Islam draws attention in our era not because its adherents tend to be brown-skinned or because it is easier to fear those who live abroad than those who live down the street, but because it is used so frequently as the justification for attacks around the world that its critics have begun to notice a pattern. In most cases, it is reasonable to acknowledge simultaneously that representatives of every philosophy will occasionally do something evil — maybe in the name of their philosophy; maybe not — and to contend that it is silly to blame that philosophy for the individual’s behavior. As far as we know, there is no more evidence that today’s killer is representative of atheism per se than that the man who opened fire at the Family Research Council was representative of the Southern Poverty Law Center or that Scott Roeder was representative of the pro-life cause. Further, there are no evident superstructures within atheism or the SPLC or the right-to-life movement that routinely condone mass murder, and nor are there many friends of those groups who would be willing to justify or to indulge the maniacs they have attracted. It seems reasonably clear that any lunatic can appropriate a cause or provide a name as his inspiration, and that, when he does, we should neither regard that lunatic’s behavior as indicative of the whole nor worry too much about repeat attacks. As I have written before — in defense of Right and Left — words do not pull triggers.
This instinct, however, has its limitations, for it is one thing to acknowledge that one swallow does not make a summer, and quite another to insist that it is not summer when the whole flock is overhead. Individual acts should be taken as such, of course. But when the same names pop up over and over and over again it is fair for us to connect the dots. To wonder why conservatives worry about Islam specifically — and not, say, about atheism or progressivism or the Tea Party or the Westboro Baptist Church — is to ignore that Islam is so often deployed to rationalize violence around the world that it makes sense for them to ask more questions. An inquiry into the violent tendencies of contemporary atheists is likely to reach a dead end. An inquiry into modern Islam, by contrast, is not. Can anybody say with a straight face that it is irrational to wonder whether there is something inherent in present-day Islam that, at best, is attracting the crazy and the disenfranchised, and, at worst, actually requires savagery? I think not.
Charles C.W. Cooke, “Why We Worry about Islamist Violence and Not Progressive Atheist Violence”, National Review, 2015-02-11.
February 24, 2015
February 17, 2015
The Minnesota Vikings were a racially integrated team from their very first game … yet not quite fully integrated, as this post on the team’s official web site explains:
Six African Americans out of 42 total players appear in the first team photo in franchise history: Jim Marshall, Jamie Caleb, Mel Triplett, A.D. Williams, Raymond Hayes and John Turpin.
A color barrier that lasted 13 years in professional football had been broken in 1946 by Bill Willis and Marion Motley of the Cleveland Browns (as a member of the All-America Football Conference) and Kenny Washington and Woody Strode (both teammates at UCLA with Jackie Robinson) of the NFL’s L.A. Rams.
The expansion Vikings were able to acquire veterans from other teams. Marshall, Caleb and Williams came from the Browns (which joined the NFL in 1950), Triplett came from the New York Giants, and Hayes was the first African American player drafted out of Central Oklahoma by Minnesota in the 13th round with the 169th overall pick.
Players of that era were taking the field as one team, but weren’t allowed to have roommates of a different race. On road games, particularly to the “Jim Crow” South but also places like Miami and Los Angeles, reservations were booked at separate hotels, and black teammates often were refused service at restaurants.
“There was a definite separation there, and it was a separation that was enforced by the teams,” said Marshall before recalling a trip while with Cleveland to a posh Miami Beach hotel.
“We pulled up to the Fontainebleau and white players were let out at the Fontainebleau and black players were sent to an inner-city hotel owned by a black gentleman that of course was a very good host for us,” Marshall said. “We could play on the field together, but we couldn’t room together, and now we couldn’t stay in a hotel together.”
January 30, 2015
January 18, 2015
David Warren had a short essay get out of hand on him the other day:
Everything is coming out of Egypt these days, just like in the Bible. The Paris demonstrations were a throwback not only to the grand gatherings of a century ago, when the masses in each European capital were demanding war, but also to the recent “Arab spring,” when the masses in Egypt and every Middle Eastern capital were demanding “democracy.” Mobs often get what they want. The best that can be said for the Jesuischarlies, is they haven’t a clew what they want, beyond making an emotional display of their own vaunted goodness.
And yet, large demonstrations are expressions of despair. They bring momentary relief in a false exhilaration: the idea that something can be done, by men; something that will not cost them vastly more than they are now paying. Verily, it is the counsel of despair. I don’t think I can provide any example from history in which mass political demonstrations did any good; only examples when they did not end as badly as they could have.
I hardly expect agreement on this point, especially on non-violent demonstrations that affirm some simple moral point, such as the wrongness of racial prejudice, or of the slaughter of unborn children. But these must necessarily politicize something which should be above politics, and cannot help bringing an element of intimidation into what must finally be communicated cor ad cor. Pressure politics change everything, such that even when the cause is indisputably elevated — the American civil rights marches of the 1960s are a good example — the effect is dubious. What came out in that case was not simply the destruction of an evil, but its replacement with new evils: welfare provisions which undermined the black family, the poison of race quotas and “reverse discrimination,” the canting and excuse-making and radical posturing that has wreaked more aggregate damage to black people — both spiritual and material — than the wicked humiliations they suffered before. (Read Thomas Sowell.)
“Be careful what you wish for.” Be mindful of what comes with that wish. Be careful whom you ask to deliver it.
January 16, 2015
Margaret Cho gets into hot water with the perpetually offended for dressing up as a North Korean general:
Korean-American comedian Margaret Cho did an impression of a North Korean general at the Golden Globes that many on Liberal Twitter attacked as racist because apparently not even people of Korean descent are allowed to make fun of Kim Jong Un.
In one of many jokes aimed at the recent Sony cyber-hack, Cho wore a Korean general costume and made fun of the lack of spectacle at the event:
“You no have thousand baby playing guitar at the same time. You no have people holding up many card to make one big picture,” she said in a thick accent. “You no have Dennis Rodman.”
Predictably, people went nuts.
The Guardian editor-in-chief Katharine Viner said Cho was “like, totes racist.” Time deputy tech editor Alex Fitzpatrick questioned how anyone could have seen the bit as anything but “broadly racist.” The International Business Times managing editor called the decision to allow it a “bad call.” And that’s just to name a few.
Cho defended herself, tweeting: “I’m of mixed North/South Korean descent — you imprison, starve and brainwash my people you get made fun of by me #hatersgonhate.”
December 9, 2014
Scott Mendelson reviews the soon-to-open movie by Ridley Scott, and finds it awful:
Exodus: Gods and Kings is a terrible film. It is a badly acted and badly written melodrama that takes what should be a passionate and emotionally wrenching story and drains it of all life and all dramatic interest. It hits all the major points, like checking off boxes on a list, yet tells its tale at an arms-length reserve with paper-thin characters. It is arguably a film intended for adults, with violence that makes a mockery of its PG-13 rating, yet it has far less nuance, emotional impact, and moral shading than DreamWorks Animation’s PG-rated and seemingly kid-targeted The Prince of Egypt.
The film starts with an arbitrary mass battle scene, one which serves no purpose save for having a mass battle sequence to toss into the trailers. The primary alteration to the story is the inclusion of said gratuitous action beats. The film is relentlessly grim yet oddly unemotional, which is a tricky balance to accidentally pull off. The actors (who have all done excellent work elsewhere) are all oddly miscast, and that’s not even getting to the whole “really white actors playing Egyptians” thing. Oh right, that little issue… It’s actually worse than you’ve heard.
In retrospect, it may have been better to just make a 100% white cast similar to Noah. This film instead is filled with minorities in subservient roles, be it slaves, servants, or (implied) palace sex toys. Instead of merely having a film filled with only white actors, what the film does is implicitly impose a racially-based class system, where the white characters are prestigious and/or important while the various minorities are inherently second or third-class citizens almost by virtue of their skin color. I am sure this was unintentional, but that’s the visual picture that Exodus paints.
Now to be absolutely fair, even if Exodus was cast with 100% racial/ethnic authenticity, it would still be a pretty bad motion picture. The screenplay has our poor, miscast actors speaking in various accents and in a bizarre hybrid of “ancient times period piece” English and more modern American English, which leads to lines like “From an economic standpoint alone, what you’re asking is problematic,” which is Rameses’s (Joel Edgerton) response to Moses’s initial plea to “Let my people go!”
December 6, 2014
At Reason, J.D. Tuccille reviews On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City, by Alice Goffman:
The police presence in 6th Street is pervasive. Residents, young black men in particular, can expect to be frequently stopped, questioned, and searched. Many initial arrests are for drugs, often possession of marijuana. After that, as Goffman records, the system takes on a horrible logic of its own. Criminal records make employment hard to find, and recurring court dates devour time that might be devoted to work, job searches, or family responsibilities. Without regular income, court fees add up and may prove unpayable. Many of the people Goffman writes about are essentially constant low-level fugitives, hunted by police for missed appointments. Some end up committing additional crimes to pay their accumulating debts to the courts.
People living on the wrong side of the law are both dependent on and vulnerable to those around them. Goffman documents how chronic legal problems prevent young men from attending the births of their children or the funerals of their friends, since the authorities often monitor those occasions looking to make arrests. Those legal problems also provide opportunities for angry girlfriends and other acquaintances to avenge perceived wrongs with a simple phone call to the cops.
Neighborhoods heavily populated by young men on the run (usually in the most figurative sense, since their lives become circumscribed by familiar people and streets) also create business opportunities for those willing to serve their idiosyncratic needs. One memorable character in On the Run is Jevon, whose memory and ability at mimicry allow him to earn money impersonating men to their parole officers for curfew-checking phone calls. Another, Rakim, augments income from his passport photo business selling clean urine to men facing drug tests. Many local businesses-such as rental car lots and motels-have two price sheets, one for mainstream customers and one for those who have no credit cards or ID.
Identification itself is a commodity, with employees inside the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation selling drivers licenses-basically, new identities — for a substantial fee. (Other public employees, from court clerks to prison guards, also find it lucrative to sell favors and services.) “The level of social control that tough-on-crime policy envisions-particularly in a liberal state-is so extreme and difficult to implement,” Goffman writes, “that it has led to a flourishing black market to ease the pains of supervision.”
H/T to ESR who wrote:
Linked article explains why, though I’ve defended the shooting of Michael Brown as a prudent and ethical response to an imminent threat of deadly force, I’ve had little patience with those defending the Ferguson police in general either before or after the shooting.
Yes, the system oppresses people like the blacks in Ferguson, in a way that has little to do with “institutional racism” but everything to do with a vicious cycle of deteriorating ghetto culture coupled with perverse incentives on the police created by “tough on crime” laws.
How do I know? I’ve never been to Ferguson…but Philadelphia is my city. I used to live there, mere blocks from the ghetto archipelago. I’ve seen some of the overspill from what Goffman is writing about. She speaks truth, and we would do well to heed her.
November 29, 2014
John C. Wright explains why Robert A. Heinlein was so important to the development of the science fiction field:
If you are unfamiliar with the name Robert Heinlein, he is rightly called the Dean of Science Fiction; his pen is the one that first broke through from the pulps into the slicks, and then into juveniles, and then into the mainstream. Were it not for him, we would still be a Hugo Gernsbeckian ghetto.
Heinlein was also a bold advocate for equality of all races and both sexes, at a time when such ideas were not discussed in polite society. He was the main champion in our little Science Fiction ghetto of all things Progressive and Leftwing, that is, the Leftwing of that time. (They have since reversed their standards, for example, swapping a principled opposition to censorship to a full-throated advocacy of it, or swapping an unprincipled opposition to monogamy to an even more unprincipled advocacy of abstinence combined with libertinism.)
The Left owe Heinlein an immense debt of gratitude. Ergo they are ungrateful.
While working on the novel that was to become Rocket Ship Galileo, Heinlein warned his agent that the inclusion of an ethnically diverse cast was not only deliberate — it was non-negotiable, and if an editor requested the removal of the Jewish character, Blassingame (the agent) was to take the book elsewhere.
This is from the letter Heinlein wrote to his agent about his wishes:
“I have deliberately selected a boy of Scotch-English pioneer ancestry, a boy whose father is a German immigrant, and a boy who is American Jewish. Having selected this diverse background they are then developed as American boys without reference to their backgrounds. You may run into an editor who does not want one of the young heroes to be Jewish. I will not do business with such a firm. The ancestry of the three boys is a “must” and the book is offered under those conditions. My interest was aroused in this book by the opportunity to show to kids what I conceive to be Americanism. The use of a diverse group … is part of my intent; it must not be changed. … I am as disinterested as a referee but I want to get over an object lesson in practical democracy.”
Commenting on this is one Mitch Wagner, freak, writing on the blog maintained by Tor books — one of the largest and most well-respected names in science fiction publishing, as well as being my own publisher. This is not some overlooked corner or outlier opinion.
This is all admirable, but let’s keep in mind what’s missing from this cast: Asians; disabled people; non-Americans of any kind; lesbians, gays, and the transgendered; Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, or representatives of the other major world religions. Heinlein’s book was enormously ethnically diverse in that it included the full variety of American Judeo-Christian boys.
And even the notion that the ethnically diverse boys are “developed as American boys without reference to their backgrounds” is a little creepy.
The freakish Mr. Wagner is not satisfied that Heinlein stormed the breach for them, being the first science fiction writer to put a Jew (Morrie Abrams from Rocket Ship Galileo), a Filipino (Juan Rico, Starship Troopers), a Negro (Rod Walker from Tunnel in the Sky implicitly and Mr. Kiku from The Star Beast explicitly) a Mohammedan (Dr. “Stinky” Mahmoud from Stranger in a Strange Land) or a Maori girl (Podkayne from Podkayne of Mars) in the spotlight as a main character and hero or heroine, but then criticizes Heinlein for not having as a main character … who? A cross-dressing homosexual castrati Hindu as a main character in a children’s book published in 1947? The Democrat Party still had Jim Crow laws and segregation in the South, and in those days the militant arm of the Democrat Party, the KKK, were still lynching blacks.
Do you understand to what the freakish Mr. Wagner is objecting? He is objecting to the melting pot theory that men of different races, locked into endless mutual hatred in the old world, can leave their hatred behind here in the new world. He is objecting to racelessness. Hence, he is a racist.
Heinlein showed backbone and gorm and ran the risk of being blackballed and put out of business by the Left (who, then as now, have major influence amounting to near total control in the New York publication industry) — and for this bold stance, unheard-of at the time, the gormless and freakish Mr Wagner criticizes Mr. Heinlein.
November 27, 2014
At Reason, Emily Ekins explains some of the findings of the most recent Reason/Rupe poll:
The American Idea posits that the choices we make shape individual success. However, the State can undermine this promise if its most powerful tool — its policing power — is misused or allows external characteristics to skew the application of justice. It’s demoralizing and imposes a narrative of inferiority. Recent Reason-Rupe polling reveals Americans are significantly divided in their perception of abuse and bias in the criminal justice system and this perception divide alone ought to give us pause.
Irrespective of the actual extent of systemic bias, perception alone can be debilitating. The perception of a biased justice system may lead one to be less willing to give benefit of the doubt and to feel that self-determination is out of their grasp.
Compiling Reason-Rupe polling data finds dramatic racial differences in perceptions of law enforcement and the criminal justice system more generally. Minorities tend to believe the police too often use excessive force, that the cases of excessive force are on the rise, but also that police officers are not generally held accountable for their conduct.
