Monday, July 26, 2021

Critical Race Theory is Not Complicted, But Responses Are

I almost passed up The Glenn Show episode of Loury and McWhorter talking about CRT, because I knew I would agree with 90% of what they would say and it seemed a poor use of my time to be told what I already wanted to hear. But some podcasts have that feature of pushing themselves to the front of the line when another podcast ends and just start playing.  When you are driving, it is often best to just let that happen until you stop and switch over.  So I started hearing it anyway, and happily went through to the end.

I have nominated them as public intellectuals, and they do generally fulfill that.  But in the French model, that would be thinkers who put forward edgier, more difficult ideas, put in a form that the brighter persons in the general public can understand.  I consider  that valuable, and I believe there are American and British thinkers who do that and are worth hearing out, even when they are infuriating. A public intellectual must be a person who can transpose the ideas coming from the deepest thinkers to a discussion that we middlebrows can absorb and reflect on. Think William F Buckley Jr and "Firing Line," for example.  (We were already far downhill of that when Dick Cavett took the stage.  He was a decently-bright but thoroughly indoctrinated individual who was skilled in engineering interviews so that the general public was told what their betters deemed it good for them to hear, with the carrot that they thought they were listening in on True Intellectual Thought. It was a form of deep propaganda, very Gramscian. See also Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, John Oliver.)

Loury and McWhorter are even better at a separate function, as educators.  As they both do that for a living I shouldn't be surprised. What I heard on the podcast wast not merely things I agree with, but things put concisely and clearly, so that I said "Yes.  Exactly this.  Thank you, sir." It may be a more important function, though it is less glamorous. Notice, by the way, that both of them are almost as solid in construction of the language and ideas when they are speaking of the cuff as the rest of us are when we have a chance to write things down and edit ourselves. McWhorter:

Do you want your children taught that battling power differentials is the center of intellectual, moral, and artistic endeavor? Do you want that taught? I think all of us would say a concern with power differentials might be one of maybe ten things, that an education is concerned about, maybe even six. But do you want that to be the central focus of all endeavor at the school?

Because that is the issue. There is continual dishonest representation that people who don't want CRT don't want slavery or racism to be mentioned at all. Motte-and-bailey argument.  Or straw man.  Or intellectual dishonesty.  Your choice. But CRT is exclusive by design.  It asserts it is the only method by which political understanding should be viewed. It is a derivative of Marxian, Nietzschean power theologies. Children are set into "affinity groups" of their own kind*. So we are pitting one POV that says "Let's teach a variety of approaches to understanding all of history, literature, and culture," while the other says "Those are false.  Only one voice shall be heard." This is why the legislatures trying to ban CRT altogether are wrong, but they aren't crazy.  As one view among many it would be fine. It destroys all discussion.

There was an interesting approach when my children were in Christian schools to teach World Religions, but it was something of a put-up job. They explained what Islam teaches - not entirely accurately, but better than "religion of peace" bromides - and why that was wrong.  They described Buddhism - again, not fully correct but based on a true story - and why that was wrong. Adults looking back on this method of instruction express a lot of irritation about it.

Let me stress that CRT is far worse.  Those other viewpoints don't even make it to the table to be criticised.  They are simply dismissed.  The excuse is that those other, racist ideologies are so firmly embedded in the national culture and already have such a head start that CRT is only pushing back against a massive tide, feeding on scraps, and cannot afford to offer quarter. That was not quite true in 1950, though it was at least a decent argument then. It is now simply ludicrous, seizing upon anecdotes for confirmation bias. Look, we found a racist! That proves everything! It is the argument I have heard hundreds of personality disorders make that what looks like cheating and manipulation are merely their desperate attempts from deep in the hole to get some fairness back in the world.  It does look that way to them.  I have little doubt that personality disorders in the public discussion also feel this just as strongly about racism.

It doesn't make it true. It's just Motte-and-bailey that "this isn't what Derrick Bell and Kimberle Crenshaw said" (and you ignorant fools can't reach our lofty peak), when it is they who have watered down Bell and Crenshaw into programs that dim people can effect, because their skills are not abstract thinking and they can be convinced "...two legs better!" Like that's my fault.

And now Loury, summarising McWhorter and commenting further: 

I want to reiterate something that you said earlier, because I think it was profound. People are always demanding "What's your definition of Critical Race Theory" and you offered one. It was a two-part definition - I want you to correct me if I get this wrong - one part had to do with separating children by race, and encouraging whites to think of themselves as privileged, presumptively in virtue of their race and oppressors. And encouraging blacks to  think of themselves presumptively in virtue of their race as victims. That was one part.  The other part of it was making this idea of countering disparities of  power or influence into the central mission in life.  You are here to get an education so that you can be a warrior on the battlefield of equity, on the battlefield of social justice. You think the marriage of those to those two things, basically, defines critical race theory (McWhorter: "As. Practiced. Today. In schools") and as opposed by the people who are up in arms about it. That's what they're against.They are not fighting a phantom.  They're not just, as Ibrahim X. Kendi would have it, having an argument with themselves about something that is in their imaginations but that doesn't exist in reality that no one has ever said. There is a real thing they that they are concerned about, and it has to do with identitarian and with the kind of co-opting of our kids into a crusade on behalf of political objectives which are not universally shared.
(To which McWhorter chuckled and said "Yes! That was better put than I could...")

