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Tuesday, December 31, 2002
The Literary Profession is in Crisis

An excellent New York Observer piece on the latest Modern Language Association conference (check out its opening sentence). It makes for depressing reading, of an altogether different kind than the sort presented by Roger Kimball and Hilton Kramer here.

There was a time when I considered English Graduate School a prospect. No longer. I wonder if the History profession is any better...

Monday, December 30, 2002
Education and the Government

Brad Plumer writes (at FreeDartmouth) "Fundamentally speaking the federal government has nothing to do with education, unless I‘m mistaken. There is a clear constitutional mandate for defense spending, etc., but none for educational spending." Having been accused of religiously supporting capitalism by my good freind Karsten (who was, alas, a writer here once) for everything save education and having some interest in education which has led me to rebuke many ideologies (ie, libertarian thinking), let me outline some thoughts on the matter that are ultimately revisable as new advice comes to light. (I just came back from the library and got some books on justice so it should be fun.) Let's outline some thinkers that I agree with who I beleive adequately set the tone for the optimal governmental approach to education.

George Washington: "Promote then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened." In a democracy, an enlightened public is necessary. What the critics of coporate media emphasize ( and I would like to number myself among them and hope that Karsten would add that to the list of things in which the god(dess) of capitalism does not prevail) is that coporatization of media and the creation of profit-driven news does is dumb-down the public. As the quality of citizens decrease, so does the civic sphere in which citizens operate. If we remeber, one of Tocqueville's greatest fear about democracy was that it would encourage mediocracy among its citizens.

Thurgood Marshall, dissenting (San Antonio v. Rodriguez): "(The Court had ruled that it is constituional for states to use local taxes as a base for public schools. As to the constituionality of Marhall's position, I cannot vouch, but the spirit of the dissent is correct.) The majority's holding can only be seen as a retreat from our historic commitment to equality of educational opportunity and as unsupportable acquiescence in a system which deprives children in their earliest years of the chance to reach their full potential as citizens...In my judgment, the right of every American to an equal start in life, so far as the provision of a state service as important as education is concerned, is far too vital to permit state discrimination on grounds as tenuous as those presented by this record.

Mr. Marshall's dissent brings out something important: if a republic is based on a free and educated citizenry, how are citizens to exercise their rights without knowing what their rights are? The debate about public education should be, in my mind, how can we construct an educational system that will give the least advantage as well as the most advantaged the tools to fulfill the basic duties of citizens in America? Vouchers, boarding schools, and Catholic schools begin to help the poor by easing the iron grip of the highly unqualified but thoroughlly unionized and equally tenacious public school teachers. If I had the power, I would have stringent standards to becoming a teacher and make it a capital crime to be an unqualified teacher in the public schools.

Clarence Thomas, in his usual brilliance, concurrs in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris "Frederick Douglass once said that “[e]ducation … means emancipation. It means light and liberty. It means the uplifting of the soul of man into the glorious light of truth, the light by which men can only be made free.”1 Today many of our inner-city public schools deny emancipation to urban minority students. Despite this Court’s observation nearly 50 years ago in Brown v. Board of Education, that “it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education,” 347 U.S. 483, 493 (1954), urban children have been forced into a system that continually fails them. These cases present an example of such failures. Besieged by escalating financial problems and declining academic achievement, the Cleveland City School District was in the midst of an academic emergency when Ohio enacted its scholarship program."

The point is that education is the key to progress. To deny this education to any is to create an underclass to whom the principles of justice are, at best, can only paternistically applied.

Lesser Credentials?

A while back I published my thoughts on affirmative action, but this incident at Colgate exemplifies the problem of mismatching students and university. It also talks about the "freinds" of blacks who are sensitive to their needs. Less freinds and more teachers please.

The uproar began when Barry Shain, a tenured white political scientist at Colgate, wrote in an e-mail message to a female black student that minority students were often seduced into unchallenging courses where liberal professors, who were "sensitive" to their needs, gave them inflated grades. That practice, Shain continued, harmed black students, who were generally less well prepared academically than their white peers. He further complained that a growing number of courses encouraged students to examine their feelings as a way to explore racial issues. The message was widely disseminated to other students without his knowledge.

The specific charges in Shain's message created less of a stir than his breach of the university's racial etiquette. He had publicly exposed the tacit assumption that black students hold a subordinate academic status at Colgate. The violation of that silent code predictably upset many black students, who resented the attack on their academic credentials. The claim that liberal professors gave them inflated grades distressed them much less than the implication that their teachers saw them as academically inferior. The assumption of that inadequacy may create a self-fulfilling prophecy, leading to slackened standards and lowered demands for minority-student achievement.

An interesting phrase from the report though: "With the exception of a few high-performers -- often women from the West Indies or Africa -- most black students do not achieve academic distinction." Why is this so? It should also be noted that West Indians and African immigrants have the highest, second highest or third highest average salary in the nation (usually competing with Asian immigrants and Jews). Thomas Sowell is fond fo showing how in an age of racial discrimination people who are physically indistinguishable from blacks outperfom 'whites.' At a black men's luncheon in the Spring, I acerbically commented to my peers that we should stop all of our griping at the College about racial discrimination and slavery reparations seeing how most of the people in the 'black' community are both first and second generation immigrants and the sons and daughters of doctors and lawyers. That was a conversation killer. I finished my Egg-drop soup peacefully.

"That social life is ruthlessly segregated, and its dominance only further distances disadvantaged black students from the college's centers of life." I spoke at lenght with a New York Times reporter that some students are not encourged, by their peers, to integrate. I co-authored an op/ed in the D about after writing an editorial about it.

Moreover, any honest survey will find that a majority of Americans don't support affirmative action; we don't want ideological apartheid now do we?

Imprisoned Indepdendents and Details

Villain: Colin Powell?
Colin Powell is probably the first prominent black American to forget completely the connection between African- Americans and the oppressed of the world. In that sense, he has joined the arrogance of the new imperialist United States of America, and he has failed the remarkable tradition started up by James Baldwin, WEB Du Bois, Martin Luther King, Maya Angelou and others. In warmongering against Iraq, he fails his people.

The Independent spewing the impoverished ignorance of trendy European 'liberalism' today. This could be translated as "You're black; agree with us." Did I miss the meeting for all of the 'oppressed' of the world? Maybe ChienWen was there and can tell me what agenda I am supposed to be supporting?

2. Another reason to oppose the war (from Derbyshire)
Q: Do you yourself favor a war with Iraq?

A: Yes, but only if we have the will to really do it, ruthlessly and unapologetically, slaughtering masses of the enemy. Of which I see little evidence.

3. If there are any predictions about Justice Janice Brown joining the Supreme Court: you heard 'em here first. Also, Scalia will never be Supreme Court chief: his peers dispise him and he is disagreeable. Although, an equally disagreeable man, Justice Thomas, would not make a bad Supreme Court Chief either. (Brown for Chief Justice!)

Friday, December 27, 2002
FYI, Mr. Samuels, you quoted John, not me! (I took Latin, so I had a feeling "university" wasn't unity and diversity put together.)

Let's be fair here: academic feminism is not monolithic (something Laura is fond of reminding me). Unfortunately, the radicals are those that tend to hit the headlines (for the wrong reasons). I just wish the moderates would criticize their more radical colleagues more often, as what Martha Nussbaum did to Judith Butler. Nussbaum, who's a classical and legal scholar, is someone I admire a lot: she's a feminist, but not the sort who worships Foucault and seeks to foment social revolution. Her Cultivating Humanity seeks to defend multiculturalism based on classical principles, and it makes for an excellent read. Another feminist scholar who deserves attention is the Columbia historian Caroline Walker Bynum, a formidable medievalist whom my Dante professor this summer studied with. She approaches the themes of gender and sexuality, but not in the dogmatic way that conservative critics love to attack.

I still am skeptical of Women's and Gender Studies as a department, even if it seems unlikely to go away. Laura once told me that Women's Studies was a temporary phenomenon whose intention was to get the academy to recognize women, gender, and sexuality in history, literature, and culture; once that was accomplished, the department would fade away. Now this sounds a lot like the Russian Revolution to me: Lenin would just fade away into the proletariat once he achieved his goals, right? As things stand, Women's Studies is well-entrenched - many would argue excessively so - in academia; you can scarcely take any humanities or social science class without at least touching upon gender and sexuality. And I wonder whether many liberal academics exaggerate the state of academia prior to their ascension. Merging with the rest of the academy would result in far more positives than negatives. It would be a sign of maturity, not complicity. Even Roger Kimball might have to concede this point. Research about gender and sexuality will not suddenly cease just because Women's Studies went away.

The argument that Women's Studies is engaged in cutting-edge, interdisciplinary research, and that merging it with the rest of academia would destroy such interdisciplinarity, doesn't cut the mustard with me. That word "interdisciplinary" is particularly egregious. Almost all subjects are interdisciplinary: literature classes frequently draw upon historical events or philosophical currents, while the distinction between government and history, or anthropology and sociology, is at times very thin. Additionally, disciplinarity is in many ways a good thing, even if disciplines, like cultures, overlap. They provide methodologies and theories by which to conduct research. Perhaps that's why you'll see books marked "Sociology / Women's Studies," but almost none marked just "Women's Studies."

