Affirmative Action is in the news. Left, right and men’s movement.
(1) At the National Review, from among the millions of cases of affirmative action, Heather MacDonald examines an anecdote of one recent “failure” at UC Berkeley in “A Devastating Affirmative-Action Failure” (we would be satisfied to disposition it as a “case gone wrong”, but that would really be quibbling)
(2) At A Voice for Men, Jon Gunnarsson makes the libertarian case for applying market forces to combat bigotry in “Well-intended Affirmative Insanity”
But the most important article in recent days about Affirmative Action comes to us from across the pond, and for that matter, from the left.
In “Working class voters and the ‘progressive’ left: a widening chasm”, James Bloodworth of the New Stateman lifts the covers on how the strain of identity politics is actually long past the point of creating tears in the fabric not just of left-wing coalitions, but in the moral identity of what it means, pretty much anywhere, to be “left”.
Acknowledging this growing rift, Bloodworth writes:
The problem is that increasingly [the Labour party] … isn’t representative of working class opinion in the sense it once was. On many economic questions the left may represent the interests of the working class more effectively than the right, but, socially, the values of the traditional working class are increasingly at odds with those of the liberal or ‘progressive’ left.
Poignantly, he goes on to say:
… the chasm in attitudes between the middle class left and the more socially conservative working class has always existed but has been exacerbated in recent times by the popularisation of identity politics – white working class men, however much they are struggling financially, absurdly register as ‘privileged’ on the identity politics totem due to their whiteness and what is between their legs. Meanwhile, positive discrimination and quotas provide a much needed (and justifiable) leg-up for most disadvantaged groups in society, yet by excluding any recognition of class from the process, the same policies leave the white working class falling even further behind – despite the fact that class remains a much greater determinate of a person’s life chances than skin colour or gender. (emphasis added)
There is a sense in which Bloodworth has effectively summed the matter up entirely and totally, and spoken truth so succinctly that it can’t be effectively improved upon. But the problem becomes one of action. The left has developed a blind spot. The right, which we would normally count on to call out the blind spots of the left (and vice versa in a well-functioning civil society) is blinkered, confused and stuck in first gear, and has been for four decades. If we are going to get anywhere, something has to give.
A peculiar frustration that I have with opposition to AA is that … and I admit I struggle to articulate this perfectly, but the problem is that opponents of AA really don’t seem to take AA seriously enough.
So, words will fail me, but to give it a stab:
Affirmative action is the law
It is the absolute, real, reality, of how employment, promotions, college admissions, graduate program admissions, honors, awards, scholarships … how they are applied.
This may seem like stating the obvious, but the trouble is that AA has been the law for something like four decades now. It is deeply entrenched. And as a liberal registered Democrat, I will agree handily with anyone on the right expressing words that AA is supremely toxic.
The trouble seems to be that when opponents of AA make arguments … whether here, in classrooms, or at the National Review or elsewhere… I almost perceive that there is a sense that the mere expression of the argument is enough to satisfy. Opponents of AA, not wrongly, are quite sure of the merits of their arguments.
The trouble is: it doesn’t matter that their arguments have merit, because AA is the law.
Missed Market Signal
AA – being the law, has become a sort of “market signal” and the question to my mind is often:
“Who has not received the market signal?”
“And if not, why?”
I notice something about urban white liberals. Academically, they kick ass. This is an under-discussed matter in right-wing circles, certainly it is a likely source of discomfort and cognitive dissonance, often even outright denial (particularly ironic when the reputedly liberal NY Times leads the charge against progressive pollyanna “let kids discover the way on their own” math curriculum of mysterious popularity – especially in “red” states), but it is a reality. Liberal whites … got the market signal, and that being such, they have adjusted their behavior, particularly as it relates to how they prepare their children to be competitive participants in the modern American economy.
Contrasting with this, conservatives, too often … often enough to be exposed on longitudinal studies*, … are ok with their kids getting “Bs” and loving baseball.
I’ve no doubt they love their kids, but as a parenting model this is the route to a promising career in insurance sales or hotel management.
