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Valar Qringaomis

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Friday, May 02, 2014

Thought Reform 101

Thought Reform 101 - Reason.com

"At Wake Forest University last fall, one of the few events designated as "mandatory" for freshman orientation was attendance at Blue Eyed, a filmed racism awareness workshop in which whites are abused, ridiculed, made to fail, and taught helpless passivity so that they can identify with "a person of color for a day." In Swarthmore College's dormitories, in the fall of 1998, first-year students were asked to line up by skin color, from lightest to darkest, and to step forward and talk about how they felt concerning their place in that line. Indeed, at almost all of our campuses, some form of moral and political re-education has been built into freshman orientation and residential programming. These exercises have become so commonplace that most students do not even think of the issues of privacy, rights, and dignity involved.

A central goal of these programs is to uproot "internalized oppression," a crucial concept in the diversity education planning documents of most universities. Like the Leninists' notion of "false consciousness," from which it ultimately is derived, it identifies as a major barrier to progressive change the fact that the victims of oppression have internalized the very values and ways of thinking by which society oppresses them. What could workers possibly know, compared to intellectuals, about what workers truly should want? What could students possibly know, compared to those creating programs for offices of student life and residence, about what students truly should feel? Any desire for assimilation or for individualism reflects the imprint of white America's strategy for racial hegemony...

The exercise was wonderfully successful: "Students in both groups said the game made them feel excluded, confused, awkward, and foolish," which, for Garcia, accomplished the purpose of Haverford's program: "to raise student awareness of racial and ethnic diversity"...

The darkest nightmare of the literature on power is George Orwell's 1984, where there is not even an interior space of privacy and self. Winston Smith faces the ultimate and consistent logic of the argument that everything is political, and he can only dream of "a time when there were still privacy, love, and friendship, and when members of a family stood by one another without needing to know the reason."

Orwell did not know that as he wrote, Mao's China was subjecting university students to "thought reform," known also as "re-education," that was not complete until children had denounced the lives and political morals of their parents and emerged as "progressive" in a manner satisfactory to their trainers. In the diversity education film Skin Deep, a favorite in academic "sensitivity training," a white student in his third day of a "facilitated" retreat on race, with his name on the screen and his college and hometown identified, confesses his family's inertial Southern racism and, catching his breath, says to the group (and to the thousands of students who will see this film on their own campuses), "It's a tough choice, choosing what's right and choosing your family."

Political correctness is not the end of human liberty, because political correctness does not have power commensurate with its aspirations. It is essential, however, to understand those totalizing ambitions for what they are. O'Brien's re-education of Winston in 1984 went to the heart of such invasiveness. "We are not content with negative obedience.... When finally you surrender to us, it must be of your own free will." The Party wanted not to destroy the heretic but to "capture his inner mind." Where others were content to command "Thou shalt not" or "Thou shalt," O'Brien explains, "Our command is 'Thou art.'" To reach that end requires "learning... understanding [and] acceptance," and the realization that one has no control even over one's inner soul. In Blue Eyed, the facilitator, Jane Elliott, says of those under her authority for the day, "A new reality is going to be created for these people." She informs everyone of the rules of the event: "You have no power, absolutely no power." By the end, broken and in tears, they see their own racist evil, and they love Big Sister...

Molly Tovar, who has done this sort of work both at the University of Oklahoma and at Oklahoma State University, passed out a 22-page guide she co-authored, "How to Build and Implement a Comprehensive Diversity Plan." The guide explains the three "kinds of attitudes" that agents of cultural change will face: "The Believers," who are "cooperative; excited; participative; contributive"; "The Fence Straddlers," who are "suspicious; observers; cautious; potentially open-minded"; and "The Skeptics," who are "critical; passive aggressive; isolated; traditional"...

All of these materials were acquired during "training" by the U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service, a program so effective that "it was very hard to get any of the other white members of the committee [Barlaz was white] to go for the training that the Department of Justice provided free of charge. The white members of the [Adelphi Prejudice Reduction] Committee had been so alienated by the training that they didn't want to go back"...

There are painful ironies in these attempts at thought reform. Individual identity lies at the heart of both dignity and the flourishing of an ethnically heterogeneous society. Black students on American campuses rightly decry any tendency of university police to stop students based on race. Their objections are not statistical but moral: One is an individual, not an instance of blood or appearance. The assault on individual identity was essential to the horror and inhumanity of Jim Crow laws, of apartheid, and of the Nuremberg Race Laws. It is no less inhuman when undertaken by "diversity educators."

From the Inquisition to the political use of Soviet psychiatry, history has taught us to recoil morally from the violation of the ultimate refuges of self-consciousness, conscience, and private beliefs. The song of the "peat bog soldiers," sent by the Nazis to work until they died, was "Die Gedanken sind frei," "Thoughts Are Free," for that truly is the final atom of human liberty. No decent society or person should pursue another human being there. Our colleges and universities do so routinely...

Nichols first came to the attention of critics of intrusive political correctness in 1990, when he led an infamous "racial sensitivity" session at the University College of the University of Cincinnati. According to witnesses, his exercise culminated in the humiliation of a blond, blue-eyed, young female professor, whom he ridiculed as a "perfect" member of "the privileged white elite" who not only would win "a beauty contest" but even "wore her string of pearls." The woman, according to these accounts, sat and sobbed. These contemporaneous revelations did not harm Nichols' career...

What does Nichols believe? He believes that culture is genetically determined, and that blacks, Hispanics, and descendants of non-Jewish Middle-Eastern tribes place their "highest value" on "interpersonal relationships." In Africa, women are the equal of men. Whites were altered permanently by the Ice Age. They value objects highly, not people. That is why white men commit suicide so frequently when they are downsized...

When white students initially suggest that they personally did not do terrible things, the students of color fire back with both barrels. A first reply goes immediately to the heart of the matter: "One thing that you must definitely understand is that we're discussing how this country was founded, and because you are a white male, people are going to hate you"...

In short, what moves the film (and American thought reform) is a denial of individual identity and responsibility, an insistence on group victimization and rights, and the belief that America is an almost uniquely iniquitous place in the world, without opportunity, legal equality, or justice. "I want you to know," an Hispanic male explains, "that because of the system, my cousin was shot...and then another cousin was shot." The tribalism of the exploited Third World expresses a core truth: You are your blood and history. Let the children of the guilty denounce their parents. Let the victims stake their claims. Let the cultural revolution begin...

The guide also has a rare explicit endorsement of "political correctness," reminding facilitators that "language was a prime factor" in the murder of 6 million Jews, that language perpetuates racism, and that it is wrong to believe that "anything people say should be left alone simply because we all have the right to free speech....The challenges to political correctness tend to come from those who want to be able to say anything without repercussions"...

Skin Deep is a kid's cartoon, however, compared to Jane Elliott's Blue Eyed. Elliott has been lionized by the American media, including Oprah Winfrey, and she is widely employed by a growing number of universities. Disney plans to make a movie of her life...

In Blue Eyed, masochistic adults accept Elliott's two-and-a-half-hour exercise in sadism (reduced to 90 minutes of film), designed to make white people understand what it is to be "a person of color" in America. To achieve this, she divides her group into stupid, lazy, shiftless, incompetent, and psychologically brutalized "blue eyes," on the one hand, and clever and empowered "brown eyes," on the other. Some of the sadism is central to the "game," but much is gratuitous, and it continues after the exercise has ended.

Elliott is unbearably tendentious and ignorant. To teach what an IQ test truly is, she gives the brown eyes half of the answers to an impossible test before the blue eyes enter the room, explaining that, for people of color, the IQ exam is "a test about which you know absolutely nothing." IQ tests only measure "white culture." They are a means of "reinforcing our position of power," and "we do this all the time in public, private, and parochial schools," using "culturally biased tests, textbooks, and pictures on the wall...for white people." (Fortunately for Elliott, it appears there were no Asian-Americans or psychometricians in her group.)

Elliott often describes the 1990s as if they were the 1920s; indeed, in her view, nothing has changed in America since the collapse of Reconstruction. Every day in the United States, she explains, white power keeps black males in their place by calling them "boy" (two syllables, hissed), "and we do it to accomplished black males over 70, and we get away with it." We tell blacks to assimilate, which means merely to "act white," but when they try that, we put them in their place and change the rules. For example (this in 1995), whites now are building up Colin Powell, but as soon as they build "this boy" up, they will kick him down. For Elliott, the Powell boom was a conscious conspiracy to humiliate and disorient blacks.

She teaches her "blueys" with relish that protest accomplishes nothing, because if blacks protest, "we kill them." It is not smart to speak up or act clever, which is why blacks appear passive and stupid. The lesson: "You have no power, absolutely no power. ...Quit trying." Blacks might try to "win" on the inside, but it is almost impossible to validate oneself when white society puts you down "all day, every day"...

In short, this is America, and there truly is no hope. Nothing ever changes. No one can succeed by effort. Culture, society, and politics all are static. "White privilege" controls all agencies of power, influence, and image, and uses all the means that arise from these to render "people of color" psychologically impotent, confused, passive, and helpless. So either vent your hatred or assume your guilt.

There is no redemption except guilt, but there is a political moral. After "teaching" a "bluey" to submit totally to her authority, she asks if that was a good lesson. The workshop thinks it was. No, she says with venom, submission to tyranny is a terrible lesson, but "what I just did to him today Newt Gingrich is doing to you every day...and you are submitting to that, submitting to oppression"...

In 1996, she told her audience at Kansas State University that all whites are racists, whatever they believe about themselves: "If you want to see another racist, turn to the person on your right. Now look at the person on your left." She also believes that blacks were in America 600 years before whites. She told the students at Kansas State that if they were angry at her, they should write letters, but that they must do so without paper, alphabet, or numbers, all of which were invented by people of color. Whites, in Elliott's view, did have a certain creativity. Betraying a breathtaking ignorance of world history, she told the Australian Internet magazine Webfronds in 1998 that "white people invented racism." Other than that, however, whites were quite parasitic...

From the evidence, most students tune it out, just as most students at most times generally have tuned out abuses of power and diminutions of liberty. One should not take heart from that. Where students react, it is generally with an anger that, ironically and sadly, exacerbates the balkanization of our universities.

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