The social construct theory of race is alive and well at Brown University. The college recently hosted a Princeton professor who’s head-scratcher of a question was ‘What is whiteness?’ Not surprisingly, it is something that evolves over time. According to the speaker, Nell Painter, ‘whiteness’ accounts for everything expansion of voting rights in the Jacksonian era and the assimilation of Irish immigrants to the development of suburbs in post-war America—it explains so much without enhancing our understanding of any of it. Click here for more commentary and here for the original story in the Brown Daily Herald.
When we think of the decline in higher education, people like Stanley Fish come to mind. He is a paragon of the kind of anti-foundationalist, or postmodern thinking, that is rampant at Brown University. So we were pleased to see that at least students are smart enough to recognize his theories for what they are. Below is his column from the Brown Daily Herald:
The Creeping Nihilism of Stanley Fish
Brian Judge, Opinions Columnist
Published: Tuesday, March 2, 2010
A few days ago, Providence native and New York Times opinionator Stanley Fish penned the most mind-bogglingly stupid opinion column I have ever read (“Are There Secular Reasons?”, Feb. 22). In fact, this column was so stupid that Professor Fish managed to edge out Miss Teen South Carolina for “stupidest thing I have ever heard,” even though he uses complete sentences and references 17th century philosophers.
Professor Fish attempts to argue that the answer to his titular question is no: secular reasoning can’t answer any normative questions — questions that ask what qualities the world should have, rather than what qualities the world actually does have. Fish regurgitates the argument found in “The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse”, a book whose thesis is that “there are no secular reasons, at least not reasons of the kind that could justify a decision to take one course of action rather than another.” What exactly Professor Fish means by “secular reasons” is never spelled out explicitly, but I take it to mean something along the lines of the impossibility of secular political discourse to divorce itself from the normative religious beliefs of its participants.
The only reason that this is worth mentioning is that this answer is both the harbinger of the end of reasonable political discourse and seems to be in vogue among some people here. In effect, Professor Fish is arguing that there isn’t a single, universal, comprehensive way of valuing courses of action. Since we all have our own religious beliefs, it is foolish to try to legislate on the basis of “secular reasons” which necessarily lack substance: “how can one squeeze moral values or judgments about justice […] out of brute empirical facts?” In other words, it’s not possible to answer normative questions on the basis of reason and universally accepted facts. This is the unholy broth out of with Professor Fish and postmodernism emerged.
What happens when you deny the possibility of speaking in a common language towards common goals? People splinter off into groups that are based on an intuitive appeal that is immune from criticism precisely because they plug their ears and deny the possibility of being criticized.
Nihilism is the emptying of purpose, truth, essential value and meaning from human life. You can spot a nihilist by his insistence that “it’s all relative” or “all beliefs are created equally.” Stanley Fish is a nihilist. People who deny the existence of a universal means to evaluate universal ends are nihilists. It is in fact not “all relative” because of the common biology that we all share. In other words, you don’t need to enter the domain of “prior metaphysical commitments” in order to discover answers. Our prior biological commitments take us far enough. We all need to eat. There are limited resources. Thus, we are going to prefer courses of action that put food on our tables. This is a normative framework. It begins to answer the question “how we should live” in a universally accessible way.
Living in a globalized world where everyone is connected requires that we be able to address normative questions like “how should we live?” in a universally accessible manner. Such is the domain of “secular reason.” It’s not ‘secular’ because it denies the importance or relevance of people’s metaphysical beliefs. Rather, it is secular because it doesn’t demand that one come to the table with anything other than a willingness to accept empirical facts. Universal values exist (e.g. that the earth should continue to be habitable) so there needs to be a way to talk about them universally. The very fact that I can disagree with Professor Fish and think that he is wrong suggests a common basis on which to disagree.
I find it baffling that the stereotypical Brown student somehow emerges from a reconciliation of an affinity towards postmodernism and an affinity towards social justice. If you are one of the self-proclaimed post-modernists at Brown, take a good look at the LaRouchians who hand out pamphlets on Thayer Street and really consider whether or not they are a legitimate political faction. If you blow past them in an indignant huff, then you aren’t a postmodernist. If you think that political activism, social justice or environmental sustainability are important, then you aren’t a postmodernist. If someone tries to hand you a copy of Lyotard’s “The Postmodern Condition” on Thayer Street, tell him or her to do something useful.