I understand that some parents may take offense to this and the generally high academic performance of home schooled children represents something of a counter-balance to the claim, but when 7% of children are home schooled, we aren’t discussing a representative group of conservative families. Moreover, be honest. Conservative? Alright – is it ok with you if your kid brings home a B? Is it ok with you if your kid graduates from high school unilingual? Is it ok with you if your kid graduates from high school without knowing what an integral or derivative is? What are you doing to be sure they know? What are you doing at home to counter-balance the deleterious effects of the Everyday Math curriculum adopted by the 32 states that use the Common Core? What is more important … academic discipline or holding a part-time job and earning money? And if the outcome is that your 17 year old is wasting time working in a fast food restaurant, then yes … you answered “holding a part-time job and earning money” and yes – that is the wrong answer.
And if you mean to rhetorically ask me if liberal parents are on the right side of those questions … bad news: they are.
But the worst is this. I was a college professor at a huge public university. I had your kids as my adult students. It is literally my compassion for them that drives me to take up the work of a blog like this.
I worry that conservatives actually are in a sort of state of denial over AA. It is as if, by seeing arguments posted on blogs, in opinion columns or opinion rags like the National Review, or hearing a debate in class, they experience some palliation of their anxiety over AA.
This palliation is mis-placed. AA is real, it is the law, it has affected you—reader, many times, on many levels … trouble is, you probably don’t know the specifics, because no one will ever, ever tell you.
Good Faith Friendly Fire
It should come through that I am “anti-AA”. But I am critical of the method of AA’s opponents. Mine is “friendly fire” – I fire so, because we are getting nowhere with this, and the cost of spinning wheels is that social fabric is unwinding and … as an observer of internet-community/phenom of “the manosphere” for the last three years I’ll note for you: some of the most ego-maniacal and ugly forms of demagoguery are chomping at the bit to fill in the holes left open by torn fabric.
I used to be okay with AA, even one to argue for it. What converted me against it was too much experience “in the smoke filled room(s)”. I saw up close and personal how this goes down and what it means. I have seen how categorically deleterious it is. AA is a disaster.
Let’s establish three things up front:
- AA does not help anyone.
- AA is a stinging co-morbid balm covering a 3rd degree burn when it is applied rightly.
- AA is a deadly corrosive agent eating away at the basic fabric and cohesiveness of our society when applied the way it normally is: wrongly.
I would personally go so far as to say that the MRM in particular would be a success if it achieved just three things:
(1) A rollback of no-fault divorce
(2) Equality of reproductive rights for men, all the way across the spectrum
(3) Reform of AA
Let me hit the last one, reform:
You Cannot Destroy the Moon – So Colonize It
Reform – here is where I wonder to myself if this is the cause of conservatives’ anxiety about AA.
I submit to you that you cannot make AA go away. It should be a wonder to you that, as obvious as it is that AA is wrong, that it not only is the law, it is the constant, ever-present, always enforced, like-it-or-not, law.
Opponents of AA: You will not be able to make AA go away. To date numerous court challenges, state-level reform movements, opposition in Congress and even plebiscites have failed to put a dent or a speed bump in AA.
But—if you changed tactics—you could change America instead, namely by changing the American left.
You can do this if you made your attacks on AA attacks based on class, rather than based on the absolute nature of AA itself. Doing so drives a stake through the heart of the venal ideology of “privilege” that has taken root in the left by forcing the left to get a handle on its own values and ask if it stands for anything at all.
Conservative rhetoric likes to make nihilistic ethical vacuums of liberals as a class of people.
Remember, that is rhetoric. We are your neighbors. We tend to marry and are actually remarkably good at keeping our families together and raising them. We engage in business and tend to stay out of trouble. We volunteer a lot – even if you don’t always like what we volunteer for. So … let Fox be Fox and Hannity be Hannity and O’Reilly be O’Reilly, but allow that at least half the people self-identifying as liberals, actually are possessed of an ethical ethos and if you try, you may find, you can hold us to our own ethos.
