The War on Satire, Brought to You by Social Justice Warriors

Satire truly is becoming impossible. Steve Hayward recently posted this item at Powerline:

A New York City proposal to diversify middle schools on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, by setting aside seats for children with low test scores, is facing stiff resistance from parents worried their high-achieving children might lose access to the popular public schools.

The article continues:

Supporters say the disadvantaged deserve better access. Principal Henry Zymeck of the Computer School, which would be affected, said children benefit from learning alongside others with varying abilities, and teachers know how to differentiate instruction.

Hayward adds at the end, “I think Harvard and other elite universities should admit applicants by random drawing.”

Who could have seen this coming? Actually, who could not have seen this coming? According to the canons of the “social justice warrior” Left, all inequalities are problematic, especially those that have a “disparate impact” upon the distribution of access to better (perhaps that should be “better”) schools. What starts on campus seldom stays on campus. Nowadays the physical qualifications necessary to be a firefighter have been changed so more women can pass the test. In such a world attacks on academic standards are hardly surprising. The child of two parents who attended highly ranked colleges or high schools is much more likely than another child to attend such schools, and prosper as a result. To base entrance to “elite” schools on an accident of birth—the random luck of being born to parents who did well in school is to perpetuate “privilege.” And who is to say what is “better” or “worse” when it comes to writing, math, etc., as post-modernism teaches?

Hence, I wrote in an April Fool’s Day piece a few years ago, “Harvard to Go Egalitarian.”

In a move designed to foster diversity and to create a university that “thinks like America,” Dr. Drew Gilpin Faust, the President of Harvard University announced yesterday that the school will embrace egalitarian admissions. The school will no longer give priority to students with good grades, high SAT scores, and impressive extra-curricular activities. Such policies have, Dr. Faust acknowledged, created an “elitist” and “inegalitarian” atmosphere at the college. “It is unacceptable in 2014 to be favoring the intelligent over the unlearned, and the energetic over the slothful,” she proclaimed

Henceforth, it would be a new Harvard, with grades assigned by lot, to avoid perpetuating privilege. That would require some adjustment, I suggested: “This summer, the entire Harvard faculty will be trained in sensitivity to needs of DIDL [the proposed acronym for ‘differently intellectual’ and ‘differently learned’] students.” Or, in the words of the actual news item, “teachers know how to differentiate instruction.” Presumably, that will require additional “sensitivity training.”

Other recent SJW suggestions about dating are similarly predictable. In my misspent youth, I penned an op-ed in my undergraduate newspaper suggesting that the obvious answer to the various emotional and legal needs of the school and of students on the dating scene was to draft and sign a standard contract before dating, to ensure there was explicit written consent each and every sexual activity, and no ambiguity due to drinking or other impairment. Not long thereafter, Antioch College enacted a policy very much like that. They were much mocked at the time, but nowadays that policy is garnering praise and imitation, and not just on campus.

When one points out the likely tendency of Progressive policies, one is often called paranoid, unhinged, even bigoted. Also, one often hears “that’s not funny!”

Rod Dreher describes an analogous phenomenon as “the law of merited impossibility”:

The Law Of Merited Impossibility is an epistemological construct governing the paradoxical way overclass opinion makers frame the discourse about the clash between religious liberty and gay civil rights. It is best summed up by the phrase, “It’s a complete absurdity to believe that Christians will suffer a single thing from the expansion of gay rights, and boy, do they deserve what they’re going to get.”

If one had said that gay marriage would mean Christians who run small businesses will be forced out of business, or that, in New York City, businesses could be ruined for refusing to call a biological man who thinks he a women “she,” one would have been accused of being paranoid, and offering “red herring” arguments. Clearly, anyone who offered up such an argument, since it was so unhinged, must be a bigot, and not making a serious argument. (The people at Snopes rate the later claim “false” because “fines won’t be handed out for accidentally misusing pronouns.” But they do note that “Intentional or repeated refusal to use an individual’s preferred name, pronoun or title” would make one liable to fines of $250,000.  It does not occur to the people at Snopes, apparently, that there might be competing understandings of male and female, and that forced speech is tyranny).

Near the start of Parlor Politics, Catherine Allgor’s fine book on the political culture of Washington, DC in the early republic, she states that “politics incorporates many goals, including . . . the assignment of values.” In the American tradition, of course, we begin with “the laws of nature and nature’s God,” and are “endowed by our Creator” with rights. Before the Progressive attack on the founding, Americans understood our politics to be based upon the premise that we do not assign or create “values” in politics. The trouble is that there will never be complete agreement about what is just by nature.  Especially in a large republic like the United States, we seek to achieve peace amid the diversity of understandings of how one ought to live.

Liberalism, in the classic sense, left us largely free to live according to different understandings of right, limiting government only to those tasks that, of necessity, must be done collectively—such as making war. The “social justice” perspective casts justice as single and self-evident. There is no room for an idea of politics as the arena in which competing, and sometimes incommensurable ideas of justice are adjudicated, and when separation is allowed in the name peace.

In this perspective, irony disappears because what seems like an absurd exaggeration only seems to be absurd because of what are thought of as, ultimately, random circumstances. Absent a natural standard of right, however contested, anything might be okay. It’s simply a matter of all “right thinking” people being on board. Hence the movement from “that’s a red herring” to “shut up, bigot.” It is also why Progressives are largely immune to the dramatic irony of their position.

One can be “woke” or one can be self-aware, that is, aware of man’s political nature. One cannot be both.