Home/Rod Dreher/They Will Be Harmonized

They Will Be Harmonized

Is this actually a thing? You're not supposed to ask (Wildpixel/iStock/GettyImagesPlus)

It is weirdly shocking but also not surprising how quickly the mainstream media have shut down any conversation on race that doesn’t conform to a narrow left-wing narrative. Matthew Franck of Princeton’s Witherspoon Institute wrote an essay for Newsweek in which he said racism exists, but that the case for “systemic racism” is much harder to stand up. Excerpts:

Americans are talking constantly these days about racism—and if anyone needed reminding of its dominant historical form, specifically “anti-black racism.” It’s still a very real thing, and we all have a stake in its eradication. But is “systemic racism” a real thing in the United States? To judge from the weakness of the case made for it, I would say no. In fact, the thesis for the existence of “systemic racism” looks just like a conspiracy theory, with one salient difference from other conspiracy theories. Let me explain.

OK, let’s hear the case. More:

[T]wo related features mark all conspiracy theories. First, the lack of evidence for their central claims does not count against them. Indeed, evidence to the contrary does no damage to belief in them, but is regarded as either proffered by the credulous or deliberately faked by the conspirators themselves. Second, the very denial of a conspiracy theory’s truth is taken as confirmation of it. The denier will typically be declared to be in on the conspiracy himself. “Of course he would say that. He’s one of them!”

Franck argues that the charge of “systemic racism” is unfalsifiable — and if you question it, that just proves (in the minds of its proponents) that you are guilty of it. He goes on:

We can sensibly talk about individual, or legal, or even institutional racism. All these can be blamed on someone. Perhaps someone in the past set certain racist policies in place; even so, if the policies are still in effect, someone today is perpetuating them and could change them. But while an apparently disparate racial impact of a policy may raise initial suspicions that the policy itself is racist, it is no proof of the matter, for disparate outcomes can have multiple causes, some blameless, others blameworthy.

No proof of systemic racism need be offered, says Franck; it is enough to assert it. More:

Are there racist policies at work elsewhere in American criminal justice, or in education, or housing, or professions and trades? Maybe, but the systemic-racism theorist is relieved of any burden of showing concretely what they are, or who needs to do what about them.

Read it all. Maybe he’s wrong — but it’s an interesting issue to argue.

You’ll notice if you click through that it didn’t appear at Newsweek, but rather at Public Discourse. Actually, it appeared at Newsweek for a couple of hours on Monday morning, but then was taken down. Franck explains why in the preface to the column at PD. Excerpt:

Author’s note: The essay below was accepted on September 11 for publication by the opinion editor of Newsweek, and after some changes by the editors not reproduced here, was published on the morning of September 14, by 7:00 a.m. or a little after. Two hours later it was taken down by the editor-in-chief, Nancy Cooper, with no explanation on the publication’s website.

I was told that Newsweek would like to publish it again—for keeps this time!—a week later, but only when a piece commissioned from the opposing viewpoint could appear alongside it, in a feature called “The Debate.” Would the author of that piece be able to have a look at mine? There was no reason to think not, since my essay was saved on the “Wayback Machine.” But would I see the counterpoint essay before publication and be able to respond with slight revisions of my own? I was given no assurance of that.

Franck refused the magazine’s conditions. Read his entire account.

I would hope that Nancy Cooper would explain herself, but I don’t expect that she will. In the world of professional journalism, she would have faced more harsh questioning (about why she published it at all) from her peers, and maybe the Millennials and Zoomers on her staff, than she would from any readers. From the available evidence, it appears that once again we have a case of the leadership of an important liberal institution losing all courage in the institution’s mission when challenged from the left. You may well disagree with Matt Franck’s column, but it’s an interesting and important argument, and it deserves a hearing — especially after the magazine published the thing! My guess is that Nancy Cooper surely saw it before it was published, and approved it — only to get cold feet when complaints started coming in from the woke.  I hope I’m wrong, but I doubt that I am.

This is the new reality, I’m afraid: the media gatekeepers are going to make it impossible to have any kind of critical, questioning conversation about race, just as they have done about LGBT issues. This doesn’t mean that people aren’t going to be having these conversations. It just means that they’re going to be having them in private. This is very good news for publications like this one, because we become forums for the conversations that the mainstream is too afraid to have. I feel bad for the op-ed editor at Newsweek, who just had his legs chopped out from under him by his boss Nancy Cooper today. What non-leftist is now going to want to contribute to Newsweek‘s commentary, knowing that his or her column could get yanked?

The liberal establishment’s mania to control the narrative really is getting out of control. Look at this that showed up earlier today on social media; it’s a statement from the English Department at the University of Chicago:

 

Can you believe that? This is an English Department at a major university. What if you are a black student interested in Milton? Too bad. This is dereliction of scholarly duty. These academics are destroying their universities. In one sense, this is no big deal, because there are almost no jobs for English PhDs anyway. But as a symbolic move, this is pure ideological madness, and a sign of intellectual decadence. One way to look at this is that the English faculty of the University of Chicago believes there are no conversations about literature worth having with graduate students, except for conversations about black literature.

