E-Pluribus | January 3, 2024
Harvard stays the (wrong) course; here's to making 2024 boring; and (literally) digging into the culture wars.
A round-up of the latest and best musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Heather Mac Donald: Onward with Inclusiveness
The lessons Harvard will learn from Claudine Gay’s exit from the presidency remain to be seen. Early signs point to: not much, since Gay, despite a mountain of plagiarism examples, will remain a full tenured Harvard professor. Heather Mac Donald at City Journal writes that in addition to Gay’s, DEI’s position at Harvard seems secure as well.
There is no indication from either the Gay resignation letter or the Harvard Corporation follow-up that the university is moving away from identity-based scholarship, hiring, and admissions. The Harvard Corporation asserts that Harvard’s core values are “excellence, inclusiveness, and free inquiry and expression.” That latter item—free inquiry and expression—can be ignored. It is so far from the truth that it means nothing. Harvard has tolerated a reign of academic conformity and the informal silencing of intellectual dissent. Its left-wing leaders, including the Harvard Corporation, remain blind to their own hypocrisy regarding free speech, since they apparently do not believe in the legitimacy of non-dogmatic views on race, sex, or personal responsibility.
But the Corporation’s reassertion of its commitment to “inclusiveness” is an important marker of the future. The term is particularly charged following the Supreme Court’s ruling this summer invalidating racial preferences in college admissions. When the decision came down, then-president Lawrence Bacow signaled that Harvard would do everything it could to retain its regime of “inclusiveness.” Its subsequent actions have only confirmed that intent. At present, “excellence” and “inclusiveness” (as the latter is currently defined) are mutually exclusive. Thanks to the academic skills gap, a university can be meritocratically excellent or it can be demographically inclusive. It cannot be both. That is why inclusiveness must be affirmed as a separate value from excellence. In a meritocratic world, the only values a university would care about including are those pertaining to academic achievement.
Read the whole thing.
Martin Gurri: To My Friends Across the Political Divide
Martin Gurri writing for Discourse Magazine is not naive about the differences that exist in our country. But disagreeing is no excuse for demonizing or personal attacks, and Gurri says we can all contribute to a more boring 2024 by keeping in mind our common humanity and acting accordingly.
Free speech is a rule among us. It’s closely bound to the search for truth. When you justify state censorship, you pitch your camp in the kingdom of lies. And believe me: The chaos you impose from above will erupt with a million times the force and consume you from below.
The law exists to maintain order. It’s not for settling our political disputes. That’s the rule. When you criminalize dissent and equate nonconformity with terrorism, you have lost the thread of how this country works. When you joke about putting opponents in reeducation camps so they can be converted into loyal followers, you channel the regime in Cuba. When you prosecute an opposition presidential candidate, you practice the same style of mafia politics as Vladimir Putin in Russia. When you ban a candidate’s name from the ballot to preserve “our democracy,” you sound, frankly, like you have gone nuts. And believe me: It will come back to haunt you.
You and I may disagree but I have no wish to dismiss you as a moral abomination, or prosecute you for your political views or disqualify the candidates you prefer. Disagreement is information—it’s a favor you do to me, by calling out the potential gaps and the mistakes in the opinions I hold. I realize that in the excitement of the moment, it feels like an enormous gulf separates us. But that is only true if you want it to be: Distance is always a matter of perspective. And you know perfectly well that in your family and among your friends there are individuals who disagree with you politically—people just like you except for this one little thing. You and they are not so different. From where I stand, you and I are not so distant.
Read it all here.
Jon Entine and Patrick Whittle: Mortuary Archaeology
Old things buried in the ground might seem like a strange factor in the culture war, but at Quillette, Jon Entine and Patrick Whittle explain how even a field like archaeology can have a political aspect to it. Especially when dealing with indigenous cultures and the dead, scientific excavations can stir up a lot more than just dust.
Just as Western societies have changed (rapidly and recently), so have indigenous cultures. Slavery and human sacrifice were once practiced in many historical indigenous cultures, and ritual cannibalism was practiced in others. Today, no indigenous person would defend those practices as appropriate to their modern lives. “Authentic” traditional culture, as postmodernists might agree, is an elusive concept. Modern indigenous peoples do not see the world through the eyes of their ancestors, just as modern Westerners no longer share the worldview of their forebears.
The irony is obvious: many self-appointed protectors of indigenous culture who rail against the “colonization” of a sacred past are themselves imposing idealized and condescending European notions of the “noble savage” on indigenous societies, protecting their remains with no exceptions. But does intent not matter? What if archaeological excavation offers scientific benefits that serve the greater good or a tribe’s yearning to better understand its own history? Should excavating DNA be treated the same as extracting skulls or other skeletal remains from burial sites?
Yes, many (but by no means all) indigenous cultures historically venerated their dead and gave obeisance to the spirits of the deceased. But how that was expressed, historically and today, varied dramatically from one culture to another. There is no universal view of how to handle ancient remains. There are no ethical qualms about digging up ancient hominin ancestors such as Neanderthals or excavating skeletons from the sunken Titanic.
Many archaeologists have consulted and collaborated with tribes, some of which have allowed the excavation of DNA from their forebears’ graves, as the Colville tribe did in the case of Kennewick Man. Some tribes are honored by knowing more about their ancestors. Formal or implied blanket prohibitions, enforced by the public shaming of scientists, not only impedes scientific inquiry, it also robs indigenous cultures, who have a right to negotiate their own practices, of their agency.
While past custom can be a guide, any particular response to questions of identity and human remains is only one of several possible modern interpretations of historical tradition. By their very nature, novel problems require novel solutions. An aversion to genetic research into ancient remains is therefore only one of several possible modern interpretations of how to protect traditional cultural customs and beliefs that emerged long before such technologies were even available.
It is patronizing to presume that all members of indigenous communities share uniform perspectives, or that belonging to a particular group implies unanimous opinions and attitudes. Modern identity activists often represent an academic or urban elite and their claim to speak for a particular community is dubious. They may articulate political opinions that do not necessarily mirror the broader range of views within that community. As is often the case, the most vocal voices, especially those willing to stifle opposing viewpoints, may drown out the potential diversity of beliefs within a community. In the case of the NAGPRA dispute, for example, the outspoken opinions of certain indigenous individuals may conceal others’ curiosity about what modern genetic science can reveal about their ancestral history.
Read it all.
Around Twitter (X)
Geoff Shullenberger points out the contradictory positions staked out by the left in the transgender debate and the discussion of the Palestinians:
And finally, this inadvertently devastating commentary from Ibram X. Kendi (yes, Kendi has two appearances in Around Twitter today) on the state of journalism today: “This is journalism,” regarding an AP headline (Community-Noted by X users) calling plagiarism a conservative “weapon.”