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E-Pluribus | July 14, 2023
The scientific basis (or lack thereof) for Critical Race Theory; introducing Freedom Conservatism; and Woke Capitalism is Broke Capitalism.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Julian Adorney: The Pseudoscience of Critical Race Theory
Entire careers have been built around Critical Race Theory, but Julian Adorney at Quillette calls into question if the whole thing is literally much ado about nothing. Adorney alleges that the concepts on which the field is built are so nebulous and fallacious that it’s impossible to even consider CRT science at all.
In reality, however, Critical Race Theory is not a hard science. It’s not even a soft science. In fact, the field is plagued by pseudoscience. So, what makes an argument pseudoscientific? As the philosopher Karl Popper puts it, “statements or systems of statements, in order to be ranked as scientific, must be capable of conflicting with possible, or conceivable observations.” If an idea can be falsified, then it is (or could be) scientific. If it cannot, it’s merely pseudoscience.
Critical Race Theory is full of unfalsifiable arguments. In White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism—perhaps the most famous CRT book in the world—DiAngelo argues that every single white person is racist. According to her, “racism is unavoidable and … it is impossible to completely escape having developed problematic and racial assumptions and behaviors.” She considers various reasons why white people might deny the fact that they are racist—such as that they “married a person of color,” “have children of color,” or “marched in the sixties”—and summarily rejects them. For DiAngelo, it doesn’t matter what you do or who you choose to associate with. It doesn’t even matter how you treat people of color. If you’re white, you’re racist. Full stop.
In fact, according to DiAngelo, if you’re white and you reject this premise, that makes you even more racist. “White people who think they are not racist … cause the most daily damage to people of color,” she writes. In this worldview, disagreeing with DiAngelo’s accusation is simply taken as proof of the validity of said accusation. This is a logical fallacy known as a Kafka trap. It is pseudoscience in the strictest sense.
DiAngelo’s entire thesis is presented as a Kafka trap. She coined the term “white fragility” to describe the way white people respond when accused of racism. The characteristics of “white fragility” include “argumentation” (i.e., vocal disagreement), “silence,” “leaving the stress-inducing situation” (that is, the room in which the person is being informed of their racism), “guilt,” “tears,” and “anger.”
If you’re white, any failure to acknowledge your racism is simply additional proof of your guilt. If you are unable to admit your own racism, you will respond with “fragility” by denying it, getting upset, remaining silent, or walking away. Once you have been accused, there is no way to rebut the charge except by rejecting the entire framework of DiAngelo’s argument.
Read the whole thing.
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Freedom Conservatism: A Statement of Principles
Concerned with the direction of the right, a group of self-described conservatives, libertarians, and classical liberals have banded together under the heading of Freedom Conservatism and produced a document enumerating ten principles that they believe are key to restoring and preserving American freedom for future generations. George F. Will, Karl Rove, Grover Norquist, Charlie Sykes, Joe Walsh and Jonah Goldberg are among the dozens who signed on despite their political differences to attempt to unify the right on some level for the good of the country as a whole.
[The Freedom Conservatism project] began life as a conversation among a small group of conservatives, libertarians, and classical liberals about the rise of authoritarianism around the world, its manifestations in contemporary American politics, and related debates about the past, present, and future of the American conservative movement. We formed a working group, led by Avik Roy and John Hood; drafted the Statement of Principles; invited other leaders to help edit and refine it; and then recruited signatories from across the movement.
The process took about five months. The Statement was published on July 13, 2023.
[The first five principles are:]
Liberty. Among Americans’ most fundamental rights is the right to be free from the restrictions of arbitrary force: a right that, in turn, derives from the inseparability of free will from what it means to be human. Liberty is indivisible, and political freedom cannot long exist without economic freedom.
The pursuit of happiness. Most individuals are happiest in loving families, and within stable and prosperous communities in which parents are free to engage in meaningful work, and to raise and educate their children according to their values.
The foundation of prosperity. The free enterprise system is the foundation of prosperity. Americans can only prosper in an economy in which they can afford the basics of everyday life: food, shelter, health care, and energy. A corrosive combination of government intervention and private cronyism is making these basics unaffordable to many Americans. We commit to reducing the cost of living through competitive markets, greater individual choice, and free trade with free people, while upholding the rule of law, freedom of contract, and freedom of association.
Full faith and credit. The skyrocketing federal debt—which now exceeds the annual economic output of the United States—is an existential threat to the future prosperity, liberty, and happiness of Americans. We commit to building a constructive reform agenda that can restore America’s fiscal sustainability, ensuring that future generations inherit a more prosperous and secure nation than the one we now inhabit.
A nation of laws, not men. Equality under the law is a foundational principle of American liberty. Unfortunately, today this principle is under attack from those who believe that the rule of law does not apply to them. One manifestation of this problem is the explosion of unaccountable and unelected regulators who routinely exceed their statutory authority and abridge Americans’ constitutional rights. The President should only nominate policymakers and judges who are committed to upholding these rights.
Read it all here.
Lydia Polgreen: The Puny Power of ‘Woke Capitalism’
At the New York Times, Lydia Polgreen expresses skepticism about the highly vaunted trend of so-called “woke capitalism” where corporations attempt to pass themselves off as altruistically working for the greater good of society. Polgreen examines the phenomenon from both the consumer side and the business side and finds that, as is generally been the case from time immemorial, consumers want a good product or service for a good price, and businesses want to make money.
This hyping of the power of socially conscious capitalism is understandable given how aggressively the notion has been sold to companies and consumers. Research studies, many of them conducted by companies that advise businesses on corporate social responsibility, have touted the power of “purpose” to drive consumer loyalty.
Color me skeptical. Consumers make choices for many reasons: price, convenience and marketing. Maybe politics. The other day I went to my local Walgreens to buy toothpaste and ultimately chose not my favorite brand but the only one that wasn’t under lock and key. I didn’t want to wait for an employee to liberate the Colgate, so Crest it was. Needless to say, I did not use Google to find out which brand was more committed to bodily autonomy. What can I say? I was in a hurry.
My somewhat jaundiced view of the possibilities and perils of woke capitalism was shaped by seeing some of this play out from inside the corporate suite, albeit in the limited context of media and tech companies, running the editorial and business ends of a podcast company at Spotify and a global news organization, HuffPost, when it was owned by Verizon Media.
I have bad news for combatants on both sides of this war. For those on the left who take comfort in seeing big companies take bold stands on issues they care about, I’m here to tell you that those companies care much more about their bottom line than your beloved issue (see Spotify example above).
And those on the right who feel that the wind is at their back with successful boycotts of “woke” brands are likely to be disappointed for similar reasons. Even this year’s big success — a boycott of Bud Light after it worked with a transgender influencer as part of a broader social media campaign that apparently caused the stock of the brewing giant Anheuser-Busch to drop — was a Pyrrhic victory: It is all but impossible to find beer companies that don’t participate in celebrating Pride, thereby doing exactly what the right accuses them of: pushing a liberal agenda antithetical to conservative mores.
It turns out queer consumers and their allies are important to companies’ bottom line, and — especially in a tight labor market — companies can hardly afford to alienate queer workers and their families and supporters. Even after getting dinged by conservative consumers and gay rights activists, Bud Light pledged to keep supporting queer businesses.
Read it all.
Jonathan Adler is floored by former NAACP president and current Sierra Club director Ben Jealous’s assertion that Congress can’t tell federal regulators what to do:
And finally, well… presented without comment: