Title: Reading and Writing for Civic Literacy
Subtitle: The Critical Citizen's Guide to Argumentative Rhetoric
Author: Donald Lazere
Date: 2005
Source: Routledge

      Cultural Politics & the Promise of Democracy

      Title Page

      Publisher Details



      Preface to Teachers(and Curious Students)

  Part 1: Preliminaries

    Chapter 1. An Appeal to Students

      English as a Survival Skill

        Politics Is Interested in You

        Who Makes the Rules?

        Go to the Mall Instead?

        The Role of English Studies

        Avoiding Political Correctness

      Critical Education in Historical Perspective

        Intellectuals as Dissenters

        Majoring in Debt

        Students Stand Up for Workers’ Rights

        The Abandoned Generation:

        Democracy Beyond the Culture of Fear

      A Preview Case: September 11, 2001

        Faced with Evil on a Grand Scale, Nothing Is Relative

        Debate these pros and cons of all these arguments among your classmates.

    Chapter 2. What Is anArgument? What Is a Good Argument?

      What is a Good Argument?

        A Good Argument Is Well Supported

        A Good Argument Distinguishes Facts from Opinions, Takes Care to Verify Facts, and Expresses Informed Opinions

        A Good Argument Is Cogently Reasoned

        A Good Argument Is Relevant, Consistent, and Free of Fallacies

        A Good Argument Is Well Balanced, Fair-Minded, and Qualified

        A Good Argument Effectively Refutes Opposing Arguments

      Analysis, Synthesis, and Judgments

      Style and Tone, Eloquence and Moral Force


      Rhetoric: a Checklist for Analyzing Your Own and Others’ Arguments

        Summary exposition of the situation

        A Historical-Causal Analysis of “The White Problem”

    Chapter 3. Definitions andCriteria of Critical Thinking

      Critical Thinking and Cultural Literacy

      Making Connections

      Dialogue in Critical Thinking and Literature

      Recursiveness, Cumulativeness, and Levels of Meaning

      Drawing the Line and Establishing Proportion

        From The American Scholar

        A Noiseless Patient Spider

        Can Patriotism Be Compassionate?


    Chapter 4. Writing Argumentative Papers


        Reading and Research

        Brainstorming, Freewriting, Small-Group Discussions


        Narrowing Down


        Drafting and Revising

        Attributing Opinions to Sources

        Continuity, Transitions, Connections

        More about Introductions and Conclusions


        Proofreading and Polishing

        Reading Aloud

        High School Level

        College Level

        Scholarly and Professional Level

        Political Viewpoints in Sources

      A Model of the Writing Process in a Student Paper

        First Draft

        Peer Editing

        Class Discussion

        Susan’s Outline for Revision

        Revised Draft

        Works Cited


        The Beauty Myth

        The Backlash Myth

  Part 2: Attaining an Open Mind:Critical Thinking and

    Chapter 5. Viewpoint, Bias, and Fairness: From Cocksure Ignorance to Thoughtful Uncertainty

      Relativism and Commitment

      Biased and Unbiased Viewpoints:

      The Esbyods Principle

      Acknowledge Your Own and Opposing Viewpoints

      Rogerian Argument, Believers and Doubters

      A Semantic Calculator for Bias in Rhetoric

      Case Study: Anita Hill Versus Clarence Thomas

        The Effort to Destroy Clarence Thomas

      The Unraveling of Anita Hill

        Can I Get a Witness?

      Thomas Versus Hill: Postscript 1, 2001

      Thomas Versus Hill: Postscript 2, 2004

        Strange Lies

    Chapter 6. Questioning Culturally ConditionedAssumptions and Ethnocentrism

      Totems and Taboos


      American Ethnocentrism

      Questioning Capitalism



        From A Room of One’s Own

        Rescue Me, Please!

        Objectivity in Connected Teaching

        Portrait of a Connected Teacher

        Belief, Doubt, and Development

        Women’s Development as the Aim of Education

        The Global Sweatshop

        Kathie Lee and Robert Reich

        A “Sweat-Free” Campus

        The Labor Connection

        The Industry’s New Clothes

        Beyond Consumer Awareness

    Chapter 7. Overgeneralization, Stereotyping, and Prejudice


      Class Prejudice

      Reverse Prejudice

        An Unexpected Education at St. Anthony’s

        Life on the Expense Account

        How to Slash Corporate Welfare

        Corporations: Underworld, U.S.A.

    Chapter 8. Authoritarianism and Conformity, Rationalization andCompartmentalization

      Paddy Chayevsky

      Rationalization, Compartmentalized Thinking, and Double Standards

      Double Standards and Selective Vision

      Other Defense Mechanisms

        On the Merits

    Chapter 9. Semantics in Rhetoric andCritical Thinking

      Denotation and Connotation

      Definition and Denotation in Argument

      Connotation in Argument:

      “cleans” and “dirties”


      Abstract and Concrete Language

      Unconcretized Abstractions

      Literal and Figurative Language

      Literal and Figurative Language

      In Literature

      A Semantic Analysis of Rush Limbaugh

      Summary: Applying Semantic Analysis

        When Words Cheapen Life

        Look Behind Statistics for Changing Definitions

    Chapter 10. AvoidingOversimplification and Recognizing Complexity

      Recognizing Complexity

      Reading Between the Lines


        Verbal Irony

        Appearance versus Reality, Words versus Deeds

        Extremes Meet

        Intention versus Outcome

        Historical Irony


    Chapter 11. Some Key Terms in Logic and Argumentation

      Deductive and Inductive Arguments

        Varieties of Induction

        Varieties of Deduction

        A letter to the editor of the New York Times argued:

        Letter to the editor in the San Francisco Chronicle:

      Implications and Inferences

      Setting the Agenda

      Tone and Style


      Ground Rules for Polemicists

        Lies, Damn Lies and Racial Statistics

        White Racism: The Seductive Lure of an Unproved Theory

    Chapter 12. Logical andRhetorical Fallacies

      Glossary of Logical and Rhetorical Fallacies

    Chapter 13.Causal Analysis

      From The Music Man, Act One, Scene Two G.P. Putnam and Sons, NY, 1958 By Meredith Willson

      Other People’s Children: North Lawndale and the South Side of Chicago

      Crisis in American Education

      Equality: A Grand Fallacy

    Chapter 14. Uses and Misuses of Emotional Appeal

      Appeals to “cleans” and “dirties”

      Puff Pieces and Hatchet Jobs

        Bunker Hunt’s Greatest Investment

      Topics for Discussion and Writing

      Predictable Patterns of Wartime Rhetoric: Appeals to Fear and Pity

        War Destroys Truth and Memory

        The History of War

        The Position of the Soldier

        “We Support Our Troops”

        “God Is on Our Side”

        The Role of the Media


        War Is the Supreme Drug. An Interview with Author Chris Hedges

        Debate with classmates the following hypotheses:

  Part 3. Thinking Critically About the Rhetoric of Politics and Mass Media

    Chapter 15. Thinking Critically about Political

    Chapter 16. Rhetoric

      Prestudy Exercises

      Political Semantics

      Liberalism, Conservatism, Democrat, Republican

      Socialism, Communism, Marxism

      The World Political Spectrum

      The American Political Spectrum

      A Guide to Political Terms and Positions

        Left Wing, Right Wing, Capitalism, Communism, Socialism

        Conservatives, Liberals, Socialists, Libertarians

      Notes on the Guide to Political Terms and Positions

        A Note on Leftists and Rightists

        A Note on Fascism

        Notes on Social Class and Political Attitudes

      Predictable Patterns of Political Rhetoric

      A Note on Twenty-first Century Modifications to Table 15.1

      Political Viewpoints in Sources

        General Circulation Periodicals

        Publishers of Books and Reports

        Research Institutes and Foundations (“Think Tanks”)

    Chapter 17. Political Party Statements of Purpose

        Big Problems Require Big Solutions

        Labor and Work


        Ventura: Act Got Old, But

        Message Prevails

        Fascism Anyone?


    Chapter 18. Thinking Critically about Mass Media

      Do the Media Give People What They Want?

        Flashy Headlines

        Impact of the Internet

      Are News Media Objective? What Are Their Biases?

      The Debate Over Political Bias in Media

        First Dimension: Ambiguity of Definitions

        Second Dimension: Relativity of Viewpoint

        Fourth Dimension: Political Viewpoints and Levels of Education


        The Pitiful Giant Syndrome

        Flabby Centrists & Aggressive Rightists

        Right-Wing Echo Chamber

        Proving Liberal Domination

        My Sports Right or

        Outfoxed Tweaks Rupert Murdoch’s Mayhem-isphere

      Assignment for a Paper

  Part 4. Deception Detection

    Chapter 19. Special Interests, Conflict of Interest, Special Pleading

      Quayle Group Meddles With Our Safeguards

      Corporate Funding Taints Public Debate Jim Mann 433

      When Money Talks

        Patrician aristocrats

        A role to play

        Countervailing pressure

        A balance of interests

      Secrecy and Financial Conflicts inUniversity-Industry Research Must Get Closer Scrutiny

    Chapter 20. Varieties of Propaganda

      Invective, Smearing, Disinformation

      Lobbying and Public Relations

      Government Public Relations; the Militaryindustrial Complex

        Rhetoric and Storytelling

        Limited Access

        Technology as Star

        Point of View

        The Avoidance of Appearing Disloyal

        Truth, Moore or Less: Fahrenheit 9/11

        The art form matures

        The air of authenticity

      Are You Taken in by Ads?

      Advertising Sells More Than Products

      Political Advertising


        Children Now Facing

        Adult Health Issues

        Road to Ruin: Sport Utility Vehiclesand the Greening of Environmental Destruction

        Security through Domination

        Gas Guzzlers

        Deadly Pleasures

        Commercialized Media

  Part 5. Putting It All Together in a Long Paper

    Chapter 20. A Case Study: The Rich, the Poor, and the Middle Class

      Sklar Versus Weicher

        Let Them Eat Cake

        View From the Top

        View From Below

        Working Longer for Less

      Hinderaker and Johnson Versus Barlett and Steele

        George Bush’s Tax Return

        Who Really Pays the Taxes?

        The Bushes’ Tax Return

      Applications in Student Papers

        Section of Paper One

        Section of Paper Two

      Summary of Suspicious Statistical Arguments

      An Outline of Conservative and Leftistarguments on the Rich, the Poor, and the Middle Class

        The Conservative Position

        The Leftist Position

        The CEO Makes What? Return of a Fair-Pay Debate

        Are they worth it?

        A bit of background:

        Left Watch: Why Try Holly Sklar’s Socialist Plans for Economy When United States Is Doing Just Fine?

    Chapter 21. Collecting and EvaluatingOpposing Sources: Writing the Research Paper

      Assignment for an Annotated Bibliography and Working Outline

      Sample Working Outline, Annotated Bibliography Entry, and Term Paper

        Working Outline: Reaganomics Rides Yet Again

        Peter Hammond

        Annotated Bibliography Sample Entry

      A Model Student Research Paper (Using Mla Style)

        Reaganomics Rides Yet Again

        Works Cited

    Chapter 22. Documentation

      Citations in Your Text

        Style of Parenthetical References

        Indented Quotations

      Works Cited Section

        Sample Entries



        Article in a Newspaper.

        Article in a Weekly or Biweekly Magazine.

        Article in a Monthly or Bimonthly Magazine.

        Personal Interviews

        Sources on the World Wide Web

      Sources in Print

        Government Publications

        General-Circulation Periodicals, Book Publishers, and Research Institutes

        Periodical Indexes

      Online Resources

        Critically Analyzing Web Sites

        Avoiding Plagiarism from the Internet

        Internet Search Engines

        Online Government Document Sites

        Listservs, Bulletin Boards, Newsgroups, and Usenets

        Online Newsmagazines and Newspapers


        Online Journals of Opinion

        TV News Services

        Business, Labor, Economics

        Politics: Nonpartisan Sources

        Party Organizations

        Conservative and Libertarian Organizations, Web Sites, and Listservs

        Liberal and Left Organizations, Web Sites, and Listservs

    Glossary of Rhetorical andCritical Thinking Terms

    Works Cited

      A Semantic Calculator for Bias in Rhetoric

Reading and Writing for Civic Literacy: The Critical Citizen’s Guide to Argumentative Rhetoric

Cultural Politics & the Promise of Democracy

Henry A. Giroux, Series Editor

Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11

by Paul Street

The Terror of Neoliberalism

by Henry A. Giroux

Caught in the Crossfire: Kids, Politics, and America’s Future

by Lawrence Grossberg

Reading and Writing for Civic Literacy: The Critical Citizen’s Guide to Argumentative Rhetoric

by Donald Lazere

Schooling and the Struggle for Public Life, Second Edition

by Henry A. Giroux


Reading French Feminism

by Michael Payne

Listening Beyond the Echoes: Agency and Ethics in a Mediated World

by Nick Couldry

Not Only the Master’s Tools: African-American Studies in Theory and Practice edited by Lewis R. Gordon and Jane Anna Gordon

Title Page

Reading and Writing for Civic Literacy

The Critical Citizen’s Guide to Argumentative Rhetoric

Donald Lazere

California Polytechnic State University University of Tennessee, Knoxville


Taylor & Francis Group


Publisher Details

First published 2005 by Paradigm Publishers

Published 2016 by Routledge

2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN

711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017, USA

Routledge is an imprint ofthe Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business

Copyright © 2005 , Taylor & Francis.

All rights reserved. No Part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers.


Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Lazere, Donald.

Reading and writing for civic literacy : the critical citizen’s guide to argumentative rhetoric / Donald Lazere.

p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 1-59451-084-9 (acid-free paper) — ISBN 1-59451-085-7 (pbk. : acid-free paper)

1. Persuasion (Rhetoric) 2. Citizenship—United States. 3. Civil society—United States. 4. Critical thinking—United States. 5. English language—United States—Rhetoric. I. Title.

PE1431.L39 2005



Designed and Typeset by Straight Creek Bookmakers

Paperback front cover art: Mario Savio speaking in the Free Speech Movement, Berkeley, 1964, depicted on the People’s Park Mural, 1976, conceived by Osha Neumann and painted by Osha Neumann, O’Brien Thiele, Hannah Kransberg, Daniel Galvez, and many other artists. Photo by Clarke Daniels.

ISBN 13: 978-1-59451-084-7 (hbk)

ISBN 13: 978-1-59451-085-4 (pbk)


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Copyright © 1961 by Daniel J. Boorstin; copyright renewed © 1989; “Ten Food Secrets You Should Know,” Center for Science in the Public Interest, copyright 2002 CSPI. Reprinted/Adapted from Nutrition Action Healthletter; Joan Ryan, “Children Now Facing Adult Health Issues,” Knoxville News Sentinel, May 30, 2002, B8. Reprinted by permission; Robin Andersen, “Road to Ruin: Sport Utility Vehicles and the Greening of Environmental Destruction,” Extra! September-October 1998, 22-23. Reprinted by permission of author; Holly Sklar, “Let Them Eat Cake,” Z Magazine, November 1998, 29-32. Reprinted by permission of author; John C. Weicher, “Wealth-Gap Claptrap,” Weekly Standard, July 1, 1996, 14-15. Reprinted by permission of Weekly Standard; John H. Hinderaker and Scott W. Johnson, “George Bush’s Tax Return,” National Review, May 30, 1994, 40-42. Used by permission of National Review; David R. Francis, “The CEO Makes What? Return of a Fair-Pay Debate.” This article first appeared in The Christian Science Monitor on March 27, 2000, and is reproduced with permission. Copyright © 2000 The Christian Science Monitor (www.csmonitor.com). All rights reserved; Elizabeth Carnell, “Why Try Holly Sklar’s Socialist Plans for Economy When United States Is Doing Just Fine?” Left Watch, Sept. 1, 1999, www.leftwatch.com/ holly_sklar/sklar001.html. Reprinted by permission of author; George Will, “What’s Behind Income Disparity?” San Francisco Chronicle, April 25, 1995, A15. Reprinted by permission of the Washington Post Writers Group.


This book is the culmination of a long career in teaching, scholarship, and journalism. Consequently, the list of people to whom I owe thanks, professionally or personally, stretches back through several decades. These begin with Charles Muscatine and Marlene Griffith, whose classic The Borzoi College Reader was the first textbook I ever taught from, in the Department of Rhetoric at Berkeley, and which was so formative in my thinking that I tell Chuck and Marlene that this book could be called “Child of Borzoi Reader.” I have long admired (and taught) two other textbooks, to the extent of that imitation which is the sincerest form of flattery: Ray Kytle’s Clear Thinking for Composition, which I expressly credit throughout the book for several of my key concepts, and Logic and Contemporary Rhetoric: The Use of Reason in Everyday Life, by my friends Howard Kahane and Nancy Cavender, who since Howard’s death has taken over authorship of the book that this one resembles most in scope and authorial tone (though their book is mainly in the discipline of philosophy while mine is in English). Ira Shor’s and Henry Giroux’s great books on teaching, beginning with Ira’s Critical Teaching and Everyday Life and Henry’s Theory and Resistance in Education, have been equally inspiring. Hugh Rank’s several works developing his “Intensify-Downplay Schema” are the main source for my “Semantic Calculator for Bias in Rhetoric” and other variations on playing up and downplaying in argumentation. Gerald Graff’s notion of “teaching the conflicts” is probably the strongest influence, and my long-running friendship with and professional encouragement by Jerry and Cathy Birkenstein-Graff have been priceless.

The administration and English department at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, provided generous support and esprit de corps through the many years in which this book evolved out of my class assignments in both composition and literature courses. Since my retirement from Poly, the English department at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has graciously provided me with the opportunity to keep teaching and keep in touch with the lively pulse of a new generation of students.

Many of the ideas in this book developed and were tested over several summer sessions of the International Conference on Critical Thinking and Moral Critique at Sonoma State University, sponsored by the Center for Critical Thinking there, whose resident genius is Richard Paul. My distinctive concept of critical thinking was fostered by Richard and many of the distinguished faculty members from around this country and the world who made those conferences so exciting.

Other steadfast friends and colleagues through the years, several of whom read all or Part of this manuscript in draft, include Alan Hausman, Sandra Gilbert, Stephen Parks and Lori Schor, Richard Ohmann, Ben Bagdikian, Mary Jo Reiff, Nina Gregg, Doug Gamble, Karen Fitts, and the late Alan France. My brother Arthur Lazere chipped in with computing expertise. Invaluable student assistance was provided by Jennifer Trainor (now a distinguished colleague at the University of Pittsburgh), Glen Starkey, Kim Gottschall, and Kaitlin Madigan.

I am immeasurably grateful to Paradigm Publishers, which had the faith and integrity to publish this book without the dumbing down and depoliticizing demanded these days by the corporate conglomerates that have come to monopolize the textbook industry and whose sole concern with the bottom line has become Part of the problem of mass culture that textbooks ought to be combating. The Paradigm team that got the book into publication with amazing speed and care included Dean Birkenkamp, Mike Peirce, Dianne Ewing, Cheryl Hoffman, Lisa Molinelli, Jason Potter, and Alison Sullenberger.

Above all, thanks to my patient partner through the years of agonies and ecstasies in writing this book: my wife, Janet M. Atwill, the love of my life and an awe-inspiring scholar of classical rhetoric.

Chapter 15was developed from “Teaching the Political Conflicts: A Rhetorical Schema,” in College Composition and Communication, May 1992.

Preface to Teachers(and Curious Students)

The humanities lead beyond “functional” literacy and basic skills to critical judgment and discrimination, enabling citizens to view political issues from an informed perspective...................................................................................................................................... (12)

Educational policy makers at all levels should define critical thinking as a basic skill and recognize the value of the humanities for developing it (22)

High schools should concentrate on an articulated sequence of courses in English, history, and foreign languages. Courses in these disciplines should not divorce skills and methods from knowledge of content and cultural context.......................... English courses need to empha

size the connections between expression, logic, and the critical use of textual and historical evidence. (44)

—The Rockefeller Foundation Commission on the Humanities, The Humanities in American Life, 1980

This rhetoric with readings addresses the need for college students to develop critical reading, writing, and thinking skills for self-defense amid the arguments that inundate them in American public discourse, especially as filtered through the mass media. Within the format of a textbook, mainly for the second term of first-year English or a more advanced composition course, it presents an original theory of argumentative rhetoric, an ideological framework for understanding public controversies, and a practical method for analyzing them.

The approach to argument here is based on the principles of “critical thinking”—a term that has all too often been used as a vague, catchall concept in textbooks but that I use with specific reference to the definitions developed by specialists in the discipline over the past two decades. In brief, this conception of critical thinking avoids technical terminology, complicated theoretical schemas such as “the Toulmin model” or “stasis theory,” and elaborate classification of types of arguments, all of which have limited practical use outside of artificial classroom assignments. Instead, it emphasizes commonsense reasoning about familiar controversies in everyday life, along with analysis of cultural influences and psychological dispositions that lead to open-minded or closed-minded reasoning. To put it another way, what distinguishes this book from most other textbooks is that it asks, What do we need to know, in terms of both factual information and aspects of rhetoric, to understand the information and arguments we read or hear every day about current events and controversies, in news and entertainment media, political statements, the classroom, the local bar or beauty salon—and what skills do we need to apply to every particular case in critically evaluating it? So rather than focusing at the outset, deductively, on abstract principles and contriving examples to illustrate them, our approach is to begin inductively or empirically, with actual arguments in the public sphere—for example, those studied inchapter1about financial pressures on today’s college students and the pros and cons of dissent by writers after September 11, 2001—and then to enable students to determine what rhetorical or critical thinking issues they pose and what measures we need to take in evaluating them. Thus this approach is based on the process through which we all have to deal with arguments as we encounter them in the public sphere every day.

My approach to critical thinking and argumentation incorporates principles from the philosophy of general semantics—emphasizing the role in argumentation of definition of terms, connotative language, and verbal slanting and the need to concretize verbal abstractions and to perceive the complexity of, and diversity of possible viewpoints on, controversial xi

issues. The approach to diversity of viewpoints further draws from the ideas of psychologist Carl Rogers, who was allied with the International Society of General Semantics, emphasizing the needs to attempt to understand and empathize with views differing from our own and to establish good-faith dialogue between opponents. The book provides distinctively in-depth examination of stereotyping and prejudice, polemics and invective, rebuttal, conflicting causal analyses, the use and misuse of statistics and emotional appeal, and logical or rhetorical fallacies like special pleading, stacking the deck, double standards, plain folks, straw man, ad hominem, and ad populum in public controversies. An emphasis on developing extended lines of argument through recursiveness, cumulation, and levels of meaning in reading, writing, and reasoning is reinforced in the structure of the book itself, which develops cumulatively and contains many cross-references forward and back among text sections and readings, in order to highlight different rhetorical issues within each segment. Key terms are boldfaced on first occurrence in each Chapter to indicate that they are defined in the glossary or in the list of logical fallacies in Chapter 12.

In contrast to the many textbooks whose primary aim is for students to generate papers based on their own ideas and arguments, the main focus here is on writing papers that demonstrate understanding and critical evaluation of arguments in sources from books, newspapers, magazines, speeches, student writings, and elsewhere. The justification for this is that in my own and many other teachers’ experience, most college students can only begin to express themselves effectively about public controversies after they have acquired a base of factual, historical, and current knowledge about them (what E. D. Hirsch calls “cultural literacy”). They further need to have studied a diversity of sources on them, learning to analyze the ideological positions and rhetorical patterns of opposing sources. These processes are so extensive in themselves as to warrant an entire textbook.

Moreover, the concept of civic literacy mentioned in the title involves mainly the application of more or less traditional elements of academic discourse toward the development of critical citizenship. That is to say, the book is not primarily a guide for argumentation in the arena of service learning or community activism, which presents quite a different set of rhetorical challenges. Currently available textbooks for this purpose are themselves valuable supplements to this one, which nevertheless includes exercises encouraging students to apply the studies here to various forms of activism.

Many of the examples presented for analysis in the text and readings focus on issues in current political economy that impinge directly on students’ present and future lives, such as the growing gap between the wealthy and the middle class and poor; concentration of corporate ownership and corporate political influence; the global economy and sweatshop labor; the decline in recent decades of job prospects and real income for most workers; the escalating cost of college education and reduction of financial aid; inequities in tax and wage policy; crime and welfare among the poor versus the rich. These issues are presented through opposing viewpoints in readings from conservative, liberal, libertarian, and leftist authors, with glosses analyzing rhetorical aspects of the points of opposition and prompting student debates on them. A culminating, extended section of readings and analyses on these topics forms a casebook, within the context of a guide to writing documented argumentative papers. The opposing viewpoints in the readings and citations serve as a who’s who of current commentators on the American right, including William J. Bennett, Rush Limbaugh, Christina Hoff Sommers, Thomas Sowell, Bernard Goldberg, Jeff Jacoby, Lynne Cheney, David Horowitz, Diane Ravitch, James Pinkerton, Charles Krauthammer, Fred Barnes, George Will, Deroy Murdock, P. J. O’Rourke, and the Young America’s Foundation, and on the left, including Jonathan Kozol, Katha Pollitt, Bob Herbert, Naomi Wolf, Michael Kinsley, Martha Nussbaum, Henry Giroux, Holly Sklar, June Jordan, Edward Herman, Jim Hightower, Adolph Reed, David Brock, Joel Bleifuss, Susan Douglas, David Moberg, and Steve Brouwer.

In contrast to the common textbook approach to logical fallacies that assumes they result only from unintentional lapses in reasoning, the book confronts the hard truth that real-life arguments frequently are tainted by deliberate deception, political partisanship and polemics, special pleading, double standards, conflicts of interest, “hype,” and other forms of propaganda or outright lying. Moreover, it alerts students to sources of biased arguments including political “spin doctors,” public relations agencies, lobbies, and partisan foundations and think tanks that sponsor journalism or research.

Thus the book assumes that college students are capable of dealing with public disputes in which the truth is often fiendishly difficult to determine, even for the most knowledgeable analysts. However, political and economic issues are not addressed at the same level or in the same manner as they would be in social science courses. They are addressed, rather, at the level of campaign speeches, news and entertainment media, op-ed columns, generalcirculation journals of opinion, and other realms of public discourse to which everyone is exposed every day. The political vocabulary and information covered here are no more specialized than what every citizen in a democracy should be expected to know, even before taking a college argumentative and research writing course—although definitions and explanations of political concepts are provided for those students who need them. Chapter l5, “Thinking Critically about Political Rhetoric,” provides a basic glossary and extended explanation of political terms and ideological positions. “A Semantic Calculator for Bias in Rhetoric,” “Predictable Patterns of Political Rhetoric,” and “The American Political Spectrum: Media and Commentators from Left to Right” provide heuristics for identifying the viewpoints of the authors of readings in the book and elsewhere.

One danger in an approach like this is that it and courses in which it is applied can all too easily be turned into an indoctrination to the author’s or instructor’s personal political ideology, or into an excuse for teaching political science instead of critical thinking and writing. This concern has certainly been warranted by the tendency of some “politically correct” teachers to assume that all students and colleagues agree—or should agree—with their particular views. So one of my main concerns has been how to avoid turning this book and the kind of course for which it is intended into indoctrination into any particular ideological position. To be sure, this book’s project of Socratic, critical questioning of the conventional assumptions of our society, including the ethnocentrism of American nationalism and its capitalistic economy, is bound to be predominantly liberal, by the dictionary definition of “free of or not bound by traditional or conventional ideas, values, etc.; open-minded” (Random House Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary). Whether those Americans who are considered “liberal” act consistently in accord with these principles is, of course, a source of constant dispute between liberals and conservatives. This is one of many points on which the very definitions of these opposed terms are highly ambiguous—a problem highlighted throughout the book.

So while the authorial viewpoint is liberal to leftist, the book raises as an explicit topic for rhetorical study the issues of political subjectivity, partisanship, and bias in sources of information, including not only the media but also teachers and authors of textbooks—including this one. The principle is that any writer or reader addressing controversial issues will almost inevitably have a subjective, partisan viewpoint. There is nothing wrong with having such a viewpoint; indeed, a clear-cut expression of a particular partisan viewpoint can be a rhetorical virtue, particularly if the viewpoint is relatively unbiased, supported through sound argumentation, and explained in evenhanded contrast to opposing views. The book’s aim is to enable students to identify and understand the full range of viable ideologies in today’s world (including those mostly excluded from the American public agenda, like democratic socialism and libertarianism), so that they can then perceive the viewpoint of any given source and weigh its rhetorical quality against opposing points of view.

In the same way, the book stresses that we all can benefit from learning to identify our own ideological viewpoint, and possible biases, as readers and writers, and certainly as teachers. I believe that teachers or textbook writers should not coyly hide their viewpoint, as they often do, but that they should honestly identify it and present it, not as the assumed truth, but as one viewpoint among others, needing to be scrutinized for its own biases and fair-mindedly justified against opposing ones. Thus, because total objectivity may never be attainable, dealing honestly with our own subjectivity may be the best way to approximate objectivity. This principle obliges me to come out from the hiding place of authorial anonymity and pretended objectivity that is the convention in textbooks and to speak as “I” from time to time throughout the book, especially in addressing contentious issues where it is most difficult for anyone to present an objective, impartial analysis. In such sections, students are directed to sources whose viewpoint opposes mine. Likewise, more-conservative teachers can readily engage the views in the book from their own critical viewpoint, thus advancing the open-ended dialogue called for.

The intention of this method, then, is to guarantee that students will not be indoctrinated into my ideology (or that of any other writer or teacher) but rather that the scope of students’ own critical thinking, reading, and writing capacities will be broadened so as to empower them to make their own autonomous judgments on opposing ideological positions in general and on specific issues. It is exactly this intention, of encouraging students to view social issues from diverse perspectives and in their full complexity, that ultimately justifies the emphasis on political issues here, within a rhetorical framework quite different from anything students are apt to encounter in social science courses.

Finally, the book seeks to transcend arbitrary disciplinary divisions between the humanities and social sciences, as well as the divisions within English studies among composition, literature, and rhetoric. My view that literature and literary criticism provide perhaps the richest models for critical thinking about public discourse is supported in the many citations throughout the book of literary sources illustrating principles like questioning ethnocentrism, recursiveness, recognizing complexity, multiple perspectives and levels of meaning, irony and paradox, and drawing fine lines in ethical or aesthetic distinctions. These sources include Plato, William Shakespeare, Michel de Montaigne, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Frederick Douglass, Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf, George Orwell, Albert Camus, Joseph Heller, James Baldwin, and Sylvia Plath, along with contemporary literary artists or critics including Alice Walker, Gloria Anzaldua, June Jordan, Susan Sontag, Barbara Kingsolver, Arundhati Roy, Adrienne Rich, and Edward Said.

The organization of the book is flexible enough to invite teachers to change the order of chapters to accord with their own preferred emphasis. Teachers who wish to concentrate on writing instruction from the outset might want to begin with Chapter 4, “Writing Argumentative Papers,” and to bring in Chapter 21 early, “Collecting and Evaluating Opposing Sources: Writing the Research Paper,” supplemented by the reference materials for documentation and using research resources in Part V.

For me the conceptual heart of the book is Chapter 15, “Thinking Critically about Political Rhetoric.” This discussion of denotation and connotation in political language, definitions of various party and ideological positions—along a worldwide and nationwide spectrum—and predictable patterns of political rhetoric is foreshadowed throughout much of the earlier sections. Some reviewers have suggested moving this Chapter nearer the beginning. This would have obvious advantages, but I think it would have the disadvantage of suggesting that the book was entirely about political rhetoric. I do believe that it is essential to apply principles of rhetoric and critical thinking to politics, and that this application warrants much more emphasis than in most other textbooks, but I also believe that there are many other important dimensions and applications of rhetoric and critical thinking that precede and perhaps transcend politics; thus my decision, at least for this edition, to put that Chapter about halfway through. Certainly, though, teachers whose courses focus centrally on politics might well assign that chapter, and perhaps the following one, “Thinking Critically about Mass Media,” toward the beginning. In any case, I welcome suggestions from teachers and students about changing this and other organizational choices in future editions.

Part 1: Preliminaries

Taylor & Francis

Taylor & Francis Croup


Chapter 1. An Appeal to Students

Resolved, that the National Council of Teachers of English support the efforts of English and related subjects to train students in a new literacy encompassing not only the decoding of print but the critical reading, listening, viewing, and thinking skills necessary to enable students to cope with the sophisticated persuasion techniques found in political statements, advertising, entertainment, and news.

—Resolution Passed in 1975

I believe in the development of a critical, skeptical, humorous habit of mind—in the development of a liberally educated consciousness, a sensitivity to nuances and unstated implications, an ability to read between the lines and to hear undertones and overtones—both for the sake of political and social enlightenment and for the sake of our personal enlightenment and pleasure as individuals. I am a teacher of literature and of writing because I believe that precision, clarity, beauty and force in the use of language, and appreciative perception of these qualities in the language of others, not only make us harder to fool but are good things in themselves; since in a free society we are not only citizens but also individuals. I believe that the more sensitively we perceive things the more fully we can live and the less likely we are to be imposed on by advertisers, politicians and other Saviors.

—J. Mitchell Morse, The Irrelevant English Teacher

English as a Survival Skill

This is a textbook primarily for the second term of first-year English or a more advanced composition course emphasizing argumentative rhetoric, the research paper, and writing from sources. It is also a survival guide for self-defense against manipulation by politicians, the media, teachers, and assorted propagandists. Our culture places huge value on physical fitness and self-defense. Newspapers and television are filled every day with ads for building muscles, working off fat, and martial arts. There are not many ads for building our 3 mental muscles, reducing the fat in our brain, or defending ourselves in argumentation. Isn’t it equally important to be able to fight back against those trying to take verbal and intellectual advantage of us?

A bizarre feature of American public discourse in the early twenty-first century has been a parade of best-selling nonfiction books with titles like Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism and Slander: Liberal Lies about the American Right (Ann Coulter), Deliver Us from Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism (Sean Hannity), Bias: A CBS Insider Explores How the Media Distort the News (Bernard Goldberg, excerpted here in Chapter 16), Weapons of Mass Distortion: The Coming Meltdown of the Liberal Media (Brent Bozell), What Liberal Media? The Truth about Bias and the News (Eric Alterman), Stupid White Men: And Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation! (Michael Moore), Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right (Al Franken), Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth (Joe Conason), Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative and The Republican Noise Machine: Right-Wing Media and How It Corrupts Democracy (David Brock). In such books as well as on competing talk-radio networks and cable channels, liberals (including Alterman, Moore, Franken, Conason, and Brock) and conservatives (including Coulter, Hannity, Goldberg, and Bozell), Democrats and Republicans shrilly accuse the other side of diabolically deceptive, monopolistic control of American politics, media, culture, and education, while portraying their own side as powerless, persecuted, and wholly virtuous. What are we to make of this dizzying, vicious circle of accusation? How can we possibly tell who in fact is telling the truth and who is lying? Among the aims of this book is to approach these questions through the systematic application to them of principles of critical thinking and argumentative rhetoric{1} (defined as the study of elements and patterns of persuasion—both scrupulous and unscrupulous ones, though popular usage tends to equate rhetoric solely with the latter).

Most argumentation textbooks cover a very wide variety of subjects, in the hope of providing something for everybody, but with the unfortunate consequence that their diffuseness and lack of continuity reproduce the fragmented thought patterns in most other realms of American public discourse, which impede the coherent, synthesizing mental activity necessary to critical thinking. So Reading and Writing for Civic Literacy mainly concentrates on rhetorical approaches to some of our most pressing current political and social controversies, in the length and depth necessary to develop coherent understanding of them, through studying them cumulatively and recursively, and to follow and write extended lines of argument about them.

Politics Is Interested in You

Uh-oh! At the first mention of the word “politics,” many students start groaning, “I’m just not interested in politics.” As a plea to persuade you not to turn off right here, let me argue that “politics” doesn’t just refer to dry matters of the branches of government, the structure of parties and electoral processes, and such. Many Americans believe their life and work are wholly personal matters and under their own control, and thus they can ignore what happens in the public sphere; to the extent they are aware of larger national or international forces, they believe that those forces are beyond their understanding or control, hence not worth thinking about. You may not think you are interested in politics; however, politics is interested in you.

Americans were especially shocked by the events of September 11, 2001, because many had little or no knowledge of the Qaeda terrorist organization, the location of Afghanistan where we were soon plunged into war, or the long-term political conflicts in the Middle East and Central Asia that were necessary background for full understanding of these events. Among the reactions to the attacks was a widespread recognition that this was a wake-up call for Americans to make much more effort to educate themselves about historical and current events throughout the world, especially those in which America’s government, military, and corporations are directly involved and in which the consequences of that involvement can change any of our personal lives. (See Martha Nussbaum’s “Can Patriotism Be Compassionate?” in Chapter 3). When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, tens of thousands of young men and women in the armed services, many of whom had entered the military mainly for its vocational or educational opportunities, found themselves fighting in a distant Part of the world for a cause they knew little about, other than what they had been indoctrinated in by their commanding officers, and in a foreign culture about whose language, religion, and customs they knew even less. At this writing, in mid-2004, the United States is facing increasing resistance to its invasion and occupation of Iraq; the toll of American troops’ death is rising, amid calls for a larger military force there. The possibility that many more college students and other young men and women will be pressured to join the military, perhaps even through a draft, has suddenly brought the war in distant Iraq closer to home and caused previously indifferent students to engage in the public disputes over whether the administration of George W. Bush deceived us in its justifications for the war. All these issues surrounding the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and Iraq are “politics.”

Shortly after teaching an American literature survey course at the University of Tennessee in spring 2004 in which we had briefly discussed the Iraq war in relation to Henry David Thoreau’s essay “Civil Disobedience,” I received the following e-mail from a student in the class:

I just wanted to tell you that I have gotten much more into politics since I started your class and feel that it has become more important to me now that I am getting older. The events in Iraq over the last few months have disturbed me very much in relation to the prisoner abuse and the beheadings. In addition, one of my closest friends from high school was killed in Iraq over the weekend and his death has very much disturbed me since I was so close to him. He was a U.S. Marine stationed and killed in Fallujah, and now I have another good friend who is being sent back to Iraq in the next few weeks. Now, I feel like all of this mess in Iraq was pointless and I am frustrated that my friend laid down his life for a fiasco. I finally feel like the whole situation in Iraq has become very real to me after his death. It is very scary when people mention the possibility of a draft after a tragedy like this. I only wish we could have talked more about this in your class during the past semester.

Politics further includes controversies about money, a subject that interests everyone. We live today in a political economy in which personal concerns like the cost of living, availability of jobs, access to and cost of health care, tax policy, placement of and return on our investments (especially retirement pensions) are determined by national and international forces that we cannot afford to ignore. The concentration of corporate ownership in recent decades, the growing gap in the distribution of income, power, and taxation between the rich and the middle class and poor, and between big business and small, individual businesses—all of these directly influence everyone’s daily life. Your ability to find a job in the location of your choice, and at the salary of your choice, may be determined by corporate mergers, downsizing, bankruptcies (like those of Enron and WorldCom in the early years of this century), automation, or movement of industries globally into cheap labor markets. Your family business or farm may be subject to a corporate takeover or at least be affected by fluctuations in international stock and monetary markets, competition from companies that have moved to Third World countries with lower operating costs, or other forces in the global economy. As a character in the film Network (excerpted in Chapter 8) puts it, “We are no longer an industrialized society; we aren’t even a post-industrial or technological society. We are now a corporate society, a corporate world, a corporate universe.”

You are certainly concerned about the quality of secondary education that you have received, how adequately it has been financed through the taxes your parents or you pay for it and other public services, and how fair the distribution of the tax burden is on different income levels. You are concerned about the increasingly high cost of college tuition, textbooks, and housing; how much financial aid is available to you and at what cost; what parttime jobs are available to you as a student, how much they pay; and—above all—what your occupational and financial prospects are after you graduate. (On this topic, see Adolph Reed’s article “Majoring in Debt” in this chapter.) But how are public policies on all these matters determined, and by whom? Not by impersonal, uncontrollable forces like the weather. They are mostly controlled by human agents, by struggles for dominance between opposing political parties and ideologies (an ideology is a system of political concepts, such as liberalism and conservatism, or of economic concepts like capitalism and socialism), between interests representing corporate management versus those of employees, between the public sector (government employees, schools and colleges, and other nonprofit organizations) and the private, for-profit sector (corporations and small businesses, professions like law and medicine), between supporters of a planned economy and of the free market, and so on. Whether you ever become conscious of it or not, you have the choice either to become aware of the workings of all these forces and to attempt actively to influence them, or to go through a life controlled by them without your ever understanding or exerting any influence on them.

The model student research paper in Chapter 21, which was written at the University of Tennessee, was prompted by a financial crisis in Tennessee in 2002 in which large deficits in state spending resulted from the refusal of voters and legislators to enact an income tax in a state whose overall tax rates are among the lowest in the country. Because the budget debate remained deadlocked beyond the deadline for the coming fiscal year, the state government was shut down for Part of a week, half the state employees were temporarily “furloughed” (a euphemism for laid off), the university’s summer term was curtailed (leaving some students unable to graduate as planned), campus staff and services were reduced, and yet another in an annual series of tuition increases was implemented. These events woke students up to the political forces controlling the conditions of their education and motivated many of them to join lobbying efforts on behalf of the university community at the state capitol in Nashville, in opposition to well-financed antitax lobbies that had prevailed in the legislature for years. In this lobbying campaign students found a quite meaningful real-life application of rhetorical skills acquired in academic study.

The author of this paper became further interested in researching the ideological views underlying the debates over flat-rate sales taxes versus progressive income taxes, a subject that has been a major source of controversy between conservatives and liberals from the presidency of Ronald Reagan to that of George W. Bush. The student found that debates over the success or failure of “Reaganomics” in the 1980s were directly pertinent to the present state of the economy in the United States and in Tennessee.

Beyond controversies over political economy, other issues like environmentalism, feminism, racism, affirmative action, abortion, gun control, and capital punishment are sometimes perceived as political, but it is often far from clear in public disputes over them that they all involve a dimension of partisan politics, along liberal versus conservative or left versus right ideological lines, though not always Democratic versus Republican party lines— as will be explained in Chapter 15. Indeed, a predictable pattern of political rhetoric is for those arguing about such issues to conceal the partisan nature of their arguments under a guise of nonpartisanship. Of course, not all public arguments fall into left versus right oppositions—but a lot do, and the failure of many citizens to perceive the nature of these oppositions can leave them without adequate understanding of the issues. For example, following 9/11, Republican and Democratic leaders lined up in bipartisan support of President Bush and American military responses, but opinion among journalists, scholars, and other writers soon divided along long-established ideological oppositions between the right and left, as illustrated in the contrast of views in “A Preview Case,” following this chapter, between conservative William J. Bennett and liberals Susan Sontag, Barbara Kingsolver, and Arundhati Roy.

Who Makes the Rules?

The Free Speech Movement at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1964, was set off in Part by many students’ frustration over the feeling that college education had become a process just to turn them into cogs in the machinery of business, professions, or government. The movement’s most eloquent leader, twenty-two-year-old Mario Savio, asserted about the university:

The best among the people who enter must for four years wander aimlessly much of the time questioning why they are on campus at all, doubting whether there is any point in what they are doing, and looking toward a very bleak existence afterward in a game in which all of the rules have been made up—rules which we can not really amend...................................................................................................................... The “futures” and

”careers” for which American students now prepare are for the most Part intellectual and moral wastelands. This chrome-plated consumers’ paradise would have us grow up to be well-behaved children.

(See Savio’s speech, “An End to History,” later in this chapter.) Do you too perhaps have the feeling that you are being educated to play a game, vocationally and politically, in which someone else has made all the rules? This textbook attempts to present a beginning toward the kind of knowledge and critical skills you need, first, to learn the language of those who make the rules and, ultimately, to become an active participant in making them.

This kind of knowledge and critical skills begins with the value of opening your mind and broadening your perspective on the beliefs with which you were brought up. One way of doing that is to try to look at your beliefs in a new way: in regard to any belief that you are convinced is based on facts or the truth, ask yourself how you came to believe it is true. In other words, what is your viewpoint on it, and how did you acquire that viewpoint? From what sources did you get the belief—your family, teachers, peers, church, political leaders, news, entertainment, and advertising media? Others? Where did those sources get their beliefs? What might be the limitations or biases in your knowledge, and in that of your sources? Those sources’ views are often colored by conscious or unconscious ethnocentrism, self-interest, and ideological biases, to say nothing of outright hype, propaganda, and deception on occasion. So we need to develop a critical perspective on them to evaluate their reliability. In contrast, then, to the common textbook approach that assumes faulty arguments result only from unintentional lapses in reasoning, this book confronts the hard truth that real-life arguments frequently contain deliberate deception, special pleading, partisanship, propaganda, and out-and-out lying, as well as ideological biases that may be conscious or unconscious.

Some students and teachers will react against this orientation by complaining that it is too “negative,” with all the emphasis on detecting and defending against deceptive, fallacious arguments. If you react this way, I urge you to ask yourself two questions as you are reading: Is this “negative” approach realistic in relation to the state of American public discourse? And does it enable you to be a more critical and active participant in that discourse? An article titled “You’re on Your Own,” by Daniel Kadlec, which appeared in Time (January 28, 2002) after the collapse of Enron Corporation and its accounting firm, Arthur Andersen, presented an unusually frank acknowledgment—especially in a magazine that has long been a booster of American free enterprise:

We are now responsible for so many decisions requiring so much homework that many of us feel helpless and paralyzed. The risks of inaction or unwise action are rising, even as many of the professionals on whom we would like to rely for guidance are proving untrustworthy and even corrupt We now know we can’t trust stock analysts and financial planners, who

often get paid more for selling us shaky stocks and mutual funds than for selling us solid ones The Enron scandal has shown us or perhaps reminded us that when money is

involved, we are truly on our own. (24-25)

Finally, try to keep in mind that the purpose of training yourself to spot fallacious arguments is not to cynically dismiss each side in every dispute as equally fallacious but to be able to distinguish invalid arguments from valid ones, liars from truth tellers—so as to inspire you to give your wholehearted support to the truth tellers.

Another response to the charge of negative thinking is that the prevailing emphasis in American society and education on “positive thinking” and “feeling good about yourself” can sometimes serve the function of ostrichlike sentimentality and denial of the gravity of our national problems. This point was addressed in an op-ed (an opinion column on the page opposite the editors’ own editorials) by Michael Kinsley in the Los Angeles Times (June 22, 2004, online edition), following the death of President Ronald Reagan, titled “The Trouble with Optimism.” Kinsley wrote:

Thanks to Reagan, optimism is now considered an essential ingredient of any presidential candidate’s public self-presentation Could there be an emptier claim made on behalf of

someone hoping to lead the United States of America than to say that he is “optimistic”? Optimism may or may not be Part of the American character, but it is pretty insufficient as either a campaign promise or a governing principle......................... If forced to choose between a leader

whose vision is clouded by optimism and one clouded by pessimism, there is a good case that pessimism is the more prudent choice. Another name for pessimism is a tragic sensibility. It is a vivid awareness that things can go wrong, and often have done so. An optimist thinks he can pop over to Iraq, knock Saddam Hussein off his perch, establish democracy throughout the Middle East and be home for dinner. A pessimist knows better.

While in most other democracies students are immersed in public controversies and instruction in debating them from an early age, much of American culture and education tends to shelter high school and even college students from such controversies, thereby trying to keep them in the mentality of adolescence rather than leading them toward thinking and acting like adults. Remember Mario Savio’s words, “This chrome-plated consumers’ paradise would have us grow up to be well-behaved children.” Even adults are treated like children by many public “leaders.” In “A Preview Case,” Susan Sontag describes the Bush administration’s statements after 9/11 as “a campaign to infantilize the public.” In William Safire’s book Before the Fall, about his experiences as a speechwriter in the Nixon White House, President Richard Nixon is quoted as saying, ‘The average American is just like the child in the family” (649), and, “We sophisticates can listen to a speech for a half hour, but after ten minutes, the average guy wants a beer” (315). When Howard Jarvis, sponsor of Proposition 13, the influential 1978 tax-cutting ballot initiative in California, was asked why he spent all his advertising money on TV and radio rather than newspapers, he replied, “People who decide elections today don’t read” (quoted in Los Angeles Times, Feb. 10, 1980, pt. 2, p. l).

To provide a few exemplary anecdotes from my own experience, in my younger years when I was working as a copy-writing trainee at one of the world’s largest advertising agencies, on Madison Avenue in New York, I was assigned to suggest a campaign for the latest model of a brand-name refrigerator. The account executive explained to me, “There’s really no difference between this year’s model and last year’s, but we have to keep putting out a new model every year to hype up profits, and the average housewife is too stupid to know the difference.” I worked as a public relations agent (a euphemism for propagandist) for wealthy individuals and corporations, making them look like saints, especially in “damage control” after they had been caught in misbehavior. I also worked in public relations for Dick Clark’s <em>American Bandstand,</em> and backstage at the telecasts, I overheard the adult managers of teenage singing stars snickering contemptuously at their clients’ and their audiences’ “moronic pimple music.” After several years at such jobs, I became ashamed of being an agent of this kind of manipulation (albeit a well-paid one) and decided to go to graduate school in English and prepare instead to teach students how to defend themselves against manipulation. My long years of teaching and writing this book are based on the conviction that the average housewife, or the average American voter, or the average college student is not “too stupid to know the difference,” provided that he or she receives the encouragement and resources to think critically.

The subject of infantilization illustrates a rhetorical term, self-fulfilling prophecy, which refers to a situation in which because people are induced to believe something is true, it becomes true; this is a variant on another term, vicious circle, in which an effect of some cause itself reinforces that cause, creating a loop that is difficult to break. In this case, if authorities treat people like children, many will act like children. After all, it’s so much easier to be a child than an adult. Who doesn’t prefer candy to vegetables, junk food to a nutritious diet, the teacher who gives you an easy A to one who makes you work hard for it? Everything in my teaching experience, however, has indicated that although many students at the conscious level prefer everything to be made simple and painless for them, deep down they understand that junk-food education does not help them grow and insults their intelligence. So this book attempts to break the vicious circle of infantilization by assuming that college-age students want to deal with adult realities and complexities, especially concerning the socioeconomic issues emphasized here, frustrating as they may be. (Older students who have had more hard experience of the world will not need to have this point labored.)

Go to the Mall Instead?

Back to the “negative” attitude toward politics and public discourse in this book, it would be hard to outdo the fear and loathing that many American students and adults alike already feel toward politics. The widespread attitude is, “Politicians are all a bunch of crooks, and politics has gotten so complex and corrupt that it’s a waste of time even to think about it. Leave it to the professionals.” On the surface, this attitude appears perfectly sensible. When you plunge into the kinds of disputes aired in the readings throughout this book and find that on virtually every issue not only Democrats and Republicans or liberals and conservatives but also libertarians and radical leftists (or socialists) present diametrically opposed versions of the truth, each persuasively argued and supported by impressive evidence, a natural reaction is to throw your hands in the air, despair of ever knowing whom you can believe, and go to the beach or mall instead. Moreover, many Americans are kept so busy just scrambling to get the necessary credentials in school to get a job, and then working at that job while worrying about being able to pay their bills from one month to the next, that they feel they cannot spare the time to take courses about public affairs or inform themselves about what is going on politically, to vote, or to take Part in political organizations and activities.

Consider, though, that this reaction is another vicious circle, playing right into the hands of the crooks and the special interests that spend a great deal of money and effort trying to obscure the truth. If enough ordinary citizens give up on pursuing the truth and participating in the political process, it will guarantee that the deceitful, corrupt “professionals,” with

no one keeping tabs on them, become ever more corrupt and win by default. As the freed slave and abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass put it on the brink of the Civil War in 1857, “Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them........................................................................................................................................... The limits of tyrants are pre

scribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress” (quoted in Wolfgang Mieder, “No Struggle, No Progress”: Frederick Douglass and His Proverbial Rhetoric 31).

The most famous commentary on the principles being developed here is George Orwell’s 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language,” in which Orwell observes:

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes; it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration. (249)

Orwell is discussing another vicious circle here, using the analogy of the drunkard: the clarity of our language is eroded by political and economic causes that prevail partly because they numb clear thinking about them, and unclear thinking leads to unclear language; but our unclear language itself then becomes a cause for unclear thinking—and for further political decay (some examples that Orwell presents will be cited in later chapters). Similar vicious circles have been described here: if you treat people like children, they are likely to behave like children; the more that Americans believe politics is hopelessly corrupt and obscure, the more corrupt and obscure it will be; and as students are forced by financial and social pressures to specialize in occupational majors at the expense of general education, they deprive themselves of precisely the kind of education they need to understand the causes of those pressures and to launch an organized movement against them. However, Orwell continues, the circle of corrupt politics-thought-language might be broken by our starting to clarify our language. Orwell insists that he is not talking about proper grammar or usage, which are incidental, but about forming words and ideas that accurately correspond to external reality, or “language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought” (259).

Similarly, perhaps a starting point for American students and citizens to break the vicious circles they are caught in is to develop the critical vocabulary and rhetorical concepts enabling them to understand ideas like vicious circle. The thesis of this book, then, is that a framework of rhetorical terms and concepts like those identified by bold-facing throughout this Chapter and subsequently can provide us with a beginning point for becoming more critical and active citizens, the weapons we need to defend ourselves against infantilization.

Without buying into conspiracy theories, it seems reasonable to conjecture that the tendencies in American politics, media, and education toward keeping people in childlike ignorance, deemphasizing the importance of civic education, and presenting political issues in a superficial, incoherent manner are perpetuated because they serve, directly or indirectly, the interests of those who benefit from maintaining the present hierarchies of power. What is certain is that the pervasiveness and elaborate engineering of both political and commercial propaganda in our time far exceed that in any past period of history, and that the level of American public rhetoric—mainly under the influence of televised and talk-radio political news (especially on twenty-four-hour-a-day cable networks), debates, and advertising—has been declining steadily toward ever shorter and more irrational “sound bites.” The professional consultants who developed the rapid-fire “top-forty-stories” format for local newscasts justified it by claiming, “People who watch television the most are unread, uneducated, untraveled and unable to concentrate on single subjects more than a minute or two” (<em>San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle,</em> March 16, 1975, 14).

Political party organizations and government administrations employ television performance consultants and “spin doctors,” often from advertising or public relations agencies accustomed to using market research to sell products, who calculate their messages not for their truth-value but for whether they will be “bought” by the largest, least informed segment of the public. So social policies and even wars are now sold like soap flakes (see the readings in Chapter 18), and prime qualifications for public office are telegenic good looks and acting ability (including the ability to lie convincingly), rather than wisdom and honesty. This situation, in both politics and “entertainment” forms like talk radio, is inevitably a breeding ground for the demagogue, a public figure who manipulates the ignorance and prejudices of the masses for his or her own power or profit. (The very fact that so few American students or citizens know the meaning of the word demagogue increases their vulnerability to demagogy.)

These destructive influences on public discourse are very likely among both the leading causes and effects of the facts confirmed by many recent reports on literacy in the United States, along with books and articles by both conservative and liberal social commentators, indicating an alarmingly low level of interest and knowledge in young Americans of precisely those areas of education—including basic knowledge of history, economics, political science, and sociology—that are most necessary for them to exert democratic control over the forces influencing their lives. Deficiencies in a base of factual knowledge about social science and in critical thinking proficiency in evaluating that knowledge cut across nearly all social segments of American high school and college students. Since the voting age was lowered from twenty-one to eighteen in 1973 (a concession, it should be noted, to the student and anti-Vietnam War protests of the sixties), the lowest rate of voting has been precisely in the eighteen-to-twenty-one-year-old bracket, and the United States now has the lowest rate of voting of any democracy in the world. According to an article in the Boston Globe (February 15, 1999), “Each year of the past five, the annual survey of national freshman attitudes conducted by the University of California at Los Angeles has hit a new record low with students who say it is important to keep up with political affairs. At 26 percent this year, it was down from 58 percent when the survey was first done in 1966.”

None of this bad news is meant to imply that your generation of students is “dumb.” It would be a foolhardy overgeneralization to suggest that a whole generation was born intellectually deficient. The more valid generalization would be that this generation, by and large, is inadequately educated and informed about politics, through little fault of its own. (To place the fault on the students is an example of the causal fallacy of blaming the victim.) My experience with students tells me that their indifference toward politics is largely the product of the skimpy amount and poor quality of the political education they have received; students avoid political issues largely because their education has provided little help in understanding them—and, as noted earlier, that understanding is made all the more difficult because the discourse of American politics, media, and even education tends to approach political issues incoherently and superficially, without providing any explanatory overview of opposing ideologies or viewpoints that would help provide a context for full understanding. I believe most students are perfectly capable of understanding and taking an interest in political issues if those issues are explained in a comprehensible, step-by-step manner and within a coherent framework of ideological concepts, as this book attempts to do.

The Role of English Studies

Educators and students at every level and in every pertinent academic discipline face a vital challenge to reorient our schools toward enabling young Americans to become more informed and active citizens. But what distinctive role can English studies, and composition courses in particular, play in achieving this goal, and what is the difference between their orientation and that of political science or other social sciences? English studies can apply basic reading and research skills (including an introduction to locating and evaluating sources of information on public affairs, in periodicals, books, and reports), the critical insights of literature and literary theory, the analytic tools of logic, argumentative rhetoric, and general semantics to education for critical citizenship—and more specifically to the “new literacy” described in the National Council of Teachers of English resolution cited at the head of this chapter.

Of course, it would not be helpful to pitch this book at a level far above the heads of what firstor second-year college students are prepared to understand. It attempts to start at a level comprehensible to most lower-division college students and—on the assumption that they are willing and able to stretch their cognitive and emotional capacities—to move from there toward more sophistication and the ability to engage in public controversies at the level of liberally educated adults. The book culminates cumulatively in Part 5, in which everything before is synthesized into a suggested process for writing a critical research paper on the subject “The Rich, the Poor, and the Middle Class,” which includes parts of several papers by students who have gone through this process in my own courses.

Moreover, issues are analyzed in this book at the level at which they are addressed, not in social science scholarship, but in political speeches, news and entertainment media, oped columns, general-circulation journals of opinion, and other realms of public discourse to which everyone is exposed every day. The political vocabulary and information covered here are no more specialized than what every citizen in a democracy should be expected to know, even before taking a college argumentative and research writing course. Nevertheless, in sections dealing with political rhetoric, especially Chapter 15, elementary definitions and explanations of political concepts are provided for those students who need them, and they may benefit from jumping ahead to read that Chapter first and returning to it for reference throughout the book.

Indeed, one of the main points stressed in this book is the difference in levels of rhetoric between public and scholarly treatments of political issues, and the need for students to take courses in more specialized disciplines to gain deeper knowledge of these issues. Students can learn in argumentative writing classes, though, to develop a more complex and comprehensive rhetorical understanding of political events and ideologies than that provided by politicians and mass media—or, for that matter, by most social science courses, which usually emphasize factual exposition or theory at the expense of rhetorical analysis.

Avoiding Political Correctness

Finally, an approach like mine can invite the danger of being turned into an indoctrination to the instructor’s personal political ideology, or into an excuse for teaching political science instead of rhetoric and writing. This concern has certainly been warranted by the tendency of some “politically correct” teachers (usually liberal or leftist, though there are also cases of conservative political correctness) to assume that all students and colleagues agree—or should agree—with their particular view. So one of my main efforts has been to avoid turning this book and the kind of course it is intended for into indoctrination into any particular ideological position. My method involves addressing as an explicit topic for rhetorical study the issues of political subjectivity, partisanship, and bias in sources of information, including teachers and authors of textbooks—including this one. The principle is that any writer or reader addressing controversial issues will almost inevitably have a subjective, partisan viewpoint (that is, a viewpoint siding with a particular party or ideology). There is nothing wrong with having such a viewpoint; indeed, a clear-cut expression of a particular partisan viewpoint can be a rhetorical virtue in enabling you to understand what that viewpoint stands for, particularly if the expression is relatively unbiased and supported through sound argumentation. Our aims should simply be to learn to identify and understand what the viewpoint of any given source is, so that we can weigh its rhetorical quality against that of opposing viewpoints.

In the same way, we need to learn to recognize our own ideological viewpoint, and possible biases, as readers and writers, and certainly as teachers. I do not believe that teachers or textbook writers should coyly hide their viewpoint, as they often do, but that they should honestly identify it and present it, not as “the truth” or “the facts” but as one viewpoint among others, needing to be scrutinized for its own biases and fairly evaluated against opposing ones. Thus, although total objectivity may never be attainable, dealing honestly with our own subjectivity may be the best way to approximate objectivity. This principle obliges me to come out from the hiding place of authorial anonymity and pretended objectivity that is the convention in textbooks and to speak as “I” from time to time throughout the book, especially in addressing issues where it is most difficult for anyone to present an objective, impartial analysis. On several such issues I provide a “Reader Advisory” alerting you to my possible biases. The intention of this method, then, is to guarantee that students will not be indoctrinated into my own or any teacher’s or writer’s ideology, but rather that the scope of students’ own critical thinking, reading, and writing capacities will be broadened so as to empower them to make their own autonomous judgments on opposing ideological positions in general and on specific issues. It is exactly this intention that justifies introducing political issues in writing courses, within a rhetorical framework quite different from anything you are apt to encounter in political science or any other courses. All this may sound terribly abstract to you right now, but it will be concretized throughout the body of the book.

Critical Education in Historical Perspective

Their critical approach to value choices does not put the humanities at odds with the traditional social mission of American schools— preparing students for citizenship by teaching the democratic values that have shaped the American heritage. For learning to be critical does not imply disloyalty to traditional values. Indeed, questioning, debate, and dissent are central to our heritage. They leaven the stable values of citizenship—charity, tolerance, and goodwill—that enoble the American definition of civic virtue.

—Rockefeller Foundation Commission on the Humanities, The Humanities in American Life (1980)

The academic study of writing, and particularly argumentative writing, in modern times derives primarily from two historical sources: rhetoric and literature, both of which have been closely related to philosophy and other traditional fields of humanistic study. In ancient Greece and Rome, argumentative rhetoric formed the center of general, or liberal, education, and the central purpose of rhetorical education was preparation for active involvement in civic affairs. (The availability of such education was limited, to be sure, mainly to white males and also excluded slaves and the lower classes.) The germinal text in rhetorical education, the Rhetoric of Aristotle, written in the fourth century BC, focuses first and foremost on political rhetoric. Aristotle took a largely pragmatic, “how to” approach to its skills and devices. Aristotle’s teacher Plato, by contrast, viewed purely pragmatic rhetoric as unscrupulous, associating it with the school of the Sophists—hence the modern terms sophistry and sophistic as synonymous with deceptive rhetoric: “making the weaker argument appear the stronger,” as Socrates, the hero of Plato’s dialogues, described the Sophists’ method (Apology 35).

Socrates and Plato viewed authentic rhetoric as the embodiment in speech of the philosophical search for truth and justice. Socrates himself was brought to trial, however, under charges of undermining the authority of the state and under false accusation by jealous rivals of teaching his students deceptively clever rhetoric in the manner of the Sophists. He began his defense, recorded in Plato’s Apology, by declaring, “I shall prove that I am not a clever speaker in any way at all—unless, indeed, by a clever speaker they mean someone who speaks the truth” (21). He continued by urging the judges, “Never mind the manner of my speech—it may be superior or it may be inferior to the usual manner. Give your whole attention to the question, whether what I say is just or not? That is what is required of a good judge, as speaking the truth is required of a good orator” (350).

The concept of education in rhetoric for critical citizenship was also essential in the origins of the United States, with the significant innovation that this kind of education was deemed necessary and proper for all citizens, not just the social elite. (Here again, of course, the democratic ideal of education fell short in practice, as women, African Americans, Native Americans, and others were excluded, and continued to be well into the twentieth century, and the ideal of equal access to liberal education has still not been realized.) The study of public rhetoric was assumed by the eighteenth-century founders to be at the heart of secondary and higher education, and active involvement in civic debates by the entire populace was considered the essence of American democracy. One of the defining statements of this period was the essay “What Is An American?” (1782) by J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, a Frenchman who emigrated to the New World shortly before the Revolution. About typical Americans, he wrote, “As citizens it is easy to imagine that they will carefully read the newspapers, enter into every political disquisition, freely blame or censure governors and others” (46).

Thomas Jefferson was the founder of free public education in America and of the first public college, the University of Virginia. He expressed his concept of the primary value of public education in a famous letter to John Adams disputing Adams’s belief that America should maintain a hereditary aristocracy as a ruling elite. Jefferson described the model for education that he had proposed in Virginia:

To establish in every ward a free school for reading, writing and common arithmetic; to provide for the annual selection of the best subjects from these schools, who might receive, at the public expense, a higher degree of education at a district school, and from these district schools to select a certain number of the most promising subjects, to be completed at a university, where all the useful sciences [subjects of study in general] should be taught. Worth and genius would thus have been sought out from every condition of life, and completely prepared by education for defeating the competition of wealth and birth for public trusts

This . . . would have raised the mass of the people to the high ground of moral respectability necessary to their own safety, and to orderly government; and would have completed the great object of qualifying them to select the veritable aristoi [aristocrats], for the trusts of government, to the exclusion of the pseudalists [the pseudo-aristocracy of inherited privilege]. (“The Natural Aristocracy,” 1308)

Intellectuals as Dissenters

From ancient times to the present, a long line of writers and scholars in the fields of rhetoric and philosophy, as well as many literary artists, has been inspired by Socrates’ mission of fidelity to the language of truth and justice in public life, often against the grain of public opinion and official authority. The quotation above from J. Mitchell Morse aptly captures the respect for qualities like “precision, clarity, beauty and force in the use of language” that commit, or ought to commit, writers and students of both rhetoric and literature to “political and social enlightenment.” Dedicated artists, writers, and scholars tend to be nonconformists, to resist going into more “practical” occupations in order to devote their lives to the search for wisdom and truth, serving in effect as society’s voice of conscience. Thus the English poet of the nineteenth-century romantic age Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote in his “Defense of Poetry,” “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of mankind”; <em>Newsweek</em> writer David Gates makes an <strong>allusion</strong> to Shelley’s line in “The Voices of Dissent” following this chapter.

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1837 speech “The American Scholar” remains the classic American reaffirmation of the responsibility of the man or woman of letters (unfortunately, only “the man” in Emerson’s dated usage, which includes other terms that strike us now as sexist) to speak truth to power, for “there can be no scholar without the heroic mind” (94). “It becomes him to feel all confidence in himself, and to defer never to the popular cry” (102).

