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E-Pluribus | June 15, 2023
Fight at the Museum; understanding race relations in the proper context; and there is still nothing new under the sun.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Stanley Goldfarb: Cancel Culture Comes for Philly’s Weirdest Museum
Museums offer us a window to the past, but depending on the view, there is a move to board up some of those windows. Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum is under scrutiny for exhibits that suggest “colonialist” and “racist” views, writes Stanley Goldfarb at the Wall Street Journal. Goldfarb says that sanitizing the past in the service of avoiding discomfort helps no one.
The Mütter Museum has called itself “disturbingly informative,” yet a small number of activists tar it as insufficiently progressive. For years they’ve accused the museum of reflecting “colonialist” and “racist” views.
In January media outlets such as ProPublica and the Philadelphia Inquirer accused Mütter of failing to return the remains of Native Americans to their tribes. The attention was the excuse that museum leadership needed, especially College of Physicians CEO Mira Irons and museum executive director Kate Quinn, both hired after the social-justice upheaval that began in 2020. This year, in a blatant overreaction to the media reports, Ms. Quinn ordered the museum to remove all images of human remains from its online collections, including almost all its YouTube videos and large sections of its online exhibits. She indicated the material, which extends far beyond Native American remains, may never return based on “wider discussions” at the institution.
While Ms. Quinn says key exhibits remain on display, it appears that much of what draws people to the strange museum is on the chopping block. One local report says the leadership team is concerned that the collection “involves people who are no longer living, and had values that may differ from what people now believe.” Staff say Dr. Irons and Ms. Quinn seem hostile to the existence of the museum itself, with Dr. Irons reportedly declaring that her “life would be much better if the museum was for physicians only.”
[ . . . ]
Some of the staff are revolting against Dr. Irons and Ms. Quinn, with at least 13 of 50 employees reportedly leaving, especially those with expertise in medical history. That includes Robert Hicks, a senior consulting scholar who resigned last month while revoking his plans to leave his estate to the museum.
In a letter informing the trustees of his decision, Mr. Hicks expressed concern for “the deconstruction of the museum” and called for an investigation of Dr. Irons and Ms. Quinn. The Mütter Museum Preservation Society submitted a letter accusing Dr. Irons and Ms. Quinn of wanting to “remake the Mütter into its own ideological antithesis,” meaning a political project rather than a historical museum. The society drafted a petition to save the museum, which drew 21,000 signatures in less than two weeks.
Read it all.
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Yascha Mounk and Tomiwa Owolade: What We Get Wrong About Race
At Persuasion, Yascha Mounk interviewed author Tomiwa Owolade about his new book, This is Not America: Why Black Lives in Britain Matter. Owolade’s look at race relations in the UK helps illustrate why viewing various populations through a monolithic identity lens distorts our perspective and does little to foster solutions where race relations are suffering.
Yascha Mounk: [. . .] What do people get wrong when they see the whole world through the lens of America's very particular racial history in racial discourse?
Tomiwa Owolade: They lose sight of the particular racial dynamics of their own country. If they look at their own country, principally or even partly through an American perspective, in the case of the UK, what they get wrong, or what they lose sight of, is the fact that the black British population is distinctive from the black American population. So the black British population, in contrast to the black American population, is very much an immigrant community, or I should say, communities, which is something that I emphasize in my book. So rather than looking at the black British population as a singular group, or singular identity, what I tried to emphasize in my book and much of my writing is the diversity of that label itself. But I would say that it's principally an immigrant identity, and this is in stark contrast to the black American population. So the overwhelming majority of black Americans can trace their ancestry to enslaved Africans who were transported to the new world between the 17th and the 19th centuries. Whereas in the UK as of today, the overwhelming majority of black British people are either immigrants from Africa or the children of immigrants from Africa. Up until 25 or 30 years ago, the majority of black British people were black Caribbeans, people from countries like Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and other Caribbean islands. But there's been a massive influx of immigration to the UK over the past 25-30 years, which has completely changed the demographic makeup of the black British population. As of today, there are twice as many black African people as there are black Caribbean people. And I don't think many people know this, even people living in the UK.
[ . . . ]
Mounk: [L]et's play the lesson game: what can Americans learn from how race works differently in Britain?
