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November 30, 2004

School Resegregation and the Exurbs

Stephen Darwall: November 30, 2004

My son Will has been writing a paper on school desegregation for his AP US History class, specifically, on the landmark (Metropolitan Detroit) case, Milliken v. Bradley (1974), which pretty much stopped active desgregation in its tracks and led ultimately to increasingly resegregated schools (data below).  So I have been thinking about what I've been learning from Will in relation to the growing exurbs, whose role in the Bush victory has been much discussed, for example, by David Brooks.

In Milliken, the Court struck down a plan imposed by a federal district court to desgregate schools in Metropolitan Detroit across district lines (i.e., by including suburbs) on the grounds that there had been no showing of multi-district de jure school segregation (notwithstanding substantial housing discrimination in the suburbs--Dearborn, for example, had maintained 0% African-Americans through particularly agressive means).  This stalled desegregation progress throughout the U.S. and led, ultimately, to a reversal.  In 1968, the year of Green v. County School Board, the first case to put teeth into Brown, 76.6% of African-Americans attended schools that were 50-100% minority.  By 1972, that number had decreased to 63.6%.  This progress pretty much stopped with Milliken--only 62.9% by 1980.  By 1986, the percentage actually began to climb, reaching 70.2% by 1998.  For an excellent discussion, see Gary Orfield's "Schools More Separate: Consequences of a Decade of Resegregation.)  As Orfield pointed out in a talk at the University of Virginia Law School last February (video here) even communities like Charlotte, North Carolina, find it difficult to maintain multi-district desegregation despite public support in the judicial climate spawned by Milliken and continued by an increasingly conservative judiciary.

What does this have to do with exurbia?  The fastest growing county in Michigan, Livingston County, is exurban.  It grew approximately 35% between 1990 and 2000, and has grown another 10% since then.  Much of this growth has been fueled by ex-suburbanites from Metropolitan Detroit (itself the most residentially segregated area in the country).  Although African-Americans represent 14.2% of citizens of Michigan (and a much higher percentage of Metropolitan Detroit), they are only 0.5% of the population of Livingston County.

So far as I can tell, there has been very little discussion of the increasing resegregation of American schools.  And from this perspective, a growing exurbia (indirectly public funded by cheap gas, Interstates, and tax incentives for home ownership) seems to be very bad news.

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November 29, 2004

Being forthright

Seana Shiffrin: November 29, 2004

This website’s mission statement asks how we might better express our values.  We might make a start by expressing them in the first place instead of shrinking from the opportunity.  In at least three respects, I feel we should have been more forthright in this last election: more forthright about being appalled about the conditions at Abu Ghraib and at Guantanamo, more forthright about finding intolerable the number of Iraqi casualties and the conditions of life in Iraq, and more forthright about our concern for the poor.  Plenty of people have expressed concern over these matters and in public fora, but primarily in sites that only the choir encounters. 

Our candidates were not forthright on these issues and we let that happen.  John Kerry avoided all of these topics as though discussion of the wrongness of torture, of rampant killing and destruction, and of the needs of the poor might reveal some sort of inner weakness. 

I felt the opposite. It was weak to hide his judgments about what mattered most. It was shameful that we did not make a centerpoint of the campaign the deprivation of basic liberties and the disrespect for human dignity shown at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. A leader should demand that the government take responsibility for compromising our commitments to fairness and decency. 

I was also shocked that, by and large, the press permitted all of the candidates to evade these issues. Poverty and the poor were mentioned two or three times in the candidates’ debates, though almost in passing. In four debates, no mention – at all - was made of Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib. Not once. The first debate was devoted entirely to foreign policy and mostly to the wars in  Afghanistan and Iraq, but the morality of our conduct in these wars was somehow off the table. 

When Kerry spoke of casualties and how Americans represent “90 % of the casualties in Iraq,” he was excluding Iraqi casualties entirely. When Cheney called Edwards on excluding Iraqi casualties from Edwards’ similar figures, Cheney himself was only counting Iraqi military casualties. No participant in those debates discussed civilian casualties which, according to conservative estimates, total at least 40,000 in Iraq. The infrastructure in Iraq is in shambles; the disease rate has skyrocketed and there is still no reliable access to electricity and potable water, even in the cities. And yet, no member of the press, or of the audience, asked them to take civilians or their basic living conditions into account when evaluating the war.