It is a shame to him if his tranquillity, amid dangerous times, arise from the presumption that like children and women, his is a protected class; or if he seek a temporary peace by the diversion of his thoughts from politics or vexed questions, hiding his head like an ostrich in the flowering bushes, peeping into microscopes, and turning rhymes, as a boy whistles to keep his courage up. So is the danger a danger still; so is the fear worse. Manlike let him turn and face it What deafness, what stone-blind custom, what overgrown error you behold,

is there only by sufferance,—by your sufferance [allowing it]. See it to be a lie, and you have already dealt it its mortal blow. (104-105)

Although Emerson insists on scholars’ and artists’ responsibility to confront political issues, he adds that their manner of doing so must provide wiser, deeper, longer-range consideration than politicians or news media themselves exercise:

The office of the scholar is to cheer, to raise, and to guide men by showing them facts amidst appearances. He plies the slow, unhonored, and unpaid task of observation....................................................................................................................................... The world of

any moment is the merest appearance. Some great decorum, some fetish of a government, some ephemeral trade, or war, or man, is cried up by half of mankind and cried down by the other half, as if all depended on this particular up or down. The odds are that the whole question is not worth the poorest thought which the scholar has lost in listening to the controversy. Let him not quit his belief that a popgun is a popgun, though the ancient and honorable of the earth affirm it to be the crack of doom. In silence, in steadiness, in severe abstraction, let him hold by himself; add observation to observation; patient of neglect, patient of reproach, and bide his own time,—happy enough if he can satisfy himself alone that this day he has seen something truly

If the single man plant himself indomitably on his instincts, and there abide, the huge world will come round to him. (102-103, 115)

Higher education in both composition and literature, then, has the unique, Emersonian mission of bringing to bear on current events the longer view, the synthesizing vision needed to counteract the hurriedness, atomization, and ideological hodgepodge that debase our public discourse as well as our overdepartmentalized curricula and overspecialized scholarship. As Emerson’s disciple Henry David Thoreau advised: “Read not the Times [the name of a newspaper]. Read the Eternities” (“Life without Principle,” 437). “The world of any moment is the merest appearance.” Think, for example, about how the American public and media rushed to accept the appearances presented by the Bush administration in 20022003 for going to war in Iraq, and how quickly those appearances changed within a year. (They undoubtedly will have changed again, in unpredictable ways, by the time you read this.)

Emerson’s Platonic belief that social falsehood, injustice, and fragmentation should be offensive to men and women of letters’ sense of linguistic and literary wholeness has been echoed by many subsequent writers in the United States and elsewhere throughout the world, including Ernest Hemingway, who reputedly replied to the question of what makes a good writer, “Every good writer has a built-in BS detector.” As recently as September 2001, the same idea was reaffirmed in an article titled “The Public Role of Writers and Intellectuals,” by Edward Said, a prominent professor of literature at Columbia University and activist for the Palestinian cause in the Middle East: “At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the writer has taken on more and more of the intellectual’s adversarial attributes in such activities as speaking the truth to power, being a witness to persecution and suffering, and supplying a dissenting voice in conflicts with authority” (Nation, September 27, 2001, 27). The following Newsweek article, “The Voices of Dissent,” presents a similar account of the tradition of writers as dissenters from the political and social mainstream, indicating why writers like the three discussed there, Susan Sontag, Arundhati Roy, and Barbara Kingsolver—along with teachers and students of writing—tend to be political liberals, in the sense of critically questioning the social status quo. And that is why there are constant culture wars between writers, scholars, and other intellectuals, versus conservatives like William J. Bennett who accuse them of being unpatriotic, “moral relativists,” a destructive “adversary culture,” and perpetrators of their own, “politically correct” status quo in their own realms of power, including university humanities departments. The antagonism between American conservatives and liberal intellectuals has resulted over the past three decades in the sponsorship by conservative political and corporate leaders of what they term a “counter-intelligentsia” based in the media, foundations, and research institutes (such as Bennett’s Empower America)—the source of many of the readings by conservatives that are counterpoised to liberal ones throughout this book.

The modern term intellectual, as Said uses it, is broadly used to refer to the class of people who seek to emulate the critical mind-set discussed above of rhetoricians and philosophers, literary and other artists, scholars, and responsible journalists. Unfortunately, although most of the founders of the United States were among the leading intellectuals of their time, since the mid-nineteenth century the word intellectual has taken on a negative connotation in this country that it does not have in most other societies. (The actual historical behavior of intellectuals has sometimes, alas, provided sound reasons for that connotation). And although most students do not go to college with the purpose of becoming intellectuals, intellectual culture nevertheless remains synonymous with humanistic education, and your exposure to college education should, ideally, provide you basic acquaintance with and respect for the positive aspects of that culture, which can serve you as a survival tool applicable to your everyday life as your personal “BS detector.”

Topics for Discussion and Writing

What are the primary aims of learning, writing, and argumentation as they are developed in Chapter 1? Do they differ from those you are accustomed to being taught in school? In what way?

Write a paper weighing the pros and cons of these aims—in terms of their personal value to you—in comparison to the aims pursued in other courses you have taken, and in relation to the more “practical” or occupational aims of a college education.

Write a paper summarizing the various aspects of the distinctive role of English studies in fostering critical citizenship that this Chapter develops, using quotations from several of the cited sources for support, and evaluating the persuasiveness of the argument made here that this is an English textbook, not one for political science.

Today many Americans believe that the primary goal of education is to enable one to become wealthy. In the excerpt from Jefferson’s essay “The Natural Aristocrat,” exactly what is he suggesting as the proper role of education in relation to wealth; that is, does he say that education should enable one to get rich, or what? Why do you suppose American attitudes have changed so much from Jefferson’s? Do some research on the history of American education in this regard.

In the passage quoted from Emerson’s essay “The American Scholar,” you may have been struck negatively by his assumption that the scholar is a “he” and by the phrases “like children and women, his is a protected class,” “as a boy whistles to keep his courage up,” and “Manlike let him turn and face it.” In your opinion, to what extent do these sexist phrasings, which largely reflect the culturally conditioned assumptions and limitations of Emerson’s time, detract from the validity of the ideas he is expressing here? Support your opinion.

What connotation does the noun “intellectual” have for you? What is your reaction to the suggestion here that the purpose of a general education should be to make you, to some extent, an intellectual?

An End to History]]

Mario Savio

From Humanity December 1964

Last summer I went to Mississippi to join the struggle there for civil rights. This fall I am engaged in another phase of the same struggle, this time in Berkeley. The two battlefields may seem quite different to some observers, but this is not the case. This same rights are at stake in both places—the right to participate as citizens in [a] democratic society and to struggle against the same enemy. In Mississippi, an autocratic and powerful minority rules, through organized violence, to suppress the vast, virtually powerless, majority. In California, the privileged minority manipulates the University bureaucracy to suppress the students’ political expression. That “respectable” bureaucracy masks the financial plutocrats: that impersonal bureaucracy is the efficient enemy in a “Brave New World.”

In our free speech fight at the University of California, we have come up against what may emerge as the greatest problem of our nation—depersonalized, unresponsive bureaucracy. We have encountered the organized status quo in Mississippi, but it is the same in Berkeley. Here in Berkeley we find it impossible usually to meet with anyone but secretaries. Beyond that, we find functionaries who cannot make policy but can only hide behind the rules. We have discovered total lack of response on the Part of the true policy makers. To grasp a situation which is truly Kafkaesque, it is necessary to understand the bureaucratic mentality. And we have learned quite a bit about it this fall, more outside the classroom than in.

As bureaucrat, an administrator believes that nothing new happens. He occupies an

a-historical point of view. In September, to get the attention of this bureaucracy which had issued arbitrary edicts suppressing student political expression and refused to discuss its action, we held a sit-in on the campus. We sat around a police car and kept it immobilized for over thirty-two hours. At last, the administrative bureaucracy agreed to negotiate. But instead, on the following Monday, we discovered that a committee had been appointed, in accordance with usual regulations, to resolve the dispute. Our attempt to convince any of the administrators that an event had occurred, that something new had happened, failed. They saw this simply as something to be handled by normal University procedures.

The same is true of all bureaucracies. They begin as tools—means to certain legitimate goals—and they end up feeding their own existence. The conception that bureaucrats have is that history has in fact come to an end. No events can occur, now that the Second World War is over, which can change American society substantially. We proceed by standard procedures as we are.

The most crucial problems facing the United States today are the problem of automation and the problem of racial injustice. Most people who will be put out of jobs by machines will not accept an end to events, this historical plateau, as the point beyond which no change occurs. Negroes will not accept an end to history here. All of us must refuse to accept history’s final judgment that in America there is no place in society for people whose skins are dark. On campus students are not about to accept it as fact that the University has ceased evolving and is in its final state of perfection, that students and faculty are respectively raw material and employees, or that the University is to be autocratically run by unresponsive bureaucrats.

Here is the real contradiction: The bureaucrats hold history as ended. As a result significant parts of the population both on campus and off are dispossessed, and these dispossessed are not about to accept this ahistorical point of view. It is out of this that the conflict has occurred with the University bureaucracy and will continue to occur until that bureaucracy becomes responsive or until it is clear that the University can not function.

The things we are asking for in our civil rights protests have a deceptively quaint ring. We are asking for the due process of law. We are asking for our actions to be judged by committees of our peers. We are asking that regulations ought to be considered as arrived at legitimately only from the consensus of the governed. These phrases are all pretty old, but they are not being taken seriously in America today, nor are they being taken seriously on the Berkeley campus.

I have just come from a meeting with the Dean of Students. She notified us that she was aware of certain violations of University regulations by certain organizations. University Friends of SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee], which I represent, was one of these. We tried to draw from her some statement on these great principles—consent of the governed, jury of one’s peers, due process. The best she could do was to evade or to present the administration party line. It is very hard to make any contact with the human being who is behind these organizations.

The university is the place where people begin seriously to question the conditions of their existence and raise the issue of whether they can be committed to the society they have been born into. After a long period of apathy during the fifties, students have begun not only to question, but, having arrived at answers, to act on those answers. This is Part of a growing understanding among many people in America that history has not ended, that a better society is possible, and that it is worth dying for.

This free speech fight points up a fascinating aspect of contemporary campus life. Students are permitted to talk all they want so long as their speech has no consequences.

One conception of the university, suggested by a classical Christian formulation, is that it be in the world but not of the world. The conception of Clark Kerr by contrast is that the university is Part and parcel of this particular stage in the history of American society; it stands to serve the needs of American industry; it is a factory that turns out a certain product needed by industry or government. Because speech does often have consequences which might alter this perversion of higher education, the university must put itself in a position of censorship. It can permit two kinds of speech: speech which encourages continuation of the status quo, and speech which advocates changes in it so radical as to be irrelevant in the foreseeable future. Someone may advocate radical change in all aspects of American society, and this I am sure he can do with impunity. But if someone advocates sit-ins to bring about changes in discriminatory hiring practices, this can not be permitted because it goes against the status quo of which the university is a part. And that is how the fight began here.

The administration of the Berkeley campus has admitted that external, extra-legal groups have pressured the University not to permit students on campus to organize picket lines, not to permit on campus any speech with consequences. And the bureaucracy went along. Speech with consequences, speech in the area of civil rights, speech which some might regard as illegal, must stop.

Many students here at the University, many people in society, are wandering aimlessly about. Strangers in their own lives, there is no place for them. They are people who have not learned to compromise, who for example have come to the University to learn to question, to grow, to learn—all the standard things that sound like cliches because no one takes them seriously. And they

Majoring in Debt

By Adolph L. Reed Jr.

From The Progressive January 2004

Higher education is a basic social good. As such, it should be available to all, without find at one point or another that for them to become Part of society, to become lawyers, ministers, business men, or people in government, very often they must compromise those principles which were most dear to them. They must suppress the most creative impulses that they have; this is a prior condition for being Part of the system. The university is well structured, well tooled, to turn out people with all the sharp edges worn off—the well-rounded person. The university is well equipped to produce that sort of person, and this means that the best among the people who enter must for four years wander aimlessly much of the time questioning why they are on campus at all, doubting whether there is any point in what they are doing, and looking toward a very bleak existence afterward in a game in which all of the rules have been made up—rules which one can not really amend.

It is a bleak scene, but it is all a lot of us have to look forward to. Society provides no challenge. American society in the standard conception it has of itself is simply no longer exciting. The most exciting things going on in America today are movements to change America. America is becoming ever more the utopia of sterilized, automated contentment. The “futures” and “careers” for which American students now prepare are for the most Part intellectual and moral wastelands. This chrome-plated consumers’ paradise would have us grow up to be well-behaved children. But an important minority of men and women coming to the front today have shown that they will die rather than be standardized, replaceable, and irrelevant.

cost, who meet admission standards. The federal government, as the guarantor of social rights, should bear primary responsibility for providing free college for all.

This proposal isn’t prohibitively costly; the total bill for all students currently enrolled in public institutions is under $27 billion, less than one-third of what George W. Bush is spending on Iraq this year. Closing recently opened corporate tax loopholes would also more than meet the program’s cost, even if enrollments doubled as a result of eliminating tuition as a constraint.

Moreover, this program isn’t pie in the sky. It has a clear precedent in living memory. The GI Bill paid full tuition and fees, as well as a living-wage stipend, for nearly eight million returning World war II veterans. We’ve done it before, we can do it again, and this time for everyone.

The crisis in public education is intensifying. As almost every state reels from the effects of recession and tax cuts, legislatures slash funding for higher education, the largest discretionary item in most state budgets. Colleges respond with hefty tuition increases, reduced financial assistance, and new fees. These measures put an extra burden on the average family, whose net worth has declined over the last two years for the first time in half a century.

Increased tuition, coupled with dwindling financial aid, is a significant problem for millions of families. According to the College Board, over the last decade, average tuition and fees at public four-year colleges increased 40 percent, and last year alone it increased by 14 percent. Community colleges increased tuition by a similar percentage last year.

Financial aid is not picking up the slack. Three decades ago, the financial aid system, with Pell grants as the backbone, guaranteed access to public colleges for primarily lowand moderate-income students. Millions of Americans earned college degrees as a result. In 1975, the maximum Pell grant covered 84 percent of costs at a four-year public college. Now, the grant covers only 42 percent of costs at fouryear public colleges and only 16 percent of costs at four-year private colleges.

Meanwhile, colleges are shifting away from grants and toward loans. A decade ago, 50 percent of student aid was in the form of grants and 47 percent was in the form of loans. Today, grants are down to 39 percent of total aid; loans have increased to 54 percent.

What’s worse, many of these loans are irrespective of need. In 1992, Washington decided to further help out the wealthier by making unsubsidized loans available to all students, changing the definition of need, and increasing the limits for subsidized loans. Now unsubsidized loans, although the most expensive, account for more than half of all federal loan monies.

In a bureaucratic maneuver, the Bush Administration recently changed the federal needs formula that determines how much of a family’s income is really discretionary— and therefore fair game for covering college costs. A report by the Congressional Research Service states that the new financial formula will reduce Pell grants by $270 million, disqualify 84,000 students from receiving any Pell grants, and reduce the amount of Pell grants for hundreds of thousands more students.

Skyrocketing tuition and reliance on interest-carrying loans force some students to forgo college altogether, while others drop out or delay graduation.

By reducing tuition subsidies, public colleges violate their mandates to individuals and to society to provide a quality education to all who qualify. Many universities are retreating from their commitments to provide low-cost education for state residents, as they shift the balance of admissions more toward out-of-state applicants who pay substantially higher tuition. State schools have traditionally been the ladders to good jobs for students from working families. Soon, only the wealthiest will be able to afford the best public colleges and universities.

In fact, the Congressional Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance reports that by the end of this decade as many as 4.4 million college-qualified high school graduates will be unable to enroll in a fouryear college, and two million will not go to college at all because they can’t afford it.

Many students who do go to college have to work long hours, which adversely affects their education. A whopping 53 percent of low-income freshmen who work more than thirty-five hours per week drop out and do not receive a degree. Contrast this with lowincome freshmen who work fewer hours: Of those who work one-to-fourteen hours per week, only 20 percent do not receive a degree, according to the Congressional Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance.

Those who graduate carry an enormous debt. The majority of students (64 percent) graduate with an average debt of almost $17,000, up significantly from $8,200 in 1989. Faced with repaying huge loans, students often reconsider their career plans. Our society suffers if students abandon lower paying occupations in teaching, social services, and health care in order to seek courses of study that lead to higher income jobs that speed loan repayment.

Budget cuts and tuition increases ripple throughout the academic community. They result in more hiring freezes and early retirements among full time faculty. Poorly paid and overworked contingent instructors replace them, classrooms become more crowded, and students have fewer courses to choose from.

Another widespread effect of budget cuts is to make public institutions more private, as they seek to supplement their loss of public monies with private gifts. This fits right in with the Bush Administration’s agenda to privatize public services. And it will only make the promise of education for all more remote.

These days, many young people see the military as their only way to get an education. But Uncle Sam uses a bait and switch. The offer ‘Join the Army and earn up to $50,000 for college” does not often pan out. Almost 66 percent of recruits never get any college funding from the military (although they have paid into the college fund), and many who do qualify end up getting far less than $50,000.

To receive any education benefit from the Montgomery GI Bill and the Army College Fund or Navy Fund, enlistees must contribute $100 per month for the first twelve months of their tour. Even if recruits change their minds about attending college, the military will not cancel the monthly payment or refund the accumulated $1,200. The military bestows benefits only on those who receive a fully honorable discharge; ‘general” discharges and those ‘under honorable conditions” mean no college benefits.

To be eligible for the $50,000 benefit, enlistees must qualify (and only one in twenty enlistees do) for the Army or Navy College Fund by scoring in the top half of the military entry tests and enlisting in specific military occupations, typically unpopular jobs that have no transferable skills in the civilian job market. To receive the maximum amount, the military requires graduation with a four-year degree, achieved only by 15 percent of those who qualify. However, the majority of enlistees attend two-year schools and therefore can receive only a maximum of $7,788.

It’s time for us now to demand that the federal government guarantee access to higher education, just as it does for K-12. This is the norm in nearly all other industrialized countries and even much of the impoverished Third World. Today, the intensifying crisis of affordability provides a perfect opportunity to insist on the principle of higher education as a basic right.

This issue resonates widely, and you can hear it finally in the Democratic Presidential race. John Edwards was the first Presidential candidate to address this issue. More than year ago, he proposed a program that would pay all tuition costs for the first year for every student meeting academic standards.

John Kerry also has drawn attention to the crisis and has called for substantial increases in the Pell grant program.

Dennis Kucinch has made free college education for all a central plank in his campaign, and the other candidates have indicated their general support for the view that the federal government should have a responsibility to ensure access.

Most recently, Howard Dean unveiled an elaborate proposal that combines loan subsidies, tax credits, and grants with requirements of work and public service to offer tuition relief to many, if not most, students.

But a crucial limitation of most of the Democratic Presidential candidates’ proposals is that they don’t boldly assert access to higher education as a right.

Universities themselves are responding. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill recently announced a plan to cover the full costs of education for poor students without forcing them to take on loans. Students will have to work in state and federal workstudy programs at a manageable ten-totwelve hours per week.

However, it is a mistake to imagine that states can shoulder this burden on their own. Because of the budget crisis, Georgia, for instance, may discontinue its decade-old scholarship program for all students who maintain a B average.

The Debs-Jones-Douglass Institute, a non-profit educational organization associated with the Labor Party, is building a national campaign to make higher education a right, available to everyone meeting admission standards and without regard to cost and ability to pay. The campaign calls for the federal government to pay all tuition and fees for all students attending two-year and fouryear public colleges and universities. Period.

Early response to the campaign has underscored how great a concern the cost of higher education is with students and their families. The campaign for Free Higher Education already has been adopted by dozens of union bodies and other organizations, including large faculty and staff unions in Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and California, as well as the state federations of labor in Oregon and South Carolina.

We can generate a vibrant, exciting national movement around it on campuses, at workplaces, and in communities around the country.

This is an issue that can be won.

Students Stand Up for Workers’ Rights

David Moberg

From In These Times, May 27, 2002

On campuses across the country, a groundswell of student organizing focused on workers rights has become the dominant stream of campus politics after a period when identity politics held center stage. Born out of critiques of globalization, the new labor-oriented student movement has turned its global outrage inward, focusing on workers in the United States and, especially, at the universities themselves.

The new interest in labor issues started with campaigns against sweatshops, especially providers of university-logo clothing. But the anti-sweatshop movement, while still growing and gaining sophistication, has also turned toward support for exploited workers in the United States, from New Era cap makers on strike since last summer to farm workers picketing Taco Bell. Students are also a growing force behind unionization on campus, such as food service workers at Sodexho, and living-wage campaigns for university employees or contractors—given a big boost by a sit-in last spring at Harvard (and simultaneously though less publicized, at the University of Connecticut). Increasingly, students who work at universities—especially graduate teaching and research assistants, but even undergraduate resident assistants—are also organizing themselves.

”There’s been this explosion of student interest in labor issues,” says Andrea Calver, the full-time liaison to the student movement on the staff of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union (HERE), which won a contract for Pitzer College food service workers in California last year with student support.

This academic year has been “the biggest influx in a long time” of groups joining the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), says field coordinator Amber Gallup. About 40 new affiliates have boosted the organization’s total to 109, but there are another 250 college chapters that are less formally linked to USAS. Meanwhile, the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP), a joint venture of the U.S. Student Association and Jobs with Justice, pulled together roughly 110 events for its third annual National Student Labor Day of Action on April 4, roughly double the number the first year.

The number of campus living-wage movements has tripled this year too, and a national tour of Harvard janitors and students, organized by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has sparked interest on roughly 80 campuses. Inspired by the organizing and legal victories of New York University teaching and research assistants, who negotiated their first contract in February, graduate student workers at Columbia, Brown, Yale, Harvard and other universities are at varied stages in their fights for union recognition. Teaching assistant organizing has also encouraged nascent organizing among non-tenured adjunct professors, such as 4,500 faculty at NYU who will be voting on union recognition.

Most progressive campus activists see themselves as advocates of social justice who have focused on labor organizing as a vehicle. “I just got interested in doing labor work because it’s what took hold of me initially,” says Tom Cogswell, a USAS organizer from Central Michigan University. “I could just as easily have got involved in doing environmental issues. The basic issue is there’s no representation in the government and no respect for individual liberties and gross inequalities and institutionalized racism. I generally work for labor rights, but I see a larger issue at hand.”

Students seem more interested in workers rights in large Part because protests against corporate globalization have brought corporate power and economic issues to the forefront of their consciousness. But corporatization of the university has also driven student workers to organize and to critique university policies on everything from logo merchandise to subcontracting. Movements feed off a common spirit of “forcing universities to be moral actors, both in what they sell in bookstores or how they treat students or other employees,” says SLAP coordinator Laura McSpeddon.

The evolution of the corporatized university has changed how students experience higher education. Like for-profit businesses, universities increasingly have subcontracted work, often resulting in fewer benefits, lower wages and less tolerable work regimens. The story for professors and janitors is remarkably parallel. Contingent academic workers—nontenured and part-time—made up a third of faculty in 1987 but comprise 46 percent now, and, according to one survey of humanities and social sciences, graduate students are 15 to 25 percent of all teachers.

The power of undergraduate students with a new consciousness about labor has made a huge difference for workers both on and off campus. “They’ve been leading, and we’ve been following,” acknowledges Stephen Lerner of the SEIU, which represents janitors on 110 campuses. “At Harvard, they were way ahead of us.”

The entrenched, conservative SEIU local leadership in Boston that had opposed the Harvard living-wage movement has since been removed. “In many cases, there’s been stagnation and erosion of standards,” says Lerner, architect of SEIU’s successful Justice for Janitors organizing. “The upsurge in student activity changes the playing field. Our members get totally excited and much braver when students are working with them and administrators are nervous.”

Similarly, a student campaign against Sodexho, a French multi-national which is one of three global giants that dominate institutional food services, focused on its ownership of private prisons (which the company still operates in England and Australia, despite its divestiture from the Corrections Corporation of America). Vulnerable because of the campaign, Sodexho also faces further problems if it resists unionization of its workers by HERE. Recently the president of Xavier University in Ohio instructed Sodexho to recognize the union if a majority of workers sign union cards.

Importantly, workers rights campaigns are beginning to involve a wider range of campuses and a greater variety of students. At Ohio State, for example, black and women’s student groups mobilized to support striking campus workers, mostly minority women, and then helped form a USAS anti-sweatshop group. At the University of Tennessee, where there was no union, students and campus workers have formed their own independent union, an indication that universities might be an important beachhead for organizing in the South.

Graduate student teaching and research assistants now are organized at more than 30 universities. The big breakthrough came in November 2000 when the National Labor Relations Board ruled that teaching assistants were indeed employees with the right to unionize, contrary to the continued arguments of universities that their teaching is simply Part of their educational program. Brown and Columbia have appealed recent elections that organizers are confident they’ve won on the same grounds. “We say to these universities, we’re not going to let anyone slow down this organizing trend,” says Julie Kushner of the United Auto Workers, which organized NYU, Brown and Columbia teaching assistants. “It’s clear graduate students want a voice in the workplace. You’re going to have to recognize this.”

The University of Illinois has resisted state Supreme Court rulings that graduate student workers are employees, so teaching assistants this year have gone on strike and occupied buildings, finally pushing the university into negotiations. “It’s only with direct action that they’ve agreed to work something out,” says Illinois Federation of Teachers organizer Mike Stewart.

The graduate students are succeeding— and adjunct professors are getting a boost— in Part because of the new awareness of workers rights issues among undergraduates. “The undergrads at NYU were there for us at every juncture,” Kushner says. “They were the key to our success at Columbia as well.”

Off-campus, the student anti-sweatshop movement has also scored significant victories. The Workers Rights Consortium, a monitoring organization covering 96 universities that grew out of the student movement, has conducted serious research on working conditions that has underpinned student campaigns against New Era (forced to negotiate after eight campuses suspended contracts) and Kuk Dong (where student pressure helped 500 Mexican workers win recognition of an independent union as well as pay and benefit hikes from the Koreanowned Nike contractor—since renamed Mex Mode). Following the lead of Occidental College, which contracted with a union shop in the United States to manufacture its college logo clothing, a new unionized garment factory, called SweatX, is now bidding for the socially conscious apparel market.

University campuses have become one of the most important fronts for revitalization of the labor movement. But the new student activism does pose challenges for unions. As Craig Smith of the American Federation of Teachers notes, both the new campus unions and student groups “see themselves as Part of a social movement to a more democratic, more just society.”

Although some unions have worked closely with students, training and recruiting many leaders, and AFL-CIO President John Sweeney has repeatedly joined campus protests, the challenge to the labor movement will be not simply to bring more of these new workers and supporters into the heart of the labor movement, but to transform the movement itself to incorporate the new movement’s broad mandate for social justice. As Gallup says of the students, “They want to be organizers, not just foot soldiers.”

The Abandoned Generation:
Democracy Beyond the Culture of Fear

Henry A. Giroux

Unpublished manuscript, 2004.

One of the most serious, yet unspoken and unrecognized, tragedies in the United States is the condition of its children. We live in a society in which too many young people are poor, lack decent housing and health care, attend decrepit schools filled with overworked and underpaid teachers, and who, by all standards, deserve more in a country that prides itself on its level of democracy, liberty, and alleged equality for all citizens. For many young people, the future looks bleak, filled with the promise of low-paying, low-skilled jobs, the collapse of the welfare state, and, if you are a person of color and poor, the threat of either unemployment or incarceration.

This article suggests that it is time for educators, community leaders, parents, young people, and others to take a stand and remind themselves that collective problems deserve collective solutions and that what is at risk is not only a generation of young people but the very promise of democracy itself. Urban Debate Leagues represent a promising, innovative effort to reinforce substantive democratic education and tradition by fostering rigorous and passionate discussions about social change and how it is to be achieved. I believe in Urban Debate Leagues (UDLs) because their organizers and participants believe it is not only possible to think against the grain, but crucial to act in ways that demonstrate political conviction, civic courage, and collective responsibility.

Increasingly, children seem to have no standing in the public sphere as citizens, and thus are denied any sense of entitlement and agency. Children have fewer rights than almost any other group and fewer institutions protecting these rights. Their voices and needs are almost completely absent from the debates, policies, and legislative practices that are constructed in terms of their needs. This is not to suggest that adults do not care about youth, but most of those concerns are framed within the realm of the private sphere of the family. Children seem absent from any public discourse about the future and the responsibilities it implies for adult society.

Further, youth are excluded from public spaces outside of schools that once offered young people the opportunity to learn a sport, play music, participate in debate, hang out in a youth club, and develop their own talents and sense of self-worth. Young people are now forced to hang out in the streets, and at the same time are increasingly subject to police surveillance, anti-gang statutes, and curfew laws, especially in poor, urban neighborhoods.

The hard currency of human suffering as it impacts on children can be seen in some of the astounding statistics that suggest a profound moral and political contradiction at the heart of the United States, one of the richest democracies in the world: 20 percent of children are poor during the first 3 years of life and over 13.3 million live in poverty; 9.2 million children lack health care insurance; millions lack affordable child care and decent early childhood education; in many states, more money is being spent on prison construction than on education; nationally, more money is spent on beauty products than on public education; and the infant mortality rate in the United States is the highest of any industrialized nation; When broken down along racial categories, the figures become even more de[[plorable. For example, “In 1998, 36 percent of black and 34 percent of Hispanic children lived in poverty, compared to 14 percent of white children.”[1] “In some cities, such as the District of Columbia, the child poverty rate is as high as 45 percent.”[2]

Urban Debate Leagues have started in major cities, from New York to Los Angeles, that are on the front lines in this country’s war against youth. Urban Debate Leagues prove that, rather than occasions for despair, the problems we face offer opportunities for organizing our passions and energies in order to reaffirm democratic commitments to equality, liberty, justice, and critical citizenship. Edward Lee, a graduate from an Atlanta Public Schools debate program, describes debate as “a pedagogical tool desperately needed to prevent an ever-increasing number of academically under-privileged children from wasting away in misery and hopelessness.”[3] Indeed the foundations for new Urban Debate Leagues are currently being set around the country, demonstrating the broader truth that the time has come for adults and young people to organize together, to create the conditions necessary to reject cynicism, and to struggle collectively for a more just world and the possibility of a realizable democracy. Lee offers a compelling vision for advancing the struggle for human dignity and democracy by building more UDLs. He asks us to, “imagine graduating from high school each year millions of underprivileged teenagers with the ability to articulate their needs, the needs of others and the ability to offer solutions.”[4]

As those public spaces that offer forums for debating norms, critically engaging ideas, making private issues public, and evaluating judgments disappear, it becomes critical for educators to raise fundamental questions about what it means to revitalize public life, politics, and ethics in ways that take serious such values as patriotism, “citizen participation,... political obligation, social governance, and community.”[5]

Educators are confronted with the problem as well as the challenge of analyzing, engaging, and developing those public spheres that help create citizens who are equipped to exercise their freedoms, competent to question the basic assumptions that govern political life, and skilled enough to participate in shaping the basic social, political, and economic orders that govern their lives. Two factors, however, work against such debate. First, there are very few public spheres left that provide the space for such conversations to take place. Second, it is increasingly difficult for young people and adults outside of the market to translate private problems into public concerns or to relate public issues to private considerations. For many young people and adults today, the private sphere has become the only space in which to imagine any sense of hope, pleasure, or possibility. Reduced to the act of consuming, citizenship is “mostly about forgetting, not learning.”[6]

The decline of democratic values and informed citizenship can be seen in research studies done by The Justice Project in 2001 in which a substantial number of teenagers and young people were asked what they thought democracy meant. The answers testified to a growing depoliticization of American life and were largely along the following lines: “Nothing,” “I don’t know,” or “My rights, just like, pride, I guess, to some extent, and paying taxes,” or “I just think, like, what does it really mean? I know it’s our, like, our government, but I don’t know what it technically is.”[7]

One consequence of this decline is that all levels of government are being hollowed out, their role reduced to dismantling the gains of the welfare state as they increasingly construct politics that criminalize social problems and prioritize penal methods over social investments. When citizenship is reduced to consumerism, it should come as no surprise that people develop an indifference to civic engagement and participation in democratic public life.

Unlike some theorists who suggest that politics as critical exchange and social engagement is either dead or in a state of terminal arrest, I believe that the current depressing state of politics points to an urgent challenge: reformulating the crisis of democracy as a fundamental crisis of vision, mean[[ing, education, and political agency. Central to my argument is the assumption that politics is not simply about power, but also, as Cornelius Castoriadis points out, “has to do with political judgments and value choices,”[8] meaning that questions of civic education— learning how to become a skilled citizen— are central to democracy itself.

Educators at all levels need to challenge the assumption that politics is dead, or the nature of politics will be determined exclusively by government leaders and experts in the heat of moral frenzy. Educators need to take a more critical position, arguing that knowledge, debate, and dialogue about pressing social problems offer individuals and groups some hope in shaping the conditions that bear down on their lives. Public civic engagement is essential if the concepts of social life and the public sphere are to be used to revitalize the language of civic education and democratization as Part of a broader discourse of political agency and critical citizenship in a global world. Linking the social to democratic public values represents an attempt, however incomplete, to link democracy to public action, as Part of a comprehensive attempt to revitalize individual and social agency, civic activism, and citizen access to decision making while simultaneously addressing basic problems of social justice and global democracy.

Urban Debate Leagues represent one reason for hope. Hope is more than romantic idealism, it is also the condition that highlights images of an alternative politics and pedagogy. Hope is not simply wishful thinking; it is written into those various struggles waged by brave men and women for civil rights, racial justice, decent working conditions, and a society cleansed of war. Hope is the refusal to stand still in the face of human suffering, and it is learned by example, inflamed by the passion for a better life, and undertaken as an example of civic courage.

The work of Urban Debate Leagues provides a tangible reason to be hopeful. Urban debaters, as they devour newspapers and periodicals, confront information detailing certain realities about our world including the use of war, the severity of environmental degradation, and the increasing gap between the rich and working poor. In the face of these realities, the mere optimistic tendency to expect the best possible outcome cannot and does not suffice. The students and teachers who participate in UDLs hold on to hope because they have seen loved ones get kicked and stand back up. Those attracted to UDLs understand that when a person gets kicked and stands back up, she asserts her basic human dignity. Urban debaters bring hope with them to the activity, and then through their participation in debate they gather the tools necessary to be the architects of a new, more equitable, future.

