[My friend Wolf Howling sent me an email with a “rant.” I was so impressed with the rant that I asked if I could publish it here, and Wolf Howling kindly agreed.]
After reading several articles today, I think that I finally have a better perspective on the phenomena of Bernie Sanders, the curmudgeonly old Socialist and the choice of the under 30 college crowd. Start with Thomas Sowell who opines on The Left’s Central Delusion. The title is a bit off, for Sowell posits two delusions of equal weight. The first is the progressives’ unshakable belief that unequal outcomes are proof that any number of nefarious “–isms” are the root cause, something that Sowell sharply contests using real world examples:
A never-ending source of grievances for the Left is the fact that some groups are “over-represented” in desirable occupations, institutions, and income brackets, while other groups are “under-represented.” From all the indignation and outrage about this expressed on the left, you might think that it was impossible that different groups are simply better at different things. Yet runners from Kenya continue to win a disproportionate share of marathons in the United States, and children whose parents or grandparents came from India have won most of the American spelling bees in the past 15 years. And has anyone failed to notice that the leading professional basketball players have for years been black, in a country where most of the population is white?
Most of the leading photographic lenses in the world have — for generations — been designed by people who were either Japanese or German. Most of the leading diamond-cutters in the world have been either India’s Jains or Jews from Israel or elsewhere. Not only people but things have been grossly unequal. More than two-thirds of all the tornadoes in the entire world occur in the middle of the United States. Asia has more than 70 mountain peaks that are higher than 20,000 feet and Africa has none. Is it news that a disproportionate share of all the oil in the world is in the Middle East?
Whole books could be filled with the unequal behavior or performances of people, or the unequal geographic settings in which whole races, nations, and civilizations have developed. Yet the preconceptions of the political Left march on undaunted, loudly proclaiming sinister reasons why outcomes are not equal within nations or between nations.
Although Sowell does not mention it in his article, this is precisely the same paradigm behind the so-called “war on women.” The oft-quoted fact that women earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man proves nothing in and of itself. The reality is that women are far more likely than men to choose lower paying professions, while men gravitate towards the higher paying professions. After adjusting for education, time in the work place, and career choices, comparing apples to apples, the wage discrepancy virtually disappears.
Indeed, I am sure many of the progressives pushing this meme most vociferously know and understand this reality. Lacking any semblance of intellectual honesty, they are pushing this falsehood as a means to an end — to take political power. What happens then, well, that is the second fundamental delusion of the progressives — that they can perfect society and the economy through government. As Prof. Sowell notes, history has proven this a fallacy everywhere and in every time period in which it has been attempted:
. . . Some of the most sweeping and spectacular rhetoric of the Left occurred in 18th-century France, where the very concept of the Left originated in the fact that people with certain views sat on the left side of the National Assembly. The French Revolution was their chance to show what they could do when they got the power they sought. In contrast to what they promised — “liberty, equality, fraternity” — what they actually produced were food shortages, mob violence, and dictatorial powers that included arbitrary executions, extending even to their own leaders, such as Robespierre, who died under the guillotine.
In the 20th century, the most sweeping vision of the Left — Communism — spread over vast regions of the world and encompassed well over a billion human beings. Of these, millions died of starvation in the Soviet Union under Stalin and tens of millions in China under Mao.
Milder versions of socialism, with central planning of national economies, took root in India and in various European democracies. If the preconceptions of the Left were correct, central planning by educated elites who had vast amounts of statistical data at their fingertips and expertise readily available, and were backed by the power of government, should have been more successful than market economies where millions of individuals pursued their own individual interests willy-nilly. But, by the end of the 20th century, even socialist and communist governments began abandoning central planning and allowing more market competition. Yet this quiet capitulation to inescapable realities did not end the noisy claims of the Left. . . .
Our Founding Fathers would tell you that history is our greatest teacher. And how can one possibly argue that the history of socialism (to claim that there is a difference between progressivism and socialism is a distinction without a difference — just ask Hildabeast) is anything other than an unmitigated failure?
