Exploring the Eclipse of Equality

Archive for April, 2010|Monthly archive page

Correctness is in the Eye of the Beholder: What we really can and can’t say

In Culture, Domestic Politics, Media and Politics on April 28, 2010 at 10:52 pm

I had a fascinating experience tonight in which I did a radio show that was based on a paper I had written two years ago about professors and politics. The title of the paper was “Ascriptive Justice: The Prevalence, Distribution, and Consequences of Political Correctness in the Academy” and despite the seemingly reactionary title, this is probably my favorite piece among those I have written. The argument is ironic and the methods are complicated, but I put a lot into the article that still sits well with me.

The story behind the article is fairly complicated and I will not rehearse it here, but the gist is that I wrote this in anticipation of a volume that was to come out of the American Enterprise Institute called Reforming the Politically Correct University, based on a conference that was held there.

After having attended the conference (well perhaps really long before), I became suspicious about the use of this concept, Political Correctness. It seemed that panelists were using it willy-nilly to suit whatever attack on academic liberals they pleased. What appeared to unite the critics was a sense that a politics of difference or multiculturalism was driving university worldviews and corrupting scholarship, and this left them cold. Their arguments would blend appeals to the first amendment in which a scholar or activist might condemn university speech codes or discriminatory practices with the core theme of contempt for identity politics.  In response, I decided to use data from a survey I had produced on faculty attitudes and was able to show that PC was basically what I had surmised from my position in the audience and that its effects seemed much less pernicious than pessimistic views would attest.

In some way that I did not explore, a radio station in Minnesota became familiar with my paper and wanted to have me on to discuss political correctness in America more generally. The host was a very nice and competent woman Read the rest of this entry »


A and B, but not enough C: Galtung on the state of American Conflict Resolution

In Reviews on April 26, 2010 at 3:42 pm

Well you missed another session of bracing conversation with Johan Galtung last night–that is unless you were among the roughly twenty people who turned out to fifth and K to see the great peace scholar do his thing at Busboys and Poets. The evening was well worth the effort to turn out. Not only is the space really a pleasant venue for an intellectual evening, but Professor Galtung’s lecture provided just what one would come to expect from one of the twentieth century’s great radical social scientists.  Perched in the corner of the room like some cross between Nick Cave of the Bad Seeds and Spaulding Gray on his way to Cambodia, he offered his evaluation of the War on Terror and the so-called American Empire. If you are American or Israeli, you almost have to root against him, because his views are so pessimistic, but love him or hate him, he offers a take on world affairs all his own.

If I could highlight one special moment of the evening (apart from the fact that my four year old daughter listened dutifully to the entirety of the lecture without disruption), I would point to Galtung’s evaluation of the Conflict Resolution field in the United States. After sharing an anecdote about Prime Minister Zapatero of Spain and how he handled the terrorist attack there with an accommodating civilizational posture, he suggested that Spain had the leading intellectual peace community in the world. He imagined that this might surprise the audience, and in his avuncular way averred that we are doing alright here in the U.S., but are unable to produce good scholarship due to our Anglo-American fascination Read the rest of this entry »

Constructive Confrontation: The case of Henry Louis Gates

In Africa, Domestic Politics on April 23, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Our times are extremely interesting–in the sense of the ancient Chinese curse. We have so much going on that there is ample opportunity for the likes of Rahm Emmanuel not to let this crisis go to waste. As we have come to chant, when the President came to office he faced two wars, the great recession, a crisis in health financing, climate change and the burden of a dysfunctional financial system among other things. And yet amid all of this, the key issue of our decade may be the ongoing challenge of racial reconciliation. In this grand spectacle, no figure other than the President himself has loomed as large as Henry Louis Gates. In Gates, we have one of the best examples of how ideas and their makers have consequences–in this case for the good.

Not only was Gates in the center of a public drama now known as the beer summit, which I believe was one of the major facilitators of the ethno-racial dimension of the Tea Party movement, but today he has published an op-ed in the New York Times that is only astonishing for the fact of its publication. His confrontation with Officer Crowley has helped to surface residual ethno-political tensions that we now have a chance to engage head-on to expose racially biased misconceptions, while in today’s confrontation with history, we find Gates engaging what must be one of the most contentious topics in the American record, namely responsibility for African slavery, with a balanced and historical view on how the practice developed.