In a world where high stakes testing is a given, it is crucial to invest in substantive efforts that help schools reach accountability measures by improving the quality of teaching and learning. Urban Debate Leagues represent one crucial and exciting way to improve an urban public school system’s curriculum and its academic ethos and norms. I am enormously impressed with the way that UDLs support teachers who seek to build classrooms and schools that represent student voices, foster rigorous and critical investigations into pressing issues of social concern, and prepare students to be active and engaged learners. The UDL movement understands that we can not afford to stifle the critical and creative impulses and passions of our teachers and students. In UDLs teachers and students who might otherwise fall through the cracks instead find an outlet. In the words of Anthony Grobe, an English teacher at Cleveland Naval Academy in St. Louis, “Coaching energizes me after a long school day. The passion and commitment of my debaters validates my work as a teacher. The after school practices are invigorating, the students are excited about ideas. They work with each other in order to research and write about issues concerning their lives.”[9]

The work of Urban Debate Leagues is aligned with forms of assessment that enhance the possibility for self and social empowerment among children, forms of assessment that promote critical modes of inquiry and creativity as opposed to those that shut down self-respect and motivation by instilling a sense of failure or humiliation. UDLs embody an effort to improve education by embracing assessments that get students to reflect on their work and the work of others—as a measure of deliberation, critical analysis, and dialogue. The way that UDLs approach the question of assessment makes it clear that accountability needs to be Part of a broader agenda for equity, and must be understood within a notion of schooling that rejects learning simply as the mastery of discrete skills and bodies of information.

Despite the war against youth and efforts to dismantle the notion and reality of quality public education, many youth and educators around the country are choosing to embrace a politics of hope. Local efforts to ignite student passion for substantive democracy and racial and economic justice, such as Urban Debate Leagues, demonstrate that power as a form of domination is never absolute and oppression always produces some form of resistance. Fortunately, UDLs are adding their voices to a larger chorus as more and more young people nationally and internationally are mobilizing, and they are struggling to construct an alternative future in which their voices can be heard as Part of a broader movement to make democracy and social justice realizable.

The message that appears to unite this generation of youth, and it is a message that resonates deeply with the UDL movement, is that a more democratic and just world is possible. Such a world, however, can only be realized through the collective struggles of many people willing to unite in their efforts to make real the possibilities and promises of a truly democratic world order.

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Topics for Discussion and Writing

Discuss with classmates and express your opinions (with concrete support) about the continuing validity today of the following statements in Savio’s speech:

“The most crucial problems facing the United States today are the problem of automation and the problem of racial injustice.” [The problem of automation refers to the dwindling availability of jobs because of automated services, in factory production as well as in kinds of work like automated bank tellers and telephone response lines.]

“The university is the place where people begin seriously to question the conditions of their existence and raise the issue of whether they can be committed to the society they have been born into.”

“Many students here at the University, many people in society, are wandering aimlessly about. Strangers in their own lives, there is no place for them. . . . [They are] looking toward a very bleak existence afterward in a game in which all of the rules have been made up—rules which we can not really amend.”

“The university is well structured, well tooled, to turn out people with all the sharp edges worn off—the well-rounded person.” (Explain Savio’s use of irony here.)

“The ‘futures’ and ‘careers’ for which American students now prepare are for the most Part intellectual and moral wastelands. This chrome-plated consumers’ paradise would have us grow up to be well-behaved children.”

Savio characterizes the university administration as a bureaucracy. Write about any experiences you have had with bureaucracy at your college or university that would confirm or contradict his account. Have you and your schoolmates discovered any effective means of getting satisfaction in dealing with such bureaucracies?

Write a paper tracing the continuity ofideas in the citations from Crevecoeur, Jefferson, and Emerson, and the readings by Savio, Moberg, and Giroux. What similar concern is expressed in Jefferson’s comments on the power of the wealthy and Savio’s on “the financial plutocrats”? (See the definition ofplutocracy inchapter 15.) Savio was referring to the regents of the University of California, political appointments by the governor consisting primarily of conservative executives of the largest corporations in California, who pressured the University of California’s president Clark Kerr to crack down on student activism in the civil rights movement and other off-campus liberal political causes. You might want to do some research on the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley or of the civil rights movement in the fifties and sixties.

Singly or in discussion groups, compare Adolph Reed’s “Majoring in Debt” with your own situation regarding the cost of college, student loans and other financial aid, and the need to work at outside jobs to get through college. If the conclusion is in agreement with Reed, discuss ways in which this issue might become a platform for student activism and draft a resolution for legislative action at the state and national level. Discuss possible tactics with your student government leaders. Compare the positions on college costs and financial aid of the Republican and Democratic parties and their leaders, nationally and in your state. Write letters to, or interview, your national and state senators and representatives, candidates for office, and political party committees to voice your concern and ask them if they would support a program of legislative action. Write opinion columns for your campus or community newspaper and local TV and radio stations. Or contact the organization Reed discusses in the concluding section, the Debs-Jones-Douglas Institute, about its campaign for free higher education.

The main premise of Reed’s “Majoring in Debt” is, “Higher Education is a basic social good. As such, it should be available to all, without cost, who meet admission standards. The federal government . . . should bear primary responsibility for providing free college to all.” This assertion, which expresses an opinion that is politically to the left of Democratic Party liberals on the issue (the article appeared in the leftist Progressive magazine, and Reed identifies with the leftist Labor Party), clearly runs contrary to established American policies. On what ideological grounds would conservatives oppose it? (See the points of opposition between conservatives and liberals or leftists in Chapter 15.) An editorial on the same topic as Reed’s article, titled “Public Colleges, Broken Promises,” in the New York Times, May 5, 2002, p. 14, said, “Once seen as a benefit to society as a whole, a college education is now viewed as a boon to an individual, who should be forced to pay for it.” The editorial, like Reed, disagrees with this current view. Discuss and write about whether society or the individual should bear the primary financial responsibility for college, and why. Liberals in general argue that public money spent on education is one of the best investments a society can make, producing financial returns far exceeding the investment. Can you find conservative refutations of this argument? Do some research on the financial costs and benefits of public spending on colleges and universities for communities and the nation, as well as for corporate and other employers and beneficiaries of university research, and on the financial productivity of college graduates versus high school graduates. In most other democracies, higher education at the best universities remains free or costs relatively little. The Scandinavian countries even pay all college students a salary; do research on their justification for this and what the socioeconomic consequences are.

One obvious conservative rebuttal to Reed is that his proposal would be exorbitantly expensive, necessitating large tax increases. What sources for financing it does he recommend, and how persuasive is his case for claiming they would not necessitate tax increases for individuals? (Research his claim about “recently opened corporate tax loopholes,” in, for example, Paul Krugmans The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Century.) Debate the pros and cons of his implication that tax money would be better spent on education than on war in Iraq. He further supports his case with an analogy with the GI Bill of Rights after World War II. Debate the soundness of this analogy, and research the history of the GI Bill. He also makes an analogy with the federal government guaranteeing access to primary and secondary education. How accurate is this analogy?

How does Giroux’s account in “The Abandoned Generation” of the situation of young people in America today match up with your personal experience and observations? He is talking mainly about poor, urban youth, but to what extent does what he says extend to other segments of society? Look up the sources in his footnotes 3, 4, and 9 to find out more about Urban Debate Leagues and the possibility of starting similar activities in secondary schools or colleges in your area.

Regarding Giroux, Mobergs “Students Stand Up for Workers’ Rights” and the Young America’s Foundation (YAF) Web site, the social concerns and forms of activism that Moberg and Giroux describe (and obviously endorse) are all liberal or leftist, while the YAF’s forms are conservative. Contrast the issues that the two sides consider most important for student activists. Are there any points on which you think they might agree? What can you infer about the basic ideological differences between them and what lines of argument each would use in rebuttal to the other? (See “A Guide to Political Terms and Positions” in Chapter 15.) Do you think the forms of campus activity Giroux and Moberg advocate would fall in the category of what YAF considers “political correctness”? Debate the accuracy of this label in application to these articles. Do some primary research, singly or in teams of students, on what organizations and forms of conservative and liberal activism are currently represented on your own and neighboring campuses or communities. Interview representatives of these organizations, as well as students, faculty, and administrators, to get a diversity of opinions for and against them. Also see the two readings on the campus antisweatshop movement in Chapter 6. See Chapter 23for a list of conservative and liberal or leftist student organizations, Web sites, and Listservs.

A Preview Case: September 11, 2001

The three articles “The Voices of Dissent,” “Thoughts on September 11,” and “Faced with Evil on a Grand Scale, Nothing Is Relative” appeared shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The opposing viewpoints within them serve well both as an illustration of ideas expressed in the preceding chapter, such as the tradition of writers and intellectuals as critics of mainstream social opinion, and as an introduction to the rhetorical and critical-thinking topics addressed throughout this book, as indicated in the exercises following the readings. The opposed voices were those of William J. Bennett, a prominent conservative spokesperson for the Republican Party and indirectly for the administration of President George W. Bush, and Susan Sontag, Arundhati Roy, and Barbara Kingsolver, all of whom are intellectuals who write novels and essays and who are political leftists—that is, more liberal than the current leadership of the Democratic Party. However, Sontag, Roy, and Kingsolver are not themselves speaking in “The Voices of Dissent” but are represented by David Gates, a Newsweek staff member writing an opinion column, so their views are filtered semantically through his secondhand, subjective account. (Seechapters 2 and5on evaluating sources’ subjective biases.) The text of Sontag’s article that Gates discusses follows his article, so you can check the accuracy of his account, particularly as to whether or not he commits the fallacy of quotation out of context. You also might do an Internet search to find the texts of the articles by Roy in the Guardian (London), and Kingsolver in the San Francisco Chronicle following September 11. By the time you read this, some of the issues in these pieces will undoubtedly have become dated; however, this fact can help provide the basis for a historical analysis through which you can judge how well each of the authors’ views holds up in retrospect, and it is a safe prediction that the “scripts” of the opponents here will be replayed on whatever similar issues may develop in the meantime.

While short opinion columns like these are instructive for revealing their authors’ particular viewpoint and lines of argument, they are usually inadequate for providing much supportive reasoning and documentation. If you write a paper on these topics, particularly one the length of a term paper, you will need to research a diversity of more substantiated sources on issues like the history in recent decades of American involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, and elsewhere in the Middle East and Central Asia, as well as the nature of terrorist organizations. Short articles also almost inevitably necessitate a degree of oversimplification of complex issues and of overgeneralization. (See discussion of these topics inchapters 7and10.) Our analysis here will address this issue in the source readings.

The Voices of Dissent]]

David Gates

Newsweek, November 19, 2001

Despite Shelley’s old wheeze about poets beworld, writers don’t have a great track record ing the unacknowledged legislators of the when it comes to politics. For every savvy

Chaucer[10] (a career diplomat) or Vaclav Havel,[11] there seem to be a dozen Allen Ginsbergs[12] trying to levitate the Pentagon. Most writers are dissenters by nature—and dissent, by definition, implies an orthodoxy that’s getting its way. The hell of it is, history often proves dissenting writers weren’t crazy. Now, had Robert Lowell[13] rather than Robert McNamara been LBJ’s secretary of Defense . . . oh well.

Since September 11, political dissent has seemed a decadent luxury, rather than a democratic necessity. The new united-westand orthodoxy holds that we’re all engaged in a war of unquestionable good against inexplicable evil—that, in fact, the attempt to understand the enemy’s perception of us is disloyal—and that bombing Afghanistan, approved by 90 percent of Americans, is both morally and practically justified. These assumptions are worth questioning, if only for prudential reasons. But our official opposition party has signed on; so have most of the world’s leaders. And again, the writers won’t get with the program. John le Carre and Alan Gurganus have written to critique the war and the United States’ arrogance; Alice Walker has been ridiculed for saying the only “punishment” that will work on Osama bin Laden is love. (Didn’t this ring a bell with the Bible-reading Christians around the president?) But the most audible voices have been those of Susan Sontag and Barbara Kingsolver, and the Indian novelist Arundhati Roy.

Sontag, the essayist and author of the National Book Award-winning “In America: A Novel,” drew a bizarrely fierce reaction for a 473-word New Yorker piece. She called the president “robotic” (mild by pre-September 11 rules), said the attacks were motivated by “specific American alliances and actions” (it must have been something), deemed courage “morally neutral” (ask a GI who fought the SS) and broadly hinted that high-altitude bombing was more cowardly than flying airplanes into buildings (inflammatory, but arguable). But her main point was that the government was talking down to us. “They consider their task to be . . . confidencebuilding and grief management. Politics, the politics of a democracy—which entails disagreement, which promotes candor—has been replaced by psychotherapy.” For this, she was called a “traitor” and a “moral idiot.” On ABC’s “Nightline,” Sontag expressed astonishment; she thinks the bombing is a bad idea, but she’s no pacifist, believes there can be no compromise with Islamist extremism—“and, no, I don’t think we have brought this upon ourselves, which is of course a view that has been attributed to me.”

Sontag denied that the bombing of Afghanistan is morally equivalent to the attack on the World Trade Center; but Roy, author of “The God of Small Things,” believes it is. “Each innocent person that is killed must be added to, not set off against, the grisly toll of civilians who died in New York and Washington,” Roy wrote in London’s Guardian. Her belletristic[14] analysis of bin Laden as “the American president’s dark doppelganger”[15][16] crosses over into Sillyville. But her image of America is something we should take seriously: “Its merciless economic agenda . . . has munched the economics of poor countries like a cloud of locusts.” But for Americans, Roy’s strongest argument against the war may be the practical one. “Operation Enduring Freedom is ostensibly being fought to uphold the American Way of life. It will probably end up undermining it completely. It will spawn more anger and terror across the world. For ordinary people in America, it will mean lives lived in a climate of sickening uncertainty: will my child be safe in school? . . . Will my love come home tonight?”

Both Sontag and Roy declined requests for an interview. But Kingsolver—whom another writer in these pages{2} has called “mindless”—was glad to talk. “Well, I’m babbling,” the author of “The Poisonwood Bible” said after summarizing the essay she’d just sent to her agent about FDR’s “Four Freedoms” speech. “You haven’t even asked me a question.” What got my colleague up on his hind legs was a line from a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed piece suggesting that the flag has come to stand for “intimidation, censorship, violence, bigotry, sexism, homophobia, and shoving the Constitution through a paper shredder. Whom are we calling terrorists here?” But Kingsolver was simply talking about the hard right’s co-opting of patriotic symbolism: “My patriotic duty is to recapture my flag from the men now waving it in the name of jingoism and censorship.”

Ever since September 11, Kingsolver has been pouring out editorials and essays. Her dissent, like Roy’s, is both moral and practical. “If our goal is to reduce the number of people in the world who would like to kill us,” she says, “this is not the way to go about it.” She resents having her patriotism impugned. “I’m speaking out because I’m a patriot,” she says. “Because I love my country and I want it to do the right thing.” And she also resents being told—as she has been lately—that she should stick to writing novels. “It’s a nasty slapdown that’s been used against those of us, particularly Arundhati Roy, who have spoken out,” Kingsolver says. “As if the fact of our being novelists disqualified us for any other sort of speech. I can’t make any sense of that. Words are my tools. Words are what I have to offer.”

Thoughts on September 11, 2001]]

By Susan Sontag

From The New Yorker September 24, 2001

The disconnect between last Tuesday’s monstrous dose of reality and the self-righteous drivel and outright deceptions being peddled by public figures and TV commentators is startling, depressing. The voices licensed to follow the event seem to have joined together in a campaign to infantize the public. Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a “cowardly” attack on “civilization” or “liberty” or “humanity” or the “free world” but an attack on the world’s self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions? How

many citizens are aware of the ongoing American bombing of Iraq? And if the word “cowardly” is to be used, it might be more aptly applied to those who kill from beyond the range of retaliation, high in the sky, than to those willing to die themselves in order to kill others. In the matter of courage (a morally neutral virtue): whatever may be said of the perpetrators of Tuesday’s slaughter, they were not cowards.

Our leaders are bent on convincing us that everything is O.K. America is not afraid. Our spirit is unbroken, although this was a

day that will live in infamy and America is now at war. But everything is not O.K. And this was not Pearl Harbor. We have a robotic President who assures us that America still stands tall. A wide spectrum of public figures, in and out of office, who are strongly opposed to the policies being pursued abroad by this Administration apparently feel free to say nothing more than that they stand united behind President Bush. A lot of thinking needs to be done, and perhaps is being done in Washington and elsewhere, about the ineptitude of American intelligence and counter-intelligence, about options available to American foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East, and about what constitutes a smart program of military defense. But the public is not being asked to bear much of the burden of reality. The unanimously applauded, self-congratulatory bromides of a Soviet Party Congress seemed contemptible.

The unanimity of the sanctimonious, reality-concealing rhetoric spouted by American officials and media commentators in recent days seems, well, unworthy of a mature democracy.

Those in public office have let us know that they consider their task to be a manipulative one: confidence-building and grief management. Politics, the politics of a democracy—which entails disagreement, which promotes candor—has been replaced by psychotherapy. Let‘s by all means grieve together. But let’s not be stupid together. A few shreds of historical awareness might help us understand what has just happened, and what may continue to happen. “Our country is strong,” we are told again and again. I for one don’t find this entirely consoling. Who doubts that America is strong? But that’s not all America has to be.

Faced with Evil on a Grand Scale, Nothing Is Relative

By William J. Bennett

From Los Angeles Times October 1, 2001

In the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, America will be changed politically, militarily, culturally, psychologically. It is too close to the events to understand their full impact. But one certain result is that these events have forced us to clarify and answer again universal questions that have been muddled over the past four decades.

Speaking about World War II, C. S. Lewis put it this way: “The war creates no absolutely new situation. It simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice.”

For too long, we have ignored the hostility shown toward America and democratic principles by some Muslims who adhere to a militant and radical interpretation of the Koran. We have created a moral equivalence between Israel and the Palestinians who seek to eradicate Israel. We have ignored Islamic clarion calls for our destruction and the bombings of our embassies and the U.S. destroyer Cole. This situation has not changed, but now we realize what the situation is.

This is a moment of moral clarity in the United States. For almost 40 years, we have been a nation that has questioned whether good and evil, right and wrong, true and false really exist. Some—particularly those in our institutions of higher learning and even some inside our own government—have wondered whether America is really better than its enemies around the world. After the events of Sept. 11, we should no longer be unsure of these things, even in the academy. We have seen the face and felt the hand of evil. Moral clarity should bring with it moral confidence and we must be reassured of some things.

Good and evil have never gone away; we merely had the luxury to question their existence. At the beginning of Allan Bloom’s classic ‘The Closing of the American Mind,” he says, ‘There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: Almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.” Can one culture, it was asked, really presume to say what should be the case in other cultures? Are there any cross-cultural values?

Yes. The use of commercial airplanes as missiles, guided into buildings where civilians work, is evil. The goal of the hijackers was the intentional destruction of innocent life so as to strike fear into the heart of America. And what they did was wrong, Not wrong given our point of view or because we were the victims or because of our JudeoChristian tradition but simply wrong.

It has been said that these attacks were the inevitable reaction to modern-day American imperialism. They are retribution, it is claimed, for our support of Israel, our attacks on Saddam Hussein, cruise missiles launched at Afghanistan and Sudan.

This is nonsense. America’s support for human rights and democracy is our noblest export to the world. And when we act in accord with those principles, time after time after time, we act well and honorably. We are not hated because we support Israel; we are hated because liberal democracy is incompatible with militant Islam. Despite what Hussein and Osama bin Laden and, shamefully, some American clerics have said, America was not punished because we are bad, but because we are good.

It is, therefore, past time for what novelist Tom Wolfe has called the “great relearning.” We have engaged in a frivolous dalliance with dangerous theories—relativism, historicism, values clarification. Now, when faced with evil on such a grand scale, we should see these theories of what they are: empty. We must begin to have the courage of our convictions, to believe that some actions are good and some evil and to act on those beliefs to prevent evil.

And so we must respond to these attacks and prevent future attacks. We do this to protect our own citizens and our own way of life. We do this to protect the idea that good and evil exist and that man is capable of soaring to great heights and sinking to terrible lows. We do this, in the end, to prevent the world from becoming the prisoner of terrorists, their way of battle, their way of thinking, their way of life, their way of death.

The recognition that some things are right and some things are wrong has come at a terrible cost of thousands of lives lost. The only comparable tragedy in American history, I believe, was the Civil War. And so we must join in the hopes of our 16th president and pray ‘that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the Earth.”

Topics for Discussion and Writing

Probably the most frequent point of disagreement in public disputes concerns the causes of the events at issue. (See Chapter 13, “Causal Analysis.”) Certainly a major point of opposition between Bennett and the three authors discussed in Newsweek lies in their causal analysis of the reasons that many people in Muslim countries and elsewhere hate America. Sontag sees the terrorist attacks as a consequence of “specific American alliances and actions,” including “the ongoing American bombing of Iraq” and “American foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East” (referring mainly to America’s support of Israel against Palestinians), and Roy sees as one cause the destructive effects of American global economic policies on poor countries (presumably like India, her native country). Bennett likewise mentions (in order to refute them) alleged “reaction to modern-day American imperialism” and “our support of Israel, our attacks on Saddam Hussein [in Iraq], cruise missiles launched at Afghanistan and Sudan [during Bill Clinton’s presidency].” Bennett’s alternative explanation is that “we are not hated because we support Israel; we are hated because liberal democracy is incompatible with militant Islam.” (A couple of points may be unclear here. First, it is ambiguous whether Bennett is constructing an enthymeme with a hidden premise or implied assertion [see Chapter 2] , that Israel is a democracy, which is why it and its American support are hated by militant Islam, or whether he is saying that American democracy, not our support of Israel, is what militant Islam hates. Second, it is not clear in what sense he is using the adjective “liberal” before “democracy” here, since he is not using the word in opposition to his own well-known conservatism.) Do research on a diversity of sources supporting these opposed causal analyses.

Refer to “A Guide to Political Terms and Positions” in Chapter 15. Among the items in the column under Leftists tend to support are: “Civil [constitutional] and personal liberties,” “Internationalism,” “Pacifism,” and ” Questioning of authority—skepticism.” The corresponding items under Rightists tend to support are “Controls on civil and personal liberties” (especially applicable in wartime), “Nationalism,” “Strong military and willingness to go to war,” and “Acceptance of authority, especially in military, police, and strong ‘law and order’ policies.” (Conservatives tend to use the word patriotism, with its positive connotation, rather than the more neutral nationalism; however, leftists typically argue that they too believe in patriotism, but with a more complex definition of the term. See topic 4 below.) To what extent do these terms serve to identify Bennett’s arguments as conservative and Sontag’s, Roy’s, and Kingsolver’s as liberal? Can you infer that Gates’s own viewpoint is liberal, conservative, or neutral? Another opposition in this list that might have been implicitly involved in these articles is, “Government spending for public services like education” versus “Government spending for military,” since liberals argued that the Bush administration’s willingness to go to war in Afghanistan was partly motivated by the strong influence of military-industrial special interests on that administration and by the exploitation of the war to increase military spending at the expense of public spending for peaceable services. Likewise, in the later list in Chapter 15, “Predictable Patterns of Political Rhetoric,” which oppositions between right and left lines of argument were implicit in disagreements like these over terrorism and Afghanistan?

Bennett says, “We have seen the face of evil and felt the hand of evil,” and “America was not punished because we are bad, but because we are good.” He opposes the “moral clarity” of this judgment to the “relativism” bred by professors and other intellectuals. To what extent might these be oversimplifications and overgeneralizations? Do they perhaps involve the either-or fallacy, and a false dilemma? That is, few of Bennett’s liberal adversaries (including Sontag, Roy, and Kingsolver) would deny that the terrorist attacks were evil, but they would say that the issues are more complex than the way Bennett poses them. They might argue that it is a logical non sequitur to jump from the proposition that the terrorists were evil to the second proposition, that America is absolutely good—that is, totally innocent in our relations with countries in the Muslim world and elsewhere. They might add that it is not moral relativism to entertain both the beliefs that these attacks were evil and those who died in them were innocent victims and that American foreign policy, past and present, has also created many innocent victims, breeding justifiable anger in many parts of the world. They might agree with Bennett that fanatic Islamic fundamentalism was the immediate cause of the attacks and needed to be retaliated against, while also qualifying that agreement by arguing that the fanatics draw support from Islamic masses and other Third World peoples with legitimate grievances against America, so that retaliating against terrorist acts without addressing those legitimate grievances might be, to some extent, an example of the fallacy of confusion of cause and effect.

Can you find statements by Sontag, Roy, or Kingsolver that might be considered similar oversimplifications, overgeneralizations, or exaggerations? Consider Kingsolvers suggestion that the American flag has come to stand for “intimidation, censorship, violence, bigotry, sexism, homophobia, and shoving the Constitution through a shredder. Whom are we calling terrorists here?” What kind of evidence would be needed to support these allegations? How could that evidence be balanced against the positive traits of America like those cited by Bennett? Is it a false equation to use the word terrorists in this context, even if the allegations are supportable, in comparison to the mass murders of September 2001?

Gates quotes Roy’s description of Osama bin Laden as “the American president’s dark doppelganger.” Do you agree with Gates’s opinion that her implication that bin Laden and George W Bush are doubles is “Sillyville”? Find the entire text of Roy’s article to see how she supports the claim.

Gates indirectly quotes Alice Walker saying “the only ‘punishment’ that will work on Osama bin Laden is love,” and comments, “Didn’t this ring a bell with the Bible-reading Christians around the president?” What do you think Gates meant by this rhetorical question? Is Walker’s recommendation a credible and realistic one for Christians? See Bennetts book Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism (2002), pp. 15-43, for an attempt to reconcile Christian pacifist beliefs with the notions of anger and a “just war.”

Debate these pros and cons of all these arguments among your classmates.

The tone of all of the authors here is polemical if not invective. (As these terms are defined in Chapter 11, polemical describes a heatedly partisan argument, but one that may or may not be well reasoned and fair minded; invective is an extreme form of polemics that is not well reasoned or fair minded, but one-sided and insulting toward opponents.) Here and in other writings of the same period, Bennett accuses many intellectuals and academics (presumably like Sontag, Roy, and Arundhati) of being “moral relativists” who do not believe “good and evil . . . really exist” or that “America is really better than its enemies around the world.” Do you find this attitude in the statements of the three novelists, and if so, does Bennett’s criticism accurately apply to them, or is he attacking a straw man in their case? Commenting on CNN about Sontag’s New Yorker article, Bennett said that she is “a moral idiot.” Sontag denounces “the self-righteous drivel and outright deceptions being peddled by public figures,” “a campaign to infantilize the public,” and “the sanctimonious, realityconcealing rhetoric spouted by American officials and media commentators.” Do you think she would consider Bennett’s column an example of such “selfrighteous drivel”? Would this be an accurate description or just unsubstantiated name-calling? To what extent do you think your responses to these questions are influenced by your own prior political viewpoint? Might you be indulging in rationalization—that is, wishful thinking or believing what you want to believe, rather than trying to make an objective judgment?

Several semantic issues are involved here. Sontag comments on the subjectivity of the words courage and cowardly. Her point is that our ethnocentrism inclines us to apply positive words selectively to our own side and negative ones to our enemies, without considering that they too may be courageous and patriotic, even if we believe their causes are evil. She also suggests that American officials have a double standard in characterizing suicide bombers as “cowardly” while that word might more accurately apply to “those who kill from beyond the range of retaliation, high in the sky,” as in American bombing of Iraq or Afghanistan, ordered by distant officials in Washington. How would you reply to these arguments, and how do you think Bennett would?

Another semantic dispute surrounds the word patriotism. In his book Why We Fight, Bennett says of “those in our institutions of higher learning” and other intellectuals that “those who are un patriotic are those who are, culturally, the most influential” (141). He explicitly includes Barbara Kingsolver in this group. On the other side, Kingsolver insists, “’My patriotic duty is to recapture my flag from the men now waving it in the name of jingoism and censorship.’” (Jingoism is a nineteenth-century term meaning flag-waving manipulation of the masses by politicians or the media into unthinking support of a war that might not be just.) Do you think she would include Bennett among those men? Does Bennett’s article imply that he would censor media coverage or public criticism ofAmerican military actions? (Government censorship of media during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is a good topic for research and debate, especially with the historical perspective of what has become known about it by the time you read this.) How would you make the distinction between jingoism and authentic appeal to patriotism, and how can we make that distinction in a particular case like the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq? Look up a couple of dictionary definitions of patriotism and see if you can reconcile Bennett’s and Kingsolver s apparently different definitions.

Roy is quoted as saying, “Each innocent person that is killed [by American forces in Afghanistan] must be added to, not set off against, the grisly toll of victims who died in New York and Washington.” What moral or practical arguments in support of and against this position can you think of? Does the quotation support Gates’s claim that Roy believes “the bombing of Afghanistan is morally equivalent to the attack on the World Trade Center” and Bennett’s criticism of those who “have wondered whether America is really better than its enemies around the world”? Did those who argued that our killing of an equivalent number of Afghani civilians was a way of “getting even” commit the fallacy of two wrongs make a right?

In Gates’s account, both Roy and Kingsolver follow a line of argument exemplifying one of the critical thinking skills outlined in Chapter 3, “The ability to predict probable consequences of an event or series of events.” Roy says the war against Afghanistan “will spawn more anger and terror across the world.” Kingsolver is quoted as saying, “If our goal is to reduce the number of people in the world who would like to kill us, this is not the way to go about it.” Defenders of America’s invasion of Afghanistan argued that civilian casualties were a necessary evil in the cause of tracking down Al Qaeda leaders and overthrowing the repressive Taliban government. At the time you are reading this, how accurate do these opposing predictions of consequences look? Apply the same question to the similar debates about America’s war on Iraq in 2003.

How specific are Kingsolver, Sontag, and Roy in proposing alternative policies in retaliation against and prevention of attacks like those in September 2001? How specific is Bennett in the policies he advocates? How would you evaluate all four authors in the semantic terms of abstract versus concrete arguments (see Chapter 9)?

Kingsolver responds to critics who say writers like her, Roy, and Sontag should stick to writing novels by saying, ‘As ifthe fact ofour being novelists disqualified us for any other sort of speech.” Do you think being a novelist qualifies one as an authority on political subjects, or is this an example of the fallacy of transfer of authority? A novel is fictional or imaginative, as opposed to factual writing. The novels of these three writers, however, do deal with political topics. To what extent does their authority to speak on real political issues depend on how wellinformed, well-written, and true to life their fictional treatment of political issues is? You might read their novels—Sontag’s In America: A Novel, Roy’s The God of Small Things, and Kingsolver s The Poisonwood Bible—as well as their more extensive, nonfiction political writings (such as Roy’s book ofessays An Ordinary Person s Guide to Empire) in search of answers to these questions.

Chapter 2. What Is anArgument? What Is a Good Argument?

In everyday life, an argument usually means any kind of disagreement—who should clean up the room, did one member of a couple do what the other accused him or her of, and so on. Such arguments often end in screaming matches of “Did not!” “Did too!” Although many public arguments often unfortunately consist of similar screaming matches such as Crossfire and political attack ads, it is sometimes possible for personal arguments to be resolved on a more reasoned level, while we as critical citizens should always demand the same of public arguments. Thus the meaning of argumentation in responsible speaking or writing is not simply the expression of an opinion or attitude—though many people are confused on this point—but reasoned support for an opinion. To put it another way, when someone expresses a controversial opinion or assertion of truth, the critical citizen asks “Why is that true? How do you know that? What reasons or evidence do you have to support it?” If the person expressing the opinion can answer these questions with supporting reasons, she will be making an argument.

Writers of letters to the editor, for example, often simply sound off without any real arguments. Here is one responding to an excerpt in the San Francisco Chronicle from a book, The End of Racism, by Dinesh D’Souza, a prominent conservative:

The Chronicle has done the public a service by allowing D’Souza’s hopelessly twisted rhetoric to besmirch its pages. This allows more thinking citizens to become aware of D’Souza, the right wing’s current lawn jockey, as a grand manipulator of fact and logic, in the spirit of Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

Hopefully, as word spreads about this demagoguery, this will allow more thinking folks to rationally discriminate his message to its rightful place on the trash heap.

The letter is filled with name-calling, along with guilt by association with Hitler, but fails to provide any evidence that the name-calling is warranted. Furthermore, while the pure expression of an opinion like this one about D’Souza is calculated to win unquestioning agreement from those in our own party and to antagonize those in the opposing party, an effective spoken or written argument intends to persuade those who disagree with us to come around to our position, through a process of reasoning, which in this case might consist of quoting “hopelessly twisted rhetoric” in passages from D’Souza’s book, then providing evidence that they are unfactual and illogical.

What is a Good Argument?

The word good here is unfortunately vague and subjective. We are all inclined to judge any argument that agrees with our biases a good one, and any that disagrees a bad one, regardless of its substantive merits. Nevertheless, let us try to define some more-or-less objective criteria.

A Good Argument Is Well Supported

The means of supporting an argument in a written argument (say, a student paper) include (1) evidence from the writer’s personal experiences, examples, anecdotes, reasoned analysis, or common knowledge (truths that are generally acknowledged without significant dispute), (2) primary research conducted by the writer (interviews, polls, study of data, experiments, etc.), and, most frequently, (3) secondary research (presenting facts, figures, and lines of argument put forth by reputable scholars, journalists, research institutes, or officials, mainly published in periodicals and books, whom you cite in your text, introduced by phrases like “According to Author X,” “Author X presents evidence that” or “As Author X argues”). Many of the analyses of arguments in the readings throughout this book focus on disagreements about the quality of opposing sides’ supporting evidence.

