THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 25, 2021
But also, it happened at Smith: Is it possible that there are some basic failings with the culture currently on display here in the streets of Our Town?
We can see the lunacy Over There, in the streets of the various towns where The Others live. We can see the remarkable dumbness—the widespread lack of basic discernment routinely put on display.
That much is blindingly obvious, especially to us Over Here. But is it possible that some such shortfalls in discernment, however tiny and well-intentioned, might also exist Over Here?
Also, is it possible that these admittedly tiny flaws could be contributing to the widespread political / cultural divide now wracking our failing nation? Could any such thing be possible?
Needless to say, it's hard to believe that we could actually at fault in any real way in Our Town. Our intentions are so noble! You can tell that by the things we constantly say, by the inspiring ways we perform.
In a ridiculous excess of caution, we have suggested, at this site, than any such misperceived shortfalls in Our Town's admittedly wonderful culture are likely to involve matters of gender and race.
In those areas, our behaviors are so pure—so far above the national norm—that they're frequently misunderstood, and they are of course misdescribed.
No one could seriously think that there are real flaws in Our Town. That said, the misperceptions fly thick and fast.
In a recent column in the New York Times, Ezra Klein described one such incident. That widely misunderstood incident concerns the belief among some in Our Town that it's time for Lincoln to go.
Klein's column began as shown below. Having said that, let us also say this—long before this column appeared, the jackals had seized upon the principled conduct described in this opening passage:
KLEIN (2/12/21): You may have heard that San Francisco’s Board of Education voted 6 to 1 to rename 44 schools, stripping ancient racists of their laurels, but also Abraham Lincoln and Senator Dianne Feinstein. The history upon which these decisions were made was dodgy, and the results occasionally bizarre. Paul Revere, for instance, was canceled for participating in a raid on Indigenous Americans that was actually a raid on a British fort.
In normal times, bemusement would be the right response to a story like this. Cities should have idiosyncratic, out-there politics. You need to earn your “Keep X weird” bumper stickers. And for all the Fox News hosts who’ve collapsed onto their fainting couches, America isn’t suffering from a national shortage of schools named for Abraham Lincoln.
But San Francisco’s public schools remain closed, no matter the name on the front. “What I cannot understand is why the School Board is advancing a plan to have all these schools renamed by April, when there isn’t a plan to have our kids back in the classroom by then,” Mayor London Breed said in a statement. I do not want to dismiss the fears of teachers (or parents), many living in crowded homes, who fear returning to classrooms during a pandemic. But the strongest evidence we have suggests school openings do not pose major risks when proper precautions are followed, and their continued closure does terrible harm to students, with the worst consequences falling on the neediest children. And that’s where this goes from wacky local news story to a reflection of a deeper problem.
San Francisco is about 48 percent white, but that falls to 15 percent for children enrolled in its public schools. For all the city’s vaunted progressivism, it has some of the highest private school enrollment numbers in the country—and many of those private schools have remained open. It looks, finally, like a deal with the teachers’ union is near that could bring kids back to the classroom, contingent on coronavirus cases continuing to fall citywide, but much damage has been done. This is why the school renamings were so galling to so many in San Francisco, including the mayor. It felt like an attack on symbols was being prioritized over the policies needed to narrow racial inequality.
Should an American public school be named for Abraham Lincoln? Not necessarily, no.
In our view, it isn't obvious that public schools should be named for Lincoln. In San Francisco—exalted columnist Herb Caen dubbed it "Baghdad by the Bay"— the school board voted, 6 to 1, that it was time for his name to go.
Behaving a bit like a running dog, Klein chose to present "both sides" of the issue. As he did, he quickly betrayed his own need for re-education, plainly suggesting, as he began, that Lincoln isn't an "ancient racist" himself!
Klein found a way to justify pushback against the board's decision, suggesting the pushback was motivated by concern for the welfare of San Francisco's "black" kids. He even mentioned the bungled research which went into some renaming decisions.
With regard to the Frisco Kids, the names on their schools were being changed even though their schools aren't open! Apparently, Klein would have sent them back into schools still bearing names like "Lincoln!"
Last week, the New York Times reported a somewhat similar incident, this time in Chicago. Hard-copy headline included, that news report started like this:
In ‘Land of Lincoln,’ Monuments Are Under Review
A Chicago committee has listed five statues of Abraham Lincoln among dozens of monuments that it said needed to be reviewed as part of a project to reconsider symbols that have become “a focal point for conversation, protest and activism,” the city said Wednesday.
The city created the committee in response to last summer’s protests, some of which centered on statues of historical figures, to review Chicago’s collection of monuments and “recommend solutions.”
Even in The Land of Lincoln, it's finally time to craft a solution to the statues in which he appears! Can those license plates be far behind? Should they be thrown in the harbor?
Is there something wrong with removing Lincoln's name from an American school? Not necessarily, no.
That said, evildoers in Their Towns will seize upon utterly pointless, minor points when such actions occur.
They'll say it's silly to spend oodles of time renaming schools when you haven't spent enough time to get the schools reopened. Defiantly, they'll fail to acknowledge the moral greatness in the various high-minded things we Townies say and do.
This is the way The Others will act; they'll do it every time! For that reason, we Townies need to be especially careful when dealing with gender and race.
Our consciousness-raising in these areas will persistently be misdescribed by those we might call "the lesser breed." (We borrow from Chekhov, admittedly in translation.) For that reason, we need to proceed with caution in these areas, which are of course enormously important.
We need to proceed with great caution. That said, our conduct will be misdescribed, no matter what we do.
Is it possible that something is wrong with the culture here in Our Town? Is it possible that some tiny, understandable flaw may exist, however well-intentioned?
Anthropologists insist that the answer is no—that it isn't possible that anything could ever be wrong in Our Town. Our brains are wired to give us that answer, these disconsolate experts all say.
Still and all, it's in these areas that Our Town will often come to ruin. This leads us to a truly remarkable news report on the front page of this morning's New York Times.
In print editions, the headline says this: "Tensions Simmer Over Race and Class at Smith." Online, this dual headline gives a fuller picture of the lay of the land within the deeply instructive report:
Inside a Battle Over Race, Class and Power at Smith College
A student said she was racially profiled while eating in a college dorm. An investigation found no evidence of bias. But the incident will not fade away.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but we just aren't "all that" in Our Town. Long ago and far away, Joni Mitchell reported it best:
I'm so hard to handle
I'm selfish and I'm sad
Now I've gone and lost the best baby
That I ever had
I wish I had a river I could skate away on.
Putting it a slightly different way, we're often remarkably unimpressive here in the streets of Our Town. We're deeply flawed Over Here too. We just aren't especially sharp, nor are we able to see this.
We memorize our standard scripts, then go on TV and recite them. We're never too tired to perform our famous performative virtue.
We also tend to be very dumb, even deeply immoral—and quite a few Others can see this. It's even possible that this helps explain the major breakdown which has our flailing nation sliding towards the sea
The Crazy is running wild in Their Towns. With that pleasing point established, how solid are things Over Here?
Tomorrow: A remarkable portrait of life as it's increasingly lived in Our Town