Thursday, December 26, 2002
Chienwen writes, "The responsibility of the feminist scholar is to deconstruct and reconstruct the constitutive rules to priveledge an egalitarian order." I realize that he does not advocate this view in his post, but I agree with his concise rendition of the academic mission of many of our professors. I fear, however, that these thinkers grossly overestimate the influence of academia on the greater society, and trivialize intellectual pursuit as a means to social revolution rather than a good in itself.

As for our masthead, the claim that "university" is a conflation of "unity" and "diversity" is a false etymology worthy of Plato expressed in the jargon of contemporary academic institutional politics. Universitas is the nominal abstraction of the Latin adjective universus, whence our "universe," simply meaning "turned into one", hence "all." A university, therefore, studies all things in one place. Diversus, on the other hand, the perfect passive participle of the verb divertere, to divert, as in "all this talk about diversity diverts the attention of students from the reality of racial balkanization on campus," means "turned apart", and so "diversity" as conceived by the current group of academic administrators actually signifies the opposite of "university" as conceived since the middle ages. The novelty of their conception makes them revolutionary, and I think that they would agree, though I disagree with their ideals and methods.

Tuesday, December 24, 2002
Something that's been kinda buggin' me for while

Over the past 2 years, I've occasionally heard some mutterings under breath, or asides that sound like this:
"we didn't elect this president"
"well, not that we should be lecturing on free and fair elections"
"maybe the next election won't be stolen"

I hear these sorts of things on mainstream tv, in conversations with people at Dartmouth, and most often in the blogs of those from the left. It didn't bother me at first. Kinda like a benign bug, crawling on my leg. Not a major worry....except the bug won't go away and I'm starting to find it really annoying.

First, no matter how the election of 2002 will be judged 50 or 100 years from now, no one likes post-defeat complaining. Especially the sort that lasts a long time. After being beaten by the Patriots last year during the NFL playoffs the Raiders, the Steelers, and the Rams all were quoted as saying they were the better team, that they were "robbed" by a few errant calls by the officials. Get over it and move on, this sort of talk just wreaks of death, of a loser and poor sportsmanship, so much of a sense of self-righteous entitlement. "We should have won."

Likewise, Al Gore "should have won" the last presidential election. Perhaps defeat is most bitter for those who are so self-assured of victory, they forget to fight on the field where it counts? For me several issues come to the fore. First, the franchise in the United States is not a right. No where in Constitution is it enshrined. However, "Equal Protection" under law is a HUGE constitutional right. Believe it or not, Equal Protection is more important than voting according to the Constitution we all live under. So that Supreme Court case that "gave" the election to GW wasn't just a gift. The Court re-affirmed a whole bunch of previous decisions. Had Gore asked for a state-wide Florida re-count instead of a re-count in only the districts that would have in theory benefited him, the Court would have ruled in his favor. The court ruled that recounting some votes rather than all would violate the equal protection right of those not counted; their votes would count "less." Also, the issues of irregularities in Florida were only magnified by the media which has an insatiable lust for these sort of things. I'm not bemoaning a liberal bais, just stating that the press loves a scandal. (see Jacko holding his baby over a balcony) Voting irregularites in a populace as large as that of the United States are more common than anyone would like, but it is statistically difficult to get it 100% right. Should we do our best to get people to vote and their votes counted? Absolutely, but the election of 2002 was not won or lost in only Florida, there were close votes in New Hampshire, Oregon, Wisconsin...and lest we forget, Gore lost Arkansas and Tennessee.

After Reviewing the Play
. Second, several different media companies and interested parties, hand-recounted the votes in Florida that everyone fought over for all of a month and the result: depending on the how strict or loose the criteria for what would have counted or not counted, Bush would still have won the election in Florida, or won by only the slimmest of margins. I didn't take the time to look it up, but I remember when they released the results, there would have been a HUGE media stink had Gore been able to win by a large margin with a full recount. Bottom line, "after reviewing the play, there is not sufficient evidence to overturn the ruling on the field."

Lastly, this country never has elected its president via popular nation-wide election. Complaints over the "popular vote" are bunk. This country was founded as a republic, not a MTV/ABC-insta-poll democracy. Our constitution was written to direct the will of the majority, but protect the minority from the Mob. The Electoral College is an important institution that we all don't know enough about to value, but on a emotional level find easy to dislike. "Democracy" is our most treasured value. We live in a Republic, kids. When we got around to forming our government, we remembed what happened to all the past democracies who were ruled by popularity. (See Federalist No. 10) If the American President were elected by direct popular vote, we would all be saying hello to President Spears or Kournikova.

From FreeDartmouth and TalkingPoints: the new Senate leader's Cirivulum Vitae. Can you say: 'qualified?'

Male-Centered Reality

I decided that I am not going anywhere. I will continue posting as I see fit. I know no holidays! (ChienWen look at this!)

ChienWen: "The term "rewriting" reminds me of the feminist assertion that all previous knowledge is male-centric - I am not making up this claim, having heard it at Agora and read it in books - a view that you have to wonder about." Is this an absurd claim? Some feminist allege that the constitutive rules of social interaction are governed in a manner that favors men over women. The responsibility of the feminist scholar is to deconstruct and reconstruct the constitutive rules to priveledge an egalitarian order. What do I mean by the jargon 'constitutive rules of social interaction'? This term can be defined by an example: chess. Without the rules that compose the game, the pieces on the board would have no meaning, no ability to move. It is the rules that govern the adversarial roles and that govern the movement of the pieces. What some feminist allege is that the rules have been constructed to privelege men and marginalize women.

There are a few cases that lend credence to this theory: ideas on society and war, the legal system and the 'academic virtues.' There is a book by an international relations scholar called Gender and War. He talks about how war was gendered: made an exclusive all-male sport becuase the average man fights better when war is gendered. He talks about how on average men and women have equal fighting ability; the bell curve distrubition is equal. There is a significant percentage of women who are better than the average and below average male fighter. Nevertheless, the author found that across cultures, in all of them, war centered around maleness. Gendering war gives a significant boost to the fighting ability of the average and below average male; and a stastically insignificant bonus to the above average fighter.

The legal system is addressed best by Catherine Mackinnon (from 'Crimes of War, Crimes of Peace' given at an Oxford-Amnesty Lecture found in Steven Shute's On Human Rights). She talks about the common law system; it is built upon the experience of someone. Since women were formally excluded from the building of the common law system for so long, Mackinnon contends that it does not recognize experience particular to the woman's condition, like rape for instance. The law needs to be reoreinted to include the perspective of women.

Lastly, the virtues: rationality, objectiveness, etc. are considered 'male' because they reify and objectify reality. Women are more empathethic and like to deal with the concrete other-- the thing in itself. Men, according to this logic, prefer to deal with the abstract other-- philosophical representations of reality used for the sake of classification and objectivity. An example would be pornography: men defend it under 'free speech' laws: abstract concepts that support the systemic eroticized domination of women. Feminist decry pornography becasue of the harm done to the concrete 'other': women subject to sexual voilence. Speaking on an ordinance to supress pornography, "MacKinnon said the ordinance didn’t go far enough. While it would ban this material in some places, it would permit it in others. It assumed that "pornography" must be permitted to exist somewhere. "...I do not admit that pornography has to exist," MacKinnon said. Pornography is "hate literature" which encourages violence against women. MacKinnon told the commission members that if they were willing to try a new approach they could ban pornography not necessarily spring from "narrow-mindedness, anti-sex bigotry and hysteria." Much of it represents a real concrete experience of sexual violation. Not just the desire to eradicate a bunch of bad ideas that are floating around in some people’s heads, but some concrete violations of women’s civil rights, as to which, to date, we have been entirely frustrated in our ability to be heard. (NOTE: Not all feminists agree with Mackinnon's and Dworkin's (Andrea's not Ronnie's) approach.

We cannot dismiss feminist theory out of hand for saying that there is male bias in most things. I don't particularly agree with it all. But I do think that their premises are interesting. And one does need to deal with the philosophy and approach as is.

Academia and Politics (a favorite topic)

While re-reading Lord of the Rings, I came across this line, uttered by the elf Gildor, whom the four hobbits encounter while still in the Shire:

"The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever fence it out." (82)

Turning to the Dartmouth webpage, I find a link to an article called "Rethinking History," which describes how a student's research with History and Women's Studies professor Annelise Orleck "literally changed the way I look at the world. [Professor Orleck] taught me that women’s history is not just about rewriting history with women in it, but a way of reevaluating and expanding our notions of politics and protest."

What kind of relationship should academia have with politics? Should intellectuals, who are supposedly more intelligent than most people, enter into political arena and attempt to apply their superior intellect towards solving political and social problems? The second question seems moot: numerous people with PhDs, especially in economics and political science, have gone on to work in government or advise politicians. But this does not appear to be what Professor Orleck is referring to; indeed, this relationship would be too comfortable, too narrowly-conceived, as the use of "reevaluating and expanding" suggests. The relationship between academia and politics that she and other left-radicals (I use this term only to describe, not to condemn) favors is adversarial. In Representations of the Intellectual, Edward Said characterizes the intellectual as "exile and marginal, as amateur, and as the author of a language that tries to speak the truth to power" (xvi) In other words, the intellectual is defined by his ability to apply his intellect to matters of real human concern, such as the struggle for Palestine in Said's case, or the struggle for women's rights, in Professor Orleck's case. And in all cases, the intellectual must side with the less powerful, because the powerful seek to distort the truth to further their own ends, and the intellectual, as Said says, abides by "universal principles" (11).

What are the flaws in Said's logic? The first seems to be that power is necessarily a bad thing that intellectuals, a priori, must oppose. I'm not even going to mention Lord Acton here - or Saruman, or Sauron. Certainly, the United States government is powerful, and so too is the pro-Israeli lobby in Congress. But there are other forms of power in existence (as Gandalf acknowledges in the first movie - okay, cut out the LotR references NOW!). Osama bin Laden and the ideology of Islamic fundamentalism are powerful, and so too were Nazism and Communism. How does the intellectual discriminate between various forms of power? Said does not say. But from what he says about his enemies, he would appear to view the world in rather Manichean terms. Hence, in his collection of essays, Reflections on Exile, he dismisses Daniel Pipes' In the Path of God: Islam and Political Power as "at the service not of knowledge but of an aggressive and interventionary state...whose interests Pipes helps to define" (205). He castigates Bernard Lewis, the Princeton history professor, for "unrestrained anti-intellectualism, unencumbered by critical self-consciousness" whose "exploits" are "almost purely political" (204). Nobel-Prize winner V. S. Naipaul is "unrestrained by genuine learning or self-education" (116), while Samuel Huntington, in The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, "is really most interested in continuing and expanding the Cold War by means other than advancing ideas about understanding the current world scene or trying to reconcile different cultures" (571) So there you have it: on the one side, you have Said and his fellow adversarial intellectuals - Mary McCarthy, James Baldwin, Jean-Paul Sartre, Noam Chomsky, Simone de Beauvoir, Malcolm X, and Virginia Woolf (all of whom are on the cover of my edition of Representations). Against these people, and the ideas they represent, are Daniel Pipes, Bernard Lewis, V. S. Naipaul, Sam Huntington, and presumably, Allan Bloom, David Pryce-Jones, Roger Kimball, etc., all of them Orientalists given to "trimming, careful silence, patriotic bluster, and retrospective and self-dramatizing apostasy" (Representations, xiii).

In his critique of Huntington, Said says that he finds the words "culture" and "civilization" "extremely sloppy," because they represent for Huntington "reified objects, rather than the dynamic, ceaselessly turbulent things that they in fact are" (581). Now I agree in part with this critique: civilizations, particularly the larger ones ("Western," "Islamic," etc.) do indeed have complex and multicultural histories. But Huntington in fact acknowledges that "Civilizations have no clear-cut boundaries and no precise beginnings and endings" (43) in his book. For the political scientist, however, a workable model of the world is necessary if any thesis is to be advanced. While they may be complex - how Western or Eastern is Turkey, for instance? - "Civilizations are nonetheless meaningful entities, and while the lines between them are seldom sharp, they are real" (43). Said would do well to engage in a bit of reflexive thinking here: people tend to be as heterogeneous as civilizations, and to label them indiscriminately as Said does is at once hypocritical and reductionary.

The second flaw in Said's logic has to do with its selective application. Said and his fellow left-radicals see power everywhere: in big business (though strangely, not in big government), white people, males, fraternities, and even "society at large." What seems to have eluded them is the conspicuousness of their own power. Said likes to think of himself as an "exile and marginal" (Representations, xvi). That cannot be further from the truth. He is a University Professor at Columbia who has a considerable intellectual following (there's even going to be an "Edward Said Professorship in Middle-Eastern Studies" endowed soon, I heard) both inside and outside academia. Within the university, people of his political temperament are in the majority, and they make very little attempt to conceal what they believe in. Numerous books have been published seeking to expose how academia's leftist ideological bias affects students; in reality, the exiles and marginals in academia today are conservatives.

Enough of Said - what about Orleck's claim that "women’s history is not just about rewriting history with women in it, but a way of reevaluating and expanding our notions of politics and protest?" ("Women" could be substituted for just about any other minority.) The first half of this statement has some good sense in it: women's history contributes to intellectual life when it tells us about aspects of the past that have previously been overlooked. But women in history have not really been as criminally neglected as some would claim, as the examples of Sappho, Heloise, Joan of Arc, Elizabeth I, Yang Gui-Fei, Isabella of Aragon, Abigail Adams, Queen Victoria and others suggest. The term "rewriting" reminds me of the feminist assertion that all previous knowledge is male-centric - I am not making up this claim, having heard it at Agora and read it in books - a view that you have to wonder about. The history of history is full of disagreements about methodology, sources, perspectives, and more, and it seems rather simplistic to denounce historians as different as Edward Gibbon and Fernand Braudel as sexist (Braudel tended not to talk about actual individuals). While it is true that most historians in the past have been male, it does not follow that they necessarily espoused a male-centric view of the past. Many of them made the greatest effort to be objective and scientific in their use of evidence (it's impossible to dispute those who say that objectivity and science are also male-centric). They were not perfect, for sure - Gibbon wrote The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire using mostly secondary sources - but then again, neither are the radical revisionists.

Should the teaching of history serve a political purpose, as Orleck seems to think it should? The first question has to do with the role of the university in society. The university as a whole, of course, must cater to diverse and un-academic pursuits, hence the profusion of extracurricular activities with explicitly political aims. The classroom, however, exists solely to pursue knowledge and truth; it occupies a privileged position that I think is worth protecting against the ravages of ideology, partisan bias, popular culture, and other corrupting influences. Politicization is inherently dangerous because it tends to be un-intellectual. Politics simplifies - as anyone listening to George W. Bush will tell you - whereas the intellectual life is largely about grasping complexity. I am not levelling any charges against Annelise Orleck, who as I understand is a great teacher. At least she acknowledges her ideological bias, which is more than can be said about a lot of professors. I do, however, believe that the person wishing to change society through politics will succeed best if he understands just how rich and complex society is, and that this understanding is more likely to be cultivated, paradoxically, in an atmosphere devoid, as far as possible, of political bias.

Oh well. Back to Lord of the Rings, I guess.

Monday, December 23, 2002
I will be leaving the country tomorrow, so I won't be reading any posts, or responding to anyone's comments until I get back around Jan 2. Happy Holidays.

Some Details, before I go

I know I menitoned that I was not going to post anymore (ChienWen can pick up the slack) but some things just struck me.

The first two are from my colleagues at
1. Waligore's article: In the US News article, the President says "A second phase of the war on terror, and an important part of the peace platform, will be Iraq. And we have worked closely with friends and allies in convincing them to join us and insisting that Saddam Hussein disarm. As you know, I have made it clear that if he won't disarm that we will lead a coalition of the willing to disarm him. My hope is that he will disarm."

I know a alot of the peacemongers out there and they wouldn't dare to suggest that a war in Iraq was a part of a 'peace platfom.' I was wondering what all of you thought about the effects of a war in Iraq (not should we, but if we do then what). Will the region accept what is going on with a lot of noise, a lot of demonstrations, some harsh rhetoric but no action? Or is this the first battle of Armaggeddon*?

2. Visit from Hanan Ashrawi: Kumar has posted these so I don't have to take the time to (I too was on the mailing list; I blitzed my comments to Rocky without the recepient list attached to commend them on their selection and recommeded some future guests.) Well, the College is also bringing Mary Robinson (former UN High Commissoner for 'Human Rights' and former prime minister of Ireland) to campus. The National Review has called MR a war criminal; I wonder what they think of Dr. Ashrawi. (Ashrawi's visit to a college at in Colorado near the Septemeber 2002 remembrance was seen as very controversial; student activist, with their penchant for theatrics and proclivity away from intellectual and verbal moderation, called Ashrawi something akin to an apologist for terror. (I'm sure it was no worse than Aly Rahim holding a sign saying that Sharon was a war criminal last Spring.) Relavant articles: A and B.

3. Someone asked me to link to FrontPage Magazine. I find a very interesting article there about the violent history of Kwanzaa. I am not sure whether a link will be provided or not; I will consult with ChienWen when he returns from the West (with the rest of the elves).

* Technically, calling it Armaggeddon couldn't be strictly true for a number of reasons. Armaggeddon means Har-al-Meggido (in the hills of Meggido), which are in Israel or Syria/Lebanon. The Christian and Jewish prophecies (I don't know enough about the Muslium prophecies to accurately portray their beleifs) forcast that Armaggeddon would have to happen after seven years of peace vis-a-vis the Arab-Israeli conflict premised on the rebuilding of a Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount, a divison of Jerusalem, and a resumption of animal blood sacrifices. (Other battles, namely four large ones, will be fought in other conflicts.) For three and half years, a political and religious figure will exercise pre-eminence over the world (in popular mythology known as the Antichrist and the False Prophet); they domination will cease when they mount an allied invasion of Israel to enforce the peace treaty, which the Jews will break somehow. That battle is known as the war of the Armaggeddon; it is at this battle when "the Lord shall fight for them as he did in the days of old" (Zechariah 14) and the Messiah shall descend to the Mount of Olives to be welcomed by the surviving members of the 'House of Israel'. (Zechariah 14) A distinguishing characteristic of the One who saves them, the Messiah, that is mentioned in Zechariah 12 is that He is pierced.

