Wokeness As Post-Protestantism
Collins: Right, so we now live in, as you put it, a post-Protestant US. But, if I understand your thesis correctly, you argue that the beliefs, mindsets and manners that animated earlier Protestantism have not been abandoned, but instead have been projected on to the political realm. A key transition you cite is the Social Gospel movement, which becomes more prominent during the 20th century. Then closer to our time Christianity gets stripped out altogether, and you are just left with social activism. Sin remains a preoccupation, but it has been redefined as a social sin, like bigotry and racism. Have I got that right?
Bottum: Yes. There’s an extraordinary point here. Walter Rauschenbusch [an American theologian and a key figure in the Social Gospel movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries] lists six species of social sin. If you go through the list, they are exactly what radicals are objecting to now: bigotry, the ignorance of the uneducated, power, corruption, militarism and oppression. It lines up so perfectly with today’s agitation.
What we’re seeing now is an amplification of what I wrote about five years ago: an intense spiritual hunger that has no outlet. There’s no way to see people kneeling, or singing ‘Hands up, don’t shoot’, or swaying while they hold up candles, and avoid acknowledging that it’s driven by a spiritual desire. I perceived this when I wrote about Occupy Wall Street, and it’s become even more like this. It is an intense spiritual hunger that is manifesting itself more violently. Because to the post-Protestants, the world is an outrage and we are all sinners.
As a follow-up to The Anxious Age, I wrote an essay in 2014 in the Weekly Standard, called ‘The Spiritual Shape of Political Ideas’. The first idea I addressed was white guilt – that there is this inherent guiltiness that comes from being white. This notion has the same logical shape and the same psychological operation as Original Sin. The trouble is that, unlike Original Sin, there’s no salvation from white guilt. But the formal structure of white guilt and Original Sin is the same. How do you come to understand that you need salvation? By deeper and deeper appreciation of your sinfulness.
Similarly, there is ostracising and shunning. Cancel culture is just the latest and most virulent form of the religious notion of shunning, in which people are chased into further appreciation of their guiltiness. Two years ago, the Nation published a poem about an older panhandler giving advice to a younger one, about how to get people to give you money. The Twittermob went after that poem, on the grounds that the poet was a white man from Minnesota. And the magazine apologised, and the poet apologised for writing the poem. That’s what the shunning is looking for. If you profane, if you’re shunned outside the Temple, the only way back is to become fanatic, to convince people that you understand how guilty you are. And even then I’m not sure there’s any way back.
At the very least, one of the effects of the shunning is to frighten everyone into silence. Its purpose is to get people fired, to put people beyond the pale, to get them out of our sight. This is for a couple reasons. First, it is to ensure we are not infected by this sinfulness. And second, it is a public declaration of our power. It says, look how powerful we are, that we can do this to people.
One of the great dangers is that religious ideas are in politics. The line that I use is that, if you believe that your ordinary political opponents are not merely mistaken, but are evil, you have ceased to do politics and begun to do religion.
Read it all. It’s very good.
You should read it in tandem with this classic James Lindsay and Mike Nayna essay, “Postmodern Religion and the Faith of Social Justice.”They argue that the best way to understand Social Justice Warriors is as members of a postmodern religious cult. Similarly, and crucially, the historian Yuri Slezkine writes that the best way to understand the Bolsheviks is as an apocalyptic millennial political cult.
I work with this critique in Live Not By Lies. Excerpt:
As the century wore on, educated Russians were aware of how far their agrarian country was falling behind modernizing, industrializing Europeans, both politically and economically. Younger Russians also keenly felt the shame of their liberal fathers’ failures to change the system. In the midst of Russia’s decline, Marxism appealed to restless young intellectuals who were sick of the old order, had lost faith in reforming it, and who were desperate to tear the system down and replace it with something entirely different.
Marxism stood for the future. Marxism stood for progress. The gospel of Marxism lit a fire in the minds of prerevolutionary Russian radicals. Their priests and the prophets were their intellectuals, who were “religious about being secular.” Writes historian Yuri Slezkine: “A conversion to socialism was a conversion to the intelligentsia, to a fusion of millenarian faith and lifelong learning.”
Far-left radicalism was initially spread among the intellectuals primarily through reading groups.
Once you adopted the Marxist faith, everything else in life became illuminated. The intellectuals went into the world to preach this pseudo-religion to the workers. These missionaries, says Slezkine, made what religious believers would call prophetic revelations, and by appealing to hatred in their listeners’ hearts, called them to conversion.
Once they had captured Russia’s universities, the radicals took their gospel to the factories. Few of the workers were capable of understanding Marxist doctrine, but the missionaries taught it to those capable of translating the essentials into a form that ordinary people could grasp. These proselytizers spoke to the suffering of the people, to their sense of justice, to their often-justified resentment of their exploiters. The great famine of 1891–92 had laid bare the incompetence of the Russian ruling classes. The evangelists of Marxism issued forth prophetic revelations about the land of milk and honey awaiting the masses after the revolution swept away the ruling mandarins.
Most of the revolutionaries came from the privileged classes. Their parents ought to have known that this new political faith their children preached would, if realized, mean the collapse of the social order. Still, they did not reject their children. Writes Slezkine, “The ‘students’ were almost always abetted at home while still in school and almost never damned when they became revolutionaries.”4 Perhaps the mothers and fathers didn’t want to alienate their sons and daughters. Perhaps they too, after the experience of the terrible famine and the incompetent state’s inability to care for the starving, had lost faith in the system.
Pre-order Live Not By Lies here for September 29 delivery. We are living through the same kind of moment now. To fail to see the power of this post-Christian religion is to leave ourselves undefended. This is not something that can be argued with, nor is it something that can be lived with in peace. The “gospel” has been going to the factories (workplaces) for a long time, but this summer was when it really took off in popular culture. Prepare.
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View From Your Table
I was away from the keys most of the day, and had settled in for the evening to pound out some words of criticism for Trump over his screwing around like a banana republican with the postal service, but then had a mono attack. I’m going to be early, and will go postal tomorrow (heh). Happily, our old friend James C. is in the US now on holiday with his pop, and sends in the above shot. You’re welcome.
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America’s Summer Of Revolution
Abe Greenwald has an excellent essay in Commentary, explaining why what is happening in America today really is a revolution, and must be treated as one. Excerpts:
This is, then, most fundamentally a revolution against the United States of America and all it stands for.
And yet, we seem to be treating the great unraveling as something less than a revolution. Apart from the boasts of the revolutionaries themselves, we are apt to hear characterizations of the moment as either “an opportunity for change” or, among those who are wary of it, a “fever” that will blow over in time. But what we are living through now is more consequential than any period of recent unrest, and it’s not just another leftist wave destined to roll on until it loses strength. Indeed, a revolution’s ultimate power comes from its being underestimated, tolerated, or accepted by those outside its ranks. The speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, has adopted the language of the revolution, calling federal agents “stormtroopers.” For New York Representative Jerry Nadler, anarchist violence in Portland is but a “myth.” And the media’s abiding sympathy for the revolutionary cause has become mainstream journalism’s new North Star. The great unraveling has won the tacit approval of the press, influential policymakers, and a great many ordinary Americans. It is, therefore, already remaking the world.
We tend not to recognize the revolution for what it is—first of all because it seems to lack a proper paramilitary element. Popular notions of insurgency involve images of AK-47s, organized bands of armed men, and the general flavor of war. But in truth, the current revolution has drifted much further into this territory than the media care to admit. The Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ), the anarchist territory formerly established in Seattle, boasted a provisional armed “security” force. Weeks after CHAZ was dismantled, Seattle police responding to a riot uncovered a cache of weapons including explosives, bear spray, spike strips, and Tasers. Antifa members not only routinely dress in similar black garb but have come to rely on a crude but dangerous arsenal of improvised fire bombs, fireworks, rocks, bricks, and frozen water bottles. In New York, three rioters were arrested for throwing Molotov cocktails at police vehicles. Revolutionaries in cities around the country have shown up to “protests” with rifles and assorted arms.
What to do? Those of us who stand opposed to the revolution and its aims harbor the hope that the revolutionaries will “eat each other alive” or that their mixed motivations, outlandish ideas, and repellent actions will ultimately blow up the movement from within. But such internal dynamics can serve to refine, not kill off, revolutions. Revolutionary France was a perpetual and bloody power struggle between parties such as the Hébertists, Thermidoreans, and Jacobins. Such competition ensured that, in the long run, the fiercest elements came out on top. The same can be said of the battles between the Mensheviks, the Left SR, and the Bolsheviks of Russia. The Cultural Revolution was itself a sustained effort to wrench and secure control of the Chinese Communist Party. And in all these cases, important nonrevolutionary fellow travelers found reason to make common cause and go along with the winners at any given moment. Judging from history (and the present), it is unlikely that the revolution will self-destruct.
It can, however, be countered.
All of Greenwald’s essay resonates deeply with my book out next month Live Not By Lies. I had been wondering as I finished writing the book this past winter how I was going to convince readers that the things happening in America today really do amount to a left-wing, soft totalitarian revolution. And then came events of the spring and summer — events that Abe Greenwald puts so sharply into perspective. When Greenwald writes that many Americans aren’t fully cognizant of how revolutionary this moment is for our country, I understand why. As I write in Live Not By Lies:
To grasp the threat of totalitarianism, it’s important to understand the difference between it and simple authoritarianism. Authoritarianism is what you have when the state monopolizes political control. That is mere dictatorship— bad, certainly, but totalitarianism is much worse. According to Hannah Arendt, the foremost scholar of totalitarianism, a totalitarian society is one in which an ideology seeks to displace all prior traditions and institutions, with the goal of bringing all aspects of society under control of that ideology. A totalitarian state is one that aspires to nothing less than defining and controlling reality. Truth is whatever the rulers decide it is. As Arendt has written, wherever totalitarianism has ruled, “[I]t has begun to destroy the essence of man.”
As part of its quest to define reality, a totalitarian state seeks not just to control your actions but also your thoughts and emotions. The ideal subject of a totalitarian state is someone who has learned to love Big Brother.
Back in the Soviet era, totalitarianism demanded love for the Party, and compliance with the Party’s demands was enforced by the state. Today’s totalitarianism demands allegiance to a set of progressive beliefs, many of which are incompatible with logic—and certainly with Christianity. Compliance is forced less by the state than by elites who form public opinion, and by private corporations that, thanks to technology, control our lives far more than we would like to admit.
More on why we overlook the significance of what’s happening:
It’s possible to miss the onslaught of totalitarianism, precisely because we have a misunderstanding of how its power works. In 1951, poet and literary critic Czesław Miłosz, exiled to the West from his native Poland as an anti- communist people misunderstand the nature of communism because they think of it only in terms of “might and coercion.”
“That is wrong,” he wrote. “There is an internal longing for harmony and happiness that lies deeper than ordinary fear or the desire to escape misery or physical destruction.”
In The Captive Mind, Miłosz said that communist ideology filled a void that had opened in the lives of early twentieth-century intellectuals, most of whom had ceased to believe in religion.
Today’s left-wing totalitarianism once again appeals to an internal hunger, specifically the hunger for a just society, one that vindicates and liberates the historical victims of oppression. It masquerades as kindness, demonizing dissenters and disfavored demographic groups to protect the feelings of “victims” to bring about “social justice.”
The contemporary cult of social justice identifies members of certain social groups as victimizers, as scapegoats, and calls for their suppression as a matter of righteousness. In this way, the so-called social justice warriors, (aka SJWs), who started out as liberals animated by an urgent compassion, end by abandoning authentic liberalism and embracing an aggressive and punitive politics that resembles Bolshevism, as the Soviet style of communism was first called.
At the turn of the twenty-first century, the cultural critic René Girard prophetically warned: “The current process of spiritual demagoguery and rhetorical overkill has transformed the concern for victims into a totalitarian command and a permanent inquisition.”
This is what the survivors of communism are saying to us: liberalism’s admirable care for the weak and marginalized is fast turning into a monstrous ideology that, if it is not stopped, will transform liberal democracy into a softer, therapeutic form of totalitarianism.
I hope you will pre-order Live Not By Lies, which will be published on September 29. More and more of us are awakening to the radicalism of the present moment, and what is being forced on us. There are things that we can and must do to resist — and my book features practical advice from people who survived Soviet totalitarianism.
Today The American Conservative goes to press with its September issue, which features a cover package based on the book. If you subscribe, you can read a long piece by me, adapted from Live Not By Lies, as well as a collection of essays reflecting on the rising totalitarianism in American life. Among them, there’s a fantastic piece by Corey Brooks, a black pastor from the South Side of Chicago, arguing that black Americans deserve better than the Black Lives Matter movement and the 1619 Project. TAC’s Helen Andrews has a powerful essay drawing parallels between Russian society and politics in the late imperial period, and what we Americans are facing today.
These are not normal times. You need to read the signs, and be ready. As I explain in Live Not By Lies, Hannah Arendt has a list of symptoms that show a society is susceptible to totalitarianism. We are there, full-tilt. It’s not a joke. You reader might be tired of hearing it from me. So read Abe Greenwald.
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‘Cultural Humility’ = Wokeness At Baylor
I’ve just watched a 90-minute recorded Zoom call among a bunch of Baylor University faculty and staff. Here’s what it was titled:
“NSE” means New Student Experience. It’s a program at the university to help new students transition to life on campus. Or, in Baylor’s words:
Is this about learning how to study, show up for class, prepare for tests, and so forth? “Academic Rigor” is only one of the areas they focus on at NSE. Here are the others:
How common are things like this in college today? I went to a big state school in the 1980s. The approach to “new student experience” was simple: Throw you in, you sink or swim on your own. You are an adult. The university did not feel the need to coddle freshmen. College was much cheaper back then. I cannot help believing that there is a connection between the cost of college today (at Baylor, it’s over $60,000 per year) and the therapeutic bureaucracies.
Anyway, the panel discussion I watched was about cultural humility. “Cultural humility” is an interesting phrase. It seems to be conceived as an antonym for “cultural arrogance,” but having listened to this discussion, it seems rather to be a program of destroying cultural confidence. I can’t link to it — it’s behind a university firewall — but the whole thing is pretty discouraging. I cannot imagine being a student or faculty member and having to study or teach under the neuroses this mentality surely induce.
One of the panelists was Kerri Fisher from the social work school. You might remember her from my recent “Woking Up At Baylor” post. The university’s president had recommended a list of readings about racism suggested by Prof. Fisher. If you follow that link, you’ll see that it’s all radical left stuff. At this Texas Baptist university, the president did not think of consulting someone at the theology school for Christian resources on thinking about racism. Nor did she consult Prof. George Yancey, a black sociology professor who is a devout conservative Baptist, and who has been published on the subject of race and social conflict by Oxford University Press, and on how to get “beyond racial gridlock” by IVP. Instead, she highlighted a social work professor who recommended the same woke ideology that you can get at any secular university. I wonder why.
Anyway, the 90-minute seminar offered no big “gotcha” moments, but it was, for me, a useful glimpse into the left-wing therapeutic mentality of university life. I don’t know to what extent this stuff is completely par for the course at most secular universities. It is hard, though, to see how a university that claims to be proud of its Christian identity reconciles it with the ideology behind its idea of “cultural humility.”
Here’s what I mean. At around the 36 minute mark, Kerri Fisher discusses “cultural humility fouls.” She says, for example, that normative language is problematic. If students hear their teachers saying that some things are better than others, “then our students are seeing that we actually do have a hierarchy of who we think is right, and good, and pure, and all of those sorts of things.”
She doesn’t really explain that, and let’s leave aside that she couldn’t possibly believe the radical relativism implied in her line. It would make education impossible. What interests me is how you can institute that kind of radical relativism into classrooms at a Christian university, where Christianity is supposed to be normative? Why would you want to, if you still wanted your university to be distinctly Christian? You can’t do it. If professors are not supposed to teach as if Christianity is normative, then what is the point of having a Christian university? If students want a secular education, they could just go to state school, or maybe Loyola of Maryland.
On one of its NSE web pages, Baylor says that students who go through the program:
How are professors and staff expected to do this if they are also being taught that “cultural humility” means that they cannot assert that there are any norms? Why is Baylor working at cross purposes with its supposed mission of Christian formation?
Around the 52 minute mark, Sharyl Loeung of the Office of Multicultural Affairs shares a practice she follows on the first day of each class:
“I always let my students know up front, hey, look, I’m a white female that’s cisgendered, heterosexual — I’m married — these are the privileges I know I have. … It’s not an apology, it’s just that I want to let you know that I see myself — we’re all racialized in some way, it’s just how the world is.”
Loeung says that “it really seems to cut through the tension in class.” Oh? If I were any of those demographic groups, I would worry that the professor would mark me out as privileged, and I would be afraid to speak. Are these people sure they’re teaching cultural humility to these students — or are they teaching them cultural shame?
At the 53 minute mark, an other professor — I didn’t catch her name, but I think she’s Latina — says that it’s important to help students “get past” their “white guilt” because “we need advocates.” She says, “This is not just people of color work.” Students should feel “empowered,” not worried that they will make mistakes.
Advocates for what? Hang on, that’s coming.
At the 1:05 mark, Kerri Fisher encourages her fellow teachers to ask students for their pronouns. “Preferred pronouns is another way to show some inclusive leanings,” she said. So Baylor is normalizing gender fluidity in its classroom practices. Won’t that be interesting for the donors to learn.
Later comes a query asking the best way to handle “active and vocalized resistance to conversations about race and identity in the classroom?”
A black male professor whose name I didn’t catch said something insightful. He suggested that one reason for their resistance could be that “they want to be able to go home.” That is, they don’t want to be made to feel that the have been alienated from their families or their home churches by what they learn at Baylor about race and identity. The man said that Baylor shouldn’t make them feel that they can’t go home.
Sharyl Loeung adds that it’s difficult not to dismiss the person who is resisting.
