Unchanging theories in a changing world

The problem with the academic Left is its insistence that the history of the world and its near to middle-term future can be analyzed with the same categories and concepts designed to analyze a very particular time, place, and people: whites and blacks in America (and the American South especially) between 1865 and 1965.

Insofar as the discussion is limited to Americans and their dealings with a former slave population, critical race theory and other postmodern ideas are legitimate and illuminating. Once the discussion shifts, however, to Latin American immigration, to Japanese interment, to the West’s relationship with China, to British India, to the Arabic world, to the war on Islamic terrorism, or to just about any other subject involving power and nation-state policy, those same ideas tend to simplify rather than illuminate. They force those who wield them to reduce complex events and histories into a slave/master dialectic grounded in a white supremacist worldview, with Western Europeans cast as masters and all others cast as slaves. Post-colonial analysis of, e.g., British rule in India can read much like an analysis of American slavery because, again, categories and concepts used to analyze the former have evolved in part out of categories and concepts used to address the latter. Yet I would suggest that the history of Britain’s interaction with a people who built the Taj Mahal, invented linguistics, and are today launching a space program is deserving of an analysis (and a critical tone) quite different from that used to analyze the history of American slavery.

Looking within America’s own borders, it is obvious that a theory of race relations designed to talk about whites and their former slave population is inadequate to talk about whites and anyone else. Of the 146 ethnic groups categorized by the U.S. Census in its American Communities Survey, African Americans rank 136th in terms of median income, sharing space with recently arrived refugees from Iraq and Yemen. Race and class still intersect when it comes to African Americans, and that intersection is precisely what drove the development of critical race theory in the first place. However, looking at other ethnic groups, that intersection breaks down entirely. As I discussed in another post, America’s most economically dominant ethnic groups are Indians and Asians (Filipinos, Chinese, and Taiwanese). These groups, measured by median household income, are even more economically powerful in America than ancestors of the founding British stock! Iranians, Lebanese, and Japanese also appear in the Top 20 wealthiest ethnic groups in America, beating out the Scots, the Italians, the Greeks, and the Poles. Nigerians and Cameroons are also above the median American household income.

The world marches on. The era of Anglosphere dominance is in decline. You’re as likely to discover Middle Easterners as WASPs in Beverley Hills enclaves. The Chinese continue to play neo-colonialist in Africa, and the Chinese middle class is now larger than the American middle class, certain to grow even larger. India has satellites orbiting Mars, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they complete their manned spaceflight mission sooner than America rebuilds hers. English is still the global lingua franca, but the forces that splintered Latin into the Romance languages are also at work splintering English into many World Englishes (though shared media and the internet are slowing that process to a certain extent). In Southern California, where half the population is Hispanic and about that same percentage speaks Spanish, it can be a detriment to employment not to be bilingual. I lost out on two jobs because I did not speak fluent Spanish.

~~~

Brown Pundits links an article on the prescience of Joseph Conrad to recognize that idealism is the breeding ground of radicalism and, ultimately, terrorism.

Idealism is a cast of mind that Conrad questions even more than he questions radicalism. The logical end of radicalism, in his view, is terrorism; but idealism is the mental aberration that allows terrorism to be brought about. Conrad’s originality was to see that a new tyranny could be generated by people who thought that their rebellion against the old tyranny was rational.

Idealists breed their own tyranny and radicalism when their ideals are put into practice in a less than ideal world. This result can arise because the idealists themselves turn into tyrants—so convinced are they that their order is the right order—but it can also arise in the form of a backlash against a doggedly and irrationally pursued ideal.

I have no doubt that the academic Left and its low-brow puppets in the media are idealistic in their pursuit of what they see as racial justice in a world dominated by white supremacy. I would even argue that they are right to be idealistic in the context of black Americans whose ancestry in this land stretches as far back as any of the Daughters of the Revolution. However, the idealistic impulse to apply the language of justice willy-nilly to every other relationship between Anglos and “others” is bound to produce a backlash among middle and working class whites who are skeptical that wealthy Indians attending elite, expensive universities are somehow less privileged than they are.

(Think of the historical absurdity of applying critical race theory to the mundane discriminations faced by well-to-do, recently arrived Nigerians. It is possible that the ancestors of these immigrants were Oyo Empire elite involved in the Atlantic slave trade.)

~~~

There are theories as true today as they were a thousand years ago, capturing recurrent, implacable processes written into the fabric of the universe. There are other theories that are more contingent, useful for making sense of things at one time or place but not at another time or place.

Critical theories of race that emerged to diagnose the ills of America’s former slave population, in an America that was 90% white and 10% black, cannot be expected to diagnose anything else. To do so is to assume that master:slave::White European:everyone else. It oversimplifies history, misrepresents the present, and obscures future likelihoods.

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2 comments
  1. AntiDem said:

    The problem is that the master/slave viewpoint fits in too neatly with the Marxist worldview of oppressors and oppressed for the left to ever want to let it go. To the rest of us, Marxism was irreparably discredited in 1991, but there are people who devote tremendous time and energy into finding ways to rebrand it so as to make it palatable. Critical Race Theory is just a rebadged Marxism that switches out “white” and “black” for “capitalists” and “the proletariat”. The fact that it’s caught on makes it too valuable to the Marxist dead-enders to ever give up. And no amount of logic or argument will convince them otherwise – if 1991 wasn’t enough to make them give up on Marxism, they sure aren’t going to because of anything you might tell them.

    Like

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