Purely out of curiosity, I attended a series of local library seminars dealing with racism, entitled “Conversations in a Brave Space,” held in cooperation with the local League of Women Voters and a local university. The topical sessions dealt variously with bias, oppression, privilege, and most recently, Black Lives Matter. The content was unsurprising, as was the makeup of the attendees — white and comfortable, reflecting the town itself. What was striking was the level of guilt among these participants.
The hand-wringing was palpable. The confessions were effusive. The apologies were abject. These were people burdened with white privilege, and they despair over what to do about it.
I do understand their predicament. It is impossible for them now to adopt an ascetic life and devote their passions to working remedies full-time, on the streets, within their affected communities. Yet they resent what they possess because, in their view, they possess it unjustly — they “didn’t build that” as Obama said.
If their guilt is over the top, it is also unwarranted. It’s doubtful that any of the participants has ever practiced actual racism. Stipulate that they have lived decently, have applied self-improvement, discipline, sacrifice, and hard work persistently throughout their lives, and have achieved success through such personal initiative.
But their enflamed passion, as Paul Bloom has demonstrated, is detrimental to clear thinking, clouding the mind and preventing rational decision-making. Most disturbingly, it is corrosive of society, of the culture and of our governance.
For example, they believe without irony that Rev. Martin Luther King’s letter of 1963 is relevant today, failing to recognize that, if race is still a problem in this country, the 1964 Civil Rights Act and a half-century of activism have been failures. They assert that since racial oppression still exists and can no longer be attributed to individual actions, then the institutions and invisible cultural influences must be the new source of racism. No one is racist, but the collective is racist. Contradictions and delusions such as these are far from clear thinking.
These individuals are also predisposed to intolerance toward those who do not share their guilt. Guilt of this kind self-confers an amount of self-righteousness, the epitome of “wokeness” underlying a fierce, indignant rejection of opposing views. It can have an ugly side. Politeness vanishes in the face of contrary views. It was clear, for example, that “blue lives matter” would not be a welcome statement in these forums. “Conversations” are ended by such “racist” thinking. Brave minds are closed to “hate speech.”
Still, at bottom, I don’t blame these people. I blame the universities, the educators, and the social science community. The academy is today’s bourgeoisie.
How is it that academic effort over decades has given us no actionable understanding of why race relations have deteriorated since the 1964 Civil Rights Act? This is an inexcusable failure.
The universities teach us amorphous (and guilt-inducing) concepts such as “white privilege” and “institutional oppression” and “covert racism” and “microagression.” They base this on “social identity,” an inherently divisive construct. Prescriptions such as these are not solutions. They are the problem. By focusing on the superficial, the academic community has critically failed to discover the actual root causes of the issues we face, and consequently has failed utterly to address them.
Though the library sessions are able to inflict guilt, they have no actual remedial value. If every vestige of “white racism” and “white supremacy” were eliminated tomorrow, it would not restore black fatherhood, reduce the black abortion rate, improve the black graduation rate, the black teen homicide rate, and blunt the gangsta culture. Constant reminders of victimhood can instead be self-fulfilling.
In academia, activism and empathy entirely overshadow detached empirical research. We sadly suffer a dreadful dearth of objective research in pursuit of the root causes — I emphasize actual root causes — of poverty, violence, racial differences and cultural degeneration, through genuine study, without bias or malice. In other words, with simple honesty.
Drexel University professor George Ciccariello-Maher tweeted (2016, now deleted):
“All I Want for Christmas is White Genocide.”
There shows no concern whatsoever for the plight of disadvantaged blacks. This is a statement of hateful agitation. It expresses the typical goal of the academy today, and of the “Black Lives Matter” organization, and of fraudulent perspectives such as “White Fragility” — ultimately to discredit and delegitimize “whiteness” altogether. This is itself the most unadulterated form of racism.
Ciccariello-Maher defended his position, citing “decades of research on how race and gender function in our society” and convinced that his words “were neither provocative in tone nor controversial in content.” He inadvertently reveals the shallowness and fallaciousness of Critical Theory and its body of “research.” Notwithstanding that such “research” is suspect and discredited, it is appalling that genocide can be an outcome of what we once knew as “scholarly study.”
This is all possible because education today enjoys its own form of privilege — largely invisible and unacknowledged: Academic Privilege. Educators and researchers operate comfortably within the protection of “political correctness,” and so are free to engage in bias masquerading as knowledge. They are able to make claims that are shielded from both criticism and rigorous falsifiability — the bedrock foundations of proper scientific study.
Herbert Marcuse wrote (1965, emphasis added):
“[T]he restoration of freedom of thought may necessitate new and rigid restrictions on teachings and practices in the educational institutions which, by their very methods and concepts, serve to enclose the mind within the established universe of discourse and behavior — thereby precluding a priori a rational evaluation of the alternatives.”
Marcuse of course meant this of the right, but today it applies to the left. Academics flatter themselves as standing outside and above society, possessing unique knowledge and perspective, seeing injustices that those inside the society do not see. This is the distilled Marxist model. But two can play this game — and many of us now see the charade that the academy has foisted on society.
It is time to follow Marcuse’s advice, and dethrone the charlatans. And it is time to follow, metaphorically, the example of the streets: Topple the Ivory Tower, permanently. Our educators will not self-correct. They have thwarted genuine progress for quite long enough. They have worked their social damage and we see the results in the streets. We are reaping what they have sown.
It should be clear that none of this is to minimize the predicament of truly disadvantaged individuals and communities. This is solely an indictment of a corrupt ideology and its practitioners and victims. The tragedy of the dominant politically-correct culture is that none of its work actually reaches the disadvantaged. Instead, it prevents actual, effective remediation of oppressive conditions and failed situations, because it papers over actionable root causes and substitutes gossamer fictions. It forbids even the mention of valid alternatives.
It may serve the purpose of increasing white guilt, but it does nothing to improve the lot of the disadvantaged.