"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Baring reality

Whenever there is a discussion of affirmative action on the internet, you get some simply amazing comments.  Jamelle Bouie writes:

It matters too that affirmative action isn’t malicious discrimination against men or white Americans; it isn’t an effort to stigmatize those groups or prevent their movement through American society. It is simply an attempt to make American life substantively fair instead of superficially neutral. (And in actual practice, it is rare that a white candidate is actively rejected in favor of a nonwhite one. Instead, candidates and applicants are accepted and rejected independent of each other.)

Which prompts this, the "top comment":

" (And in actual practice, it is rare that a white candidate is activelyrejected [sic] in favor of a nonwhite one."

This has to be one of the more clueless statements in the history of Slate.  Nearly everything is finite.  There are limits to the numbers of admission slots at Harvard, jobs at Google, etc.  Every time one is given to someone for a non-merit reason, that same one has not been given to a more meritorious candidate.  This is unavoidable.

The nature of the non-merit reason is irrelevant.  If Harvard accepts a legacy kid whose parents give generously to the school even though the kid's SAT scores are not up to Harvard's normal standards they have necessarily and unavoidably deprived a higher-scoring kid of that spot.

Maybe that is their right.  Maybe you support that.  Fine, but don't tell me it isn't happening.  You can make a strong case for affirmative action without lying about the effects.  
Except the very concept of "merit" is specious.  Students from wealthy families with every advantage, including private education at the nation's finest schools, are not more "meritorious" than the student born in a Texas colonias who has access only to the poorly funded and largely disregarded public schools of Texas.  The former student didn't "earn" any merit that the latter student failed to provide evidence of.  It's simply ludicrous not to recognize the inequalities in a system that establishes "merit" on this basis; or to say that "merit" is somehow an objective standard which cannot be gainsaid (and don't get me started on the "merit" measured by SAT scores.  Might as well take account of IQ and astrological signs, while we're at it).  And, of course, the presumption in the argument is that "meritorious" candidates are white, and "non-meritorious" candidates are not, and gain access to the levers of social power (which is what Harvard, especially is about) improperly.  Because the system of legacy at a school like Harvard is a system for perpetuating inequality; and the idea that inequality is not overcome by imposing a different system of inequality is simply moonshine.  You might as well say we don't dispense justice by incarcerating truly innocent people, but due to poverty and lack of access to qualified representation and overcrowded dockets and loose handling of evidence and corrupt police officers and judges, it happens all the time.  We still call it a system of justice, and we still try to correct injustice by leveling the playing field in any way we can; but we still decry the application of justice to rich white people (what's Mueller looking for?  Must be a "fishing expedition!") that we regularly and more severely apply to poor people, especially on the basis of race.

But this is a "top comment" too, and really, it should be stricken from the boards instead:

Jamelle is being disingenuous when he says affirmative action is not "malicious discrimination against men or whites".  Of course it is. When you move from a meritocracy to a quota driven job allocation system, minorities and women will take jobs from whites and men (with the real SJW target being white men specifically, though Jamelle does not admit that either).  Punishing the majority is what its all about.  But as with most liberal social engineering efforts, affirmative action has led to outcomes which liberals don't like to discuss. For example, the big losers from the quota system at the Ivies is Asians, not whites.  Affirmative Action is built on the unstated liberal assumption that minorities can't compete with whites.  Asians ruin the party as they are a minority that outperforms whites academically.  But because Asians do not qualify for victim status, they are usually grouped in with whites (see April Glaser's recent article on the lack of diversity at Facebook, where she never uses the word Asian and lumps Koreans and Indians into the same pool as Germans and Irish).  The ongoing disaster of Affirmative Action needs to be put to bed now.  We need to guarantee equality of opportunity, and dispense with the leftist fantasy of equality of outcome.
"Whites" are, of course, the default standard everyone must live up to.  The words of Dr. King and LBJ on telling the bootless man to pull himself up by his bootstraps and unshackling a man after years of chains and putting him on the line to start the race, are cited by others.  But these realities are lost in the sea of white privilege, of the idea of "merit" being an objective standard no different than a yardstick or a meter (at least the latter has the distinction of being a unit of measure derived as a division of a given distance between two points on the globe, originally.  I'm not really sure how the measure of the yardstick was agreed upon.  Something about feet?).  It's laughable, but we can't bear to look too closely at it, lest we realize how invested we are in our position in the system.  "Go, go, go, said the bird, human kind/Cannot bear very much reality."

This is where I come back to my critique of Dan Schultz and Nicholas Laccetti.  We cannot change this system from inside and find our Christian goal because this system is not of God.  This is not the basilea tou theou gone corrupt over the centuries, and we must return to the original vision (the argument of many a Reformer in the era of the Reformation, and one that sounded throughout the 19th century in each new Christian denomination in America); this was never the basilea tou theou, any more than the Roman Empire was.  We must walk away from it entirely to get anywhere near to the world as God meant for us to live in.  But we don't get there by fostering injustice, by insisting that "merit" has a place in our discussion, and if we can just tweak it enough we can include more people; because we are never going to include everyone that way.  And who among us is the lost sheep that deserves to be lost, while the 99 are safe?  The problem with affirmative action is that it means I might get left out; and that is a legitimate worry.  But if you are among the 99, why worry?  Except how is the basilea tou theou like that?  If the shepherd won't leave the 99 to search for the one lost sheep, what is extraordinary about the shepherd?  And why is any one sheep so expendable?

Especially if that sheep is you?  And what system allows the shepherd to leave the 99 and look for the one, and praise the shepherd for doing so?  Certainly no system designed by human kind.

But that's the point, isn't it?


Blogger rustypickup said...

I would like those that oppose affirmative action to explain the charts in this article on percentages of each income group in selective schools. Meritocracy In particular, the charts on parents income and the types of schools their children attend. Compare even the top 5% to the 1% and particularly the 0.1%. A child of the 0.1% is 3 times more likely to attend an Ivy plus over even those children with parents in the top 5%. This is no meritocracy, those with the means can spend on their children to boost their "merit" in ways that even the near wealthy can't attain.

We got to watch this play out in the real world last year. One of our children was applying to college with an extremely strong academic record. Their advantages were coming from an excellent public school, parents that were committed to providing opportunities and are able to pay for them (music, art, etc.), and an alumni parent from an Ivy (A hat tip to the Thought Criminal for making a distinction between the top Ivies and the "lesser Ivies", it's brilliant) and a household income around the top 10%. All in all, significant advantages. Accepted at a number of excellent schools, but wait listed where a legacy. Ultimately is now attending one of the lesser Ivies (and having a great experience). Only later did we learn that there is an entire game and strategy to applying to the top schools and early admission of which we were unaware and didn't use. Parents in the 0.1% would have sent their children to the kinds of schools that understand how the game is played, had the regular connections to the admissions offices and been able to make a difference. I also have zero doubt that even a steady 5 figure donation each year would have moved a wait list to an acceptance. (Alas, our annual 2 figure donation , given a university salary and a mostly stay at home parent, was of no consequence at all) Add these to the myriad of other advantages (working at the nursing home for minimum wage taught good life skills but was a lot less interesting on the application than volunteering in a third world country with mom and dad covering the cost). To somehow call these advantages "merit" is to do violence to the term.

1:29 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

It's "merit" if I have it; it's an "advantage" (which connotes unfairness) if you do.

and white merit is the standard of measure for all "merit."


2:54 PM  

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