American Elephants

The Abject Failure of Progressive Policy, And Why It’s Gone Wrong. by The Elephant's Child


Theodore Dalrymple is the pen name of a British Psychiatrist who spent years treating the poor in a slum hospital and a prison in England. His Life at the Bottom (2001) offers a searing account of life in the underclass and why it persists as it does.

“In fact most of the social pathology exhibited by the underclass has its origin in ideas that have filtered down from the intelligentsia.” Whether the subject is sexual relations, alcoholism and drug addiction, attitudes toward education, or marital abuse, he finds an essential self-deception at work among his patients. Its roots may be discovered in fashionable social policyLife at the Bottom suggests that long-term poverty is caused not by economics but by a dysfunctional set of values, one that is continually reinforced by an elite culture searching for victims. This culture persuades those at the bottom that they have no responsibility for their actions and are not the molders of their own lives.  From the jacket blurb of Life at the Bottom.

I am currently reading The Victims’ Revolution: The Rise of Identity Studies and the Closing of the Liberal Mind (2012) by author, critic and essayist Bruce Bawer, who, coincidentally, is pursuing the same pathology from a different direction. Once upon a time the purpose of higher education was to introduce students to the legacy of Western civilization — the best that has been thought and said. But somewhere along the way there has been a rift in the fabric of American society. American history was an account of our gradual progress toward the full realization of the founding values of the nation. Now there is a class that just doesn’t quite get patriotism. What happened? What is it that holds a nation together?

“Hector St. John de Crèvecour, author of Letters from an American Farmer (1782) described Americans as “a new race of men” — a race that, paradoxically, had nothing to do with race.  To point out the miraculous nature of this accomplishment —its utter lack of precedent in all of human history — is not to deny, among other things, the mistreatment of Native Americans and the blight of slavery and racism. It is simply to note that, in a world where violent intergroup enmity and conflict have been the rule rather than the exception, America found a way for increasingly diverse groups of people to live together not only in peace but with a strong sense of shared identity — an identity founded not on ethnicity but on a commitment to the values of individual liberty, dignity, and equality articulated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  What happened to that shared identity? Multiculturalism, victimology, postmodernism. The latter term can be traced back to the anthropologist Franz Boas, who in trying to find a way to study exotic cultures without prejudice found it useful to take the position that no culture is superior to any other.

The humanities once sought to help students understand the common condition of mankind, under the influence of postmodernists like French philosopher Michel Foucault (11926-84) the very notion of human nature was subsumed in the idea that all ideas of whatever kind are nothing but assertions of power. Now the humanities were preoccupied with colonialism, imperialism and capitalism — forces that oppressed the people on the basis of race, class and gender. The heroes of the Western canon were to be viewed with a jaundiced eye — for most of them  were Dead White Heterosexual Males, and by definition, members of an oppressive Establishment. Three works were responsible for the way in which the humanities are taught today: Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks; Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed; and Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth. Marxist agitprop. Consciousness-raising. A World populated by “oppressors” and the “oppressed.” Their teaching has been a disaster.

Western civilization is deserving only of contempt,  all civilizations are equal except for Western civilization which is unique only in the degree of its greed, brutality, and lust for power. There are other noted Marxists: Edward Said for postcolonial studies, Howard Zinn, whose A People’s History of the United States, (the most popular history in our high schools and colleges) is straightforward — everything they told you is a lie. American history is a long disgraceful record of oppression, genocide and exploitation, powerful propaganda for those with little or no knowledge of history. So Academe will teach you how to be a victim— Women’s Studies, Black Studies, Chicano Studies, Lesbian and Gay Studies. Social Justice, political correctness, diversity, sustainability— the long list of inanity goes on and on.

That’s the bunch that is currently running our country. They may not be Marxists, but their education was infused with Marxist ideas. If you puzzle over why Liberals seem to have no understanding of human nature — they really and truly don’t. If you wonder why Blacks seem to feel more oppressed than did their parents and grandparents, back when there really was more racism — blame Black Studies. The liberal emphasis on women’s complaints and women’s rights comes directly from the Women’s Studies classroom. Going to College can actually make you stupid.

Oddly, the very nature of their illusions is what is bringing them down. College costs too much. Huge student loans are a burden that destroy lives. The jobs aren’t there and the graduates are poorly prepared for the workplace anyway. All the eager kids who were going to save the world from our addiction to foreign oil have been undone by fracking, the earth has inconveniently stopped warming over 16 years ago, The schools have overburdened themselves with administrators, and the schools no longer successfully teach. But the internet is changing everything. More and more universities are putting their courses online, where real students can pick and choose. The higher education bubble is about to burst, and K-12 is so bad it is succumbing to home-schooling, with far more accomplished kids as a shining result.

Bruce Bawer’s The Victims’ Revolution explains what has happened to us since the 70s, and why. You can recognize the problems, but understanding the source and how this all came about girds one for battle. Consider this article just published in New York magazine: “The Blip: What if everything we’ve come to think of as American is predicated on a freak coincidence of economic history? And what if that coincidence has run its course?” Decline. America’s economic growth is just over. Not our fault.  Obama has done everything right, it’s just that it’s all over. Anything so brilliant as the Marxist inspired Progressive Policy cannot possibly be wrong. Economics and history have just run their course.  Just give up.  Please.

Or, you could read An Empire of Wealth by John Steele Gordon, the antidote.

ADDENDUM:  Here’s AEI’s economist James Pethokoukis’s response to “The Blip”. Selling doomsday usually gets you some space, particularly on a slow day, but Jimmy P. will have none of it. “No, America isn’t just an accidental ‘blip’ in world history. “

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