Of course, it is impractical to provide evidence supporting every assertion you speak or write, and one rhetorical challenge that every writer (including myself throughout this book) faces with every sentence is calculating which assertions of fact or opinion your readers are likely to accept without support and which ones some readers are likely to demand support for in order to be persuaded of their truth. In conversation, when the speaker makes an assertion that the listener disputes, the listener will ask the speaker for support, but when you are writing, without immediate feedback from the audience, you need to imagine your readers’ response. Thus, developing your consciousness of writing for an audience consists largely of this calculation of what the exact mind-set is of your readers, so that you can anticipate what assertions you need to support.

A Good Argument Distinguishes Facts from Opinions, Takes Care to Verify Facts, and Expresses Informed Opinions

The distinction between fact and opinion may seem like a simple one, but it is the source of constant, fierce disagreements in public rhetoric, even—or especially—among the most knowledgeable scholars, journalists, and politicians. In many of the courses you take, you learn facts that have been verified beyond much reasonable dispute—2 x 2 = 4, water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, and so on. But when it comes to issues like why the American Revolution took place or exactly what the political beliefs of the Founding Fathers were, there is wide disagreement among historians over the facts. In such issues, and nearly always in more contemporary public controversies, what is involved is actually differing viewpoints on, opinions about, or interpretations of the facts. Confusion arises, however, when people feel certain that they know the facts rather than simply having a viewpoint on the facts that may be faulty.

In writing arguments yourself or evaluating other writers’ arguments, then, you need first to distinguish between arguments that are phrased as statements of fact and those phrased as statements of opinion. If you write, “George W. Bush was the best president in

American history” or “George W. Bush was the worst president in American history,” you really mean your opinion is that this is a fact, so you should preface the assertion by a phrase like “In my opinion.” For practical purposes, however, making the distinction between statements of fact and opinion is less important than establishing the quality of support for assertions, whichever way they are worded; in either case you need to present evidence about Bush in comparison to his predecessors.

Verifying Facts. Scholarly writing, by either professors or students, along with responsible journalism and book publishing, is distinguished from the flood of information emitted by mass media, political propaganda, and barroom argumentation by scrupulous attention to getting facts right. “Responsible” newspapers, magazines, and book publishers hire professional fact-checkers who go to great lengths to verify that any “facts” published are accurate. Unfortunately, fact-checking has been a casualty of the rise of 24/7 cable news networks, talk radio, and trash-talking political books, which typically do not employ fact-checkers and are concerned little or not at all with distinguishing facts from rumors.

Informed versus Uninformed Opinions. Some college students fall into one of two extreme positions in regard to expressing opinions. At one extreme are those who somewhere in their education were taught never to write in the first person or express opinions in writing or who for other reasons are reluctant to do so. This attitude often seems to derive from instruction in scientific or technical report writing, which is supposed to be objective and in which the writer’s personality and opinions would be irrelevant. In many other forms of writing, however, the expression of the writer’s personal viewpoint or opinion is perfectly legitimate and valuable. Newspapers and magazines have a page or an entire section devoted to opinion, including editorials (written by the publication’s own editorial board), letters to the editor, and opinion columns written by staffers, syndicated columnists, or freelance contributors and commonly published on the “op-ed” page, opposite the editorial page (the shorter papers—say l,000 words or less—that you write in an argumentative-writing class can be similar in form). Serious journalistic reports in periodicals or books (more like what you will write for term papers or a senior project) also often contain a large degree of opinion, and there are many magazines known as “journals of opinion” that are essential reading for college students and graduates and that provide models of writing throughout this book. The writing of opinion, then, is a perfectly legitimate form; however, you do need to learn the qualities that distinguish an effective expression of opinion from an ineffective one.

At the other extreme from students who are overly shy about expressing their opinions are those students—and many older citizens—who have a know-it-all attitude, or primary certitude. They are apt to make comments like “It’s a free country, and everyone’s entitled to their opinions,” or “My opinion’s as good as anybody else’s.” Unfortunately, these attitudes are misguided when applied to college studies. It is true that everyone is entitled to express his or her opinions, but it is not true that all opinions about all subjects are equally “good”; an opinion that is educated, or informed, on the subject at issue and well supported, is more worth listening to—and certainly more worth reading—than one that that is uninformed and poorly supported. The act of writing lends statements permanence and the need for verification more than speaking them usually does. Uninformed or poorly supported statements might slip by in the rush of conversation, but writing freezes them on the page where their weaknesses become visible, especially in rereading.

Know-it-alls are typically unaware that their opinions are not well informed or supported. They are already convinced that their opinions correspond to the facts, or the truth, so that they do not need any support, and they have closed their minds to any evidence to the contrary. In other words, their opinions are <em>prejudiced</em>—that is, they have prejudged the issue on insufficient study and evidence, or have expressed a <strong>hasty judgment</strong>. The fault here is not expressing strong or emotional opinions in itself; not every strong opinion is a prejudiced one. An unprejudiced opinion, however adamant or emotional, is one that is justified by the facts of the situation, as verified by evidence, and by the knowledge and broad-mindedness undergirding the speaker’s or writer’s arguments. The quality of support for any opinion is one of the many judgment calls you need to make in writing your own arguments and evaluating others’.

Another common misunderstanding about opinions is reflected when, in response to some particularly outrageous statement by a public figure, someone comments, “Well, that’s just his opinion,” as though that is all there is to it. For example, in Rush Limbaugh’s passage on Anita Hill quoted in Chapter 5, he states—as if it is a fact, not just his opinion— that Hill lied about Clarence Thomas, and he implies that Hill was put up to lying by the NAACP and other civil rights organizations. To make this kind of accusation in public without providing sufficient evidence to support it amounts to slander, and Hill could have sued Limbaugh. (The ever growing frequency of such slanderous accusations through the media, however, has made legal action impractical in most cases.) Moreover, the opinions of an influential figure like Limbaugh can affect public opinion and even sway elections— Republican leaders in fact paid tribute to Limbaugh for contributing to their victory in the 1994 congressional elections. Public figures have a responsibility not to make defamatory statements without adequate support; yet such statements have proliferated in public discourse in recent years, especially under the influence of talk radio and political negative campaigning and attack advertising, where the stakes seem to increase toward ever more inflammatory rhetoric. If audience members shrug off such rhetoric by saying it’s just opinion, then they are contributing to a serious debasement of our national discourse.

The increasing tendency for Americans to express strong opinions on public topics about which they are ignorant is the subject of the following article from the New Yorker.:

****“The Intellectual Free Lunch”

By Michael Kinsley

From The New Yorker February 6, 1995

The weekend before President Clinton’s State of the Union Address, the Wall Street Journal assembled a focus group of middle-class white males—the demographic group du jour—to plumb the depth of their proverbial anger. The results were highly satisfactory. These guys are mad as hell. They’re mad at welfare, they’re mad at special-interest lobbyists. “But perhaps the subject that produces the most agreement among the group,” the Journal reports, ”is the view that Washington should stop sending money abroad and instead zero in on the domestic front.”

A poll released last week by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland contains similar findings. According to this survey, seventy-five per cent of Americans believe that the United States spends “too much” on foreign aid, and sixty-four per cent want foreign-aid spending cut. Apparently, a cavalier eleven per cent of Americans think it’s fine to spend “too much” on foreign aid. But there is no denying the poll’s larger finding that big majorities say they think the tab is too high.

Respondents were also asked, though, how big a share of the federal budget currently goes to foreign aid. The median answer was fifteen per cent; the average answer was eighteen per cent. The correct answer is less than one per cent: the United States government spends about fourteen billion dollars a year on foreign aid (including military assistance), out of a total budget of a trillion and a half. To a question about how much foreign-aid spending would be “appropriate,” the median answer was five per cent of the budget. A question about how much would be “too little” produced a median answer of three per cent—more than three times the current level of foreign-aid spending.

To the International Policy folks at the University of Maryland, these results demonstrate “strong support for maintaining foreign aid at current spending levels or higher.” That’s just their liberal-internationalist spin, of course. You might say with equal justice that the results demonstrate a national wish to see foreign aid cut by two-thirds. It’s true that after the pollsters humiliated their subjects with the correct answer to the question about how much (or, rather, how little) the United States spends on foreign aid, only thirty-five per cent of the respondents had the fortitude to say they still wanted to see it cut. But what people will say after being corrected by an authority figure with a clipboard hardly constitutes “strong support.”

This poll is less interesting for what it shows about foreign aid than for what it shows about American democracy. It’s not just that Americans are scandalously ignorant. It’s that they seem to believe they have a democratic right to their ignorance. All over the country—at dinner tables, in focus groups, on call-in radio shows, and, no doubt, occasionally on the floor of Congress—citizens are expressing outrage about how much we spend on foreign aid, without having the faintest idea what that amount is. This is not, surely, a question of being misinformed. No one—not even Rush Limbaugh—is out there spreading the falsehood that we spend fifteen per cent of the federal budget (two hundred and twenty-five billion dollars) on foreign aid. People are forming and expressing passionate views about foreign aid on the basis of no information at all. Or perhaps they think that the amount being spent on foreign aid is a matter of opinion, like everything else.

Populism, in its latest manifestation, celebrates ignorant opinion and undifferentiated rage. As long as you’re mad at hell and aren’t going to take it anymore, no one will inquire very closely into what, exactly, “it” is and whether you really ought to feel that way. Pandering politicians are partly to blame, to be sure. So is the development christened “hyperdemocracy” by last week’s Time: the way the communications revolution is eroding representative government by providing instant feedback between voters’ whims and politicians’ actions. But ubiquitous opinion polls are Part of the problem, too.

The typical opinion poll about, say, foreign aid doesn’t trouble to ask whether the respondent knows the first thing about the topic being opined upon, and no conventional poll disqualifies an answer on the ground of mere total ignorance. The premise of opinion polling is that people are, and of right ought to be, omni-opinionated—that they should have views on all subjects at all times—and that all such views are equally valid. It’s always remarkable how few people say they “aren’t sure” about or “don’t know” the answer to some pollster’s question. (Never thought about it,” “Couldn’t care less,” and “Let me get back to you on that after I’ve done some reading” aren’t even options.) So, given the prominence of polls in our political culture, it’s no surprise that people have come to believe that their opinions on the issues of the day need not be fettered by either facts or reflection.

Add opinions to the list of symptoms of the free-lunch disease that blights American politics. First, in the early nineteen-eighties, came the fiscal free lunch: taxes can be cut without cutting middle-class government benefits. Then, with the end of the Cold War, came the foreign-policy free lunch: America can strut as the world’s super power without putting blood or treasure at risk. Now there’s the intellectual free lunch: I’m entitled to vociferous opinions on any subject, without having to know, or even think, about it.

All this may sound horribly snooty. But it isn’t. It is not the argument that Walter Lippmann made in “Public Opinion,” where he advocated relying on elite “bureaus” of wise men to make crucial policy decisions. Lippmann’s belief was that modern life had rendered public policy too complex for the average voter. But there is nothing especially complex about the factual question of how much the country spends on foreign aid. It may be too heavy a burden of civic responsibility to expect every citizen—what with work and family and life outside politics—to carry this number around in his or her head. But it is not asking too much to expect a citizen to recognize that he or she needs to know that number, at least roughly, in order to have a valid opinion about whether it is too large or too small. Americans are capable of making informed, reflective decisions on policy questions. But they often seem to be under the impression that they needn’t bother.

We need a new form of democratic piety. It shows respect, not contempt, for “the people” to hold them to something approaching the intellectual standard you would apply to yourself or a friend. By contrast, it is contemptuous, not respectful, to excuse “the people” from all demands of intellectual rigor or honesty on the ground that their judgments are wise by definition. We honor our friends by challenging them when we think they’re wrong. It shows that we take them seriously. Believers in democracy owe “the people” no less.

Note Kinsley’s qualification, or drawing the line, that he is not snobbishly saying that the masses of Americans are incapable of having informed opinions; on the contrary, he says, “It is contemptuous, not respectful, to excuse ‘the people’ from all demands of intellectual rigor or honesty on the ground that their judgments are wise by definition.” Also note Kinsley’s suggestion that an honest way of responding to such poll questions might be “aren’t sure,” “don’t know,” or best of all, “Let me get back to you on that after I’ve done some reading.” This suggestion is especially good advice for college students studying controversial current events. You should never be reluctant to admit that you simply don’t know enough about a given subject to have a strong opinion on it, nor should your feelings be hurt at the suggestion that you may be ignorant about it. Being ignorant is not the same thing as being <em>dumb.</em> Ignorant simply means not knowing something. Even the most brilliant and well-educated people are ignorant about many subjects, and the more honest ones cheerfully admit it. After all, aren’t you in college taking courses because you want to overcome your ignorance about the subjects of those courses?

Learning to understand the difference between educated and uneducated, or ignorant, opinions on public issues is in large Part what college study is about. College study, that is, not just in vocational or preprofessional education, but in liberal or general education, which forms the entirety of traditional college education and remains the core of required courses even in most vocationally oriented colleges because it is vitally important for every citizen to understand this difference. This is not to claim that every college graduate has learned to form educated, unprejudiced opinions; some have not, but they have missed what they should have learned in this regard. Nor is this to claim that no one who is not a college graduate is capable of forming educated opinions; many people who have never gone to college, and who may even have dropped out of high school, develop educated opinions through their own mental initiative. The autobiography of Frederick Douglass is a classic story of a nineteenth-century slave’s self-education, against the rigid opposition of his owners, into a powerfully persuasive writer and speaker. Mark Twain is another example; he left school at twelve but educated himself, beginning with his work as an apprentice typesetter at a newspaper, to the point where he became one of the best-read and wisest people of his time.

A Good Argument Is Cogently Reasoned

Scholars of rhetoric, philosophy, and formal logic split hairs disagreeing about the correct terminology for the elements and structures in reasoning and the criteria for evaluating its quality. Much of this terminology, along with extensive elaborations of formal logic, is not essential for coping with the kinds of arguments we are commonly exposed to in everyday discourse. For the purposes of this book, then, a few simple terms are sufficient to begin with, though they will be refined somewhat further in subsequent sections, especiallychapter 11. Arguments are constructed in just a few standard expository sequences. In one sequence, an assertion of either opinion or fact, also sometimes called a claim, is followed by various kinds of support for it, with phrasing like “because,” “for the following reasons,” “on the basis of the evidence that,” or “for example.” (This would be the form of the D’Souza letter if it had supported the assertion about D’Souza’s “hopelessly twisted logic” by presenting and analyzing examples of them after making the initial claim.) In another sequence, a series of items of evidence leads to, or supports, a conclusion or inference, which is introduced by phrases like, “therefore,” “thus,” or “it follows that.” (The D’Souza letter could take this form if the writer began with a series of examples of D’Souza’s manipulations of fact and logic, then drew the conclusion from them that his logic is hopelessly twisted.)

These two sequences are simply variants in expository order for making the same argument. There are also two important categories of argumentative reasoning, induction and deduction, both of which can be incorporated in either of these expository sequences. Induction marshals empirical evidence (based on systematic observation or experiment), data (facts and figures), or specific examples either to support an assertion or to lead to a conclusion or inference. (An oddity of common usage is the expression “I deduce that,” which in fact means “I induce,” as in “I induce from all these antique cars on this road that they are probably going to, or from, a car show.”) There are many forms of inductive reasoning, including reasoning by analogy (for example, Republicans might argue that the Democratic presidential candidate is very similar to Democratic presidential candidates of the past, so we should expect similar policies if that candidate is elected); causal reasoning, where typically we use correlations between two events or kinds of events and other reasons as supporting evidence for claims that one event caused the other; hypothesis testing, where the predictions from a hypothesis that turn out to be correct are used as supporting evidence for the correctness of the hypothesis; and argument to the best explanation, where there are competing explanations or theories and one explanation is chosen because it explains the evidence more accurately and straightforwardly than its competitors and/or it explains a wider range of evidence.

In each of these kinds of inductive argument, although the supporting reasons, if correct, don’t exactly guarantee the assertion they are used to support (you could still hypothesize alternative assertions as being correct), they still provide solid grounds for accepting the assertion. When the reasons or evidence do not adequately support the conclusion drawn from them, this kind of non sequitur (“It does not follow”) is, especially in blatant cases, called an inductive leap.

Deductive reasoning is based historically on the syllogism in classical logic, in which two premises lead inescapably to a conclusion, as in the standard example, “All humans are mortal. Socrates is a human. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.” (A syllogism can also take the form “If all humans are mortal, and Socrates is a human, then Socrates is mortal.”) A common variant is the enthymeme, in which one of the premises is implied or hidden, not explicitly stated: “Socrates is a human; therefore, Socrates is mortal.” The D’Souza letter could have been written as an enthymeme, something like: “D’Souza manipulates facts and logic; therefore, he is not a credible source.” Here the implicit premise is “Anyone who manipulates facts and logic is not a credible source,” a premise that doesn’t really need to be made explicit because it is self-evident.

The next question is when a sequence of inductive or deductive reasoning adds up to a good argument. Actually, logicians, mainly in the discipline of philosophy, use an array of more specifically definable terms than good, such as valid, sound, strong, and cogent. Some logicians use valid to refer only to the internal logic of a deductive argument—whether the conclusion follows inescapably from the premises, regardless of the adequacy of support for the premises—so that rules this word out for broader use. Let’s try instead to use sound here, then, just to judge the logic of an argument. Most broadly, in inductive reasoning, a sound argument is one in which the evidence presented is accurate and adequate to support the initial assertion or claim, or to justify the conclusion or inference reached from the evidence. In deductive reasoning, a sound argument is one in which (1) the evidence supporting the premises is accurate and adequate, and (2) the conclusion follows from the premises.

One theoretical difference between induction and deduction is that the truth of the conclusions reached through induction typically has only a greater or lesser degree of probability or empirical verifiability, whereas the truth of deductive conclusions, if they are soundly reasoned, is certain. When I observe the string of antique cars on the highway, the inference that they are going to or from a car show is pretty probable, though it is not certain. I could verify the inference empirically by following the cars to their destination or asking their drivers, in which case the inference would be correct for all practical purposes. On the other hand, in a syllogism like the one about Socrates, the conclusion has the certainty of a mathematical proof: all humans belong to the class or set of mortals; Socrates belongs to the class or set of humans; therefore, the conclusion that Socrates is mortal is inescapable. In common practice, however, deductive arguments—even if they are internally valid—are only as good as their premises, which must be arrived at and evaluated by the same criteria as inductive assertions. So the weakness in many deductive arguments lies in the disputability of their explicit or implicit premises.

A common form of deductive non sequitur results from an enthymeme containing a hidden premise, like the D’Souza example above, but one that is more disputable than in that example. The hidden premise is assumed by the writer or speaker to be true, but if it is in fact disputable, then the conclusion drawn from the explicit premise is disputable too. For example, in Mario Savio’s speech “An End to History” in Chapter 1, Savio asserts that the student protesters were simply asking to be treated, in the governance of the university as well as in the larger society, as citizens entitled to “due process of law” and regulations arrived at through the consent of the governed. This argument can be recast as an enthymeme:

Premise: Citizens of American democracy are entitled to constitutional rights. Conclusion: Students are entitled to constitutional rights within the university.

The hidden premise here is that the university is a democratic institution, within which students are entitled to all the same rights citizens have in the broader society. But this premise was in fact disputed by the University of California (UC) administrators and other critics of the Free Speech Movement, who argued that the administration and faculty must have certain kinds of authority over students that differentiate this relationship from that between a democratic government and its citizens. Savio’s argument would have been stronger, then, if he had addressed this objection and indicated where to draw the line in granting students more legitimate democratic rights, without this position being vulnerable to being pushed to extremes, such as claiming that students have the same right to teach courses as professors.

A Good Argument Is Relevant, Consistent, and Free of Fallacies

All your arguments should be directly relevant to the issue in dispute, avoiding fallacies of irrelevance like evading the issue, ad hominem, straw man, and red herring; a good argument is often distinguished by its ingenuity in calling attention to a particularly relevant, salient point. It might be worth your time now to read ahead tochapters 12and13 to familiarize yourself with the definitions of the other most common logical and rhetorical fallacies, which are referred to all through the intermediate chapters. In addition, all your arguments must be consistent with one another, without contradictions or shifting ground.

A Good Argument Is Well Balanced, Fair-Minded, and Qualified

You should evenhandedly acknowledge the strong and weak points of both sides and reach a conclusion that balances them judiciously. If you are arguing for one side in a dispute, you must show that you understand the central arguments on the opposing side and can summarize them in a manner that opponents would accept (avoiding straw-man distortion of the opposition), in order for your rebuttal or refutation of the opposing position to be effective. (See Chapter 5for further aids here.)

Academic argumentation is, or should be, characterized by a certain modesty of tone and wording, an avoidance of primary certitude, hasty conclusions, and overgeneralization. Academic writers tend to use nonabsolute phrases like “tend to.” Instead of saying, “Limbaugh commits the ad hominem fallacy in attacking the motives of civil rights leaders,” they say, “Limbaugh might be committing,” or they pose questions instead of making assertions: “Might Limbaugh be committing . . . ?” In concluding your papers you should be similarly cautious. The kind of wording to aim for is something like, “I have not yet studied this

subject in enough breadth and depth to come to an absolute conclusion about who is right. However, on the basis of the limited number of sources I have studied, I conclude that side X has made the better case.”

A Good Argument Effectively Refutes Opposing Arguments

All of these aspects of argument, and of support for them, are incorporated in another key element in many arguments, rebuttal or refutation, in which the writer or speaker does not just present her or his own argument but responds to (rebuts) or shows the unsoundness of (refutes) someone else’s line of argument, often that of an opponent. An effective refutation typically criticizes the argument under analysis by accurately pointing out weaknesses on one or more of the above points: that it is not factually accurate, well informed, well reasoned, relevant, consistent, well balanced, fair-minded, or qualified, or it commits specific logical fallacies. (See further discussion of refutation in Chapter 11.)

An effective refutation must speak directly to an opposing argument. Often writers or speakers will claim to be refuting the opposition, but rather than doing so directly, will simply make another argument supporting their own side. This is a form of the fallacy of irrelevance through evading the issue.

Analysis, Synthesis, and Judgments

This bare-bones account of the traits of sound arguments is only the first step toward understanding of good argumentative writing or speech. Most argumentation is not limited to a single line of reasoning but consists of more than one argument, built into an extended line of argument and integrated with other elements including exposition (the Part of any kind of writing or speaking that summarizes whatever background information is needed, often incorporating narration and description), analysis and synthesis, style and tone, and moral or value judgments. Each of these elements can be more or less well executed.

Extended arguments incorporate various modes of analysis, a process that can consist of identifying and interpreting key issues and elements in them; of establishing relationships between events or facts (frequently through analogy, equation, or comparison and contrast); of breaking a subject down into components and defining, grouping, or ordering them; or of making reasoned moral or evaluative judgments of ideas, arguments, or actions. For example, this Chapter analyzes the concept of good argumentation through definition, division into components, and criteria for evaluative judgment. Every discipline employs its own distinctive modes of analysis. Those in the natural and applied sciences are mostly beyond the scope of this book. The social sciences, which provide source material for several of the political controversies studied in this book, employ analysis of statistical and socioeconomic data and social psychology. However, most of the topics and readings throughout this book emphasize modes of analysis that are distinctive to humanistic studies, including rhetorical analysis (incorporating analysis of logical soundness), semantic analysis (see Chapter 9), causal analysis (see Chapter 13), and historical analysis. (For a model of an extended, analytical line of argument, with marginal notes on its development, see “A Historical-Causal Analysis of the White Problem,” later in this chapter.) English studies further emphasize stylistic analysis and critical analysis—the modes of reviews of and commentaries on books, films, music in concerts or recordings, and other cultural events. These analyses typically begin with a summary or abstract of the work and then go into interpretation and evaluation from a variety of critical perspectives, aesthetic and/or ideological.

Synthesis involves cumulatively connecting or assembling data or arguments (including those previously analyzed) into an extended line of argument, leading to a conclusion. A typical argumentative sequence might look like this:

1. Summary exposition of the situation

2. Analysis of the situation through one or more of the above modes

3. Synthesis of the analysis into a moral or value judgment

4. Conclusion (or peroration, in classical rhetoric), often with an exhortation or call for action to support a policy that the argument has shown to be desirable, or to change one that is undesirable, morally wrong, or socially unjust

Consider, for example, Mario Savio’s speech “An End to History” in Chapter 1. Savio’s brief exposition begins with a summary of then recent events in the civil rights movement in Mississippi and the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley, which he relates to one another through an analogy or equation supported by the evidence of several points of similarity. He then defines the bureaucratic mentality, particularly in university administrators, as it functions to dehumanize students and to block challenges to the social status quo. He gives the examples of the students protesting denial of free speech on campus and being unable to meet with anyone but secretaries and of the administration appointing a committee instead of directly negotiating the protesters’ grievances with them. He next identifies the relevant larger social issues of the time, racial injustice and automation, and the unwillingness of governing bureaucracies to address the human needs of African Americans, workers, and students who are being treated as “raw material.”

Savio then asserts that the protesters are simply asking to be treated, in the university as well as in the larger society, not as “well-behaved children” but as citizens entitled to due process of law. (As noted above, his reasoning perhaps falters here, in his unqualified equation of the university with civic society.) He next contrasts two views of the university: “the place where people begin seriously to question the conditions of their existence and raise the issue of whether they can be committed to the society they have been born into,” as opposed to UC president Clark Kerr’s view of it as “a factory that turns out a certain product needed by industry or government.” (You might read Kerr’s memoirs, The Gold and the Blue, to contrast his viewpoint on these issues with Savio’s.) In a causal analysis, Savio argues that as a result of the conflict between these different conceptions, “the best among the people who enter must for four years wander aimlessly much of the time questioning why they are on campus at all” and “[look] toward a very bleak existence afterward in a game in which all of the rules have been made up—rules which one can not really amend.” Savio’s concluding paragraph reiterates his moral judgment against “the utopia of sterilized, automated contentment” and tacitly exhorts students: “But an important minority of men and women coming to the front today have shown that they will die rather than be standardized, replaceable, and irrelevant.”

Style and Tone, Eloquence and Moral Force

Aristotle’s handbook, Rhetoric (Greek, fourth century BC), defined three key elements in argument: logos, which translates as logic or reasoning; pathos, or emotional appeal; and ethos, which concerns the tone, or moral or intellectual character, that speakers or writers project, as well as the kind of identity they establish with their listeners or readers. The Greek word ethos is the root of the English word ethics, so we can extend the meaning of ethos to include the ethical dimension in argument, including the previously mentioned moral judgments and the quality of support for them, as well as the forcefulness of the emotion and language supporting the judgment or action being advocated, which when most successful deserve the description of eloquence. Emotional appeal is, of course, an ambiguous quality, as often used for deplorable purposes as for noble ones (the uses and abuses of emotional appeal are the subject of Chapter 14); the word eloquence, however, is usually reserved for language that is both emotionally moving and on a high moral plane, such as Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address or Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Eloquence also is distinguished by memorably articulate, ingenious, and apt language—as the eighteenth-century English poet Alexander Pope put it, in what is itself a famously eloquent phrase, “What oft was thought, but ne’er so well expressed.” So an outstanding writing style, such as characterizes enduring works of literature, contributes to eloquence. Conversely, poor writing detracts from the force of an argument. The writer of the letter about Dinesh D’Souza says, “Hopefully, as word spreads about this demagoguery, this will allow more thinking folks to rationally discriminate his message to its rightful place on the trash heap.” The repetition of “this” is awkward, the word “discriminate” is misused (in place of something like “relegate” or “deposit”), and “rationally” is superfluous, as is the cliched metaphor of “the trash heap.” Essentially the whole sentence adds nothing substantial to what has already been said.

Elements of style and tone will be defined more fully inchapters 9and11, but for now, let us just look at how the combination of emotional appeal and forceful style contributes to the ethos and eloquence of Savio’s “An End to History.” Savio at the outset invokes the moral and emotional authority of the civil rights movement, at a time when many activists in the South had recently been murdered, beaten, or imprisoned. His broader description of many young people’s sense of alienation from the social and educational institutions in post-World War II America struck a chord of emotional identification, not only with his immediate audience of students at Berkeley, but also with others throughout the country and world. (He was articulating a prominent theme of many social and cultural critics of the late 1950s and 1960s, such as Paul Goodman in his 1961 book Growing Up Absurd and Tom Hayden, the principal author of the Students for a Democratic Society’s 1962 manifesto, The Port Huron Statement.) When my students read this speech today, many are moved by its continuing timeliness. Stylistically, this almost extemporaneous speech was quite literary in its use of allusions, figures of speech, and poetic techniques like the rhythm and alliteration (repetition of consonants) in the description of America in the metaphor “this chrome-plated consumer’s paradise.” There are allusions to Franz Kafka’s novels about mysterious bureaucracies, Aldous Huxley’s futuristic novel Brave New World, and the American Declaration of Independence and Constitution in “due process of law,” “committees of our peers,” and “consensus of the governed.”

At the heart of the speech is an extended metaphor developing the theme of automation by comparing the university to a factory, as in the punning image, “The university is well structured, well tooled, to turn out people with all the sharp edges worn off—the well rounded person.” Soon after this, Savio delivered another speech protesting disciplinary actions taken by the university against him and other Free Speech Movement leaders in contravention of assurances that their grievances would be negotiated without punitive action. (This speech was captured on film in the documentary Berkeley in the Sixties.) Here Savio continued to develop the factory metaphor and used a classical oratorical technique of rhythmically repeating phrases and adding items incrementally in them, to build toward a climax:

If this is a firm, and if the Board of Regents are the board of directors, and if President Kerr in fact is the manager, then I’ll tell you something—the faculty are the workers, and we’re the raw material. But we’re a bunch of raw material that . . . don’t mean to be made into any product, don’t mean to end up being bought by some clients of the university, be they the government, be they industry, be they organized labor—be they anyone. We’re human beings!

Savio’s peroration exhorted his audience:

There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part, you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears, and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop, and you’ve got to indicate to the people who own the machine that until you are free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.

In this sentence Savio was probably alluding consciously to one of the most influential argumentative essays ever written, Henry David Thoreau’s 1849 “Civil Disobedience.” In this essay, also originally a speech, Thoreau protested slavery and the American acquisition of Texas as a slave state through the Mexican-American War. He said, “If the injustice . . . is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine” (1798). Savio’s speech prompted a sit-in at the administration building by some eight hundred students that indeed prevented the machine of the university from working at all for several days and eventually precipitated the administration’s acceptance of the students’ demands for restoration of free speech.


The extensive analysis of Savio’s speech here is merely intended to indicate how many elements can contribute to good argumentative writing, beyond just logical soundness, which is a necessary element, to be sure, but not sufficient in itself. Savio, speaking in immediate response to a distinctive, highly emotional public situation, managed to draw from a wide base of historical, political, and literary knowledge, as well as his personal experiences in the civil rights and Free Speech movements, in synthesizing an argument that was both soundly constructed (though not above possible critical disagreements) and memorably eloquent in emotion and style.

There is not, however, any fixed formula, like a computer program, that you can follow to produce good argumentative writing for any occasion. Some student readers of this book, especially older ones, might presently be engaged in comparable public activities that require argumentative writing or speaking, on their campus, in their community, or elsewhere, but many are probably not, though they may well be sooner or later. While this Chapter and the rest of the book provide some broad guidelines for engaging in such arguments, that is not the central aim. (If that is what you need immediately, there are several good texts addressing that need, such as Linda Flower, Problem-Solving Strategies for Writing in College and Community, Harcourt-Brace, 1998; and Thomas Dean, Writing Partnerships: Service Learning in Composition, NCTE, 2000.) The aim of this book, rather, is to enable you, as a critical citizen, to understand what distinguishes good from poor arguments in sources that you encounter in reading, watching, and listening to public discourse, and to write papers incorporating that understanding both in your own rhetorical practices and in your analyses of sources and arguments.

Toward this aim, there follows an invention guide, or heuristic (a prompt list), both for analyzing arguments made by your sources and for checking over arguments you make on your own, which synthesizes the major and rhetorical and critical thinking issues raised throughout this book. (Several dimensions of these issues—psychological, semantic, social, and political—will be addressed more systematically in Chapter 3and throughout parts 2, 3, and 4.) Obviously, not every point here will be pertinent to every subject, but the guide provides a broad “menu” from which to select the most pertinent sections. In incorporating these questions into your writing, you should try to adjust the wording to your own natural style rather than sounding like you’re just parroting them word for word.

Rhetoric: a Checklist for Analyzing Your Own and Others’ Arguments

1. When you are expressing your views on a subject, ask yourself how extensive your knowledge of it is, what the sources of that knowledge are, and what restrictions there might be in your vantage point. When you are studying a writer on the subject (or when she cites a source on it), try to figure out what her qualifications are on this particular subject. Is the newspaper, magazine, Web site, book publisher, or research institute he is writing for (or citing) a reputable one? What is its ideological viewpoint?

2. Are you, as reader or writer (or is the author), indulging in rationalization, or wishful thinking—believing something merely because it is what you want to believe? In other words, are you distinguishing what is personally advantageous or disadvantageous from what you would objectively consider just or unjust?

3. Are the actions of the author, or those she is supporting, consistent with their professed position, or are they saying one thing while doing another? (This is one form of compartmentalization, the other most common one being internal inconsistencies in the author’s arguments.)

4. Are all of the data (“facts”) or quotations correct? Are any data used misleadingly or any quotes taken out of context?

5. Semantic issues: Does she make it clear, either by explicit definition or by context, in exactly what sense she is using any controversial or ambiguous words? In other words, is she using vague, unconcretized abstractions, or is she concretizing her abstractions? Are there any evasive euphemisms (i.e., “clean” words that obscure a “dirty” truth)?

6. Are the generalizations and assertions of opinion—especially those that are disputable or central to the argument—adequately qualified and supported by reasoning, evidence, or examples? In your own writing, if you haven’t been able to provide this support, it may be a good idea not to make these assertions.

7. Is there any unjustifiable (i.e., not supported by adequate evidence) emotional appeal through empty “conditioned response” words (or “cleans” and “dirties”), name-calling, straw man, or innuendo?

8. Are the limits of the position defined, or are they vulnerable to being pushed to absurd logical consequences (reduction to absurdity)? In other words, does the author indicate where to draw the line?

9. Are all of the analogies (saying two situations are similar) and equations (saying two situations are the same) valid?

10. Does the author honestly acknowledge the opposition, fairly balancing all the evidence and arguments of one side against those of the other, giving each side’s arguments accurate weight and evaluating them in accurate proportion to each other? Or does she dishonestly stack the deck through using a double standard or selective vision? That is, is she using half-truths, leaving out arguments or suppressing facts that might contradict her arguments? Are there faults on her side that correspond to the faults she has pointed out in the opposing position?

11. Are there any faulty causal analyses? Does the author view any actions as causes that may really be effects or reactions? Does he use any post hoc reasoning—that is, when he asserts that something has happened because of something else, might it be true that the second event happened irrespective of, or even in spite of, the first? Has he reduced a probable multiplicity of causes to one (reductionism)? When he argues that a course of action has been unsuccessful because it has been carried too far, might the opposite be true—that it has been unsuccessful because it has not been carried far enough (or vice versa)?

12. Does the argument contain other logical fallacies, especially evading the issue, non sequiturs (conclusions that don’t follow logically from the arguments preceding them, or two statements that seem to be related but aren’t), either-or thinking, false dilemmas, or false dichotomies?

13. Theory versus practice: Are the theoretical proposals practicable or the abstract principles consistent with empirical (verifiable) facts and probabilities, and are they based on adequate firsthand witness to the situation in question?

Topics for Discussion and Writing

Choose an issue that you are concerned about on your campus, in your community, in the nation, or in the world and write a speech or article about it, following this model (see Chapter 4for further writing guidelines):

Summary exposition of the situation

Analysis of the situation through one or more of the modes discussed above c. Synthesis of the analysis into a moral or value judgment

Conclusion, with an exhortation or call for action to support a policy that the argument has shown to be desirable, or to change one that is undesirable, morally wrong, or socially unjust

Analyze any of the readings for Chapter 1in terms of (1) the logical cogency of individual arguments in it, (2) the quality of its supporting evidence, (3) its overall expository and argumentative organization, (4) the effectiveness of its rebuttals to opposing positions, (5) its style and tone, (6) the quality of its moral judgments and force.

In an article titled “The Age of Irony” in Journal of Advanced Composition (Fall 2002), Susan Searles Giroux writes:

The pay gap between top executives and production workers grew from 42:1 in 1980 to a staggering 419:1 in 1998 (excluding the value of stock options), according to Business Week’s “Forty-ninth Annual Executive Pay Survey.” The same report notes that “Had the typical worker’s pay risen in tandem with executive pay, the average production worker would now earn $110,000 a year and the minimum wage would be $22.08” instead of the current wage of $5.15. And how does this wage figure in terms of yearly salary? A 40-hour week at $5.15 per hour “nets a pre-tax annual income of $10,300, or about $6,355 below the official 1998 poverty line for a family of four.” In contrast to these poverty wages, “the average large company chief executive was paid $10.6 million, a 36 percent jump over 1997.”

Students were assigned to write their responses to these data, as present or future possible workers. (Grammatical note: in Latin, datum is a singular noun, though it is rarely used in English; the more common data is plural.) Here are two responses. Evaluate their relevance to Giroux’s assertions.

Student A: “The wealth gap is increasing every day, but is that all bad? I think not. Giroux’s article outlines how the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, but is comparing a minimum wage worker to a big chief executive fair? This is like comparing diamonds to rocks.”

Student B: “For many years there has been a wealth gap in America, but it looks as though there is not really a way to fix this gap. Raising taxes is not the answer. People should be able to work and reap the benefits of their hard work. Corporate executives work hard and deserve every dollar they earn. Most poor people dropped out of school along the way and in return for their lack of motivation have lived in poverty. I don’t care for the fact that my taxpayer money goes towards welfare to support them.”

Giroux’s data here form Part of an inductive argument. What are some reasonable inferences or conclusions that could be drawn from these figures, in terms of present socioeconomic conditions and in their implications for the future? What economic or moral judgments could reasonably be based on them? For related arguments that do make such inferences and judgments, see Adolph Reed’s “Majoring in Debt” in Chapter 1and all of Chapter 21.

The following are two deductively structured arguments in recent debates over the First Amendment to the Constitution and separation of church and state. a. In an op-ed column in the Los Angeles Times titled “In God We Trust . . . Let’s

Affirm It in Laws” (February 6, 1983), Pat Robertson, then head of the Christian Coalition, one of the largest evangelical Christian organizations in America, argued for reversing the Supreme Court’s 1962 decision against prayer in public schools. This was his conclusion:

According to the Gallup Poll, 94% of the American people believe in God. Without question, those who believe must give the 6% who do not believe the freedom to speak, write, broadcast and disagree. But I do not think that the believing majority has an obligation to the disbelieving minority to dismantle our public affirmation of faith in God. Nor do we owe this 6% minority an absolute veto over a constitutional amendment . . . that would restore our freedom to address Almighty God in our schools and public places.

Robertson argues from the premise that 94% of the public believe in God to the conclusion that we should amend the Constitution to restore prayer in schools. There are at least a couple of hidden premises implicit in this enthymeme; identify them and evaluate their logical soundness and implications for the conclusion. Is Robertson’s adpopulum argument relevant to the constitutionality of prayer in school? Robertson is a political conservative and influential figure in the Republican Party (he once ran for the Republican nomination to be president). Conservatives generally express a belief in individual liberties against infringement on them by government (especially the federal, as opposed to state, government), strict adherence to the Constitution, and opposition to rash or drastic change. Is there an inconsistency between these professed beliefs and Robertson’s call here for a constitutional amendment, or the more recent conservative campaign for a constitutional amendment banning homosexual marriage?

b. More recently, Erwin Chemerinsky, a liberal professor of law and political science at the University of Southern California, wrote an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times titled “Next Time, Court Should Rule ‘Under God’ Out of Pledge” (June 17, 2004), in which he argued:

As a matter ofFirst Amendment law, the Pledge of Allegiance case should be easy. For more than 40 years, the Supreme Court has held that governmentsponsored religious activity is not allowed in public school classrooms. The words “under God” are inherently religious. . . .

But every day, children feel pressure to say “under God” in public school classrooms. Such government-sponsored religion is a clear violation of the establishment clause [in the First Amendment].

Here we see, in classic deductive form, two explicit premises leading to a conclusion. What are the two premises? Does the conclusion follow logically from them? Conservative disagreement with this line of argument would most likely focus, not on the internal logic of the argument, but on a semantic issue in the first premise concerning the phrase “government-sponsored religious activity.” The First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” Chemerinsky implies that “establishment of religion” is equated with any government-sponsored religious activity. However, the exact meaning of “establishment of religion” is the major source of disagreement on this issue. As a research-paper topic, study some opposed views on it by legal scholars or historians.

In another view on the issue of separation of church and state, a public address by Roane County, Tennessee, high school principal Jody McLoud, delivered before a football game in 2003, was circulated on the Internet (http://www.deceptioninthechurch.com/roanecounty/html][www.deceptioninthechurch.com/roanecounty/html). McLoud said:

It has always been the custom at Roane County High School football games to say a prayer and play the National Anthem to honor God and Country. Due to a recent ruling by the Supreme Court, I am told that saying a prayer is a violation of Federal Case Law. As I understand the law at this time, I can use this public facility to approve of sexual perversion and call it an alternate lifestyle, and if someone is offended, that’s OK. I can use it to condone sexual promiscuity by dispensing condoms and calling it safe sex. If someone is offended, that’s OK. I can even use this public facility to present the merits of killing an unborn baby as a viable means of birth control. If someone is offended, no problem. I can designate a school day as earth day and involve students in activities to religiously worship and praise the goddess, mother earth, and call it ecology. I can use literature, videos and presentations in the classroom that depict people with strong, traditional, Christian convictions as simple minded and ignorant and call it enlightenment. However, if anyone uses this facility to honor God and ask Him to bless this event with safety and good sportsmanship, Federal Case Law is violated. This appears to be at best, inconsistent and at worst, diabolical. Apparently, we are to be tolerant of everything and anyone except God and His Commandments.

Argue the pros and cons of McLoud’s analogy between permitted and nonpermitted activities here, the soundness of his assertion that it is inconsistent to bar prayer at football games, and the legitimacy, in relation to the First Amendment, of a public high school principal making a public statement like this.

As supplements to “A Historical-Causal Analysis of the White Problem,” read James Baldwin’s “My Dungeon Shook” in Chapter 10; Jonathan Kozol’s “Other People’s Children” and William J. Bennett’s “Crisis in American Education” in Chapter 13(also see the topics for discussion and writing on them in that chapter); and Charles Krauthammer’s “Lies, Damn Lies, and Racial Statistics,” Robert Weissburg’s “White Racism: The Seductive Lure of an Unproven Theory,” and Thomas Sowell’s “Look Behind Statistics for Changing Definitions” inchapter 9. What evidence or reasoning do each of these present either in support or refutation of the arguments in “A Historical-Causal Analysis”? Which side’s arguments more effectively refute the other side’s? Write a paper or prepare a debate presentation synthesizing these readings, along with additional sources, fair-mindedly acknowledging the strongest arguments on both sides, then judging which side makes the better case on balance.

Summarize and evaluate the implicit line of argument and rhetorical techniques in the following “Mallard Fillmore” cartoon. On what issues is the cartoon’s viewpoint conservative, by the terms of the “Guide to Political Terms and Positions” in Chapter 15?

In the 2004 presidential election campaign, John Kerry’s wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, made a speech appealing for more civility in politics, with particular criticism of the “un-American” attack mode of some conservative politicians and media. When she was aggressively questioned on the speech by a conservative newspaper editor, she told him, “Shove it.” Of what rhetorical fault might this be considered an example?

A Historical-Causal Analysis of “The White Problem”

White Americans used to talk about “the Negro problem,” but during the 1960s, writers like James Baldwin argued that this very phrase indicated the kind of doublethink mentality that obscured the fact that what we have always had in this country is “the White problem,” and that the kind of rationalizations that whites have concocted amount to mass delusion.

The most common white rationalizations are the following: “Slavery and discrimination against blacks were all in the past Why do they keep complaining now, when they have all the advantages?” “My family never had slaves, and I don’t discriminate, so why should I feel guilty or responsible?” “Other immigrant groups have come to this country and overcome adversity. Why haven’t the blacks?” And, “Blacks have a high rate of crime and immorality, which causes legitimate fears and disapproval by whites.”

A historical perspective on this problem begins with the question, “When did the past end, and the present begin” (William Faulkner wrote, with specific reference to the persistent after-effects of slavery in the South, “The past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past.”) Specifically, since exactly what date has discrimination against blacks been a thing of the past? Let us look at the chain of historical causation.


Thesis statement

Summary of positions to be refuted

Transition to main body

Many immigrant groups have endured vicious prejudices, but none have Main Body: suffered as African Americans have from legally authorized, systematic perse[Introduction to]

cution, from this country’s beginnings, one generation after another, down to [r]a[e]na[u]l[t]o[a]g[ti]y[o]w[n] i[o]th

the present. The first black slaves were brought to this country in 1617—three immigrant

years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock—in the Jamestown, Vir[groups]

ginia, colony. The last slaves were imported in 1808, and few blacks ever “immigrated” here voluntarily before the twentieth century. That means most African Americans’ families have been in this country far longer than most white

Americans’, as well as most immigrant groups’. (So much for comments like, “Why don’t they go back to Africa if they don’t like it here”) This is one of many points on which the analogy between African Americans and other ethnic groups, other than Native Americans, is inaccurate. What is the heritage of black AmeriTransition to cans from the nearly 400 years their ancestors have been here? [hist. evidence]

Blacks were kidnapped and brought here from Africa in chains on ships Historical under subhuman conditions in which hundreds of thousands died en route. [evidence]

They were stripped of their own language, religion, and culture—even their names. Families were broken up as husbands, wives and children were sold as separate chattel. They were deliberately kept illiterate as a means to keep them from gaining any possible means of enlightenment about their situation or of communication with others in insurrection, and—as Frederick Douglass reports in his autobiography—they were encouraged to get drunk and party on off hours to let off the steam that might otherwise lead to revolt.

Development of refutation of analogy with immigrant groups

Most ethnic groups immigrating from other countries have been able to maintain their family ties, cultural traditions, and access to education. As they arrived, many stayed in contact with and received aid from kinspeople in the old country or from those already established here. By the time slavery was abolished, however, blacks had been cut off from their African roots for some two hundred fifty years, the continuity of their families and cultural heritage destroyed and their access to education deliberately blocked. As Alex Haley’s Roots and other recent studies have shown, many throughout the period of slavery and subsequently struggled against all odds to maintain their family ties and traditions; nevertheless, African Americans have always had to live with the burden of being aliens in their “own” country and with the absence of a sense of belonging anywhere.

Whites tend to think of slavery (if they think about it seriously at all) as a Economic moral or social institution, but it was always first and foremost an economic analysis institution. Slavery was an immensely profitable business, both in the slave trade and in the fruits of slave labor, which in the 17th and 18th centuries produced huge returns in capital investment for Southern plantation owners. As James Baldwin observed ironically in The Fire Next Time, white Americans pride themselves on the myth that the prosperity of this country was created through rugged individualism and the puritan work ethic—God rewarded those who work hard; but in the South, black slaves did all the work and a handful of white plantation owners got all the rewards. Some recent historians have argued that this country’s prosperity was due primarily to slave labor. Certainly, some of the country’s greatest fortunes were amassed by slaveowners, and some of their descendants today are still living off those fortunes. What have the [Trans. to chain] descendants of their slaves gotten out of their ancestors’ centuries of hard work? [o causation]

Slavery was abolished in 1861 and the Civil War ended in 1865. Many people who have not studied this history seem to assume that abolition marked the end of African Americans’ grievances, and that ever since, white America has shown good will in helping blacks gain equality. But have you ever thought about how Southern slaveowners, white workers, and others who benefitted economically from slavery must have reacted to abolition? Do you suppose most of them opened their arms lovingly to welcome freed slaves as equal citizens? Here were some eight million workers, one-third of the population of the South, who had been providing unpaid labor for two hundred fifty years, now competing for wages with whites in the poorest Part of the country. Many whites obviously perceived that their interests lay in keeping blacks in conditions as close to slavery as the law now permitted. Following abolition, the federal government promised each freed slave family “forty acres and a mule” to start homesteading, but this legislation was killed in Congress by Southerners and Northern industrial interests motivated by maintaining a cheap labor pool. The hun[Step Two:] dred years following the Civil War saw the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, mass s[H]u[u]b[n]se[d]q[re]u[d]ent lynchings, segregation in social life and education (with “separate but equal” a years of rationalization for inferior schools), and “Jim Crow” laws denying Southern [segregation] blacks voting and other civil rights.

Step One: Immediate aftermath of abolition

So, while the many waves of immigrants from other countries have been Further enabled to gain a foothold and eventual advancement here, blacks have been [development of] refutation of more or less systematically kept at the bottom of the social ladder, providing a immigrant permanent “underclass” socially and economically, and humiliated by the fact [analogy] that each newly arrived ethnic group has been allowed to step over them in social assimilation (Perhaps the most analogous group to blacks in this respect has been Mexican and other Latin American farm and domestic workers, who have suffered comparably deliberate economic exploitation.)

Under the conditions of continuing oppression in the South, millions of SouthStep Three: ern blacks understandably migrated North to seek better opportunities, in wave N[M]o[ig]r[r]th[ati]a[o]n[n]d[t]i[o]ts after wave from the early twentieth century to the 1980s—constituting the largest consequences. migration in American history, according to Nicholas Lemann’s The Promised Land: [First] The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America, a powerfully written history [c]W[o]h[n]i[s]t[e]e[q]r[u]e[e]a[n]c[c]ti[e]o[:]ns of this period. Lemann recounts that as blacks arrived in Northern cities, white residents, fearful of loss of their property value, resorted to the same kind of hate crimes blacks thought they had left in the South, including Ku Klux Klan terrorism, lynchings, riots culminating in beatings and house-burnings. (The frustrations of blacks too erupted periodically in rioting, most recently in Los Angeles after the Rodney King trial.) As blacks moved into urban neighborhoods, white Step Four:

residents and businesses moved out to the suburbs, taking with them jobs and the [Flight of jobs] base of property-tax and corporate-tax income needed for the support of neigh[an tax ase;]

segregation in Northern housing and schools

borhood schools, police, hospitals, street repair, and other essential community services. “Restrictive covenants,” clauses in deeds to houses and apartment buildings restricting their sale or residence in them to whites (and in many cases Christians), were legal and widespread throughout the North well into the 1950s, before they were declared unconstitutional; many figures who are still prominent in American politics and public life bought and sold houses with such covenants. Thus, in Northern housing and schools, there has been segregation in fact (de facto) if not by law (de jure), as in the South, with a low tax base guaranteeing deprivation in education and other formative influences that perpetuated economic disadvantages generation after generation.

Discrimination not only in housing and education but in employment, insurance, legal justice, medical care, and the cost of commodities further contributed to the cycle of poverty in Northern ghettos. The lack of good jobs and the resulting despair led many residents to turn to crime, drugs, alcoholism, and prostitution, with dealing in drugs, liquor, weapons, and sex becoming among the few relatively prosperous work options. Contrary to common stereotypes, however, the majority of ghetto residents have managed to maintain high moral standards, as documented in “Beverly Hills Versus The South Bronx” (in Chapter 7); many also managed to work their way into middle-class status, at which point most understandably moved up out of the ghetto, inadvertently contributing to segregation along class as well as racial lines.

Step Five: Other conditions leading to vicious circles

Step Six: Relocation of manufacturing abroad since 1960s

In one of the many vicious circles here, all these conditions in turn discouraged large employers from investing in inner cities. These conditions steadily worsened throughout the twentieth century, the latest turn for the worst coming since the 1960s, when large manufacturers have relocated from inner cities and other American sites into Third World locations providing even cheaper labor. Jonathan Kozol’s 1991 book Savage Inequalities succinctly describes the causal sequence in the Lawndale section of Chicago:

Between 1960 and 1970, as the last white families left the neighborhood, North Lawndale lost three quarters of its businesses, one quarter of its jobs. In the next ten years, 80 percent of the remaining jobs in manufacturing were lost.

”People carry a lot of crosses here,” says Reverend Jim Wolff, who directs a mission church not far from one of the deserted factories. “God’s beautiful people live here in the midst of hell.”

As the factories have moved out, he says, the street gangs have moved in. Driving with me past a sprawling red brick complex that was once the world headquarters of Sears, Roebuck, he speaks of the increasing economic isolation of the neighborhood: “Sears is gone, International Harvester is gone. Western Electric has moved out. The Vice Lords, the Disciples and the Latin Kings have, in a sense, replaced them. (42)

The whole peculiar history of crime and sexuality between whites and blacks is another element differentiating African Americans from any other ethnic or immigrant group in America. Throughout and long after the slavery period, until the 1960s, virtually any white man was free to murder or rob any black, to rape or force into being a prostitute or mistress any black woman, without taking responsibility for the resulting babies; indeed, white men were encouraged to father children by black women because any such children were defined by law as black, providing more slave labor or, after abolition, cheap labor. (Blacks themselves were tacitly encouraged to have illegitimate children among themselves for the same economic benefits to whites.) Consequently, this country is filled with the descendants of mixed race parentage—making the whole concept of a “white” and a “black” race in America largely a fabrication.

Yet, white America has always applied compartmentalized thinking and a double standard toward crimes by blacks against whites versus those by whites against blacks. Above all, in spite of the countless instances of white men raping black women with impunity, a black man raping, or even being perceived as making advances to, a white woman was always the ultimate taboo, the most frequent incitement to lynching; fears of the purity of white blood being polluted by black insemination of white women was the foremost obsession of racists. Knowledge of this history was necessary to understand the possible implications of the broadcast in George Bush’s 1988 presidential campaign of a TV commercial criticizing Bush’s opponent, Governor Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts for having allowed a weekend furlough to Willy Horton, an imprisoned rapist, during which he raped and murdered a woman. Horton was black, the woman white; nothing was said of this in the commercial and Bush’s defenders said the incident was not racist because Horton was guilty of the crime. The between-the-lines issue, however, was whether the commercial was playing subconsciously on the entrenched white double standard on rape, and whether the Bush campaign would have chosen to make an issue of the case if the rapist had been white and his victim black.

Consider in the larger historical perspective the most frequent allegations against blacks today—they have high rates of illiteracy, crime, alcohol or drug abuse, and illegitimate births. To whatever extent such allegations are grounded in fact (and this is highly disputed ground), doesn’t it seem likely that these present day conditions are the predictable consequence of nearly four hundred years of the conditions forced on American blacks, and that those consequences are unlikely to disappear within a few decades of blacks’ attainment of equal legal rights in the 1960s? However, precisely because many American whites have not learned to think in terms of historical cause and effect, they decontextualize the present behavior of a deviant minority of blacks and see it as a cause of social problems rather than an effect or reaction. This does not excuse any such misbehavior or absolve individuals from responsibility; it simply indicates that the problem must be approached in broad social and historical terms beyond individual cases.

Whites’ double standard and confusion of cause and effect in thinking about black criminality

Avoiding implication that blacks are absolved from individual responsibility

Now, if you follow this entire chain of causation over nearly four hundred Summary of years, it becomes apparent that “the past is not even past,” that today’s racial arguments to problems are inseparable from this unbroken chain of causation; it also becomes [this point] apparent that, from beginning to end, African Americans on the whole have not been responsible or to blame for any of the injustices that have blighted their lives generation after generation (although as individuals they have coped with the effects of these injustices with varying degrees of personal responsibility). Their bewilderment was summed up by a brilliant metaphor in the title of a song written in the 1940s by Fats Waller: “What Did I Do To Be So Black and Blue?”

What explanation can there be, then for the hatred that so many whites White hatred of have vented on blacks throughout the centuries? This would seem to be a clas[blacks as] sic case of blaming the victim. Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time explores the psyv[b]ic[a]t[m]im[ing te] chology of this mind-set, in the mix of willful ignorance, ethnocentrism, and rationalization, rationalization that have led whites to be “the slightly mad victims of their own [projection] brainwashing” (137). Baldwin sees whites as being in a state of psychological denial of the truth of the crimes whites have committed against blacks throughout American history, and of projection of those crimes into stereotypes of blacks as the criminal class. He says that although many whites in the past and present have sincerely wanted to enable blacks to attain equality, many others have been driven by fear that if blacks gained economic, political, and sexual equality, they would want to “get even” and take revenge on whites for all the past crimes; rather than admit that they are unwilling to see blacks gain equality—or at least to give up any of their own advantages, as necessitated by policies like affirmative action and welfare—they rationalize that blacks are themselves to blame for failing to “pull themselves up.”

One of the more recent varieties of this “brainwashing,” in Baldwin’s view, is many whites’ belief that the attainment of civil rights and increased opportunities by blacks since the 1950s has resulted out of the goodness of white America’s heart; he argues, on the contrary, that whites have given ground only when they have been forced to by the pressures of the civil rights movement, the influence of newly independent African and other Third-World nations, the economic obsolescence of segregated society, and—above all—by the fear instilled since the midsixties by highly destructive ghetto riots and the Black Power movement.

Now throughout this entire tragic sequence of events from the Emancipation Proclamation to the present, most of the damage done to blacks has probably not resulted from the ill will of individual whites, but from a series of social consequences that has followed inevitably from the throwing of millions into the labor market and civic life without adequate accommodation by American society for their assimilation. For generation after generation, down to your own, with no adequate corrective policies by the society at large, individual whites have been able to say, “It isn’t my fault. I never owned slaves or discriminated.” This kind of statement, though justified to a point, reflects a typical American tendency to reduce every problem to personal attitudes, while ignoring the responsibility we each have for the collective political and economic policies that have perpetuated racism and that would need to be changed in order finally to end it. This attitude also disregards the historical truth that the sins of the fathers are visited on the children, and that present generations might have to make sacrifices or suffer injustices to redress injustices done by previous generations.

Young whites have come into the world at the latest stage in this inheritance of evasion and are likely to see only the current consequences, not the causes. Policies like welfare and affirmative action, insofar as they have been intended to aid blacks, have been designed as minimal efforts to deal with these consequences, not with their causes at the roots; nevertheless, it is unlikely that most of those who loudly denounce affirmative action and welfare have much understanding of the historical causes justifying these policies, or any more effective solutions to suggest for repairing the continuing damage done by the causes.

Conclusion: Fallacy of whites reducing racial problems to personal attitudes, while ignoring responsibility for political and economic policies and present consequences of past injustices

Necessity of addressing causes of conditions of which welfare and affirmative action are consequences.

Chapter 3. Definitions andCriteria of Critical Thinking


This Chapter will briefly explain the scholarly background for the content of subsequent chapters and the sequence in which they are organized. Around 1980 American educators began to identify critical thinking as a subject that needed increased, explicit emphasis in our high schools and colleges, and as an essential element in civic literacy. The Rockefeller Foundation’s Commission on the Humanities reported in 1980, “The humanities lead beyond ‘functional’ literacy and basic skills to critical judgment and discrimination, enabling citizens to view political issues from an informed perspective Educational policy mak

ers at all levels should define critical thinking as a basic skill and recognize the value of the humanities for developing it” (The Humanities in American Life, 12, 22).

Also in 1980, Chancellor Glenn Dumke announced the requirement of formal instruction in critical thinking throughout the nineteen California State University campuses, serving some three hundred thousand students. The announcement read:

Instruction in critical thinking is to be designed to achieve an understanding of the relationship of language to logic, which should lead to the ability to analyze, criticize, and advocate ideas, to reason inductively and deductively, and to reach factual or judgmental conclusions based on sound inferences drawn from unambiguous statements of knowledge or belief. The minimal competence to be expected at the successful conclusion of instruction in critical thinking should be the ability to distinguish fact from judgment, belief from knowledge, and skills in elementary inductive and deductive processes, including an understanding of the formal and informal fallacies of language and thought.

Similar requirements were soon adopted by community colleges and secondary schools throughout California and elsewhere. Here is the list of “basic critical thinking skills” in the California State Department of Education’s Model Curriculum for Grades 8-12 in 1984.

1. Compare similarities and differences

The ability to compare similarities and differences among two or more objects, living things, ideas, events, or situations at the same or different points in time. Implies the ability to organize information into defined categories.

2. Identify central issues or problems

The ability to identify the main idea or point of a passage, argument, or political cartoon, for example. At the higher levels, students are expected to identify central issues in complex political arguments. Implies ability to identify major components of an argument, such as reasons and conclusions.

3. Distinguish fact from opinion

The ability to determine the difference between observation and inference.

4. Recognize stereotypes and cliches

The ability to identify fixed or conventional notions about a person, group, or idea.

5. Recognize bias, emotional factors, propaganda, and semantic slanting

The ability to identify partialities and prejudices in written and graphic materials. Includes the ability to determine credibility of sources (gauge reliability, expertise, and objectivity).

6. Recognize different value orientations and different ideologies

The ability to recognize different value orientations and ideologies.

7. Determine which information is relevant

The ability to make distinctions between verifiable and unverifiable, relevant and nonrelevant, and essential and incidental information.

8. Recognize the adequacy of data

The ability to decide whether the information provided is sufficient in terms of quality and quantity to justify a conclusion, decision, generalization, or plausible hypothesis.

9. Check consistency

The ability to determine whether given statements or symbols are consistent. For example, the ability to determine whether the different points or issues in a political argument have logical connections or agree with the central issue.

10. Formulate appropriate questions

The ability to formulate appropriate and thought-provoking questions that will lead to a deeper and clearer understanding of the issues at hand.

11. Predict probable consequences

The ability to predict probable consequences of an event or series of events.

12. Identify unstated assumptions

The ability to identify what is taken for granted, though not explicitly stated, in an argument.

Some scholars make a distinction between critical thinking skills, related formally or informally to traditional logic, and dispositions that foster or impede critical thinking within the broader context of psychological, cultural, social, and political influences. Dispositions that foster critical thinking, also studied throughout Part 2(partly from the perspective of semantics, especially in Chapter 9), include the development of skepticism, open-mindedness, autonomous thought, and reciprocity (psychologist Jean Piaget’s term for the ability to empathize with other individuals, social groups, nationalities, ideologies, etc.). Dispositions that act as impediments to critical thinking include culturally conditioned assumptions, egocentrism and ethnocentrism, authoritarianism, rationalization, compartmentalization, stereotyping, prejudice, and defense mechanisms. These positive and negative dispositions will be surveyed in the following chapters.

Critical Thinking and Cultural Literacy

Much debate in academic circles has centered on the relative importance of learning critical thinking skills versus factual knowledge related to specific disciplines like history, social science, or the natural sciences. This debate seems to me a classic either-or fallacy, since common sense dictates that both are indispensable and inseparable in practice. The leading recent advocate of increased emphasis on factual knowledge in American education, E. D. Hirsch, in his controversial 1987 book Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know, agrees:

The old prejudice that facts deaden the minds of children has a long history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and includes not just the disciples of Rousseau and Dewey but also Charles Dickens who, in the figure of Mr. Gradgrind in Hard Times, satirized the teaching of mere facts. But it isn’t facts that deaden the minds of young children, who are storing facts in their minds every day with astonishing voracity. It is incoherence—our failure to ensure that a pattern of shared, vividly taught, and socially enabling knowledge will emerge from our instruction.

The polarization of educationists into facts-people versus skills-people has no basis in reason. Facts and skills are inseparable. There is no insurmountable reason why those who advocate the teaching of higher order skills and those who advocate the teaching of common traditional content should not join forces. (133)

Hirsch and many other authorities concur that historical facts are foremost among the fields of knowledge essential for critical thinking—not for the purpose of rote memorization of dates and names, but for the purpose of reasoning back and forth between the past, present, and future, of being able to understand present conditions in comparison and contrast to past conditions and in a sequence of causal analysis explaining how conditions have evolved to their present state. As The Humanities in American Life puts it:

The humanities do not impose any single set of normative values, whether moral, social, or aesthetic; rather, as a record of the ideals that have guided men and women in the past, they give historical perspective. Students made sensitive to what it might be like to live in a different time, place, or culture can make value choices without automatically assuming that contemporary reality has no precedent, or that quick scientific or humanistic prescriptions can remedy every problem. The humanities bring to life the ideal of cultural pluralism by expanding the number of perspectives from which questions of value may be viewed, by enlarging young people’s social and historical consciousness, and by activating an imaginative critical spirit. (30)

And, on the relation of English courses to history and other humanistic disciplines:

High schools should concentrate on an articulated sequence of courses in English, history, and foreign languages. Courses in these disciplines should not divorce skills and methods from knowledge of content and cultural context English courses need to emphasize the

connections between expression, logic, and the critical use of textual and historical evidence. (44)

”The critical use of textual and historical evidence” is the subject of large portions of Reading and Writing for Civic Literacy, since the most important Part of inductive argumentation is learning to provide persuasive evidence in support of your opinions or assertions, and since that evidence must frequently be drawn from historical sources.

The most important link between critical thinking and cultural literacy is the vocabulary of words denoting mental operations, rhetorical terms, and factual knowledge that constantly expands over the course of our education and varied life experience. In Errors and Expectations: A Guide for the Teacher of Basic Writing (1977), Mina Shaughnessy, a pioneer scholar in the learning challenges to students in college writing courses, summed up the kinds of words that college students are being introduced to and that constitute what she termed “the vocabulary of general literacy,” though she might equally well have referred to the vocabulary of “critical thinking,” “cultural literacy,” or “academic discourse”:

1. Words that allude to events, places, and people that are assumed to be commonly, if but vaguely, known (Gandhi, the French Revolution, the Nile, etc.).

2. Words that serve as formal equivalents to concepts already familiar to the student in different words (as atheist is the equivalent to “someone who doesn’t believe in God”).

3. Words that serve to identify complex historical movements (Renaissance, Marxism, evolution, etc.).

4. Words that, although Part of the nomenclature of certain fields, are also used in the wider culture with variant meanings (in literature, for example, such terms as fiction, drama, or novel).

5. Words that are intended to initiate highly specific academic activities (define, compare, generalize, document, illustrate, prove, summarize, interpret, etc).

6. Words that are used in deliberately ambiguous ways in order to enrich or refine meaning (irony, figures of speech, etc.).

7. Words that articulate relationships such as addition, negation, condition, or causation (moreover, therefore, however, etc.).

8. Words that represent Latinor Greek-based synonyms for familiar words (i.e., initiate or commence for begin) and that tend to give an academic flavor to the writing and speech of teachers. (217)

Making Connections

To the young mind, every thing is individual, stands by itself. By and by, it finds how to join two things, and see in them one nature, then [to join] three, then three thousand..............................................................................................................

—Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The American Scholar”

Scholars in developmental psychology, sociolinguistics, and composition theory have identified other critical thinking skills that distinguish advanced stages in reading, writing, and reasoning (sometimes termed “higher-order thinking”), which will largely form the subject matter of the rest of Part 2. These include the abilities to retain and apply material previously studied and to sustain an extended line of argument in reading, writing, and speaking, incorporating recursive and cumulative thinking (the abilities to refer back to previously covered material and to build on that material in developing stages in an argument).

