Liberals And The Will To Try

Globe blogger and first-class thinker Jim Wheeler wrote an excellent piece on racial colorblindness, tribalism, the Civil Rights movement, and Martin Luther King. Most of the comments on the piece were thoughtful and enlightening, but I felt it necessary to chime in with the liberal view, which I expressed on his blog this way:

Yes, quotas may be abhorrent, but doesn’t Affirmative Action involve more than quotas in hiring? What about before hiring? What about education? Shouldn’t those who have historically not started out “even in life” (your expression) be given certain advantages in order to see that the score is somewhat evened?

Things like slightly lower admissions requirements and on top of that remedial help to get them up to the standards of the particular school they have entered? Wouldn’t that be beneficial in the long run? Sort of like the GI bill for blacks, but with an extra kick?

Now, since I am a liberal and since liberalism in contemporary America has been distorted and mocked and turned into a cartoon by conservative blowhards on radio and television, I am used to folks ignoring the actual arguments one makes and focusing instead on the source of those arguments.  And I think a mild case of that genetic fallacy materialized in the discussion on Jim’s blog.  Here’s my latest response:

To all:

I want to clear up just some things about my position, which has been criticized here.

1. My original point was that lowering standards slightly on admission requirements—on admission requirements—might help.  I did not suggest any lowering of academic standards or reducing the scholastic rigor in any particular school.  That is an important distinction, as PiedType’s slippery-slope argument, based on something I did not claim, demonstrates:

Lowering standards to accommodate poor students compromises the quality of education for everyone. It serves no one — and certainly not the future of the nation — to keep promoting illiterate, failing students from year to year and eventually graduate them.

You see how a simple misunderstanding or misapprehension of what I said led to “promoting illiterate, failing students“?  I was merely proposing,

a) that the way we evaluate students in order to admit them to certain schools might be part of a solution.  The admissions standards are somewhat arbitrary anyway—who’s to say what the correct standards are?—and it is not promoting illiteracy or lower academic standards to so accommodate members of an ethnic group that has been a victim of systemic, historical discrimination.  And I suggested,

b) that when such students are accepted into those schools, provide them with remedial help to get them “up to the standards of the particular school.” “Up to the standards,” I remind you. That’s what I argued, not what some of you seem to have thought I argued.

2.  It seems to me that it doesn’t do much good to acknowledge the existence of cumulative disadvantage among black folks and then not propose doing anything about it.  Say what you want about liberals and liberalism, at least liberals have actually proposed a remedy for fixing a historical problem.  Anson’s remedy is MERIT, MERIT, MERIT, without actually addressing the underlying and lingering problems in the black community, some of which, but not all of which, have historical antecedents.

3. Jim, kindly and delicately (which is his normal mode of argumentation) argues, too, against a position I do not hold, and as far as I know, have never expressed. He said,

Your thoughts on this echo my own, Piedtype, which is why I replied to Duane (below) as I did. I know that disappointed him because he is a strong believer in the power of government to fix society. He is a courageous and tireless campaigner for liberal issues here in a part of the country that largely disagrees with him.

Government was a vital force in the Civil Rights movement, but I agree that to expect it to achieve anything like true fairness, in light of human nature as you so well describe it, is unrealistic.

There is in this reply an idea, a friendly but (apologies, Jim) condescending caricature, really, of liberals. It is suggested that we believe, somewhat naively, that government can “fix” society and that we believe government can “achieve” “true fairness.” 

While I believe, like other liberals have said, that our problems are man-made and thus have man-made solutions, I, as one liberal, do not believe that government, and government alone, can fix all of our problems, nor do I “expect” that government will ever achieve true fairness. 

I do believe that it is incumbent upon us, though, to try, both to fix our problems and to achieve widespread fairness in our system.  And the “us” in that statement, in our democratic society, involves our government, the “we the people” in our preamble.

How can we ask of ourselves—of our government—anything less?


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