Monday, May 02, 2016

From error to error

A concerned student at University of Missouri
Photo by Mark Schierbecker (Own work)
via Wikimedia commons CC BY-SA 4.0 
Rod Dreher recently posted a web log entry in which he noted that the University of Missouri has fallen on some hard times. He attributes that to what he calls "craven appeasement" by the university of the protests that broke out at the university last fall. Mr. Dreher notably repeats the word "appeasement" twice and "cowardice" once, but does not allude to right or wrong, either in the ethical or the practical sense. He attacks the university, in other words, simply for an abstraction: abdicating authority.

The original charge of appeasement had a moral basis: the conviction, horrifyingly proved correct by subsequent events, of the wickedness of Hitler and the Nazi regime. At least in the case of the Munich agreement, the betrayal of the Czechoslovakian democracy compounded the immorality of appeasing Hitler. Whatever your opinion of the University of Missouri administrators, they did not commit anything like appeasement in this sense. If anything, the record of offences weighs against the powers that be of Missouri: whatever their faults, the student protesters do not carry the moral weight of one of the most inhumane slave economies on record, or of a terror state designed to keep African Americans "in their place". Nor did the protesters invent the carceral culture that has millions of Americans locked up for ideology and profit. Indeed, their protests against this plunder represent a genuine hope for renewing the American project.

As the sources from National Review Mr. Dreher quotes make clear, the reaction to the protests consists of anger and fear: two emotions made potent, in this case, by money. The fear and anger come from a single conviction: white people, students in this case, must never experience fear or discomfort at actual anger brought on by oppression. American media reports and popular culture make much of the fear white Americans feel on encountering African Americans, particularly young African American men, on the street. These accounts never ask who has a realistic reason to fear whom. Indeed, I do not remember American or Canadian journalism or popular culture ever suggesting the idea of having the empathy to consider what a young African American man might feel on meeting an older white person. One of the communications quoted as evidence of the suffering of the University of Missouri makes this recoiling from the idea of empathy clear:
A parent paying full tuition for his sophomore son writes: “Free speech is under assault on campus by immature, spoiled, thin skinned punks. . . . I am seriously considering removing my son after this semester. I will never allow him to take politically correct ‘racial sensitivity training’ if required.” Interim chancellor Hank Foley notes: “I’ve been getting these kinds of emails for days now also.” (emphasis added)
 Parents inclined to vent in this manner might want to consider the effect of their choices on their children and their country. Students at the University of Missouri did not wake up on an arbitrary day and decide to disrupt their education. The protests happened at the University of Missouri specifically, at least partially because the heart of the largest metropolitan area of the State of Missouri, St. Louis County, has a profoundly dysfunctional governing structure, at least partly because of the legacy of the "white flight" that followed the Second World War. St. Louis County has no less than ninety full fledged municipal governments, on average one for just over ten thousand people. To call this structure an example of ludicrous over-government puts the matter mildly. Radley Balko has documented in detail the way these unsustainable miniature cities finance their operations: on the backs of the poor, those least able to move or defend themselves. According to the picture Balko paints, much of the revenue that keeps this absurd structure of government going comes from fines and other penalties, imposed by judges who understand their role as fund raisers all too well. The explosions that followed the death of Michael Brown reflects this pattern of abuse, and it naturally spread to the University of Missouri.

The prosperity of any nation or any region in this globally interconnected world depends on knowledge, and on well governed and efficient cities to create meeting places to turn knowledge into products and services. Many people n Missouri either seem to think their region should not follow economic principles that apply everywhere else, or perhaps they will accept severely constrained development as the price of keeping their quaint hamlets self-governing and their children's minds unsullied by "politically correct 'racial sensitivity training'". That way of thinking may work for a short time; in the long run, the children of Missouri will have to live in a multi-racial nation, in which people traditionally considered "white" make up one among many minorities. If the people of Missouri choose not to prepare themselves and their children for the future, those cities and regions open to change will leave them behind.

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