There’s nothing really wrong with this discussion, but it strikes me as remarkable that they have bene talking for an hour about the importance of making students conscious of race and identity in the classroom, then come up with ways to manage the passions that come out of it.
“We want to really be careful for those students who will be most harmed in the room,” said Leoung. “I think we think about the equality of the voices — like everyone being heard, versus the equity in the room, who’s really being heard.”
The equality-equity question. In wokespeak, “equality” is giving everyone an equal chance; “equity” is doing the things necessary to make sure there has been an equal outcome. I’m not sure what that means in terms of managing a classroom discussion. Choosing those from officially non-privileged demographics to speak first?
One professor talks about the difficulty of telling students that we have to talk about identity (“Our identities matter”). This made me think about how much I appreciated that at LSU in the Eighties, nobody asked you about your identity. You just talked about the classwork. Talk about identity in the hall, on the quad, at the bar. Big deal. I sincerely don’t understand the point of this.
That professor invites his colleagues to visit the Dear Baylor Instagram account, where BIPOC graduates of Baylor anonymously list macroaggressions and microaggressions they endured at Baylor.
I did spend some time there after watching the panel. Some of the stuff that Baylor alumni report were serious and appalling. But some of this stuff is silly. A Vietnamese student complains that people at Starbucks and Chili’s didn’t want to hear her spell out her last name when she ordered. She also complained that people wished her Happy Chinese New Year, when she is not Chinese. A Muslim from Birmingham, Alabama was thunderstruck when a white professor, reading aloud from Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous Letter From Birmingham Jail, and used the N-word — which is in the text. This shook her to her core. One Mexican-American student complained about a white “close friend” who said it would be nice to live in the antebellum times because it would have been fun to wear gowns all the time. The Mexican-American student spoke of the “racist abundance” in the hearts of white students.
Are students really so fragile? Are they really so eager to take offense? Are they encouraged to think that way by the university’s approach? I’m asking genuinely. If the cultural humility training and practice is like what I saw on that panel video, it would make me nervous as hell trying not to cause someone grievance.
I thought again about the question concerning how to handle students who resist their formation in this way of thinking when I saw parts of this publication. It seems clear that “cultural humility” is how you package wokeness to sell it to Evangelicals. Take a look at these pages that guide cultural humility work, and recognize the particular ideology at work here. A lot of this is contestable at the level of ideas, but it seemed to me, listening to those Baylor profs and admins talking, that they believe resistance to these concepts is the same thing as not wanting to talk about race and identity.
I guess it’s not possible for Baylor to develop an authentically Christian approach to cultural humility, and instead to rely on importing categories from culturally Marxist Critical Race Theory into the university, and dressing them up in terms that won’t frighten people. “Cultural humility” sounds like it intends to destabilize the cultural confidence that people the woke judge as Oppressors bring to school their freshman year, and to orient them towards conforming to self-loathing. Remember the professor who said that they need students to be “advocates.” Advocates for what?
UPDATE: I have taken down those photos at the request of a source.
UPDATE.2: A Baylor student who has been trained as a “community leader” (Baylor’s version of an RA) writes to say he appreciates this piece:
Part of the job requirement of being a Community Leader is to host two Cultural Humility events each year, as well as take a mandatory class that has a 5 week unit on Cultural Humility. My worldview is inexplicably Christian, and because of this, I know the most robust understanding of diversity is at the table of God. Yet, that does not matter. It is not CRT [Critical Race Theory], it is not intersectionality, it is not “woke.” Thus, my perspective is unwelcome because I have not capitulated to current culture.
We have issues at Baylor. There are horrendous stories of pernicious, racist sentiments expressed towards students of minority ethnicities and cultures. But the perceived “solutions” achieve nothing. They are not Biblical, they are superficial, and they are ultimately inconsequential. My closeted theologically conservative friends and I have talked on numerous occasions how we desperately need change; my hope is this piece gets the ball rolling. …
The class is a unique experience. From the books we read (authors such as Bonhoeffer, Nouwen, Benjamin Watson, etc.) it is rather inconspicuous. Most of the information is status quo, how to plan events, conflict mediation, and other necessary tools. But, the cultural humility unit is where most things begin to pick up steam. It first begins how to respect other cultures. This is fair. Baylor has a large international student population and being respectful, as well as willing to learn and enjoy other cultures, is important. Then, it progresses into CRT, and more specifically, intersectionality. We read and had “dialogue,” but nobody was allowed to disagree. Several people in the cohort who did publicly disagree were pulled aside after class and talked to. This was a typical pattern and as long as you used buzz words like “white privilege,” “equity,” or “tolerance” you navigated the section rather unscathed with an A in the class. Semesterly training also consisted of whole sections as refreshers on this topic, as well as breakouts focusing on the subject, one being called “White and Woke, now what?”.
For my events on Cultural Humility, I would try to use materials from people such as Dr. Charlie Dates or Afsheen Ziafat, but at one point these people did not go “far enough.” What that means, I am still unsure.
We can trace a clear and historical line from CRT to Marxism. This is absolutely apparent. Not only is Marxist ideology antithetical to a Christian worldview, it is entirely incongruent to any Abrahamic faith. Yet, this is not an issue in residential life. When CRT and biblical perspectives often oppose each other, CRT wins every time among the people in residential life. I have seen arduous attempts of text contortion to try to biblically justify underlying marxist ideology. To bring my own perspectives to events or staff meeting was met with hostility. Biblical perspectives were unwelcome and anachronistic to the current culture. Even when attempting to drill down on why diversity is important, it was apparent there was no understanding of human dignity or Imago Dei. Everything was based on what culture was screaming, not what sound minds are thinking. The residential life department is looking for a diversity of ethnicity, but not a diversity of thought.
Prof. Perry Glanzer from Baylor writes (and consents to let me use his name):
I read your post about Baylor today and was intrigued, since as a Christian I see cultural humility as something rooted in Christian theology that we should support. We are all made in God’s image, but we are all sinful and our sinfulness infects all of our cultures. All of our identity cultures have problems. Furthermore, those identity groups in power need to be especially aware of how this sinfulness creates injustices against those who are in the minority identity group. We must confess and repent of our cultural arrogance at times and follow the humble way of Jesus outlined in Philippians 2. In other words, based on theological reasons I strongly support Baylor’s initiative to develop cultural humility in students.
What deeply disturbed me; however, is what I found when I examined the means Baylor is using to achieve this important end. When I looked at the lesson plans, videos as well as the objectives listed, there is not a bit of overt theological or Christian perspective in them. In other words, instead of drawing upon the theological concepts and Christian tradition I mentioned earlier, as well as Christian practices like confession/repentance to God/others, forgiveness, etc. the whole approach is no different than something you would find at the University of Texas. As a result, students are not given Christian reasons why they should learn to demonstrate cultural humility. The Baylor staff and faculty creating this education either did not know how to think theologically or Christianly about the subject of cultural humility or they walled off their Christian thinking selves when creating these exercises. The whole approach may be inclusive of nonChristians, but it certainly is not high quality Christian education.
In this regard, Baylor is failing as a Christian university, although it is doing an excellent job of imitating their secular counterparts (and most of what I found in the Baylor lesson plans is borrowed from critical theory type professors at secular universities). Overall, these kinds of examples increasingly convince me that Baylor is becoming a “sound and fury” Christian university. There is plenty of administrative rhetoric about the Christian mission but with administrative initiatives at the faculty and staff level it seems to mean nothing.
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Why Rural Iowa Embraces Trump
“You hear people who love what they have, and are afraid it’s going to be taken from them.” Correct. It has been taken from them for decades, starting in the 60’s and accelerating in the 70s and 80’s: Big Ag replacing smaller family farms. The rural towns were slowly gutted, along with every meaningful institution. What is left is still good in many ways, but it is a hollow shell of the rural Iowa of the 1950s and most of the 60s. Bowling alleys, bakeries, men’s clothing stores, dress shops, tailors, cobblers, grocery stores, movie theaters, roller rinks, cafes, churches, implement dealerships, auto dealers…. these were commonplace in small rural towns (even with populations under 2,000). What is commonplace today: main streets with mostly empty storefronts. I am typing this from one of those towns in conservative northwest Iowa.Many of the towns in the Cornbelt (upper midwest) were established as a result of the railroad lines in the late 1800’s. The railroad provided access to larger markets for the grain and livestock raised in these remote areas. These towns became the commercial and retail hubs of the surrounding countryside. On Saturday evenings, the stores would stay open. Farm folks from the surrounding area would drive into town for shopping and socializing. This sounds like I’m describing a corny Hallmark special. Not so. This is how the rural economy and society functioned up through the 1950’s and ’60’s.What changed? Maybe an over-simplistic answer is the rise of Big Ag. Back in the day, a farmer could support a family with 80 acres. At some point in the second half of the 20th century, that ceased to be the case, no matter how hard a farmer worked. As a result, farms began to grow in size, out of necessity. Obviously, this means fewer farmers and fewer farm families. Fewer farm families meant fewer kids in school districts. So the school districts began to consolidate, and that continues today. A declining population meant fewer customers for the stores in town. So stores and businesses closed. Churches lost numbers. Basic community and social institutions were originally established because there was a population to sustain them. With a declining population, it’s pretty difficult for these institutions to thrive.Interestingly, the population of Iowa has grown modestly. A long term trend continues: rural areas of the state struggle to maintain population, and the larger cities grow. The migration inside of the state continues, at the expense of many small communities.How does this relate to the support of Donald Trump in northwest Iowa? A majority of folks in this part of the world want to protect their heritage. Not necessarily ethnic heritage, but the heritage of neighbor helping neighbor, physical labor, and personal responsibility. The heritage of family ties and connection to the land and community. A lot of this is nostalgia, but what’s wrong with that? When Trump speaks against BLM protests, and against the resulting rioting and anarchy of urban areas, he is literally speaking their language. Make America Great Again — this is the language of God and Country in northwest Iowa, and that reflexively resonates here.