Sunday, December 22, 2002
A perspective on Affirmative Action/Racial Preferences


I guess I’ll share my thoughts on this issue you brought up. First though, your little anecdote reminded me of something that happened to me just the other day. A couple days ago I decided I needed a haircut and instead of going to one of those flamboyant NJ salons where everyone looks like Marisa Tomei from My Cousin Vinny, I thought I would go to somewhere close where I knew I could get an appointment right away without all the fuss. So I went to a small, kind of blue-collar establishment not too far away, which doesn’t get too much business. Anyway, somehow I got to talking with the woman cutting my hair, and I mentioned that I go to college up in New Hampshire (she didn’t know what Dartmouth was). Out of nowhere this sparked sort of a tirade about affirmative action. My thoughts on that issue are rather complicated, and I didn’t really want to get into a big discussion with this woman, so I just kind of smiled and sat there silently while she went on cutting my hair.

I guess I was just shocked at how she rather brazenly broached the subject and then talked about it without any inhibition - not really knowing who I was or what I thought on the issue. For all she knew, I could be a fraction Hispanic or Native American and a strong supporter of racial preferences. I was a little surprised because I hardly ever hear opinions like hers on the alleged unfairness of racial preferences, while they seem somewhat common (at least based on polling data on the subject) in America. It occurred to me how openly discussing opinions like these is considered rather rude or unpleasant in the elite world of academia. I guess that’s partly because in such an environment students are petrified of saying anything racially controversial (especially if they’re white) lest they be branded a racist, or maybe it’s just because the alleged victims of racial preferences aren’t really around to give their opinions on the matter – since they didn’t get accepted in the first place. I suppose also that when the President of your college says it’s “worse than untrue” to believe that racial preferences discriminate against certain people, one naturally tends to be a bit intimidated from challenging the prevailing liberal orthodoxy.

Having said all that, I’ll tell you some of my thoughts on this issue. I don’t believe a pure meritocracy is fair; certain people come from economically and socially disadvantaged backgrounds so an effort at achievement by a student in such a background would yield less results than the same effort by a student from a wealthy and privileged background. Therefore, to be fair, admissions officers and employers should give greater consideration to an applicant from a disadvantaged background than an applicant of the same qualifications from an advantaged background. As a result, I support a non-race based affirmative action, which seeks to factor in an applicant’s level of disadvantage with the qualifications of that applicant, in order to approximate true effort and true capability. Moreover, this system would disproportionately benefit minorities anyway, as minorities disproportionately tend to be economically disadvantaged in society.

The problem with focusing affirmative action on race is that it assumes that a minority by default is disadvantaged when this is not always the case. If I were a member of an ethnic minority (I assume German or Irish doesn’t count anymore), I would find a system, which assumes that my race automatically renders me less capable of achieving, to be very offensive and demeaning. For example, why should the son of a wealthy black lawyer, who went to private school and lived in a wealthy environment, be considered less capable of achieving (and therefore given employment & admissions advantages) than a white person living a trailer in Appalachia, Kentucky, who is virtually starving to death? Now, admittedly cases like these are relatively uncommon, but they do occur, and it’s these exceptions which are totally unacceptable. Moreover, while I gave an extreme example of unfairness, cases like these occur quite frequently in lower degrees.

There are different kinds of arguments for racial preferences. One echoes the discredited Slavery Reparations argument, that somehow the US government is responsible for favoring minorities because of the discrimination and even slavery of the past. Accordingly, even if a system of racial preferences discriminates against whites, it’s not a problem because it’s just reparations for previous injustices done by whites. This argument fails to recognize that a similar skin color does not make modern white people responsible for offenses committed by unrelated white people, of different ethnic backgrounds, often who lived in different countries, hundreds of years ago.

I think it’s interesting that the people who support racial preferences have the same race-conscious view of humanity that the Nazis had. In fact, just like the Nazis, supporters of racial preferences give “credit” to applicants whose ethnicity is only a fraction “disadvantaged.” The Nazis believed that if you were more than ¼ ethnically Jewish, then you deserved to be categorized completely as Jewish, and they based government policies accordingly. Well, today if you are ¼ Hispanic, then that makes you completely Hispanic and you are treated accordingly. This creates a funny dilemma for the people who advance the reparations argument: Let’s say a person is a ¼ black relative of a former slave, and that person is also ½ white descendent of former slave owner, and ¼ Hispanic. The (imaginary) National Reparations Department will be in the awkward situation of levying a charge on the white ½ of that person, giving a payment to black ¼ of that person, and who knows what to do with the Hispanic quarter (I suppose the Hispanic fraction would be paid something too, but how much relative to the black and white fractions???). The strange possibilities and combinations are endless for a person who adopts this race-conscious view of humanity. Obviously, I don't mean in any way to equate modern racial preferences with Nazism or segregation or slavery, but I think these cases demonstrate that such a race-concious perspective can be both arbitrary and dangerous.

Finally, there is the argument that “diversity” has an inherent value in and of itself, and therefore giving advantage to minority applicants is justified because they provide a service to the school. I agree that diversity is valuable (although it’s not the sacred cow, Dartmouth administrators make it out to be), but the race conscious view of society is poisonous, unnecessarily divisive, and fallacious. Existing is not a service. Being of a certain race is not an accomplishment. If one seeks diversity, then he should seek diversity of experience and opinion and there is where the emphasis should be placed by recruiters. In many cases racial differences coincide with fundamental differences of experience, due to historical circumstances, but not always, and not by definition. Oh, and then there is the little matter of governmental race discrimination being unconstitutional, which I hope the Supreme Court will rule in the Michigan Case.

The last thing I want to mention is that “Affirmative Action” - if not associated with “Racial Preferences” - is a good way to seek out this kind of experiential and opinion diversity. If “Affirmative Action” means (as it originally did) actively encouraging people of diverse backgrounds to apply for a job or school, or raising awareness in new communities, or enabling new people to apply, then I support it. If it means using a fallacious race-conscious system to discriminate in favor of some races and against others in the admissions process, then I reject it on moral principle and constitutionality.

Check out Dartmouth's Dave Kang, writing about North and South Korean anxiety over American policy on the peninsula in the Op-Ed section of the New York Times.

Affirmative Action and White Perceptions

I vacillate between supporting and opposing affirmative action (giving preferences to minorities and the disadvantaged). I do have a firm opinion on how affirmative action affects the perceptions whites have of minorities. That effect is not positive.

I recently had a conversation with a white acquaintance who asked me if my friend Brian, a senior in high school, had been accepted early decision (ED) to UPenn. I replied that Brian had been deferred. My acquaintance's immediate reaction was: "Oh, that's too bad. Only minorities were accepted ED." He automatically assumed that Brian had failed to gain early acceptance because of the unfair preference given to minorities, not for any other reason. What is even more intriguing about this case is that my acquaintance was referring to several students of Asian descent from his school who were accepted early to UPenn--students who were most likely not the beneficiaries of affirmative action given the large number of highly qualified Asian applicants at elite colleges.

My white acquaintance expressed sentiments that I often hear from whites, especially among parents of high school seniors. Affirmative action unravels the social fabric of the nation by engendering a great deal of white resentment for the benefits minorities receive. Affirmative action can take someone without racial prejudice and infuse him with racist biases.

The West Wing recently featured affirmative action in an episode. One of the Republican candidates for president made a statement in which he opposed affirmative action. Democratic President Bartlett's advisor, Toby, felt President Bartlett should respond by voicing support for affirmative action. Toby also approached the press secretary with his idea. Interestingly, the press secretary said that she was the wrong Democrat to talk to about affirmative action because she strongly opposes it. Turns out her father was a high school teacher with high aspirations who "invariably missed a promotion because some less qualified black woman" received it instead. Instead of finishing his career as superintendent, her father finished his career as chair of the math department at a junior high school. The press secretary then even made the seemingly irrational assumption that her father's current Alzheimer's symptoms could be a result of his failure to achieve his goals in high school administration. She linked affirmative action with her father's unhappiness and increasing absentmindedness.

The West Wing example is extreme, but it demonstrates the negative effects affirmative action can have on white feelings and perceptions.

Lott; Blood in the Water

A couple months ago, John Stevenson offered me an invitation to participate in the “Blog” discussion on this web site. I have been intending to start posting for a while now, but as of late have completely forgot about this web site. It seems like you guys have moved beyond the discussion of Trent Lott, but I think I will offer my perspective on that issue anyway since there have been some new developments.