These skills and others further contribute to the abilities to make connections between diverse experiences, ideas, and subjects studied, through analysis and synthesis, which were introduced in Chapter 2. The most important analytic and synthetic skills (again illustrated in many of the readings and exercises throughout this book) include the abilities to reason back and forth between (and connect) the concrete and the abstract; between the personal and the impersonal; between the literal and the figurative, the explicit and the implicit (“reading between the lines”); between the actual and the hypothetical or between what presently exists and conceivable alternatives; between the past, present, and future; and between causes and effects. Other skills include the abilities to understand (within personal, historical, and political contexts) multiple levels of meaning or points of view and to recognize irony, paradox, and ambiguity in disparities between what is said and meant, between appearance and reality (especially between what people say and what they do), and between intentions and results. A classic discussion of analytic and synthetic reasoning is found in the opening passage from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1837 Phi Beta Kappa address, “The American Scholar,” later in this chapter. (See the topics for discussion and writing after that reading.)

On a negative note, some critics of contemporary American society and culture make the case that many individuals’ development of analytic and synthetic skills—indeed their capacity to make connections between events and ideas at all—has actually been impaired by the atomizing “sound bites” and low reasoning level of mass political discourse and media and that, in a vicious circle, the diminished level of the public’s reasoning skills is pandered to by politicians and media “giving the people what they want,” a point further developed in Chapter 16. As sociologist Stanley Aronowitz puts it in “Mass Culture and the Eclipse of Reason: The Implications for Pedagogy”:

Research suggests a correlation of television watching (and consumption of mass culture in general) to a tendency toward literalness in thought Put succinctly, children of all social

classes . . . seem unable to penetrate beyond the surfaces of things to reach down to those aspects of the object that may not be visible to the senses The problem of abstraction

becomes a major barrier to analysis because students seem enslaved to the concrete. Finally, teachers notice that many have trouble making connections between two objects or sets of concepts that are not related to each other in an obvious manner The critical project of

learning involves understanding that things are often not what they seem to be and that abstract concepts such as “society,” “capitalism,” “history,” and other categories not available to the senses are nonetheless real. This whole critical project now seems in eclipse. (282-3)

Dialogue in Critical Thinking and Literature

Only by art can we get outside ourselves, know what another sees of his universe, which is not the same as ours and the different views of which would otherwise have remained unknown to us as those there may be on the moon.

—Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past:

The Past Recaptured

Plato’s works about Socrates, written in fourth-century-BC Greece and among the greatest influences on the whole history of Western philosophy, rhetoric, and literature, are in the form of dramatic dialogues between Socrates and other characters. In these dialogues, the truth is pursued through dialogic (or dialectical) exchange and refinement of positions, as opposed to a monologue by one author or character. As we will see in Chapter 5, the crucial role of dialogue in current models of critical thinking is apparent in the use of methods like Rogerian argument and “Believers and Doubters,” which help us to get outside our own egos and empathize with others’ viewpoints. The dialogic dimension of critical thinking is also incorporated throughout this textbook, in my drawing attention to my own subjective viewpoint and periodically inviting challenges to it from opposing ones, as well as in the pairing of readings that directly or indirectly oppose one another on a point-by-point basis.

The emphasis on dialogue in critical thinking scholarship coincides with a long tradition in creative literature from Plato onward. Indeed, it might be said that every work of literature or art engages the reader in dialogue and making a compassionate connection with an alien viewpoint, as expressed in the quotation here from French novelist Marcel Proust’s multivolume masterpiece Remembrance of Things Past. (It is also implicit in Emerson’s “American Scholar” and Whitman’s “Noiseless, Patient Spider” that the intellectual connections made by the scientist, scholar, and poet also serve to connect all human beings in compassion.) For Albert Camus, the French Nobel Prize-winning author, this concept of literature as dialogue formed the link between his career as a writer of fiction and drama and his commitments as a political journalist and activist. In an essay titled “Neither Victims nor Executioners,” written in 1946 in the wreckage of World War II and at the beginning of the Cold War, he called for a new “civilization of dialogue” between individuals of all countries that would transcend the contrived, deadly hatreds and propagandistic language of nationalistic rivalry: “What is necessary to defend is dialogue and universal communication between men. Servitude, injustice, and falsehood are the scourges that shatter that communication and forbid that dialogue” (18). Elsewhere he writes:

The mutual understanding and communication discovered by rebellion can survive only in the free exchange of conversation. Every ambiguity, every misunderstanding, leads to death; clear language and simple words are the only salvation from this death. The climax of every tragedy lies in the deafness of its heroes. Plato is right and not Moses and Nietzsche. [References to Moses handing down the Ten Commandments from the mountaintop and to Nietzsche’s monologic Thus Spake Zarathustra.] Dialogue on the level of mankind is less costly than the gospel preached by totalitarian regimes in the form of a monologue dictated from the top of a lonely mountain.

On the stage as in reality, the monologue precedes death. (The Rebel, 283-84)

The reading later in this chapter, “Can Patriotism Be Compassionate?” by Martha Nussbaum, a classics scholar, is a good example of the applicability of these themes in classical humanism to our thinking about current issues like the events following September 11, 2001.

Recursiveness, Cumulativeness, and Levels of Meaning

Writing, the clearest demonstration of the power of analytical and sequential thinking, seems increasingly to be an alien form to many of our young, even to those who may be regarded as extremely intelligent... The electronic information environment, with televi

sion at its center, is fundamentally hostile to conceptual, segmented, linear modes of expression; thus, both writing and speech must lose some of their power. Language is, by its nature, slow-moving, hierarchical, logical, and continuous. Whether writing or speaking, one must maintain a fixed point of view and a continuity of content; one must move to higher or lower levels of abstraction; one must follow to a greater or lesser degree rules of syntax and logic Every word contains the possibility of multiple meanings and therefore of multiple ideas.............................................................. The young in particular are experiencing an acute

inability to make connections, and some have given up trying. The TV curriculum, we must remember, stresses the fragmented and discrete nature of events, and indeed is structurally unable to organize them into coherent themes or principles.

—Neil Postman, Teaching as a Conserving Activity (1979)

The word recursiveness is related to the cursor of a computer, and similarly refers to moving forward and back. In reading others’ texts and writing your own, it involves the process of rereading as many times as necessary to decode the author’s full, complex meaning (or to encode your own), to follow the development of theme or thesis and of the reasoning (or lack thereof). Good writing requires such rereading and holds up, or even appears better, under many rereadings, but poor writing falls a Part thematically, stylistically, or logically under closer scrutiny. In your own writing, the counter Part to rereading is revision (revision). About this process, Orville Schell, a distinguished journalist and dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at Berkeley, writes:

Nine-tenths of good journalism is writing a piece over and over until you get it right. I would love to teach a course in which each student writes one article and spends the whole semester editing it over and over, which is maybe not something you can always do in the real world but which builds an awareness that good writing is not a question of getting it right the first time, it’s a question of sticking with it until you can get it to sing. (San Francisco Examiner, June 16, 1996, B-9)

Cumulativeness refers to the continuous building and retention by the writer or reader of knowledge (cultural literacy), ideas, and reasoning throughout a particular work, and from that work to future ones. The entire process of general education, from kindergarten to graduate school and beyond, depends on this steady accumulation. But many cultural forces today impede any such accumulation. Postman, Aronowitz, and other cultural critics consider the atomized discourse of television and politics foremost among these forces, but the structures of education itself in many ways work against cognitive accumulation. Maybe you have been lucky in the schools you have attended, but for many students, high school and college education consists of what I call “jumping through hoops.” How accurately does this correspond to your experience of schooling?

You’re taking four or more courses each term, few of which have much continuity with the others or with ones you’ve taken earlier or will take later. Many individual courses are structured as a sketchy sequence of modular units with little sense of building on what has been learned previously. Assignments and tests cover only the current unit, and you have been conditioned into the attitude that studying consists of cramming for each day’s assignment and then forgetting it to go on to the next one. So even when class discussion is lively, it is hard to retain enough from last week’s or yesterday’s to continue it today. And with all the pressure put on “getting the grade,” short-term efforts to do so naturally take precedence over motivation to truly learn. So education is reduced to a sequence of jumping through hoops, doing no more than what is needed to finish each day’s assignment, to pass the exam, to get the grade, to get the diploma, to get the job—with the result that in the end you are apt to have retained little of what you have studied at all. This textbook is structured in a way that attempts to provide an antidote to these negative cognitive influences and to model the process of cumulative learning, within the discipline of English or rhetoric, and in application to critical citizenship.

In approaching serious academic studies, it is necessary not only to read or write recursively and cumulatively, on a linear or horizontal plane, so to speak, but also to stop frequently to process levels of meaning—varieties of information stacked or compressed “vertically” in a text, through rhetorical and stylistic techniques that will be defined and described (recursively and cumulatively!) in subsequent sections.

First reading

Recursion to

Second reading, with cumulation to trace development of theme, argument, or images

Recursion to

Third reading, for levels of meaning:

Multiple or complex meanings; irony, paradox, etc.

Figures of speech

Allusions or references (cultural literacy)

Between-the-lines implications

Words to look up in a dictionary

Facts to look up in reference works

Citations to check for accuracy and further information

Figure 3.1

These three processes are summed up in the diagram in figure 3.1.

Drawing the Line and Establishing Proportion

One more important facet of critical thinking to emphasize near the outset of our studies here has to do with item 8 in “Rhetoric: A Checklist For Analyzing Your Own and Others’ Arguments” in Chapter 2: “Are the limits of the position defined or are they vulnerable to being pushed to absurd logical consequences (reduction to absurdity)? In other words, does [the author] indicate where to draw the line?” One of the most frequent fallacies committed by argumentative writers is first setting two positions in opposition to each other and then siding absolutely with one, without qualifications or recognition of sensible limits beyond which that position would no longer be viable. A similar fallacy is to reject an extreme position on one side then to lurch to the equal and opposite extreme on the other.

A good example of this problem comes up in the discussion of the model student paper in Chapter 4 about “the beauty myth.” One of Christina Hoff Sommers’s arguments against Naomi Wolf is that “Stressing the importance of diet and fitness can hardly be considered as an insidious attempt by the male establishment to disempower women.” One of the students in the discussion argues that Sommers is attacking a straw man version of Wolf’s position, since Wolf never denies the importance of fitness and attractiveness—to a point. Her case is that the beauty industry has pushed these values to an unhealthy extreme, in anorexic models of beauty and an overload in marketing of beauty products. Both Wolf and Sommers, then, need to draw the line on exactly what degree of fitness and attractiveness is healthy and what degree is unhealthy, and you as a critical reader need to evaluate how effectively each does so.

The same principle is central to arguments about the increasing inequality of incomes and wealth between the rich and the middle class and poor over the past few decades in the United States, a topic explored in Part 5 of this book. One student writes, “It’s a good thing that Bill Gates’s wealth more than doubled last year from $18 billion to $39 billion. The more successful Microsoft is, the more employees they will need and the more taxes it and its employees will be paying. When corporations are successful, they give back to the people as dictated by the trickle-down theory.” This assertion evades the issue of the logical consequences of the effect on American society of the accumulation of a constantly larger percentage of national wealth and power in the hands of a few individuals and corporations— consequences that have prompted antimonopoly legislation against Microsoft. In other words, this student fails to draw the line on a possible point at which the compounding of Gates’s and Microsoft’s wealth would be socially counterproductive. So the position could be reduced to absurdity by an opponent imagining an America totally owned by Gates!

At the other extreme, a second student writes, “It’s criminal that someone like Bill Gates is allowed to gain wealth beyond the net worth of several of the world’s countries. His billions should be confiscated through taxes and used toward eliminating poverty in the United States and the rest of the world.” This student fails to draw the line on exactly what kind and degree of income equalization would be feasible and just, without going to the opposite extreme of the total equalization of income imposed by dictatorial governments under Communism.

The aim of good argumentation, then, should be to apply a sense of proportion and limits in delineating an exact degree of validity in any position argued for, following Aristotle’s principles of “the golden mean” and “nothing in excess.” The following reading by Diane Ravitch, “Multiculturalism,” is a good model of drawing the line. Ravitch delineates the extent to which multiculturalism provides a valuable corrective to Eurocentric biases in American education, and the point at which some multiculturalists go to the equal and opposite extreme of glorifying other cultures in an equally biased manner.

Topics for Discussion and Writing

On the basis of the lists of critical thinking skills and dispositions here, think back on courses you have taken through high school and college. Which of them promoted these skills and dispositions, and how? Which of them fit the later description of just “jumping through hoops”? From which set have you retained more useful knowledge?

The quotations here from Stanley Aronowitz and Neil Postman suggest destructive effects on thinking and learning that result from growing up on television and other electronic media. Do these analyses strike you as accurate? Has the critical thinking involved in college study presented you with a difficult adjustment from a TV-oriented mind-set? How much TV do you watch in college compared to high school?

Discuss a work of literature (or another work of art such as a movie, song, painting, or sculpture) that has caused you to “decenter” from your accustomed ethnocentric viewpoint and enabled you to identify more compassionately with a viewpoint with which you were previously unfamiliar or unsympathetic.

Find examples of arguments where the author either does or does not do a good job of “drawing the line.”

From The American Scholar

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Delivered before the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Cambridge in 1837.

Mr. President and Gentlemen:

I greet you on the recommencement of our literary year. Our anniversary is one of hope, and, perhaps, not enough of labor. We do not meet for games of strength or skill, for the recitation of histories, tragedies, and odes, like the ancient Greeks; for parliaments of love and poesy, like the Troubadours; nor for the advancement of science, like our contemporaries in the British and European capitals. Thus far, our holiday has been simply a friendly sign of the survival of the love of letters amongst a people too busy to give to letters any more. As such it is precious as the sign of an indestructible instinct. Perhaps the time is already come when it ought to be, and will be, something else; when the sluggard intellect of this continent will look from under its iron lids and fill the postponed expectation of the world with something better than the exertions of mechanical skill. Our day of dependence, our long apprenticeship to the learning of other lands, draws to a close. The millions that around us are rushing into life, cannot always be fed on the sere remains of foreign harvests. Events, actions arise, that must be sung, that will sing themselves. Who can doubt that poetry will revive and lead in a new age, as the star in the constellation Harp, which now flames in our zenith, astronomers announce, shall one day be the polestar for a thousand years?

In this hope I accept the topic which not only usage but the nature of our association seem to prescribe to this day,—the AMERICAN SCHOLAR. Year by year we come up hither to read one more Chapter of his biography. Let us inquire what light new days and events have thrown on his character and his hopes.

It is one of those fables which out of an unknown antiquity convey an unlooked-for wisdom, that the gods, in the beginning, divided Man into men, that he might be more helpful to himself; just as the hand was divided into fingers, the better to answer its end.

The old fable covers a doctrine ever new and sublime; that there is One Man,— present to all particular men only partially, or through one faculty; and that you must take the whole society to find the whole man. Man is not a farmer, or a professor, or an engineer, but he is all. Man is priest, and scholar, and statesman, and producer, and soldier. In the divided or social state these functions are parcelled out to individuals, each of whom aims to do his stint of the joint work, whilst each other performs his. The fable implies that the individual, to possess himself, must sometimes return from his own labor to embrace all the other laborers. But, unfortunately, this original unit, this fountain of power, has been so distributed to multitudes, has been so minutely subdivided and peddled out, that it is spilled into drops, and cannot be gathered. The state of society is one in which the members have suffered amputation from the trunk, and strut about so many walking monsters,—a good finger, a neck, a stomach, an elbow, but never a man.

Man is thus metamorphosed into a thing, into many things. The planter, who is Man sent out into the field to gather food, is seldom cheered by any ideas of the true dignity of his ministry. He sees his bushel and his cart, and nothing beyond, and sinks into the farmer, instead of Man on the farm. The tradesman scarcely ever gives an ideal worth to his work, but is ridden by the routine of his craft, and the soul is subject to dollars. The priest becomes a form; the attorney a statute-book; the mechanic a machine; the sailor a rope of the ship.

In this distribution of functions the scholar is the delegated intellect. In the right state he is Man Thinking. In the degenerate state, when the victim of society, he tends to become a mere thinker, or still worse, the parrot of other men’s thinking.

In this view of him, as Man Thinking, the theory of his office is contained. Him Nature solicits with all her placid, all her monitory pictures; him the past instructs; him the future invites. Is not indeed every man a student, and do not all things exist for the student’s behoof? And, finally, is not the true scholar the only true master? But the old oracle said, “All things have two handles: beware of the wrong one.” In life, too often, the scholar errs with mankind and forfeits his privilege. Let us see him in his school, and consider him in reference to the main influences he receives.

I. The first in time and the first in importance of the influences upon the mind is that of nature. Every day, the sun; and, after sunset, Night and her stars. Ever the winds blow; ever the grass grows. Every day, men and women, conversing—beholding and beholden. The scholar is he of all men whom this spectacle most engages. He must settle its value in his mind. What is nature to him? There is never a beginning, there is never an end, to the inexplicable continuity of this web of God, but always circular power returning into itself. Therein it resembles his own spirit, whose beginning, whose ending, he never can find,—so entire so boundless. Far too as her splendors shine, system on system shooting like rays, upward, downward, without center, without circumference,—in the mass and in the particle, Nature hastens to render account of herself to the mind. Classification begins. To the young mind every thing is individual, stands by itself, By and by, it finds how to join two things and see in them one nature; then three, then three thousand; and so, tyrannized over by its own unifying instinct, it goes on tying things together, diminishing anomalies, discovering roots running under ground whereby contrary and remote things cohere and flower out from one stem. It presently learns that since the dawn of history there has been a constant accumulation and classifying of facts. But what is classification but the perceiving that these objects are not chaotic, and are not foreign, but have a law which is also a law of the human mind? The astronomer discovers that geometry, a pure abstraction of the human mind, is the measure of planetary motion. The chemist finds proportions and intelligible method throughout matter; and science is nothing but the finding of analogy, identity, in the most remote parts. The ambitious soul sits down before each refractory fact; one after another reduces all strange constitutions, all new powers, to their class and their law, and goes on forever to animate the last fiber of organization, the outskirts of nature, by insight.

Thus to him, to this schoolboy under the bending dome of day, is suggested that he and it proceed from one root; one is leaf and one is flower; relation, sympathy, stirring in every vein. And what is that root? Is not that the soul of his soul? A thought too bold; a dream too wild. Yet when this spiritual light shall have revealed the law of more earthly natures,—when he has learned to worship the soul, and to see that the natural philosophy that now is, is only the first groupings of its gigantic hand, he shall look forward to an ever expanding knowledge as to a becoming creator. He shall see that nature is the opposite of the soul, answering to it Part for part. One is seal and one is print. Its beauty is the beauty of his own mind. Its laws are the laws of his own mind. Nature then becomes to him the measure of his attainments. So much of nature as he is ignorant of, so much of his own mind does he not yet possess. And, in fine, the ancient precept, “Know thyself,” and the modern precept, “Study nature,” become at last one maxim.

Topics for Discussion and Writing

This section at the beginning of the speech introduces Emerson’s survey of the subjects of study he advocated for American students that differed from traditional European education and culture. The three main sources of wisdom for scholars (and implicitly for poets and other creative writers) should be—in order of importance—nature, books and history, and action (which includes the section cited in Chapter 1about the necessity for political involvement by scholars and intellectuals). In the four paragraphs beginning, “It is one of those fables,” Emerson contrasts the Platonic ideal of “the whole man” with the state of man in “the divided or social state,” especially in the time of the nineteenth-century industrial revolution, with its division and specialization of labor and the resulting dehumanization of the worker “into a thing” (the theme of “reification” that is also central in the writings of Emerson’s German contemporaries Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels). In this divided state, “the scholar is the delegated intellect”—that is, thinking, learning, and creativity have become reduced to specialized intellectual occupations like teaching rather than being common traits of all Americans as they should be.

Emerson then contrasts this divided state with his ideal of Man Thinking, whose mind analyzes and synthesizes all fields of knowledge. Emerson shows the connections between every aspect of nature, made visible by the various sciences, and he lauds the capacity of the active human mind to perceive, or imaginatively create, those connections. Emerson was primarily a poet and theorist of literary transcendentalism, a movement that celebrated the human capacity for transcending, through the exercise of intellect and will power, the routinized, conformist thinking of conventional life, into the realms of artistic, scientific, sociopolitical, and spiritual independence and creativity. Although he is discussing science here, the language in which he describes it is highly poetic in its use of figurative language (that is, language that makes symbolic connections—see Chapter 9), so that the passage also implicitly (“between the lines”) demonstrates the similarity between scientific and aesthetic thought. For example, he draws a metaphor from botany in depicting “the young mind . . . discovering roots running under ground whereby contrary and remote things cohere and flower out from one stem,” in the same way that the poet connects and unifies diverse phenomena through linguistic symbolism like this. A brief passage such as this illustrates the distinctive capacity of literary language to embody multiple traits of critical thinking.

In the paragraph beginning, “The first in time,” identify all the different branches and phenomena of science that Emerson alludes to, directly or indirectly—for example, in the sentence, “Far too as her splendors shine.” In the sentences, “He shall see that nature is the opposite of the soul, answering to it Part for part. One is seal and one is print,” the word “opposite” means counter Part or mirror image. “Seal” refers to the soft wax that was used to stamp letters or legal documents, and “print” was the tool to imprint the wax. So what does this metaphor suggest about the relation between nature and the human soul or mind?

A Noiseless Patient Spider

By Walt Whitman

From Leaves of Grass, 1868

A noiseless patient spider,

I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,

Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,

It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself, Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,

Surrounded, detached in measureless oceans of space,

Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them, Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold, Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

Topics for Discussion and Writing

Whitman was a mid-nineteenth-century American disciple of Emerson, and this poem embodies ideas similar to those in the passage from “The American Scholar.” The first five-line stanza is a literal, almost scientific description of the spider building a web. The second stanza uses figurative language (symbolic analogy through verbal substitution of one word for another) to connect the spider and Whitman’s own “soul” or mind, which is similarly isolated in the universe yet (metaphorically) is ceaselessly “seeking the [celestial] spheres to connect them.” We can infer that “seeking the spheres to connect them” means something like Emerson’s description of the scientific mind making connections between diverse aspects of nature, and/ or suggests the transcendentalist quest to connect life on earth with a higher, spiritual reality symbolized by the spheres—which Emerson similarly describes as “this web of God.” Metaphors like this do not appear only in poetry but are common in everyday life—for example, the World Wide Web.

Whitman, like Emerson, merges the scientific imagination with the poetic through his use of metaphors like “spheres,” “bridge,” “anchor,” and “thread” to describe the activities of his mind, so he is not only writing a poem about a spider but is implicitly writing a poem about the symbolic web of connective language and ideas that constitute poetry. Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself,” which opens the collection Leaves of Grass, begins:

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,

And what I assume you shall assume,

For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you. (885)

The theme runs throughout Leaves of Grass that Whitman’s poems connect his “solitary self” with his readers and all humans. In this light, it seems likely that “A

Noiseless, Patient Spider” has a further level of meaning on which it is a statement about how poetry creates a web of communication linking the solitary poet with other humans. Like “The American Scholar,” then, Whitman’s poem condenses many aspects of critical thinking into a few words through the resources of literary language.

Discuss the plausibility of this interpretation of the poem, along with other possible levels of meaning you might find in it.

Can Patriotism Be Compassionate?

Martha Nussbaum

From the Nation, December 17, 2001

In the aftermath of September 11, we have all experienced strong emotions for our country: fear, outrage, grief, astonishment. Our media portray the disaster as a tragedy that has happened to our nation, and that is how we very naturally see it. So too the ensuing war: It is called “America’s New War,” and most news reports focus on the meaning of events for us and our nation. We think these events are important because they concern us—not just human lives, but American lives. In one way, the crisis has expanded our imaginations. We find ourselves feeling sympathy for many people who did not even cross our minds before: New York firefighters, that gay rugby player who helped bring down the fourth plane, bereaved families of so many national and ethnic origins. We even sometimes notice with a new attention the lives of Arab-Americans among us, or feel sympathy for a Sikh taxi driver who complains about customers who tell him to go home to “his country,” even though he came to the United States as a political refugee from Punjab. Sometimes our compassion even crosses that biggest line of all, the national boundary. Events have led many Americans to sympathize with the women and girls of Afghanistan, for example, in a way that many feminists had been trying to get people to do for a long time, without success.

All too often, however, our imaginations remain oriented to the local; indeed, this orientation is implicit in the unusual level of our alarm. The world has come to a stop in a way that it never has for Americans when disaster has befallen human beings in other places. Floods, earthquakes, cyclones—and the daily deaths of thousands from preventable malnutrition and disease—none of these typically make the American world come to a standstill, none elicit a tremendous outpouring of grief and compassion. The plight of innocent civilians in the current war evokes a similarly uneven and flickering response.

And worse: Our sense that the “us” is all that matters can easily flip over into a demonizing of an imagined “them,” a group of outsiders who are imagined as enemies of the invulnerability and the pride of the allimportant “us.” Just as parents’ compassion for their own children can all too easily slide into an attitude that promotes the defeat of other people’s children, so too with patriotism: Compassion for our fellow Americans can all too easily slide over into an attitude that wants America to come out on top, defeating or subordinating other peoples or nations. Anger at the terrorists themselves is perfectly appropriate; so is the attempt to bring them to justice. But “us versus them” thinking doesn’t always stay focused on the original issue; it too easily becomes a general call for American supremacy, the humiliation of “the other.”

One vivid example of this slide took place at a baseball game I went to at Chicago’s Comiskey Park, the first game played there after September 11—and a game against the Yankees, so there was a heightened awareness of the situation of New York and its people. Things began well, with a moving ceremony commemorating the firefighters who had lost their lives and honoring local firefighters who had gone to New York afterward to help out. There was even a lot of cheering when the Yankees took the field, a highly unusual transcendence of local attachments. But as the game went on and the beer flowed, one heard, increasingly, “U-S-A, US-A,” echoing the chant from the 1980 Olympic hockey match in which the United States defeated Russia. This chant seemed to express a wish for America to defeat, abase, humiliate its enemies. Indeed, it soon became a general way of expressing the desire to crush one’s enemies, whoever they were. When the umpire made a bad call that went against the Sox, the same group in the stands turned to him, chanting “U-S-A.” In other words, anyone who crosses us is evil, and should be crushed. It’s not surprising that Stoic philosopher and Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, trying to educate himself to have an equal respect for all human beings, reported that his first lesson was “not to be a fan of the Greens or Blues at the races, or the light-armed or heavy-armed gladiators at the Circus.”

Compassion is an emotion rooted, probably, in our biological heritage. (Although biologists once portrayed animal behavior as egoistic, primatologists by now recognize the existence of altruistic emotion in apes, and it may exist in other species as well.) But this history does not mean that compassion is devoid of thought. In fact, as Aristotle argued long ago, human compassion standardly requires three thoughts: that a serious bad thing has happened to someone else; that this bad event was not (or not entirely) the person’s own fault; and that we ourselves are vulnerable in similar ways. Thus compassion forms a psychological link between our own self-interest and the reality of another person’s good or ill. For that reason it is a morally valuable emotion—when it gets things right. Often, however, the thoughts involved in the emotion, and therefore the emotion itself, go astray, failing to link people at a distance to one’s own current possibilities and vulnerabilities. (Rousseau said that kings don’t feel compassion for their subjects because they count on never being human, subject to the vicissitudes of life.) Sometimes, too, compassion goes wrong by getting the seriousness of the bad event wrong: Sometimes, for example, we just don’t take very seriously the hunger and illness of people who are distant from us. These errors are likely to be built into the nature of compassion as it develops in childhood and then adulthood: We form intense attachments to the local first, and only gradually learn to have compassion for people who are outside our own immediate circle. For many Americans, that expansion of moral concern stops at the national boundary.

Most of us are brought up to believe that all human beings have equal worth. At least the world’s major religions and most secular philosophies tell us so. But our emotions don’t believe it. We mourn for those we know, not for those we don’t know. And most of us feel deep emotions about America, emotions we don’t feel about India or Russia or Rwanda. In and of itself, this narrowness of our emotional lives is probably acceptable and maybe even good. We need to build outward from meanings we understand, or else our moral life would be empty of urgency. Aristotle long ago said, plausibly, that the citizens in Plato’s ideal city, asked to care for all citizens equally, would actually care for none, since care is learned in small groups with their more intense attachments. Reading Marcus Aurelius bears this out: The project of weaning his imagination from its intense erotic attachments to the familial and the local gradually turns into the rather alarming project of weaning his heart from deep investment in the world. He finds that the only way to be utterly evenhanded is to cultivate a kind of death within life, seeing all people as distant and shadowlike, “vain images in a procession.” If we want our life with others to contain strong passions—for justice in a world of injustice, for aid in a world where many go without what they need—we would do well to begin, at least, with our familiar strong emotions toward family, city and country. But concern should not stop with these local attachments.

Americans, unfortunately, are prone to such emotional narrowness. So are all people, but because of the power and geographical size of America, isolationism has particularly strong roots here. When at least some others were finding ways to rescue the Jews during the Holocaust, America’s inactivity and general lack of concern were culpable, especially in proportion to American power. It took Pearl Harbor to get us even to come to the aid of our allies. When genocide was afoot in Rwanda, our own sense of self-sufficiency and invulnerability stopped us from imagining the Rwandans as people who might be us; we were therefore culpably inactive toward them. So too in the present situation. Sometimes we see a very laudable recognition of the interconnectedness of all peoples, and of the fact that we must join forces with people in all nations to defeat terrorists and bring them to justice. At other times, however, we see simplifying slogans (“America Fights Back”) that portray the situation in terms of a good “us” crusading against an evil “them”—failing to acknowledge, for instance, that people in all nations have strong reasons to oppose terrorism, and that the fight has many active allies.

Such simplistic thinking is morally wrong, because it encourages us to ignore the impact of our actions on innocent civilians and to focus too little on the all-important project of humanitarian relief. It is also counterproductive. We now understand, or ought to, that if we had thought more about support for the educational and humanitarian infrastructure of Pakistan, for example, funding good local nongovernmental organizations there the way several European nations have done in India, young people in Pakistan might possibly have been educated in a climate of respect for religious pluralism, the equality of women and other values that we rightly prize instead of having fundamentalist madrassahs as their only educational option. Our policy in South Asia has exhibited for many years a gross failure of imagination and sympathy; we basically thought in terms of cold war values, ignoring the real lives of people to whose prospects our actions could make a great difference. Such crude thinking is morally obtuse; it is also badly calculated to advance any good cause we wish to embrace, in a world where all human lives are increasingly interdependent.

Compassion begins with the local. But if our moral natures and our emotional natures are to live in any sort of harmony, we must find devices through which to extend our strong emotions—and our ability to imagine the situation of others—to the world of human life as a whole. Since compassion contains thought, it can be educated. We can take this disaster as occasion for narrowing our focus, distrusting the rest of the world and feeling solidarity with Americans alone. Or we can take it as an occasion for expansion of our ethical horizons. Seeing how vulnerable our great country is, we can learn something about the vulnerability that all human beings share, about what it is like for distant others to lose those they love to a disaster not of their own making, whether it is hunger or flood or war.

Because human beings find the meaning of life in attachments that are local, we should not ask of people that they renounce patriotism, any more than we now ask them to renounce the love of their parents and children. But we typically do ask parents not to try to humiliate or thwart other people’s children, and we work (at least sometimes) for schools that develop the abilities of all children, that try to make it possible for everyone to support themselves and find rewarding work. So too with the world: We may love our own nation most, but we should also strive for a world in which the capacities of human beings will not be blighted by hunger or misogyny or lack of education— or by being in the vicinity of a war one has not caused. We should therefore demand an education that does what it can to encourage the understanding of human predicaments—and also to teach children to recognize the many obstacles to that pursuit, the many pitfalls of the self-centered imagination as it tries to be just. There are hopeful signs in the present situation, particularly in attempts to educate the American public about Islam, about the histories of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and about the situation and attitudes of Arab-Americans in this country. But we need to make sure these educational efforts are consistent and systematic, not just fear-motivated responses to an immediate crisis.

Our media and our systems of education have long given us far too little information about lives outside our borders, stunting our moral imaginations. The situation of America’s women and its racial, ethnic and sexual minorities has to some extent worked its way into curricula at various levels, and into our popular media. We have done less well with parts of the world that are unfamiliar. This is not surprising, because such teaching requires a lot of investment in new curricular initiatives, and such television programming requires a certain temporary inattention to the competition for ratings. But we now know that we live in a complex, interconnected world, and we know our own ignorance. As Socrates said, this is at least the beginning of progress. At this time of national crisis we can renew our commitment to the equal worth of humanity, demanding media, and schools, that nourish and expand our imaginations by presenting non-American lives as deep, rich and compassion-worthy. “Thus from our weakness,” said Rousseau of such an education, “our fragile happiness is born.” Or, at least, it might be born.

Topics for Discussion and Writing

What aspects of critical thinking surveyed in this Chapter are most prominently applied in Nussbaum’s article?

What is the conflict between patriotism and compassion in the title? What arguments does Nussbaum present that the two often are in conflict, and how persuasive are her reasons for trying to overcome the conflict? Is it realistic to expect us to have the same concern for the suffering of people in distant countries that we have for Americans, or is this just “bleeding-heart liberalism?” Does Nussbaum present convincing arguments that it is in our practical interests to develop such concern? To what extent did the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001, make you more aware that events in those distant countries, and American policies there, can have a direct influence on our lives?

You may find Nussbaum’s line of argument somewhat hard to follow. It might help to try to outline it. Can you find an introduction, main body, and conclusion? Is there a single, explicit or implicit thesis statement, or is her thesis more complex than that?

