcome anybody, left, right, or center, who wants to say something about culture, academia, or Dartmouth. Politics, inevitably, will find its way into our discussion, and the end products might sound conservative, liberal, socialist, or whatever, but the opinions we seek are those that are arrived at via careful, disinterested thought. If you believe that disinterested, depoliticized thinking is inherently impossible, then write in to explain why.
What other publications are saying about 'blogging' (from the main page):
The Economist: "Blogging, the publication of running commentary on personal online weblogs, has in the past couple of years exploded from a cultish techie activity into a cottage industry churning out increasingly compelling content. In 1998, there were about 30,000 weblogs; today, there are some 500,000, according to Cameron Marlow, who runs blogdex, which tracks them."
In the Wall Street Journal, an editorial about, "all that's right with our great country," includes: "Blogging. The 24-7 opinion sites that offer free speech at its straightest, truest, wildest, most uncensored, most thoughtful, most strange. Thousands of independent information entrepreneurs are informing, arguing, adding information. Imagine if we'd had them in 1776: 'As I wrote in yesterday's lead item on SamAdams.com, my well meaning cousin John continues his grammatical nitpicking with Jefferson (link requires registration) "Inalienable," "unalienable," whatever. Boys, let's fight. Start the war.' Blogs may one hard day become clearinghouses for civil support and information when other lines, under new pressure, break down."
Monday, July 15, 2002
Book that is a must read:
Paul Johnson, Modern Times
In this book, British historian Paul Johnson explores modern history from the 1920s to the 1980s. Join him as he charts the rise of the internationalist Left and its bloody escapades, the amorality of Hitler's, Lenin's, and Stalin's will to power, the unforeseen social impact of Einstein's Theory of Relativity, and the de-colonization movement among the social elites. His narrative style and historical knowledge are what drives this manuscript.
Fortunately, for us, Chien Wen picked one of Butler's more lucid and brief rants to display. It is much worse I assure you. Don't take my word for it however, look at her books: Gender Trouble or Excitable Speech.
Also on Bill Moyers' show NOW, pundits, journalists and 'experts' (that word is used too liberally these days) discuss whether democratic values, and democracy itself, is antithetical to Muslim society. Notable scholar Sheyla Benhabib, who studies democracy from a critical feminist standpoint, and columnist Charles Krauthammer join: Geneive Abdo, Akbar S. Ahmed (Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies), David Aikman, and Eric Rouleau in the discussion.
See Seyla Benhabib's article: Unholy Politics
'Born in Istanbul, Turkey, Dr. Benhabib graduated from the American College for Girls there and received a B.A. in philosophy from Brandeis University. She earned a Ph.D. in philosophy from Yale. In this essay, Seyla Benhabib argues in the aftermath of 9/11 that the West faces a new challenge — Islamic terrorist cells. Decentralized, preying on failed states to shroud their operations, and totalitarian in nature, these entities use the latest of modern technology in an attempt to destroy modernism. To eliminate this threat, Benhabib maintains that the West must stay true to democratic principles, create new strategies of multilateralism, and open a dialogue with Islam that produces understanding, tolerance, and assimilation.'
See also Akbar Ahmed's Islam and Freedom of Thought
In this essay, Akbar Ahmed and Lawrence Rosen argue that Muslims are increasingly abandoning a tradition filled with scholarship and freedom of thought for Islamic fundamentalism. Furthermore, they argue, by silencing scholars and intellectuals, ordinary Muslims are deprived of those who can best articulate a model for democratization and an end to terrorism. This is the epitome of Max Weber's charismatic leader who by definition knows nothing of moderation and thus, is geared toward the fanatical to maintain his legitimizing authority.