Pomo-Left anti-American sentiment abounds on
Pomo-Left anti-American sentiment abounds on the Web site of Duke University Press, now busily promoting the current issues of South Atlantic Quarterly ("Dissent from the Homeland: Essays After September 11") and Social Text ("September 11 -- A Public Emergency?"). Contributors to the first volume, the Web site proclaims, "provide a thought-provoking alternative to the apparently overwhelming public approval, both at home and abroad, of the U.S. military response to the September 11 attacks." Contributors to the second, including queer theory poster girl and Bad Writing Contest winner Judith Butler, "argue that the challenge for the Left is to develop an antiterrorism stance that acknowledges the legacy of U.S. trade and foreign policy as well as the diversity of the Muslim faith and the dangers presented by fundamentalism of all kinds." In other words, the Left needs an antiterrorism stance that blames America for the September 11 attacks; one that displays cultural sensitivity toward Allah-crazed Islamofascists; one that understands George W. Bush as an imperialist aggressor and patriotic Americans as his unenlightened, anti-intellectual accomplices. Virulently anti-capitalist and anti-Western at the best of times, Duke University Press is outdoing itself this week.
According to Jonathan Rauch, the
According to Jonathan Rauch, the debate about school vouchers has been mistakenly framed in terms of how vouchers will affect schools. The real issue, Rauch says, is what vouchers mean for improving inner city neighborhoods. Rauch argues that school vouchers "are possibly the best desegregation and urban-renewal program that the United States has hardly ever tried." Upending the liberal arguments against vouchers (as only the author of Kindly Inquisitors can), Rauch concludes that
In many respects vouchers are the perfect liberal program. They help to equalize opportunity across class lines. They stand a good chance of improving the public schools. Even if they did not improve the public schools, they could help to revitalize and integrate poor neighborhoods.
The tying of schools to houses is a historical accident that has undermined the economic integrity of cities. The tying of liberal loyalties to public-school-employees' lobbies is a historical accident that has undermined the moral integrity of liberalism. Vouchers could untie both knots.
Reviewing Eric Hobsbawm's Interesting
Reviewing Eric Hobsbawm's Interesting Times, Niall Ferguson proposes that Hobsbawm's life "helps us to answer one of the most puzzling historical questions of the 20th century: why did so many otherwise intelligent people become Communists?" An excerpt:
The Far Left will always be chic while the Far Right is irredeemably repulsive. But was there really such a great moral difference - as Hobsbawm insists there was - between being a fascist and being a Communist?
The essence of Communism is the abnegation of individual freedom, as Hobsbawm admits in a chilling passage: "The Party÷ had the first, or more precisely the only real claim on our lives. Its demands had absolute priority. We accepted its discipline and hierarchy. We accepted the absolute obligation to follow 'the lines' it proposed to us, even when we disagreed with it÷We did what it ordered us to do÷Whatever it had ordered, we would have obeyed÷ If the Party ordered you to abandon your lover or spouse, you did so."
Consider some of the "lines" our historian dutifully toed. He accepted the order to side with the Nazis against the Weimar-supporting Social Democrats in the great Berlin transport strike of 1932. He accepted the order to side with the Nazis against Britain and France following the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact of 1939. He accepted the excommunication of Tito. He condoned the show trials of men like Laszlo Rajk in Hungary.
In 1954, just after Stalin's death, he visited Moscow as one of the honoured members of the Historians' Group of the British Communist Party. He admits to having been dismayed when, two years later, Khrushchev denounced Stalin's crimes at the Twentieth Congress of the Soviet Communist Party. When Khrushchev himself ordered the tanks into Budapest, Hobsbawm finally spoke up, publishing a letter of protest. But he did not leave the Party.
In the end, the only way to understand this extraordinary trahison d'un clerc is precisely as a succession of acts of quasi-religious faith. In a surprising aside, Hobsbawm himself refers to 'the Party' as the "Communist Universal Church" and later admits: "For young revolutionaries of my generation, mass demonstrations were the equivalent of papal masses for devout Catholics."
Ferguson's analysis resonates strongly with Stanley Kurtz's great National Review piece "The Church of the Left," where Kurtz argues that "liberalism now functions for substantial numbers of its adherents as a religion: an encompassing worldview that answers the big questions about life, lends significance to our daily exertions, and provides a rationale for meaningful collective action." Offering women's centers as an example, he proposes that "many of the young women who affiliate themselves with campus women's centers are looking for a world view, a moral-social home, and a meaningful crusade in which to take part." Leftism, then, gives its adherents' lives some meaning, filling the twentieth-century vacuum left by religion and creating collective purpose for those who find individualism distasteful -- or just plain scary.
However, as the Hitchens' "defection" proves, even long-term believers are finally beginning to question the credibility and motives of the One True Leftist Church, are starting to lose faith in the distorted ideological tenets propounded by the Gores, the Sontags, and just about every professor and graduate student in English, women's studies, sociology, and education today. In short, left-leaning individualists have had enough and, like Orwell, are jumping the collectivist ship. It might be premature to imagine Hitchens as a modern-day Luther, nailing his 95 Theses to the church door before leaving for good -- but it's a hopeful image.
In a good review of
In a good review of the recent campus-led push for divestment from Israel, Jonathan Alter writes that the "dark side to divestment" arises from "a careless use of analogy and a poor reading of the Middle East." What he doesn't point out is that many of the people who are modelling the bad reading practices and irresponsible analogizing that have enabled the campus left to rationalize its position are English professors. Some of the most prominent English professors in the country--among them Edward Said and Gayatri Spivak--are also rabidly anti-Israel and disturbingly enthralled by what they like to think of as "Palestinian resistance." American English departments tend to reflect the tone, temper, and reading practices of these luminaries. The popularity of divestment on campuses is, in this sense, an indirect but very real example of how much influence the seemingly irrelevant theoretical machinations of English departments truly have; it's also a fine example of how much power is held by those who profess to teach literature for a living. Teaching literature is teaching reading; how you read, even more than what you read, definitively shapes who you are and what you believe. (Worth a look: the growing list of faculty signatures on the University of California's Divestment Petition.)
UPDATE: Jay Harris, a Harvard professor of Jewish Studies, does a damning reading of campus divestment rhetoric. Describing in detail "the basic Manichean structure of the petitionersŪ narrative in which all blame rests entirely with the Jews," Harris unravels how the language of divestment has become inextricably intertwined with a virulent and unacknowledged anti-Semitism. In the process, he proves that what divestment petitioners are doing is indeed promoting a particular narrative about Israel; in other words, that they are engaged in the powerful social act of casting self-serving fictions as gospel truth. This is the sort of unravelling literary critics should themselves be helping to do right now. But instead, too, too many are in the business of producing--and mystifying--the fictions that need unravelling. As Carly Simon would say, "Nobody does it better."
Spam now comprises an estimated
Spam now comprises an estimated 46% of all e-mail, straining mail servers and users' patience alike. The Chronicle of Higher Education published an article last week (subscribers only, alas) describing spam-fighting strategies under consideration at major universities. Note the phrase "under consideration." It's well known that university faculty and administrators naturally wreathe themselves into Rube Goldbergian committees that ponder, debate, massage, and complicate such policy issues until, as with Dickens' Jarndyce and Jarndyce, nobody remains who remembers the original point. But the Chronicle did manage to extract some pre-release beta versions of several universities' anti-spam strategies, and publishes them in its article. Stand by to watch academic bureaucracy in action:
Strategy #1: Shutting down e-mail open relays on campus servers to prevent spammers from hijacking the machines.
Ah-ha! Administrative ploy number one: propose as an innovative solution something that should have happened years ago. Of course, this doesn't address the problem itself -- very little campus spam actually originates on campus servers, most of it arriving via insecure machines in Asia and South America -- but offers the pretence of action. Which, in academic circles, is generally indistinguishable from the real thing.
Strategy #2. Directing students with spam complaints to a campus Web site with answers to frequently asked questions and articles about how to avoid spam.
Administrative ploy number two: Ignore the fact that excellent informational sites on this topic already exist outside the academic system (Abuse.net and CAUCE.org are only two of the best) and set about reinventing the wheel. The ensuing site will be pretty but vacuous, useful only as evidence of administrative "concern." And everyone knows that "We are very concerned about this problem" rarely means "We will do something about this problem."
Strategy #3. Offering seminars each semester on how to use the anti-spam filters that are built into some desktop e-mail programs.
Only a true adminocrat could come up with this one. Seminars to teach students and faculty how to use Eudora's email filter! Naturally, this strategy fails to mention that most desktop email programs have weak, inflexible filters that can't effectively fight spam. Not to mention that desktop email programs filter spam on the desktop, meaning that the spam first has to be downloaded to the desktop, meaning that spam still creates bandwidth congestion, fills the /var/mail spool, and stops real mail from getting through to overflowing inboxes. Tutorials on procmail, a powerful server-side mail filter, are presumably not in order.
Strategy #4. Setting limited blocking filters on the campus-mail gateway.
This is a controversial one. The Chronicle reports: "Some college officials say that concerns about violating the principles of academic freedom, privacy, and the First Amendment make them reluctant to block e-mail messages based on their content or to 'blacklist' the Web sites of known spammers." How strange that college officials, who care not a whit for academic freedom, privacy, and the First Amendment in their relentless pursuit of ideological and intellectual homogeneity, now invoke these principles to protect the rights of spammers. Seemingly, administrators believe that students should see Viagra ads, debt consolidation scams, and pictures of 26-year-old horny teen virgins -- but not the works of enormously important conservative and libertarian intellectuals. One must have some standards, after all.
Strategy #5. Closing down individual campus e-mail accounts, if requested, to put an end to spam attacks.
Surely this is a brainwave. Closing down e-mail accounts is a surefire way to stop spam. But open a new account for the same person and the spam flood will begin again in weeks, if not days (the mailto: links liberally scattered throughout campus Web sites are handy targets for spammers' automated address-collection devices). Add to this the fact that many people will be unwilling to surrender an email address that they've held for years, and you have something that looks like a solution, but really is not.
To engineer a totally spam-free campus, maybe universities should just eschew email entirely and go back to circulating typed memos. Possibly some adventurous and technologically progressive schools could even switch to carrier fowl, thus flavoring their campuses with the spirit of Harry Potter. After all, that first wave of Potterholics will be ready for college in just a few short years and will expect message delivery via owl.
Strategy #6. Installing a firewall to block spammers from searching campus servers for e-mail open relays.
Ah yes -- another "innovative" proposal that should have been implemented years ago. Strategy #6 is really a complement to #1, and will be equally ineffective at fighting the 99.8% of spam that originates from non-university systems.
Strategy #7. Offering an alternative "filtered" mail service, in addition to regular campus e-mail, for faculty and staff members and students who want to avoid spam.
