5 comments on “The Future They Want

  1. Sorry for the long post. This is a summation of my thoughts after hearing about the twitterstorm and reading your blog:

    Reading what you said about America having a civic if not quite ethnonational identity: I don’t know what kind of civic identity America is supposed to have, since anything beyond the constitution is speculative/subjective and reflects one’s personal vision of America. This is mine: America is–or should be–the land of opportunity. Anyone who works hard should be able to live a better life as a result of it. When the founding fathers said “all men are created equal” this was clearly not a fact (as we are not born equal in health, wealth, or ability), but I believe it means that all children in America should have equal opportunity. Whether or not they seize those opportunities, and pursue them through hardwork is left to each person’s individual liberty, but these factors should not be decided for a child they are even born. In practice, this means no families should be too poor to participate in this pursuit, nor too rich to fail. Unfortunately, we are getting further from this ideal as 90% of a child’s economic mobility is determined by their parent’s economic status. Education plays a small role, and access to pre-K is the greatest predictor–not college education. In Boston, near where I grew up, the average white family has $247,500 dollars worth of assets (discounting furniture and small items), and the average black family has $8. What am I getting at here? https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2017/12/11/that-was-typo-the-median-net-worth-black-bostonians-really/ze5kxC1jJelx24M3pugFFN/story.html

    My family is white and my father is a Catholic workaholic. His parents came as Lithuanian refugees during WWII and initially lived in a multifamily Boston tenement with one bathroom, and his dad-formerly a farmer–worked as a laborer the Necco candy factory, then a nightshift a chemical company. My grandfather spoke heavily accented English and was sometimes harangued on the street as a “kraut” even though Germans were one of the groups they fled from in the war (mainly the Russians though). Things shifted for my family when he a low level job at Raytheon and was eventually promoted to a lifelong job as a draftsman, and drew up things including parts of the patriot missle. Within 10 years of living in the U.S. they got a 2 acre tract of land and built a farm-style house there (sadly, it burnt down on them one winter, but everyone got out except the dogs). My dad worked a grocery store until he could afford to go to Umass, then when to UConn for dental school and eventually did as residency at Harvard. He bought two small houses at one point and met my mom, who owned one, and they sold all three to buy a big oceanfront house, where I grew up. He worked 12 hours days and ate a PB&J sandwich every day of his working life, including when he set up is own local dental practice and stopped commuting from Boston. He hated laziness and did not understand people who wanted handouts. His hard work put my brother and I to expensive ($40K per year, seriously) liberal arts colleges, with no students loans. I work hard too, but only 9 hours days, minus one to write this post–and I spend a lot more time with my own son. What’s my point?

    Like you, I am a decently hard-working white male, whose ancestors never owned slaves (and were in fact the butt of some racism), but I am the beneficiary of a chain of events that would not be possible for a black person in Boston (let alone the South), or most nonwhite refugees. A black person would not have been hired at Raytheon, not been allowed to buy 2 acres in the countryside (or there’s might have burned down for different reasons not related to a hot lawnmower), easily get a dental license, or a fancy house in Cape Ann. They would still be renting a south Boston tenement, where most black families in MA are to this day, with no cumulative wealth or opportunities. My family’s good luck* was cumulative. *(enforced by racist hiring, incarceration, and real estate policies).

    My point is that, like you, I am a white male who has not persecuted anyone, but unlike you I can acknowledge that my success is contigent on *both* hard work AND the luck of my birth. I could feel disenfranchised (and did for awhile) by the fact that I got rejected from an ivy league college for which I was academically well qualified, staying on a waitlist by a such a small margin that affirmative action almost certainly tipped the scales. But even then, the fact that I have no student loans and a Roth IRA far outweigh this disadvantage. Or I could hate on the fact that affirmative action will make it harder for me to get a professorship, but I’m okay with that sacrifice, if it compensates for some of the historic discrimination against other groups.

    Your grievance about not being able to express yourself politically is real–academia is overly censorial, and the humanities/social sciences especially has an echo chamber effect that can culminates in anti-Republican hysterics and worship victimhood. That does not mean that your grievance is equal to that of most other Americans. The effect of the discrimination you have suffered differs in orders of magnitude from what women/nonwhite/muslims/refugees experience. You have never been raped, incarcerated, shot, deported, or denied housing, loans, or a living for it. Your children will not inherit the effects of your discrimination as a crushing burden. As a tenured professor, you have more job security and freedom of speech than almost anyone outside of academia can imagine. If you (or Jonathan Haidt or ) are oppressed–it is still not fair–but it is a disadvantage that pales against your advantages.

    Maybe that is why your most dire threats are imaginary. You imagine the possibility of mass killings of Republicans–again, you *Imagine it*–against a backdrop where white supremacists are regularly carrying out mass shootings, and are preceded by centuries of the domestic terrorism against black people (the KKK). When or if Antifa kills someone, you get to complain. Until then, modern leftist mass killings exist only in your head, as a torment that you are generating for *yourself*. What is perplexing, is that you seem to care more about imagined harm than the the harm happening in the real world. Based on wordcount, your imaginary concerns apparently ranks above the fact that America has a higher child poverty rate than Mexico, and Trump’s cuts to food stamps are increasing it. It ranks above climate change and the denial of science. It ranks above the sale of state parks and the gutting of the endangered species act. It ranks above the interference of corporations in government, gerrymandering, and the suppression of votes. It ranks above Americans dying of opioids overdoses or for lack of health coverage. It ranks above the precarity of adjunct faculty and the idea that full-time work deserves a living wage. It ranks above disproportionate childhood mortality among black women and the fact that many communities have no clean water or accessible health facilities.

    That is why my sympathy for you is limited. You might consider yourself a brilliant and persecuted iconoclast–but you look to the rest of us simply as someone who is very self-centered, diligently crafting a victimhood narrative while the world around you burns.


    A junior phycologist below your radar

    • Great post, thanks for sharing it.

      A couple of points:

      1. I don’t deny for a second the history of racism in the US, and if I was black, I’m sure it would piss me off thinking about it. Still doesn’t justify hating “white people” sensu lato, and it definitely doesn’t justify reckless rhetoric like accusing all Republicans of being white supremacists, which is where this all started.

      2. I loved reading your family’s story, but I think the assertion that that history was unavailable for black people is absurd. Was it harder for them? Sure. But millions of black families in the US worked their way up just like yours did, including here in the South. Kids born into those families clearly benefit from those generations of hard work, and lots of those kids end up in my classes. On the other hand, millions of white families, including nearly the entire population of some parts of the country, have been so crushed by debt and poverty that to say they have some sort of privilege because of their skin color is just a sick joke. Maybe people should get back to shaming each other over class instead of race… just a thought. But seriously, let’s be clear — the whole reason we work is to provide privileges for our children, to give them a leg up in the world. To demonize that is just ridiculous.

      3. You are severely downplaying the violence directed toward people on the right. Yes, there have been several awful mass shootings caused by deranged white racists over the past couple of years. But there have also been mass shootings caused by deranged white leftists — have you forgotten the guy that shot up the Republican baseball game? Or this antifa loon in Dayton just a couple of days ago? And all the other violence and shootings committed for who knows what reason. It’s an epidemic that clearly extends beyond politics. And while you’re right that Antifa hasn’t killed anybody (yet) they certainly have threatened it, and their constant attacks all over the country represent an organized threat that appears to me to be tacitly endorsed by the mainstream of the US left. Have any prominent Democrats disavowed Antifa? If so I am unaware of it. Tell you what, if I start seeing white nationalists attacking Bernie Sanders rallies, and Republicans looking the other way while it happens, I’ll start to believe the threat is comparable.

      Anyway, let me say again that I appreciate your comments and hope you have a good day.

  2. Oh for sure, not all white people have much privilege, especially where I live in the Midwest, which has been hollowed out by opioids and extractive industries. And I agree that affirmative action should be based on class and not race–assuming all black people are disadvantaged is insulting, ineffective and stokes resentment from everyone involved. Now, I don’t want to harp on the “which side is more violent argument” because w/ shooters including Dylan Roof, the synagogue shooter, Dylan roof, the death count by white supremacists by far outweighs the examples you cited. Lastly, though you are much more courteous than most right wingers I’ve debated with, you have the same pattern of taking the radical fringe (again antifa) as the examples of maintstream, instead of the merits of policies that our politicians advocate. I could do the same and talk about how that Oregonian (R) state senator who recently threatened the lives of cops who were tasked with bringing him in to his job, but we coulud go back and forth ad infinitum. That’s not what interests me. These are fleeting characters, but it is the laws that will last for decades. The right is amazingly good at distracting us with culture war theatrics while they carry out things like massive corporate tax cuts, justifying gerrymandering, and Citizens United. So I’m just pointing out that you have said nothing in defense of the science denialism, corruption, voter suppression or virtually everything they can do to make our society less equal, with the super-wealthy in a permanent superstratum while the middle class erodes (and is more heavily taxed) under them. Probably a discussion for another day, but I just want to point out that your party is doing that.

    Anyway, good chatting with you and thanks for the thoughtful feedback, I actually agree with you quite a bit.

    • Great talking with you as well. Don’t hesitate to say hi to me in person if we run into each other at a meeting someday. Would much rather talk science than politics but happy to do either.

      Oh btw — I have talked about science denialism (right and left) in this blog several times, and what I think drives it, and how to get past it. It’s actually been one of my main foci over the years. But as you say, a discussion for another day! Cheers.

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