Ahhh, but the progressives have an answer to that. Tell history selectively where you must, rewrite where you can, and simply do away with it if possible. Ironically enough, that is precisely what they did at Stanford University, home of the Hoover Institute, Sowell’s employer, over thirty years ago. A movement afoot today to reinstate a requirement for courses in Western history as a degree prerequisite there has stirred the progressive hornet’s nest:
As crazy as it sounds, the notion of requiring students to take two courses in Western civilization to earn a diploma is so controversial at Stanford University that a recently launched student petition that calls for as much has propelled the school into a heated debate. The usual complaints, mostly in the mainstream campus newspaper and social media posts, have been bandied about: racist, white supremacist, Euro-centric, oppressive. Supporters have also been subjected to name-calling in online comments, social media threads, and student email chains, The College Fix reports.
. . . [T]his is not a new debate at Stanford. . . . Stanford once had a Western civilization requirement, but student and faculty protests during the 1960s saw it morphed into a Western culture requirement. Then in the 1980s, Stanford became ground-zero for the Western civ debate. “Five-hundred Stanford students marched alongside Reverend Jesse Jackson chanting ‘Hey hey, ho ho, Western Culture’s got to go.’ the New York Times and countless other publications covered the controversy; Newsweek published a widely-read report called ‘Say Goodnight Socrates,’” the manifesto states. . . . . [T]he movement proved successful – Stanford abandoned Western Culture.”
Progressivism cannot survive an intellectually honest study of history. But even where history is taught in our highest rated universities, it is the history of victimization. And even where politics and economics are taught, students aren’t reading Adam Smith and John Locke. I was floored by this recent study of the most often assigned texts at our major colleges:
. . . In history titles, George Brown Tindall and David Emory Shi’s textbook, America: A Narrative History, is No. 1, with Anne Moody’s Coming of Age in Mississippi, a memoir about life as an African-American woman in Jim Crow America, at No. 2. The Communist Manifesto is the third most taught in history, and is the top title in sociology. . . .
As to that second book, is our nation defined by Jim Crow, rather than considering the many who stood in opposition to Jim Crow and who ultimately prevailed? Where is the study of the lives of all the Americans who fought tooth and nail against slavery? Where is the study of the men who died in the civil war, or the three Jewish Republicans who started the NAACP? History is more than narratives, and teaching a myopic view of a single aspect of history out of context is not teaching history, it is pure indoctrination.
Others on the list of most commonly assigned texts are Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan and Plato’s Republic, both of which pine for an omnipotent central authority. Our Founding Fathers knew well of them and rejected Hobbes in toto and Plato in large measure.
And The Communist Manifesto? Really? Have you ever read it? It is a short read and worth the effort, for it explains not merely the fantasy and naivete of the left’s world view, it also perfectly explains the paradigm through which they view society. To sum up my review of that infamous work, all problems are socio-economic to them, all are caused by a Western civilization that is stained with irredeemable original sin, fundamentally corrupt and evil, and all societal ills can be solved by an omnipotent government engineering society and redistributing its wealth.
All of society is analyzed in the simplistic and incredibly distorting paradigm of the oppressors and the helpless oppressed. Traditional morality is jettisoned, replaced by “means to an end” morality, and the placement of victim classes on a moral pedestal.
It appears that, at most American universities, the liberal arts are no longer taught as disciplines, but rather as vehicles to achieve a progressive’s view of “social justice” — an amorphous concept that seems at its heart to be a call for punishment and subjugation of the “oppressors.” Glynn Custred, a professor of anthropology at California State University, has written a particularly erudite and damning indictment of this phenomena:
Beginning in the 1960s, a movement developed in academia with the aim of transforming scholarly pursuits into instruments of social change. It was motivated by intellectually fashionable ideas, such as Marxism and feminism, and by a trendy antipathy towards Western Civilization in general. Eventually it overwhelmed the humanities and deeply affected the social sciences.
The impact of the movement on my field, anthropology, was varied, since anthropology, with its four sub-disciplines, spans the range of scholarly activity from the physical sciences through the social sciences to the humanities. Three of those sub-disciplines (archeology, physical anthropology, and linguistic anthropology) have remained mostly unscathed by the efforts to transform anthropology into another politically correct university outpost.
But the largest of the four, sociocultural anthropology (the study of social and cultural variation around the world), has been greatly distorted. It has been redefined from a science to an instrument of political ideology.