As a resident of Sioux Center, and more broadly northwest Iowa, I’ve found the amount of attention this area has garnered from national news sources over the past few years very fascinating. I’m sure that much of the attention was spawned from Trump’s infamous moment at Dordt University. The perspectives on our way of life and also the narratives some journalists have crafted based on who they interview (and for what predetermined agendas) has been…interesting.
In this area we have always taken pride in being a safe and relatively unknown corner of the country and now we’ve oddly stepped into scrutiny from afar. Some of the writing has been enlightening, but as I already stated, agendas can skew the actual narrative.
For example, this far corner of the state is a melting pot of Calvinist denominations, and NYT journalist Dias chose to interview Christians from denominations who fall on the farthest-right-ultra-traditional end of that Calvinist spectrum. In doing this Dias paints a particular picture of white-conservative-Christians in our area in spite of the fact that these types of churches are in the minority.
More prevalent Church denominations in this area have made substantial efforts in bridging the gaps in our changing communities and in identifying and responding to the dramatic shifts in culture more broadly. Most know we have a long ways to go and, on average, we are not as ignorant on the difficult of turning back the tide as the interviewees make it appear. Unsurprisingly you won’t hear about those positives in the NYT article. You also won’t read in the article how local voters recently ousted U.S. representative Steve King partially due to inflammatory racial comments he’s made and the growing compassion that exists for immigrant workers in our communities. That doesn’t fit their narrative; their motive is to paint a polarizing picture in every political situation.
One thing that did resonate with me from the article was where it was said by one interviewee that “we are not speaking the same language”. There’s a lot to unpack in that comment but I think at the core of it is just the growing disconnect between rural and urban America in the same way there is a growing disconnect between Christian and secular America. The disconnect is magnified from the perspective of an area like northwest Iowa that is both rural and largely Christian; especially under the scrutiny of the national news outlets that come from urban areas that are much more secular. You’ve touched on this in articles in the past and I’ve found it more true as time goes on.
Certainly Trump will be heavily favored once again in this area come election time but I feel quite strongly that most will sit in the ballot box and look at our options with disgust and disbelief. Most conservative people I talked to felt that way in 2016 and I don’t know how they can feel much different this time around. Unfortunately, all we’ll have is a choice between the lesser of two evils and that’s pretty sad.
Lastly, you may find this article interesting: https://religionunplugged.com/news/2020/8/12/christians-want-power-sioux-center-iowan-pushes-back-on-nyt-story?fbclid=IwAR0b46icpz78h1vrZ6QjsSiBP_35gjPsQwlwHmvo-cfAyqI_dM2AvcwpZOs
It’s written by a journalism professor at Dordt University who is a transplant into the community and its responds to the NYT article
It really is an interesting piece. The author is Lee Pitts. He writes, in part:
After reading this article on my adopted town I think the piece will satisfy East Coast readers who have a handful of stereotypes that pop into their minds on those rare times they think about flyover country. They likely nodded their heads in satisfaction that this article confirmed these preconceived notions, and then they turned the page.
I’ve done more than parachute into Sioux Center. I call it my home. And you can find a broad diversity here. So much so that any slice you choose does not feel like the whole. So here are a few additional facts about this community that did not fit into the recent Times piece:
Our church small group is more diverse than my small groups in Washington, D.C. We enjoy the company of three people from Mexico, a gentleman from Paraguay, a woman from Japan, an engineering professor from Ghana, and a couple originally from that exotic place called South Carolina (that’s me). In fact, out of our 12-member small group only two originally hail from Northwest Iowa. Meanwhile my D.C. small groups featured all upper middle-class white people mostly sporting advanced degrees and flashy jobs inside the Beltway. But the stereotype would reverse that. My Sioux Center small group should be all white and my D.C. one would surely be full of diversity, right? Wrong. A small university brings variety to even a small town. Dordt University here houses faculty from places like Germany, Australia, China, Korea and Canada.
One more thing: I see a lot of integration here between the majority with Dutch roots and the ongoing influx of Hispanics, another counternarrative to the suspected storyline of deep separation. In fact, my family attended a birthday party this past weekend for a Hispanic girl turning four. It featured not one but two pinatas, an inflatable waterslide and a nice mix of whites and Hispanics. The food and fellowship put my own birthday (held on the same day) to shame. I see a lot of that mixing of backgrounds here in Sioux Center. Could there be more? Sure. But the effort is being made. There are ethnic bridgebuilders on both sides trying to help this community integrate.
I’m not trying to say Sioux Center is perfect. Far from it. I wish there were more restaurants and less sub-zero days. But after settling here for far longer than a couple of reporting visits I can say that community service and engagement trumps the pursuit of power. And it is not even close. Simply put, there is not a type of Sioux Center resident who any reporter can carbon copy as representative of the entire city. I suspect that is the case for every town in this country despite the broad brushstrokes usually painted by the media.
When I first announced that my family planned to move here many of my D.C. friends exclaimed, “You are moving where?!?”
I invited everyone to come for a visit. That’s the best way for East Coast dwellers to understand how folks in the Midwest are the way they are. A few of those friends have joined me here for bike rides in the cornfields. And all of them have left— returning to the stress and traffic and expense (and admittedly the better restaurants) of city life— basically saying the same thing, “I can see why you moved here.”
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The Commissar At RIT
Rochester Institute of Technology is launching a social media campaign to urge members of the RIT community to take a stand against racism, demonstrate ways to be antiracist, or explain what steps they will take to become antiracist. The campaign, devised by RIT Director of Diversity Education Taj Smith, launched on Monday with the hashtag #AntiracismatRIT.
The campaign will include a series of statements by white men faculty and staff committing to be antiracist. Smith said there are several important reasons for asking white men on campus to make this pledge. He said that white men tend to participate less frequently in diversity and inclusion training and education opportunities on campus. He also said it is important for RIT to continue to demonstrate our institutional and individual commitments to diversity for the long haul in concrete ways and to provide more positive antiracist white men role models for our undergraduate population.
“The events of this spring and summer have shown it’s not enough for white people, especially white men, to just claim they are not racist,” said Smith. “To eradicate racism, we need to take a stand, to be actively antiracist. So the campaign is simple. We have reached out to people who we consider allies and asked them to publicly demonstrate that they are or plan to be antiracists.”
All members of the RIT community who are sincere in their commitment can join the campaign with a special Facebook frame. When updating your Facebook profile picture, click “Add Frame” and search for “antiracism” and “RIT.”
So, if you are white, and do not wish to take this pledge, does that make you racist? Hey, nobody is forcing you to take the pledge, right? If you want your colleagues to think that you are a racist, that’s on you, professor.
Imagine it is 1955. You are a professor at RIT. The RIT Director Of Civic Responsibility launches a campaign to encourage people — especially foreign-born professors and staff — to endorse 100 percent Americanism™, to demonstrate RIT’s commitment to patriotism and the American way of life in the face of the worldwide Communist menace. What do you do? You could not sign it, but what signal would that send to your colleagues? That you are not trustworthy? That you might be a communist sympathizer? Good luck with that tenure application, comrade.
It is vitally important to understand how the woke commissars are redefining language in their crusade. All decent people are against racism, right? I believe so. But to be “antiracist” is to endorse specific ideological commitments. Here, from Education Next, is a link to the black linguist John McWhorter’s review of Ibram X. Kendi’s bestselling book How To Be Antiracist:
Kendi began with an affection of Bill Cosby-style scolding of black people as a teen but feels that he found his true and useful self in his current battle against “white supremacy,” and a looming implication in his book is that the rest of America can complete themselves in internalizing his antiracist positions. Kendi, like Hume, would seem to have it all figured out: We are divided simply between racists and antiracists. Racists are bigots and allow a status quo under which black people are not doing as well as whites. Antiracists are committed to working against that imbalance. For reasons Kendi seems to think obvious but are not, there is nothing in between these two categories—not to be actively working, or at least speaking, against the imbalance leaves one in the racist class. There is no such thing as someone simply “not racist.”
