Well, maybe somewhere there’s somebody who wants white men to hate themselves, but it isn’t me, and it isn’t anybody I know, even though most people I know are liberal to a fault.
I bring this up because of an article I stumbled into, written by a guy who says he’d be a natural-born social justice warrior except that he’s a white man, and those other SJWs out there hate him and say mean things about white mandom. He says,
The problem is that I no longer wish to be a subject of the social justice ideology.Â I like Plato, I like Shakespeare, and I am interested in John Milton.Â I think reason and logic are still valid.Â I donâ€™t think my ancestors were purely evil patriarchs, and if they were, I still love the ideas and culture they left me. In the humanities and academy at large, I find that the very things I love and cherish as part of my tradition and culture are under attack.
Accepting that I amÂ subjectÂ and can never be a trueÂ ally, I find that I am moved to align more closely with the movement that would not have me tear my culture to the ground and burn it in the name of justice.Â So I ask you, please make room for me in the conservative tent; If not your tent, then your voting bloc.Â I am one of many nameless who has fallen to the â€œlaw of merited impossibility.â€
Not being aware of any movement to suppress Shakespeare, never mind reason and logic, I kept reading for an example of what this guy is talking about. The one example provided Â was a complaint by a couple of UC-Berkeley students that their humanities courses amount entirely to studying the thinking of dead white guys and leave out the perspectives of women and nonwhites. And, of course, the problem here is that for many centuries of western civilization only white guys were paid attention to, so theirs are the only “thoughts” left us in the western civ curricula. It’s a variation of the Saving Private RyanÂ problem — people complained about the film because all the soldiers in the Normandy Beach scene were white. But they were — at the real event, I mean. The U.S. military was racially segregated at the time, and I see no purpose being served in pretending that it wasn’t. It’s good to be reminded of these things, actually.
On the other hand, there’s a real problem in some academic studies in which perspectives other than those of dead white European guys are still being frozen out. For centuries, women were locked out of contributing to both eastern and western civ, butÂ that doesn’t mean current, well-documented gender bias in academia can be ignored. And the philosophy departments of American universities continue to shortchange Asian philosophies. I have read that even major universities with highly regarded philosophy departments have no faculty who specialize in Chinese philosophy, for example. American students who want to focus their graduate studies on Chinese philosophy often are told to go to Hong King or Singapore. When one Asian-American student wrote a widely circulated article complaining about this, a prominent U of Chicago professor wrote, “And should we really add East Asian philosophers to the curriculum to satisfy theÂ consumer demands of Asian students rather than because these philosophersÂ are interesting and importantÂ in their own right?”
And, of course, it’s panels of white guys whose education is limited to the standard Dead White Guy curricula determining what is “interesting and important.” The student who complained about the lack of Asian philosophy had written, “Philosophy, it is often claimed, deals with universal truths and timeless questions. It follows, allegedly, that these matters by their very nature do not include the unique and idiosyncratic perspectives of women, minorities, or ‘people of culture.’â€ It’s the default norm syndrome, in other words. The experiences and perspectives that vary from the universal default norm (white maleness) are aberrations and not worthy of consideration.
But let’s go back to the guy who imagines Plato is being pulled off library shelves to make room for Simone de Beauvoir. It’s been obvious to me for a long time that the way Americans are educated, from Kindergarten on, has a European bias that makes no real sense any more. It’s possibly not as blatant as when I was in school, where “world history” was a trajectory going from Egypt to Greece to western Europe to North America, and anything else was just ignored. It is argued that this is where “our” culture comes from, so American students should know about it. And that’s fine, but I thought the purpose of education is to teach us what we need to know to understand and appreciate the world, and leaving out perspectives other than European is not accomplishing that.
Awhile back, when the Eurocentric nature of American higher education was first challenged, guys like Harold Bloom mounted a spirited defense of The Way We Have Always Taught Stuff by defending the western canon. But I looked and looked and couldn’t find anyone arguing that we shouldn’t study any of that western canon stuff any more. The argument was that there’s other stuff of huge value that western academia ignores because it doesn’t come from the Eurocentric tradition, and we should be looking at that, too. But the old keepers of the White Male Western Civ Flame react to these suggestions as existential threats. If we takeÂ Zhuangzi seriously, somehow Plato is diminished. If white men Â aren’t allowed to dominate higher education, somehow reason and logic will be lost, a perspective that is neither logical nor reasonable.
And the allegedly Wise Men who keep the flame are too blinkered to see this. It’s like the whiny white guy extolling the virtues of “his” culture, as if somehow Europe was a continent inhabited only by men. As if a whole lot of what is unique and wonderful about American culture Â didn’t emerge from African American culture. Obviously this guy is has emotionally invested a whole lot of his self-worth into his race and gender, so challenges to his racial-gender dominance sound to him as if he’s being asked to hate himself.
Of the whiny person who complains that he won’t be a liberal if that requires hating himself, I put him in the same boat as white racists who snarl that liberals want them to feel guilty. Guilt is of no importance to me. Guilt does not so much as butter toast. All I want is for guys like himÂ to see that the default norm syndrome exists, and is holding all of us back, including white guys. It’s possible he would find Zhuangzi’s perspectives enriching, if he ever learned what they are. It’s possible that if he stops clinging to race and gender as if that’s what makes him special, he might actually like himself more.
Related: Jonathan Chait recently stepped in a pile of doo-doo by complaining about “political correctness.” He said PC is an attempt to stifle free speech. Actually, I’ve come to see whining about PC as an attempt to stifle free speech.Â Lindsay Beyerstein responds.