In short, if CRT actually did what they said they intended to do and no more, I would have no objection. I would say they were wrong but refutable, and may the best man woman** win, as conservatives generally do about Marxism or immigration.

*I think of our local schools.  Here in suburban, rural, or small-town NH, if you did such a thing there would be one lone black, Hispanic, or Asian child set into a corner by herself.  However much you tried to sell the idea "No, you are the good one, darling! It's those others who are oppressors who we are trying to humiliate," that poor child would feel separated from the only friends she had and made to feel distant from them. These educational exercises are almost universally cruel to actual children in order to feed the fantasies of what some narcissistic adult imagines he would have liked as a child, or will save the world. All of our memories are inaccurate, and what we think we would have liked is partly delusion. But narcissists are far worse on this.  They reconstruct their pasts far more thoroughly than the rest of us are even capable of - because we don't work at it 168 hours/week.

**CRT is the fad.  But women, environmentalists, socialists, and a half-dozen other groups are constantly clamoring for primacy, hoping for that one big tragedy that will vault them to the top for a few months.  Being a leftist is highly competitive.


Aggie said...

I cross-posted this already at MF, but I would suggest you watch this too. Glen Loury and Richard Epstein, about 17 minutes.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

That was the podcast I was listening to that folded into the McWhorter one. Not being from Chicago and not following those sorts of issues, I had not known about the half-billion dollar (plus the damage to local businesses) boondoggle about the Obama Center. The usual narcissism and corrupt politics. I admit I only feel sorry for Chicago, not outraged. They invited this vampire over the threshold and now he is sucking them dry. And apparently, they love it and are angry at anyone who wants to prevent him taking advantage of them. They actually are what they accuse Trump supporters of being.

Grim said...

You make at the end the important leap. CRT is just a specialist subset of Critical Theory, an older and broader error that borrowed from Marx and Freud. It’s roots are in the philosophy of Adorno, sociology (that least scientific of “social sciences”), and literary criticism. It’s not for no reason that Bell’s most famous work is science fiction about space aliens.

(Not that this is wrong; we talk often about Tolkien and Lewis, Malory and Homer.)

The whole field is subject to the same fundamental flaw, though it does produce useful insights at times and shouldn’t be banned as such. The flaw is that it bakes its problem into its mode of analysis. Of course it finds everywhere always abusive power structures: that was how it set out to explain every interaction. The whole game is to tell whatever story in that particular way. The way you show how clever you are is by telling the least plausible cases of oppression as stories of oppression carefully concealed. Only deep evil could account for such care and such wise concealment; you have proven, by telling the implausible tale this way, that you can unravel even such secrets as Lucifer might dream.

Because it can tell no other story, though, it cannot express a truth outside these parameters. Lucifer deceives by trapping the analyst in a maze with no exits, and by convincing the analyst of his own cleverness in discovering the weave of the web in which he is trapped. Only he cannot see outside it.

SgtBob said...

If I truly am a member of the ruling race (white/Caucasian) and have been endowed with privilege (white), why should I surrender that rule and that privilege? There must an immorality to my raising and my actions, but no one has told me what that immorality is, other than I was born white. Should I blame all my dead ancestors for that transgression?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ Grim - yes it is rather like a competitive sport. "My book discusses the racial oppression of the Civil War." No big deal, Jeremy. Any schoolchild can do that. I'm working on a book about how the French & Indian War was racist.

"Oh yeah," says a third voice "Hold my beer. My dissertation is about how the Revolutionary War was racist!" (General sounds of approval.) Hey, what about the War of 1812? "Well, there must be something. It was American and so it must be racist. Let me get back to you on that."

Of course they don't actually speak this way, nor do they generally even let themselves think such a thing, as that would expose the game. But the competition to be more sensitive to oppression than others is real, auditioning for the role like a Real Princess who gets bruised by a pea buried under 27 mattresses. Finding oppression in a new place where others hadn't noticed it - double points if it is something popular and treble if it has a reputation for being non-oppressive and good.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ Grim - as an example of that competition, this was linked at Instapundit today . "Hey Tabitha, top this! I'm going to show how our choices of fish are sexist and racist, with a tone that says America should care deeply about it. No, really. I got this. You watch."

Grim said...

Yes, someone will get tenure for that concept I don't doubt. Thus a sinecure, won in a field that is intensely competitive because there are hundreds of applicants for every assistant professorship.

james said...

“Persians educate their boys to ride well, shoot straight, and speak the truth”

I suppose it was a dramatic contrast even in Herodotus' day.

JMSmith said...

