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E-Pluribus | November 11, 2021
Objective knowledge, a hagiography on the father of CRT, and where are we headed if we can't voice simple truths?
A round up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Peter L. Levin: In Defense of Objective Knowledge
At Quillette, Peter L. Levin, a Clinton and Obama administration veteran, writes a passionate defense of objective knowledge in the face of illiberal impulses on both the left and the right. A self-proclaimed liberal, Levin nevertheless says that liberals’ “faults are no less dangerous to democracy than anti-intellectual alternative truthers.”
The illiberal Left violates the core tenet of individual dignity (“all whites are racist”), and the authoritarian Right violates the core tenet of truth-telling (“January 6th was a peaceful protest”). Ideological purity tests the boundaries of both constitutional law with baseless appeals for a recount, and of objective knowledge with baseless casuistries of lived experience.
Their entangled sailcloths are woven from the same fragile threads of group entitlement, righteous anger, and retribution visited upon those who question their madness. Their reciprocally irrational abstractions erupt in corporeal violence, on the streets or in the Capitol. Their unreasoned messages collide in the confusion. Both sides ferociously squelch debate and attempt to muffle objective knowledge production wherever and whenever it fails to serve their respective goals.
Racism, misogyny, bigotry, and prejudice are as objectively real as Trump losing the 2020 presidential election and COVID vaccine safety. But which is worse: the bursting hernia of science denial on the Right or the asphyxiating obstruction of motivated thinking from the Left? Both destroy the body politic. Epistemic rigidity is the dominant characteristic; the combatants reject truth and verifiable facts on one hand, and dismiss evidence and intent on the other. False communion is their only reward.
Read the whole thing.
Will Shetterly: The Sanctification of Derrick Bell
The explosion in discourse about Critical Race Theory in recent years has prompted some publications to look back at the man credited with its genesis, Derrick Bell. Writing at Arc Digital, Will Shetterly reviews one such profile from The New Yorker that he argues elides some less than flattering aspects of the biography of Bell.
In the first statement, Bell says he opposes any speech that victimizes, stigmatizes, or humiliates—but he sidesteps the question of who should have the power to decide what we may say and how we may say it. The only safe assumption is that his ideal censors would be believers in the reductionist worldview of Critical Race Theory.
In the second statement, Bell rejects “liberal measures” and says that egalitarianism “may exist despite, and not because of, liberalism.” He obviously isn’t using dictionary definitions here because the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of liberalism—“willingness to respect or accept behavior or opinions different from one’s own; openness to new ideas”— is a prerequisite for egalitarianism. Bell clearly refuses to respect or accept behavior or opinions that his believers can label as victimizing, stigmatizing, or humiliating.
Compare this to a great civil rights advocate’s take: “Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist. That, of all rights, is the dread of tyrants.” (Frederick Douglass)
Bell’s view of free speech and hate speech also puts him decidedly at odds with the great 18th-century revolutionary Tom Paine, to whom Cobb compares him as “both a participant in a revolution and a witness to the events that revealed the limitations of its achievements.” (This is, by the way, the second rule of hagiography: Link your subject to great historical figures to suggest the greatness is shared.) Yet Paine wrote, in Common Sense, “He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression.” Of course, this wasn’t the only philosophical difference between the two men. Paine responded to the shortcomings of the American Revolution by committing to universalism; two centuries later, Bell responded to the shortcomings of the Civil Rights Movement by committing to identitarianism.
Read it all here.
Jason L. Riley: McDonald’s CEO Apologizes for Telling a Simple Truth
What on its face appeared to be a glaringly obvious observation about parenting turned into yet another opportunity for a forced apology from a prominent public figure. At the Wall Street Journal, Jason Riley examines what the recent experience of McDonald’s CEO says about our ability to hear and/or voice what should be uncontroversial truths.
It’s hard to see how we can address these and other social disparities if we can’t have honest conversations about what’s driving them. And the political left’s attempts to silence truth-tellers will only delay those conversations. Earlier this year, a Georgetown University law professor was terminated for musing aloud that year after year, many of her black students tended to have the lowest grades. Not long ago, a University of Pennsylvania law professor expressed a similar sentiment and was reprimanded for her remarks.
In neither case did anyone present evidence showing that what the professors said was untrue or that they harbored any ill will toward black students. They were attacked—as racists, no less—for saying something that is well-known among academics at elite institutions but that you are not permitted to discuss.
But why wouldn’t black students who are admitted to highly selective schools with poorer academic credentials be struggling? College admissions tests, at the undergraduate and graduate levels, do a fairly good job of predicting how a first-year student will fare. “A number of studies have shown that blacks at elite colleges have GPAs that place them somewhere between the 15th and 20th percentile of white students,” write Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor Jr. in their 2012 book about affirmative action, “Mismatch.” Moreover, “only 5 percent of blacks and less than one-tenth of Hispanics end up in the top fifth of the class, and blacks are four or five times as likely as whites to end up in the bottom tenth.”
Read it all.
Colin Wright has some thoughts on the current debate over the term “woke”:
Glenn Greenwald announces a new free speech podcast:
Thread from Jesse Singal on a science publication weighing in on cultural flashpoint issues:
And finally, a helpful chart via Peter Boghossian and Michael Shellenberger: