Tenable Grounds for Affirmative Action Depends on Curriculum
By Alec Rawls © 1998 (1550 words) Published in The Stanford Review, 4/14/97

I am in favor of affirmative action in the admission process at Stanford University. I can't favor very much affirmative action, because analysis quickly turns against it, but there is a solid case for some affirmative action, with one big "if". It depends critically on the curriculum that the university teaches. To get to the view, one must first start with the distinction between government and private discrimination, and then weigh the costs and benefits of private discrimination.

The fourteenth amendment's "equal protection" clause marks an agreement -- achieved only at the price of the bloodiest war in the history of the United States -- that while the government must discriminate between citizens on various grounds (such as criminal behavior), race is a uniquely evil basis for government discrimination and is not allowed. Taking this wisdom to heart, I was a wholehearted supporter of proposition 209, which bans the government (and public universities) from offering some citizens preferential treatment based on race.

At the same time, I believe that the government must not interfere with private discrimination. The Jim Crow laws, which were used in the south to enforce racial discrimination through the 1950's, came into being precisely because unfettered private agreement -- where people are free to discriminate or not discriminate on whatever grounds they choose -- was leading inexorably to integration. Employers wanted to avail themselves of black labor, which was free to underbid white labor at any time, and merchants were glad to take black people's money, so long as no law punished them for it.

If the civil rights movement had just struck down government enforced discrimination, private agreement would have integrated blacks into our economy and our culture far more effectively than the new brand of government enforced race consciousness has done. Every black success would have been a proof of black value -- an ever growing mountain of evidence and precedence to gradually eliminate racial expectations. A black encountered in any position would soon have raised no different expectations of competence than a person of any other race encountered at that position. The position would be telling, the race not.

Preferential treatment prevents this result. With every black encountered, there is reason to believe that on merit alone he would not have made it to this position. Instead of disappearing as a consideration, race leaps to the fore as grounds for suspicion of inferiority and for the resentment that naturally follows when position is unearned. Note that these costs of preferential treatment negate President Casper's rationale for affirmative action. Casper reasons that "since we are still a race conscious society, the University must still be race conscious as well." That is a non sequitur when it is preferential treatment that is the reason why people look at each other in terms of race instead of presuming merit according to position.

But just because Casper's attempt at reason is nonsensical does not mean there aren't possible benefits of affirmative action, weighty enough to offset even the very weighty costs.

Huge numbers of black Americans today are stricken with substantial degrees of racial paranoia. It is to be expected that the criminal element of black society, and the reproductively irresponsible, will automatically embrace the handy excuses of race and racism to avoid responsibility for their actions. But the epidemic in black America of seeing all slights and setbacks as a consequence of race when one is black goes far beyond these groups. The phenomenon is easy to sympathize with. When something absurd happens to me, I know it is not because I am black. But when a majority of blacks can believe that O.J. Simpson was prosecuted, not because of the evidence that he is a murderer, but because he is black, we have a real problem.

As much paranoia as there is among blacks who are prospering, it is many times worse among those who are not. In the huge dysfunctional sectors of black America, racial paranoia recklessly embraces every ludicrious conspiracy explanation for black ills. AIDs is a white conspiracy to destroy blacks. Crack is a white conspiracy. Even the prosecution of crime is a white conspiracy against black males. (To my mind, the war on drugs -- punishing people for harming themselves -- is a grave injustice, but it is not a racial injustice, despite the fact that it falls more heavily in percentage terms (less heavily in absolute numbers) on blacks. The forces behind it have nothing do with race. Predictably, attempts to legalize drugs are also routinely charged with attempting black genocide.)

When even the public culture is one of racial paranoia, it is no wonder that so many are unable to resist their private paranoias and suspect every misfortune of stemming from race. For those who do fall in, the consequence, I believe, is a literal dementia. Instead of looking for how to understand, one, reluctantly or not, is looking for how to misunderstand, to shift blame, avoid responsibility, and feel hatred.

In the face of such a terrible disease, already metastisized in countless individuals, it is absolutely imperative to nurture a generation of black leaders who have learned that the only thing to care about is the truth, and who have made years of progress in discovering truth in art and science and policy. This is where a tenable case for affirmative action can be based. We need large numbers of blacks who insist on the standards of honest reason and evidence, and teaching these standards is exactly the mission of higher education, or rather, it was, until the illiberal left became powerful enough to shift the modern university curriculum towards standards of equality rather than honesty and merit.

Superficially, the way that reason and evidence are able to triumph over racial paranoia is by revealing them to be falsehoods. The real power, however, comes from the soul that these standards spring from: the understanding that that there cannot possibly be advantage in anything but the truth. Excuses, blaming, seeking some false absolution, all this is utterly worthless. To be seeking psychic relief in some fantasy of blame is the ultimate self-destructive addiction. Fantasy is not life. It is evading life instead of living it. There is no life outside of truth. And whatever small political advantage can be wrung from claims of victim status is of no advantage at all, when the price paid is a life lived in the wrong direction.

I have full belief in the humanity of my fellows who happen to be black. I believe that they all at heart want to follow truth (all except those few from all races who are endowed criminal). They want to recognize black responsibility for what blacks are responsible for. Yet when there is so much failure, so much difficulty to be borne, many many blacks seem to decide that they are already bearing their share of truth, and that any more truth is more than they can afford. This is speculation, but whatever the etiology, a corner is turned, paranoia is embraced -- the needle in the arm -- the wished for balm a poison, blackening understanding, and then on recrimination, hatred and misery.

The cycle needs to be turned in the other direction, towards the light, by teaching how there is no possible value, ever, at any point, in anything but the truth. (In rare instances, the truth is that you should lie, but never to yourself.) Why does it take black leaders to distribute this message? Why can't white people reach out to black America just as effectively? Because to those who are racially paranoid, race matters. This country needs as many blacks as possible who have learned to live entirely in truth, so that the natural leadership of truth can exert its influence even among those who live in paranoia.

Unfortunately, academia's path to affirmative action has been paved by the enemies of truth and science. Our racial and feminist victim studies departments proceed by misunderstanding anything that can possibly be misunderstood, so as to create claims of victim status and demands for redress. They are engines of paranoia, contrary in their very essence to the scientific ideals of honest reason and the honest following of evidence -- ideals which are widely rejected in these departments even as a theoretical possibility, so immersed are they in their pursuit of biased reason and selective evidence.

Other elements of the P.C. university also fail to advance the goal of a population of truth loving, scientifically minded, black scholars. Ethnic theme houses, to the extent that they are bastions of race consciousness and group identity politics, would seem to ba a retrograde force. Similarly with the relativist nonsense of "multiculturalism," urging everyone to consider their pre-existing world-view as just as valid as any other, ignoring that the whole purpose of education is to separate what can stand up to scrutiny from what cannot.

There are tenable grounds for private affirmative action (never forgetting to also account the costs), but politically correct institutions at university do nothing but undermine those grounds. If Stanford wants a sound justification for affirmative action it must purge its curriculum of those elements that do not proceed by honest following of reason and evidence but choose instead to twist reason and evidence to advance their racist, sexist, anti-capitalist and other agendas.


Next article in the Non-ideal Theory volume of Moral Science: Political Correctness: the Bastard Child of Female Sexual Leverage

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