Creating "filtered" accounts in addition to regular campus mail will surely create administrative havoc. Most academics of my acquaintance can barely cope with one email account, never mind several. This option seems cumbersome at best, hopelessly unworkable at worst.
I have an e-mail account with Panix.com, a truly excellent New York City internet service provider. To help its users fight spam, Panix has installed on its servers the spam-tagging program spamassassin and the server-side mail filtering system procmail; Panix customers can then deploy these powerful tools in any manner they might choose. For example, one might choose to live with the spam and leave one's account entirely open; or to filter spam into a separate "junk mail" folder and sort through it later in case some "real" mail got wrongly tagged; or simply to kill all spamassassin-flagged messages before they even enter the mail spool.
In other words, Panix hasn't tried to centralize its spam-prevention efforts. It hasn't tried to make executive adminstrative decisions about What Should Be Done. Instead, it has put powerful, flexible tools in the hands of users and lets users do the work of configuring their own accounts per their individual preferences. Ultimately, the difference here is between a leftist university system grounded in the ethos of central planning and a libertarian computing culture that naturally inclines toward personal responsibility and individual, decentralized action. Having tailored spamassassin and procmail to my needs and preferences, I get almost no spam. My academic friends, mired in debates about the ethics of centralized spam-filtering, receive so much junk mail that their accounts are fast becoming unusable. Who's winning here?
An Oregon foundation created from
An Oregon foundation created from timber money has pulled its support from a local school system that has become too PC for the conservative organization's blood. Used to be that any kid growing up in or around the logging town of Philomath, Oregon, got free ride to college courtesy of the Clemens Foundation (grants were for $4000, the cost of tuition at Oregon State). But now the foundation feels the school system is actively biased against the values the foundation itself stands for. Citing an strong anti-timber bias in the newly yuppifying community, the Clemens people note also that the school system has recently adopted a liberal dress code that allows students to dye their hair and pierce their noses; that a homosexual club has formed at the high school; that the high school's wooden American Indian mascot was removed because it was found to be discriminatory; and that the curriculum is permeated with an anti-logging bias. Ah well. Clemens was only a $30 million foundation. Now the Philomath schools sound like perfect candidates for Ford Foundation grants. With its $10.8 billion endowment, Ford seems better suited all around to an upwardly mobile community that is growing more interested in parading its enlightened views than in preserving respect for its roots.
September 28, 2002
People are reeling over the
People are reeling over the anti-Semitic poem read at a recent poetry festival by Amiri Baraka, New Jersey's poet laureate. The poem blames Israel for the 9/11 attacks and contains the following lines:
Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed
Who told 4000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers
To stay home that day
Why did Sharon stay away?
The New York Times reported that Baraka was once a prominent figure in the Black Arts Movement, and notes that before that his name was LeRoi Jones. What the Times does not report is that Jones-Baraka was a militant black nationalist during the late 60s and early 70s, and that he graduated from black nationalism to Third World Marxism. The Times also fails to note that before Jones-Baraka became a black nationalist he was married to a Jew. He left her when Malcolm X was killed, moved to Harlem, and married a black woman. Three years later, he adopted the Muslim name of Imamu Amiri Baraka. "Imamu" means "leader." And now he has become an anti-Semitic propagandist whose "art" serves the Islamofascist agenda. Guess that first marriage was just false consciousness.
UPDATE: Excellent and revealing New Republic piece on Baraka. The article attributes Baraka's anti-Semitism to his infatuation with the ideas of the Afrocentric cult leader Maulana Karenga, and observes that "much of Baraka's anti-Semitic work was written on the heels of his divorce from Hettie. Feeling compelled to prove that he was finished with white women in general and with Jews in particular, Baraka took black anti-Semitism to new depths. In addition to the "slimy bellies" of the "owner jews" in "Black Art," Baraka referred to his ex wife as "a fat jew girl" in "For Tom Postell, Dead Black Poet." Link courtesy of Little Green Footballs.
ONE LAST UPDATE: Stefan Sharkansky has interviewed Baraka on the phone. Baraka told the New York Times that his information about Israel's role in the 9/11 attacks was easily researched. And yet, he wasn't able to name his sources. Not believably, anyway.
Fascinated by Christopher Hitchens' decision
Fascinated by Christopher Hitchens' decision to quit writing for The Nation, the folks at NRO are debating the precise nature of his politics as they presently stand. Jonah Goldberg argues that Hitch has become a Man of the Right:
Hitchens has been stranded on the Right as the tide of post-modern, multicultural gobbledygook has carried the rest of his old movement further out to sea. So now Hitchens stands against virtually all of the PC junk. He rejects the silly games based upon the idea that words have no fixed meanings. Yes, he still believes Ů no doubt partly out of pride and nostalgia Ů some silly or even repugnant things about the Cold War and Communism. But the Cold War no longer defines who is on the Right (and, if I recall correctly, there were quite a few Right-wingers with serious problems with the Cold War to begin with). What defines the Right these days, increasingly, is a fundamental belief in the goodness of Western Civilization, a recognition of the threats posed to it, internally and externally, and a rejection of moral relativism in all its forms. He is no conservative. No one who hates religion as much as he does could be. But I do think these things put him on the leftward fringe of the Right.
Andrew Stuttaford is shocked on Hitchens' behalf:
Christopher Hitchens would be appalled to see himself described as 'a man of the right'. Far better, perhaps, would be to make the (always flattering) comparison with George Orwell. It's possible to reject socialist cant without leaving the socialist camp. Orwell broke decisively with his fellow leftist intellectuals in his willingness to renounce (and denounce) Communism. Nevertheless, a quick glance at Orwell's views on, say, the economy (governmental control, widespread nationalization and so on) reveal a man who remained firmly on the left.
So it is with Hitchens. The extreme multiculturalist piety of today's left is in many ways analogous to the Stalinist faith of its predecessors both in its self-righteousness and, ultimately, its masochism. Breaking with it should not be taken to imply that Hitchens will signing up for the GOP any time soon. A quick glance at, for example, Martin Amis' Koba The Dread (and Hitchens' shifty response to it), reveal Christopher Hitchens to be a man still firmly possessed by the delusions of his leftist intellectual heritage. Even if you take his attacks on Clinton (best summarized in that marvelous polemic No-One Left To Lie To) they are essentially a critique from the left (Clinton betrayed the hopes of 1992) rather than the right.
My guess is that in viewing the increasing rift with a number of his former comrades, Hitchens would argue that it is they, not he, who have split with the traditions of the left.
Interesting stuff, as is Hitchens' excellent piece on Byron in the current Atlantic. It's supposed to be a book review, but Hitchens gets so into his subject that the review part pretty much melts away. Hard not to imagine that Hitchens' disillusionment with leftist disingenuousness doesn't have something to do with this turn to pure, unadulterated literary criticism (the kind properly politicized literary critics wouldn't be caught dead writing).
The Left waffles on. Turning
The Left waffles on. Turning her Guardian anti-war editorial into an assault on global capitalism, Booker-prize winning author Arundhati Roy argues that "Soviet-style communism failed, not because it was intrinsically evil but because it was flawed. It allowed too few people to usurp too much power: 21st-century market-capitalism, American-style, will fail for the same reasons." And when capitalism falls, Roy implies, a new and better socialism will rise to take its place. ("Flawed" Soviet-style socialism, you see, was really just capitalism under another guise. Therefore we can blame capitalism for socialism's failings. Clever logic, no?) But let's look at the historical record: During the twentieth century, socialist and communist governments, Soviet-style and otherwise, executed over 120 million of their own people and denied so many essential liberties to so many millions more that they had to build walls around their countries to keep people in. Despite the historical record, however, the Left seems unable to accept that its most idealistic, most utopian, and most cherished values inevitably become the driving engines of despotic totalitarianism. As Friedrich Hayek pointed out more than fifty years ago, "From the saintly and single-minded idealist to the fanatic is often but a step."
September 27, 2002
Erin posted earlier regarding the
Erin posted earlier regarding the standoff between UC San Diego and the Che Cafe Collective; the former is trying to pressure the latter into removing a hyperlink between its site and that of a Columbian terrorist organization. UCSD charges that by maintaining this link Che Cafe Collective provides "material support" to terrorists, thus violating the Patriot Act. Stuff and nonsense, say FIRE, the EFF, and other civil liberties groups, aghast at UCSD's thinly-veiled effort to chill campus speech. Here's something interesting, though: If you look at the bottom of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia site (there's my act of civil disobedience for the day), you'll see that the organization's contact e-mail address is hosted by hotmail.com. Hotmail, in turn, is owned by Microsoft. Hosting a terrorist group's email account would seem "material support" on a far greater order than merely providing a hyperlink. Is it now time to shut down Microsoft? (I hear whoops of joy from Linux hackers worldwide.)
Speaking of globalization, my review
Speaking of globalization, my review of Brink Lindsey's Against the Dead Hand: The Uncertain Struggle for Global Capitalism, is up at Knowledge@Wharton. Lindsey says it makes his day. That, in turn, makes mine.
Zizek's article "Taking on America,"
Zizek's article "Taking on America," which Erin references below, contains some remarkable separatist rhetoric. Consider this geopolitical recommendation: "Europe should move fast to ascertain itself as an autonomous ideological, political and economic force with its own priorities [original emphasis]. The Left should unabashedly appropriate the slogan of unified Europe as a counterforce to Americanised globalism." What Zizek really proposes here is a Second Cold War, with a Left-dominated Europe assuming the oppositional mantle previously held by the fallen U.S.S.R. There's no doubt in my mind, either, that Zizek imagines the European Union morphing into a new and glorious Union of European Socialist Republics as this cold war unfolds. I'd best nip down to 10 Downing Street and tell Comrade Blair to start packing; Zizek's new world order has no room for centrist Dubya-sympathizers like him.
Andrew Sullivan notes that "our
Andrew Sullivan notes that "our universities are now becoming incubators for anti-Semitic hate" and calls this development "another triumph for the pomo-Left." The key phrase here is "another triumph." Campuses have long been incubators of hatred, particularly hatred of men (rapists), of whites (racists), of conservatives (capitalist oppressors), of libertarians (far-right unthinkables), of heterosexuals (conformists), and of those who believe in the Western aesthetic and philosophical tradition (cultural imperialists). Now that Israel has made the transition (at least in the pomo-Leftist mind) from oppressed to oppressor, why are we surprised that Jews are getting the same tried and tested treatment?