Got it? You either endorse Kendi’s simplistic view, or you are racist. More McWhorter:
This is especially dire in a foundational assumption that Kendi lays out explicitly: that all racial disparities are due to racism. That so very many have pushed back against this way of viewing a complex society with a four-century history figures for Kendi as mere “racists” having their say. There is a general air in his text suggesting that the basic wisdom of “unequal outcomes signal unequal opportunity” is beyond question by any moral person, such that we might think it a courtesy that he makes his case without raising his voice.
But in the end, as much as thinkers like him bristle to hear it, culture matters as well as society in how groups fare over time, and the history of black Americans does not somehow exempt us from this basic aspect of humanity. That is, cultural factors can live beyond what conditioned them, as in Albanian blood feuds. Ordinary people tend to understand this spontaneously, and on black America it has been clear to legions of people—many of them black, although to Kendi this makes them “racists”—since a generation past the Great Society efforts of the 1960s. Kendi instead operates upon the idea that, as Ta-Nehisi Coates has memorably put it, “There’s nothing wrong with black people that the complete and total elimination of white supremacy would not fix.” Cue the applause again, but reality suggests otherwise.
McWhorter cites two examples to prove his point. Here is one of them:
In 1987, a rich donor in Philadelphia “adopted” 112 black 6th graders, few of whom had grown up with fathers in their home. He guaranteed them a fully funded education through college as long as they did not do drugs, have children before getting married, or commit crimes. He also gave them tutors, workshops, after-school programs, kept them busy in summer programs, and provided them with counselors for when they had any kind of problem. Yes, this really happened.
The result? 45 never made it through high school. Of the 67 boys, 19 became felons. Twelve years later, the 45 girls had had 63 children, and more than half had become mothers before the age of 18. Part of what makes How to Be an Antiracist a simple book is its neglect of cases like this, or the assumption that they easily trace to “racism.” What held those poor kids back was that they had been raised amidst a different sense of what is normal than white kids in the ‘burbs. That is, yes, another way of saying “culture,” and it means that through no fault of their own, it was not resources, but those unconsciously internalized norms, that kept them from being able to take advantage of what they were being offered.
Kendi’s taxonomy would classify what I just wrote as “racist,” but to qualify as coherent, this charge would have to come with a more careful defense than Kendi seems accustomed to engaging.
Exactly. A university that adopts “antiracism” as a policy agenda, complete with a request that its teachers — especially the white male ones — pledge their antiracist bona fides, is one in which no one can ask these difficult questions.
RIT has embraced Woke McCarthyism. I hope professors refuse to participate in this charade, to protect their dignity and the dignity of their colleagues, who do not deserve to be forced to swear allegiance to an ideology, or be thought of as bigots.
UPDATE: An e-mail from an RIT professor, who asked me to withhold his name:
First, in line with what one of your commenters mentioned (an RIT professor), in my time at RIT (last 10+ years), I have found the university to be largely apolitical. While we’re not perfect, I have always been proud that we do pluralism pretty well. That is to say, on any given matter, you’d hear a variety of viewpoints and these were generally conveyed with respect and no sense of aggression.This feeling has shifted in the last 1-2 years. It’s not overt. I have never been required or even encouraged to participate in anything I feel uncomfortable with. Not once. But what has changed is a noticeable uptick in the amount of more-or-less woke communication and increased visibility of D&I staff. What really struck me most was a presentation I attended last year in which a member of the D&I office noted that the department had only two people when she started there (maybe a decade ago? maybe more). There are now 24. Twenty-four! To be fair, some of those positions are grant-funded from external grants. But still – a 12-fold increase! Meanwhile, we have to fight and beg to have new faculty positions added, or to get adequate graduate student help.So what I’ve come to realize is that there is a big and growing disconnect between the academic side and the administrative / student life side of the campus. The academic side remains largely apolitical and focused on teaching and research. The administration and student life side is increasingly focused on social justice issues – and this focus is applauded, if not directed, by the university president.The current anti-racism “white men speak” campaign appears to be an outgrowth of this focus. I have a few observations about it. First, as your commentator stated, the person featured in the first post (and featured on your blog post) is a good guy. I have no idea about his politics or personal beliefs, but I have worked with him for years (he leads instructional designers). It makes the impact so subtle: “hey, if a good guy like Jeremiah is speaking out, maybe we should, too”.Second, this campaign is being criticized here on campus for various reasons. Some are along the lines of what you presented. Other criticisms are more of the “This is RIT’s first major anti-racism initiative…and they choose to feature a bunch of white men? Really?” variety.Third, I find it interesting that we are in the middle of the biggest crisis and challenge of our generation, yet we can still find time to launch a controversial anti-racism campaign.
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Classroom Of Fear
Earlier this week I wrote about a woke teacher who slipped up and asked on social media how teachers like him are going to succeed at “destabilizing” their students’ political and cultural opinions if they have to teach online, and parents might be watching. Fear of woke teachers, in other words.
Tonight I would like to say a word about teachers’ fear of woke students. Earlier in the day I was part of a group discussion online in which several conservative college professors voiced their dread of going back to teach this fall, in the new political environment on campus. I continued the discussion privately with one of the teachers, who told me that he is afraid to go to the classroom this fall. He knows that in his classes, he will be facing hundreds of students, any one of whom could decide that he or she was triggered by something the professor said, then run to the administration to lodge a complaint that he is racist, sexist, homophobic, or some other anti-woke offender. The mere accusation in this environment could destroy his career and his reputation.
I’ve been thinking about that conversation all day. It is hard to imagine having to work under such pressure, much less teach — an art that, if done right, requires challenging the perspectives of students, to get them to stretch their minds. I went back to this Vox piece by the pseudonymous Edward Schlosser, published five years ago, in which he said that he is a liberal professor who is terrified of his students. Excerpts:
The student-teacher dynamic has been reenvisioned along a line that’s simultaneously consumerist and hyper-protective, giving each and every student the ability to claim Grievous Harm in nearly any circumstance, after any affront, and a teacher’s formal ability to respond to these claims is limited at best.
He talks about the only formal complaint ever lodged against him: in 2009, by a conservative student who said that something the professor mentioned in class was “communistical.” The complaint was dismissed, as it should have been. More:
I have intentionally adjusted my teaching materials as the political winds have shifted. (I also make sure all my remotely offensive or challenging opinions, such as this article, are expressed either anonymously or pseudonymously). Most of my colleagues who still have jobs have done the same. We’ve seen bad things happen to too many good teachers — adjuncts getting axed because their evaluations dipped below a 3.0, grad students being removed from classes after a single student complaint, and so on.
I once saw an adjunct not get his contract renewed after students complained that he exposed them to “offensive” texts written by Edward Said and Mark Twain. His response, that the texts were meant to be a little upsetting, only fueled the students’ ire and sealed his fate. That was enough to get me to comb through my syllabi and cut out anything I could see upsetting a coddled undergrad, texts ranging from Upton Sinclair to Maureen Tkacik — and I wasn’t the only one who made adjustments, either.
I am frightened sometimes by the thought that a student would complain again like he did in 2009. Only this time it would be a student accusing me not of saying something too ideologically extreme — be it communism or racism or whatever — but of not being sensitive enough toward his feelings, of some simple act of indelicacy that’s considered tantamount to physical assault. As Northwestern University professor Laura Kipnis writes, “Emotional discomfort is [now] regarded as equivalent to material injury, and all injuries have to be remediated.” Hurting a student’s feelings, even in the course of instruction that is absolutely appropriate and respectful, can now get a teacher into serious trouble.
Schlosser writes that today (remember, this was 2015), a student lodging a complaint would not object to Schlosser’s supposed ideology. He or she would complain about how something the professor said hurt their feelings — something that is impossible to defend against.
The current student-teacher dynamic has been shaped by a large confluence of factors, and perhaps the most important of these is the manner in which cultural studies and social justice writers have comported themselves in popular media. I have a great deal of respect for both of these fields, but their manifestations online, their desire to democratize complex fields of study by making them as digestible as a TGIF sitcom, has led to adoption of a totalizing, simplistic, unworkable, and ultimately stifling conception of social justice. The simplicity and absolutism of this conception has combined with the precarity of academic jobs to create higher ed’s current climate of fear, a heavily policed discourse of semantic sensitivity in which safety and comfort have become the ends and the means of the college experience.
Schlosser brings up two female liberal professors who outed and shamed a male colleague they accused of being creepy at conferences. They talked openly about how much they would like to ruin his career. Schlosser continues:
But part of the female professors’ shtick was the strong insistence that harassment victims should never be asked for proof, that an enunciation of an accusation is all it should ever take to secure a guilty verdict. The identity of the victims overrides the identity of the harasser, and that’s all the proof they need.
This is terrifying. No one will ever accept that. And if that becomes a salient part of liberal politics, liberals are going to suffer tremendous electoral defeat.
He wrote that in June 2015. A year and a half later, Donald Trump won the presidency, in part because some voters appreciated Trump’s hostility to political correctness.
Schlosser wrote that before Nicholas Christakis was mobbed and shouted down on the Yale campus, and his wife Erika was driven out for the crime of suggesting that it’s not Yale’s business to police Halloween costumes to prevent adult students from hurting the feelings of other adult students. This was two years before Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying were cast out of Evergreen State for objecting to the woke mob. Think of all the things that have happened both in campus culture and in the culture at large since 2015. Nothing has gotten better than it was when Schlosser first wrote; it has, in fact, grown substantially worse.
Many of us who went to college in the Before Time treasure our classroom experiences with professors who challenged us and helped us to grow intellectually and morally. I pity the professors who now have to regard each student as a potential threat to their livelihood. I pity the students who really do want to be challenged, and to learn, but whose opportunity to learn has been crippled by the woke heckler’s veto that these puritanical woke rats exercise on many campuses.
Let me ask you readers who are teachers: are you afraid to go back to class this fall, in the current political environment? Why or why not?
UPDATE: A professor whose name and university I’ve agreed to withhold writes:
In response to your blog post today titled “Classroom of Fear,” I wanted to share a little bit about how we’re preparing at [major private university] for this fall semester. We, of course, did go through a special anti-racism seminar, but even the professor leading the meeting said something along the lines of, “The worst possible outcome here is for white students to fearfully repeat what they think is the One Right Opinion based on what one BLM account said on Twitter.” So, fortunately (at least in my department) even the most activist professors still keep faith in liberalism’s tradition of discourse and are worried about compulsory group-think.When we met as a faculty about some of our classes being recorded (since most of us are using a hybrid model that blends some Zoom-teaching and some classroom teaching), almost all professors in my division expressed concerns about student retaliation — that our out-of-context comments in class might be reframed on social media in bad faith. We unanimously agreed that the classroom must remain an open space of experimentation and “exploratory bullshit,” a place where we can provisionally “try out” ideas without immediately accepting or condemning them.The director of our program promised protection on the departmental level, but of course we all sort of know the upper administration would toss us over the bow if the situation escalated in a way that would reflect poorly on the university. My experience has reinforced what you’ve posted from others on your blog — that even the most liberal of professors are a bit frightened by their students. Among the professors anxious about student retaliation is one who teaches a class on sexuality and gender studies (with course content that pushes boundaries even for academia). Though I disagree with her on many fundamental issues, she’s been a supportive colleague, is an educator who cares deeply about her students, and is an incredibly effective instructor — yet even she is worried about an offhand comment in class being used against her by woke students.So, I think my message here is this — that the majority of voices in my department still support classical liberalism in the humanities, but that we’re uncertain how much the upper administration will back us up if we become a public relations problem. It’s the bureaucratic encroaching upon the humanistic. As a conservative professor, I see the threat coming from neither the sexual liberationist profs nor the black activist profs (who have always engaged as good faith interlocutors with my own ideas and who I can cheerfully spar with over drinks at the bar—and will again, when the bars re-open). Rather, our real antagonist seems to be the university’s professional-managerial wing.
I’m responding to your post, “Classroom of Fear.” Given my position as an untenured faculty member and my growing concern with surveillance capitalism/doxxing, I haven’t felt comfortable registering a Disqus account so far. You just never know what could be uncovered and used against you, out of context, years later. You asked whether teachers were afraid to go back to class this fall. I’ll confess that, for the most part, I’m not. However – that’s shaped by a couple factors.
I’m working and teaching completely remotely this semester. Given the fallout in my discipline over the past year regarding accusations of systemic racism/sexism/homophobic/
transphobia, etc., my biggest concern was faculty meetings and hallways interactions that could go south at a moment’s notice if I inadvertently let my non-wokeness show to the wrong colleague. Although we’ll have some meetings via Zoom this fall, it’s easier to keep quiet or turn off my screen on the presumption of a “bathroom break,” etc., than to sit around a conference table outing myself by my non-enthusiasm or non-indignation about the newest woke issue.
The two anecdotes I’m about to share below could out me, so I’d ask you not to publish anything potentially identifying, but they illustrate the types of situations I’m talking about:
Let me summarize these without the details. The professor talks about an instance in a department meeting at which everyone was encouraged to show public support for a progressive principle completely unrelated to education. Doing so violated the conscience of this professor, who did not join the affirmation. He fears that his failure to salute the flag, so to speak, was noticed, and that it will eventually be used against him.
The second anecdote involves an attempt to prevent the hiring of an extremely well qualified job candidate — a progressive, in fact — by throwing utterly groundless accusations of holding problematic opinions against him. It didn’t work, ultimately, but it was a struggle to defeat these scurrilous allegations made by a couple of professors. The fact that they threw a monkey wrench into the hiring process rattled others in the department. Without going into details that the professor asked me to withhold, I can say that this candidate almost failed to be hired, despite his scholarly record, and despite there being no evidence to back up the allegations, in part because the mere accusations made against someone with his identity profile (race, sex) were thought to make hiring him risky in this political environment.
Back to the professor’s letter:
Regarding fear of students, the content of my courses *somewhat* insulates me at this point. I teach courses in [field]. Were I teaching history, politics, literature, etc., I would be much more concerned. That said, there are certainly areas that could become flashpoints in the future. I’ll admit I touch on issues of race, sex, and sexuality less than I could in my teaching, simply because these seem so risky to talk about right now for anyone to the right of Robin DiAngelo. The study of [my field] touches on issues such as relationship formation, family structure, the relation between language and power, and so on. There is an increasing push in the field to “decenter” white, hetero/cisnormative perspectives and “center” BIPOC and queer perspectives. We are not yet at the point of syllabus reviews, but there are open calls for scholars and teachers to cite and assign works from scholars of color and/or queer scholars based on those scholars’ identities.
*Of course* I want to expose myself and students to the best texts, a number of which have undeniably been written by scholars of color or queer scholars. If particular scholars’ work has been ignored due to their race or sexuality, that needs to be recognized and corrected so that the field can benefit from their insights! But we now have citation lists circulating, basically saying, “Quit upholding white/straight/cisgender supremacy. Cite these articles. Assign these articles. Because of the racial and sexual identities of the authors.” That’s where I refuse to get on the train. I’m not hearing this from my students, at least not yet. But I wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes a more official push from the administrative higher-ups, who are falling all over themselves to justify their anti-racist bona fides in the wake of George Floyd’s death, and/or from my discipline more broadly.
To sum up: The pandemic has provided a welcome respite from the tension I’d likely experience if we were holding face-to-face courses and faculty meetings this fall. My hope is that passions die down by the spring, assuming we have a relatively “normal” in-person spring semester. If not, I do have concerns. I’m not paranoid, but I do think a lot these days about what it looks like to live not by lies, and where the lines are for me. I love my profession, and pray I can continue in it for the long haul. Do I expect to be able to? That’s an open question.
UPDATE.3: A reader writes:
Last year, I was hired as an adjunct prof to teach an American literature survey course at a Canadian University (I am Canadian). I taught the course in the winter and fall semesters of 2019. In the latter semester, I ran into some issues involving race.This course looked at a number of texts by Southern writers. One of the first texts we read was The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. We also looked at work by William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor and Tennessee Williams, among others. I am a big fan of Southern literature and love to teach it when I get the chance. In doing so, I like to challenge simplistic and stereotypical understandings of Southern history/culture (in so far as I am qualified to do so). One of the ways I did so in this class was to point out that there were a lot of whites in the antebellum South who not only weren’t slave owners, but who were wretchedly poor. In fact, I didn’t even dare to come right out and say this but referred to one of the Conjure Tales by Charles Chestnutt (a black author) in which a destitute class of whites is looked down upon by southern blacks. I figured a black author would be more credible on this issue than me, a white man. Yet, there is really no reason why this should have been controversial. There is plenty of solid historical scholarship on the subject. So, as a result of pointing out what is basically historical fact, I received a course review in which I was labelled “potentially alienating to people of colour”. The reason given was that, according to this anonymous student, I taught the class that whites were discriminated against more than blacks in the antebellum South. I, of course, did no such thing. My whole point in raising the issue of a white demographic that held no power and hence no ability to oppress was to get my students beyond simple black and white thinking when reading Southern lit, to introduce a bit of nuance and grey area and challenge liberal Canadian assumptions. Alas, with black and white thinking being as widespread and influential as it is today, this was a fool’s errand.I have been informed that I will not be teaching the course when it is next offered because it is going to a grad student. This could be totally legit. God knows English departments need to cut costs. I am, however, a bit suspicious. I also may have shot myself in the foot. Immediately upon receiving the review, I emailed the chair to get out in front of what I viewed as a baseless accusation. I have since been told by other adjuncts that it is entirely possible that no one gets to read the reviews but the professor of the class. In that case, the chair would not have known about it without my email. I tend to think otherwise, however, due to the chair’s response to my email in which he seemed well-aware of what I was talking about.Whatever the case may be, a white professor needs to watch what he says in this climate in which historical facts that don’t fit neatly into the dominant black and white narrative are enough to get you labelled a racist.Feel free to use any of this in your blog. But please don’t print my name.
