Tag Archives: identity politics

Erasing the Past: We all Do It

As the country busies itself renaming schools and other public places, removing or defacing monuments, giving new meaning to words and deeds, as well as quoting 1984, one would not be blamed to wonder what all this is about. Is the commotion an effort to right wrongs of the past, or a stealth long-range plan to force the country into a different path?

What does righting wrongs entail?

How far a group goes in its pursuit of righting wrongs depends on how determined the group is. For example, Joseph Stalin either killed or removed from history all folks he deemed wrong for the times.

However, efforts need not be so extreme. Persuasive discourse may take longer, but it is equally effective. A master in such art was self-professed radical activist Saul Alynski, whose Rules for Radicals, published in 1971, remains a radical’s guide to success. Here are two of the Rules:

The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.

Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.

So, today’s radicals target symbols of the Confederacy, keep relentless focus on the targets, ensure that people take the matter personally by using words such as “white supremacy,” and popularize identity politics. And the constant pressure upon the opposition allows for the expansion of targets.

Men such as Washington and Thomas Jefferson, among other founders, embedded the American ideals of equality and justice, even if they did not live them in their daily lives, the historians said.  NBC News, August 17, 2017.

“Our position is, we don’t want in your public spaces any slave masters or Confederates, those are people who should not be venerated,” Suber said, citing Washington and President Andrew Jackson as figures whose statues should be removed.  Malcolm Suber, Take Em Down NOLA, NBC News, August 17, 2017.

It bears assumption that if the Founding Fathers are not to be honored, neither is their work. Will there soon be a call to replace the U.S. Constitution by a new manifesto?

Human Nature is on the side of revisionists

Today’s revisionists are certainly not alone in their efforts to reframe history by removing old symbols. We have all at some low-point in our lives discarded mementos or reframed our vision of ex-spouses or rebellious children. Nature helps cleanse the mind of unpleasant thoughts. New political trends and new regimes do the same.

Constant Pressure, Forever

The problem with cleansing thought is that the job is never done. The effort can never stop.

The job of tyrants and busybodies* is never done. When they accomplish one goal, they move their agenda to something else.  Walter Williams, professor of economics at George Mason University, June 14, 2017.

*  Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victim may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock.

Schools Need To be “Great Equalizers”

Parents have a lot on their plate these days, especially in expensive states like California, where stay-at-home Moms are a luxury rather than a norm. Thank goodness, there is a lot of information on the Internet on choosing schools, parenting, balancing time, etc. For example, two popular websites that rate schools from great to not so good are Great Schools and Niche.

Blackboard CAThe economic challenges parents face in costly California are compounded by another California feature: awful public schools. An article published in February 2018 in USA Today lays out the sobering statistics:

California Public Schools rank 35th among the 50 states.
High school graduation rate: 83.0% (21st lowest)
Public school spending: $9,417 per pupil (8th lowest)
8th grade NAEP proficiency: 27.1% (math) 28.4% (reading)
Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 32.9% (14th highest)
Adults 25-64 with incomes at or above national median: 51.7% (21st highest)

Such schools are far from being the “great equalizers” envisioned by educator Horace Mann.  They are in fact unequalizeers, in their pursuit of identity politics instead of teaching reading, writing, math, and history.  Are school districts focusing on finding ways to improve these schools? Read More.

Diversity vs. Performance

In the old days employers asked employees to keep job description manuals, so new employees and others in the office or shop could better understand how a task was performed or how a widget was made. Today employers focus on diversity and social justice manuals. Should this shift of emphasis from production and performance to personnel be included in statistics measuring GDP, national debt as percentage of GDP, balance of trade, decline of manufacturing, rise of an unskilled workforce, automation? Has the constant talk of diversity integrated our schools, or equalized pay, or flooded Silicon Valley with high-level coders of both genders equally?

If the response is “not really” then our doubling down on the diversity reasoning is innocently stupid, immensely hopeful, or intentionally evil. The quest for diversity permeates housing, employment and education. Although there is much to say on housing and employment, let’s start with this article on education, specifically school choice in New York City.

Should There Be a Debate On School Choice?

A new study entitled The Paradox of Choice: How School Choice Divides New York City Elementary Schools laments the “unintended consequences” of providing New York City parents with the choice of enrolling their kids in other than their zoned (neighborhood) schools.

Our analysis shows that the expansion of school choice in New York City in the past 10
years has, indeed, allowed thousands of children to leave low-performing schools for higher-performing schools, often outside their neighborhoods. But it has also resulted in higher concentrations of poverty and shrinking enrollments and budgets in the schools they leave behind, making it ever harder for those schools to serve their neighborhoods well.

The logic of choice can be used for segregation or integration. But in either case, it puts the onus on individual parents to find good schools for their children, rather than on society as a whole to provide for the education of all children. Correcting the disparities across the school system as a whole and providing equitable educational opportunity to all families should be a collective effort by all members of the community with strong central leadership from City Hall and the Department of Education.

A reasonable person should ask what is wrong with parents taking responsibility for finding good schools for their children. The legion of lower-income parents enrolling their kids in charter schools might wonder why any parent would not move their children out of poor-performing schools. True, newly arrived immigrants, speaking little or no English, would have a harder time navigating through the complex school-enrollment system; but hopefully these families anticipate such difficulties, persist, and eventually prevail.

Embedded in the lament for the consequences of school choice is the pervasive emphasis on diversity and government’s duty to ensure equity and social justice. Such focus obscures the success of parents and children who opt for production – performance, individual responsibility, effort, and hard work. There are such parents at all income levels and of all colors.

Who Leaves and Who Stays

The Paradox of School Choice discusses what families stay in their zoned school, and which do not. 60% of families in gentrifying neighborhoods choose kindergarten outside of their school zones, compared with 32% in higher-income neighborhoods (where schools tend to be higher-performing), and 35% in non-gentrifying poorer neighborhoods. Although 60% is significant, 35% of poorer families that, in spite of economic challenges, choose higher-performing schools outside their neighborhoods is impressive.

The study also offers a chart that further illustrates who left their zoned schools behind, and who stayed between 2007 and 2016.  Colors from bottom represent children who attended schools that were:  in their zone, in a different zone, had gifted children programs, had dual-language programs, were unzoned, were charter.

School Choice 6

 

The ideal situation would indeed be a system that did not exhibit disparities in quality between schools. However, significant disparities are an unfortunate reality that school officials have not corrected.  Therefore a growing number of parents are no longer waiting for someone to act on their children’s behalf, but are taking action themselves.  Their choices indicate what is important to them:  high-performing schools that exhibit good test scores.

Divide and Conquer: Now it’s NIMBY vs. YIMBY

Divide and Conquer GoetheNever let a crisis go to waste. And if there is no crisis, start one. When fomenting a crisis, it helps to encourage group identification, then to pit one group against another. This has been the modus operandi of political leaders going all the way back to Philip II, whose maxim “divide and conquer” served him well in transforming self-governing city states into one big Macedonian kingdom.

The latest California crisis (besides the coastal progressives’ obsession with “resisting” something or other in Washington DC they are not supposed to like) is housing, and the latest division is between NIMBYs and YIMBYs.

The Not In My Backyard faction identifies with older residents who like the way things are in their neighborhood. They like their neighborhood’s “character,” they own or hope someday to own a single-family home with a backyard, they prefer not to take public transit, and they fiercely defend their turf from outsiders who feel entitled to change it. Bastions of NIMBYism, such as the Bay Area’s Marin County and San Francisco’s Westside, have traditionally used city and county zoning to preserve their neighborhoods.

The current California YIMBY movement goes back only to 2014, with the founding of BARF, Bay Area Renters’ Federation, by a charming and articulate former math teacher by the name of Sonja Trauss. In a 2015 article, What’s Your Housing Utopia, Sonja states her case unequivocally,

I want the market to provide a unit I can afford… I want to consume housing the way I consume all other products: Buy used, old or out of fashion, buy scratched and dented, buy odd lots, split the cost with friends… How do we get market rate housing for all markets? Step One: End the shortage. If we need 100,000 units, we have a lot of work ahead of us. If you’re involved in opposing a new housing project, stop, just stop. Our need for housing at all price levels far outstrips our supply at any level. Are you preoccupied with whether the new units “match” the rest of the neighborhood? Matching is for your belt and your shoes. Housing supply is a serious problem. If you’re sentimental about the past, swallow your tears.”

Then there is SPUR, San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association, renamed from San Francisco Planning and Urban Renewal Association in 1977, after the razing in the 1960s of San Francisco’s Fillmore District in the name of “urban renewal.” Gabriel Metcalf, president and CEO of SPUR, elevates the NIMBY/YIMBY war to the level of opposing views on private property – homes as property purchased and owned by someone vs. homes as infrastructure provided to all regardless of means.

I think there are more people understanding housing as a social-justice issue. While they might not like their communities changing with higher-density buildings, more people understand that they are necessary to live up to our values as progressives.

A recent article in the neighborhood newspaper, The Westside Observer reports on a community meeting discussion on California Senate Bill 827, which would mandate construction of buildings up to eight stories high along all transportation routes – bus routes as well as fixed rail – regardless of local zoning or neighborhood character.

What had started out as a community meeting slowly became a referendum on the land value of homes and apartments that younger generations would like to take away from older generations — right now!

The war, yet another identity-politics war, is on. Absent politicians never letting a crisis resolve itself peacefully, NIMBYs and YIMBYs, in spite of their vastly different outlook and needs, might have worked things out. However, that is not to be.

If we understand what is going on, we can choose our political leaders and our legislation with an eye to rejecting continuing crises provoked by identity wars. We can choose instead peacemakers who can encourage local solutions and compromises that offer remedies to challenges.

Identity Politics: Good way to Divide and Conquer

Divide and Conquer GoetheIdentity wars are useful when politicians wish to deepen or to widen their power over the populace. Such wars divide populations into smaller groups, which can then be pitted against one another. While each group is focusing on its own challenges and fighting other groups to defend its limited interests, all groups are ignoring the big picture. They are missing opportunities. They are ignoring their real manipulator. They have been divided and conquered.

So, we the people, divided and conquered, focus on a myriad of wars: class, race, gender, disabilities, environmental, social justice, gentrification, fetus-as-person, open space, climate change, drug, opiod. Meanwhile, our liberties are decimated unnoticed. We are slaves to the IRS, mandated to pay our pound of flesh under dire penalties if we do not obey. We are hostages to the obscene costs of healthcare and education. We are automatic criminals given the numerous laws and regulations at every level of government, of which we are bound to break some unwittingly. Our Bill of Rights is constantly under siege.

Some enclaves in these United States have become epicenters of identity wars. California is such an epicenter. The state’s residents never tire of group warfare, while they lose their basic constitutional liberties, such as free speech, self defense against tyranny, or local jurisdictional control of their destiny. At present California is fighting the “housing crisis,” pitting NIMBYs vs. YIMBYs, while politicians crank out laws obliterating local control of what gets built where and how.

As Joseph-Marie, Comte de Maistre, 19th century lawyer, diplomat, writer, and philosopher said every nation has the government it deserves. In a republic such as the United States, where the ballot box is available to all citizens, this maxim could be interpreted as meaning every individual has the government he/she deserves.