Daniel Pipes' watchdog website, Campus
Daniel Pipes' watchdog website, Campus Watch, has so outraged anti-Israel academics that many are asking to be added to its list of professors and universities that have, in Pipes' opinion, crossed the line between reasoned dissent and rabidly ideological fulmination. Celebrated Berkeley queer theorist Judith Butler has led the radical way. Quoth Professor Butler in a letter to Pipes (reprinted in part in today's New York Times): "I have recently learned that your organization is compiling dossiers on professors at U.S. academic institutions who oppose the Israeli occupation and its brutality, actively support Palestinian rights of self-determination as well as a more informed and intelligent view of Islam than is currently represented in the U.S. media. I would be enormously honored to be counted among those who actively hold these positions and would like to be included in the list of those who are struggling for justice." As of this posting, Pipes has not honored the good professor's request. He has, however, posted a link to a recent New York Post piece on how "Hating Israel Is Part of Campus Culture."
Norah Vincent weighs in on
Norah Vincent weighs in on campus illiberalism and those who are fighting it.
Administrators at UC San Diego
Administrators at UC San Diego want the Che Cafe Collective, a leftist student group, to remove an incendiary link from their website. Citing the U.S. Patriot Act and the university's own policy on acceptable use of electronic resources, UCSD admins have given the Collective four days to take down their link to a Columbian rebel group listed on the U.S. government's roster of terrorist organizations. The group has not complied, and they are getting support from civil liberties groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). According to Thor Halvorssen, FIRE's executive director, "The administration of UCSD are officers of a state institution, and they are bound to uphold both the constitution of the State of California and the U.S. Constitution. And where they think state or federal laws conflict with the Constitution, they are obligated to follow the Constitution....If the U.S. government believes that this Ch» Caf» issue was a problem, then the U.S. government would bring a case against them. The administration's involvement in this is nothing but an unmistakable, blatant, and egregious attempt at suppression and censorship. Federal laws are enforced by federal district attorneys, not by bureaucrat deans." Shades of the GUPS controversy at SF State last spring. .....
Tuesday night, a dream of
Tuesday night, a dream of mine came true. Thor Halvorssen, executive director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), debated academe's own resident Macchiavelli figure, Stanley Fish, on national television. The occasion: Chris Matthews' nightly MSNBC news show, Hardball. The subject: "Are America's colleges too liberal?" The combatants: woefully mismatched. The outcome: smackdown. I post an annotated edition of the transcript below. I call it "Fisking Fish; or, Mr. T Pities a Fool." (For a version of the transcript written in actual Mr. T-ese, run the transcript through this.)
The segment opens with an invocation of academia's emerging anti-idiotarian muse: Harvard's excellently unflappable Lawrence Summers:
DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Last week Harvard President Lawrence Summers made what you could call a conservative political statement. Speaking at a prayer service, he warned about the rise of anti-Semitism on college campuses and what he calls an irrational and excessive hostility to the Jewish state. Quote, "profoundly anti-Israel views are increasingly finding support in progressive, intellectual communities." Summers comments were both controversial and rare, because while American universities say they celebrate diversity for multi-cultural centers to freshman orientation sessions that teach tolerance, conservatives say their ideology is not welcome.
Summers has been exceptional in his willingness to speak out against the poisonous anti-Semitism that has become an accepted norm on campuses across the country. He would know something about it. He recently rejected a petition--signed by 69 Harvard faculty members--to divest from Israel. His campus nearly imploded last spring over an ill-advised commencement speech entitled "My American Jihad." And he has been called "the Ariel Sharon of higher education" by an angry and anti-Semitic Cornel West. Summers has posted his speech on the Harvard web site. And here is the Boston Globe's coverage of the speech.
KARL ZINSMEISTER, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE: You will literally have your career burned at the stake if you stray from the liberal orthodoxy on many campuses today, on many campuses today.
SHUSTER: As evidence, Zinsmeister points to a study that examined the voting registration of humanities professors at 21 colleges and universities. 90 percent of the faculty were registered as Democrats or other parties on the left, 10 percent as Republicans or other parties on the right. At Cornell it was 166-6, at Harvard. 151-17, at UCLA, 141-9 and at Penn State, 59-10.
ZINSMEISTER: If it is economics we're talking about, you need to have somebody arguing for government intervention. You need to have someone arguing against intervention. You have to have someone argue for tax cuts. You have to have someone argue against tax cuts. That requires having an appropriate representation of points of view.
SHUSTER: But according to the universities, a professor's own political beliefs do not necessarily influence his or her academic interests and teaching style.
Apt witch hunt metaphor from Zinsmeister. As one of academe's rare resident witches, I know whereof I speak. The AEI study is not available on line, alas. But you can order the issue of American Enterprise Magazine that published the results. For an excellent parsing of what the study means, check out John Leo's column.
Enter the University of Illinois at Chicago's own Professor Fish, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Professor of English and Criminal Justice, Distinguished Visiting Professor of the John Marshall School of Law, with a Spin Doctorate in Sophistry:
STANLEY FISH, UNIV. OF ILLINOIS, CHICAGO: You cannot tell from the way a person votes on whether they are for or against affirmative action or assisted suicide or any of the other hot button issues what they will think about the question who or what were the causes of World War I.
Technically, no, you can't. But no one is arguing that you can. What they are arguing is that the extreme left-of-center political homogeneity of the American professoriate bespeaks an absence of intellectual diversity on campus. What they are arguing is that there is a subtle but very real connection between how a person votes and how he or she is likely to think about such questions as who or what caused World War I. And they are right. That's why you just don't find libertarian literary critics or free market gender theorists on campus. It's not that schools set out to hire Democrats. It's that the people they hire think in ways that virtually ensure that they are Democrats. Someone who studies medieval literature from a Marxist-feminist perspective is a very hot commodity to hiring committees. That person will by definition never be a Republican.
SHUSTER: You also may not be able to tell what they think of contemporary campus controversies. It's worth noting that Lawrence Summers, in addition to defending Israel and calling on students to show more respect for the military, himself served in the Clinton cabinet. (on-camera): So the question is, are conservatives the only minority not tolerated on America's college campuses or does the right see persecution where none exists? I'm David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. (END VIDEOTAPE)
Enter Thor Halvorssen. He is armed with evidence. He is dangerous. He is not spinning.
MATTHEWS: Thor Halvorssen is the executive director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and Stanley Fish is the dean of liberal arts at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Mr. Halvorssen, I want to ask you to make your case in particular. State the particulars that make the case that American college campuses are controlled by the left.
THOR HALVORSSEN, FDN. FOR INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS IN EDUCATION: There is a ferocious assault on freedom of speech, voluntary association and it manifests itself in policies from speech codes. Two-thirds of college campuses have speech codes that make elicit all sorts of words and phrases and points of views that if these speech codes were applied equally, they would not exist for one second. The double standard is unbelievable. Beyond the speech codes, there's freshman orientation that is more equal to indoctrination that should be more in China, in North Korea than in American universities. Beyond that, student judicial procedures that do not allow for due process. Most of this is aimed typically at students who are irreverent, unorthodox and those students in today's climate on college campuses tend to be Christians, conservatives and essentially anyone who does not buy into the politically correct orthodoxy.
Apart from the fact that the MSNBC typist cannot spell, the thing to note about this passage is how much Halvorssen was able to pack into the small space of his allotted sound byte. Thor has come to Hardball prepared to fight. He has facts, issues, and statistics at his fingertips and he is not afraid to use them. Fish, by contrast, has come to Hardball with the apparent aim of playing dumb. As evidenced from his first comment, Fish is prepared only to deny. Denial will be Fish's interlocutory pattern throughout this debate; it's an arrogant rhetorical strategy, one that casts the viewer as a gullible rube, and one that backfires as a result.
MATTHEWS: Let's go to Stanley Fish, your response. Dean, let me ask you, do you agree with any of that?
FISH: I certainly agree that the large proportion of faculty members in the number of departments would be 90 percent liberal. The question is, what does this mean for instruction in the schools or for the hiring practices that brought these people to the campus and my answer would be nothing whatsoever.
The gullible rube nods. Nothing whatsoever! What a relief! Academe is not a crook! But the viewer with a brain isn't so easy, and Fish offers this viewer nothing at all to work with besides his not-so-good word. It is not plausible that academe just "happened" to get so overwhelmingly liberal. It is not plausible that hiring practices had nothing to do with it. They clearly have everything to do with it. Nor is it plausible that the quality and content of instruction on a single-party campus are not affected by the dronelike homogeneity of the faculty. Take away intellectual and political diversity and you take away debate, challenge, the need to know what you think and why you think it, along with the ability to explain and defend your ideas to those not of like mind. Take away difference of opinion and variety of belief and you blunt education itself. You can't learn in an environment where everyone thinks the same. But you can be in denial about what the environment is, and that's what Fish would have us be. His strategy of categorical denial is designed to induce a state of denial in the viewer. Don't think for a minute though that Fish himself doesn't understand the connection between the faculty's politics and the education that faculty delivers. He gets it, and he gets it way better than you and I do. He just doesn't want to be held publicly accountable for it. He likes things the way they are. The status quo suits him. He is famous within it. It confers power upon him. It pays him very, very well.
MATTHEWS: What about in decisions made by the faculties which Mr. Halvorssen has just been mentioning, all those decisions that he said reflect a liberal point of view? Aren't they reflecting the liberal makeup of faculties?
FISH: Which decisions are you referring to?
There's playing dumb. And then there is playing dumber.
HALVORSSEN: We're talking about codes. We're talking about policies that make it very difficult for students... FISH: There are no codes.
There is denial. And then there is flagrant dishonesty. Not a good move when your opponent is armed with facts, issues, and statistics and is not afraid to use them. A suicidal move when your opponent is armed with facts, issues, and statistics about your own deanly self and is not afraid to use them.
HALVORSSEN: That's simply not true and Stanley Fish himself is a perfect example of someone who has labored intensely to make sure that conservatives, Christians, anyone who does not agree with his point of view does not get hired.
MATTHEWS: Give a particular there. Give a particular there (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
HALVORSSEN: In 1990, Stanley Fish, when 46 professors at Duke University got together to form a chapter of the National Association of Scholars, Stanley Fish wrote to the provost saying none of these people should be allowed to serve on hiring committees because they are sexist, racist and homophobic. There's a particular for you.
FISH: I did say that. And I also said the reason was--sure I did. The reason was that these people had announced in advance that certain kinds of new forms of studies should not be allowed on campus, were illegitimate. And therefore they had decided in advance of any case how they were going to vote and therefore, had disqualified themselves in my view.
I am moved to wonder: did Fish wish he could take that back the second it slid out of his spindoctoral mouth? Because from my gullible rubelike point of view, it seems like he just defended himself by accusing himself of the very unethical behavior he is being accused of.
HALVORSSEN: So essentially Stanley Fish decides what is going to be taught and not taught. Now if anyone on the right had made the same point of view, they would have driven out of the universities. Instead, you are a dean of a university and you have a huge budget.