Our candidates need to be more forthright that we care about those in need and those vulnerable to us, whether or not they are citizens, whether or not they are accused, and whether or not they are members of the middle class. And we need a press that is willing to ask harder questions and willing to ask us to articulate and defend our values. I admire Jon Stewart and Al Franken and not just as entertainers. They are very smart people. They are phenomenal at what they do. But while it has its place, parody and ridicule cannot be the preferred means by which we disperse our basic message.

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November 28, 2004

Less Contempt

Kwame Anthony Appiah: November 28, 2004

Gerald Dworkin says that Garrison Keillor's joke wasn't funny. But it was. (I know he meant one shouldn't have laughed not that one didn't. But I don't think one shouldn't have.)  It’s a mistake, I know, to try to explain a joke, so I won't try; but part of the background to why we can laugh is that nobody, least of all Garrison K, really has any intention at all of trying to stop evangelical conservatives from voting. He was teasing them, as a moderately serious Lutheran from Lake Wobegon might tease anyone who said too much about their religious views in public.

Still the contempt issue is important and understanding it depends, I think, on recognizing an important asymmetry. Some of those right-wing evangelicals apparently care whether or not we have a good opinion of them. (If they didn't, the resentment they display toward the "liberal media," would make no sense.) Whereas I know no one among the liberal media elite or among liberal academics who cares very much that many right-wing evangelicals have contempt for us. We care how they vote--for instrumental reasons; we may even care that they are mistaken, for their sakes; but we don't feel diminished by their contempt. It doesn't threaten our self-respect. (The situation is analogous to the one that obtains with respect to social respect in class and status based hierarchies: a peasant can spit when milord walks by, but it won't damage his lordship’s self esteem. But when milord brings his handkerchief to his nose as the peasant approaches, the peasant is stung.)

Part of the truth here, I think, is that American anti-intellectualism contains a seam of intellectual insecurity. It's not that the no-nothings are sure we're wrong, it's that they're afraid we'll win the argument, because we're better at arguing. They feel about us the way many Greeks appear to have felt about the Sophists: sure they won the argument but that was not always because they were right. But they're also not sure that we're wrong. The discussion about what we ought to be doing about the cultural divide seems sometimes to presuppose that they'd want to talk to us if we showed up respectfully and offered, as we now say, to "dialogue." But they don't want to talk to us, a lot of them. And this, I think, is part of why.

Now all of us succumb sometimes to the temptation to look away from the evidence that might undermine beliefs we're happy with. So I'm not saying that "they" are doing something "we" don't do. But if I'm right, their resentment of what they perceive as our contempt reflects not a certainty that they are right but a worry that they may not be. And if I'm right, they may well continue to suspect we have contempt for them, however polite we are, and however carefully we police our humor. Because the reason they worry about our supposed contempt is that deep down they actually worry about truth and reason and whether it's on their side. Our attitudes worry them only to the extent that those attitudes reflect intellectual values they share. Deep down it's not our attitudes but attitudes of their own that they're struggling with or suppressing that make the issue painful. In sum: our contempt matters only as a projection of their doubts.

I realize that some will think this analysis is itself a sign of contempt or, at least, of condescension. So let me make two things clear. First, I know there are smart, savvy, right wing evangelicals who are not intellectually insecure. And, second, appraising someone as having succumbed to one of the many forms of human escape form reason is not eo ipso to contemn them.

But as it happens, I'm inclined just to deny that I have contempt for most right-wing evangelicals, especially the sort of people that I have in mind in offering this analysis. I have big disagreements with them, for sure. Even if I were still an evangelical myself--yes, I was one once--I would have a big disagreements with them, since I think that biblical fundamentalism demands serious attention to the texts, and many of them appeal to the texts in a way that strikes me as lacking in the requisite seriousness. So I would be happy to talk to them on their terms about issues like gay marriage, because I think a serious Christian position on this issue would entail a kind of loving acceptance that too much right-wing Christian talk (and here I include some Catholic and Episcopal bishops along with lay evangelicals) doesn't display.

In these circumstances I think it would be better to show up first with an offer to listen than with an offer to talk. And here I think what Gerald Dworkin says was absolutely right. Because once we listen we'll find lots of things that we agree about and that we can work together on.

What would not be helpful would be a new form of condescension that consisted in pretending to think that (what we regard as) bad arguments and false claims bolstered by them are in fact worthy of respect. But nobody loses the right to be respected as a human being just by succumbing to this most banal and regular of human failings.