November 26, 2014
Heather Mac Donald looks at what she calls “The Microaggression Farce” at UCLA:
In November 2013, two dozen graduate students at the University of California at Los Angeles marched into an education class and announced a protest against its “hostile and unsafe climate for Scholars of Color.” The students had been victimized, they claimed, by racial “microaggression” — the hottest concept on campuses today, used to call out racism otherwise invisible to the naked eye. UCLA’s response to the sit-in was a travesty of justice. The education school sacrificed the reputation of a beloved and respected professor in order to placate a group of ignorant students making a specious charge of racism.
The pattern would repeat itself twice more at UCLA that fall: students would allege that they were victimized by racism, and the administration, rather than correcting the students’ misapprehension, penitently acceded to it. Colleges across the country behave no differently. As student claims of racial and gender mistreatment grow ever more unmoored from reality, campus grown-ups have abdicated their responsibility to cultivate an adult sense of perspective and common sense in their students. Instead, they are creating what tort law calls “eggshell plaintiffs” — preternaturally fragile individuals injured by the slightest collisions with life. The consequences will affect us for years to come.
UCLA education professor emeritus Val Rust was involved in multiculturalism long before the concept even existed. A pioneer in the field of comparative education, which studies different countries’ educational systems, Rust has spent over four decades mentoring students from around the world and assisting in international development efforts. He has received virtually every honor awarded by the Society of Comparative and International Education. His former students are unanimous in their praise for his compassion and integrity. “He’s been an amazing mentor to me,” says Cathryn Dhanatya, an assistant dean for research at the USC Rossiter School of Education. “I’ve never experienced anything remotely malicious or negative in terms of how he views students and how he wants them to succeed.” Rosalind Raby, director of the California Colleges for International Education, says that Rust pushes you to “reexamine your own thought processes. There is no one more sensitive to the issue of cross-cultural understanding.” A spring 2013 newsletter from UCLA’s ed school celebrated Rust’s career and featured numerous testimonials about his warmth and support for students.
It was therefore ironic that Rust’s graduate-level class in dissertation preparation was the target of student protest just a few months later — ironic, but in the fevered context of the UCLA education school, not surprising. The school, which trumpets its “social-justice” mission at every opportunity, is a cauldron of simmering racial tensions. Students specializing in “critical race theory” — an intellectually vacuous import from law schools — play the race card incessantly against their fellow students and their professors, leading to an atmosphere of nervous self-censorship. Foreign students are particularly shell-shocked by the school’s climate. “The Asians are just terrified,” says a recent graduate. “They walk into this hyper-racialized environment and have no idea what’s going on. Their attitude in class is: ‘I don’t want to talk. Please don’t make me talk!’”
November 25, 2014
I’ll do everything to end the war on drugs. … The war on drugs has become the most racially disparate outcome that you have in the entire country. Our prisons are full of black and brown kids. Three-fourths of the people in prison are black or brown, and white kids are using drugs, Bill, as you know … at the same rate as these other kids. But kids who have less means, less money, kids who are in areas where police are patrolling … Police are given monetary incentives to make arrests, monetary incentives for their own departments. So I want to end the war on drugs because it’s wrong for everybody, but particularly because poor people are caught up in this, and their lives are ruined by it.
Rand Paul, speaking to Bill Maher, 2014-11-15.
October 17, 2014
In sp!ked, Allum Bokhari looks at #GamerGate:
The gaming community is no stranger to cultural warfare and moral panic. In the 1990s, a cohort of censorious, ‘family values’ politicians waged a ceaseless campaign to regulate the gaming industry, following a series of panics over the ultra-violent Mortal Kombat series. In the early 2000s, the socially conservative activist Jack Thompson gained notoriety for engaging in a stream of litigation against video-game companies, arguing that they were responsible for everything from gang violence to school shootings.
The tenor of moral panic has changed since then. Now, the main source of fear, loathing and general misanthropy in the gaming industry stems from the cultural left rather than the socially conservative right. Similar to the old right, the new cultural warriors argue that games promote violence and reinforce so-called rape culture. Arguments that games perpetuate sexism and racism are also fairly common. Instead of being seen as mere escapism, the tastes of modern gamers are portrayed as dangerous and subversive, a threat to right-on values. Gamers ought to be feared and shunned. In this remarkable video, a cultural warrior goes on a tirade against mainstream gamers, culminating in the destruction of a copy of the controversial video-game Grand Theft Auto V before a cheering crowd. The misanthropic disgust with ordinary gamers is palpable.