Notice that Chris Matthews has disappeared. Notice that the conversation is now no longer mediated by a third party and that it is no longer nominally a stately point-counterpoint sort of thing. Notice that Thor addresses Fish directly here. The debate has become personal. I am moved to wonder: did Fish realize at the time that he had been lured into single rhetorical combat with a man who would like nothing better than to tear him--figuratively speaking--into a million sophistical pieces? Did Fish realize that he had--figuratively speaking--risen to Thor's bait?
FISH: I have a huge budget. I'm a dean of a university. But as I have said recently, I have interviewed and hired 100 to 200 people since I have been here. I haven't the slightest idea of the ideological political commitment of any of them and because of the way the search process is scripted, it would be impossible for me to know. There's no opportunity to have any even guess at what the political inclinations of candidates for positions are.
Fish should tell this to Juan Lopez, a politically incorrect political science professor at UIC whose tenure bid he recently squelched
HALVORSSEN: There are book after book written on this subject. Academic and zealotry and academic freedom by Neil Hamilton, the shadow university by (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
FISH: I know the book.
It seems that Fish does not like being lectured to. He does not like the insinuation that there may be books he has not read. He cannot allow such insinuations to pass unchallenged; he cannot even allow them to pass uninterrupted. His scholarly pride is on the line. He must defend his well-read honor. He must announce that he has read the book. I am moved to wonder: did Fish realize at the time that his posture of total innocence would not be helped by admitting he has read the literature that makes it impossible to (honestly) adopt a posture of total innocence? Did he realize that he had--again--risen to Thor's bait? Did the renowned Milton scholar reflect, perchance, that pride goeth before a fall? I suspect, at the very least, that he made a connection between Hardball and hell.
HALVORSSEN: Book after book that documents instances of this sort of hiring that-people wink, wink, nod, nod. They simply do not hire on the basis of open, critical minds. Instead, most of them want to clone themselves. You do not have the right to use the public purse to create ideological fortresses where you clone yourself. I'm not saying that we need to...
FISH: I agree. I agree (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
Game, set, match: Thor. Fish agrees, he agrees.
MATTHEWS: Dean, go ahead. Respond to that charge that you are creating clones. You're making kids come out of your campus think like the liberal professors think.
FISH: First of all, what the liberal professors think on the basis of their voting records has nothing to do with what those same professors might be teaching. I voted for Al Gore...
MATTHEWS: Isn't that a straw man? Isn't that a straw man Dean? Let's face it, I had 60 some hours of philosophy. I'd like to know that I was taught the... FISH: I though you were going to let me finish.
MATTHEWS: No, I'm not. At this point I'd like you to get back to the point here. Our liberal professors who believe in liberal philosophy and liberal economics and liberal interpretations of history, teaching what they believe or not teaching what they believe? That's what I think is the case here.
It's official. Fish is being eaten alive.
FISH: You don't teach what you politically believe.
MATTHEWS: No, what you believe (UNINTELLIGIBLE) economically.
FISH: ... what you think to be the truth of the matter. That's what I teach about 17th century poetry and that has nothing to do with the way I vote or my political views on hot button issues. Nothing whatsoever.
There's that phrase again, "Nothing whatsoever." As in, Fish's utter inability to give a credible explanation of academe's little bias problem has nothing whatsoever to do with his complete annihilation on national television by one Thor Halvorssen, who is half his age and has twice his conviction. I am moved to wonder: did Fish realize at any point during this discussion that he was debating--or failing to debate--academe's worst nightmare? Did he recognize in Thor a force that will shape academe's future?
HALVORSSEN: It's a little rich to say that with the instances that are shown in the "American Enterprise" magazine study when you have something like 166 faculty members on one side and five on the other. I agree with Professor Fish that in fact one can't necessarily tell how someone's going to teach. But it's certainly an indicator. And people talk about hiring practices and typically hiring practices where it demonstrates a bias or a hostile environment. What I'd like to know is, Stanley Fish, why is it that we see such an enormous bias? Why is it that these numbers are the way they are? It's a little rich to say that you see nothing from this. I had a case last week...
FISH: You want an answer to your question or do you want to go on forever?
MATTHEWS: Go on Professor.
FISH: When I entered the academy in '62, most of my senior colleagues were, in fact, conservative because they had gotten their degrees from the '30's when all of the members of the professoriate came from a certain class. After the GI Bill of Rights and other social movements, this all changed so that people like me, children of immigrants and people who came from labor union backgrounds came into the academy. They brought their politics with them into the ballot box but not necessarily into the classroom.
Fish gets mercy air time.
You do have a situation where right now 90 percent of the faculty members will self identify as left of center. All that you have to do to remedy that is to have bright young conservatives and there are plenty of them, apply for these jobs and go into the work...
HALVORSSEN: As they do and they apply all the time and they don't get hired. They apply all the time. Anywhere from Harvard where Peter Berkowitz is a perfect example of someone who was turned down for tenure.
FISH: And you're now going to mention John Lott (ph). John Lott and Peter Berkowitz...
HALVORSSEN: You can name them. That's the beauty of this.
How much bait can this Fish swallow?
FISH: I opposed (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
HALVORSSEN: Professor Fish can name single professors who are deemed conservative yet there are hundreds of thousands on the other side. How can you possibly be able to name--what are you going to name next Harvey Mansfield at Harvard? That you can name Harvey Mansfield.
MATTHEWS: Let me get back to this, I'm the referee at this point. Professor, let me ask you this. I'm going to give you a chance...
FISH: ... on the basis of your complaint.
MATTHEWS: Can I get the professor to make a point here? If you don't want to, you don't have to. It seems to me that when young men and women go away to college, they learn something they didn't learn before. They may come from liberal families. They may be red diaper babies for all I know. They go to campuses and they're exposed to a different mentality, a different world view, a different Zeitgeist if you will.
FISH: As they should.
MATTHEWS: Shouldn't--right. That's what I want you to say. Isn't part of education being exposed to something different than you grew up with and if you grew up in rural Kansas and you're a conservative and you go to a campus and you meet some liberal professors, isn't that a good thing for a kid to be (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to be educated?
HALVORSSEN: Intellectual diversity is at the heart of the life of the mind. What you have on college campuses is one monolithic orthodoxy. You do not have intellectual diversity and saying that there are two or three people with a different perspective is not intellectual diversity.
MATTHEWS: Professor Fish, I really directed the question to Professor Fish to make your point. What is the advantage of a liberal education?
FISH: The advantage of a liberal education is you learn techniques of inquiry. It is not that you learn how to think about matters in a certain way. Professor James Murphy in the op-ed of September 15 made the right point. Teaching civic education, he said, is subversive of the moral purpose of a university.
Finally,with much social engineering on Matthews' part, Fish gets a word in edgewise. It gets him exactly nowhere, though, because Fish is so very ready to allow Thor to throw his words back at him:
HALVORSSEN: Will you agree that politicized freshman orientation is also subversive?
FISH: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) bad, it should not be allowed.
How appropriate that in the end Fish should be swallowing his own words. No one else on the show swallowed a single thing he said.
MATTHEWS: Professor, thank you very much. Professor, thank you for your patience today.
FISH: One last thing Chris.
MATTHEWS: No, time's up.
FISH: Thank you very much.
MATTHEWS: Thank you Professor Fish for your patience in putting up with some difficult conversation.
Thanks indeed. If this is the best the academic establishment can do in the face of articulate opposition, the public deserves to know. This fisking has been a public service announcement.
September 25, 2002
Last spring, the Foundation for
Last spring, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) drew the nation's attention to Lynn Weber, a women's studies professor at the University of South Carolina who requires students to consent to a series of ideological claims as a condition of talking in class. Here are Professor Weber's "Guidelines for Class Discussion:"
- Acknowledge that racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, and other institutionalized forms of oppression exist.
- Acknowledge that one mechanism of institutionalized racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, etc., is that we are all systematically taught misinformation about our own group and about members of other groups. This is true for members of privileged and oppressed groups.
- Agree not to blame ourselves or others for the misinformation we have learned, but to accept responsibility for not repeating misinformation after we have learned otherwise.
- Assume that people-both the people we study and the members of the class-always do the best they can.
- Actively pursue information about our own groups and those of others.
- Share information about our groups with other members of the class and we will never demean, devalue, or in any way "put down" people for their experiences.
- Agree to combat actively the myths and stereotypes about our own groups and other groups so that we can break down the walls which prohibit group cooperation and group gain.
- Create a safe atmosphere for open discussion. If members of the class may wish to make comments that they do not want repeated outside the classroom, they can preface their remarks with a request that the class agree not to repeat the remarks.
Under the guise of creating a "safe" classroom environment, Professor Weber was clearly and unequivocally prescribing politics and imposing beliefs on her students. She was also making conformity to those politics and beliefs a condition of a good grade: you weren't allowed to talk in class unless you accepted her loaded and highly debatable claims as givens, and you couldn't earn a good grade unless you talked in class.
When the issue of Professor Weber's doctrinaire pedagogy was brought to FIRE's attention last spring, FIRE wrote privately to the President of the University of South Carolina, citing both legal precedent and USC's own policies to prove how far in the wrong Professor Weber was. When there was no response, FIRE released the story to the media. Stories appeared at CNSNews.com, the Washington Times, Fox News, and Townhall.com.
And then the story died. USC did nothing, and the nation was so obsessed with the Snehal Shingavi fiasco at Berkeley that it never really managed to register what was happening in South Carolina. I've thought for months that that was too bad. Shingavi discouraged conservatives from taking his freshman composition classes twice. Lynn Weber has been making ideological conformity a condition of class participation for nearly two decades. Weber first wrote her guidelines 18 years ago, when she was teaching Sociology at Memphis State. She has since formally published them--they appeared in Women's Studies Quarterly 18 (Spring/Summer 1990):126-134. A revised version was also published in a 2000 sociology textbook. The guidelines have been widely disseminated: a quick Google search reveals that a number of professors across the country use Weber's guidelines in their own classes (here are examples from a sociology course at the University of Delaware, a nursing course at the University of Washington, a sociology course at Southern Illinois University, and a sociology course at Texas). In other words, Lynn Weber and her pedagogically misguided acolytes have done a lot more damage than Snehal Shingavi ever did. I was disappointed that the issue got lost in the Berkeley uproar, and I've been waiting to see how FIRE would follow up on USC's arrogant refusal to respond to its polite but unmistakably menacing letter.
So now I have my answer. Lynn Weber is back in the news, and FIRE is right there with her. The Chronicle of Higher Education has (finally!) done a detailed story on Weber and her guidelines (replete with online colloquy), and it's a corker. Weber gets to have her say--but she comes off looking clueless, self-serving, and painfully blinded by her own manipulative brand of utopianism. Of the guidelines, she says, "They set a framework for how we are going to go about discussing things in class. I don't think there is anything wrong with them." Of FIRE--an organization absolutely committed to defending free speech on campus--she says, "I really hate that an organization like this can silence people who are doing good things." Professor Weber does not seem to have understood that she is the one who is silencing people, and that this is categorically not a "good thing."
USC administrators understand what Weber does not. Perhaps they are unusually enlightened specimens of that normally spineless academic animal, homo administratus. Or perhaps they have done their homework (unlike Weber), and know that FIRE is the pitbull of campus watchdog organizations. In any case, they appear to have come around since the spring. They have allowed themselves to be interviewed, and they have taken care in those interviews to distance themselves from guidelines they know they cannot defend. Weber's departmental chairman spoke with surprising candor, openly acknowledging what Weber categorically disputes, that the guidelines are not about how to behave, but about what to think: "I've seen a lot of syllabi, and I've never seen anything like that. Ideological guidelines are kind of unusual," he said. Of the guideline that asks students to "agree to combat actively the myths and stereotypes about our own groups and other groups so that we can break down the walls that prohibit group cooperation and group gain," he observed that "It sounds as if she is requiring political activism outside the classroom in order to fully participate in the classroom."
Administrators at USC have met with Weber several times but have not succeeded in explaining to her just how off-base and out of touch she is. It must be a tough call for them. Do nothing about Weber, get sued (FIRE has dropped hints in the direction). Do something about Weber--and, quite possibly, get sued. She has made it clear that she feels she is being "silenced." Cries of discrimination and a Title IX lawsuit can't be too far behind. The deans are consequently handling Weber with care: they will continue, they avow, to have "conversations" with her, and they will "work with her and other professors to make sure the free-speech rights of students are not abrogated"--a statement that says a lot about USC's internal opinion about whether Weber's guidelines are or are not constitutional.
Weber recently refused an invitation to discuss her guidelines on The O'Reilly Factor. I'm guessing she realized O'Reilly would refuse to be bound by her rules, and would thus not concern himself overmuch with "creating a safe atmosphere for discussion." It's a tragic loss to our civic culture: I for one would have given much to see Weber trying to operate in a No Spin Zone.
September 19, 2002
Yesterday, the Middle East Forum
American scholars of the Middle East, to varying degrees, reject the views of most Americans and the enduring policies of the U.S. government about the Middle East over a dozen administrations. Lest this characterization appear exaggerated, consider that, with only one exception, every American president since 1948 has spoken forcefully about the benefits to the United States from strong and deep relations with Israel. In contrast, American scholars often propagate a view of Middle Eastern affairs that, among other things, sees Zionism as a racist offshoot of imperialism, blames Israel alone for the origin and persistence of the Palestinian refugee problem, and holds Israel responsible for such problems as terrorism and fundamentalist Islam.
Scholars have an extensive but subtle influence on the way Americans see the Middle East, and set the tone for much of what is taught and learned across America on nearly every level. College students learn from them in the classroom and are influenced by the tone they set for the debate of Middle East politics on over two thousand campuses. High school and elementary teachers take their cue from them. Scholars write newspaper opinion pieces, are quoted in magazine articles, and appear on television. They serve as expert witnesses in court cases. They influence government officials in a variety of ways - a candidate formulating his positions, the CIA seeking outside advice, a congressional staffer preparing legislation, or a speechwriter for the secretary of state.
Campus Watch seeks to reverse the damage already caused by the activist/scholars on American campuses. We see this as an ongoing effort, one that should continue so long as the problem exists.
Visit it regularly, and make use of the "incident report" page if you are in a position to do so. This is an important project and an invaluable service. As recent events at Concordia University and Colorado College show, our campuses have their heads up their asses when it comes to managing Arab-Israeli tension. As Middle East expert Daniel Pipes pointed out in an op-ed for the New York Post, "Both incidents point to profound problems in the university, and why Abigail Thernstrom calls it 'an island of repression in a sea of freedom.' In Colorado, the administration made the morally idiotic choice of honoring an apologist for terrorism. At Concordia, a weak-kneed response let thugs inhibit free speech."
September 18, 2002
In my last blog on
In my last blog on minority orientations, I wrote about how the separatism espoused by these programs finds a scholarly rationale in the emerging academic discipline of Afrocentrism, which, for all its kooky claims and grandiose mythography, has pretty much taken American education by storm: if it remains a fairly minor and dubious scholarly field, it has nonetheless captured the curricular imaginations of a great number of teachers, counselors, diversity programmers, and administrators nationwide.
Dinesh D'Souza has the goods on Afrocentrism's impact on American education if you want to read more; this piece is adapted from his book, The End of Racism, and is well worth reading. Basically, D'Souza's point is that Afrocentrism shortchanges blacks by shortcircuiting the route to self-esteem:
The tragedy of Afrocentrism for blacks is that, in the name of promoting group pride, it provides young people with falsehoods that undercut the accumulation of real knowledge -- and the achievement and self- respect that real knowledge brings. Rather than preparing black students for the challenges of living in modern civilization, Anthony Appiah points out, Afrocentrists instead teach them languages that are hardly spoken anywhere and concepts that are "a composite of truth and error, insight and illusion, moral generosity and meanness."
Despite their interest in the ancient world, Afrocentrists appear to have missed one of the most important lessons we can learn from the ancients -- the acknowledgment of civilizational differences combined with a refusal to reduce these to biological characteristics. "The ancient Egyptian lack of color prejudice should serve as a salutary lesson for us today," Frank Yurco says. "They would have considered this Afrocentric argument absurd, and this is something we could really learn from." Instead, Afro-centrists insist upon projecting their own racial nomenclature and obsession onto the ancients, invoking them to justify contemporary assertions of black militancy.
Afrocentrism is thus both pathetic and formidable. Pathetic because it offers young blacks nothing in the way of knowledge and skills that are required by modern life; formidable, because it offers them racial dynamite instead: a fortified chauvinism, a hardened conspiratorial mindset, and a robotic dedication to ideologies of blackness. The "revolutionary commitment" to which Molefi Asante refers is evident in the hardened gleam in many Afrocentric eyes. Afrocentrists exhibit a virtually cultic pattern of lockstep behavior: everyone dresses alike, and when the leader laughs, everyone laughs. Gradually but unmistakably, Afrocentrists are severing the bonds of empathy and understanding that are the basis for coexistence and cooperation in a multiracial society. Meanwhile, the real needs of blacks -- and the hard work of meeting them -- are being neglected.
D'Souza's perspective has been echoed by a few dissenting black scholars, among them Gerald Early, Professor of English and African and Afro-American Studies at Washington University. Early has famously described Afrocentrism and its attendant cultural rituals as "therapy." Of Kwanzaa, Afrocentrism's version of Christmas, he writes that it is a "therapy that is related to being American or, rather, to being denied what blacks feels is their true status as Americans." That therapy gets is power from its separatist mentality: Kwanzaa's meaning, according to Early, lies "in its cultural statement, its refutation of the whiteness of Christmas."
Early means his comments to be critical of Afrocentric thought. By calling the movement therapeutic, he is saying that it is without intellectual content, that it is a movement of and for the emotions, rather than the mind. It ought to be a discrediting move--and it would be, if the language of therapeutic separatism had not already been embraced by campus diversity mavens. For them, the link between self-esteem and celebratory separatism is elementary. Indeed, it is the basis for a highly successful and influential field: black educational psychology.
One of the best known black educational psychologists is the new Spelman College President, Beverly Daniel Tatum. Formerly a dean at Mount Holyoke, Tatum is the author of Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Alone in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race, a 1997 book that has become a staple of diversity workshops and separatist curricular planning throughout the American educational system.
For Tatum, self-segregation is a crucial stage in black identity development. Defining "racial identity" as "the meaning each of us has constructed or is constructing about what it means to be a White person or a person of color in a race-conscious society," Tatum argues that "racial grouping is a developmental process in response to an environmental stressor, racism. Joining with one's peers for support in the face of stress is a positive coping strategy." Noting that colleges and schools are beginning to serve that need by facilitating self-segregation (think: black dorms, black yearbooks, black student centers, black graduations, and, of course, minority orientations), Tatum exhorts colleges "to take seriously the psychological toll extracted from students of color in inhospitable environments and the critical role that cultural space can play. Having a place to be rejuvenated and to feel anchored in one's cultural community increases the possibility that one will have the energy to achieve academically as well as participate in the cross-group dialogue and interaction many colleges want to encourage."
The assumptions underlying Tatum's "supportive" philosophy are deeply destructive: that one is defined (and implicitly delimited) by one's race; that whites and "white cultur"e are by definition racist; that one's learning environment--if integrated--is as a result automatically hostile to people of color; that there is no need to assess the environment for oneself, or to adjust to situations that may be unfamiliar or uncomfortable--because by definition any environment or situation that causes someone who is not white discomfort or a sense of dislocation is racist. Not buying Tatum's argument is also racist.
If you are white and Tatum's separatist apologia sounds like crap to you, it's not because you have a good shit detector. It's not even because you have a right to your opinion. It's because you belong to America's dominant group. You are therefore always already within your group, and have no need to be conscious of your racial identity or to spend special time developing it. That privileged unselfconsciousness is itself a form of racism, according to Tatum, who pointedly challenges her white reader to prove her progressive credentials: "Racism is a system of advantage based on race. And you have to ask yourself, who is advantaged by this system, and who is disadvantaged? In the U.S., it's the white people who are advantaged. I'm not saying that all white people are actively racist. The question is, are you actively anti-racist? There's no such thing as being passively anti-racist." Tatum goes on to suggest that whites who confront their own racism can experience "a euphoria perhaps akin to religious rebirth." Ah... I was a bigot. But now I see.
Such emotional blackmail is one of Tatum's preferred techniques of persuasion. As Heather MacDonald shows in her article "The Prep School PC Plague," school administrators read Tatum's message loud and clear, and have responded by developing separate disciplinary standards for black students. Black identity formation involves a need to act out, it seems. And so administrators should cut delinquent black students some slack. Not to do so would be--you guessed it--an imposition of the dominant culture's values on one who is oppressed, and therefore an instance of oppression in its own right, insensitive, racist. (We can speculate that such warped logic may be one reason why black, Hispanic, and Muslim student groups get away with so much rabid anti-Semitism. It's easy to see how expressions of hatred toward groups that are perceived as historically dominant and empowered could be excused as therapeutic, like primal scream therapy, only with epithets.)
And yet Tatum's book was a terrific success. She has been on Oprah, and was one of three authors to appear with President Clinton at his national town meeting on race. Her book is required reading for educators in many NYC schools, administrators and diversity programmers across the country are assiduously adopting and applying her ideas. Her book is being assigned to high school and college students (in a neat twist of fate, this book that has been so important to the creation of minority orientations and other separatist campus programming has even been the chosen text for freshman orientation at such institutions as Colby College and the College of New Jersey). All the while, her own career continues to soar--she has just moved from being a dean at an all-women's college to being president of an all black women's college.