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November 26, 2004

The Moral Values Election

Joshua Cohen: November 26, 2004

The day after the election I had an email from a well-known political scientist, saying: "The gay marriage battle was, I suspect, crucial as a mobilizing device.  At the worst possible time in the national election cycle, Margaret Marshall handed this issue to the Republicans for use in mobilizing places like nonurban Ohio..." Some version of this view is approaching conventional wisdom. And maybe it is right. But a few facts that bear on the issue: (1) gay marriage was on the ballot in three battleground states, and Bush's two party vote share dropped from 2000 in all three (Ohio, Michigan, and Oregon): a slight drop, but a drop. The other states with ballot initiatives were all strongly pro-Bush in 2000 and basically uncontested; and in battleground states without ballot initiatives, Bush ran stronger (in two party vote share) in 2004 than in 2000; (2) if you look at the county level, you find the following: in counties that were strongly pro-Bush in 2000 (where he won over 60% of the two-party vote), Bush got an extra boost from a gay marriage initiative (ran better than in bright red counties with a ballot initiative at the state level than in bright red counties without one); but in counties that Bush lost in 2000, he did less well in 2004 when there was a marriage initiative than when there was not; and in contested counties (with Bush support in 2000 running between 50 and 60%), Bush did not do as well when a marriage initiative was on the ballot as when it was not. The presence of marriage initiatives may have been a net benefit to Kerry (analysis of the interaction effect from Ansolabehere and Stewart); (3) the standard economic models of elections predicted (on average) that Bush would win with 54% of the vote. It is cold comfort that he underperformed relative to predictions based on models that predict well, but in figuring out what happened, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that the normal election-determining factors were all working in his favor; (4) a recent NYT/CBS poll (11.18-11.21) shows that most people disapprove of Bush on the economy, foreign policy, and Iraq, but strongly approve of him on the "war on terror."

Maybe it is basically Margaret Marshall's fault, or maybe she symbolizes something...that the judiciary is the only place left in which progressive values have any traction. But maybe not... If our concern (and it is a good concern) is to break out of pretty cloistered political worlds (85% Kerry voters in Cambridge), we need to be careful in understanding and navigating a complex terrain.

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November 21, 2004

secular humanism

Don Herzog: November 21, 2004

Is America succumbing to secular humanism?  And is secular humanism a(nother) religion?

Again I want to ask, what's the ism?  For sure, lots of pedagogy underplays or erases the role of religion.  A favorite example of mine is Washington's Farewell Address.  From grade school on, Americans learn that the grand old man counselled no entangling alliances in foreign policy.  As indeed he did.  But -- to overstate the point only slightly -- that's almost an afterthought in the speech.  Washington wonders whether the American republic can survive without staunch Christianity (read:  Protestantism).  He concedes there may be a few people (read:  Jefferson) who can be counted on to be virtuous without religion, but says that America must depend on Christianity.  That gets whitewashed out of the historical record.  It shouldn't be:  that's indefensible Orwellian Newspeak, every bit as unbelievable as the poster in my daughter's third-grade classroom that listed the four principles of the founding fathers.  The last on the list was "diversity."  Yeah sure.

Is secular humanism the principle that dictates, "no prayer in public schools"?  We don't -- and shouldn't -- follow quite that principle.  No one races over to stop the kids in the lunchroom from saying grace before they devour the soggy french fries.  And contrary to mythology, a mandated moment of silence at the beginning of the school day is perfectly constitutional, and should be.  (Alabama ran into trouble when they amended their existing "moment of silence" statute to make it clear that prayer was permissible.  The Court decided the legislature was doing a nudge-nudge-wink-nod routine to encourage or endorse prayer.)

But if the principle mandates that teachers or principals or school boards not encourage or require students to pray, it's a damned good one -- even though it outrages many.  It's open to two readings.  One: "prayer doesn't belong here."  Two:  "prayer is bad."  Liberals read it the first way, some evangelicals the second.  (Try comparing the rule, "no sex in school."  Or, "no using cellphones in school.")  Why?

For centuries, there have been two strands of liberalism.  One is frankly, violently, gleefully anti-clerical.  Diderot and Voltaire write this way, I suppose because of the whopping power and wealth of the Catholic Church in 18th-century France.  The other is absolutely respectful of religion but anguished about maintaining social order and civility after the Reformation.  No surprise, then, that some Americans hear echoes of the first tradition in such rules as "no prayer in schools," not least because some of us on the left are in fact anti-clerical, and stories about Rawlsian public reason and the like don't command wide allegiance or even comprehension.

