Part 4—Why is our tribe so clueless: The tribal mind will always know when it is getting conned.
This clairvoyance was observed last Sunday when Ross Douthat wrote a (rather fuzzy) column in the New York Times.
Douthat identifies as a conservative. Within our tribe, that meant that his claims would of course be wrong.
Rather fuzzily, Douthat argued that the “underlying realities” of our “polarized politics” are not as bad as they were as the time of the march on Washington. Even though we’re still “divided by race,” he said, “there is vastly more room to work through major problems together than there was in the Alabama and Mississippi of 1963.”
Can we recall the Alabama and Mississippi of that terrible year? If so, it’s hard to see how we can object to such an obvious statement.
That said, the tribal mind was able to see that Douthat’s claims were wrong last Sunday, often outrageously wrong. Commenters flayed him, starting with a regular commenter who quickly made this announcement:
“There is nothing different about the inherent hate and resentment today.”
Nothing has changed! Some of the comments were obscenely indifferent to the realities of 1963—to the innocent human victims of those obscene realities:
“While lynching and church bombings are nearly non-existent today, racism is just as prevalent as it was 50 years ago.”
Did you follow that? Except for the lynchings and bombings, everything is the same!
That said, the comments provided great tribal pleasure. For ourselves, we were struck by one area where quite a few commenters knew they were getting conned.
At one point, Douthat wrote that Texas “does a better job educating minority students than many liberal states.” There could always be something wrong with the relevant data, which come from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the NAEP), the widely praised gold standard of educational testing.
But to all appearances, Douthat’s statement seems to be accurate—true. Unless you live within the tribe, in which case his statement is nuts.
To tell the truth, ours is a tribe which has never shown much interest in black and Hispanic kids, except to the extent that they can be used to let us drop our R-bombs. Has indifference led to the cluelessness our tribe tends to display on such matters?
Instantly, one regular commenter snarked at Douthat’s statement. “I'm glad Texas does a good job of teaching students how to take a test,” this regular commenter quickly said, thereby dispatching Douthat’s ridiculous claim. Another member of the tribe was grateful for this rebuttal:
COMMENTER FROM MARYLAND (8/25/13): Thank you, so many of his other absurd arguments were so outrageous that he managed to slide that one in. No serious reformist is looking to Texas on ideas on how to teach "minority students" or anyone else.Are reformers studying Texas schools? We don’t know, but based on the data, somebody pretty much should be.
Scattered through the comment thread are other mocking reactions to Douthat’s claim—a claim which is plainly accurate. We liberals don’t know much about these concerns. But then, we don’t get much help.
Some commenters clicked the link provided by Douthat, but they didn’t understand the data at the end of the link. Others didn’t bother clicking. They simply knew, or strongly suspected, that Douthat had to be wrong:
COMMENTER FROM OHIO: I really try to read Mr. Douthat with an open mind, but invariably he comes out with a whopper. Perry's Texas does a better job at educating minorities than many liberal states? First, when I go to the link that he provides, I find that Texas eighth grade students overall rank 29th in the country, while the whites rank 8th, the blacks rank 4th and the Hispanics rank 6th. How does the overall rank get dragged down to 29th? Ross should perhaps examine the logic and agenda of his sources before he cites them.The commenter from Ohio didn’t understand a basic statistical manifestation. The commenters from Seattle, and both from New Jersey, were wrong in the things they said.
COMMENTER FROM SEATTLE: How does Texas rank 29th in all eighth grade science students, but fourth in blacks and sixth in whites? (because most states were not ranked for blacks).
COMMENTER FROM NEW JERSEY: Specifically, the part about Texas educating minority students better than many liberal states...which states? Where's the comparison? The test in the link measures improvements in learning; it's possible Texas students have had a larger learning improvement because they were doing quite poorly to begin with, while students in the unnamed "liberal states" started off better and so showed a smaller improvement. But who knows? You've left out all the details.
COMMENTER FROM TEXAS: The TEXAS education agency says they do a better job of educating minority students than many liberal states. I would be more inclined to believe that statistic if it came from a more liable source.
COMMENTER FROM NEW JERSEY: Granted that in Rick Perry's Texas (and when did governors possess states?) we find a smaller gap between white and black educational outcomes. But that does not translate into "does a better job educating minorities" because the smaller gap statistic is not enough for that assertion. Texas currently has some of the lowest test scores in the nation. In other words, Texas is doing a bad job of educating most students. Not much to celebrate. "We also educate white students badly" hardly makes Texas a model post-racial paradise.
COMMENTER FROM MASSACHUSETTS: Perry's Texas doing a better job? Maybe, with editing textbooks to put a conservative slant on education.
The commenter from Texas wasn’t inclined to believe the source. The commenter from Massachusetts found a new way to dismiss the claim through snark.
None of these people seemed to know what they were talking about. But they all knew the tribal line: Douthat was telling “a whopper!”
The commenters knew this had to be true. All love to the tribe!
Liberal commenters to Douthat’s column were fervent on matters of race. Why did we seem to know so little about the lives of black kids?
Alas! We get very little help from our friends in the leadership class! The professors are off in the south of France. Mainstream journalists are lazy, uncaring, indifferent, incompetent when it comes to the interests of black kids.
Everyone from Obama on down recites familiar bogus scripts about such basic topics. And then, there are the people at our liberal journals and on The One True Channel.
We get little help from these friends! At those venues, you very rarely hear public school issues discussed at all. And you have never heard a discussion of the fact Douthat cited:
It’s true! On the gold standard of educational testing, black and Hispanic kids in Texas do score substantially higher, in reading and math, than their counterparts in most of our bluest states! Why haven’t you ever heard that fact? Why haven’t you ever heard a discussion of the possible reasons?
Could there be something wrong with the data? Why haven’t you ever heard a discussion of that?
In truth, the leaders of the liberal world don’t talk about black kids much. We don’t get much help from them, our famous and overpaid friends. For that reason, we come off looking uncaring and clueless when such topics arise.
By way of contrast, our leaders love to talk about race—that is, about the racism of the other tribe. Why do we hear so much about that and so little about the lives of black kids? Did Krystal Ball possibly pull back the curtain the other day?
BALL (8/27/13): Fifty years ago, the March on Washington focused on ending Jim Crow, a disgusting villain that hid behind the law to deprive people of their votes and sometimes their lives. Fifty years later, we have no Jim Crow and without a villain to focus on, it's hard to get people fired up. Congratulations, Republicans! You have taken the place of Jim Crow.Fifty years later, deprived of Jim Crow, are our leaders possibly looking for ways to get us “fired up?” Will they perhaps overstate on occasion to keep us in that state?
You are now the people conspiring to keep folks from voting. I'm just amazed that you're willing to destroy your party's brand— the party of Lincoln, the party of Teddy Roosevelt, a party that fought to end Jim Crow—all just to help us get our folks onto the ballot box.
Could that be why we get so much heat, perhaps a bit less light?
Next week will be back-to-school week at this site. But those comments about the Texas schools have us jumping the gun.
For years, we liberals mocked the “epistemic closure” on the right—and it surely does exist! Do those comments about Texas schools track back to a source of closure here, in our own flawless tribe?
If we care so much, why do we know so little? Are we inside some kind of enclosure, just like the other tribe is?