This can be useful, if you choose to use it. You need to think about this:
50% of Americans who are left-of-center are not going to be convinced of the error of their ways and become Republicans
50% of Americans who are left-of-center are not going away
But 50% of Americans who are left-of-center have self-corrected in the past … for example, tilting right on economics in the face of the overwhelming failure of communism in the late 1980s … not all of them so tilted, but enough that should be instructive to you
And since you can use it – that is: since you can use the left’s own liberal ethos as a moral challenge to rise up and be what the left claims to be, you have the power to influence the left. That means reforming AA is achievable.
Make 1/2 of the left side of the political spectrum take a hard, inward, spiritual look, and ask:
”Why won’t we help EVERYONE, who needs help … regardless of who they are?
“Who are you to say that she deserves more help than he, because she is she?
“Who are you to say he deserves more help than she, because she is white?
“I am not arguing with you about helping people. I agree we need to help people. In fact – I demand it. What I want to know is …
“How can you use race and gender and ethnicity to decide who needs help? Shouldn’t we just help everyone who needs it?”
Ask the left: what would Martin Luther King Jr do? And if they don’t answer, here’s the answer.
It is true that MLK argued that we cannot wait. We cannot wait for equality. It is true he equated the imposition of affirmative action with the GI Bill, as a form of paying back to certain Americans something which they were owed.
But do we really think that he would go on thinking that the affirmative action regime we have today is right? Do we really think he would deny help to non-minorities who needed it? In fact – MLK’s own view of affirmative action was that it should be applied for all people who need it, not by race alone. He was specifically attuned to a fact that you will routinely see folks on the left attempt to obfuscate: even though it is more likely that a given black person is poor, the majority of the poor, are white.
Two points on this may be instructive (but we encourage the reader to study up more on the matter for example by looking into King’s 1964 book Why We Can’t Wait):
Noting that a majority of Americans below the poverty line were white, King developed a class perspective. He decried the huge income gaps between rich and poor, and called for “radical changes in the structure of our society” to redistribute wealth and power.
The Martin Luther King You Don’t See on TV, Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon
One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.
Martin Luther King, Jr
Do it conservatives: I challenge you – flip the script.
Demand of liberals that they explain why anyone who needs help would be denied help, on account of their status as male, or white.
Divide the left! ”Triangulate” as Bill Clinton did so well. Ask of the left:
“I give you a man, or I give you a woman
“He is black or white
“She is Hispanic or Asian or Native American
“And he, or she … is in need
“Of these things … black, white, male, female, Hispanic, Asian or Native American
“Which matters, other than that there is a person … a human being … in need?
“Explain that to me, because I don’t understand”
Stand up the left, on its own turf, on its own terms and demand that we help: everyone.
There is an organizational phrase that is a corporate imperative at a place I have worked: “Disagree and commit”. The idea of disagree and commit is that we cannot settle all matters, but we need to move forward … otherwise we literally weaken ourselves, corporately – that is, as a community.
So I counsel you: disagree and commit on affirmative action with liberals. Learn to say: “We disagree with laws that favor anyone based on their gender or racial identity, we think that is wrong. But at least if you think it is essential that laws be used to favor one class of person or another, let those laws favor everyone who is in need. Deny no one who is in need. At very least – be morally consistent.”
And literally demand it. These approaches have all proven to be failures and they will continue to be:
- Raise any court challenge against AA and it will be either defeated or undermined
- Raise any plebiscite against AA and it will be either defeated or undermined
- Raise any legislative bill against AA and it will be either defeated or undermined
So instead do something new – demand a moral ascension by liberals, to the requirements of their very own ethos, by calling them out on the table:
- Raise bills, raise plebiscites, which amend existing laws that demand the application of government-sanctioned favor, so that said favor is applied across the board, explicitly, based upon need, with no mind at all to race or gender
Whenever the extreme-left, the “privilege”-left shouts back at this, repeat, over and over again:
This application of favor – to those who need help, will go on helping minorities and women, when they are minorities and women who need help … so that being the case: what, specifically, is the left’s objection to helping non-minorities and men in the inevitable cases that arise when it is non-minorities and men who need help?
Articulate this case. Raise the bills. Drag the issue out into public debate. Make liberals vote against this.
Because they won’t.
Or – if they do, it will be at the cost of their souls. And they know it.