Some news media elites are trying to ignore aspects of stories and urgent public controversies that contradict the preferred left-wing narrative. And some elite universities are deliberately cutting the young off from vast areas of scholarship, for nakedly ideological reasons. It sounds familiar. This is a passage fromLive Not By Lies:

The Chinese state is also utilizing totalitarian methods for ensuring the coming generations don’t have the imaginative capacity to fight back.

In his 2019 book, We Have Been Harmonized —China’s term for neutralizing citizens as a threat to the social and political order — veteran journalist Kai Strittmatter, who spent years in Beijing reporting for a German daily, reveals the techno-dystopia that modern China has become. He interviews a Chinese teacher who gives his name as “David,” and who despairs of his country’s future.

“People born in the 1980s and afterwards are hopelessly lost,” David says. He continues:

The brainwashing starts in nursery school. It was different for us. They called us a lost generation because schools and colleges were closed back then, and many of us were denied an education. But in reality, we were probably the lucky ones. We fell through the cracks. The brainwashing didn’t get us. Mao was dead, and everyone was desperate for China to open up, for reform, freedom.

The state’s information-control apparatus has demolished the ability of young Chinese to learn facts about their nation’s history in ways that contradict the Communist Party’s narrative. The 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, for example, has been memory-holed. This is something that we will almost certainly not have to endure in the West.

But the condition of the youth in consumerist China is more Huxley than Orwell. As the American media critic Neil Postman once said, Orwell feared a world in which people would be forbidden to read books. Huxley, by contrast, feared a world in which no one would have to ban books, because no one would want to read them in the first place. This, says David, is China today. Even though a great deal of information remains available to students, they don’t care about it.

“My students say they haven’t got time. They’re distracted by a thousand other things,” David tells
Strittmatter. “And although I’m only ten years older than them, they don’t understand me. They live in a completely different world. They’ve been perfectly manipulated by their education and the Party’s propaganda: my students devote their lives to consumerism and ignore everything else. They ignore reality; it’s been made easy for them.”

And so, a population that has been wholly propagandized by a totalitarian state, and demoralized by hedonistic consumerism, will hardly be in a position even to imagine opposition to its command-and-control strategies. And even if some dissidents did emerge, the government’s total information system would quickly identify and “harmonize” them before they had the opportunity to act — or even before they had the conscious thought of dissenting.

The people who depend on the mainstream media to tell them about the world, and those being educated at our great universities to be custodians of our intellectual and cultural heritage — they will be harmonized even before they have the conscious thought of dissenting.

UPDATE: I was just reading the new Masculinist newsletter (No. 44) from Aaron Renn (subscribe here), who quotes Harvard’s Stephen Pinker:

A way in which I do agree with my fellow panelist that political correctness has done an enormous amount of harm in the sliver of the population whose affiliation might be up for grabs comes from the often highly literate, highly intelligent people that gravitate to the alt-right – internet savvy, media savvy – who often are radicalized in that way – who “swallow the red pill” as the saying goes from the Matrix – when they are exposed for the first time to true statements that have never been voiced in college campuses or in the New York Times or in respectable media. It’s almost like a bacillus to which they have no immunity, and they are immediately infected with both an outrage that these truths are unsayable, and no defense against taking them to what we might consider rather repellent conclusions.

Renn quotes Pinker in making his own (Renn’s) points about sex and gender. Renn says that the “manosphere” blogs drew a lot of young men in because they told truths that respectable authorities had withheld from them all their lives. But in being red-pilled, these young men also accepted a lot of bad stuff.

I think the media, academia, and even the church’s refusal to say things, or permit things to be said that violate rigid left-wing norms about race are going to end up driving a lot of people to the alt-right. Newsweek wouldn’t even let a mainstream conservative academic figure who works on an Ivy League campus question the definition of systemic racism. Does Newsweek‘s editor in chief really think that that’s going to keep people from being curious about it? It probably will cause a fair number of people to blindly and blandly accept the party line. But those who don’t — I fear more than a few of them will go to some dark places, and be susceptible to exploitation by some truly bad actors.

UPDATE: A reader comments:

My wife works for a major financial institution, a big one that you hear about a lot in the news. Last week employees were forced to watch a video in which the message was clear: white Americans should be ashamed of themselves for being racists in a county that was never anything but racist. Racism was not a blind spot, racism was its essence. And in 400 years, barely a smidgeon of progress has been made for minorities who, even today, suffer greatly.at the hands of systemic racism, white privilege and overt discrimination.

That wasn’t the half of it. Tomorrow the employees are being called upon, in each department separately, to speak to their white privilege, or their experience with systemic racism as the case may be. I told her to just sit still and be quiet. She said they are being required to say something. Her immediate supervisor already has a short speech about how he didn’t realize his own racism since he grew up in a small, mostly white town.

I suggested my wife could say she has always preferred to judge people by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. She responded, however, that she doesn’t want to lose her job, and the instructions for tomorrow’s meeting are pretty clear regarding what should be said and how it should be said. In other words, it’s not open for discussion. Like a tent revival, it’s only open for condemning our country (if you’re a minority) or confession of your racism (if you’re not).

That’s a glimpse of America in the 21st Century.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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