The reason why Tatum's ideas have found such purchase, and have garnered her such respect, is that she is at the front of the civil rights movement as it is being fought--and lauded--today. In her recent book Race Experts (see sidebar), Elizabeth Lasch-Quinn eloquently explains how it was that the civil rights movement got hijacked by a therapeutic movement centered on the social etiquette of racial sensitivity and the tireless quest for that ever elusive and over-rated commodity, self-esteem. A number of commentators and pundits have observed lately that there are no new black leaders, that the civil rights movement does not seem to be quite the cause that it was in the past. Some lament this as a sign of political malaise on the part of blacks; others celebrate it as a sign of arrival, evidence that the fighting phase of the movement is over, replaced by the quiet work of assimilation into the mainstream. Certainly there is truth to both arguments. But both, too, fail to see that the civil rights movement is, in fact, alive and well, if transformed beyond recognition. It's centered on empowerment now instead of rights, on self-actualization rather than on equal opportunity, on sensitivity rather then equity. It has many followers, and--contrary to popular belief--it also has some influential leaders. Tatum is one of them. She isn't any Martin Luther King. But in the socially engineered world of the multicultural school, where educators are free to indoctrinate and where politics thus continues by other, more quiet means, she is powerful indeed.
September 16, 2002
At last: the analysis of
At last: the analysis of 9/11 we've all been waiting for. The Fall issue of the feminist journal Signs will be dedicated to unravelling the gender politics of last year's tragedy. Entitled "Gender and Cultural Memory," the issue will contain 23 contributions from feminist scholars across the disciplines. In a notice for the new issue, this week's Chronicle of Higher Education offers a tantalizing description of two of the forthcoming issue's essays: "Helene Cixous, a visiting professor of French at Northwestern University, examines the gendered symbolism -- both phallic and feminine -- of the Twin Towers. Janice K. Haaken, a professor of psychology at Portland State University, examines American 'cultural amnesia,' which 'narrowly focuses on concrete dramatic events while neglecting context.'" The issue will be online soon. In the meantime, you can get into the spirit of things by perusing the current issue, which includes a timely piece called "Islamic Feminism and Its Discontents."
Personally, I can't wait for Cixous's article to make print. We all know that 9/11 was really all about phallic symbols--about castrating America, and about the orgasmic masculine consummation of the resistant Other. We all know that jihad is jouissance. Just last June, at a conference held in Leeds, famed postcolonial critic Gayatri Spivak called "suicide resistance" a "poetic" form of "autoeroticism." And just last week, Saddam Hussein's former mistress told the world that the "Butcher of Baghdad" counts Viagra among his chemical weapons. Cixous's interpretation will be a potent antidote to the flaccid, totally banal analyses of last year's events that have been plaguing us for months. Why speak of evil when you can speak of desire? Why talk of terrorist networks when you can speak of vast erections? Who cares whether Bin Laden is dead, or if we go to war with Iraq? What matters is the pleasure of the text, the erotic play of of interpretation, the phallic symbol undone by the feminist wiles of gender theory.
I once submitted an essay to Signs. It was rejected because the reader did not feel my essay showed a properly feminist perspective. I was crushed at the time. But as the years pass, that rejection seems more and more to me to be a badge of honor.
UPDATE: Don't miss Eric Raymond's new piece on the self-parodying left: "Self-parody is where you end up when you have nothing left to say. And when all you can talk about is 'discourse' that's a damn short road."
September 15, 2002
From a reader, in reference
From a reader, in reference to my posts on Brown's minority orientation (Third World Transition Program):
I was once a graduate student at Brown and had the opportunity to see the debates over TWTP up close and I wanted to commend you for hitting the nail on the head in your comments. A few years back, a professor who was publicly critical of TWTP (before tenure, even) recounted a story to me about TWTP that I think perfectly captures its pathology.
During one of the week's exercises, students were asked to clap when a sentence described them. One sentence said something about homosexuality being sinful or immoral. One young black woman clapped, as she was an observant Muslim from Savannah, Georgia. Horrified at her beliefs, the organizers forced her to slow-dance with another woman while other participants shouted anti-gay slurs at her, "sensitizing" her to her "homophobia." She briefly left school after that week and seriously considered filing a sexual harrassment suit against Brown, but decided against it.
One other note: not only are white students not allowed to participate in TWTP, but white administrators are barred as well. President Gee, who left a couple of years ago, asked to attend and was rebuffed. A white man, he decided not to push the issue. One wonders what the current president will do.
I've been collecting anecdotes about what happens at freshman orientation for a while now, but this one left me speechless with disgust--at Brown, at the holier-than-thou campus thought police who believe it is their right to impose their outlook on others, at myself for all the years I quietly and stupidly inhabited the leftist campus culture that gives rise to such abuses and then piously invokes various Marxist, postcolonial, and psychoanalytic "theories" to
Comments or additional anecdotes are welcome--I'll post the postworthy unless you specify otherwise. Meanwhile, don't miss World Magazine's current cover story on freshman orientation. I'm proud to say I helped with the research for it. This kind of stuff can't get too much exposure. And it won't survive it.
September 12, 2002
Studies show that alienation is
Studies show that alienation is why most students drop out of college, and why colleges across the country have such high freshman dropout rates (often reaching 20% or more of first-year students). Higher ed administrators have responded to these numbers by sponsoring a range of programs designed to create a sense of community on campus. Freshman orientation is one of the most important of these. For all its faults--there are many, some of which I have blogged, some of which I will be blogging soon--freshman orientation is an important, even defining moment in the college experience. In its activities, it choice of speakers, its pacing, and its carefully cultivated atmosphere, it sets the tone for that difficult first semester, easing students through the transition to college by introducing them to the campus culture and giving them opportunities to meet people and make friends.
So where do minority orientatations figure into this logic? As separate, separatist entities, they both do and don't create community. Welcoming and hostile at once, the race-based community built by minority orientation comes at the cost of connection with the wider campus community. Held before regular orientation, sometimes even as an alternative to it, minority orientation functions in large part to "hook up" students of color; it makes sure that the first contacts one has on campus are with other students of color, and in so doing they do what they can to make sure that the primary relationships formed by incoming students of color are with other students of color. By the time regular orientation rolls around, freshmen of color have already found friends and formed social groups. They may have even moved into racially-themed dormitories (many campuses have all black dorms, for example). There is no need to break out of those groups to meet the white kids who have just arrived; those kids tend to form their own groups as a consequence. That the content of the orientation almost always centers on "identity" helps enormously with this separatist project: cultivating "identity" at minority orientation is a code word for cultivating a sense of oneself as dispossessed, as the victim of racism, as one who is automatically marginalized by the "dominant" (white) culture. The result is a pattern of socialization that approximates racial segregation--one that, crucially, is initiated and encouraged by school diversity experts who then turn around and point to the racial division on campus as a rationale for expanding and extending their diversity programming.
One could argue that minority orientation is profoundly disempowering at precisely the point that it aims to empower. The message of minority orientation is the message of identity politics--that you are your race (and your gender), and that as an enlightened representative of your race (and your gender) you naturally hold certain beliefs about what your racial (or gendered) background means, about what oppression is, and about what a more perfect world would look like. This is supposed to create a feeling of personal power--through an act of self-definition that is always also an act of political affiliation. In theory, under identity politics you get a sense of self and a sense of group belonging all at once; the existence of minority orientations speaks powerfully to the strength of this fantasy on campus. In practice, though, identity politics is undercut by an ugly undercurrent of condescension, defeatism, and even despair.
To tell someone that he is his race--rather than a self-determining, independent agent--is to tell him that he is effectively helpless, that the most important thing about him is beyond his ken. Thus does the putatively empowering atmosphere of the minority orientation undercut itself. The entire enterprise is predicated on a profoundly disempowering concept of what makes you who you are, and of how much about your life you can shape, determine, and control. Your race is something you cannot change or alter (unless of course you are Michael Jackson). If you are defined by the color of your skin, or even by your ancestry, you are radically disempowered, a victim of forces beyond your comprehension and your control. No amount of hot air about racial empowerment can hide or obviate this simple, devastating fact.
There are intellectuals who will tell you otherwise, though, and it is to them that minority orientation owes its peculiar rationale and its special place as the scene of initiation into a voluntarily segregated campus culture. The rationale for minority orientations like Brown's comes from the rationale for Afrocentric education. Made famous by books such as Martin Bernal's Black Athena and championed by radical black academics such as CUNY's Leonard Jeffries and Temple's Molefi Kete Asante (do not miss this priceless website), who coined the term "Afrocentrism" and founded the first Ph.D. program in African American Studies, Afrocentrism seeks to raise self-esteem in black students by teaching them that they are the living heirs of Africans' noble past.
The idea is that the contemporary black experience is directly connected to African history and inherited African culture. The aim of the idea is to combat "Eurocentrism" (white man's history) by producing an "Afrocentric" account of history that celebrates black achievement and that responds to black ways of knowing (according to Afrocentrism, blacks do not think or feel the way whites do: as Asante puts it, "Africa is at the heart of all African American behavior"). Rewriting Western history as the history of how the West appropriated African achievements, Afrocentrism whitewashes that past (overlooking, for example, the fact that enslaving blacks is not a European invention, that Muslims have held black slaves, and that blacks have enslaved one another in the past and continue to do so today). At times, Afrocentrism even stoops to blatant misrepresentation, teaching such patent falsehoods as that Socrates and Cleopatra were black, that the ancient Egyptians were black, that Aristotle stole his ideas from black Egyptian intellectuals, and so on. Ancient Greece, according to Afrocentric thought, plagiarized Ancient Egypt. You can get a stiff dose of Afrocentric thought by reading Asante's The Afrocentric Idea. And you can get a stiffer antidote by reading the classic refutations of Afrocentrism, Mary Lefkowitz's Not Out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse to Teach Myth as History and her edited collection, Black Athena Revisited.
So the separatism we see espoused by minority orientations has a scholarly backing, as do the identity politics, the militant historical revisionism, the abiding hostility to Western history, Western culture, and white people that provides the frame for "orienting" minority freshmen. Indeed, Afrocentric scholars have been instrumental in institutionalizing the idea that expressing hate toward a putative "oppressor" (or member of an "oppressive" group) can be a legitimate, even central, component of campus culture. Hence the freedom with which Afrocentric scholars spout rabid anti-Semitic sentiments, both in and beyond the classroom.
Wellesley's Tony Martin, author of the telling Jewish Onslaught has become notorious for requiring students to read--as truth--the Nation of Islam's anti-Semitic screed, The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews, which argues that Jews were the "key operatives" in the African slave trade and so bear "monumental culpability in ... the black holocaust" (Henry Louis Gates, Jr., chair of African American Studies at Harvard, called the book "one of the most sophisticated instances of hate literature yet compiled").
Likewise, CUNY's Leonard Jeffries (who teaches that blacks are "sun people"--warm, humane--while whites are "ice people"--cold, hard) was stripped of his position as chair of CUNY's Black Studies department for making anti-Semitic remarks and arguing that rich Jews ran the slave trade. He subsequently won a $400,000 civil suit against CUNY for violating his rights, and continues there to this day, inciting outrage with his racist remarks.
Not surprisingly, anti-Semitism is a disturbingly common feature of black student groups. And, not surprisingly, they--and other minority student groups--get away with it. It would not be going too far to say that minority orientations such as Brown's Third World Transition Program plant the seeds for such virulent campus strife. Certainly, they translate into practice the theoretical basis for racial separatism (and the rationale for rabid, unapologetic "reverse" racism), using the settling-in period to teach new minority students that people with non-white skin are always already horribly wronged, that they will continue to be wronged by their college and by society, and that because their lives are definitively shaped by the institutionalized racism of American life, they must band together in supportive, politically aware solidarity. Otherwise, they will fail to make it through college, or--even worse--will sell out to the dominant white culture by adopting its values wholesale while betraying their roots. To this way of thinking, Clarence Thomas is such a sellout, as are Condoleeza Rice, Thomas Sowell, and Shelby Steele.
It's angry, destructive stuff. It corrodes the mind and erodes the heart in the name of raising consciousness and increasing self-esteem. And yet it is presented--packaged, sold--to students as the truth that will set them free. It should seem strange to us that such a poisonous world view can be so easily passed off on students--and their parents--as a positive, hopeful thing. And yet, all too often, we don't see it that way. The reason why lies in the language of therapy, which marinates the divisive and frequently hateful logic of diversity in the warm and fuzzy rhetoric of self-actualization.
September 11, 2002
Tonight, Edward Said will be
Tonight, Edward Said will be honored by the First World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies (WOCMES). WOCMES will be commemorating the anniversary of last year's terrorist attacks by awarding the "WOCMES Award for Outstanding Contributions to Middle Eastern Studies" to the Columbia University professor who has arguably done more than any other scholar to set the present radically politicized tone of Middle Eastern studies and its interdisciplinary cousin, postcolonial studies. For those who are troubled by the moral relativism and ideological rigidity the academic left brings to its understanding of the 9/11 attacks and to subsequent events in the Middle East, the planned coincidence of Said's recognition and 9/11 remembrance will feel like a cruel joke at history's--and humanity's--expense.
Martin Kramer, dissenting Middle East scholar and editor of the Middle East Quarterly, explains with uncompromising power:
What seems totally inappropriate is the selection of Said for an award for his contributions to Middle Eastern studies. A contribution to an academic discipline usually takes the form of some epistemological breakthrough. Said's attack on Middle Eastern studies, made in his 1978 book Orientalism, prompted an epistemological breakdown. Yet he never provided a serious alternative, just a kind of floating over-identification with political causes like Palestine, Arab nationalism, and Muslim anti-imperialism. When pressed, he has always pointed out that it isn't his field anyway, and it isn't his brief to say anything about the Middle East as it really is. The decadence that pervades Middle Eastern studies today, the complete subservience to trendy politics, and the unlikelihood that the field might ever again produce a hero of high culture--all this is owed to Edward Said.
The most manifest sign of this decadence is the guild's decision to kneel before its greatest detractor. And in the very depth of that kneel, we find decisive evidence for the complete atrophy of debate in Middle Eastern studies. Said's selection was virtually unanimous. Fifty-two members of the WOCMES International Advisory and Program Committee (comprising academics from eighteen countries) voted in favor of Said's nomination. Only three members abstained. No other nomination won support. The outcome was almost Syrian in its unanimity.
Kramer has written extensively on how Said, a Palestinian-American English professor with little expertise in Middle Eastern studies and a big chip on his shoulder, effectively hijacked the field when he published Orientalism, the scholarly blockbuster that has since set the tone for leftist academic thinking about imperialism, oppression, and Western attitudes toward the East (currently, the book is, according to Amazon.com, the 20th most popular book in Egypt) . Kramer devotes a great deal of space to Said's impact in his recent book, Ivory Towers on Sand (see sidebar); you can read Chapter Three, about Said's influential failure to grapple with Islam, at www.ivorytowers.org. We know all too well today the costs of Middle Eastern studies' failure to grasp the potential threat posed by radical Islam. Kramer helps us understand how it was that such a gross misunderstanding was possible, and he shows us, too, how Said helped to shape the academic climate that enabled that costly misunderstanding to occur.
Kramer has set off a firestorm with his book--it's covered in detail on the site. He's also recently launched MartinKramer.org, a rich site with links to lots of his writing about the contemporary Middle East. Spend some time with Kramer's work if you have not already. It's a good way to pay constructive, forward-looking tribute to last year's tragedy.
September 8, 2002
In my last blog, I
In my last blog, I showed how minority orientation at Brown is marxist orientation, pointing out how the perspective espoused by Brown's Third World Transition Program is explicitly aligned with the marxist critique of colonialism that has been so popular in the academy in recent decades. (If you want to read more on this subject, this is a good starting point.) Today, I'll develop some thoughts about how it is that an explicitly, unapologetically revolutionary vision of black insurrection can act as the sustaining, supportive glue of minority orientation, and I'll link those thoughts to a wider consideration of where such orientational sleight of hand fits into the multicultural agenda of the postmodern American campus.
First, a caveat: to say that Brown's Third World Transition Program is aligned with a violent revolutionary vision is not to say that Brown freshmen of color are eagerly signing up to wage the subversive war of social transformation. Nor is it to say that they are fully aware that TWTP affiliates itself with such explicitly radical, potentially violent politics. It is to say, however, that extraordinarily extreme views have become, in today's through-the-looking-glass campus culture, thoroughly mainstreamed, so much so that fantasies of mass revolt are readily reconciled with the comparatively innocuous dreams of new college students.
Most of these students don't want to overthrow the world; what they do want is assurance that they won't get lost in the shuffle, that they are not invisible, that there is a place for them at school and in the world. Minority orientation programs such as TWTP make collectivist politics a means of offering a feeling of belonging, of connection, even of family to students who might otherwise feel isolated and alone at a big school far from home. The hook is the concept of community: it is through the language of group identification that programs such as TWTP manage to make the militant views of a Frantz Fanon into the soothing stuff of warm and fuzzy welcome. It's an impressive achievement, normalizing political extremism to the point where it becomes the stuff of domestic and scholastic security.
Who is running this remarkable magic show? According to Brown's web site, "The Office of the Dean of the College and the Office of Campus Life and Student Services sponsor the Third World Transition Program. It is run each year by the Director of the Third World Center/Associate Dean of the College, and two TWTP student coordinators." And, indeed, the Fanonian rhetoric of Third World liberation that we see on the TWTP orientation page is lifted right from the front page of Brown's Third World Center web site. Revolution, it seems, is not an aberration of minority orientation at Brown. Rather, it lies at the heart of the school's official perspective on what it means to be a student of color, and what it means to provide institutional support for students of color.
The politicized minority orientation at Brown is thus just one small part of a much larger ideological initiative there and at many other campuses across the country. TWTP is, indeed, less an orientation--a set of practical sessions on what college is and how to get the most out of it--than an initiation into an entire culture of racialized constraint, one that operates from the premise that colleges are racist institutions, that the education one receives there is shot through with unexamined racist ideology, and that the people one finds there--the white ones anyway--are always already complicit with the racist society that empowers them at the expense of others less luckily born. Brown's Third World Center has its work cut out for it. And, not surprisingly, it approaches that work in a manner very like that of the minority orientation it sponsors: by treating a mixture of revolutionary rhetoric and staged cheer as the stuff of out of which self-esteem is made.
At the same time that Brown's Third World Center invokes Fanon as its multicultural muse, it represents itself as a center of celebration. Just as TWTP makes Fanon into an unlikely midwife for welcoming new students of color into Brown's "Third World" community, so TWC presents the "celebration" of "diversity" as an expression of Fanon's famed "Third Way." The student staffers at TWC spend most of their time preparing to celebrate various forms of diversity: black students plan Black History Month, Asian American students plan Asian American History Month, Caribbean students plan Caribbean Heritage Week, multiracial students plan Multiracial Heritage Week, and so on, through a Native American History Series, Latino History Month, Semana Chicana, Puerto Rican Culture Week, Islam Week, and Southeast Asian Week. TWC even sponsors a Latino literary magazine entitled Somos. Enforcing the ideas that the only real diversity is ethnic diversity, the TWC builds a great deal of aggression into its elaborate calendar of "celebrations." Two of the most aggressive ideas that are built in are 1) that the only people who know how to celebrate a given ethnic group's diversity are those who belong to that group (that it takes one to celebrate one); and 2) that only some ethnicities count as worthy of celebration. It goes without saying that there are no Irish students planning Famine Awareness Month, no Jewish students planning Shalom Soiree, no Appalachian students planning a barn raising or quilting bee.
Brown's Third World center also extends the "support" (i.e., veiled aggression) offered by its orientation program's bizarre blend of revolutionary fervor and victimology by placing student diversity experts--or Minority Peer Counselors (MPCs)--in each dorm as part of the school's residential counseling program. There they provide academic and personal counseling to all first year students. According to the Report from the Faculty Committee on Student Life 2001-2002, "The Minority Peer Counselors seeks to provide support for students of color living in the first year residences and to be a resource to all students around issues of diversity.B The Minority Peer Counselors are a network of Asian American, African American, Latino, Native American and multiracial undergraduates who provide academic and interpersonal counseling to first year students in residential units. MPCs provide information and advice on issues of oppression - they conduct workshops and forums within units, offer student-to-student counseling and sponsor study breaks throughout the year." There are also women peer counselors living in Brown's dorms.
Brown's tradition of keeping minority peer counselors on hand in the residence halls to handle all those tough moments of cultural difference is popular elsewhere, too: Princeton has "minority affairs advisors" in each of its residential colleges; Michigan houses minority peer advisors in each dorm. Yale has had special ethnic counselors for thirty years, though as more and more groups are added to the list of ethnicities, the program has become virtually impossible to administer.
The message of such on-site counseling programs mirrors the message of minority orientation itself: that being a member of a minority group is traumatic; that so is being around people from groups not one's own; that the atmosphere created by such racial mixing is so volatile that support services need to be part of every campus "home;" that race is dangerous, damaging, potentially explosive; that physical differences between people require trained mediation; that they also require sensitive redescription as "cultural differences," as if skin color automatically enrolls us in certain traditions, practices, tastes, and beliefs. The "skin culture" posited by such racially paranoid support programs assumes, too, that there can be no meaningful connection among people from different ethnic and racial backgrounds, that we are all, ultimately, divided and kept apart by blood (no matter that few people have the "pure" blood envisioned by "skin culture").
The emphasis we place today on "tolerance"--rather than on "connection," "comprehension," or "communication"--speaks loudly to this belief that our lives are, and ought to be, structured according to a sort of politicized, self-imposed apartheid. So does the common campus catchphrase, "celebrate diversity," which contains within it the notion that differences among people are not to be studied or understood, but paraded and passively admired; not to be overcome or bridged, but preserved and protected; not to be respected, but worshipped. Tribalism is alive and well on America's campuses, fed and sustained by a heady combination of therapeutic psychobabble, chic marxist rhetoric, and postcolonial posturing.
Skin culture is thus also inevitably thin skin culture. So thin are skins in a world predicated on the belief that what differs from you must be hostile to you that even the terms upon which that world is formed have to be softened, their aggressive racialism redescribed, via a sort of new age newspeak, in terms of communal welcome, acceptance, and warmth.
The strategic newspeak redescription of the segregationist rationale that underwrites campus diversity initiatives such as Brown's can go to extreme lengths. Increasingly, for example, the word "minority" is itself seen as offensive and insensitive, defined as it is over and against an implied, dominant "majority." Likewise, "person of color" has been felt by some to be too objectifying, to identify the individual too closely with an external physical characteristic. Hence the growing popularity of the term ALANA (an acronym for African, Latino/a, Asian, and Native American). ALANA sounds like a name, and so circumvents the labelling activity of the words whose first letters make it up. ALANA personalizes the objectifying gesture of identifying people not as individuals but as members of groups. It also completes the collectivist circle envisioned by campus multiculturalism: ALANA is one word for all groups (or all groups that count); it unites non-white students in the moment of separating them from the unmentioned, but very palpable, white majority.
ALANA is becoming a preferred term on America's more progressively diverse campuses. Mount Holyoke, for example, hosts a pre-orientation called Passages for "ALANA" students which features sessions on "Identity" and "Being an ALANA student." Likewise, the minority orientation at Williams College, Windows on Williams (or WOW), bills itself as "a pre-orientation program for African, Latino/a, Asian, and Native American (ALANA) first year students and their parents to discuss some of the expectations of the community and how they might relate to being students of color." Anxious to be as inclusive as possible, WOW's ALANA orientation invites "self-identified lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) students" to take part in some of its activities, including a workshop entitled "Responding to the Isms and Phobias: A workshop about diversity and community and issues of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, class, and religion, with upperclass facilitators." Perhaps in future years Williams will amend "ALANA" to TALLABANG," or "AGNATBALL," or some other acronym that covers sexual preference as well as skin color.
Behind all this slippery rhetoric and revolutionary sensitivity lies not just the hot air of a classically self-serving administrative agenda, but an entire school of scholarly thought.
Next installment: the philosophical rationale for the campus separatism that expresses itself in such self-defeating initiatives as minority orientation.
September 3, 2002
In my last blog, I
In my last blog, I offered some prefatory remarks about the philosophy that underwrites the concept of "minority orientation." Today, I develop those remarks by spotlighting one of the oldest and best known minority orientation programs around: Brown University's Third World Transition Program, a four-day orientation for "students of African, Arab, Asian, Latina/o, Multiracial, and Native American descent on this campus." Founded in 1969 as the "Transitional Summer Program" for incoming black and Latino freshmen, the program was originally designed to help give students with weaker educational backgrounds a jump start on college. The program did not have an appreciable effect on academic performance, however, and as the years passed, it began to focus more on building community than on scholastic preparation.
That's very much what the focus is at TWTP today. This year, for example, TWTP held a range of workshops and discussions designed to help students explore their identities and to bond with one another. Devoting seaprate sessions to racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, religion and spirituality (treated as a "lens" for understanding one's place in society), Third World history, and Third World identity and community, this year's TWTP sought, in the words of one student coordinator, to make students "feel comfortable talking about issues they might not have talked about before" and so to give them "a chance to find a voice and to speak out." According to Karen McLaurin-Chesson, associate dean of the College and director of the Third World Center, TWTP is b one of very few societal forums for students of color to build lines of communication between each other."
An example of how such lines of communication were forged: at the workshop on classism, "the facilitator read out statements meant to divide the group along socioeconomic lines, such as 'I consider my family to be wealthy' and 'I get my clothing second-hand.' Participants stepped in or out of a circle on the floor according to whether the statement was true for them."
When students were not bonding by baring their souls and bank statements, they did get some useful information. In between all the workshops on building self-esteem and berating social -isms, TWTP scheduled sessions on time management, study skills and communication, and campus safety. These took a back seat to the more important work of self-exposure and social critique, however. According to McLaurin-Chesson, exposing students to Brown's academic resources is a "secondary function" of TWTP.
190 students attended TWTP last week--about half of the minority students entering Brown this year. TWTP sessions were closed to "non-participants," meaning whites. As a student coordinator explained, while the sorts of discussions that take place during TWTP "definitely should happen across races .... I don't think TWTP is the space for that to happen."
Are you writhing yet? Though I have given in to snideness at a couple of points, I've held off commenting during this description of TWTP, which is culled largely from the article that appeared in the August 29th issue of the Brown Daily Herald. I figured readers deserved a factual account of what the program does before I launch into a critique of it. Even so, I feel as though the description I've put together here practically critiques itself. TWTP is so over the top that it looks more like a parody of minority orientation than an orientation per se.
First, there is the hysterical surfeit of -ism workshops, each designed to teach new students the One Right Way of looking at this prejudiced and morally reprehensible world. It's hard not to picture TWTP as a sort of PC game show-- "Name That -Ism," perhaps--in which the most successful participants are those who can identify insensitivity or intolerance faster and more adamantly than everyone else. It's also not hard to imagine that the central message of these sessions is that Brown is a hotbed of these -isms; that as a predominantly white, privileged institution, it cannot be otherwise; that one needs special tools--awareness, community--to make it through such an inherently hostile environment; that those tools are being supplied to otherwise helpless and hapless freshpersons of color by TWTP through its workshops; that these students would most likely be lost without TWTP and the support network it offers them. TWTP isn't preparing people to be succesful college students (that is after all only a "secondary" priority); it is, however, preparing them to be campus thought police. It's also using minority orientation to perpetuate minority orientation: TWTP is above all a rationale for having TWTP.
Second, there are the games played during these enlightening workshops--values clarification exercises that belong more to the therapeutic setting than the academic one, and that make revealing one's private feelings about such personal issues as one's economic or religious background the means of "build[ing] lines of communication." Such workshops make confession into the condition of community; they teach students that privacy is essentially anti-social and they suggest that telling strangers your secrets is the key to intimacy. Within the context of the values clarification exercise, collective self-exposure creates the effect of instant community. There is nothing like feeling vulnerable to make you want to trust (that no one will laugh at you, or talk about you behind your back); if everyone is feeling that way at once, the illusion of community can be created. Thus do brief orientations convince people who do not know one another that they have "bonded," and are thus a "community." Thus do such orientations stage their "success" and so rationalize their continuation in the future.
Third, there is the terminology of TWTP itself. Calling an Ivy League minority orientation a Third World Transition Program announces in no uncertain terms the counterhegemonic pomp that underlies the orientation, which cannot call itself an orientation, but must represent Brown students as oppressed, exotic Others and must represent itself as a type of indispensable missionary work. That pomp is also a politics: the TWTP web site offers a remarkable explanation for why well-heeled, privileged Brown students should choose to call themselves "third world" students. It's a remarkable explanation, which I quote here in full:
Students first began using the term "Third World" over "minority" because of the negative connotations of inferiority and powerlessness with which the word "minority" is often associated. Although the term "Third World" may have negative socioeconomic connotations outside of Brown, Third World students here continue to use the term in the context originating form the Civil Rights Movement.
Frantz Fanon, author of The Wretched of the Earth (1961), urged readers to band together against oppression and colonialism, by pioneering a "Third Way" meaning an alternative to the ways of the first world (U.S. & Europe) and also the second world (USSR & Eastern Europe). When students adopt the term "Third World", they use it in the sense of a cultural model of empowerment and liberation.
Brown students of color continue to use the term "Third World" in a similar fashion: to describe a consciousness which recognizes the commonalities and links shared by their diverse communities. This consciousness at Brown also reflects a right, a willingness, and a necessity for people of color to define themselves instead of being defined by others.
The concept of "Third World" has special meaning for minority students at Brown. It is not to be confused with the economic definition of the term used commonly in our society today, but understood as a term that celebrates the cultures of Arab, Asian, Black, Latino, Multiracial and Native Americans.
TWTP thus understands itself as a local materialization of Frantz Fanon's vision of resistance to oppression and colonialism--a vision that was explicitly violent in nature: "Violence," Fanon argued, "is a cleansing force. It frees the native from his inferiority complex and from his despair and inaction; it makes him fearless and restores his self-respect." The TWTP website glosses over the fact that Fanon's "Third Way" was the way of revolution, that his notion of liberation involved completely destroying the present world order. But in affiliating itself with Fanon's vision and vocabulary, TWTP nonetheless expresses a distinctly militant perspective on what exactly constitutes racial empowerment. The Wretched of the Earth, hailed by TWTP as the origin of Brown's ideal "cultural model of empowerment and liberation," was hailed by its publisher as "the handbook for the black revolution." A Marxist account of Fanon's experiences in Algeria during its struggle for independence, the book outlines the role of class conflict in the creation of a new nation's national consciousness, arguing that postcolonial African nations will implode if they merely replace white leaders with black ones while conserving an essentially bourgeois capitalist social structure.
From the inside flap: "Fanon conducts, for perhaps the first time since Engels and Sorel, a brilliant examination of the role of violence as the most efficient midwife of historical change. He demonstrates how violence in the colonized countries of today's cold-war world reflects the violent relations that obtain between capitalism and socialism, and shows how violence affords a colonialized people its first sense of community. ... Writing in the name of an ideal Third World unity yet to be forged, Fanon has here provided for leaders in under-developed countries a veritable handbook of revolutionary practice and social reorganization. ... To read Fanon is to read the passionate revolutionary bible of a latter-day Machiavelli, urging us all to bring the colonial period of world history to an end by all possible means, including violence. As Jean-Paul Sartre points out in his now-famous preface to this book, we must have the courage to read this speaker for the Third World, for he will make us ashamed, and shame is itself a revolutionary sentiment."
This is heavy stuff to lay on freshmen. But it is the guiding spirit behind Brown's Third World Transition Program, which openly embraces Fanon's vision and which designs its itinerary in explicit sympathy with Fanon's project.
What connections are there to be made between TWTP's touchy-feely workshops on identity and its revolutionary outlook? How exactly are we to understand the connection between TWTP's emphasis on values clarification and community-building--the all-too familiar stuff of today's therapeutic academy--and its allegiance to a Fanonian concept of radical global revolt? Is there even a connection to be made?
Most definitely. More to come.