The left has no answer to this. Demanding gender-blindness and color-blindness where it comes to the delivery of help is a demand that exposes a gaping blind spot on the left and will take the left in the direction of the right, on the rare case of a matter where I agree, the right, is right.
But my worry is that by counseling reform, instead of abolition, I will lose you on the basis of some appeal to misguided principle. And I submit that the anxiety you feel is a visceral understanding that if you can’t be satisfied with the achievable goal of carving a hole through the mountain, then you will never succeed at the goal of leveling the mountain.
If that is the case, I assure you this: white liberal parents will triple and quadruple down on education for their kids … because they got the market signal.
* “ok with their kids getting “Bs” and loving baseball” … I admit I’m notching up the rhetoric and laying down a heavy dose of imperfect data mixed with personal experience here … but there is a thing about successful business owners that applies in this case I think: they don’t wait for all the data to come in before taking the best mix of facts-on-the-ground, anecdote, relationships and experience, as well as “the data”, and they make a call. The point here is to splash cold water on faces. You should be able to tell on your own, but if you aren’t, what I’m saying is, “you need to get on this problem”. It is not ok for your kids to get “Bs”, and I am not saying something about grade inflation here, that’s its own issue. The next article in the National Review decrying AA is not going to help your kids’ labor market prospects. This is your problem.
About the article I chose to cite here by the controversial Satoshi Kanazawa, he has a theory to explain the data (notice the data is robust enough that it isn’t in dispute -it is merely subject to interpretation) that will likely foment still more cognitive dissonance in the hearts of conservatives, especially those tempted by “HBD”:
…more intelligent individuals are more likely to espouse the value of liberalism than less intelligent individuals, possibly because liberalism is evolutionarily novel and conservatism is evolutionarily familiar
It may be important to note – pinko liberal that I am, Bluedog doesn’t agree with Kanazawa’s hypothesis here. A teacher of one form or another my entire adult life – I actually left teaching in part because it no longer gave me a sense of efficacy (those wishing to cast attacks “those who cannot ‘do’ ‘teach’” … are advised to hold their fire). Nevertheless, I personally believe almost all learning is reducible to sufficient reduction … breaking it down to digestible bits. Differences in aptitude are much more likely to be akin to differences in strength among bodybuilders in a gym. Obviously – if you’ve been hitting the heavy metal hard for three years – you will be stronger and you will gain proportionally more for your workout than someone who’s only been at it, and ineffectively so, for 12 weeks.
I formed this opinion, not solely based on “data” though from time to time we see research on the subject that seems to bear it out. I formed this opinion both from my own personal experience, and from the students who came to my office for help. In my own experience – it was a “leap of faith”. I had to decide that everything could be broken down to small enough parts to be understandable and then put the work and discipline in to do the breaking when my teachers wouldn’t break things down themselves … which seemed like most of the time. Until I had done this … many things like math, algorithms and physics, had seemed mysterious to me. As a teacher … the students coming to my office struggling … were often minorities who, one suspected, were convicted of an inferiority complex and were terrified they might discover a problem was too daunting … OR: more often – they were white, and got a lot of “Bs”, and seemed to have exactly the same inferiority complex, though in the latter case I suspected that it stemmed from a personal or familial case of personal inefficacy, rather than a socially imparted one — OR: they simply hadn’t received the message that a “B” was not going to cut it. Either way, one proud memory of my experience teaching is that nearly every student who came to my office, if not all of them, went away not just more capable, but materially disabused of this fallacy of “innate” intelligence – particularly the fallacy that someone else had it, and they didn’t.
My own experience … one that I cannot perfectly prove with data, is that everyone could learn. No exceptions. It really was a matter of breaking things down to the digestible bits – first as assistance, and second as demonstration, so that the students would learn the trick and move on to do it themselves. Since the data is imperfect here, you’ll need to be like a good corporate executive and “make a call”. My call: “innate” (and its cousin “HBD”) are obvious dead ends. On the other hand – everyone, even the scrawniest “hard gainer” in the gym, will gain … if proper technique and discipline is applied. Best get to the business of applying technique and discipline.