I think it was appropriate for Senator Lott to step down as majority leader. While I don’t believe he is a racist, he as a majority leader has a certain responsibility to represent the Republican agenda in his statements and actions. In the same way that President Clinton should have been held accountable for perjury and other dishonest behaviors, Lott should be held accountable when he makes a statement, which undermines the Republican political agenda, but more importantly, which demonstrates a misunderstanding of the proper conservative ethos on race and politics. His comments (made twice beforehand in past decades), which suggest support for racial segregation, directly contradict - or show a lack of understanding for - the modern conservative agenda of colorblindness, which is based on “Equal treatment under the law” from the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution and the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The modern conservative movement, is thus based on the same racial principles of the former “liberal” and civil rights movement (under Lincoln) during the 1860s and (under MLK) during the 1960s. In fact, many liberal Democrats during the 1960s who advocated the end of segregation, like Dr. Bill Bennet, have now switched parties and become the leaders of the modern conservative Republican movement (In Bennet’s case, since 1986). After his inappropriate comments about the 1948 campaign, Lott subsequently endorsed “across the board” governmental racial preferences on Black Television, further demonstrating a lack of understanding of these principles, and making him unfit to be a main representative of a political party which should be based on them.

That brings me to another point. While supporting Senator Lott’s resignation, Republicans must avoid caving on policy issues to Democrats, who are trying to paint the entire Republican Party as racist, and who are (paradoxically) attempting to categorize conservative principles of opposing racial preferences in admissions and hiring as “racist.” Both Hillary and Bill Clinton, along with a number of other Democrats have made statements to this effect in the last couple days. It is important for Republican politicians to confront the Left on issues of race, and explain why a principle of governmental colorblindness is not only moral, but in keeping with the greatest triumphs of civil rights in the past.

In reality, the conservative Republican agenda - allowing people to invest a small portion of Social Security money, allowing school choice, welfare reform, and not discriminating against urban charities that happen to be religious – is very positive for the underprivileged minority communities. In particular, a policy of holding failing public schools accountable while allowing ambitious students in these schools to seek better education would be greatly beneficial. Today it is the Democratic Party and the teachers unions, which are standing in the schoolhouse door, preventing some underprivileged minorities from achieving educational liberation.

Finally, when advocating conservative policies, the Republican Party should not be intimidated by demagoguery or the slanderous accusations from some Democratic politicians. In the wake of their humiliating mid-term election defeat, Democratic politicians have reverted to page two of their three page playbook: race-baiting. Now after the Lott controversy, the Democrats have smelled blood in the water, and they are going back to what they know best, and what is most comfortable for them. Following Lott’s resignation from the Majority Leader position, a number of prominent Democrats, from Bill Clinton to Senator Ted Kennedy have attempted to paint the entire Republican party as essentially racist, or more subtly, as having a “race problem.” Senator Clinton lectured us that it would be “naïve” to think otherwise. Al Sharpton recently claimed at a rally that Trent Lott would work to take away African Americans’ civil rights if he remained as majority leader….but this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Along with scaring voters about claims that Republicans want to poison people’s water and take away senior citizens’ social security, the Democratic Party under Bill Clinton has mastered the tactic of fomenting racial fear and divisiveness. One of Clinton’s 1996 ads in Missouri read on a popular black radio station: “When you don’t vote, you let another church explode. When you don’t vote, you allow another cross to burn. When you don’t vote, you let another assault wound a brother or sister. When you don’t vote, you let the Republicans continue to cut school lunches and Head Start." Likewise, demagogue Jesse Jackson summarized American Politics this way in 1995: “In South Africa, we call it apartheid. In Nazi Germany, we'd call it fascism. Here in the United States, we call it conservatism.” More recently, Jackson described George Bush’s “Nazi tactics,” in the 2000 Florida race. Also during the 2000 election, the NAACP ran the following campaign ad in Texas where the camera was in the perspective of being dragged from the back of a pickup truck: “My father was killed. He was beaten, chained, and dragged three miles to his death, all because he was black. So when Gov. George W. Bush refused to support hate-crimes legislation, it was like my father was killed all over again." — Renee Mullins, daughter of racial murder victim James Byrd, in an NAACP-sponsored 2000 political ad. And most recent of all – July 2001 – Julian Bond at the NAACP convention said of President Bush: "He has selected nominees from the Taliban wing of American politics, appeased the wretched appetites of the extreme right wing, and chosen Cabinet officials whose devotion to the confederacy is nearly canine in its uncritical affection." He was undoubtedly referring to John Ashcroft, and maybe even Linda Chavez (who since resigned from the nomination to Secretary of Labor). This is akin to a Republican saying Senator Wellstone - by all accounts a good and honorable liberal statesman - was a member of a "Stalinist wing" in the Democratic Party. Of course, one could also find some controversial ads ran by Republican candidates, but they have not nearly reached the severity and frequency of those run by the Democrats in recent years. Even the notorious (and inappropriate) campaign ad by Senator Jesse Helms several years ago against racial quotas does not come close to this level. What’s remarkable about these examples is that they come from mainstream liberal political figures – ex-Presidents, ex-Vice Presidents, and so-called “leaders” of the civil rights movement - not from the fringe of the Left, as Jesse Helms is in the Republican Party. So, why aren't these mainstream liberal political figures held accountable for their statements, like Senator Lott was?

I have already said that I believe he should resign on principle, but I think some of the character attacks on Lott are unfair and politically opportunistic. The selective criticism and double standards of some Democratic politicians, in regards to the Trent Lott situation, should be clear. Just a few examples: Democratic Senator James Byrd, a former Klu Klux Klan member, had about three weeks ago (immediately before the Lott controversy) repeated his past use of the n-word on public television in describing a person. In 1993, President Bill Clinton bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom to a notoriously segregationist senator William Fulbright, who Clinton described as his “mentor.” I personally don’t think Bill Clinton is a racist, but if one applies the standard used to claim Lott is a racist – that there is a past history - then we might be reminded that as Governor of Arkansas, Clinton made the birthday of Robert E. Lee a state holiday or that Clinton did nothing to abolish Arkansas’ “Confederate Flag Day” state holiday. Or one also might be reminded that at on September 24th of this year, Democratic Senator Carl Levin praised Thurmond’s 1948 race, admiring that he received 39 electoral votes, “the third best showing by an independent candidate in U.S. history."

The Democrats will find it much more difficult to demonize Senator Bill Frist, who will likely be the new Senate Majority Leader - although some have already started trying. Frist graduated from Harvard Medical School and was one of America’s leading children’s heart and lung surgeons. Since he has become a member of the US Senate, Frist has been an AIDS activist and has gone on several trips to Africa to do volunteer surgery and other medical work. Frist is a fairly moderate Republican, but I hope he will have a backbone in pushing a conservative agenda and not cave to slanderous attacks on his party and policies.

Civil Rights Act

In response to Michael Reeves: In order to enforce the Civil Rights Act of 1964, you need to collect statistics on race. John's original argument was that race is a social construction, and because of that it should have no part in the calculation of government. But in enforcing the civil rights act, you would lending government credence to the concept of race. Doesn't even saying you can't discriminate on the basis of 'race', but you can for other reasons, lend credence to the concept of race, in violation of John's original argument?. (By the way, know what you mean if you ever say: we should drop affirmative action and vigorously enforce civil rights laws.) You might say that we have to take into account the fact that race has been used in the past, and we cannot ignore that discimination still exists. Precisely. That's why I said that John cannot be race-blind (excluding a priori any consideration of race from Government's calculations), as oppossed to race-neutral in most cases (saying it's better not to enact a policy dealing with race, after taking race into consideration). I thought John accepted this (or was willing to allow this might be a better possibility-- which tells me he wants to at least consider whether race might be useful in some circumstances, which might implicitly concede the point). This point is important because people like Ward Connerly (who bizzarely thinks that segregration isn't necessarily racist) have been pushing to eliminate the use of race in any government agency. That means, as I noted a month or so ago, that you can't collect statistics on how many blacks are arrested on highways versus whites. Maybe you disagree with what policies have been and should be enacted based on these statistics, but a truly "race-blind" government would not even collect them. This is the logical extension of saying that government should not lend credence to race because it is a social construction. I also think this is an important point, and I'd appreciate arguments against it, because once you allow that race might be useful in some circumstances, we enter a debate into when and how how government should use it in its calculations. John has some points about affrimative action way back, and I won't get into them, except to note that many of them are based on pragmatic, not principled reasons, which is fine, but they are then open to refutation on pragmatic grounds. (John does invoke justice, but I haven't looked closely enough to tell what conception of justice he's talking about and whether it implicitly smuggles in some illegitimate absolutist assumptions.)

I also make this point to say that taking race into account does not a person is necessarily racist, as conservatives (and John Stevenson?) often say or imply is the case. I don't agree that an African american who fought in the trenches of the early civil rights battles is racist like Trent Lott because he supports affirmative action. (But I'm not saying that Blacks can never be racist.) So I might extend the point I have made so far that taking race into consideration and sometimes not having race-neutral policies does not automatically make one a racist. Obviously, it depends on what reasons you take race into account- not all reasons, like supporting white supremacy or killing all whites, are legitimate. But I would say that one of the most legitimate reason for taking race into account would be the past history of discrimination based on race, and trying to rectify that legacy. John has noted below some reasons to be against affirmative action, but I'm curious whether he agrees with many conservatives who say that to support affirmative action is the definition of being racist?

A quick note on the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. There ARE some things that John and other conservatives might not like, such as certain ways of enforcing the civil rights act. But all of the ways of actually enforcing it (whether or not more strigent and potentially more objectionable ways invoke race more) lend credence to the concept of race. Mike says these acts are "generally compatible" with race-blindness. No, you could say they are generally race-neutral (though more info on the voting rights act might show us otherwise). As I outlined below, race-blindness was an ad hoc way of refering to saying race is always unacceptable. The problem is once you allow that sometime using race is acceptable, you are no longer "blind" to race. You "look" and then you decide. And Mr. Stevenson's talk about social construction (and I suppose comprehensive doctrines, and the stuff about not allowing these claims in the public sphere) goes out the window. We need new, non-absolute principles to think over this, ones that haven't been provided. So again, John would need to support his position on the basis of different premises. Or he can accept the logic of his old premises and say we must get rid of the Civil Right Act (which Dinesh D'Souza does do), or maybe possibly try to find a third way by adding some nuance to his argument. So Mr. Reeves invocation of "generally", really does nothing here, which I think John realizes.

P.S. John, check out Nathan Glazer in that Kymlicka 1997 volume, you might like him and decide you do see problems with the notions of groups that go into enforcing the Civil Rights Act. I think this discomfort with group protections is why some conservatives oppose the voting rights act (or at least its current/first incarnation-- Reagan wanted to weaken it), though I could be wrong on the specifics of that.

Saturday, December 21, 2002
Waligore writes:

John can advocate his opinions and conclusions, but if bases them on his previous arguments, he also has to be against the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act (or be far more nuanced than he has been so far.). John said race is a social construction. OK. He then says that government put these social constructions by putting them into law. Why? Because it would lend credence to them.

I believe John's position of race blindness, as Waligore elaborates in "Race Blindness vs. Race Neutrality" (12/20/02), is generally compatible with the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Acts. The Voting Rights Act intends to prevent the disenfranchisment of voters who otherwise meet the age and residency requirements. The government does not need to know your race. If you are of age and live in the district, you can vote. The Civil Rights Acts intends to give people access to public goods and jobs to qualified individuals. The government does not need to know your race. You can drink from any water fountain you desire or pursue any occupation and no one shall turn you away on the basis of the color of your skin. Granted, the Acts do include provisions that have led to some race-based policies such as the majority-minority districts. But generally, supporting race-blind policy does not lead to an automatic rejection of the Voting and Civil Rights Acts.

Waligore intones:

I'm not asking for false modesy, but could Mr. Stevenson lose his undeserved Napolean-sized ego?

Apparently, Waligore's acute understanding of political philosophy obscures his ability to detect John Stevensons' latent sarcasm. John simply adds some sarcastic pomp to his rhetoric to make it enjoyable reading. His artful banter should not be confused for pretention.

Friday, December 20, 2002
John says: "by conception of good governance is a political entity that allows as many people as possible to persue their conception of the good. It is a priority of the good over the right. Why is this? Because no person can ever find principles upon which all can agree without falling into relativism or absolutism." This is strange. I'm saying this in a different (and less unfavorable) way than I have criticized Stevenson before. I'm not sure how this a workable framework for a society. I'm not sure how the principles that regulate between differing conceptions of the good operate. What do you say to a liberal who thinks his conception of the right should rule? Or a Christian fundamentalist? But no matter, I can't say it couldn't serve as a starting point. I wonder if Stevenson thinks Rawls had an interesting question, even if he didn't have the right answer. (Rawls tried to solve this problem of agreement by speaking of reasonbly be expected to agree.) That last sentence of John's is particularly odd as it seems somewhat relativist, but maybe I don't understand exactly what relativism is here. I thank John for his concession and allowing that saying race-neutral may be better than race-blind, but I admit I'm not certain how the above quoted paragraph leads him to that conclusion. But that's the major difference I had with him (thus far), that I cared to hammer. Of course, i think there are implications to this admission (such as that his previous conclusions need new support after the premise of race-blind principles in disavowed).

John tries to say jurisprudence, not political philosophy leads to race-blind principles. (he said race-blind policies, but I'll assume constitutions deal with principles, not policies). We need not get into it, but surely he knows that this a controversial interpretation of the 14th amendment, and a recent one at that. And in arguing over the 'best' interpretation, surely he knows that this involves legal and political philosophy, not assertion. And even if true as a matter of positive law, I would think John would want to defend why this is the right positive law for us to have. I would say part that part of the reasons we have laws taking into account race and culture is past discrimination of groups. A central issue is how you deal with this past. I don't think you always do this by ignoring groups in law.

Anyway, it appears, that Stevenson has seemingly largely agreed with the main point I wanted to make. He says that civil rights and Voting Rights act are allowed because of a past history. I wouldn't put it that way, but he's admitting there isn't that principled line to draw between them and affirmative action (so it seems) or even slavery reparations. If he's basing it on being allowed to pursue a conception of the good life, pretty much anything potentially goes. Not to say he has to agree with the latter two, but he can't go against them on the basis that lend credence to a social construction. (I'm assuming he's backing off that, correct me if I'm wrong). It seems that if you could convince John that reparations and affirmative action (or even group rights?) would best promote the pursuing 'the good life' he would have to agree. I wouldn't base my whole philosophy on that, but he'll add more I'm sure. I'm not sure what Stevenson's philosophy amounts to at this point or what it means. I don't mean that statement in the sense that I'm confused or see something obviously wrong, but I don't get how the useful of what he says, though unlike other posts I won't rule out that it could be. In another words, John, how can we judge constitutional principles (and policies)? When you say your stuff about allowing the most people to pursue their conceptions of the good, what standards can we judge principles and policies to say we have achieved this? And why should others accept allowing everyone to pursue their own conceptions of the good? Does this include ALL conceptions of the good, including those that want to impose theirs on everyone else? It sounds like you're the 'hyperliberal' that Charles Taylor speaks of: liberalism (broad sense) as a horizon. But some of these questions are ones that no one has terribly good answers to, and develop more philosophy we must.

Oh by the way, Nozick doesn't say much, if anything, about multiculturalism. And political theory is a journal, not a magazine (but Kukathus' article is also in Kymlicka's 1997 edited volume). Happy reading. Adios.


I suppose the post hoc rationalizations are fine as long as we say, "Person X has conservative leanings" or "Individual Y holds many liberal views."

"An aside in Justice Antonin Scalia’s recent article, “God’s Justice and Ours”, provides a useful and timely reminder that efforts to overrule Roe v. Wade through “personhood” litigation are doomed to failure. In the course of his article (which focuses on the morality of the death penalty), Justice Scalia writes: “My difference with Roe v. Wade is a legal rather than a moral one: I do not believe . . . that the Constitution contains a right to abortion. And if a state were to permit abortion on demand, I would—and could in good conscience—vote against an attempt to invalidate that law for the same reason that I vote against the invalidation of laws" that forbid abortion on demand: because the Constitution gives the federal government (and hence me) no power over the matter.”

Doctrines and Politics

John, would you say it is always wrong to advance a public policy based on arguments from your own religion, race or culture? (and if your race-blind society is a conception of the good as you say, aren't you doing that, and contradicting yourself by engaging in a 'performative contradiction'?)

I like to shy away from words like 'always'. Nevertheless, I beleive that it is generally bad for public policy arguments to be based in race, religion, or culture. I had an argument during Thanksgiving with a Catholic fudamentalist freind of mine. (I myself could be labeled a fundamentalist sense I beleive literal interpetation of the Scripture, in miracles, that God actually wrote the Bible, etc...) She suggested that the government should use Christian precepts of holiness to regulate the public sphere. (ChienWen was with me so he heard her making these arguments.) These doctrines should never be made to affect public policy only private choice.

Example: abortion. Personally, I am anti-abortion. (In a perfect world) I think that it is infanticide and that the responsible person would have restrained from intercourse. In cases of rape, this is where a welfare state becomes very important. All the resources of the public should go to help her keep her baby if possible. She has suffered from an egregious crime; she should not be forced to bear the pyschological punishment of abortion and unsupported single-motherhood. If she does not wish to raise the child, a vast adoption network should be available. In terms of public policy, this choice should be left to the individual. Abortions should be provided for those who desire them. My comprehensive doctrine tells me that all who do evil will be punished for their crimes. My philosophy would advocate a well-funded, well-regulated adoption and abortion medical system to provide the most room for choice.

Then explain your race-blind policies. My philosophy does not lead to race-blind policies (see former post). The Constituion is clear on this point in the 14th admendment though. Race-blind is the way to go.

Room should be provided for people to exercise and preach about their comphrensive doctrines. The government should make sure that everyone has this oppurtunity.

Getting it Good-- not Right

Correct: "Rawls based his theory on the right (eg. principles of justice agreed to in the original position), not the good...If Stevenson is basing his on the good, then how can principally argue against those who advocate different conceptions of the good? Rawls wanted principles that everyone, REGARDLESS of their comprehensive doctrine, could agree to (with regard to the state). Why think race-blindness is superior to Christian or Islamic fundamentalism (not to mention liberalism)?It's too bad, because we haven't even gotten to the start of the conversation of how much and in what spirit government should accommodate claims by minority cultural and racial groups, which becomes a far, far more interesting and complex discussion...). But being against those laws are the implications of his philosophy. John can advocate his opinions and conclusions, but if bases them on his previous arguments, he also has to be against the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act (or be far more naunced than he has been so far.)"

