SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 27, 2021
Goldberg [HEART] critical theory: Just this once, we're going to let you ask us about our business.
We've been heartened in recent weeks, in a way we won't fully disclose. We will offer this:
It has seemed to us, in recent weeks, that we're finally seeing a difficult topic open up for possible public discussion.
In part, we had that reaction to Thursday's front-page report in the New York Times—the lengthy report about a set of incidents and decisions at Smith College.
It seemed to us that the Times had agreed to permit and encourage a type of discussion which normally wouldn't take place at that newspaper. Yesterday, we praised the Times for breaking with some of its previous, extremely narrow predispositions.
Tomorrow, the guild will be fighting back at the New York Times! That said, we've been surprised (and heartened) by the comments to the piece in question, which has already appeared on line.
This opinion column by Michelle Goldberg will appear tomorrow (on page SR3) in the Sunday Review. Online, the column appears beneath this pair of headlines:
The Campaign to Cancel Wokeness
How the right is trying to censor critical race theory.
Is "the right" really trying to "censor" critical race theory? "When it comes to outright government censorship," is it really "the right that’s on the offense," as Goldberg's column claims?
Whatever you think of "critical race theory;" whatever you think of the types of pushback in question; Goldberg's column makes no case for these tribally pleasing claims.
As Goldberg correctly notes, some politicians are trying to keep certain tenets of CRT out of public school curricula. Also this:
In a typically fuzzy pronouncement, the Trump administration's OMB decreed that federal agencies shouldn't run workshops or conduct training based on CRT. (Joe Biden has killed this decree.)
Whatever you think of such examples of pushback, no one is or was being "censored" by these initiatives. Also, no one is or was being denied "free speech."
As everyone understands, academics are free to develop whatever theories they like. They don't have a right to see their theories adopted in K-12 curricula or promoted in federal workshops.
Surely, everyone knows that. That said, Goldberg seems to [HEART] critical race theory, a school of thought she makes little effort to define.
Based upon that assessment of CRT, Goldberg has penned an admiring column about its undefined tenets, a column attacking "the right."
In print editions of the Times, the column will appear tomorrow, in the high-profile Sunday Review. In this way, an imaginative person might say that the guild has begun to fight back against possible new perspectives.
An imaginative person might say that! For us, we were amazed, and heartened, by the comments to Goldberg's column.
What are the tenets of CRT? How sound are those tenets? As noted, Goldberg makes little attempt to speak to those vital questions.
But as she notes right in her headlines, CRT is largely the worldview of the "Woke" liberal / progressive world. Having said that, good lord!
In the comments to Goldberg's column, a tsunami of self-identified Dems and liberals push back extremely hard against critical theory. Yesterday, as we sifted through the comments which qualified as Reader Picks, the pushback was nearly unanimous.
Briefly, we'll mention the obvious. There's no way to know who's writing the comments in which readers reply to a column. Conservative readers can always pretend that they're commenting "from the left."
That said, we found the comments to Goldberg's column quite convincing with respect to their partisan provenance. And the comments which qualified as the top Reader Picks were almost unanimous in this view:
The standard "Woke" approach to race—the approach one might link to CRT—has become a disaster for liberal and progressive values, and for the Democratic Party. So liberal commenters said!
How does a comment qualify as a "Reader Pick" at the New York Times? It's based on the number of other readers who chose to "recommend" the comment.
Keep that method in mind as we continue along. Late yesterday afternoon, we scrolled through the top thirty or forty "Reader Picks"—the comments which were recommended by the largest number of readers.
By our assessment, the first 19 Reader Picks were uniformly anti-CRT and anti-Woke. These comments were generally written from a pro-liberal perspective, in ways which seemed convincing to us.
One after another, these readers assailed the effects of Woke/CRT culture. After a single pro-CRT comment, the onslaught started again. This was Reader Rick comment 24:
COMMENT FROM NEW YORK CITY: I consider myself a progressive—part of the Warren/Sanders wing of the Democratic party. I'd really like to see a more socially and economically equitable society, and that's what I vote for and donate money towards. But I have to say, I struggle with critical race theory.
