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Students Demand Denunciation and Investigation of Professors: 1966 China or 2017 U. Penn?

Students Demand Denunciation and Investigation of Professors: 1966 China or 2017 U. Penn?

The Cultural Revolution on campuses continues, after Law Profs write Op-Ed praising 1950s Bourgeois Culture

Increasingly, campus “social justice” activism is resembling the tactics of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, particularly the public shaming of those deemed ideologically incorrect, including professors.

In The new Cultural Revolution on Campuses in late April 2017, I reviewed recent examples, including Yale, Cornell, Middlebury and Claremont McKenna:

We are witnessing nothing less than a cultural purge of dissenting views on a wide range of topics in the name of social justice. No disagreement is tolerated, not even the slightest deviation. That purge has been going on for many years, but seems to have intensified and is turning on speakers, professors and fellow students.

The sub-headline to my prior post was:

1966 China or 2017 America? “Teachers were made to stand onstage, bow their heads and confess their crimes”

We have another example of 2017 cultural revolutionaries, this time at the University of Pennsylvania.

On August 9, 2017, Law Professors Amy Wax (U. Penn.) and Larry Alexander (U. San Diego) wrote an Op-Ed in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Paying the price for breakdown of the country’s bourgeois culture. The thesis of the Op-Ed was that while 1950s bourgeois American culture had many faults, the basic structure built around the family and work prepared people for the modern technological economy:

… That culture laid out the script we all were supposed to follow: Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime….

Was everything perfect during the period of bourgeois cultural hegemony? Of course not. There was racial discrimination, limited sex roles, and pockets of anti-Semitism. However, steady improvements for women and minorities were underway even when bourgeois norms reigned. Banishing discrimination and expanding opportunity does not require the demise of bourgeois culture. Quite the opposite: The loss of bourgeois habits seriously impeded the progress of disadvantaged groups….

They then took on multi-cultural dogma:

All cultures are not equal. Or at least they are not equal in preparing people to be productive in an advanced economy. The culture of the Plains Indians was designed for nomadic hunters, but is not suited to a First World, 21st-century environment. Nor are the single-parent, antisocial habits, prevalent among some working-class whites; the anti-“acting white” rap culture of inner-city blacks; the anti-assimilation ideas gaining ground among some Hispanic immigrants. These cultural orientations are not only incompatible with what an advanced free-market economy and a viable democracy require, they are also destructive of a sense of solidarity and reciprocity among Americans. If the bourgeois cultural script — which the upper-middle class still largely observes but now hesitates to preach — cannot be widely reinstated, things are likely to get worse for us all….

But restoring the hegemony of the bourgeois culture will require the arbiters of culture — the academics, media, and Hollywood — to relinquish multicultural grievance polemics and the preening pretense of defending the downtrodden. Instead of bashing the bourgeois culture, they should return to the 1950s posture of celebrating it.

The reaction was predictable. In emails to the Free Beacon, the professors noted that there was blowback at U. Penn, but not at U. San Diego:

Neither Wax nor Alexander have wavered on their views despite the blowback.

“What the objections boil down to is that the bourgeois virtues are somehow racist, or somehow cause racism—contentions that I and my co-author expressly contest, of course,” Wax wrote in an email. “But if, indeed, bourgeois values are so racist, the progressive critics should be out there in the street demonstrating against them, stripping them from their own lives, and forbidding their children to practice them. They should be chanting, ‘No more work, more crime, more out of wedlock babies, forget thrift, let’s get high!’ … Of course, there’s little chance we’re going to see anything like that, which shows the hollowness, indeed the silliness, of the critiques.”

Alexander said he “would change nothing” about the piece.

“The charges of racism, white supremacy, etc. are, sadly, the predictable responses of those who can’t refute the claims we made,” Alexander said. “And those charges are laughable, given that I was a civil rights marcher and have a multi-racial family. But, of course, when you don’t have the facts on your side, you resort to calling names. Pathetic!”

Alexander said he has not received any backlash from his own campus community.

At U. Penn, there was a letter signed by 5 other law professors criticizing the Op-Ed:

Nostalgia for the 1950s breezes over the truth of inequality and exclusion. The “racial discrimination” and “limited sex roles” that the authors identify as imperfections in midcentury American life were in fact core features of it.

But more ominously, 54 Penn graduate students and alums (almost all in Anthropology), denounced the Op-Ed as racist:

… claiming that not “all cultures are created equal” and extolling the virtues of white cultural practices of the ‘50s that, if understood within their sociocultural context, stem from the very same malignant logic of hetero-patriarchal, class-based, white supremacy that plagues our country today. These cultural values and logics are steeped in anti-blackness and white hetero-patriarchal respectability, i.e. two-hetero-parent homes, divorce is a vice and the denouncement of all groups perceived as not acting white enough i.e. black Americans, Latino communities and immigrants in particular.

The Gang of 54 took a page right out of the cultural revolution, demanding that Prof. Wax be publicly denounced and investigated by her colleagues and others at U. Penn. Giving themselves the self-reverential title of “scholars,” the Gang of 54 wrote (emphasis added):

We, the undersigned scholars, are each committed to combating white supremacy in our pedagogy and we call for all other scholars at Penn, especially those in the social sciences and humanities, to make the question of white supremacy a constitutive part of their syllabi and discussions, centering it in the first few weeks of their classes. Faculty should be supported in this, for instance, through a syllabus workshop for people who are unsure how to do this work but would like to learn more. There is a need more than ever to educate ourselves and our students in order to expunge the anti-intellectual values that continue to uphold white supremacy.

We call for the denunciation, not of racism as some abstract concept “out there” — in Charlottesville, in America, by the poor uneducated white or by an individual racist ideologue — but for a denunciation of racism at the University of Pennsylvania. In particular we must denounce faculty members that are complicit in and uphold white supremacy, normalizing it as if it were just another viable opinion in our educational tenures at the University.

We call for the University of Pennsylvania administration — Penn President Gutmann and the deans of each school — as well as faculty to directly confront Wax and Alexander’s op-ed as racist and white supremacist discourse and to push for an investigation into Wax’s advocacy for white supremacy. We believe that such statements should point directly to the historical and sociopolitical antecedents of Wax’s hate speech, and to disallow hate speech whether shrouded in respectability or not.

This tactic of public denunciation and investigation was common on Chinese campuses during the Cultural Revolution.

And if the U. Penn Gang of 54 had its way, it would be the case at that Ivy League school as well.


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***Nostalgia for the 1950s breezes over the truth of inequality and exclusion. The “racial discrimination” and “limited sex roles” that the authors identify as imperfections in midcentury American life were in fact core features of it.***

Horse pucky!

Nobody could NOT adopt the values the authors suggest were productive of a good life.

Blacks in the U.S., though they were often discriminated against, were very successful through this period and into the 60s, having good families, MUCH lower crime rates than now, and safe, stable communities.

To paraphrase Heinlein, this was called “luck”.

But it works to the benefit of any who try it. The Ivy Leaguers can rotate.

    alaskabob in reply to Ragspierre. | August 28, 2017 at 9:38 pm

    A look at the birth out of wedlock in the Black community (and White) in the ’50’s versus now is shocking since kids in such single parent homes are significantly disadvantaged… in things government can not (or should not attempt to) provide.

    Many may write about the 50’s and early 60’s but have no idea what they were like…. some of us do remember… like a nickle coke with real sugar. Perfect? No, but safer and BETTER than our Red Guard Brats will ever know in their own little world.

    DaveGinOly in reply to Ragspierre. | August 28, 2017 at 10:15 pm

    Indeed, black communities were thriving around the country as early as the 1920s and 30s. What happened to them? Progressive politics. Those who could move out did so. Look at the work of photographer James Van Der Zee (a black man with a very Euro name). His work, done mostly in Harlem, depicts a vibrant, safe, industrious and bourgeois community, a successful product of the very virtues extolled by professors Wax and Alexander.

      the other rob in reply to DaveGinOly. | August 29, 2017 at 6:18 am

      Decades ago, I went to fascinating exhibition at the British Museum, or the National Gallery (or somewhere similar) titled The Harlem Renaissance.

      One photo sticks in my mind to this day, though I don’t recall whether it was one of Van Der Zee’s or not. It was a group of marchers, carrying a banner that read “England would do well to let Gandhi go”.

By these “scholars'” logic, universities themselves are institutions that perpetuate inequality and exclusion, and must be abolished.

“…we call for all other scholars at Penn, especially those in the social sciences and humanities…”
So, all the non-scholars. I didn’t figure this nonsense slopped over into the STEM colleges. It’s relegated to those liberal degrees that I never have to consider for an employment opportunity. Thanks for clearing that up.

…the U. Penn Gang of 54

That’s a good’ern, Professor. 😉

“Was everything perfect during the period of bourgeois cultural hegemony? Of course not. There was racial discrimination, limited sex roles, and pockets of anti-Semitism. However, steady improvements for women and minorities were underway even when bourgeois norms reigned.”

In fact, it was these norms that permitted social advances. As “bourgeois” culture made America prosperous, the pie grew. As people perceived the pie was bigger, they worried less about competition from women, blacks, or immigrants in the job market, and became more amenable to social liberalism. Without an industrious culture that creates a comfortable amount of wealth, people remain jealous and suspicious of change and of “the other”, and are less likely to support social causes that can be perceived as creating more competition for the already-dominant citizen – in the case of this country, the white male.

As an authority of black life prior to the democrat welfare state, listen to Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson’s story:

In particular:

Do not worry, comrade. Your mind will be made right, and you too will sing the glories of our beloved socialistic republic. Off-key, perhaps, and not with the same words, but you will be made to sing.

It strikes me that we have to stick up for these people.

The good thing is in Texas after September first we have open carry of swords and I can carry my Khukri. Or my D-Guard Bowie. I would feel silly. So I won’t. I’m happy it’s legal.

But these professors need to be taught a lesson.

I didn’t mean you, Mr. Jacobson.

Also please don’t report me to the authorities. I intended no threat. What I meant was, if these professors knew what hard work it is to do actual violence, they’d do everything to secure the freedom of speech. That’s the only way.

    Milhouse in reply to Arminius. | August 29, 2017 at 10:20 am

    Saying that someone needs to be taught a lesson isn’t a threat, and is protected speech, even if it’s clearly intended to intimidate. The courts have been very clear on this. Even something as explicit as “it’s possible that there might have to be some revengeance taken” is not a threat, and the government may not do anything to chill such speech.

      Arminius in reply to Milhouse. | August 29, 2017 at 10:47 am

      Milhouse, I didn’t intend to even intimidate. Or, you be the judge. What I meant to say is that if these teachers can’t stand up to their pupils all that’s left at the end of the day is me. And I have, as the Bible says, trained my hand to war. And I don’t want that. Nobody should want that. What I want is freedom of speech.

        Milhouse in reply to Arminius. | August 29, 2017 at 11:24 am

        I know exactly what you meant. But even had you clearly intended to intimidate them, it would still be protected speech.

Freedom of speech is how we settle differences without coming to blows. Professors should know this.

Does anybody besides me remember when the gay hotelier New York couple met with Ted Cruz? They had to issue an apology that could have come out of a Maoist struggle session.

I guess I also want freedom of association. Come to think about I want every freedom guaranteed me in the Bill of Rights.

Possibly the biggest gripe I had with my dad’s liberalism was that he held himself (and his kids) to very high standards. But he could not bring himself to hold others – especially minorities – to those same standards. Of course, I am grateful that he held himself – and me – to high standards. But we all should be held to those standards. It isn’t racist to do so. In fact, it is racist to think that some are, by nature of their race, less capable or incapable of living up to those standards. Of course, the indoctrination that many have received over the years may be hard to overcome, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Fight the real racism in this country – the racism that has been foisted on us by the Left and the Dems, beginning with LBJ.

Is this U.Penn or Phnom Penh?

Mark Steyn nails this in his online column, “The Totaliatarianism of the Now” in which he rails against presentism.

Of course, those who never learned much about that past (other than that it was bad) won’t be able to compare past and present. And the deconstruction of history into narratives and multiple truths makes it all but impossible to imagine what it was like to live in that time.

Indeed, if it’s all-or-nothing most would take 2017 over 1957, but, that that everything is better in every way. Or that the fifty-year war against borgeous norms hasn’t come at an enormous cost (and especially so for children). Or that we, as a sometimes-coherent culture, might not rationally consider whether giving back a modicum of personal freedom in order to recover a norm of stable families just might be a good trade-off.

Yet there’s no way to discuss this with someone who knows only “the past was bad” and therefore everything in it (except the yearnings of the victim classes, of course) must have been bad. And therefore anyone who asserts that the arc of history may involve trade-offs, that it’s not just a perpetual onward-and-upward story of social progress, must be very, very, very bad indeed.

And therefore there’s no need for discussion. For why discuss anything, when one is already convinced one owns the Truth?