I’m a conservative poli sci prof and I think you’re wrong to believe teachers should live in fear. Every year or two I teach a seminar on Conservatism and I’ve never had complaints. In Spring 2020 my students read Sam Francis on race, Tony Esolen on sexuality, alt-right pieces from Taki’s Mag and Jacobite, and plenty of less controversial texts and it was great. We had passionate discussions with no threats of cancellations or complaints.I’m putting even more skin in the game next week. Progressive colleagues and I are team teaching a current events class with a set of policy debates where I plan to take an unabashedly pro-Trump stance (thankfully we’re not debating personality or quality of tweets, just policy). I’ll let you know this winter whether I still have a job. 😛I think you underestimate our students. In my experience, if you treat them like adults and (this is key) help them see exposure to alternative views as a vehicle for self-discovery, they respond well. I won’t clutter your inbox with the idiosyncratic details of what I do, but if you’re curious I’m happy to talk.Three other thoughts from an academic insider’s perspective:1) The “adjunctification” of the university is fundamental to this kind of a discussion and I don’t hear it discussed enough by non-academics.2) I agree with your correspondent that our colleagues on the Left are more cautious about controversial topics than I am. Multiple alternative hypotheses could explain this, idk. I also agree with him that they are not the immediate causes of cancel culture, but I think they indirectly created it, so I’m not as willing to let them off the hook.3) Sweeping generalizations about administrators “caving to the mob” fail to recognize that there are many people of integrity in positions of power all across academia who diplomatically deflect cancel culture rather than yelling about it. By quietly defending their frontline teachers they’re living out their proper institutional roles rather than using their positions in the institution as platforms for self-promotion. Even if they vote Left, they’re acting like we conservatives think humans should act, and I would like to see that more widely recognized by people on our side. And no, I am not an administrator myself, nor do I have ambitions to become one.Cheers,George EhrhardtAppalachian State University
It’s not just college, and it’s not just professors that have to fear the classroom. Until a few years ago, I coached policy debate as a volunteer in an urban debate league. The policy debate world had long ago been dominated by the antiracism totalitarians, but their control was strongest in the college debate world and weaker in high schools. There was a typical pattern where the craziest race, gender, and queer theory doctrines would start in the colleges, succeed among far-left professors there, and then would migrate down to high schools as college debaters ran camps for high school students and then judged the most prestigious high school debate tournaments. In our entire league of 50 or so schools, I knew of maybe 3-4 coaches or judges politically “of the right,” all external volunteers.In 2018, I faced an accusation of racism that likely would have been devastating had it happened in today’s environment. A coach from another school made two accusations against me–one half-true, one completely made up. The half-true accusation was that in critiquing a round involving two black students, I made the comment that they should be happy to be students in 2018 rather than to be slaves in 1818 Georgia. The coach had left out that this critique related to an argument the students had made, based on Afropessimist literature, that America was inherently racist and the only solution was to “burn it all down.” In making that argument, the students said that “things have never been as bad for black people in America as they are today.” My comment was directly addressing that obviously false statement, and I was attempting to teach the kids to keep their arguments grounded in reality. Maybe a little too flippantly, but nothing worse than that.(As an aside: The students and the coach had left out that I related a similar story from my own high school debate career as an example. I had argued, overly passionately, in a debate about capital punishment, “Why should Karla Faye Tucker, who had reformed and done so much good, be executed for one little mistake?” The ballot came back: “Hacking two people to death with an axe is not a ‘little mistake!'”)The made up accusation was that in an elimination round regarding immigration policy, I said that illegal immigrants weren’t human. Elimination rounds are judged by a panel of 3 judges and have many spectators. If I had said that, everyone in the room would have been outraged, and rightly so. This was simply a slanderous accusation made, I think, because of personal animus.Fortunately, the director of the league had known me for 5 years, and knew me well enough to agree that I hadn’t said anything wrong–though still, in a cowardly way, would not actually tell the accuser that she was flat-out wrong. Shortly after that incident, I adopted a baby and found a new and better job, and stopped volunteering for lack of time.I thought of going back this year, as next year’s topic is criminal justice reform, and I’m a lawyer by day. I have a lot of knowledge to offer on this year’s subject. But why would I risk my livelihood to volunteer, knowing that an angry or misguided student or coach could take something I say out of context and try to ruin my life?
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Kamala: Woke Capitalism’s Dream Pick
Let’s stipulate that nobody Joe Biden could have picked for his running mate would have pleased conservatives in any way. Of all the people he could have picked, I think Kamala Harris is the most dangerous, from a social conservative point of view. I’ll get to that in a second. But first, let me explain why I think she was probably the best pick for Biden.
Biden said he was going to pick a female running mate. In any other year, Elizabeth Warren would have been a stronger choice, given the role she’s carved out for herself as a scourge of Wall Street. But in this George Floyd year, Biden needed to choose a black woman — especially because the support of black voters is what saved his presidential candidacy.
Harris is very aggressive in her speeches — and that’s what Biden needs. Traditionally presidential candidates need their veep picks to be bulldogs. Trump doesn’t, but Biden really does. He gets to keep his avuncular Uncle Joe affect for one, and for another, she can throw sharp elbows that elderly Joe Biden cannot manage.
Harris is woke on all the social issues, but some progressives don’t like her because of the years she spent as a prosecutor in California. You might recall how Tulsi Gabbard rattled Harris in a Democratic candidates’ debate by grilling her on her prosecution of marijuana offenders. Overall, though, this reputation will help Biden, I believe. No progressive with a lick of sense is going to sit out the election because Officer Kamala is on the ticket. Given all the rioting this year, it is likely an advantage for Biden to be able to say he has a law-and-order progressive on his ticket — however phony that claim might be. Remember, Biden doesn’t need the pothead vote; he needs the wine-mom vote.
Finally, Biden surely knows that given his age, he is likely to be a one-term president, meaning that win or lose this fall, his VP choice will probably head the Democratic ticket in 2024 — and is a favorite to lead the party after he passes from the scene. The Harris choice is a solid bet on the future of the party.
So what’s wrong with her?
First, from a purely strategic point of view, choosing an aggressively leftist San Francisco Democrat is likely to rally some Republican voters who were going to sit this election out. And note well that she had very little support from black voters in the primary. I certainly don’t think she is going to cost Biden support with those voters this fall, but I would like to why she did not resonate with them — and if it signals deeper problems.
Now, from the point of view of religious and social conservatives, I think Harris is very bad news. Alexandra De Sanctis recalls how Sen. Harris insinuated that a Catholic judicial nominee’s membership in the Knights of Columbus disqualifying. Harris, whose record shows her to be one of the most left-wing members of the Senate, will become the de facto leader of the Democratic Party no matter what happens in November. I doubt that she will be significantly more progressive than any other Democrat that Biden could have picked, but the fact that she is so relatively young, and so stylistically vigorous, means that the Democrats in power are going to be very aggressively anti-conservative on social issues for the foreseeable future.
Unlike Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris poses no threat to Big Business. CNBC reports:
Finance executives, confident the ticket has what it takes to topple President Donald Trump, raved about her experience in government, as well as her fundraising prowess.
“I think it’s great,” said Marc Lasry, the CEO of investment firm Avenue Capital Group. “She’s going to help Joe immensely. He picked the perfect partner.” Lasry is also a part owner of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks.
Blair Effron, the co-founder of Centerview Partners, texted “GREAT CHOICE” to CNBC. Citigroup’s Ray McGuire sent a similar message.
When she ran for president last year, Harris saw contributions from executives in a wide range of industries, including film, TV, real estate and finance, according to data from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Her campaign finished raising close to $40 million.
All of her left-wing vigor, both as a vice-presidential candidate and in whatever her promising future brings, will be directed at social conservatives. The fact that Wall Street considers her to be a “moderate” tells you everything. Joe Biden has made a choice that is safe for Woke Capitalism.
I think we can all agree, though, that it’s great news that Maya Rudolph will be a big part of our autumn viewiing:
UPDATE: From today’s NYT:
Well, any candidate beloved by Wall Street and Silicon Valley is not beloved by me. The 2024 Harris/Hawley race is going to be lit.
UPDATE.2: Ha! Just saw this:
— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) August 12, 2020
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North Carolina police have charged a neighbor with the murder of a five-year-old boy who was riding a bike in his own yard when he was shot at point blank range on Sunday evening.
Darius Sessoms, 25, was taken into custody by Wilson police around 24 hours after he allegedly approached Cannon Hinnant in front of the young boy’s father’s house at 5:30pm and shot him in the head.
Hinnant’s seven-year-old and eight-year-old sisters witnessed the killing, their mother told WRAL.
Sessoms lived next door to the family, and the killing is not believed to be random. Neighbors claim he had dinner with Hinnant’s father Austin on Friday and had been over at the house earlier on Sunday.
The motive for the killing is still under investigation, but a GoFundMe established by a family member says that the young boy rode into Sessoms’ yard.
Hinnant was white. Sessoms, a convicted felon, is black. As of this writing, the story has not been widely reported.
We do not know if race had anything to do with this killing, and we should not assume so without evidence. The Daily Mail reports that Sessoms and the Hinnant family had been friends. Maybe the adults had a falling-out, and this is how Sessoms sought revenge. Bad people do bad things all the time. Race might have nothing at all to do with this murder. Hinnant’s family said the boy had ridden his bicycle in Sessoms’s yard.