The growing contempt of the games-industry elite for the preferences of gamers has accelerated in recent months. Following a major confrontation between gamers and activists last August over allegations of journalistic favouritism, article after article has been published decrying the gaming community for its alleged bigotry, sexism and narrow-mindedness. The worst examples of ‘social-media harassment’ were used as an excuse to present gamers as a mass of hateful savages. To those familiar with the regular and sometimes absurd panics over football fans, this language will sound familiar.
You may well ask how these activists are able to sustain these bizarre beliefs, particularly given the mounting evidence that gamers are actually a pretty diverse and welcoming group of people after all. One explanation is their fondness for echo-chambers, maintained through exclusive email groups, social media blocklists and mass deletions of user comments on open forums. The extent to which the new cultural warriors will go to remove uncomfortable opinions from view is quite extraordinary. Reinforcing, rather than challenging, one’s own biases has become the norm.
September 14, 2014
Up to a point, as we recognized, the problem of the coolie-millionaire offers no real difficulty. The Chinese coolie lives in a palm-thatched hovel on a bowl of rice. When he has risen to a higher occupation — hawking peanuts, for example, from a barrow — he still lives on rice and still lives in a hovel. When he has risen farther — to the selling, say, of possibly stolen bicycle parts, he keeps to his hovel and his rice. The result is that he has money to invest. Of ten coolies in this situation, nine will lose their money by unwise speculation. The tenth will be clever or lucky. He will live, nevertheless, in his hovel. He will eat, as before, his rice. As a success technique this is well worthy of study.
In the American log cabin story the point is soon reached at which the future millionaire must wear a tie. He explains that he cannot otherwise inspire confidence. He must also acquire a better address, purely (he says) to gain prestige. In point of fact, the tie is to please his wife and the address to satisfy his daughter. The Chinese have their womenfolk under better control. So the prosperous coolie sticks to his hovel and his rice. This is a known fact and admits of two explanations. In the first place his home (whatever its other disadvantages) has undeniably brought him luck. In the second place, a better house would unquestionably attract the notice of the tax collector. So he wisely stays where he is. He will often keep the original hovel — at any rate as an office — for the rest of his life. He quits it so reluctantly that his decision to move marks a major crisis in his career.
When he moves it is primarily to evade the exactions of secret societies, blackmailers, and gangs. To conceal his growing wealth from the tax collector is a relatively easy matter; but to conceal it from his business associates is practically impossible. Once the word goes round that he is prospering, accurate guesses will be made as to the sum for which he can be “touched.” All this is admittedly well known, but previous investigators have jumped too readily to the conclusion that there is only one sum involved. In point of fact there are three: the sum the victim would pay if kidnapped and held to ransom; the sum he would pay to keep a defamatory article out of a Chinese newspaper; the sum he would subscribe to charity rather than lose face.
Our task was to ascertain the figure the first sum will have reached (on an average) at the moment when migration takes place from the original hovel to a well-fenced house guarded by an Alsatian hound. It is this move that has been termed “Breaking the Hound Barrier.” Social scientists believe that it will tend to occur as soon as the ransom to be exacted comes to exceed the overhead costs of the “snatch.”
C. Northcote Parkinson, “Palm Thatch To Packard Or A Formula For Success”, Parkinson’s Law (and other studies in administration), 1957.
September 12, 2014
People who say they are against teaching the theory of evolution are very likely to be Christian fundamentalists. But people who are against taking seriously the implications of evolution, strongly enough to want to attack those who disagree, including those who teach those implications, are quite likely to be on the left.
