Tuesday, November 07, 2017

On Privilege, Truth, and Critical Theory

This is a video that is described as "powerful" in explaining the concept of "privilege" - often styled "white privilege."  This is an expression of Critical Theory that posits that a certain subset of people enjoy an unfair economic advantage over other groups.  The typical nomenclature is that the privileged groups are "oppressors" and everyone else is "oppressed."  Such notions are indeed powerful modern expressions of Marxist social theory (cultural Marxism).  There is no question of the power of Marxism.  It is truly a force to be reckoned with.

The video depicts a race with some people getting a head start - mostly white people.  It begins with what seems to be a spontaneous group of joyful young people innocently showing up for the race.  At the starting line, the announcer calls out various life conditions that result in some racers being able to take steps forward before the race begins, while others must stay where they are.  It includes emotional music, and as the various privileges are awarded, the camera zooms in on the anguished faces of those who don't enjoy the privileges.  As the video progresses, the happy faces give way to discomfort and looks of shame and guilt on the part of the "privileged."

The first two privileges called out involve having married parents and a father figure in the home.  The rest of the questions involve such things as education and money.  One of the questions pertains to scholarship opportunities (interestingly and inexplicably, excluding athletic scholarships).  After the advantages have been doled out, the announcer asks those in front to turn around and look at their relative starting positions compared to others.  He tells them that their places have nothing to do with anything that they have done - implying that one's advantages and disadvantages in life are completely arbitrary, just random dumb luck - or perhaps a conspiracy among the privileged.

Three fourths of the way into the video, the announcer finally brings race into the soliloquy (the "black dudes" who would "smoke you" in the race were it not for "white privilege"). Moreover, in this race, the prize is a single $100 bill.  So in reality, every single person, black or white, "privileged" or not, other than that single winner, is a loser who walks away with absolutely nothing.

This is indeed an emotionally powerful video, but does it correspond with reality?

In real life, does only one person walk away with everything, while nobody else gets anything?  Is real life like the game of Monopoly, in which one winner takes all and everyone else ends up bankrupt?  The reality is that life is not a zero-sum game.  When Rockefeller made a fortune in oil, when Gates and Jobs became billionaires in microcomputers, when Ford became rich manufacturing automobiles, all mankind benefited: especially the poor, who almost instantly had increasingly inexpensive tools to allow them to compete in ways that formerly excluded them.  In the words of John F. Kennedy - addressing this very economic idea: "The rising tide lifts all the boats."

And what about athletic scholarships?  Why were they arbitrarily excluded from the concept of privilege?  Universities routinely award millions of dollars in scholarship money for sports and athletics.  In fact, many of the nation's wealthiest and most revered heroes are athletes - the majority of which are black.  Are we to conclude that this racial disparity is a discriminatory conspiracy, or should we rather conclude that the team owners are greedily hiring the best people regardless of race, because they want to win championships?  Is this unfair?  Should professional sports teams be required to allow people like me - a 53 year old white guy - to share playing time with Lebron James in order to countermand his "privilege"?  Should Usain Bolt have to run twice as far as the other Olympic runners to offset his obvious advantages?

But the unspoken reality is this: economic advantage and disadvantage overwhelmingly flow from the first two questions in the video: concerning married parents and a father in the home.  And this is not arbitrary and accidental.  These are overwhelmingly choices that we make in our lives that affect us and our children.  Instead of a scenario of allowing people with married parents and fathers in the home to receive what is perceived as an unfair advantage, what if the presentation featured everyone at the same starting line, but people who are promiscuous being told that they and their children will now have to run their race with shackles around their legs?  What if other handicaps were applied to children if their parents (or they themselves as young adults), instead of investing in their and their children's education, chose to spend their money on concerts, vacations, alcohol, drugs, tattoos, cars, jewelry, cable TV and sports events?

