THURSDAY, JUNE 3, 2021
Some academics responded: We humans!
According to major anthropologists, once we get an idea in our heads, that idea will migrate into everything we say, think and do. This theory may explain this news report in today's Washington Post.
The report concerns a certain decision by the state of Arizona. The state has decided to "refurbish a gas chamber that hasn’t been used in more than 20 years," the news report says, and use it in executions ("to kill inmates on death row").
In theory, that could be part of a major change in public policy concerning capital punishment. But that isn't the focus of today's news report. Hard-copy headline included, today's report starts like this:
KORNFIELD (6/3/21): Arizona prepares to carry out executions with gas Nazis used at Auschwitz
Arizona is taking steps to use hydrogen cyanide, the deadly gas used during the genocide perpetrated by the Nazis at Auschwitz and other extermination camps, to kill inmates on death row.
Corrections officials have refurbished a gas chamber that hasn’t been used in more than 20 years and have procured ingredients for the lethal gas, also known as Zyklon B, according to partially redacted documents obtained by the Guardian. Invoices show that the state purchased a brick of potassium cyanide, sodium hydroxide pellets and sulfuric acid, and a report details the considerable efforts taken to deem the gas chamber at a prison in Florence, Ariz., “operationally ready.”
Critics of the gas method say that in addition to hydrogen cyanide’s infamous use in the mass killings of Jewish people by the Nazis, it has produced some of the most botched, disturbing executions in the United States.
That's the way the news report starts. We were struck by the news report's focus.
The focus isn't on the fact that Arizona is planning to conduct executions.
The focus isn't on the fact that the state is planning to use its gas chamber in conducting these executions, perhaps as opposed to some other method of execution.
The focus isn't even on the fact that the method the state is planning to use "has produced some of the most botched, disturbing executions in the United States." That isn't the news report's focus.
Quite literally, the possibility of botched executions is treated as an "addition[al]" problem in today's news report. The major problem is the fact that the state will be using the same type of gas the Nazis used at Auschwitz.
Let's be clear. We're not suggesting that anything in this news report is inaccurate. Instead, we're asking a basic question:
We're asking if the focus of this report makes sense, except as an an illustration of the thesis advanced by those anthropologists.
In our view, the focus of that news report is remarkably strange. Unkindly, we'll offer this account:
The news rep[ort seems to suggest that it would be pretty much OK if the state found a way to conduct executions—including executions which might be horribly botched—just so long as that method was less anti-Semitic.
If the state could find some other kind of gas which would produce botched executions, that would be more OK. The major problem, this news report seems to suggest, is the fact that Nazis once used this gas—not to the effect this gas will have on executions in Arizona.
Just this once, we'll speak frankly. That focus strikes us as borderline crazy, but also as highly instructive.
We state that view from our perch as full-blown opponents of capital punishment. Also, though, we advance this thought:
The focus of that news report supports the claim those major experts are making. Once again, here is their claim:
The anthropologists' claim:
Once we humans get an idea in our heads, that idea will dominate everything we say, think and do.
Is that really the way we humans behave, especially at times of major tribal division? In private consultations with some of the world's most renowned top leading experts, we've recently been exposed to extensions of that theory.
According to these major scholars, we humans won't just insert our tribe's foundational idea into every known context. We'll actively perform our foundational idea. We'll enact our performative virtue.
Are such scholarly theories correct? We'll let you decide.
That said, we'll offer a further point. Increasingly, this theory might seem to explain a great deal of the work we now meet, on a daily basis, in the Washington Post.
We refer to the newspaper's opinion columns, especially those which don't appear on the op-ed page—but we also refer to its news reports.
We refer to opinion columns disguised as news reports. Consider an example of this rapidly spreading journalistic form from this morning's Post.
The "news report" to which we refer was written by Hannah Natanson. Sitting atop page B1, it's the featured "news report" in today's Metro section.
The news report deals with an increasingly common type of dispute. Hard-copy headline included, the "news report" starts like this:
NATANSON (6/3/21): Racial equity sparks lawsuit
Top school officials in Loudoun County are again defending the district’s racial equity work, following complaints from some parents that Loudoun is indoctrinating students with “critical race theory”—allegations that have now spurred a lawsuit.
The controversy dates back to last summer, when angry mothers and fathers began seizing on tidbits—such as the nearly half-million dollars Loudoun spent on an equity consultant, or later, a minutes-long video recording of a classroomin which a teacher discusses critical race theory—to argue that the system is teaching White students to feel ashamed of being White, because their race means they have historically been part of an oppressive system.
Critical race theory is a decades-old academic framework that explores how policies and the law fuel systemic racism. The theory in part declares that racism is the product of systems, not individuals, and therefore interwoven into daily life and history in America.
But some critics have used the term to refer more broadly to efforts to address systemic racism.
That would be heavy-handed work at the start of a standard opinion column. At the start of a news report, it's the latest example of the way the intellectual standards of Our Town are disappearing from view.
From its headline on down, the opening of this "news report" is pure propaganda.
The headline and the opening sentence assume that the policies at issue in Loudon County can best be described as "racial equity work." Meanwhile, the complaining parents are instantly mocked, as we're told that they "began seizing on tidbits" to fuel their complaints about the school system's work.
(Tidbits! Are there any editors left at the Washington Post?)
That is horrible news reporting. It's also propaganda of the most dimwitted kind.
But more and more, with each passing day, this is the way many journalists roll at the slipsliding Washington Post. Quite routinely, the opinion columnists are tragically awful. Sometimes, the news reporters are worse.
Natanson's report does call attention to an ongoing point of dispute. Increasingly, "angry mothers and fathers" have, in fact, been lodging complaints about educational programs which, they say, are advancing "critical race theory."
It's also true that critical race theory (CRT) "is a decades-old academic framework." Almost surely, many critics are using the term rather "broadly" as they complain about the "tidbits" on which they've chosen to focus.
Semantics to the side, Natanson quickly settles the merits of any such questions for us. In her fourth paragraph, she asserts that, when these critics complain about CRT in the public schools, they're really complaining about "efforts to address systemic racism" on the part of the systems in question.
Critical race theory did, indeed, emerge from academia—from the very parts of academia which seem to teem with "prominent academics" who are, in fact, "ethnic frauds," according to Sarah Viren's lengthy report in Sunday's New York Times.
Most professors aren't ethnic frauds. Those who are may be producing sound academic work.
Or their work may not be good. But all such work has helped Our Town shape its current dominant frameworks and values.
A few weeks back, David Brooks wrote a column in which he lightly complained about certain aspects of that branch of academia. Right in his opening paragraph, he mentioned critical race theory.
Brooks offered a few light criticisms. A few academics wrote letters of reply to the New York Times.
Should we trust the judgment of the academics who till the soil in these highly important regions? Tomorrow, we'll show you what Brooks said, and how the scholars responded.
"Academia, do we have a problem?" The question emerged in last Sunday's New York Times. Viren, the writer who voiced the question, is herself an academic.
"Academia, do we have a problem?" We'd be well advised in Our Town to consider that possibility.
No one is perfect, leading experts all say. Not even top stars in Our Town!
Tomorrow: The academics' tales