Consider the most striking case, the question of whether there are differences between men and women with regard to the distribution of intellectual abilities or behavioral patterns. That no such differences exist, or if that if they exist they are insignificant, is a matter of faith for many on the left. The faith is so strongly held that when the president of Harvard, himself a prominent academic, merely raised the possibility that one reason why there were fewer women than men in certain fields might be such differences, he was ferociously attacked and eventually driven to resign.
Yet the claim that such differences must be insignificant is one that nobody who took the implications of evolution seriously could maintain. We are, after all, the product of selection for reproductive success. Males and females play quite different roles in reproduction. It would be a striking coincidence if the distribution of abilities and behavioral patterns that was optimal for one sex turned out to also be optimal for the other, rather like two entirely different math problems just happening to have the same answer.
The denial of male/female differences is the most striking example of left wing hostility to the implications of Darwinian evolution, but not the only one. The reasons to expect differences among racial groups as conventionally defined are weaker, since males of all races play the same role in reproduction, as do females of all races. But we know that members of such groups differ in the distribution of observable physical characteristics — that, after all, is the main way we recognize them. That is pretty strong evidence that their ancestors adapted to at least somewhat different environments.
There is no a priori reason to suppose that the optimal physical characteristics were different in those different environments but the optimal mental characteristics were the same. And yet, when differing outcomes by racial groups are observed, it is assumed without discussion that they must be entirely due to differential treatment by race. That might turn out to be true, but there is no good reason to expect it. Here again, anyone who argues the opposite is likely to find himself the target of ferocious attacks, mainly from people on the left.
David D. Friedman, “Who is Against Evolution?”, Ideas, 2008-08-29
August 26, 2014
About 15 years ago, John Heath and I coauthored Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom, a pessimistic warning about where current trends would take classics in particular and the humanities in general. It was easy enough then to identify the causes of the implosion. At the very time the protocols of the universities were proving unsustainable — more expensive administrators and non-teaching personnel, soaring tuition hikes, vast non-instructional expenditures in student services and social recreation, more release time for full professors, greater exploitation of part-time teachers, and more emphasis on practical education — the humanities had turned against themselves in the fashion of an autoimmune disease.
For example, esoteric university press publications, not undergraduate teaching and advocacy, came to define the successful humanities professor. Literature, history, art, music, and philosophy classes — even if these courses retained their traditional course titles — became shells of their former selves, now focusing on race, class, and gender indictments of the ancient and modern Western worlds.
These trendy classes did the nearly impossible task of turning the plays of Euripides, the poetry of Dante, and the history of the Civil War into monotonous subjects. The result was predictable: cash-strapped students increasingly avoided these classes. Moreover, if humanists did not display enthusiasm for Western literature, ideas, and history, or, as advocates, seek to help students appreciate the exceptional wisdom and beauty of Sophocles or Virgil, why, then, would the Chairman of the Chicano Studies Department, the Assistant Dean of Social Science, the Associate Provost for Diversity, or the Professor of Accounting who Chaired the General Education Committee worry about the declining enrollments in humanities?
If the humanities could have adopted a worse strategy to combat these larger economic and cultural trends over the last decade, it would be hard to see how. In short, the humanities have been exhausted by a half-century of therapeutic “studies” courses: Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies, Post-Colonial Studies, Environmental Studies, Chicano Studies, Women’s Studies, Black Studies, Asian Studies, Cultural Studies, and Gay Studies. Any contemporary topic that could not otherwise justify itself as literary, historical, philosophical, or cultural simply tacked on the suffix “studies” and thereby found its way into the curriculum.
These “studies” courses shared an emphasis on race, class, and gender oppression that in turn had three negative consequences. First, they turned the study of literature and history from tragedy to melodrama, from beauty and paradox into banal predictability, and thus lost an entire generation of students. Second, they created a climate of advocacy that permeated the entire university, as the great works and events of the past were distorted and enlisted in advancing contemporary political agendas. Finally, the university lost not just the students, but the public as well, which turned to other sources — filmmakers, civic organizations, non-academic authors, and popular culture — for humanistic study.
Victor Davis Hanson, “The Death of the Humanities”, VDH’s Private Papers, 2014-01-28