Is it fair that people who sacrifice and do the right thing should then have to give money to people who made bad decisions, spent their money on short time-preference pleasures, and acted selfishly and foolishly toward their own children?  Is it right that young people, whose parents remained married and invested wisely - and taught their children to do the same - should now be treated as if they were "oppressors" and be taught that their skin color is a disease upon the planet?

The research of black scholar Thomas Sowell demonstrates that the destruction of the intact black family has had devastating and generational economic consequences for modern black Americans, and that the welfare state has created disincentives for the very thing that helps children the most: intact families (the first two questions in the video).

The reality is that our decisions in life - good and bad - do not affect only ourselves.  We don't live in a vacuum.  We do grow up in a cultural paradigm forged by the intactness of our families and the economic investments we are willing to make.  And this is not arbitrary.  It has to do with our choices.

We can learn from various cultures who value marital morality, family cohesiveness, and long time-preferences with money and resources.  Asians are often successful in America - even as immigrants or first-generation Americans.  Why?  Are they taking advantage of some kind of "white privilege"?  Or is it because their culture values intact families and sacrifice?  Why doesn't their status as "people of color" or their "otherness" or even their linguistic diversity result in their being left behind?  And is it "unfair" that people who are motivated by a cultural work ethic reap economic rewards - especially as their children learn these lessons as they live out their lives?  Why didn't the announcer mention things like: "If you worked two jobs while going to school while your friends partied, take ten steps forward"?  "If you opted out of cars and vacations and season tickets to put your children in a private school, take ten steps forward"? 

Work ethic and sacrifice are never mentioned in this video.

If we truly valued diversity, we would look at the success of Asian immigrants to the United States and figure out how we can replicate their success.  But videos like this one would rather penalize and stigmatize people racially and imply unfairness and oppression rather than admit that people handicap themselves and their own progeny by making poor choices in life and with their resources.

The typical leftist solution is to vilify the successful, penalize the thrifty, and demonize the hard-working, while sowing seeds of dissension between groups of people based on superficial differences such as the amount of melanin in the skin.  This only serves to reward destructive behavior and encourage sloth.  Taken to its extreme, political "solutions" to the problem of "inequality" can take the form of Kurt Vonnegut's short story "Harrison Bergeron" - which symbolizes the very philosophy espoused by Critical Theory.

Instead of attacking the real issue, the privilege video implies that the solution to the hangover is more booze.  And it uses agenda-driven propaganda, emotional manipulation, and rhetorical sleight of hand rather than factual argumentation to make the case.  Unfortunately, young (and not so young) people, largely deprived of classical education, lack the intellectual skills and the knowledge of Economics needed to see through the rhetoric and to think critically about the video.

We are surrounded not merely by propaganda, but also by deliberately-crafted deceptiveness - willful lies in other words - to push a political agenda.  This has become normalized even by professional journalists and reporters.

The recent visit of Donald Trump to Japan is a clear case in point.  Mark Dice exposes the duplicity of the mainstream media - more concerned with political manipulation than objective truth.  Worse even than the amoral reporting is the willful ignorance of the consumers of what used to be called "news" - which in reality has become Soviet-style agitprop and Orwellian mind control.

Like government, we get the media that we deserve.  The consumer is king and has the power.  But like the cowed townspeople in The Emperor's New Clothes, we allow ourselves to be gulled.

Unless and until the concept of objective truth, over and against subjective feelings and desires, returns to our intellectual and public life, and unless and until there is a social cost to dishonestly and duplicity, as well as a restored valuation of integrity and truth-telling regardless of agenda, we will continue to deal with "fake news" and people being led by the nose to disastrous political and economic consequences, having been intellectually, culturally, and ethically disarmed, unable to be truly critical and to actually question authority.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Sad thing is that all of this nonsense is alive and well at our very own Concordia University, especially the Schools of Education, even at Mequon. From white privilege and structural racism to female victimhood and rape culture it is all taught as though it were as true as the Quadratic Formula.