Somehow I’ve managed to get through more than 40 years of life as a heterosexual white male without feeling guilty about it and without thinking that it made me impervious to empathy for others.
But based on the full-court press from a part of the American left who are so morally relativist, identity-oriented, and apparently angry (at me, and they don’t even know me) that they make ordinary “political correctness” look almost rational, my lack of guilty conscience represents an absence of self-awareness created by my societal “privilege.”
Stephen Parkhurst, whose viral video last year of Millennials apologizing left one wondering whether his message is one of parody or whether he is intending a serious critique, recently produced a new video entitled “White Guys: We Suck and We’re Sorry.” (The video got a lot of attention online and Mr. Parkhurst has since made the original version private. When I asked Mr. Parkhurst why he took down the video, he replied, “just thought I’d take a little break from the rape and death threats for a bit.” My separate e-mail interview of Mr. Parkhurst can be read in its entirety here.)
The basic message of the video is that Caucasian males, especially those who are attracted to women, “can’t relate” to inequality because it’s not “something we encounter in our everyday lives.” The four men whose words are woven through the video argue that since equality would mean that “straight white dudes are treated exactly the same as everyone else… and given how we’ve treated everyone else… you can see how we might not be super into that idea.”
This leads to the inevitable conclusion: “We’re terrible people.” While Mr. Parkhurst doesn’t really believe this — unfortunately his video suggests otherwise — far too many people do think the worst of people like me. (And perhaps they should since TV ads prove that all home intruders are white men.)
When it comes to straight white men, the unfounded and irrational “we’re bad people” theme is of a piece with news that Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government (“HKS”) will soon have a required course for incoming students called “Checking Your Privilege 101.” While the specific content of the class hasn’t yet been determined, the basic idea is clear: If you come from an inherently powerful group in the United States, which is defined as being a straight white man, you have inherent (and unfair) advantages in life and although you’ll try hard you’ll never really understand anybody else. And you should feel really really bad about that.
Therefore, Mr. Ordinary White Guy, you should look at the world though filters such as “critical race theory, feminist critique, and revisionist history” which are designed to guide to you more correct thinking about people not like you. And everyone who isn’t a straight white man should treat you with great skepticism because you are the vessel for political original sin. In short, Mr. Ordinary White Guy, you must be badgered, scolded, and punished — although we certainly won’t admit that that’s what we’re doing nor let you proclaim your innocence.
And what Ordinary White Guy (other, perhaps, than me) will dare to ask the question: If you think I don’t understand you, why should I assume the reverse is not equally true, or perhaps even more true since you’re willing to make baseless assumptions about a person you’ve never met? The Achilles’ heel of the anti-privilege movement is their insulting necessity to avoid treating people as individuals.
The decision to create and mandate this bit of brainwashing for muddleheaded first-year masters (of the universe) aspirants flows from an online “Speak Out” among HKS students, many of whom are depressingly likely to hold levers of political power in the not too distant future. And while the debate may be well-intentioned — indeed what good Progressive would not claim good intentions as the basis for all her actions? — the actual conversation shows just how confused America’s intelligentsia and future leaders are.
A few examples:
- “Our white friends should remember that they are white.” Can you imagine if a white person said, “Our Asian friends should remember that they are Asian” or, heaven forbid, “Our black friends should remember that they’re black”? After the de rigueur outrage, one might ask, “What exactly does that even mean?”
- “I didn’t grow up in this country, and have always felt extremely uncomfortable with the idea of ‘American exceptionalism.’” This writer goes on to say that we need to “have a conversation about the legitimate grievances driving acts of terrorism, rather than simply denouncing those acts outright.” Way to go, Harvard. And you wonder why the Obama administration, full of people with fancy degrees, consistently fails in all aspects of foreign policy, especially where stopping the evil, the tyrannical, and the murderous is concerned.
- “I am frustrated with the continued absence of the Asian Pacific American perspective in all of my core classes and electives.” (One adjective isn’t enough!) Pair this with another student’s whinge, “It doesn’t help that my ethnic identity as an Arab American means that people still don’t really know what to do with me or how to categorize me,” and you start to see the inevitable dreary terminus of this self-indulgent and destructive path: a society in which everyone thinks first of how he is different from the rest, rather than the many (and probably more) things we have in common.
HKS students and so many others around the nation seem oblivious to the fact that they are placing more emphasis on the geographical adjective they unnecessarily place before the word “American” than on their Americanness or, for those who aren’t American, our common humanity. “Otherness” is trumping “sameness” to a remarkable degree, in a manner wholly outside of American tradition. And it is all by design.
The consequence of this misplaced focus should not be underestimated.
Harvard, and almost every other similar school, is complicit in sowing the seeds of separateness, of Balkanization, of the nth degree of identity politics, among people who will leave the university cocoon and spread their jaded and harmful view throughout elected government, foreign and domestic government agencies and bureaucracies, think tanks, the media, and everywhere else that “superior people” aim to dominate the rest of us.
Divide and conquer has long been a successful political tactic. One has to wonder what sort of school creates legions of haters and critics whose apparent goal is to undermine, rather than rejoice in, the greatest nation in history. It takes a level of hubris that might be hard to imagine if we didn’t see it every day from another Harvard product who is on a similarly destructive mission to “fundamentally transform” America — hardly a goal of someone who likes and appreciates his country.
- In order to fully consider the role of government and government programs, we need “the additional benefit of interdisciplinary frameworks from fields like sociology, gender studies, and ethnic studies.”
Although less superficially ridiculous and self-centered than most of the other comments, this is perhaps the most objectionable of all because it presumes the most patronizing liberty-crushing un-American possible answer to that fundamental question of the role of government.
If government (and HKS) were not full of people who thought of the rest of the species, or at least the citizens whom they want to wield power over, as pawns to push around on an economic and political chess board, no question that “gender studies” or “ethnic studies” could even attempt to answer would be relevant.
What could a feminist professor teach a future leader about gender relations, what could an Indian or Italian or Eskimo professor teach a future leader about how a member of one of those cultures views the world, which should make an iota of difference when considering how a government should behave toward its people? What could be learned in any of these identity-group-oriented courses that offers any insight into the moral or economic validity of a welfare program, a regulation, or a law?
Unless you believe that the role of government is to (re)distribute wealth and resources — which most HKS students probably do — the answer is a resounding “Nothing!”
The real answer to the question of the proper role of government is stated brilliantly and succinctly in the most important political document in human history: Government’s only purpose is to “secure these rights” that all people have by virtue of their having been born equally as living human beings.
Outside of politics, why do liberals think that straight white men are incapable of empathizing with the problems of people who don’t look like them? Aren’t the biggest donors to charity, including to charities aimed at helping minorities in America and “people of color” around the world, mostly straight white men?
But within politics, or more precisely within government, what role is there for “sympathy” anyway?
Justice wears a blindfold for a reason. But just as Supreme Court Justice Sonia “Wise Latina” Sotomayor wants to peek at the litigants’ skin color before rendering a verdict, so when it comes to the machine of politics those who aim to grind us in its gears want to know who you are before deciding how the rules should apply to you.
A bigger departure from the vision of our Founders, a greater leap from true equality among countrymen, a more shocking move away from the rule of law and toward the rule of men, can hardly be imagined. Yet the “best” schools in America are spreading this intellectual cancer among the minds of otherwise intelligent young adults.
The societal discussion of “privilege” of which the video and the course are just the most recent visible pieces is based on fundamentally erroneous assumptions, stereotyping (which would never be permitted by liberals in any other context), a frightening view of the proper role of government, and a distrust of anyone different from oneself — each of which is intentionally promulgated within our most “elite” institutions of higher education. These scraps of untruth and immorality contribute to the power of government, and therefore to the power of HKS graduates, and therefore to the influence and profitability of Harvard itself. Apparently these things are worth destroying the nation for.
This is not your father’s “political correctness”; it is not just about changing how people speak, nor even about the “Thought Police.” It is not harmless mental masturbation by over-pampered narcissistic 20-somethings.
Rather, it is about using discord and division, jealousy and shaming, to create a rationale for government interference, manipulation, and “legalized plunder” on a scale that will make eight years of Barack Obama look like the good old days.