Owolade: That's a very big question. I don't want to sound patronizing to Americans, because even though my book is entitled This is Not America, I wouldn't describe my book as anti-American in any sense, because there was much about American culture, American society, and American history that I admire, and that I am fascinated by and greatly interested in. But what I think that Americans can certainly improve on—and this isn't just what they can take from Britain but something which they can take more generally, I think—is to question (and what I'm going to say is, is in response to a particular kind of American sort of progressive activist, rather than Americans in general) and to be less insular in their understanding of race or ethnicity, basically, and to always look at it as something which is situated in a particular context, rather than as something which is transcendental or universal. And I think, funnily enough, the only way that this can be done is by aggressive curiosity about other cultures in the world, a greater curiosity about the way racial categories manifest in other cultures and other identities in the world—rather than just looking at race entirely through a very particular American context and then universalizing that context.
Read it all here.
Stephanie Slade: The New Right Isn't So New
Advertising agencies often slap “new” on an existing product after minor tweaks in order to drive interest among new customers and revive it among existing ones. Stephanie Slade writes at Reason that calling the “New Right” new can’t change the fact that behind the label, the new New Right looks a lot like the old New Right.
[In 1969,] an ornery political science professor named Donald Atwell Zoll [wrote that c]onservatives must reject liberalism's thanatos, or death wish—"its preference for extinction (with its ideological purities preserved) as against adaptation or revision." By purities, he meant commitments to pluralism, individualism, and proceduralism, the "rules of the game" by which liberals were convinced opposing groups could coexist in peace.
The core problem, Zoll wrote, was that the New Left had proven itself uninterested in playing by those rules. "Its adherents were obviously willing to shoot at people," he claimed. "When they talked about 'revolution,' they meant storming a hundred Bastilles, not changing the minds of men after the fashion of older and more comfortable collectivists."
In response, liberalism might have opted to "repress its opponents…thus entailing a candid recognition that it had real live opponents." Alas, "the liberal establishment was unwilling to embrace" any solution that "would involve the abrogation of its 'democratic' preferences." This, Zoll thought, put conservatives in a sticky situation. They could either "go down with liberalism, clinging to the common values and abiding by the traditional rules of the game," or they could "elect to fight, uninhibited by the liberal thanatos or by liberal proprieties as to method."
[ . . . ]
. . .In 2019, then–New York Post opinion editor Sohrab Ahmari published an essay in First Things magazine with the curious title "Against David French-ism." Ahmari trained his guns on a lawyer and writer then employed by National Review, an evangelical Christian with a long record of defending civil liberties. The piece resurrected many of the notes Zoll had sounded 50 years prior.
"Conservative liberalism of the kind French embodies has a great horror of the state, of traditional authority and the use of the public power to advance the common good, including in the realm of public morality," Ahmari wrote. Attempting to change the culture through noncoercive means, he warned, would not stop the left. Instead, conservative Christians must be willing to "fight the culture war with the aim of defeating the enemy and enjoying the spoils"—that is, with the goal of acquiring sufficient power "to enforce our order and our orthodoxy."
French, through his commitment to civility and liberal proceduralism, had "kept his hands clean, his soul untainted," Ahmari sneered. "But conservative Christians can't afford these luxuries. Progressives understand that culture war means discrediting their opponents and weakening or destroying their institutions. Conservatives should approach the culture war with a similar realism."
Thus reads the script for the modern New Right: The left doesn't play fair. Survival necessarily means responding in kind. Liberalism prevents us from recognizing our enemies for what they are.
Read the whole thing.
ESG (environmental, social, and corporate governance) is a buzzword (buzz acronym?) that not many outside the business and investing world are familiar with, but ESG ratings are used as a proxy for corporate responsibility. Aaron Sibarium has a long thread, excerpted below, on what “responsible” looks like in the brave new woke business world:
While the default position in the media is that discussing detransitioning equals hate speech, Lisa Selin Davis reports that VICE on Showtime actually has a program addressing the topic. Wesley Yang is cautiously optimistic:
And finally, also via Wesley Yang, the Biden administration’s broad statements about fully supporting the LGBTQIA+ community looks a little more disturbing with a real world example: