Saturday, September 09, 2006


If you have been visited by the sublime (see previous post), can the ridiculous be far behind?

With the sounds of Dylan's MODERN TIMES still dragging me back to modernity, and indeed to time, as I walked down the halls after my first class meeting of the new school year, I spotted a poster on the wall advertising yet another campus event scheduled to observe the 9/11 anniversary. It seems the path from 9/11 is to bring us back to Dinesh D'Souza, the unforgettable author of JERRY FALWELL: A CRITICAL BIOGRAPHY and other equally scholarly tomes, who is to honor us with a speech the very title of which seems to indicate a complete collapse of the writer's imagination, WHAT'S SO GREAT ABOUT AMERICA? I don't suppose that question appears on the revised SAT examinations, and perhaps D'Souza, also the author, let us recall, of ILLIBERAL EDUCATION, himself supposes that our college students may need help in coming up with an answer to that question.

I pointed out the poster to my colleague and hall-mate Michael Berube, who has already written about this on his blog (give it a visit -- the link is over there on the right). Michael and I must be falling down in our responsibilities as tenured radical Stalinist campus thought police. It was only last semester that David Horowitz was here explaining (and being paid thousands of dollars of university funding for the explaining) how we commie professors have such a lock on the intellectual life of our campus that conservatives can't get invited to appear before the students. Here just months later is another heavily funded conservative appearing without interference in a university building. Guess we just don't have our political correctness ducks in order here at PSU.

The poster put me, as it put Michael, in mind of another D'Souza volume, THE END OF RACISM. It was a book I'd felt I had to read when it first appeared, advertised by its publishers in "liberal media" outlets such as the NEW YORK TIMES under a banner headline that read "RACISM IS NOT THE PROBLEM." That's the kind of thing that catches your eye. I got a copy of the book, wondering, if racism is not THE problem, just what THE problem might be.

The ever quotable Linda Chavez said that in this book D'Souza proved himself "a courageous, insightful, and eloquent critic of the American social scene" and referred to the book's "scholarly analysis."

Hmmmm . . .

Evan Kemp, a former chairman of the Equal Empolyment Opportunity Commission, described THE END OF RACISM as "a book of stunning eloquence and power."

Stunning, perhaps . . . Apparently the talking points had gone out and the memo called for an emphasis upon D'Souza's eloquence, which may come as a surprise to any who have actually read his work.

A few randomly chosen instances of D'Souza's eloquence, power and scholarship:

"Incidentally, the view that blacks tend to be more rhythmic than whites is no whimsical recent invention but is supported by observations and experience in several societies over two millennia."

[Note, there is no note here that might lead us to two centuries' worth of supportive data across multiple societies.]

segregation "represented a compromise on the part of the Southern ruling elite seeking, in part, to protect blacks."

" . . . discrimination is vastly less prevalent today than in the recent past, although there is evidence for the persistence of rational discrimination."

"This rational discrimination is then identified as racism. But such an identification is wrong, because rational discrimination is based on group conduct, not biology."

This typifies D'Souza's work. Note especially what is going on in this discussion of "rational discrimination. It would be wrong, according to D'Souza, to discriminate against people because of their biology. In fact, that might well be described as racism, but we are, fortunately, near the end of racism. On the other hand, it's simply rational to discriminate on the basis of group behavior.

And what groups are we talking about, Rosicrucians? The Elks Club? Republicans? No, biology in D'Souza's argument is always immediaqtely smuggled back into the argument. The group whose behavior he is considering is defined biologically, not by elective behavior.

When white people practice discrimination in our post-racist era, they are merely "making a rational appeal to group traits," like a tendency to be more rhythmic, I suppose.

It's interesting to find a book that consistently makes racist arguments in the process of arguing that racism has nearly come to an end in America. It's even more interesting to see how such a book is produced and brought to market by the conservative apparatus. D'Souza was and is generously supported by a number of conservative centers and foundations. His work on THE END OF RACISM was lavishly supported by The Olin Foundation. As Glen C. Loury (who resigned from the American Enerprise Institute to protest their subsidy of D'Souza's work on THE END OF RACISM) pointed out, American Enterprise organized an extensive set of luncheon meetings at exclusive business clubs to promote the volume.