We need to press the first reading of such rules as "no prayer in schools."  I suppose there's room to enlist Christians worried about the perils of Caesarism:  though the mainstream news media largely ignored them, many devoutly religious types were themselves outraged by talk of "flag desecration," not because it's all that awful to burn a flag or wear it on your butt, but because a flag is profane, not the sort of thing that can be desecrated.  But this will remain an uphill struggle, even though one well worth pursuing.

Main | December 2004 »

Religion and politics

Don Herzog, Herzog: "A Christian Nation?": November 21, 2004

Well, right, that's a huge topic -- or, better, a cluster of topics.  I flinch, for instance, every time people champion or condemn "the separation of church and state," because that could mean lots of things, some of them good, some not.  (I teach first amendment and begin the section on the religion clauses with a quick battery of cases designed to show the students that "separation" can't settle anything.  Even though some of the justices have thought it can:  there are inadvertently hilarious moments in the cases, with for instance Frankfurter meeting a challenge to religious teachers coming into Illinois public schools by intoning, "Separation means separation, not something less."  Gee, thanks.)

So here's one topic, or anyway a smaller cluster.  Lots of people on the right complain that this is a Christian nation and liberalism makes us lie and pretend it isn't.  "Christian nation" has to mean more than "a nation in which lots of Christians live."  The smartest version of the argument I know is in Richard John Neuhaus's The Naked Public Square, which has some great vignettes:  the TV cameras went off, he reports, whenever Martin Luther King started talking scripture, and King remarked sadly -- I'm going by memory here -- "they want to know what we're doing, but not why we're doing it; so they'll never really understand what we're doing."

So what would change if we agreed that we are a Christian nation? Well, I'd get jittery:  but why?  I asked a really smart conservative Christian student of mine what would change.  He didn't know.  I asked if the University of Michigan could impose a religion test on hiring faculty, on the theory that we are entrusted with educating the young and a Christian nation doesn't trust diffident Jews and atheists with that task.  He was horrified:  "of course not!"  I asked if only Christians should be permitted to serve on juries.  More horror, this time laced with the suspicion that I was teasing.  I asked if people who could demonstrate regular church attendance or home prayer should be given income tax deductions.  Now he knew I was teasing.

But I wasn't.  I really wanted to know what would change.  The right likes to lampoon the left for its infatuation with identity politics. Now there must be more to "Christian America" than right-wing identity politics.  It seems too skeptical, too derisive, to think that if people weren't bridling under the perception that "liberal elites" sneered at them, we wouldn't face demands for school prayer, creationism, and the like.  So what else is there?

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November 18, 2004

Less contempt; more mutual ground

Gerald Dworkin: November 18, 2004

A first step in getting our message across to those who disagree with us is to stop expressing contempt for them. Garrison Keillor made a joke recently about denying the right to vote to born-again Christians  (since their citizenship is in Heaven) .. That’s not funny.

A second step is to seek to find common ground despite higher-level fundamental disagreements. Both parties to the abortion debate can agree that it would be preferable if there were fewer abortions. So both parties can agree that better access to birth-control is desirable. Both those who advocate gun-control and those who oppose it can agree that trigger-locks and other safety devices are desirable. Both those who support affirmative action and those who oppose it can agree that primary education has to be improved and supported for minority kids. Both can agree that extensive out-reach, and the most diverse pool for hiring, entrance to law schools, etc are desirable.

Of course, this does not mean that we should be any less firm in our convictions about what is right or wrong on these issues. Nor that we should be any less energetic in trying to convince others that we are right and they are wrong. But it does mean that, at the political level, we stand a chance of building coalitions with those who disagree with us.

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November 17, 2004

What Hume can teach us about our partisan divisions

Elizabeth Anderson: November 17, 2004

How can "the Left" can get across to "the Right"?  To figure out how to do this, we need to understand what divides us.  On this question, Hume offers indispensable guidance.  In his great essay, "Of Parties in General," Hume argued that partisan divisions can be traced to three sources:  differences in interest, differences in principle (ideology), and differences in affection (identity politics: sympathy for "us," antipathy against "them").

Hume observed that differences in interest are the most "reasonable."  They are most open to compromise and negotiation.  Moreover, arguments about what policies are in people's interest are most open to revision in light of evidence.   If interests were all that divided us, the Democratic Party (what there is of the Left that has institutional power) would enjoy an overwhelming majority, since it represents the interests of the bulk of the population, while Republican policies favor mainly the rich.  Most people understand this, and the Left can offer sound arguments and evidence to persuade those who disagree.