This is why I am not a Rawlsian liberal. My conception of good governance is a political entity that allows as many people as possible to persue their conception of the good. It is a priority of the good over the right. Why is this? Because no person can ever find principles upon which all can agree without falling into relativism or absolutism. We cannot ever find the one way to order society other than one that allows pursuit of the good. This allows for a proliferation of values, cultures, and traditions which gives the individual the most choice possible while providing guidelines for ordering societies. Therefore, the government should, in so far as it is able, allow everyone to persue his conception of the good life. Maybe then I should, as Tim points out, modify my thinking from 'race-blind' to 'race-neutral.'

Then let's concede this point to Tim: 'If there hadn't been a history of race discrimination, why put it into law?' However, to what extend can the American political regime recognize the group at the expense of the individual? Our regime is based on personal rights beholden to individuals, which is why the minority sub-cultures within America cause so many legal problems. Race-blindness does not flow from my principles, as Tim has pointed out; it is, however, inherent in the Constitution. That, however, is jurisprudence and not political philosophy. I advocate then that the VRA and the Civil Rights Act stand because systems of slavery and Jim Crow limited the pursuit of the good life of many individuals, even though they were targeted for their group status. (I fear that affirmative action does that also but af-ac was addressed in a post below.)

That leads me to my next assertion: the principle of the good over the right should be the way we address the issue of minority subcultures. (I say this without having finished some books on my reading list for Multiculturalism: Barry's "Culture and Equality", Taylor's "Multiculturalism", Nozik's "Anarchy, the State and Utopia", Kymlicka's "Multicultural Citizenship", Rawls's "The Law of Peoples" and Kukathas's "Are there Any Cultural Rights?" from Political Theory, the magazine. My opinion may change on this one.) We should not use liberal democratic values (gender equality, autonomy, etc) to invalidate minority cultures. We do want to ensure that they have the full privileges of US citizens so that if they wish they can cancel their allegiance to the group or ally with subgroups as they see fit. My personal opinion is that anyone who chooses the group over himself is a fool but these options should be available for those who disagree with that assertion.

Stevenson writes:

"While political labels are useful, they are ultimately deceptive. Why? Because reality is complicated. Taking a label, or for convience sake playing a role in political theory ultimately limits the effectiveness of the person in question. Independence is a theorectical approach to the ontological dilemma of complexity."

Stevenson's thesis reminds me of a famous quote about starting with the facts and not selecting the facts to fit the theory. Does anyone have the exact quote or who said it?

I agree that selecting an ideology before analyzing the issue does not make sense and is counterproductive, as Stevenson stipulates. I would argue for post hoc political labeling as opposed to a priori political labeling. If after analyzing the abortion issue, a person adopts a "pro-life" stance, label that person's position "conservative." Over time, if a person consistently adopts a conservative position on issues, label that person a "conservative." Rick Santorum (R-PA) is most definitely conservative in ways Barney Franks (D-MA) is not. Santorum and Franks should approach issues from an "independent" perspective, even though they know they will probably come out on the conservative or liberal side respectively. Pundits can infer Santorum's or Franks' expected position on an issue but should not make any definitive statements until they have heard their analysis on the issue.

The Later Rawls and Martin Luther King

John, would you say it is always wrong to advance a public policy based on arguments from your own religion, race or culture? I'm curious what you make of Martin Luther King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail, arguing from natural law. And more generally, the Christian (or spiritual) basis of the civil rights movement (and abolition). Rawls, in his late work, the idea of public reason revisited, came around to the idea that it would be OK to advocate such a position taken from one's comprehensive doctrine, as long as it could eventually be formulated in general terms. In my last post, I don't think I made clear the difference between the early and the later (and still later) Rawls, as it sometimes blurs together. But I wanted to ask if you think it's legitimate for people to advocate for governmental policies based on their comprehensive doctrine? (and if your race-blind society is a conception of the good as you say, aren't you doing that, and contradicting yourself by engaging in a 'performative contradiction'?)

Rawls and Stevenson

Stevenson said: "I never once mentioned the original position. I merely stated that in my theoretical framework the government should not enforce nor privilege one comprehensive doctrine over any other."

No, Stevenson merely stated something. There was no evidence of a theorectical framework. I mentioned the original position, because it seemed like Stevenson was trying to rely on Rawls, and I was trying to show why he could not do so. This seems a disturbing pattern for Stevenson that he (probably unknowingly) appropriates academic jargon and then misuses them; it appear the terms have a theorectical background, but he so strips them from their context that they not have a clear meaning anymore, or at least what meaning they did have does not support what Mr. Stevenson wants them to. And in absence of any explanation of Mr. Stevenson's 'theorectical background' and how he's using these terms, I have to assume he is confused.

For example: "There are many ideas about how society should be organized. The government's responsibility is to permit as many people as possible to persue their conception of the good life. My conception of the good life is a race-blind society. Others prefer a more racist approach to living, reflecting in their ideas about for whom to vote and how colleges should admit students for instance. The government should allow as many of these ideas to flourish as long as it hurts none."

If Stevenson says his 'conception of the good is a race-blind society' then that idea is, by Rawls' definition, a comprehensive doctrine. Rawls based his theory on the right (eg. principles of justice agreed to in the original position), not the good. If Stevenson is basing his on the good, then how can principly argue against those who advocate different conceptions of the good? he certainly can't say public discourse should be shaped by his own conception of the good. and most certainly, he has to advance REASONS for his opinion, not just say this is my opinion, which is in effect, what he has done. It's not political theory. He can be a 'communitarian' if he likes, saying, hey, my conception of the good is in accord with the shared understandings of this community, but then his earlier statement that race is a comphrehensive doctrine and cannot be part of such a discussion loses meaning. He doesn't want to be a relativist, I'd assume. My point is that Stevenson has given us no reason as of yet to think Race-blindness should be a principle of justice. If it's not a principle of justice, then Stevenson's use of Rawls' term 'comprehensive doctrine' is strange: why then is one comprehensive doctrine better than another? Again, taking one term, but not another leaves me confused as to what Stevenson is saying. Rawls wanted principles that everyone, REGARDLESS of their comprehensive doctrine, could agree to (with regard to the state). Why think race-blindness is superior to Christian or Islamic fundamentalism (not to mention liberalism)? Stevenson's postion so far: this is what I believe. Nice dogma, but not much different (as of yet) than other dogma. I would think he believes in objectivity, which involves presenting reasons others can accept. His is not so far a theorectical framework in any interesting sense of the term. Stevenson can't even seem to get Rawls right, much less talk discuss objections brought up by his critics! Instead, the conversation with himself, rather than others, continues. It's too bad, because we haven't even gotten to the start of the conversation of how much and in what spririt government should accomodate claims by minority cultural and racial groups, which becomes a far, far more interesting and complex discussion.

Race Blindness vs. Race Neutrality

Let me try to explain once more why I have dissappointment with John Stevenson's posts. Do I believe he is against the civil rights act and the Voting Rights act? No. ( But I didn't expect him to say Bosnians could transcend their identity either, but let's leave that aside for now). But being against those laws are the implications of his philosophy. John can advocate his opinions and conclusions, but if bases them on his previous arguments, he also has to be against the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act (or be far more nuanced than he has been so far.). John said race is a social construction. OK. He then says that government put these social constructions by putting them into law. Why? Because it would lend credence to them.

Don't civil rights laws and the voting rights act lend credence to race by putting them into law? If they are not real, but are social constructions, then writing them into laws, doing census work, etc., is harmful. One conclusion could be is that the government should never take into race and all policies refering to race should not exist. Another lesson is that the logic is flawed: lending credence to race as a social construction does not automatically the government should not do something about it. But if we accept the latter, then Stevenson really hasn't said much of anything, and needs to make further pragmatic arguments about his position. His arguments are then not based on principles, but on balancing, etc. This is why I was so aghast when Stevenson a Bosnian could transcend their identity in an undivided state. Sometimes the government does need to take in account race, culture, and ethnicity, particularly when past conflicts, discrimination (and genocide!) mean the legacy is not yet gone. hell, even the supreme court lets race matter under strict scrutiny (if there is a compelling interest).

