Sunday, April 19, 2009

Confined to the Possible (by Phila)

A conservative commentator named Jay Schalin defends himself against charges that the "common cultural identity" he wants education to impose on American students amounts to indoctrination.

His starting point is that some people are naturally going to fail at life, because they've been given the freedom to do so by a wise and loving God.
[The] vision of equality is frequently in conflict with the real world—people are not equally gifted or inclined. Some are ambitious, others lazy; some are bright or creative, others dull, for reasons beyond our control.
Except, of course, that the reasons are not necessarily beyond our control. We don't have to stigmatize certain people, and poison others with lead and mercury, and punish others for the alleged sins of their parents. And we can also recognize that claiming equality between people who are manifestly unequal is one of the uglier forms of oppression. But all of this would require us to accept that there "should not be justice in the ordinary sense, but 'social justice,'" and Schalin has already identified this as a unreasonable course of action. Since inequality is natural, any attempt to tamper with it is unnatural by definition.

Besides, society has already achieved justice, through the process of natural selection:
Conservatism...does not begin with any such constructed ideal. Perhaps its most important guiding principle is that tradition represents the surviving wisdom of the past—people over time tend to adopt the ideas that enrich them and empower them, and cast off the ones that fail or weaken them. It views modern free society as the result of the grand trial-and-error experiment that is Western civilization, occurring over many centuries—the result of efficiency and justice winning out over the inefficient and divisive.
And that's why black students tend to score lower on tests than white ones, and women tend to earn less than men: "people" adopted ideas that enriched them. And having done so, they defined once and for all the boundaries of what is possible in American society:
It is therefore a philosophy thoroughly grounded in real events and human nature—it is confined to the possible. There is no need to convert or coerce people to believe in a vision that is against their nature—it is about letting people do as they will, knowing that they will generally choose wisely, having the wisdom of past generations to draw upon.
How do you choose "wisely"? Well, avoiding becoming a homosexual is a good first step, since doing as you will in that case will lead to having fewer rights, being persecuted, and so forth. Being a woman, by contrast, is an accident of birth for which you can't necessarily be blamed. But you can make the most of it by drawing on "the wisdom of past generations," and making the choices that time has proven work best for women. In other words, you're free to choose, as long as you make the right choice, and stick to it come what may.

We arrived at our present "natural" levels of inequality through "the grand trial-and-error experiment that is Western civilization." But now that we're here, trial and error must end, lest some "constructed ideal" redefine what counts as human nature and get everyone all confused. In the worst-case scenario, different people might end up being enriched and empowered, which would turn the natural order on its head. The purpose of the past was to get us to this point, and keep us here: "It organic process happening over time—an evolving mindset that adheres to the basic principles despite the changes."

At this point, forming "a common cultural identity" seems primarily to be a matter of stifling complaint. Schalin claims that there are no racial barriers to "American identity," except to the extent that one insists on one's grievances. Racial complaint is answered by the observation that "Jim Crow laws are long over." Does this mean that Jim Crow laws are part of "the wisdom of past generations"? Or does it mean that we're not, in fact, confined to the possible, as defined by the dominant "cultural identity"? Who knows? Who cares? The important thing is that Clarence Thomas is a conservative even though he's black, and Irving Berlin wrote "White Christmas" even though he was a goddamn Jew. Though these men are minorities, they were able to transcend that limitation, and provide a useful service to the people whom nature put in charge. That, in a nutshell, is what forming "a common cultural identity" is all about. It's not indoctrination; it's our birthright.

So we have free will, which we can use to make the right choices, based on what's known to be possible, according to the winners who wrote the history books. And that's why America is unique in giving its citizens "a focus on the future and not the grievances of the past; a feeling of limitless potential...a sense of wonder, innovation and discovery; and the feeling that one is in control of his or her own destiny."

The sky's the long as you don't step outside the bounds of what's "possible."