Differences in principle or ideology are less tractable, because they are less open to revision in light of evidence.  For example, arguments over the morality of abortion turn in part on when a person with human rights comes into existence.  This question cannot be settled by evidence.  And few are persuaded by academic arguments, although such arguments can soften up excessive confidence in certain ideologies by highlighting incoherencies, and pointing to evidence that the roots of one's commitments lie elsewhere than in the principle to which one has avowed allegiance.   For example, arguments can show to those who oppose abortion except in cases of rape that the claim that abortion is murder cannot explain their views.

Hume, who took religious conflicts as his paradigm, thought that disagreements of principle were almost wholly intractable and often bordered on madness. 

(Call this "the fact of unreasonable pluralism.")  The classical liberal solution to such conflicts has therefore been to privatize them:  get the state out of the business of promoting one principle or another, and leave decisions about such matters up to private, voluntary decisions.  This solution is looking less viable for today's conflicts of principle, for at least 3 reasons.  First, the things we expect the state to do these days make it harder for the state to claim neutrality.  Is teaching evolution in the public schools a neutral scientific position, or an attack on fundamentalist Christianity?  Is offering partner benefits to gay public employees a neutral nondiscriminatory position, or an endorsement of homosexuality? Second, some of today's conflicts over "moral values", including abortion and gay rights, are also conflicts of justice that require an adjudication of conflicting claims.  Privatization does not so much adjudicate such claims as completely ignore one side.  Third, the Left needs to face up to the fact that people do look to politics for inspiration, not just for the advancement of their interests. Privatization looks to many like flabby, unprincipled moral relativism, indifference to moral concerns, or worse, in light of the Left's interest-based politics, an advocacy of crude materialistic values over more vital moral and spiritual concerns.

How can the Left get through to the Right on matters of principle? First, by recalling the inspiring principles of human dignity, equality, and democracy that underwrite liberalism's greatest achievements.  When was the last time a Democratic politician delivered a speech as awesome as President Johnson's "We Shall Overcome"?  (I know, Obama's speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention:  but that was jaw-dropping precisely because the Left hasn't talked this way for 40 years.)  Second, by recalling that there is a domain of experience to which principled convictions are accountable:  only it is a personal, emotional kind of experience, revealed not in social scientific data, but in compelling narratives that people tell of how awful they found it to be forced to live under certain principles, and how splendid they found it to live under others.  (I'll illustrate this in a future posting on abortion.)

Finally, we must confront the least-discussed source of the Left's political misfortunes:  identity politics.  Hume recognized that identity politics is at least as much about mobilizing antipathy toward "them" as it is about shoring up solidarity among "us."  Although the fractious Democratic party contains elements of identity politics among its constituents, liberal politicians, committed to universalist, cosmopolitan principles, have never had much stomach for playing it themselves.  The current conservative complaints about the contempt blue-staters have for red-staters ignores this difference.  While there are plenty of secular liberal Democrats in the rank-and-file who hold fundamentalist Christians in contempt, no Democratic party leader has based a campaign on railing against "Bible-thumping religious fanatics."  By contrast, Republican party leaders have been playing a nasty style of identity politics for a long time, ranging from outrageous smear campaigns against individual Democrats (e.g., Swift Boat Veterans against Kerry) to demonization and mockery of broad groups of Democratic constituents (blacks, gays, feminists, liberals, immigrants, single mothers, seculars, urban cosmopolitans, environmentalists, trial lawyers, etc.).  They have aggressively mobilized every form of antipathy--hatred, contempt, fear, resentment, anger--against the Left, making it timid and ashamed of itself.  No incident was more telling in this regard than the moment in the Bush-Dukakis debates when Bush held up Dukakis' membership in the ACLU as a point of dishonor, and Dukakis failed to respond, choosing instead to change the subject to "competence."  By such means, Republicans successfully turned "liberal" into a pornographic term, fit for mention ("the L-word"), but not use.

How can the Left get through to the Right in the face of its mass mobilization of individual and group antipathies?  By standing up for ourselves, proudly defending our positions, ideals, and identities, and exposing the Right's tactics for what they are:  ugly, nasty, small-minded bigotry.  To open up free and common space for high-minded dialogue based on reason and evidence, for "deliberative democracy," the ground must be cleared of the toxic waste of slander and hatred. As Dukakis showed through his negative example, this is a task that cannot be accomplished by high-minded discourse itself.  It is time for the Left to muster up outrage, to call out the Right when it stoops to despicable tactics, and yes, even to mock and deride it for doing so (not when it argues from genuine principles, however benighted we might think such principles to be).  It is time for the Left to make the Right feel ashamed of its nastiness.

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