And like the endless repetition of claims for D'Souza's eloquence, what I call the D'Souzaphone amplifies these essentially inane messages. Journalists often speak of the echo chamber of American media and the political machinery. For example, the Bush administration (which is to say Cheney's office) leaks false information about Iraqi armaments to the NY TIMES. The next morning Cheney, appearing on a news talk show, points to the NY TIMES article in support of his claims about Iraqi armamanets. It's a tight loop, and it's one that is maintained at considerable expense.

What passes for scholarship in the work of people like D'Souza works in much the same way. D'Souza is credited not only with being eloquent in his racist mouthings, with having the courage to tell white people they are just being rational when they discriminate against members of minority groups, but he is consistently pointed to as having done substantial scholarly work to support his arguments.

And sure enough, there are an impressive 167 pages of notes at the end of THE END OF RACISM. But D'Souza's promoters are more likely to point to those notes than to read them. What that 167 pages amounts to in large part is the D'Souzaphone repeating and amplifying the irrational meanderings of minds much like his own.

Here's an insance of what I mean. On page 100 of THE END OF RACISM, D'Souza gets tied up in own of his typically circular rhetorical questions: "If America as a nation owes blacks as a group reparations for slavery, what do blacks as a group owe America for the abolition of slavery?" Yes, he is suggesting that people in slavery might owe something to the people who enslaved them upon the final advent of abolition. But, as if that weren't bad enough, look at what follows:

"This question is not frivolous, because while slavery is not a distinctively Wetsern institution, what is distinctively Western is the campaign to end slavery. . . . no society, including all of Africa, has ever on its own account mounted principled opposition to human servitude."

Now, as a student of the late C.L.R. James, I couldn't keep the name of Toussaint L'Overture from popping into my mind as I read this. It would certainly seem to be the case that the slaves of San Domingue on their own account mounted a principled campaign to end human servitude. But I was intrigued by a note attached to this remarkable assertion. I wondered what D'Souza's source could be for such a far-reaching declaration about the history of human societies. Given what struck me as a woeful tendency to the ahistorical throughout this book, I wanted to see what historians might be cited in support of this. Expecting a lengthy litany of sources, I turned to note 193 and discovered that the ONLY source offered was an expression of editorial opinion by one Stanley Crouch. This is the familair working of the D'Souzaphone. One conservative spokesman makes an insane remark, which is immediately cited by another, which then is credited as the "scholarship" in support of a "rational" racism.

Nearing the end of THE END OF RACISM, D'Souza argues that "Americans should recognize that racism is not what it used to be; it does exist, but we can live with it."

What is the current face of D'Souza's rational discrimination and what powers does it hold? What is it that he thinks we can live with? Take a look at this week's scandal in the California Governor's office. Earlier this week, Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was expressing himself on the matter of debates in the state legislature. Speaking specifically of Asemblywoman Bonnie Garcia, the Governor said that black blood mixed with Latino blood equals "hot":

"I mean, they are all very hot. They have the, you know, part of the black blood in them and part of the Latino blood in them that together makes it."

Can you say "Macaca"? In the "real world of America" as envisioned and governed by the George Allens and George Bushes of our modern times, these things have real effects.

In the real world of America, the D'Souzaphone drowns out the voices of the rest of us.

What makes America so great is exactly what D'Souza opposes.


Steve said...

Just wondering what you think Dinesh D'Souza's own racial identity means for him, his promoters, or media like the NY Times, etc.?

Aldon Lynn Nielsen said...

I've no idea what D'Souza's racial identity may mean to him -- it's hard to tell if he ever permits himself to reflect on the relationship between those phenomena and the phenomena of his career. -- But it's not hard to see how his racial and ethnic identity function for those who promote him. Since we have to find amusements where we can, we should permit ourselves to be amused at the prospect of people who argue that race should never be considered as a factor falling all over themselves to promote what Anna Everett has termed "constituency bashers." Few things are quite as ridiculous as hearing conservative shrieking heads saying, for example, Look, here's a black intellectual who says it shouldn't matter what color an intellectual is.

Race does double duty for the foundations on the right. They hire people like D'Souza, Steele, Wiliams etc. and pay them considerable amounts of money to denounce the "civil rights professionals," who supposdly have a personal monetary interest in seeing racism continue to be a problem. Neat trick, eh? And then, the response to leftist criticisms of Steele, D'Souza, Williams etc. is to charge that the REAL racism is on the left, because the left presumably will only permit minorities to agree with the leftist line. As if the Olin foundation would pay Loury to critique D'Souza.