First, there's the tendency to elevate narrative over knowable facts—e.g. San Francisco's decision to continue canceling Paul Revere, even after it had been revealed that the proffered reason for doing so was factually incorrect.
Second, it is divisive and misguided to examine not only large-scale problems, but rather virtually *all* of life's petty annoyances, through the lens of oppression and resentment.
Third, in the context of our rapidly deteriorating working and middle classes, it is tone-deaf and counter-productive to continually call people "privileged" when they have honest and legitimate reasons for not believing that they are. I think CRT is less about solving real problems, and more about progressives' need for performative woke-ism and self-flagellation.
Ow ow ow ow ow ow ow! We especially agree with the complaint about the (guilt-inducing) shift in language to the framework of "privilege" in place of the traditional language of "discrimination."
Other comments specifically noted that this shift in language paradigm was designed to induce feelings of guilt among people who are "white." With that in mind, we disagree with the comment we've posted in only one way:
We think that shift in language isn't about self-flagellation. We think it's about the flagellation of pretty much everyone else.
This paradigm shift strikes us as stupid, hateful, counterproductive. We were amazed and heartened to see liberal commenters making this same point.
On and on the Reader Picks went, assailing the allegedly pernicious effects of Woke/CRT culture. We may have liked this comment best (we're presenting it in full):
COMMENT FROM PROVIDENCE: Social Darwinism, Eugenics, Phrenology…
There are many ideas that have emanated from and been championed by universities that, when they caught sufficient attention from the public, ultimately caused great societal harm. Using the tools of history, we now understand those ideas as “bad.”
Is Critical Theory an idea that, if scrutinized by its effects on the society, turns out to be "bad?"
CT has roots far deeper than the 1970s: the ideas go back to the Frankfurt School (Germany) in the 1930s (Marcuse, Horkheimer, others; ironically, all “dead white guys”). Do you not think that MLK as a doctoral student at Boston U. in the 1950s was fully aware of Critical Theory, which he rejected in favor of Personalism? The idea of classes of people always in conflict certainly cannot lead to a Beloved Community. as envisioned by MLK and championed after his death by others, particularly John Lewis.
I’m an old white guy and a progressive. A professor, but a physical scientist, which means that in my field and my classroom, strict rules of evidence, which separate carefully empirical observations from their interpretation, keep group-think at bay. My experience: Critical Theory has had a distinctly negative impact on my campus, truncating or shutting down conversations that could contribute to building community that is open, inclusive and enriching for all its members. A pity. It saddens me.
In its tone, this comment came to us straight outta Bergman's Wild Strawberries. Dr. King preferred and chose the framework of "the beloved community," this old professor sadly said. The professor said that Dr. King had privileged love over guilt.
On and on and on and on, the most popular Reader Picks tilted in this direction. Then we looked at the comments listed as "NYT Picks."
Those comments heavily tended to [HEART] CRT. Was that perhaps a case of the guild fighting back?
Several "Reader Picks" comments cited Thursday's front-page report about the events at Smith. They cited those events as examples of the disastrous effects of Woke/CRT culture.
As described on the Times front page, that's the way those events seemed to us:
We thought we saw a college kid who badly needed some help getting pandered to instead. In this case, it wasn't just the assistant, associate and adjunct professors pandering to this overwrought young person. It was the Smith College president!
That's one of the things we thought we saw in that front-page report. As Smith's working-class staffers got trashed and attacked, we also thought we saw one of the blindingly obvious ways Donald J. Trump gains voters.
Tomorrow, the guild will be fighting back against the sudden appearance on the front page of a possible alternate view. They'll also be fighting back against the Beloved Community.
At this site, we were heartened by what we saw in the comments to Goldberg's column. Without any doubt, it's much too late.
Still and all, more next week.