The Dartmouth Observer

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Wednesday, October 09, 2002
Postmodern conservatives

John Stevenson says we should "I think we should issue a call, or a start a petition, asking anyone at Dartmouth who owes their position at the university and therefore in society to race or racism to step down from their positions at once." I'm confused as to why Stevenson is attacking the system of tenure here. He wants old white male professors to resign?? That's the logic of what he's saying (Or does he think they weren't helped by the lack of competition from people that were excluded?) Or did he have some other, of course less deserving people in mind? The idea of white privilege is to realize the benefits that result from others discrimination; unfortunately it's not easy to tell the counterfactual of what would happened without racism.

Stevenson says: "A compelling case can then be made that pink-skinned people (especially those with penises) undergo unnecessary ritual abuse because they are the only ones who cannot claim minority status."
I'm not sure why this is so compelling as no argument is made. (Incidently, replace a few words and Steven's statement could about female genital mutiliation-- which I think is the level to which some think white males suffer at the hands of affirmative action). But I have heard too much bullshit that white men are now the most discriminated against in our society. I hope, and do not think, that Stevenson holds this view, but many people I have met do. Does anyone honestly think that this is true? And does anyone doubt that conservatives have constructed precisely this victim mentality? Even if this has a kernal of some truth, sometimes, it's way, way, way overblown. More to the point, if minorities still suffer the most discrimination (deny this if you like, let's argue), shouldn't we admit that whites benefit from this? (and therefore have undeserved advantages?) I don't particularly like the language of privilege, but for different reasons: everyone should have the same equal opportunity; but it's valuable because it helps us whites to realize that if there has not been equal opportunity, we have benefited.

A few more comments on John's post. Sorry, our nation is not founded on Kant; as you know, Locke's the big inspiration (as well as some other Scottish philosophers; perhaps even the Iroquois? heh.). Plus, we do allow group based considerations, as long as they meet a strict test of scrutiny (I would think that that is NOT akin to what you represent as Kant's claim of strict individuality; I doubt 'compelling state interest' would overrule this). Nowhere is Kant's specific brand of rights written into the constitution. Equal protection began to be applied to race on the basis that in a democracy discrete and insular groups were uniquely vulnerable. How a history of racism justifies never taking race into account is beyond me (that doesn't mean that all race based distinctions are valid).

Plus, at least one type of formal (as oppossed to social) groups that exist in America: Native American tribes (want to go back to the termination, assimilation, and civilizing periods, John? Just how far do you want to take this notion of absolute Kantian individuality? That is what consistency would demand, John wouldn't it? Let's move beyond race, but getting rid of it in governmental policy? Without an answer on this, you're totally unconvincing.)
It may objected that with some justification that Native Americans are a special case because they have sovereignty-- sort of group rights-- but that begs the question of why have rights for just Americans, one group of people- how can a polity uphold such an individualistic view at all-- keep in mind before you say that all polities must have boundaries is that the very discimination most groups faced is because they were excluded from participation. Why have different states/nations at all? And why isn't recognizing group differeniated rights within a nation as acceptable as having separate states?

Is John honestly saying race is never useful in determining governmental policy? More on formal groups: let's try anti-discrimination laws. We keep track of statistics, not just 'affirmative action' but to see about race-based discrimination. If we didn't categorize people into groups, we would be blind to how they are being discriminated against. We have busing in schools to counteract historical segregation. Evidence of past discrimination Same thing with the Voting Rights Act: we are race concious because others are. Race may not exist; race may be a social construction. But SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIONS ARE REAL IN SOCIETY (hence 'social') and ignoring them ignores social reality. Culture is also a social construction, as are a whole hell of a lot of things, but it is unwise to ignore social constructions that have very deep roots for whatever reason. So we shouldn't collect statistics on the races of people stopped by cops (to check racial profiling) on the basis that race is not real? Culture is also a social construction, but I don't think we should be blind to cultural differences and say it has no value. Social policy should take into account social facts. Conservatives often say we should get rid of affirmative action and rigorously enforce civil rights laws: but how are we going to do that without the category of race on which discrimination is based?

Don't misunderstand what I'm saying thus far. Being race neutral has other defenses and you argue whether the best way to get to a race blind society is to be race blind. You can still be against affirmative action while believing the concept of race is still imporant in society. But John seems to be arguing that since race is a social construction and has no basis in material fact, that the reality that many in society think it is real and act accordingly does not matter. On the contrary, as long as a lot of people treat race as real, and the historical effects of racism have real legacies, we cannot afford to be blind to it. Our reactions may differ, and perhaps in some cases we must be neutral. Again, maybe you can argue that race neutral policies are best, but that would require a different basis than this post-modern conservatism. Stevenson is truly is using his cheap $2.95 derrida machine with a little reactionaryism thrown in.

Stevenson says that race "is also a psychological worldview (like atheism for example) that one superimposes upon the neutral facts to make interpretation easier." Once again: huh?? Atheism doesn't make interpretation easier; if anything it makes it harder. it's a doctrine that denies the existence of something. You could accuse it of escews attempts at finding order in this chaotic world. It doesn't try to superimpose itself on the natural world to make interpretation easier; the main think motivating atheists is that they think the theists have been imposing the concept of God on the world to make interpreting the world easier. But atheism is like color-blindness: atheism is rigid dogma that is reacting to theism, its only tenet is a belief that something does not matter. Theistic gods as interpreted by many religious groups are ludcrious as well.
Atheists, to my mind go to extremes, just as advocates of 'race blind' governmental policies do as well. Simply because the otherside is wrong (racism) does not mean the extreme opposite (total race blindness) is right.
Total race blindness is blind to the complexities of the real world.

So I have to ask: What's the point of John Stevenson's last post?I realize he probably thinks of himself as a thinking man's conservative, but he has this really weird mix of post-structural-esque thought and conservative values in him (as far as can tell by his postings) as if he's a postmodern conservative or something else unintelligeible. Stevenson denigrated "people, who othereise might be intelligent people" for challenging paradigms of white privilege in a manner that he says pretended to be about democratization, but was, he claims, "Nietzschean in its methodology, Marxist in its ontology, and Foucaultian in its analysis." What does that mean?? Please enlighten those of us who don't know what these philosophers believe, or those of us who think your knowledge of Nietzche, Foucault, and Marx come from ignorance (I don't know what you're saying, and I suspect you do not either if you cannot explain how it makes any sense to talk about picking and choosing different philosopher's 'methodology' and ontology') Stevenson appropriates the language of the 'left' when he says "However, let's suppose that we wanted to move beyond the simplistic binaries of left/right in racialized world." "simplistic binaries" is something post moderns and bored structuralists seem to talk a lot about. I hope this is satire. I suspect not, but I hope Stevenson's at least aware of the sources of his thought and what he's doing, because I can't quite understand him.