Brown University recently hosted free-speech icon Salman Rushdie. Given Brown’s less-than-stellar record in this area, we were especially pleased to hear Rushdie issue an unapologetic defense of free speech. Here is more from the Foundation for Intellectual Diversity:
Brown should be applauded for bringing free speech advocate Salman Rushdie to speak on campus as part of its Year of India events. We spend a lot of time on this blog criticizing Brown for its poor record on intellectual diversity and academic freedom, which is all the more reason to give the University credit when its due. As readers may recall, Rushdie sparked controversy in the Muslim world in 1989 because of how his book, The Satanic Verses, depicted Islam. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the spiritual leader of Iran at the time, issued a fatwah against Rushdie, and his book was banned in many Muslim countries. At his lecture, on Feb. 16, Rushdie delivered an inspiring defense of the freedom of speech. He endorsed what he called the ‘extreme view of free speech’ –namely that it all should be let out—as the ‘sensible one.’ Rushdie added, “The defense of free speech begins with someone who says something you don’t like.” It is a message that needs repeating at Brown. We only wish Rushdie had been around during the reparations ad controversy in 2001, when student radicals stole an entire press run of the Brown Daily Herald–an act of vandalism and an affront to free speech that was condoned by many professors and exused by the administration.
Dear NAS colleagues:
The National Association has kindly announced my reinterpretation of race and immigration at http://nas.org/polDoc.cfm?Doc_Id=960 (“Illinois affiliate president publishes new book”). The direct link to the full announcement is http://www.nas.org/documents/BeanBook.pdf
If you are tired of the Left-versus-Right rehash of our race and immigration history, Race and Liberty in America: The Essential Reader is designed for general readers and classroom adoption.
By “race,” I mean all races–black, white ethnics, Chinese, Japanese, and American Indians. This book offers a classical liberal reinterpretation of the subject. Race and Liberty is available for only $22 at Amazon. You can also buy at http://www.independent.org/store/book_detail.asp?bookID=80
The reader rediscovers an anti-racist tradition that is neither Left nor Right. The collection goes beyond black-white relations to include immigration, Chinese exclusion, Japanese internment, advocates of Jewish
immigration during the Nazi era, and much more. For advance blurbs, check out the NAS announcement here (with “advance praise” from Stephen Thernstrom, Juan Williams, Shelby Steele, and many others).
Related to the book, I have written an op-ed on William Wilberforce, U.S. News & World Report op-ed on the NAACP centennial and an op-ed on Frederick Douglass’s Fourth of July oration Douglass is the pivotal figure in the anti-racist, classical liberal tradition of civil rights and immigration. While Douglass is well-known, you might be surprised at some of the other forgotten figures included in The Essential Reader.
FYI for teachers: We’ve targeted (and priced) the book for classroom use as well as general readership.Course adoption would be great! (I plan on creating a web site based on the book and if you alert me I will put you on an email list). Please let me know what classes you teach — the book goes beyond “black and white” and includes white ethnics (Catholics and Jews were once considered “inferior races”), Chinese, Japanese, and immigration.
President, Illinois Association of Scholars, an affiliate of the National Association of Scholars
Professor of History
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901
It’s a good time to watch Ch 6 – I will be on discussing http://www.RIstimuluswatch.org and the RI Tea Party will be updating on the Parade issue.
Would you like to help us by providing feedback on stimulus projects in your back yard? Visit http://www.ristimulus.org and find the projects proposed by your town and school
Brown Graduate and NAS member, George Seaver, wrote an excellent piece on “diversity” and the shift from a “melting pot” culture America was created to be to the “salad bowl” culture destroying us from within.
The Paradox of Constitutional and Post-1965 Civil Rights
June 15, 2009 By George Seaver
From time to time the NAS invites our members and other guests to write articles for NAS.org. The opinions expressed therein do not necessarily reflect the official position of the National Association of Scholars.
The National Association of Scholars has been concerned with the conflict between equality and diversity in higher education for much of its existence; included in the first 400 articles at the NAS website, 11 articles were specifically on diversity and 8 specifically on racial preferences. Social justice, also a frequent topic at NAS, is directly dependent on how you define equality, and is embedded throughout higher education. On May 21, 2009, addressing these concerns among others, Peter Wood wrote an essay entitled “Where do we start? Reforming American Education.” In it he stated that “[the NAS] opposes…racial preferences,” but it also “favors…scholarly inquiry founded on reason and civil debate.” He expanded on this:It doesn’t hurt to have a debate over whether America should stick with its Jeffersonian ideal of ‘All men are created equal’, or switch to the new concept of ‘diversity’, in which the conception that ‘All groups are inherently different’, takes precedence…We might benefit as well from a good debate over the essential characteristics of our civilization. Has it on the whole provided a successful path for human flourishing or is it mainly a legacy of various kinds of oppression?0This essay is intended to contribute to that debate, a debate between classical liberalism and postmodernism.The above conflict over equality set out by Dr. Wood is part of the greater paradox between the policies and legislation that came out of the post-1965 civil rights movement and the equality and liberty concepts developed during the 1760 to 1776 period that became the U.S. Constitution. This paradox is frequently revealed in the conflicting opinions of cultural critics and observers when they comment on civil rights next to Constitutional concepts. A few examples will serve to ring this out.
Continue reading HERE.