This is somewhat tangential to your post, but is prompted by your remark on the teaching of comparative religions in the Christian schools your children attended. I don't know how well those those classes were taught, but cannot fault the underlying philosophy. I would expect a Christian school to explain why it is not, and does not intend to become, a Muslim or Buddhist school. Despite what what we read in the news, the curriculum of our secular common schools has a very strong implicit and explicit prejudice in favor of scientific knowledge and naturalistic philosophy. I don't want the schools to fill my children's heads with ignorant and bigoted notions about Muslims or Buddhists, but I also don't want the schools to convert my children into Universalist-Unitarians.

My wife teaches at a Episcopalian pre-school. The Christian element in the education is limited to a weekly visit to the chapel, where the tiny scholars are told about love and being nice. The preschool is good and so popular with ambitious non-Christian parents, some secular, some Hindu, and some Jewish. This fall my wife will have a young Jewish child in her class, and the parents have asked her to furnish them with précis of the weekly chapel service. I suppose they intend to contradict at home what their child will hears in chapel. They clearly have an antiquated understanding of Episcopalianism.

The connection to your post is that public education is not possible in a truly multicultural society. I don't think those Jewish parents are going to find there is much need to deprogram their child after he attends Episcopalian chapel, but that is largely because that chapel has been made so bland and inoffensive that Episcopalian parents will find that their child hasn't learned anything Episcopalian.

I think CRT is essentially an ideology that boosts the racial pride of minorities by blame-shifting. I don't think blame-shifting is an effective strategy, but I do think every group should make its members feel proud to be members. This is why I think Christian schools should not say, or even suggest, that their students would be just as well off as Muslims or Buddhists. But this also means that an ideology like CRT makes sense only in a segregated school where all who hear it are boosted. In a public school this ideology has a severely depressing and alienating effect on many students.

I think the effect is similar to that which hard-core feminist teaching has on male students. Some are cowed, shamed, and (in my view) spiritually broken. Others develop an very cynical attitude that may be equally unhealthy.

Narr said...

"CRT makes sense only in a segregated school where all are boosted."

I don't think it makes sense even there, unless you actually want more group animosity--to my mind the trouble with CRT [or any product of the Ignorcational Profession like it] isn't that it's given to the wrong audience, but that it's given at all. Kids raised CRT-centrically will NOT learn much else and will NOT be well prepared to live in a modern multicultural society.

When the American public education system was being cobbled together in the late 19th and early 20th C, the early professional pedagogues were pretty explicit that what was needed was an approach that would rapidly assimilate millions of non-WASPs to the culture.

Catholics and Jews would learn a version of American history and civil religion in curricula devised by mostly mainline Protestants, who also adopted the Prusso-German model of discipline for future industrial drones. (H/t John Taylor Gatto.)

My own experience encompasses only public schools, from grade 1 through three masters programs, and my only son also has only attended public schools. My wife graduated from a
RC girls' highschool.

We had morning readings of scripture (KJV, natch) either by students in class or over the intercom until . . . long after O'Hair won her case, but before I graduated in '71. There were Catholic and Jewish students and teachers (a lot of old Jewish spinsters) of course, but in daily life nobody cared--we were all W/white, anyway. College was WAY different in that respect.

I have RC friends who sent their children to the best private schools they could--which in their son's case was Presbyterian-based. These sorts of denominational issues get worked out locally and school-by-school all the time, I think.

This is rambling, but you make important points. I guess I would just say that as a parent it's ALWAYS incumbent to keep an eye on what your children are taught, whether in public or religious schools, and never take for granted that it's what you want them to know.

To twist a phrase, I believe in the teachership of all parents (even us unbelievers). You can't subcontract the really important things out--especially to schoolteachers (no offense to your wife).

Cousin Eddie

JMSmith said...

Cousin Eddie,
I agree that CRT is a bad ideology in any setting. In the first place, blame-shifting roots group pride in resentment. In the second place, blame-shifting weakens the will to personal improvement. I believe CRT assumes a false view of history, but that it would be a bad ideology even if it were more or less true because it breeds both resentment and indolence. With that said, I fully understand the need Black have for an ennobling mythology. Every group needs an ennobling mythology because plain reality is demoralizing, and a demoralized group will always lose to a group with an invigorated ego. I believe that a group ego is liable to the same pathologies as individual ego, either swelling to grandiosity or shrinking to self-abnegation. To extend this analogy, I can't long be in the same room with a man who makes himself feel big by making me feel small, and by blaming me for all of his problems.

It sounds as if you and I are about the same age, so I also remember the old comity between Catholics and Protestants. Like the old comity between the ideological descendants of the Union and the Confederacy, this required a willingness to let bygones be bygones. This required some benignant forgetting on both sides. Todays society has more than two sides, and the fashion is for malignant remembering.

Narr said...

"Fashion for malignant remembering"--that's very well put, like "Forgiveness means giving up the search for a better past."

In The Redneck Manifesto, Jim Goad wrote, per B/black pride/resentment, that he could understand why a despised minority that counted for almost nothing might, with time, choose to put themselves at the center, counting for everything. But nobody else is obligated to play along.

Cousin Eddie