But we also can be confident that if Sessoms were white and Hinnant had been black, this would have been front-page news, and on all the networks, even without evidence that it was a racially-motivated attack. Angry white man kills black child who trespassed on his lawn serves the narrative the media prefers. I hope I’m wrong, but I bet we will not hear much more about this savage killing in the media. They will not want to know more about it.
In 2002, Nicholas Gutierrez, a 19-year-old gay man, murdered Mary Stachowicz, a middle-aged Catholic neighbor who asked him why he liked to sleep with men. Gutierrez was convicted of murder. Did you ever hear about this killing? Of course you didn’t. Unlike the Hinnant killing, the motive of which we do not yet know, Gutierrez admitted that he attacked Stachowicz because he was triggered by her criticism of his homosexuality. Nobody in the media cared that a young gay man murdered a middle-aged Catholic woman and stuffed her body in a crawlspace, because he hated her. Didn’t fit the narrative.
Matthew Shepard, the murdered young gay man, the circumstances of whose killing were later cast into doubt (it was a meth deal gone bad), is revered as a sainted martyr felled by hate crime. Mary Stachowicz, the circumstances of whose murder are not in doubt, is not remembered by any other than her family. This is because of the media.
Watch the name “Cannon Hinnant”. See if his name gets said on TV, in the papers, on major news sites. See if the media care to learn more about what drove a man to blow that little boy’s brains out, and if racial animus had anything to do with it.
Again, and to be very clear: we do not know the motive, and we should not assume race had anything at all to do with it. I am posting this as a marker for media coverage. I’m so cynical that I actually believe that our media want to gin up race hatred, as long as it goes one way. We are almost exactly one year from the date of last summer’s New York Times internal town hall meeting over race and its coverage. That was the meeting (transcript here) in which an unnamed staffer said to publisher A.G. Sulzberger and editor Dean Baquet:
I just feel like racism is in everything. It should be considered in our science reporting, in our culture reporting, in our national reporting.
I think that staffer was wrong, but his or her assumptions sure do seem to have guided a lot of the reporting in that newspaper over the past year. I almost didn’t post about Cannon Hinnant’s murder, because I don’t want to inadvertently stoke racist passions when we might just be looking at a murder that, however heinous, was not a crime driven by race hatred.
Still, this is a test case for the media and its standards for reporting interracial homicide. I find it impossible to believe that the media would have been so quiet and incurious days after this savage killing if we had the same facts, but the races of the accused murderer and his victim were reversed. Does Cannon Hinnant’s life matter to The New York Times, the Washington Post, ABC, NBC, CBS, NPR, CNN, and others? We will see.
UPDATE: A reader brings up the case of little Jazmine Barnes, a black child shot in a 2019 drive-by in Texas as she sat in her car. Jazmine’s sisters identified the shooter as a white man in a red truck. Later, though, police arrested two black men and charged them with the crime. According to this Vox story, police theorized that it was a hit gone wrong. Police said Jazmine’s sisters probably did see a white man in a red truck, but that he was an innocent bystander who sped away.
There was reason to believe that the killer might have been white, based on what Jazmine’s sisters said, but even if that were true, nobody knew any motive. That did not stop the speculation, faithfully reported in the media, that this had been a hate crime. Vox writes:
Activist Deric Muhammad saw a possible connection between the two cases. “What are the odds that two black families were fired upon by a white male in a pickup truck within a one-year time span on the same block?” he told the Houston Chronicle on January 2.
“We’ve got to call it what it is. Black people are being targeted in this country. Black people are being targeted in this county,” Muhammad said. “We are thoroughly convinced that the killing of Jazmine Barnes was race related.”
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who represents Texas’s 18th Congressional District, which includes a part of Houston, also raised this concern, telling an audience gathered at a January 5 “Justice for Jazmine” rally,“Do not be afraid to call this what it seems to be: a hate crime.”
Later, though, a black man was arrested, confessed, and implicated another black man. Vox, being a liberal publication, defended the speculation:
Conservative writer Heather Mac Donald made a similar claim in a recent column, arguing that the Barnes story showed how “Fantasies about white violence against ‘black bodies’ are a distraction from what is actually happening on American streets.” That Barnes’s death was connected to racism and that speculation of a possible hate crime pushed her story further into the national spotlight, the argument goes, is further proof of how racism is incorrectly attributed to too many things.
But that argument fails to grapple with the very real fear and anxiety that led so many to speculate about a racist motivation in the shooting so quickly.
African Americans and other communities of color have repeatedly expressed anxiety about what they see as an emboldening of racism in America. These concerns of being under attack have been amplified further by FBI data showing a rise in reported hate crimes and high-profile incidents like the 2015 mass shooting at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
This context suggests that the initial reaction to Barnes’s death cannot simply be brushed off as some sort of mass delusion about racism. Rather, it shows just how powerful concerns about racism in America have become.
See how that works? The very public speculation that it was a white man who did it out of race hatred was justified, says the Vox writer, because those who made this leap were black.
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Keep Stuart Stevens In Exile
I am on record many times as finding Donald Trump contemptible, but the reason I have never identified with the Never Trumpers is because I believe Trump’s greatest accomplishment was destroying the Republican Party establishment. Today’s Ross Douthat column, a review of the new book by former GOP strategist Stuart Stevens, is a vindication of Trump’s worthiness for having accomplished that good deed. Douthat points out that in Stevens’s account, the GOP was led by good and decent people, but then the real heart of the Republican Party — the bigots — emerged to smite them. Douthat characterizes Stevens’s argument like this:
Sure, Stevens and his Lincoln Project friends might have notionally been in charge of G.O.P. campaigns in the pre-Trump years, but you can’t really blame any of their strategic choices for bringing the party to this pass, because a race-baiting reality-TV huckster was what the party’s voters had always really wanted.
But Douthat is not having this self-exoneration by the consultant. Douthat goes on:
There is another way of reading this history, though, that’s suggested by a passage where Stevens is emphasizing the fundamental emptiness of G.O.P. rhetoric on deficits and taxes. “But still the Republican Party continues to push tax cuts the same way the Roman Catholic Church uses incense for High Mass,” he writes, “as a comforting symbolism for believers that reminds them of their identity.” And then, pushing the analogy further: “Being against ‘out-of-control federal spending,’ a phrase I must have used in a hundred ads, is a catechism of the Republican faith. But no one really believes in it any more than communicants believe they are actually eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ.”
Except that in point of fact, many communicants at a Catholic Mass do believe that they are actually eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ. And this is particularly true among the conservative Catholics whose votes were essential to the Republican politicians Stuart Stevens tried to get elected president.
For Stevens to either not realize this or sweep away a pretty important religious conviction with a nobody actually believes that wave makes me somewhat doubtful of his larger claim to expert knowledge about all the people who voted for Bush, for Romney or for Trump.
It suggests, instead, that at some level Stevens and his fellow Republican strategists regarded their own voters in exactly the way certain populist conservatives always claimed the Republican establishment regarded its supporters — as useful foot soldiers, provincials to be mobilized with culture-war appeals, religious weirdos who required certain rhetorical nods so that the grown-ups could get on with the more important work of governing.
Douthat goes on to say that reading Stevens’s book makes it clear that in the eyes of the GOP elites Trump knocked over, the GOP elites did not fail, they were failed. This, says Douthat, reveals that the old school Republican elites have no comprehension of how their failures created Trump. If you would like a refresher on that, read Tucker Carlson’s January 2016 Politico essay, written at the start of the GOP primary season. Carlson said that Trump is shocking, and vulgar — and right. It’s a piece about the failures of the Republican elites, and how Trump has these guys nailed.
The other day on Twitter, there was a thread going around in which people were asked, “What radicalized you?” It wasn’t a left or right question — just a query about which events made you wake up and realize that things were not what you thought they were.
I answered something like: “The Iraq War, the Catholic abuse scandal, the fact that nobody was held to account for the 2008 financial crash — and the fact that none of these elites are ever held responsible for anything.” I quit being a Republican, formally, in 2008, over this, even though I generally vote GOP in national elections. Everything that happened subsequent to 2008 confirmed my disgust with the Republican Party. It wasn’t that they failed — that was bad, but everybody fails at some point — but that they learned absolutely nothing from the failure.
I remember where I was — in a hotel room in rural Virginia — on the night Donald Trump, in the 2016 South Carolina presidential debate, said that the Iraq War was a mistake. People in the audience booed, and Jeb Bush pulled a “how dare you insult my brother!”face. But Trump was right. To my knowledge, that was the first time I had ever heard a senior Republican politician admit that the war had been wrong — this, 13 years after it had been launched! Whatever else Trump does, or has done, I will always be grateful to him for having said those words.
Stuart Stevens still doesn’t get it. All of Trump’s sins and failures do not redeem Stuart Stevens’s bad judgment. I’m with Douthat: until and unless those elites show some sign of understanding what they did wrong, and repenting of it, “it’s hard to imagine any case for ever giving them political responsibility again.”