Perhaps part of the confusion is what John means when he appropriate jargon like 'social construction'. I has assumed he was saying that race makes no sense biologically and it is a social construct.Maybe he just means races are real, but the meanings we put on them are socially constructed? I think he would advocate the former if pressed. But why put such a misconception into federal law? the civil rights law itself (and particularly how the Equal employment opportunity commission enforces it) puts the socially constructed term of race into law (as well as religion I might add). If there hadn't been a history of race discrimination, why put it into law? Also, the voting rights act DOES treat races in partly group terms, and looks at blacks not just as individuals. It is partly responsible for the creation of majority-minority districts. The point is that the government can put race into law, lend credence to the concept, yet on balance do more harm than good. Money is a social construction, but it's also a social fact. One reason is because these social constructions have powerful identities and real social effects. And establishing that all cultures are bad social constructions rather than simply social constructions is another way to go, but a different tact. Just as constructing identities hurt minorities, ignoring that history of discrimination can also hurt them. Stevenson cannot know a priori which way it is. Stevenson can't make this absolute of a statement based on such weak premises. But his weak premises are most of what he has based the rest of his argument on. Again, my point in this long argument was not to say that it is impossible to reasonably argue the government should be race-neutral in most cases. My point was to make (an admittedly ad hoc) distinction between race-blindness and race-neutrality. To be race-blind is to conclude from first principles that the government should never take race into account, without even looking at the facts of the case. Stevenson's only basis for saying the government shouldn't using race is that it lends credence to it, which we would mean he would have to be race-blind (or have implicit, missing premises), with all of the implications that brings. You can argue for race neutrality (rather than race-blindess): perhaps after looking at the situation you decide the best policy is to be race-neutral, but whether or not race (and culture) should be important is taken into account, even if it is decided to be best left aside in this case. But Stevenson's method of argument has not involved merely a presumption of race-neutrality in most cases; for that I think his 'philosophy' is shoddy and his use of terms very, very confusing. What has been frustrating is that he had not said why his 'philosophy' allows him to support the Civil rights Act and other things. I'm glad he does not conclude a priori that race is an irrelevent factor in Indian affiars, but it might lead him to think he can't be absolutely race-blind.

"A later response is required, especially as he now attempted to appropriate Habermas." I have never read Habermas, though as of late, I have heard very much about him. What pieces of Habermas should I read to get a handle on his philosophy?


The drums of war pound louder. Mike Reeves asked about the UN's role. I beleive that Kofi finds his role in world affairs clearly detailed in the weekly memo from Cheney's desk. I hear that Bush forwards a copy to Sharon and Blair regularly. As for France's suggestion that the US may be making things up, check this.

The Marketing of a Public Intellectual

John Stevenson said: "Unable to view the archives, I cannot remember what I posted in 'An Answer (I hope)', which was a direct answer to a lot of Tim's queries after the term ended and I had time to think. Unfortunately, the demands of College life and the role of the public intellectual-turned-free food guru took up most of time... As for Tim's opinions of myself, it is most unfortunate that our paths haven't crossed in real life; however, he keeps me thinking and has performed an invaluable service to the world. And if I am merely marketing myself, I do hope that I am doing a good job.".

I had a friend at an opinion magazine who has been credited with running their blog. I congratulated him in an email and reminded him that a few years ago, when I asked him what he wanted to be, he confidently, yet with some reluctance, said he wanted to be a public intellectual. He wrote back to say if he had ever said that, I should have punched him right there. Being a columnist and a blogger does not make one a public intellectual, and the latter term is often derogatory. Phrases like "the demands of College life and the role of the public intellectual" seem pompous, and, for whatever it is worth, decidely bad marketing. Anyway, Stevenson's post a while ago on Bosnia was very short, his more recent ones are not. A later response is required, especially as he now attempted to appropriate Habermas. (Stevenson's position would seem to be: everything could potentially be wrong and discussed in the public sphere, except my positions of ethical presentism and ethical individualism, which cannot/should not be challenged in public debate.) By the way, I'd like to feel good about Stevenson's compliment that I have helped him think, but I can't get past his utter arrogance when he says that by doing so I have "performed an invaluable service to the world." I'm not asking for false modesy, but could Mr. Stevenson lose his undeserved Napolean-sized ego?

Cleaning out the Op/ed Section

Marxism: A wonderful piece in the Economist today. The conclusion is absolutely riveting and 100% correct. (It also agrees with my theory.)

It is striking that today's militant critics of globalisation, whether declared Marxists or otherwise, proceed in much the same way. They present no worked-out alternative to the present economic order. Instead, they invoke a Utopia free of environmental stress, social injustice and branded sportswear, harking back to a pre-industrial golden age that did not actually exist. Never is this alternative future given clear shape or offered up for examination.

And anti-globalists have inherited more from Marx besides this. Note the self-righteous anger, the violent rhetoric, the willing resort to actual violence (in response to the “violence” of the other side), the demonisation of big business, the division of the world into exploiters and victims, the contempt for piecemeal reform, the zeal for activism, the impatience with democracy, the disdain for liberal “rights” and “freedoms”, the suspicion of compromise, the presumption of hypocrisy (or childish naivety) in arguments that defend the market order.

Anti-globalism has been aptly described as a secular religion. So is Marxism: a creed complete with prophet, sacred texts and the promise of a heaven shrouded in mystery. Marx was not a scientist, as he claimed. He founded a faith. The economic and political systems he inspired are dead or dying. But his religion is a broad church, and lives on.

Autobiography: There is also an excellent piece on Eric Hosbawnm

Dixiecrats: An exploration of the segregationist presidency. See the 1948 platform.

Against Dogmatism: Dialogue vs. Diatribe

After the study by Professor Sacerdote appeared, an “emergency call to action emanated from the relevant offices that deal with lefty “black” issues. The meeting(s) ended with a few plans of “action,” one of which was a meeting with the President of “The Dartmouth” to “discuss our concerns with their presentation of information to the larger Dartmouth community.” Rather than having a vigorous discussion on the implications of the study, specialized interests swooped in to permanently extirpate any discussion of slavery and its effects incompatible with their worldview. In his column entitled, Repressive Tolerance, fellow blogger Chien Wen Kung chided those “unencumbered by knowledge” for weighing in on the matter in such an intolerant fashion.

The question that Chien Wen did not venture to answer was: why would otherwise intelligent people sabotage academic freedom and engage in junior varsity race baiting? I believe the reason are three: one, whites lost the moral authority to speak on issues of race of the 1960s; two, white guilt grants power to minorities who embrace the protest identity; and three, this allows the protest intellectuals to hold the whites hostage and control the scope of the debate.

Since the 1960s liberation movements, "whites" have lost the moral authority to speak on race. It has become useful for minorities, the oppressed, and the marginalized to drum up historical guilt as a means to power. Knowing that others are morally bankrupt in the area of race, shifting debates to that territory gives minorities a “home field advantage”; whites have to remain either jaded or guilty. Thus, charges of racism to the professor or irresponsibility to "the Dartmouth" are ethically unjustified. Construction of an ethnic identity that is buttressed by notions of white guilt perpetrates the false image of helpless minorities whose fate is contingent upon the whims of "whites." In this symbiotic relationship, an illusion of guilt is exchange for an illusion of power. Examples?

In Overdue Reparations, Pamela A. Hairston begins “allow me, a descendant of slaves and survivor of Jim-Crow, one last word.” In Overstepping One's Bounds, Andrew Arthur Schmidt maintains, “Slavery's cultural and economic ramifications clearly reverberate today, in every American community… Sacerdote's unconscionable conclusion shows either blatant racism or, I would hope, complete ignorance.”

Notice how the objections to Professor Sacerdote’s study are presented: appeals to a racialized reality emphasizing the weakness of the black condition (and thus deserving of white pity) and not the resiliency of the black spirit. Hairston stifles the debate by asserting that she is a “survivor of Jim-Crow” and a descendant of slaves; Schmidt is less surreptitious in his subterfuge proclaiming, “Sacerdote's unconscionable conclusion shows either blatant racism or, I would hope, complete ignorance.” How does one reason with statements such as these? Notice also the categorical use of the word ‘clearly’ in Schmidt’s quotation above; there can be no arguments, the proposition is axiomatic. Welcome to the world of diatribe in lieu of dialogue.

Having admitted, as a nation, that Jim Crow was an immoral suppression of African-American liberty and that racism is an unacceptable paradigm through which to evaluate reality, why such blatant appeals to (white) guilt? If we live in a moral universe, and a world where we want as many people as possible participating in the cultural discourse that will heal the nation of its less than perfect past, then all participants in the discourse, especially minorities, need to be more aware of the moral power of race.

Legacies of white guilt can no longer compose the narrative of black identity and cast a dark shadow on the achievements of minorities; either we are helpless or we have the ability to move forward ourselves. The narrative started in the immediate aftermath of the Civil Rights movement when a disoriented leadership began to clamor for positive discrimination on behalf of non-whites because of the negative action taken against them. As Thurgood Marshall gravely quipped to his conservative colleagues on the Burger Court, “You had your chance to discriminate. Now its our turn.”

The German historian Michael Stürmer understood that “he who fills the memory, defines the concepts, interprets the past and wins the future.” Thus, our history has to be more than waiting for white redeemers if we are to escape from the vicious dialectic of white penitence and black helplessness. Even under the most challenging of circumstances-- Jim Crow, hyper-segregation, divestment, and slavery-- blacks prospered through claiming their fates and working from where they were.

Therefore, as an intellectual community, we need to take three steps. First, we must no longer allow questions of identity to play off the guilt of the socially designated oppressor(s). No one should be made to feel guilty or responsible for race relations because no one inherits the sins of the father, as the Book of Jeremiah so eloquently posited; each man stands for himself. Second, we cannot allow identity and ideology to castrate the rational deliberation of ideas, which is fundamental to a democratic society. We must always be ready to admit that our position may be false. Reparations and other such notions may be the wrong approach. Third, we must remember that at the core, we are all human beings. Though wrongs once may have been committed, the future begins anew tomorrow. Our goal must never be solely the furthering of our own agenda but instead a commitment to the creation of a public sphere where all are free to participate as individuals rather than as manifestations of the divisive categories of race, class and gender.