It is very revealing that in 2010, the executive committee of the American Anthropological Association (AAA), the discipline’s major professional organization, dropped the word “science” from its mission statement, and elsewhere. Since then the organization has focused on trendy issues such as the environment, violence, climate change, race, etc.
The AAA now wants “to help solve problems” rather than to understand and explain reality. Different sections have appeared within the AAA reflecting radical politics, such as the Association for Feminist Anthropology, the Association for Queer Anthropology (their designation), and other internal organizations that are highly politicized. Committees expend much energy on political issues and the formation of task forces like the Global Climate Task Force and the Task Force on Race and Racism.
One element in politicized anthropology is the repudiation of the West’s colonial past. Western expansion, as seen from this perspective, was not a phase in history, similar in many respects to the phenomenon of cyclical empires that goes back to the beginning of civilization, but rather an abiding sin for which activist anthropologists have vowed to make amends. . . .
Do read the entire piece. It is worth your time. Our colleges are not turning out scholars who search for objective truth; they are turning out ideologues and social justice warriors.
The cherry on the top of this disaster comes from Ray Williams, writing in Psychology Today, where he bemoans anti-intellectualism in this country. It is, in many ways, a caricature of leftist arrogance. His definition of intellectualism is two-fold, a credential from a university and uncritical acceptance of leftist tropes. He blames anti-intellectualism on the peasants who are revolting, rather than on the intellectuals themselves who have replaced education in our ivory towers with progressive indoctrination and who no longer teach with academic rigor to children in K-12.
Yes, there are real problems that we have not worked through with kids plugged into the net and video games rather than books. But that does not excuse the fact that, in a survey of students in Oklahoma:
. . . A surprising 77% didn’t know that George Washington was the first President; couldn’t name Thomas Jefferson as the author of the Declaration of Independence; and only 2.8% of the students actually passed the citizenship test. Along similar lines, the Goldwater Institute of Phoenix did the same survey and only 3.5% of students passed the civics test;
That is not a failure of students, that is a complete failure of our public school systems. That is not anti-intellectualism, that is unionized schools that are utterly and completely failing their students. About a decade ago, just for the heck of it, I took the PRAXIS, the national school teachers exam for history. The vast majority of people taking this exam are just out of college — people who Ray Williams would count as intellectuals.
I did not study for the test and, indeed, was more than two decades out of my formal study of history in college when I took it. I can assure you that I had forgotten far more than I had learned in and out of college by that point. The test was reasonably broad and of moderate difficulty The testing agency does not hand out grades on the test, just pass-fail. I passed, which did not surprise me. But I was horrified when the agency announced an award for the people who tested in the top 15%, and that I was among them. Against people just out of college, I should have been middle of the pack at best.
Bottom line, whatever our generation of teachers are being taught, it has precious little to do with the subject matter that we expect them to impart to our children. Thus it is also no surprise to me that we are not only failing to teach our children history, we are failing them across the board:
According to the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress, 68% of public school children in the U.S. do not read proficiently by the time they finish third grade. And the U.S. News & World reported that barely 50% of students are ready for college level reading when they graduate;
In his list of horribles, Ray Williams forgot to point out that our biggest failures are in inner cities. Nor did he point to Detroit, where the public school system is such that the majority of the city’s residents are functionally illiterate. That is not a problem of anti-intellectualism; it is (again) a complete failure of a public school system.
Ray Williams other “proof” that we are a nation of “anti-intellectuals” is left wing litmus tests. If you do not accept as gospel the progressive canard of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming, you are not an intellectual in Mr. Williams’s book.
74% of Republicans in the U.S. Senate and 53% in the House of Representatives deny the validity of climate change despite the findings of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and every other significant scientific organization in the world.
The problem with the NAS is the exact same problem Glynn Custred identifies with the AAA — it is institutional progressive ideological activism posing as science. The “climate change” canard is particularly galling since it involves, in so many ways, the utter bastardization of the scientific method such that many of the seminal studies purporting to establish “climate change” are not science, but rather encyclicals to be taken on faith. Would that the NAS and the AAA actually start practicing science. (Wolf Howling wrote at length about the fact that climate science is intellectually bankrupt and corrupt.)
The problem we have in this country is not with intellectuals. It is with the progressive left’s utter deconstruction of intellectualism, replacing its substance with progressive activism. And when one understands that, then one can better understand the Bernie phenomena.