In Gates’ story, there is excess blame to go around for the sins of the peculiar institution. We find the usual deserving suspects implicated, but we also find here a eerie tale of inter-ethic opportunism among Africans themselves. It is said that success has many fathers and failure is an orphan, but the reality is often the reverse. The fathers of the tragedy of institutionalized racism that we are only now beginning to extirpate are more numerous than we typically suppose. Similarly Read the rest of this entry »

Inclusive Ethnocentrism: The political logic of the Tea Party

In Class and Social Stratification, Domestic Politics, Media and Politics on April 19, 2010 at 2:41 pm

It has been hard for most of us not to pay attention to the Tea Party movement. This fascinating right of center and middle American rejection of the activist politics of economic crisis is just colorful and controversial enough to have become the talk of the town in a mid-term election cycle. In 2009 the group, which broke onto the national scene with shouts of (T)axed (E)nough (A)lready in a national mall protest on tax day, managed to garner even more attention in their 2010 rally. The semiological savvy of the group is profound and there is more to expect from it, but this weekend witnessed a sea change in group’s narrative that will stick until the November elections. As Peter Beinart argued, in the wake of a New York Times/CBS News poll on the group, the Tea Partiers are widely regarded as phony populists,  and that is what they will stay until we have a real test of their electoral power. With the demonstration of power, everything can change, but for now, the conversation has turned.

I assume that most people have read accounts from the poll I mention above. There are plenty of discussions about it to choose from. Just today, E.J. Dionne weighed in with a gloss that he has spoken much of already on air: the populism of the privileged. Charles Blow had a devastating piece over the weekend as well. The arguments are not appearing by chance. The New York Times poll was surgically targeted to expose the true face of the movement at a crucial moment in the current political opportunity structure.

The findings were devastating for the group on two counts. First, the movement has been shown to draw on relatively well off citizens and not the lower classes. This is important because the greatest fear the democrats face is that false consciousness will drive their “natural constituency” of voters with an interest in activist government on economic matters toward the Right. If the class structure is working as traditional class voting hypothesis would predict, then there is little reason for the Democrats to worry and Read the rest of this entry »

Conflict Resolution à la Asabiyyah: Ibn Khaldun is back

In Guest Blogger, Intellectual History on April 15, 2010 at 9:14 am

This is a special day here at Confrontations. We have the first example of a guest contributor who is using this platform to publish scholarly ideas from his own research about conflict. Today, Mohammed Cherkaoui has provided us with a précis of his exciting arguments about a social science concept that is sorely overlooked in our Europhile culture from the great historian and philosopher Ibn Khaldun. The concept, Asabiyyah, is not what one would call forgotten, but it has certainly been underexploited given our current fascination with identity formation and ethnic conflict. What excites me about the idea is that it has a vector quality–it goes somewhere–and as Richard Rubenstein has said, it helps us to understand how identities bring people together rather than simply tear them apart. Before we become starry eyed with the idea, we should remember that Ibn Khaldun was prompted in his efforts to understand the era of the Arab Conquests, which were anything but peaceful. Even still, it is exciting to place this classic idea back in play where it belongs. If one can cite Plato, Hobbes and Rousseau in one’s work, why not Ibn Khaldun? Let this serve as an invitation offered to us by soon to be Doctor Cherkaoui.

What drives social change toward conflict? This is probably the main challenge in addressing what nurtures intra-state conflicts, and why sub-groups rebel Read the rest of this entry »

Obama’s AEI Beachhead: Norm Ornstein on Fire

In Domestic Politics on April 14, 2010 at 8:36 pm

Looking at the range of Obama domestic and foreign policies, and his agency and diplomatic appointments, my conclusion is clear: This president is a mainstream, pragmatic moderate, operating in the center of American politics; center-left, perhaps, but not left of center. The most radical president in American history? Does Newt Gingrich, a PhD in history, really believe that [expletive]?

Norman Ornstein in The Washington Post

I have followed Norman Ornstein, who is a resident scholar at the right of center American Enterprise Institute, for some time now. He has written some of the most convincing defenses of Obama’s centrist approach to politics that I have seen. I won’t say much about what he finds and who he is right now other than to say, read this piece from today’s Washington Post. Norm is writing a piecemeal retort to Glenn Beck’s book Arguing with Idiots. We might call Ornstein’s book Arguing with Ideologues: How to stop scant facts and adequate exaggerations. It is worth reading the article just for the list of centrist moves that Obama has taken. The times are radical, but Obama is not. After reading this, you can remember exactly how obvious this is.

After reading today’s powerful and convincing discussion of extremist and implausible rhetoric coming from the right, turn back and see an earlier one he wrote about Obama’s legislative successes. The earlier piece is less biting, but is really so contrary to what we read at the time (it was written when health care reform was being pilloried and Obama mocked for having accomplished nothing) that it stood Read the rest of this entry »

Give’em Hell George: The one big difference between Bush and Truman

In Class and Social Stratification, Domestic Politics on April 12, 2010 at 11:16 am

I am a bit pressed to be able to write much today, but the one thing I could not ignore was an intriguing piece in the DailyBeast that compares George Bush to Harry Truman. There may be reasons to compare these two presidents, and I did occasionally think of them together in Bush’s tenure. They were both tough guy hawks who were under appreciated by the DC insiders. Truman was considered a little man who was not big enough to fill the shoes of his predecessor FDR. Bush was mocked for his Dan Quayle like tendency to misspeak. Those who opposed him were said to misunderestimate him and they surely did. He accomplished a lot, whether you agreed with him or not. What made these two presidents so different is what we now have trouble seeing. Pardon my fixation lately, but it is class politics. Truman was a class warrior in the old populist mold. He waged a whistle stop campaign trough the country that brought condemnation from the established industries in a time when the Democrats were seen as the party of the common man and that was widely recognized as a good thing. George Bush, on the other hand, once joked that his base consisted of “the haves and the have mores.” Contrast this Read the rest of this entry »

Lust for the Lure of the Mine: The drama of true cost accounting

In Class and Social Stratification on April 9, 2010 at 10:24 am

Where danger is double  and the pleasures are few. Where the rain never falls,  the sun never shines, it’s dark as a dungeon way down in the mines. There’s many a man  I’ve seen in my day who lives just to labor  his whole life away. Like a fiend with his dope  And a drunkard his wine, a man will have lust  for the lure of the mine.

Dark as a Dungeon by Merle Robert Travis

One can’t consume news today without confronting the tragedy of the coal miners in West Virginia, who are still trapped in a coal mine so dangerous that rescuers can’t hazard a rescue without retreat. We have a sister story that has something of a happy ending in China that received almost no coverage here, but which highlights a problem we have as a species–our need for what some scientists call “energy servants,” brings costs that we only face when we can no longer look away. Today, the nation mourns the loss of twenty five miners and fears the loss of four more, but how many of us are thinking about this in global strategic terms? Is there a conflict here that we are missing?

Of course there is reason to blame and to criticize the coal mine’s owner. We have seen quite a few reports on how the coal mine had over a thousand safety warnings in just the past few years. In fact, just prior to the explosion, there were methane warnings and, as Read the rest of this entry »

It Didn’t Happen There: Easter reflections on America, transparency and the Catholic Church

In Religious Conflict on April 4, 2010 at 8:45 am

One has to admit that there is something terribly sad in witnessing such a chilling scandal for the Catholic Church on the most sacred of days for the church. One need not be religious to recognize the pathos of this situation. The Easter celebration has none of the commercialism of the Christmas season and comes at a time in the northern hemisphere when we need it, after winter has passed, and one could not have had a more beautiful Easter weekend in the Washington area. I certainly do not intend to pile onto this problem, but it seems an opportune moment to reflect on one good thing about the kind of culture that the United States is trying to offer to the world through its example: transparency.

If you risk the cherry blossom crowds and fight your way to the Jefferson memorial, you will find the following words to your back and right:

Almighty God hath created the mind free. All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens . . . are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion . . . No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion

This kind of commitment to transparency, even Read the rest of this entry »

The Red and the Green: Whatever happened to the Civilian Conservation Corps?

In Domestic Politics, Reviews on April 3, 2010 at 10:11 am

The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.

FDR’s Oglethorpe Address

You have probably heard the saying that America has no ideologies, it is one. I always attribute the saying to the historian Richard Hofstadter, but like all great lines, it can roam and be attached to whoever first said it to you–if you take that person to be relatively clever. A corollary of the idea is that America, being an ideology, tolerates no others. This is why Socialism found shallow roots here and the seeds of Communism fell on rocky soil. While some of the most interesting social science has been written about the failure of class politics to take hold in the United States (Seymour Martin Lipset’s oeuvre comes to mind), the history of the American political mainstream is far more pragmatic.

Part of that pragmatism that revealed the bold, persistent experimentation that was the only ideology that Franklin Roosevelt seemed to have, was the New Deal program the Civilian Conservation Corps. If you don’t know what that is, I suggest that you take a trip over to American Experience to watch a really inspirational hour long program on the CCC. The program began Read the rest of this entry »