E-Pluribus | January 8, 2024
Plagiarism by any other name; the woke are rightfully panicked; and addressing the culture wars one-on-one.
A round-up of the latest and best musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Tyler Austin Harper: The Real Harvard Scandal
Plagiarism by one person is bad. A defense of plagiarism by a crowd of academics is far worse, Tyler Austin Harper of The Atlantic says. Claudine Gay’s removal as president of Harvard will have little meaning if those who tried to excuse her actions are not themselves removed from positions of influence, or at least pushed to admit they were wildly incorrect.
The true scandal of the Claudine Gay affair is not a Harvard president and her plagiarism. The true scandal is that so many journalists and academics were willing, are still willing, to redefine plagiarism to suit their politics. Gay’s boosters have consistently resorted to Orwellian doublespeak—“duplicative language” and academic “sloppiness” and “technical attribution issues”—in a desperate effort to insist that lifting entire paragraphs of another scholar’s work, nearly word for word, without quotation or citation, isn’t plagiarism. Or that if it is plagiarism, it’s merely a technicality. Or that we all do it. (Soon after Rufo and Brunet made their initial accusations last month, Gay issued a statement saying, “I stand by the integrity of my scholarship.” She did not address those or subsequent plagiarism allegations in her resignation letter.)
Rufo won this round of the academic culture war because he exposed so many progressive scholars and journalists to be hypocrites and political actors who were willing to throw their ideals overboard. I suspect that, not the tenure of a Harvard president, was the prize he sought all along. The tragedy is that we didn’t have to give it to him.
Read the whole thing.
Andrew Sullivan: The Woke Panic Over Gay’s Resignation
Writing at his Substack, Andrew Sullivan sees the Harvard-Gay affair as a clarifying moment. Is the country really ready to give up on the idea of true equality of opportunity, imperfect as it is, in favor of enforced equity? Based on the public reaction, Sullivan is optimistic.
The most salutary aspect of this whole affair is that it has really helped expose the core disagreement in our current culture war. One side believes, as I do, that individual merit exists, and should be the core criterion for admission to a great university, regardless of an individual’s racial or sexual identity, and so on. The other side believes that merit doesn’t exist at all outside the oppressive paradigm of racial and sexual identity, and that membership in a designated “marginalized” group should therefore be the core criterion for advancement in academia.
For a very long time, many people have assumed you could keep these two ideas on campus at the same time, and somehow muddle through. But you cannot. When push comes to shove, when there is a finite number of places available, you’re in a zero-sum predicament. You have to pick between a smarter student of the wrong race and a weaker student of the right race. In the end at Harvard, being in the right race — not merit — determines your chances.
[. . .]
This is the nub of it. Most Americans believe in individual merit, and advancement regardless of identity. Harvard and our new elite believe that our society is so structured as an enduring “white supremacy” that merit can only be considered after you have accounted for the effects of “intersectional oppression.” And so they discriminate against individuals on the grounds of their race before they consider merit.
[. . .]
The more people see this for the systemic racism it is, the sooner we can throw this neo-Marxist cuckoo out of the liberal nest, and return to the airing of all ideas, regardless of the subject matter or the identity of the students. That’s what we’re struggling to get back to and, in that sense, the Gay resignation is just one skirmish in a long war for liberal democracy. But every controversy like this helps us to make our case. And each moment of truth puts a crack in the stifling, authoritarian edifice of DEI. We can bring this corruption to light. We can hold them to account. I’m certainly more hopeful about the future of liberal society now than I was a month ago.
Read it all.
Aryana Petrosky: Healing a Nation, One Relationship at a Time
In the current culture wars, winning is certainly not insignificant, but scorched-earth victories (or scorched-earth defeats) surely are not desirable to most. In a new book, New York Times columnist David Brooks explores a micro-solution to the rancor that often characterizes public discourse. Aryana Petrosky at The Dispatch takes a look at Brooks’s approach of focusing on relationship building across the divide.
To many conservatives, American institutions are in a constant state of crisis. A mass deterioration of civil society—from the nuclear family, to higher education, to community life—has led to many social and political woes, they point out, but the proposed solutions to institutional breakdown often remain outside our reach. If hoped-for policy changes could take generations to enact, what can the average American accomplish with a mere Tocquevillian lament?
David Brooks’ How to Know a Person: The Art of Seeing Others Deeply and Being Deeply Seen, begins with the usual culprits for our social and political disarray. Unlike other diagnoses, however, his book gravitates toward more granular solutions: a hand planted on a shoulder, a listening ear, a caring gaze, an understanding nod. The book treats these actions as the mustard seeds that build relationships between two people, and eventually within a nation.
[. . .]
How does the difference between an Illuminator and a Diminisher relate to our socio-political disconnection? For one, the distinction reminds us that work of moral formation is not done in isolation. Becoming an Illuminator takes a village. “In the Illuminator model, character building is not something you can do alone. Morality is a social practice. It is trying to be generous and considerate toward a specific other person, who is enmeshed in a specific context,” writes Brooks. This makes the task of becoming an Illuminator all the more challenging. Our ardent individualistic tendencies and our hesitancy to invite others into our lives, especially those who are different from us, keeps us from practicing how to “see” and “know” others.
More importantly, the process of becoming an Illuminator matters for our politics because it helps us recognize the complexity of other people. We struggle to view people as part of a group identity—whether religious, racial, or political—and also as distinct individuals within those groups.
Read it all here.
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And finally, is the paranoia-to-reality timeline getting shorter? Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry says yes: