Category Archives: civil rights

Hidden Figures (2016)

Picking up where The Imitation Game left off, Hidden Figures arrives to crank the Hollywood virtue signalling dial to 11. Instead of a gay, British computing genius who helps the government, we get three black female math geniuses who help the government. Or to use #WOKE parlance, “womxn of color”. By most media accounts, Hidden Figures is a factually accurate account of the lives of three of NASA’s Human Computers: Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe). Even if it boasts historical accuracy, the screen adaptation reeks of social justice grandstanding and narrative building. 

On the one hand, it’s great that this story is being told and the world can appreciate the critical contributions these women made to the American success in the Space Race. On the other, it is intensely irritating to watch a film whose political agenda bludgeons you over the head with every scene. This is a film that desperately wants you to walk out of the theater determined to dismantle “white supremacy” and “smash the patriarchy”. This is a film that seems blatantly calculated reinforce the omnipresent feminist narrative that women are socialized to be excluded from math and science. This is a film whose every line of dialogue seems customized for HuffPo headlines and #WOKE Twitter. And of course, this is yet another film which portrays women as paragons of pure poise, unshakable composure, boundless intelligence, unassailable virtue, and competence in every facet of life. 

The film kicks off the #RACISM narrative right off the bat. Our three heroines are stranded on a rural road as Dorothy Vaughan repairs their stalled automobile. A police officer pulls up to inquire about their condition, and naturally, he’s a belligerent, racist oaf who treats them with suspicion and contempt. Setting up a behavioral pattern that will define virtually every interracial interaction for the remainder of the film, the police officer is disarmed and bewildered to discover that they’re NASA employees. And like mathematicians and engineers and shit! Check your privilege, RACIST!

The rest of the film seems designed to set up variations on this scene.  In other words, three #STRONG, #INTELLIGENT Womyn of Color suffer one racist indignity after another, but eventually get to show the dumb white supremacists what they’re made of. Dorothy Vaughan is passed over for a promotion despite doing the work of a supervisor in the West Campus computing pool. Mary Jackson is denied an opportunity to advance as an engineer because she can’t take continuing education classes at the segregated school. Katherine Johnson is treated like shit even after she’s assigned to the elite corps of mathematicians working on getting a manned spacecraft in orbit. 

Hidden Figures wants you to believe that it’s “smashing stereotypes with its fearless portrait of WOC”, but it only can do that by building new stereotypes and straw men of its own. With the exception of Kevin Costner’s Al Harrison and Mahershala Ali’s Jim Johnson, all of male characters are racist dolts, faceless functionaries or power hungry bureaucrats. Even John Glenn can’t catch a break from the ever vigilant feminists at Bustle who bust him for calling Johnson a “girl”. Kirsten Dunst fares no better as the utterly unsympathetic West Campus supervisor, Vivian Mitchell.  She has the thankless role of being the token white, female racist who has to repeatedly deny advancement to the heroines due to budget cuts or obscure rules. BUT WE REALLY KNOW WHY SHE’S SHUTTING THEM DOWN, DON’T WE? 

The bulk of the film centers around Taraji P. Henson’s Katherine Johnson and her ascent through the ranks of the mathematics team responsible for the Friendship 7 mission. Upon her arrival, the film sets up the predictable racial tension as she is greeted by a roomful of silent white, male stares. It doesn’t take much to anticipate the trajectory the film takes, and there’s barely a surprise throughout its length. With the predictability of the mathematical equations Johnson calculates, you can anticipate every single dramatic cadence. As Paul Stafford, Jim Parsons is yet another two dimensional cardboard cutout who’s only job in the film is to bark instructions, enforce bureaucratic protocols, and marvel at Johnson’s genius when she shows him up. Costner is mildly sympathetic as the gruff department head who places his trust in Johnson’s ability. Naturally, he also gets to be the White Knight who makes the “smash white supremacy” meme literal by destroying the segregated restroom sign with a crowbar. 

There are numerous points which require varying degrees of suspension of disbelief, but one of the biggest is Johnson’s relationship with her three daughters. Johnson is a widow for the first half of the film, and the only caregiver is her mother. Her daughters are extraordinarily well behaved, happy and show no signs of discontent being separated from their mother most of the time. Johnson’s male counterparts have to phone home to their wives with the bad news that the Soviet launch of Sputnik will require that NASA redouble their efforts, but the one person who’s consistenty burning the overtime candle is Johnson. SEE SEXISTS? ALL THAT NONSENSE ABOUT MEN WORKING LONGER HOURS THAN WOMEN IS HATE FILLED PROPAGANDA! WOMEN CAN SHOULDER EVERY BURDEN WITHOUT A MAN AND THERE ARE NO CONSEQUENCES. 

To the film’s credit, they emphasize the central role that religious life played for the black community during that time. Social graces, manners, respect for elders and being well dressed are values which are consistently upheld in religious circles. The events of the film predate the Great Society and the destruction of the black family it wrought. Henson’s character is courted by Ali’s Jim Johnson, so the film is actually willing to portray marriage as a positive virtue. 

I doubt there’s much discussion of it in #WOKE media, but the film touches a third rail of racial politics: the correlation between race and IQ. Charles Murray continues to be raked over the coals for The Bell Curve, but the film is portraying a phenomenon that is, in fact, pretty rare. You’ll find plenty of hand wringing in progressive publications and government websites over the shortage of African-Americans graduating with STEM degrees. The film clearly wants you to point the finger at the reliable boogeyman of #SYSTEMIC #RACISM, but the hard truth is that very few African-Americans are pursuing STEM degrees. The Hollywood and academic elite undoubtedly believe that putting forward nothing but positive stereotypes will bolster self-esteem in the black community. It may make for a great circle jerk of self congratulations, but reduces filmmaking to SJW propaganda. 

Sadly, the film is also a pretty obvious bit of government propaganda. Don’t get me wrong. I remain enthralled by the possibility of spaceflight, but one simply cannot underestimate the symbolism that NASA, and by extension, this film represents. Spaceflight is largely viewed as the last remaining frontier of human achievement which can only be realized through the infinite benevolence of the State.  The government wants to preserve a monopoly on this realm of endeavor because it needs to own every area of aspirational idealism in order to keep people distracted from all of the horrible shit it’s doing. If people continue to hold the belief that the government can be used to confer an endless array of Public Goods and reach the highest pinnacles of human achievement, then no one is happier than the politicians. 

One of the biggest ironies of the film is the disconnect that presently exists between the contemporary radical wing of racial justice activism and the film’s open celebration of the MLK Civil Rights legacy. While the film lionizes the breakdown of Jim Crow laws, the collegiate safe space crowd openly EXTOLS racial segregation as next level #SocialJustice. 

I wanted to like Hidden Figures, but Hollywood seems pretty intent on prioritizing political virtue signalling over making good drama lately. Everything about the film is expertly crafted, but it sinks under the weight of the agenda it’s carrying. Fences appears to be a film portraying the life the ordinary black father, but what are the chances Hollywood is going to make a version of this movie for hidden black men? I know which side of that bet I’m on.  

What Happened to the 80’s Anti-Apartheid Dream?

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You got to say I, I, I
Ain’t gonna play Sun City
I, I, I ain’t gonna play Sun City

Steven Van Zandt and a multiracial supergroup, Artists United Against Apartheid, created the anti-apartheid rallying cry heard around the world. It played a significant role in turning public opinion against South Africa’s regime of racial segregation and towards full political enfranchisement for the black majority of South Africa. 

Artists United Against Apartheid was Van Zandt’s brainchild, and followed the pattern of other star-studded affairs by attracting industry heavyweights from across the music spectrum. It also distinguished itself by being tilted ever so slightly towards the edgier end of the pop spectrum by including jazz, rap and punk rockers.

As much as I might be inclined to view Macklemore’s loathsome preachiness as a phenomenon unique to our Age of Multiculturalism and Social Justice, he pales in comparison to the stadium level, globe spanning virtue signalling which occurred throughout the 80’s.  Pop music has always been a vehicle for political protest and social commentary, but the particular brand of “racial justice” grandstanding which is Macklemore’s stock in trade definitely had antecedents in the glossy megaconglomerations of the 1980’s.

Though USA for Africa, Band Aid and Live Aid captured the attention of the masses and drew widespread attention to the plight of starvation in Africa, Artists United Against Apartheid was unique in that it was a protest against the de Klerk regime. It was also an organized boycott of the Sun City resort and a call for economic sanctions against South Africa.  While I can appreciate that the track and the project was animated by a genuine spirit of human goodwill and brotherhood, I think it’s worth taking a look of the song’s allegedly “apolitical” message and the quality of life for post-apartheid South Africans in light of recent current events in South Africa.

On the surface, the political situation in South Africa cried out for change and justice.  The repressions and abuses of the South African National Party and the facts behind the construction of the Sun City resort created a perfect subject for a protest track. State enforced segregation, violent crackdowns, and mass relocations were among the list of human rights abuses perpetrated by the regime.  Add Reagan’s policy of “constructive engagement”, and the standard narrative of the white supremacist conspiracy of capitalist state power writes itself. 

What’s more difficult to appreciate and less frequently discussed is that there was a sharp competition of economic ideas between the nascent ANC and the various militant African nationalist factions vying for political power and the minority National Party.

By his own account, Van Zandt sought the cooperation of militant group, AZAPO; a group which not only espoused socialist political beliefs, but were willing to use violence to achieve their political ambitions.  Van Zandt apparently had to dissuade them from targeting Paul Simon for assassination.

Listen, this is not gonna help anybody if you knock off Paul Simon. Trust me on this, alright? Let’s put that aside for the moment. Give me a year or so, you know, six months.

Van Zandt goes on to recount his disagreement with Simon over Mandela’s own political views. Van Zandt displays a typical leftist bellicosity towards Simon and dismisses his allegation simply because he cited Henry Kissinger as the source of his information.  But neither Kissinger’s or Simon’s claim was without foundations in fact. Mandela may not have been a communist, but he sure sounds like one.  

Today I am attracted by the idea of a classless society, an attraction which springs in part from Marxist reading and, in part, from my admiration of the structure and organization of early African societies in this country.

His association with the South African Communist Party wasn’t exactly a secret either.  While it wasn’t necessarily a carbon copy of the Communist Manifesto, the Freedom Charter was a solidly socialist program and became the guiding document of the ANC.  In his legendary 1964 Rivonia Trial speech, Mandela himself acknowledges as much.

Under the Freedom Charter, nationalization would take place in an economy based on private enterprise.

So what does this have to do with the “Sun City” track itself?

When Rolling Stone ranked “Sun City” as 100th greatest song of the 1980’s, Bono describes the message of the track in the following manner.

This is apolitical. It doesn’t matter what side you’re on — this is common sense.

See? It’s just “common sense.” But the lyrics are pretty explicit about the nature of the injustice in South Africa.

23 million can’t vote
‘Cause they’re black
We’re stabbing our brothers
And sisters in the back

Van Zandt was equally explicit about the call for economic boycott.

I thought in order to change the system, we need to enforce this cultural boycott as a means of getting to the economic boycott, which is really where the action is.

Despite winning the battle of public opinion, witnessing the release and election of Nelson Mandela, Van Zandt affected a phony posture of humility and declined to attend his inauguration and directs blame towards the Reagan administration for their alleged support of the de Klerk regime. 

Social justice warriors, artists and politicians alike agitated for economic sanctions, congratulated themselves for their moral righteousness, and went on to systematically ignore the consequences of these policies on South Africa’s already fragile economy. An economic contraction that would affect tax revenues and purchasing power for a population which depended heavily on redistribution.

One effect of this capital outflow has been a dramatic decline in the international exchange rate of the rand.  This means that imports are increasingly expensive.  It has also helped fuel South Africa’s inflation rate, which at 12-15% per year, is much higher than its major trading partners.

All of which brings us to the present. 

Longtime ANC veteran and current president, Jacob Zuma was charged with raiding the public treasury to fund improvements to his home to the tune of 246 million rand, or about $16.7 million at current exchange rates.

Where is the international condemnation of Zuma from artists?

Van Zandt and countless others agitated for universal suffrage and equal representation in the South African government, but has this made a material difference on the quality of life in South Africa?

By any objective measure, the results are negligible and have perhaps deteriorated further since the demise of apartheid.

Unemployment has remained stuck above 20% for years and certainly hasn’t improved since Mandela and the ANC came to power.  Few black children are raised by both parentsEducational performance is consistently dismalViolent crime persists, and a minority of taxpayers are subsidizing one of the world’s biggest welfare states.  Loose monetary policy has fueled the same speculative bubble in South Africa as it has throughout the developed world.  Politically motivated violence is a common feature of post-apartheid South Africa.

Everyone involved in AUAA was apparently so focused on the attainment of political power, but placed no emphasis on the necessity of economic development.  Even Bono has acknowledged that recently

But their hearts were in the right place, so why get so incensed over a pop track?

Perhaps. I would feel a little bit more charitable towards this effort if it was a one-time phenomenon, but this type of “racial justice” activism was at the very least, an early template for virtually every social justice campaign you can name.

Nowadays, if there anythng done or said that has the slightest perceived hint of a discriminatory attitude, the calls for retribution and censure from the social justice crowd is swift and immediate. With an equal disregard for economic consequences.  All that apparently matters is that egos are satiated by upholding the virtues of Social Justice prescribed by its self-appointed gatekeepers. 

But what about the track itself?

It’s pretty good.  It’s a stylistic hybrid that is a reflection of the people who recorded it; a hip-hop/Afropop flavored rave up with a fist pumping chorus.  It is propelled by its sense of righteous indignation so effectively, you can almost ignore its guilt tripping preachiness.  It doesn’t even get sunk the pretentious affectation of Lou Reed’s laughable cameo. 

I do not doubt that Steve Van Zandt and the artists who contributed to the AUAA project had the best of intentions.  Unfortunately, we now live in a world where good intentions are often all that’s required with little or no attention given to the political consequences of good intentions. 

The standard narrative that the Reagan administration’s support for the de Klerk regime was animated by racism doesn’t stand up to scrutiny either. Not that anyone on the Left would be that charitable towards a conservative, but anti-communist sentiment was white hot during the 80’s, and even if the fears of communist global expansion were exaggerated, I don’t begrudge Reagan for fearing the rise of another socialist regime in South Africa.  Besides, if that criticism is going to be levelled at Reagan, then it should be made of his predecessors as well.

I also do not begrudge AUAA for making a bold political statement.  In fact, I would prefer to see more artists express their political convictions with such fervor.  Of all the realms of real economic cooperation, music and art is perhaps the one sphere of human activity which allows us to experience and appreciate our shared humanity and sense of purpose.  But if you are going to make a political statement like “Sun City”, don’t turn a blind eye to the consequences of your advocacy. Most of all, make sure you’re applying your criticism consistently and directing a comparable level of indignation towards the black politicians who abused their hard won political power.

Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt: Towards a Secular Theocracy

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Like many Americans, I grew up holding the view that America needed to evolve with respect to gender, race and gay relations in order to live up to its creed and “form a more perfect Union.”  I viewed the attainment of women’s suffrage, the ’64 Civil Rights Act, Brown v. Board of Education and the gay marriage equality movement as crucial steps towards achieving the Union that the Founders surely envisioned.

If the rhetoric of #Blacklivesmatter, LGBT activists, professional feminists and politicians is to be believed, racial and gender relations are worse than ever. Despite all that’s been achieved in the political arena, the concerns of these disparate civil rights activists have conjoined over the past several decades to fight what is seemingly an omnipresent, all-encompassing oppression. These intertwined agendas now form the foundations of what is best described as a secular fundamentalism known colloquially as Social Justice. 

Paul Gottfried’s brilliant and essential examination of modern social justice politics, Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt, unpacks the origins of this movement in detail. Social justice activism has transformed from an arguably principled pursuit of gender and racial egalitarianism into a toxic and repressive cult that’s deeply and inextricably linked to the democratic managerial state.  Just as Christina Hoff Sommers punctured feminism’s hot air balloon of manufactured grievances, Paul Gottfried’s book provides a sober analysis of the philosophical and legislative roots of modern identity politics. 

The classical model of state ownership of industry that defined socialism throughout the 20th century has fallen out of favor. However, this agenda has been implemented through a more sophisticated form of socialism. Building from the insights of his previous work, After Liberalism, Gottfried argues that the democratic managerial welfare state is where the contemporary socialist priesthood and their fellow social engineers have built their new temple. The welfare state is not just limited to dispensing material goods. It must administer a therapeutic form of national unity. This new secular theocracy of multiculturalism and diversity has been integrated into social services, public education, and most prominently, in higher education. It is amplified by the high priests in Hollywood films, television and mass media with a fervor that rivals the most devout religious zealots. 

He further argues that contemporary identity politics is best described as deformation of Protestant principles. Protestantism’s anti-hierarchical and anti-communitarian tendencies combined with a healthy dose of Calvinist guilt create the perfect template for a new secular theocracy. The contemporary orthodoxy posits that the past was irredeemably rife with retrogressive attitudes and oppression. Subsequently, the modern progressive who is concerned about upholding the new progressive virtue will seek to uplift groups perceived to be the brunt of systemic oppression and denigrate his own group if he’s atop the hierarchy of “privilege.”

One of the most astonishing arguments presented is Gottfried’s contention that the push to manage consciousness and behavior was the domestic policy correlate to international military intervention. The contemporary managerial state has origins in The Great Society and the shift towards affecting outcomes accompanied its implementation. In 1966, President Johnson openly declared the following:

The overriding rule which I want to affirm today is this: that our foreign policy must always be an extension of this Nation’s domestic policy. Our safest guide to what we do abroad is always take a good look at what we are doing at home.

It makes perfect sense because today’s social justice jihad, like the War on Terror, is a war without end. The only difference is that it’s a culture war which naturally splits the population into competing groups and pits them against one another. Gottfried’s analysis of the never-ending crusade to purge and suppress any symbols, ideas or speech which might inflict “harm” or be perceived as “discriminatory” is devastatingly accurate.  The administrators of the managerial state have managed to succeed in producing an outcome that masks its coercive nature and goes beyond what legislation alone could have achieved. Through the steady drip of therapeutic propaganda, the engineers of the managerial state have bred a generation of cultural revolutionaries who place a higher value on the perceived virtues of multiculturalism than American principles of classical liberalism or constitutionalism.  The government doesn’t need to impose mandates from on high. The ambassadors of multiculturalism have bred a generation which gives total and unquestioned fealty to the perceived virtues of “diversity”. This deference is accompanied by an abject worship of authority that is perhaps unsurpassed in American history. Contemporary champions of social justice are waging their own homegrown Proletarian Cultural Revolution and the State is just waiting for the opportunity to deliver the repressions they so deeply crave. 

Another key feature of the social justice/multicultural Left highlighted by Gottfried is its battle against what it perceives as “antifascism.”  While politicians make denunciations of easy targets like Jörg Haider who express Nazi sympathies, social justice warriors denounce those who express unpopular or what are perceived to be “bigoted” sentiments. This paranoia is justified in the minds of social justice Left in order to forestall what they perceive to be the omnipresent threat of a slide into a new Third Reich. Following the pattern set by Johnson in Vietnam, this feature of social justice activism also has a military analogue. Even when American politicians carry out military action against someone with Marxist-Leninist beliefs like Slobodan Milošević or Islamic dictators like Saddam Hussein, these tyrants get tarred as “Right Wing” dictators. This partisan demagoguery gives American politicians a free pass to pursue whatever military action they please. The “antifascist” Left has reached an absurd crescendo with the advent of the Trump campaign. Despite having a platform that’s an incoherent hodgepodge of positions drawn from the Right and Left, the charges of “fascism” increase in tempo and volume. The opposition he receives from neocons, party apparatchiks and military leaders alike doesn’t seem to register either. Trump’s rhetoric and identification with the GOP all by themselves are sufficient grounds upon which to tar him with the “fascist” label. Legions of progressives are denouncing him as the second coming of Mussolini and Hitler combined. 

Gottfried further argues that the other aspect of the “antifascist” multicultural Left is the crusade against perceived xenophobia.  While governments pursue an agenda of unchecked militarism abroad, refugees of war torn countries seek asylum in the West. Politicians are all too happy to accommodate in the name of “diversity.” When a segment of Americans and Europeans oppose the efforts, the multicultural Left predictably denounces opponents of immigration as “racist” and “xenophobic.” Though most people in the West are sympathetic to immigrants who are seeking to improve their station in life, pointing out the potential problems in any way is evidence of “xenophobia” and “racism.” Despite the recent unprecedented tragedy of several hundred women being assaulted in Cologne on a single evening, all criticism or skepticism of immigration must be purged from discussion.  The effects of low skills and education or sharp cultural differences between those raised in Islamic countries under Sharia Law are not taken into account.  Subsequently, a rational debate about immigration cannot take place. The predictable result is an ever escalating set of tensions with opponents of immigration predictably branded as racist. This schism has only become more pronounced with the ascendancy of the Trump candidacy. 

The role of social science in shaping the prevailing consensus around multiculturalism cannot be gainsaid.  Building from the foundations laid by the likes of John Dewey and Herbert Croly, the modern social scientists “proclaim a postreligious science and equate the promotion of the social good with acts of will.”  These doctrines of groupthink and collectivism which assign higher virtue to social construction of personal identity have been championed by feminists and social engineers who seek nothing less than to recode human nature. One need only look at the state of affairs on college campuses throughout America and Europe to see the poison fruits of this ill conceived social experiment. 

The only piece of the multicultural, social justice Left which Gottfried omits is climate change activism.  Intersectional social justice, feminism and climate change activism comprise a trifecta of modern progressive virtue.  Together, these three articles of faith form a seamless fabric of modern day statist piety. 

As the chants of the social justice, multicultural Left grow louder, the retribution meted out by self-appointed social justice cops becomes more damaging.  Government officials have ratcheted up their own efforts in response to this ever escalating demand to silence “hate speech”.  The charges are increasingly petty and the sanctions are increasingly punitive. The need for measured, philosophical opposition grows in proportion.  With this book, Paul Gottfried has identified an ideological toxin whose effects are everywhere, but whose origins are unacknowledged or unseen. 

Multicultural social justice politics have achieved dominance throughout the cultural landscape. Academia, mass media entertainment have long been occupied by the multicultural intelligentsia and they’re currently making inroads into public schools and the military. The virtues of Diversity, Inclusion and Feminism are openly and routinely extolled by politicians, entertainers and academics. Cornel West and Ta-Nahisi Coates have made cottage industries of proclaiming the dire state of race relations in America. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau preaches the gospel of feminism to the UN. Hillary Clinton proclaims her feminist credentials to a giddy Lena Dunham. The 2016 Oscars were a cringe inducing paean to Hollywood’s “diversity crisis.” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Ted Talk is mandatory reading in Sweden. On and on.

It’s imminently clear which people are invested in promoting the Gospel of the Church of Multiculturalism. Fortunately, many now recognize it for what it is: a decades-long advanced propaganda campaign designed to debilitate the individual, destabilize family and hereditary culture, and assign virtue to victimhood. Above all, it’s an elitist, intellectual grift for rent seeking blowhards who want nothing more than to inculcate total deference to state authority, expand their own cults of personality and enlarge their academic fiefdoms. This book is an essential read for those who still prioritize liberty and self-determination over the megalomania of academics, social justice warriors, politicians and so-called social scientists.

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Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality?

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If you take up the cause of criticizing the validity of the State, you soon discover that there are certain criticisms that are strictly verboten.  Public education, roads, PBS, NPR, the National Parks, the EPA, NASA, the NIH and libraries are all pretty much sacrosanct. Any criticism of these institutions or initiatives will generally draw opprobrium and accusations of being a retrograde neanderthal. 

Of all the sacred cows, the biggest of all is perhaps civil rights. Bring up civil rights, Brown v. Board of Education, the ’64 Civil Rights Act, Martin Luther King Jr. and you’re likely to hear swooning praise from all political persuasions. You are almost guaranteed that these pieces of legislation and court decisions will be hailed as brave, principled, and an unequivocal American success. The overwhelming consensus is that these legislative successes helped set America on a path towards rectifying a sordid past filled with race based oppression and state enforced segregation.

But do these legislative achievements translate into real world achievement for the communities for whom civil rights legislation is intended? 

Do statistical disparities in outcomes or representation automatically indicate the presence of prejudicial attitudes?

Even if prejudicial attitudes are present, does it automatically follow that the target of discrimination is damaged for life and his economic prospects are forever compromised?

Is there a positive correlation between legislation and economic achievement?

Is the legacy of civil rights legislation rhetoric or reality?

In Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality, Dr. Thomas Sowell asks these questions and comes up with some startling answers. Not content to accept the received wisdom, he unpacks the underlying motivations and assumptions behind the civil rights movement. It is generally regarded as axiomatic that disparities in outcome or representation are the result of discriminatory views. It is further held that the very existence of these views will diminish economic prospects for the target of the discrimination.  Sowell treats this as a hypothesis to be tested instead of an unchallenged article of faith.  These assumptions are tested on the outcomes for both blacks and women. The results of his findings do not fit the social justice narrative and often run completely contrary to it. 

Dr. Sowell draws an essential distinction at the outset.  Civil rights initially meant equality of opportunity. Not equality of results. Since Brown v. Board of Education and the ’64 Civil Rights Act, the meaning of “civil rights” has swung unequivocally towards a focus on outcomes. This shift in focus has been accompanied by an ever expanding activism from the State and its various proxies in academia. 

This book provides a very clear window of insight into the contemporary social justice movement and its pathological fixation on equal representation. Dr. Sowell argues that a key factor in this ideological sea change can be traced to two key edicts: LBJ’s Executive Order 11246 and Green v. County School Board of New Kent County. These two orders shifted the civil rights focus away from equality of liberty and towards equality of outcome. I personally contend that the entire contemporary social justice movement has origins in these orders.

The role of family life, parenting, technological innovation and cultural trends are rarely, if ever, acknowledged by civil rights activists.  With respect to economic advancement for blacks or any other seemingly disenfranchised minority, these aspects of life are routinely shut out of political discourse. Social justice advocates are all too willing to consider the passage of a law, the election of a politician or the installation of a bureaucrat as the sole determining factor in maximizing economic achievement. Sowell deploys a trove of statistics to show how high economic achievement is closely correlated with a stable home life. Unfavorable and tragic outcomes are equally correlated with instability and single parent homes.  The latter being especially true for blacks

Sowell also examines a number of policies which align with the civil rights vision, but produce negligible results. Licensure requirements, regulation, subsidies, food stamps and minimum wage make good campaign rhetoric, but they only aggrandize politicians and undermine black achievement. 

This book was published in 1984, and even back then, feminists were flogging the myth of the wage gap.  The numbers were a little different, but the myth of rampant sexism remains unchanged.  Sowell devotes a chapter to this fairy tale and destroys it handily and effortlessly.  Though feminists like equate themselves with minorities, it is a false equivalence. The effect that motherhood and marriage plays in economic outcomes simply cannot be overstated.  Despite working fewer hours and choosing careers with few physical demands, lower skill levels and greater flexibility, feminists insist on rehashing the fiction of an oppressive, sexist patriarchy that’s holding them back. The passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 as well as a labor force participation rate that’s been steadily rising since 1948 are also conveniently omitted from the standard narrative. The stubborn persistence of the wage gap myth is a sad testimony to the power of demagoguery and repetition.

Civil rights activists have successfully agitated for universal suffrage, but Sowell argues that the pursuit of equal economic outcomes by way of the ballot box or bureaucratic fiat is wrongheaded and doomed to fail. If there’s a threat of government punishment hanging over the heads of an employer in order to fulfill some arbitrary diversity quota, the hiring incentives become completely perverted. Employers will either screen out unskilled labor more aggressively or hire an employee who meets the diversity criteria, but is otherwise poorly qualified. Either way, it’s a recipe for handicapping those that the laws are intended to help. 

Frederic Bastiat correctly concluded that slavery was one of the moral blights that plagued the American experiment. America has been trying to atone for the oppression of African-Americans since the passage of the 13th Amendment.  Despite being one of the first major countries in the history of human civilization to end slavery, all of this self-flagellation has culminated in a contemporary social justice movement that’s more toxic and divisive than ever.

Like the original women’s suffrage movement and the efforts of early Second Wave feminism, the intentions of the Civil Rights activists were noble and laudable.  Sadly, the contemporary social justice movement has mutated into an embittered and vengeful mob which prioritizes groupthink. Social justice advocates automatically assume the presence of prejudicial attitudes as the cause of poor achievement. Subsequently, they are pathologically fixated on granting preferential treatment on the basis of race and gender to the exclusion of personal achievement, skill, character and merit.  

Just as Christina Hoff Sommers challenged a rising tide of irrationality within feminism, Thomas Sowell saw a comparable level of victimology brewing within civil rights activism. Like Sommers, he set out to lance the boil of opportunism and demagoguery growing on the face of American politics and academics. This festering pustule of ideological rigidity has only grown since this book’s publication in 1984. The cold facts he lays out stand tall like an immovable pillar of stone amidst the fickle winds of political hackery and academic quackery.  Social justice warriors, academic ideologues, and political charlatans deserve rebuke for fomenting division, disseminating misinformation, and insisting on treating people differently because of biological traits which cannot be changed.  This book is the sober rebuttal to their pathetic bleatings.

Selma (2014)

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Here are the million dollar questions.

If you criticize this film as a work of art, what are the odds you’ll be branded a RACIST?

If you question the premise that the acquisition of voting rights has resulted in greater self-determination for the black community, what are the odds you’ll be branded RACIST?

Survey says….100% CERTAINTY!

Though it may invite this kind of condemnation and censure from the online masses, I’m going to do both of these things.

By and large, it’s a decent film. It’s certainly not without flaws and just like King and his legacy, the themes and ideas at its core deserve closer scrutiny.

What’s good about it is its unflinching portrayal of the acts of violence and intrusiveness carried out by agents of the State as well as the manipulative and racist attitudes of who wield state power. I’m honestly surprised it doesn’t make libertarians out of everyone who watches it.

I also think that it buckles from the weight of the subject matter. It suffers from a certain turgidity. It’s a film so certain of the moral righteousness of King’s insistence on acquiring of political power that it feels like a psychological truncheon.  It has a faint air of propaganda.

The film is focused on King’s three month campaign to secure voting rights for blacks culminating in the signing of 1965 Civil Rights Act. It is unambiguously black and white in its portrayal of the events and individuals involved. Up until the hamfisted Hymn to the Glory of Government ending, the various government agents and politicians are portrayed in a relentlessly negative light.

Aside from the controversy over the portrayal of the negotiations between Johnson and King, these aspects of the film seem accurate.

The film sets the tone in the first two scenes.  Oprah Winfrey plays Annie Lee Cooper dutifully reciting American civics questions to a cruel bureaucrat. He is solidly intent on making life as difficult as possible for her while she attempts to register to vote.  The following scene portrays a group of girls enjoying one another’s company at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama until their lives are tragically and abruptly cut short by a violent explosion.

From there, events are demarcated by log entries made by FBI spies who are monitoring events and phone calls.  The film is letting us know that the roots of the surveillance state are deep.

The scenes of King’s private negotiations with Johnson portray him as a callous and calculating politician. He’s more concerned with his agenda than the war zone that’s happening right under his nose.

Martin Luther King Jr.: We need your involvement here, Mr. President. We deserve your help as citizens of this country. Citizens under attack.

President Lyndon B. Johnson: Now, you listen to me. You listen to me. You’re an activist. I’m a politician. You got one big issue. I got a hundred and one.

One could argue that little has changed.

Hoover exhibits the kind of black hearted malevolence which seems befitting of his legacy.

J. Edgar Hoover: Mister President, you know we can shut men with power down, permanently and unequivocally.

The scenes of police brutality are harrowing and realistic.

On the flipside, the film seems doggedly determined to present King as a paragon of unambiguous virtue, restraint and composure. No matter how much brutality the movement faces, King makes a consistent appeal for non-violent resistance. When tensions are frayed, King exhibits a paternalistic gravitas which immediately calms all overheated emotions.

The film makes an attempt to present the flaws in King by hinting at allegations of infidelity, but they are largely are glossed over.

Despite the soaring speeches and appeals to democracy, it feels leaden.

The grand contradiction that’s seemingly overlooked is that his appeal to non-violence was completely at odds with his desire to acquire political power. Blacks acquired the political power he sought. But has this elevated the ranks of the black population in the way he hoped?

On the one hand, the terrorism and violence is less overt and severe than it was in that period.

On the other, one wonders whether the right to vote has enhanced black self-determination or thwarted it.

As events in Ferguson and Baltimore attest, having access to the vote did not forestall these crackdowns.  In fact, the vote has arguably created and exacerbated the conditions which allowed for these incidents.  Black politicians lent their support to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 which contributed directly to the militarization of the police, expansion of the prison complex and the swelling of the ranks of the police force.  Public subsidies for housing and government initiatives have only entrenched racial segregation and economic stagnation.

The vote hasn’t prevented many other manifestations of state repression of the black community either.

Government police brutality against blacks remains prevalentIncarceration rates remain very high.  Compulsory public schooling has simply created a bridge to the state prison industrial complex.  For black youth, labor force participation is down and unemployment rates are up.

Despite the grand intentions of the Great Society to elevate the ranks of the impoverished, one wonders whether government welfare has created upward economic mobility for blacks or kept them mired in poverty.

King openly equates voting with self-determination, but says nothing about economic self-determination. Have blacks achieved greater economic self-determination as a consequence of the ’65 Act or in spite of it?

Unfortunately, the grand failure of this film is that it seems only to buttress the current narrative around racism. In other words, that there’s no distinction to be made between state violence, arbitrary acts of unprovoked violence by private citizens or racist attitudes and speech. By today’s logic, the latter is the sole cause for historical and current acts of violence regardless of whether they are carried out by private individuals or police officers.  As perverse as it seems, we are now living in a time where speech itself is conflated with violence.  The whole phenomenon of microaggressions and the policing of speech is built off the ridiculous premise that being a self-appointed arbiter of “anti-oppression” affirms your progressive bona fides. This contributes to the delusion that being an obnoxious authoritarian will prevent the next Dylann Roof or improve the quality of life for blacks or [Insert oppressed group of choice].

Let’s just take the case that every act of white on black violence carried out by police officers is a product of racist attitudes.

Why isn’t anyone questioning why the police departments around the country seem so overloaded with racists?

Why is it that the social justice cops of the progressive left are dispensing idiotic lectures about “white privilege”, but are supporting the candidates who advocate for the very police state that continues to terrorize the black community in ways that are every bit as brutal as those carried out during the era in which the film is set?

Doesn’t this affirm Hayek’s argument that the  “the unscrupulous and uninhibited are likely to be more successful” in the ranks of government?

The other big disappointment of the film is that it perpetuates the myth that our humanity and basic ability to treat one another with decency and respect as well as our freedom to live self-determined lives is somehow fundamentally tied to the machinery of government.

What a sad and self-defeating message it is to assert that we are so inept as a civilization that we must prostrate ourselves before a collection of elites with guns in order to achieve moral outcomes.

The film ends with King delivering a soaring speech and cuts to the various individuals who went on to serve in seats of government power.

Due to intellectual property laws, the filmmakers were unable to use King’s actual words.  Perhaps this artistic license lent itself better to perpetuating the myth that politicians and civic leaders who seek social change through the power of the State have the power to create real racial harmony and economic prosperity.