To what extent is Nussbaum’s argument that Americans should develop greater awareness of conditions in other parts of the world related to the past and present nature of American and other Western intervention there? The paragraph beginning “Such simplistic thinking” uses the example of “support for the educational and humanitarian infrastructure of Pakistan.” Why Pakistan?You may need to do research on the history of American and European involvements in Pakistan, on the role of Pakistan in relation to Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism, and on the India-Pakistan conflict as an important factor in world peace. You might find Arundhati Roy’s book Power Politics, written from a liberal Indian viewpoint, a useful source here.

How effective for her thesis are her anecdotes about the baseball game and the 1980 Olympics? Might it be a fallacy of false analogy or equation for us to act as though our attitude toward sports events should be similar to that toward international or military conflicts, or as though different countries’ sports teams really represent their nation as a political entity? Look for examples in political and media discourse of war being described in sports metaphors, and think about how they affect our perceptions of the realities of war. In Chapter 9, one criterion given for whether a figure of speech is effective or not is whether it makes the reality it describes more concrete and immediate, or more abstract and distant. For example, before the war on Iraq in 2003, Central Intelligence Agency director George Tenet reportedly told President George W. Bush that finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq would be “a slam dunk.” Did this basketball metaphor accurately describe the situation that awaited American troops in Iraq?

”Our media and our systems of education have long given us far too little information about lives outside our borders, stunting our moral imaginations.” If you think this is true, why do you think it is, and in what ways can you imagine the media and schools doing a better job here?

As a scholar of classics, Nussbaum alludes to the ancient Greek philosophers Socrates (specifically to “The Apology,” which will be discussed in Chapter 5) and Aristotle, the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, and to the eighteenth-century French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. What relevance does she find in each of their ideas for Americans today, and how effective do you think the allusions are?


Diane Ravitch

From American Scholar, Summer 1990.

Questions of race, ethnicity, and religion have been a perennial source of conflict in American education. The schools have often attracted the zealous attention of those who wish to influence the future, as well as those who wish to change the way we view the past. In our history, the schools have been not only an institution in which to teach young people skills and knowledge, but an arena where interest groups fight to preserve their values, or to revise the judgments of history, or to bring about fundamental social change. In the nineteenth century, Protestants and Catholics battled over which version of the Bible should be used in school, or whether the Bible should be used at all. In recent decades, bitter racial disputes— provoked by policies of racial segregation and discrimination—have generated turmoil in the streets and in the schools. The secularization of the schools during the past century has prompted attacks on the curricula and textbooks and library books by fundamentalist Christians, who object to whatever challenges their faith-based views of history, literature, and science.

Given the diversity of American society, it has been impossible to insulate the schools from pressures that result from differences and tensions among groups. When people differ about basic values, sooner or later those disagreements turn up in battles about how schools are organized or what the schools should teach. Sometimes these battles remove a terrible injustice, like racial segregation. Sometimes, however, interest groups politicize the curriculum and attempt to impose their views on teachers, school officials, and textbook publishers. Across the country, even now, interest groups are pressuring local school boards to remove myths and fables and other imaginative literature from children’s readers and to inject the teaching of creationism in biology. When groups cross the line into extremism, advancing their own agenda without regard to reason or to others, they threaten public education itself, making it difficult to teach any issues honestly and making the entire curriculum vulnerable to political campaigns.

For many years, the public schools attempted to neutralize controversies over race, religion, and ethnicity by ignoring them. Educators believed, or hoped, that the schools could remain outside politics; this was, of course, a vain hope since the schools were pursuing policies based on race, religion, and ethnicity. Nonetheless, such divisive questions were usually excluded from the curriculum. The textbooks minimized problems among groups and taught a sanitized version of history. Race, religion, and ethnicity were presented as minor elements in the American saga; slavery was treated as an episode, immigration as a sidebar, and women were largely absent. The textbooks concentrated on presidents, wars, national politics, and issues of state. An occasional “great black” or “great woman” received mention, but the main narrative paid little attention to minority groups and women.

With the ethnic revival of the 1960s, this approach to the teaching of history came under fire, because the history of national leaders—virtually all of whom were white, Anglo-Saxon, and male—ignored the place in American history of those who were none of the above. The traditional history of elites had been complemented by an assimilationist view of American society, which presumed that everyone in the American melting pot would eventually lose or abandon those ethnic characteristics that distinguished them from mainstream Americans. The ethnic revival demonstrated that many groups did not want to be assimilated or melted. Ethnic studies programs popped up on campuses to teach not only that “black is beautiful,” but also that every other variety of ethnicity is “beautiful” as well; everyone who had “roots” began to look for them so that they too could recover that ancestral Part of themselves that had not been homogenized.

As ethnicity became an accepted subject for study in the late 1960s, textbooks were assailed for their failure to portray blacks accurately; within a few years, the textbooks in wide use were carefully screened to eliminate bias against minority groups and women. At the same time, new scholarship about the history of women, blacks, and various ethnic minorities found its way into the textbooks. At first, the multicultural content was awkwardly incorporated as little boxes on the side of the main narrative. Then some of the new social historians (like Stephan Thernstrom, Mary Beth Norton, Gary Nash, Winthrop Jordan, and Leon Litwack) themselves wrote textbooks, and the main narrative itself began to reflect a broadened historical understanding of race, ethnicity, and class in the American past. Consequently, today’s history textbooks routinely incorporate the experiences of women, blacks, American Indians, and various immigrant groups.

As a result of the political and social changes of recent decades, cultural pluralism is now generally recognized as an organizing principle of this society. In contrast to the idea of the melting pot, which promised to erase ethnic and group differences, children now learn that variety is the spice of life. They learn that America has provided a haven for many different groups and has allowed them to maintain their cultural heritage or to assimilate, or—as is often the case—to do both; the choice is theirs, not the state’s. They learn that cultural pluralism is one of the norms of a free society; that differences among groups are a national

resource rather than a problem to be solved. Indeed, the unique feature of the United States is that its common culture has been formed by the interaction of its subsidiary cultures. It is a culture that has been influenced over time by immigrants, American Indians, Africans (slave and free) and by their descendants. American music, art, literature, language, food, clothing, sports, holidays, and customs all show the effects of the commingling of diverse cultures in one nation. Paradoxical though it may seem, the United States has a common culture that is multicultural.

Our schools and our institutions of higher learning have in recent years begun to embrace what Catherine R. Stimpson of Rutgers University has called ”cultural democracy,” a recognition that we must listen to a “diversity of voices” in order to understand our culture, past and present. This understanding of the pluralistic nature of American culture has taken a long time to forge. It is based on sound scholarship and has led to major revisions in what children are taught and what they read in school. The new history is—indeed, must be— a warts-and-all history; it demands an unflinching examination of racism and discrimination in our history. Making these changes is difficult, raises tempers, and ignites controversies, but gives a more interesting and accurate account of American history. Accomplishing these changes is valuable, because there is also a useful lesson for the rest of the world in America’s relatively successful experience as a pluralistic society. Throughout human history, the clash of different cultures, races, ethnic groups, and religions has often been the cause of bitter hatred, civil conflict, and international war. The ethnic tensions that now are tearing a Part Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Kashmir, and various republics of the Soviet Union remind us of the costs of unfettered group rivalry. Thus, it is a matter of more than domestic importance that we closely examine and try to understand that Part of our national history in which different groups competed, fought, suffered, but ultimately learned to live together in relative peace and even achieved a sense of common nationhood.

Alas, these painstaking efforts to expand the understanding of American culture into a richer and more varied tapestry have taken a new turn, and not for the better. Almost any idea, carried to its extreme, can be made pernicious, and this is what is happening now to multiculturalism. Today, pluralistic multiculturalism must contend with a new, particularistic multiculturalism. The pluralists seek a richer common culture; the particularists insist that no common culture is possible or desirable. The new particularism is entering the curriculum in a number of school systems across the country. Advocates of particularism propose an ethnocentric curriculum to raise the self-esteem and academic achievement of children from racial and ethnic minority backgrounds. Without any evidence, they claim that children from minority backgrounds will do well in school only if they are immersed in a positive, prideful version of their ancestral culture. If children are of, for example, Fredonian ancestry, they must hear that Fredonians were important in mathematics, science, history, and literature. If they learn about great Fredonians and if their studies use Fredonian examples and Fredonian concepts, they will do well in school. If they do not, they will have low self-esteem and will do badly.

At first glance, this appears akin to the celebratory activities associated with Black History Month or Women’s History Month, when schoolchildren learn about the achievements of blacks and women. But the point of those celebrations is to demonstrate that neither race nor gender is an obstacle to high achievement. They teach all children that everyone, regardless of their race, religion, gender, ethnicity, or family origin, can achieve self-fulfillment, honor, dignity in society if they aim high and work hard.

By contrast, the particularistic version of multiculturalism is . . . deterministic. It teaches children that their identity is determined by their “cultural genes.” That something in their blood or their race memory or their cultural DNA defines who they are and what they may achieve. That the culture in which they live is not their own culture, even though they were born here. That American culture is “Eurocentric,” and therefore hostile to anyone whose ancestors are not European. Perhaps the most invidious implication of particularism is that racial and ethnic minorities are not and should not try to be Part of American culture; it implies that American culture belongs only to those who are white and European; it implies that those who are neither white nor European are alienated from American culture by virtue of their race or ethnicity; it implies that the only culture they do belong to or can ever belong to is the culture of their ancestors, even if their families have lived in this country for generations.

The war on so-called Eurocentrism is intended to foster self-esteem among those who are not of European descent. But how, in fact, is self-esteem developed? How is the sense of one’s own possibilities, one’s potential choices, developed? Certainly, the school curriculum plays a relatively small role as compared to the influence of family, community, mass media, and society. But to the extent that curriculum influences what children think of themselves, it should encourage children of all racial and ethnic groups to believe that they are Part of this society and that they should develop their talents and minds to the fullest. It is enormously inspiring, for example, to learn about men and women from diverse backgrounds who overcame poverty, discrimination, physical handicaps, and other obstacles to achieve success in a variety of fields. Behind every such biography of accomplishment is a story of heroism, perseverance, and self-discipline. Learning these stories will encourage a healthy spirit of pluralism, of mutual respect, and of self-respect among children of different backgrounds. The children of American society today will live their lives in a racially and culturally diverse nation, and their education should prepare them to do so.

The pluralist approach to multiculturalism promotes a broader interpretation of the common American culture and seeks due recognition for the ways that the nation’s many racial, ethnic, and cultural groups have transformed the national culture. The pluralists say, in effect, “American culture belongs to us, all of us; the U.S. is us, and we remake it in every generation.” But particularists have no interest in extending or revising American culture; indeed, they deny that a common culture exists. Particularists reject any accommodation among groups, any interactions that blur the distinct lines between them. The brand of history that they espouse is one in which everyone is either a descendant of victims or oppressors. By doing so, ancient hatreds are fanned and recreated in each new generation. Particularism has its intellectual roots in the ideology of ethnic separatism and in the black nationalist movement. In the particularist analysis, the nation has five cultures: African American, Asian American, European American, Latino/Hispanic, and Native American. The huge cultural, historical, religious, and linguistic differences within these categories are ignored, as is the considerable intermarriage among these groups, as are the linkages (like gender, class, sexual orientation, and religion) that cut across these five groups. No serious scholar would claim that all Europeans and white Americans are Part of the same culture, or that all Asians are Part of the same culture, or that all people of Latin-American descent are of the same culture, or that all people of African descent are of the same culture. Any categorization this broad is essentially meaningless and useless.

Particularism is a bad idea whose time has come. It is also a fashion spreading like wildfire through the education system, actively promoted by organizations and individuals with a political and professional interest in strengthening ethnic power bases in the university, in the education profession, and in society itself. One can scarcely pick up an educational journal without learning about a school district that is converting to an ethnocentric curriculum in an attempt to give “self-esteem” to children from racial minorities. A state-funded project in a Sacramento high school is teaching young black males to think like Africans and to develop the “African Mind Model Technique,” in order to free themselves of the racism of American culture. A popular black rap singer, KRS-One, complained in an op-ed article in the New York Times that the schools should be teaching blacks about their cultural heritage, instead of trying to make everyone Americans. “It’s like trying to teach a dog to be a cat,” he wrote. KRS-One railed about having to learn about Thomas Jefferson and the Civil War, which had nothing to do (he said) with black history.

Pluralism can easily be transformed into particularism, as may be seen in the potential uses in the classroom of the Mayan contribution to mathematics. The Mayan example was popularized in a movie called Stand and Deliver, about a charismatic Bolivian-born mathematics teacher in Los Angeles who inspired his students (who are Hispanic) to learn calculus. He told them that their ancestors invented the concept of zero; but that wasn’t all he did. He used imagination to put across mathematical concepts. He required them to do homework and to go to school on Saturdays and during the Christmas holidays, so that they might pass the Advanced Placement mathematics examination for college entry. The teacher’s reference to the Mayans’ mathematical genius was a valid instructional device. It was an attention-getter and would have interested even students who were not Hispanic. But the Mayan example would have had little effect without the teacher’s insistence that the class study hard for a difficult examination.

Ethnic educators have seized upon the Mayan contribution to mathematics as the key to simultaneously boosting the ethnic pride of Hispanic children and attacking Eurocentrism. One proposal claims that MexicanAmerican children will be attracted to science and mathematics if they study Mayan mathematics, the Mayan calendar, and Mayan astronomy. Children in primary grades are to be taught that the Mayans were first to discover the zero and that Europeans learned it long afterwards from the Arabs, who had learned it in India. This will help them see that Europeans were latecomers in the discovery of great ideas. Botany is to be learned by study of the agricultural techniques of the Aztecs, a subject of somewhat limited relevance to children in urban areas. Furthermore, “ethnobotanical” classifications of plants are to be substituted for the Eurocentric Linnaean system. At first glance, it may seem curious that

Hispanic children are deemed to have no cultural affinity with Spain; but to acknowledge the cultural tie would confuse the ideological assault on Eurocentrism.

This proposal suggests some questions: Is there any evidence that the teaching of “culturally relevant” science and mathematics will draw Mexican-American children to the study of these subjects? Will Mexican-American children lose interest or self-esteem if they discover that their ancestors were Aztecs or Spaniards, rather than Mayans? Are children who learn in this way prepared to study the science and mathematics that are taught in American colleges and universities and that are needed for advanced study in these fields? Are they even prepared to study the science and mathematics taught in Mexican universities? If the class is half Mexican-American and half something else, will only the Mexican-American children study in a Mayan and Aztec mode or will all the children? But shouldn’t all children study what is culturally relevant for them? How will we train teachers who have command of so many different systems of mathematics and science?

Every field of study, it seems, has been tainted by Eurocentrism, which was defined by a professor at Manchester University, George Ghevarughese Joseph, in Race and Class in 1987, as “intellectual racism.” Professor Joseph argues that the history of science and technology—and in particular, of mathematics—in non-European societies was distorted by racist Europeans who wanted to establish the dominance of European forms of knowledge. The racists, he writes, traditionally traced mathematics to the Greeks, then claimed that it reached its full development in Europe. These are simply Eurocentric myths to sustain an “imperialist/racist ideology,” says Professor Joseph, since mathematics was found in Egypt, Babylonia, Mesopotamia, and India long before the Greeks were supposed to have developed it. Professor Joseph points out too that Arab scientists should be credited with major discoveries traditionally attributed to William Harvey, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, and Sir Francis Bacon. But he is not concerned only to argue historical issues; his purpose is to bring all of these different mathematical traditions into the school classroom so that children might study, for example, “traditional African designs, Indian rangoli patterns and Islamic art” and the “language and counting systems found across the world.”

Particularism . . . takes as its premise the spurious notion that cultural traits are inherited. It implies a dubious, dangerous form of cultural predestination. Children are taught that if their ancestors could do it, so could they. But what happens if a child is from a cultural group that made no significant contribution to science or mathematics? Does this mean that children from that background must find a culturally appropriate field in which to strive? How does a teacher find the right cultural buttons for children of mixed heritage? And how in the world will teachers use this technique when the children in their classes are drawn from many different cultures, as is usually the case? By the time that every culture gets its due, there may be no more time left to teach the subject itself. This explosion of [particularism] . . . (which, we should remember, comes from adults, not from students) is reminiscent of the period some years ago when the Russians claimed that they had invented everything first; as we now know, this nationalistic braggadocio did little for their self-esteem and nothing for their economic development. We might reflect, too, on how little social prestige has been accorded in this country to immigrants from Greece and Italy, even though the achievements of their ancestors were at the heart of the classical curriculum.

Particularism can easily be carried to extremes. Students of Fredonian descent must hear that their ancestors were seminal in the development of all human civilization and that without the Fredonian contribution, we would all be living in caves or trees, bereft of art, technology, and culture. To explain why Fredonians today are in modest circumstances, given their historic eminence, children are taught that somewhere, long ago, another culture stole the Fredonians’ achievements, palmed them off as their own, and then oppressed the Fredonians.

I first encountered this argument almost twenty years ago, when I was a graduate student. I shared a small office with a young professor, and I listened as she patiently explained to a student why she had given him a D on a term paper. In his paper, he argued that the Arabs had stolen mathematics from the Nubians in the desert long ago (I forget in which century this theft allegedly occurred). She tried to explain to him about the necessity of historical evidence. He was unconvinced, since he believed that he had uncovered a great truth that was beyond proof. The Part Icouldn’t understand was how anyone could lose knowledge by sharing it. After all, cultures are constantly influencing one another, exchanging ideas and art and technology, and the exchange usually is enriching, not depleting.

It is hardly surprising that America’s schools would recognize strong cultural ties with Europe since our nation’s political, religious, educational, and economic institutions were created chiefly by people of European descent, our government was shaped by European ideas, and nearly 80 percent of the people who live here are of European descent. The particularists treat all of this history as a racist bias toward Europe, rather than as the matter-of-fact consequences of European immigration. Even so, American education is not centered on Europe. American education, if it is centered on anything, is centered on itself. It is “Americentric.” Most American students today have never studied any world history; they know very little about Europe, and even less about the rest of the world. Their minds are rooted solidly in the here and now. When the Berlin Wall was opened in the fall of 1989, journalists discovered that most American teenagers had no idea what it was, nor why its opening was such a big deal. Nonetheless, Eurocentrism provides a better target than Americentrism.

In school districts where most children are black and Hispanic, there has been a growing tendency to embrace particularism rather than pluralism. Many of the children in these districts perform poorly in academic classes and leave school without graduating. They would fare better in school if they had well-educated and well-paid teachers, small classes, good materials, encouragement at home and school, summer academic programs, protection from the drugs and crime that ravage their neighborhoods, and higher expectations of satisfying careers upon graduation. These are expensive and time-consuming remedies that must also engage the larger society beyond the school. The lure of particularism is that it offers a less complicated anodyne, one in which the children’s academic deficiencies may be addressed—or set aside—by inflating their racial pride. The danger of this remedy is that it will detract attention from the real needs of schools and the real interests of children, while simultaneously arousing distorted race pride in children of all races, increasing racial antagonism and producing fresh recruits for white and black racist groups. The rising tide of particularism encourages the politicization of all curricula in the schools. If education bureaucrats bend to the political and ideological winds, as is their wont, we can anticipate a generation of struggle over the content of the curriculum in mathematics, science, literature, and history. Demands for “culturally relevant” studies, for ethnostudies of all kinds, will open the classroom to unending battles over whose version is taught, who gets credit for what, and which ethno-interpretation is appropriate. Only recently have districts begun to resist the demands of fundamentalist groups to censor textbooks and library books (and some have not yet begun to do so).

The spread of particularism throws into question the very idea of American public education. Public schools exist to teach children the general skills and knowledge that they need to succeed in American society, and the specific skills and knowledge that they need in order to function as American citizens. They receive public support because they have a public function. Historically, the public schools were known as “common schools” because they were schools for all, even if the children of all the people did not attend them. Over the years, the courts have found that it was unconstitutional to teach religion in the common schools, or to separate children on the basis of their race in the common schools. In their curriculum, their hiring practices, and their general philosophy, the public schools must not discriminate against or give preference to any racial or ethnic group. yet they are permitted to accommodate cultural diversity by, for example, serving food that is culturally appropriate or providing library collections that emphasize the interests of the local community. However, they should not be expected to teach children to view the world through an ethnocentric perspective that rejects or ignores the common culture. For generations, those groups that wanted to inculcate their religion or their ethnic heritage have instituted private schools—after school, on weekends, or on a full-time basis. There, children learn with others of the same group—Greeks, Poles, Germans, Japanese, Chinese, Jews, Lutherans, Catholics, and so on—and are taught by people from the same group. Valuable as this exclusive experience has been for those who choose it, this has not been the role of public education. One of the primary purposes of public education has been to create a national community, a definition of citizenship and culture that is both expansive and inclusive.

The curriculum in public schools must be based on whatever knowledge and practices have been determined to be best by professionals—experienced teachers and scholars—who are competent to make these judgments. Professional societies must be prepared to defend the integrity of their disciplines. When called upon, they should establish review committees to examine disputes over curriculum and to render judgment, in order to help school officials fend off improper political pressure. Where genuine controversies exist, they should be taught and debated in the classroom. Was Egypt a black civilization? Why not raise the question, read the arguments of the different sides in the debate, show slides of Egyptian pharaohs and queens, read books about life in ancient Egypt, invite guest scholars from the local university, and visit museums with Egyptian collections? If scholars disagree, students should know it. One great advantage of this approach is that students will see that history is a lively study, that textbooks are fallible, that historians disagree, that the writing of history is influenced by the historian’s politics and ideology, that history is written by people who make choices among alternative facts and interpretations, and that history changes as new facts are uncovered and new interpretations win adherents. They will also learn that cultures and civilizations constantly interact, exchange ideas, and influence one another, and that the idea of racial or ethnic purity is a myth. Another advantage is that students might once again study ancient history, which has all but disappeared from the curricula of American schools. (California recently introduced a required sixth grade course in ancient civilizations, but ancient history is otherwise terra incognita in American education.)

The multicultural controversy may do wonders for the study of history, which has been neglected for years in American schools. At this time, only half of our high school graduates ever study any world history. Any serious attempt to broaden students’ knowledge of Africa, Europe, Asia, and Latin America will require at least two, and possibly three years of world history (a requirement thus far only in California). American history, too, will need more time than the one-year high-school survey course. Those of us who have insisted for years on the importance of history in the curriculum may not be ready to assent to its redemptive power, but hope that our new allies will ultimately join a constructive dialogue that strengthens the place of history in the schools.

As cultural controversies arise, educators must adhere to the principle of “E Pluribus Unum.” That is, they must maintain a balance between the demands of the one—the nation of which we are common citizens— and the many—the varied histories of the American people. It is not necessary to denigrate either the one or the many. Pluralism is a positive value, but it is also important that we preserve a sense of an American community—a society and a culture to which we all belong. If there is no overall community with an agreed-upon vision of liberty and justice, if all we have is a collection of racial and ethnic cultures, lacking any common bonds, then we have no means to mobilize public opinion on behalf of people who are not members of our particular group. We have, for example, no reason to support public education. If there is no larger community, then each group will want to teach its own children in its own way, and public education ceases to exist.

History should not be confused with [particularism] History gives no grounds

for race pride. No race has a monopoly on virtue. If anything, a study of history should inspire humility, rather than pride. People of every racial group have committed terrible crimes, often against others of the same group. Whether one looks at the history of Europe or Africa or Latin America or Asia, every continent offers examples of inhumanity. Slavery has existed in civilizations around the world for centuries. Examples of genocide can be found around the world, throughout history, from ancient times right through to our own day. Governments and cultures, sometimes by edict, sometimes simply following tradition, have practiced not only slavery, but human sacrifice, infanticide, clitoridectomy, and mass murder. If we teach children this, they might recognize how absurd both racial hatred and racial chauvinism are.

What must be preserved in the study of history is the spirit of inquiry, the readiness to pen new questions and to pursue new understandings. History, at its best, is a search for truth. The best way to portray this search is through debate and controversy, rather than through imposition of fixed beliefs and immutable facts. Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of school history is its tendency to become Official History, a sanctified version of the Truth taught by the state to captive audiences and embedded in beautiful mass-market textbooks as holy writ. When Official History is written by committees responding to political pressures, rather than by scholars synthesizing the best available research, then the errors of the past are replaced by the politically fashionable errors of the present. It may be difficult to teach children that history is both important and uncertain, and that even the best historians never have all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, but it is necessary to do so. If state education departments permit the revision of their history courses and textbooks to become an exercise in power politics, then the entire process of state-level curriculum-making becomes suspect, as does public education itself.

The question of self-esteem is extraordinarily complex, and it goes well beyond the content of the curriculum. Most of what we call self-esteem is formed in the home and in a variety of life experiences, not only in school. Nonetheless, it has been important for blacks—and for other racial groups—to learn about the history of slavery and of the civil rights movement; it has been important for blacks to know that their ancestors actively resisted enslavement and actively pursued equality; and it has been important for blacks and others to learn about black men probably lessens racial prejudice and provides inspiration for those who are descendants of slaves. But knowing about the travails and triumphs of one’s forebears does not necessarily translate into either self-esteem or personal accomplishment. For most children, self-esteem—the self-confidence that grows out of having reached a goal— comes not from hearing about the monuments of their ancestors but as a consequence of what they are able to do and accomplish through their own efforts.

As I reflected on these issues, I recalled reading an interview a few years ago with a talented black runner. She said that her model is Mikhail Baryshnikov. She admires him because he is a magnificent athlete. He is not black; he is not female; he is not Ameri-

and women who fought courageously against

can-born; he is not even a runner. But he

racism and who provide models of courage,

inspires her because of the way he trained

persistence, and intellect. These are instances

and used his body. When I read this, I

where the content of the curriculum reflects

thought how narrow-minded it is to believe

sound scholarship, and at the same time

that people can be inspired only by those who

are exactly like them in race and ethnicity.

Topics for Discussion and Writing

Note the several points at which Ravitch draws the line in distinguishing between what she considers valid versions of multiculturalism and excessive ones, and evaluate the arguments she makes in support of the distinction. How well supported do you find her opposition between “pluralism” and “particularism”? Might strong advocates of multiculturalism consider this a false dichotomy, or otherwise refute her arguments?

What similarities and differences do you find between this article and Nussbaum’s “Can Patriotism Be Compassionate?” Both authors believe that education should challenge ethnocentrism and “Americentrism,” but what dimension of this issue does Ravitch address that Nussbaum does not?

Ravitch’s article can be considered a Rogerian argument in showing a highly sympathetic understanding of the arguments for multiculturalism and then explaining where she disagrees with them. Outline the sequence of her arguments in doing this.

The controversy over multiculturalism has divided along liberal versus conservative lines. Ravitch is generally considered a conservative, having served in the U.S. Department of Education under President Reagan and the first President Bush. However, in the suggested spectrum of relative political positions in Chapter 15, she would be placed to the left of more militant conservatives whose readings on education and culture are included in this book, like William J. Bennett inchapters 1 and13, Rush Limbaugh in Chapter 5, and David Horowitz in Chapter 15. Do you find similarities between some of her arguments and those of the others? How would you characterize the difference in tone and ethos (the relation the writer establishes with readers) between her article and theirs? Which approach do you think is more persuasive, for conservative readers and for liberal ones?


Chapter 4. Writing Argumentative Papers

There are many varieties of argumentative writing, and no single, simple formula for organization or style. Every writing assignment presents unique challenges in rhetorical strategies. The length of an assignment dictates much about its writing; a letter to the editor of 200 words; a paper or op-ed column of 1,000 words, or three or four printed, doublespaced pages; a term paper of 2,500-4,500 words, ten or fifteen pages; a senior thesis of thirty or forty pages; a report or book of one hundred or more pages—each of these calls for a different mode of development and degree of detail in summary, supporting evidence, rebuttal, and so on. Your writing for courses will obviously also vary according to each instructor’s specifications in topics and form.

Try to forget whatever you may have heard from writing teachers who approach writing as a strictly formulaic process—the five-paragraph essay, the funnel-shaped essay, and so on. Those are formulas for dull writing, the kind that no one other than a teacher would want to read. In real life, people write arguments because they are compelled to express themselves and communicate their ideas about an issue they feel strongly about; the form of what they write is determined by rhetorical decisions about the most effective organization and tone for persuading others to agree with what they have to say. So you need first and foremost to design whatever you write to interest readers in the originality, intelligence, and energy of what you have to say, not to bore them with a paper that looks like you are just going through the motions of an assignment.

Argumentative essays usually take one of two broad forms: either making an argument of your own or summarizing, analyzing, and evaluating the arguments of sources. These two are not entirely distinct, of course, since in making your own arguments you often need to cite sources for support, while analyzing and evaluating others’ arguments is apt to entail making your own judgments on the issues. The first form works best for topics that are well within your own realm of experience and prior knowledge. This book (and the kind of course it is keyed to) emphasizes the second form because it approaches argumentative writing as a means of analyzing, evaluating, and synthesizing information acquired from sources in college courses and from your independent reading, listening to, and viewing of communication media.

There is no fixed formula for argumentative writing, and there is a wide variety of topics and rhetoric strategies to challenge your ingenuity, but there are some general, step-by-step procedures that most proficient writers employ. Again, for the kinds of papers that you will write in college courses, most of which are based on a designated topic, readings, or research assignment, something like the following is the process, in three broad stages: prewriting, writing, and postwriting.


Reading and Research

The prewriting stage begins with reading and research. Take lots of notes by highlighting passages and making marginal comments in books and articles and keying notes in your notebook to page references. At this stage, you also need to bring to bear on the subject your whole previous storehouse of cultural literacy, everything you remember or have books and notes on from previous studies, along with your own life experience.

Brainstorming, Freewriting, Small-Group Discussions

You may have used these techniques for generating ideas in previous writing courses that emphasized personal expression and an open choice of topics. Brainstorming involves random jotting down of ideas and beginning to group them to develop an outline. Freewriting is spontaneous written expression of these ideas, before you start to edit, narrow down, or organize them; it is a good way to avoid getting stuck on where to begin writing. Discussions with groups of students, friends, or teachers are valuable for feedback at every stage of the writing process, particularly for getting viewpoints that differ from, or are opposed to, your own; this is the best way to become aware of how you need to modify your arguments to persuade someone who doesn’t already agree with them.

Brainstorming and freewriting must take a different, more limited, form in argumentative writing based on responding to source readings on an assigned topic than in purely personal writing in which you have a free choice of subjects and what to say about them. In argumentative writing, you may find it useful to apply these techniques after you have done your initial reading, research, and note taking, or in response to “Rhetoric: A Checklist for Analyzing Your Own and Others’ Arguments” in Chapter 2.


Narrowing Down

This is a crucial Part of every writing assignment. You need to calculate carefully how many topics and sources you can cover, and how much you can say about them, in the time and space available. You will rarely be able to use all the ideas, sources, and notes you have generated in preparing for the paper, so avoid the temptation to toss in everything you’ve considered using, as that will make the paper seem too diffuse and shallow. In general, your rhetorical choice in writing papers is either to include a large number of sources and topics, which might result in broad but superficial coverage, or to cover a smaller number in more depth. Usually it is more effective to cover a smaller number in greater length and depth, without giving the impression that you have narrowed the range so much that you do not address central issues or exclude arguments and sources that might refute those you include.

Writers for publication are constantly subjected to brutal cutting of passages dear to their hearts by nasty editors. In fact most writing can benefit from rigorous cutting of repetitions, redundancies, and irrelevancies, and you should act as your own nasty editor. Always select what you judge to be the most important, interesting points and your own best rhetorical analyses; prune the rest to avoid being graded down for padding.


Some teachers and students of writing approach outlining as simply a formulaic, constricting grid arbitrarily imposed on a paper. In fact, however, outlining is a central, organic stage of the writing process, essential to work out the continuity and cohesion, or “flow,” of ideas in nearly every form of writing from a love letter to a dissertation. When I ask students who turn in papers that seem to go off in every direction, with unrelated jumps from one section to another and illogically reasoned, non sequitur ideas, whether they outlined, they invariably answer no.

Organic outlining begins with gathering your notes first into a broad outline, then into increasingly more detailed and better organized outlines, trying out different sequences and different degrees of narrowing down topics and sources for the most effective economy and continuity within the number of pages assigned. Believe me, this is the hardest stage for all writers, including professional journalists and scholars—it’s all downhill once you have the detailed outline to the point where you sense that the pieces fit together right. See the outline of opposing arguments on wealth and poverty in Chapter 23for a sample “menu” of possible lines of argument, from which you might select a limited number; one of two of these topics could make a l,000-word paper, four or five a 2,500-3,000-word term paper.

Here is a generic broad outline for the basic sections of the kind of argumentative paper emphasized here:

I. Introduction: Briefly identify the issues and opposing positions, along with your own previous viewpoint on them.

II. Main body

1. Summarize opposing viewpoints of sources and their lines of argument. (Note: it is vital when you are summarizing a source or line of argument that you do so objectively, without injecting your own approval or disapproval, either explicitly or implicitly through tone [e.g., sarcasm] or snide comments. Rhetorically, you need to show the reader that you are capable of approaching the opposing arguments evenhandedly and open-mindedly.)

2. Analyze and evaluate the reasoning and evidence on opposing sides. (Apply the rhetoric and semantic checklists here.) Bring in source authors’ or your own rebuttals of fallacious arguments on one side or both and give possible counterrebuttals. In this section as in 1, you may summarize all of one side’s arguments and then the other’s, then follow this section with all of each side’s rebuttals, or you may develop one argument and its counterargument or rebuttal at a time, then move on to the next. Use trial and error to see which approach works best for any particular paper.

3. Support your analyses and evaluations of lines of argument through citations of sources written by reputable scholars, journalists, or officials, possibly supplemented by primary research (interviews, surveys, experiments, etc.), as well as your own experiences, anecdotes, and reasoning.

III. Conclusion: Offer your balanced judgment on the strong and weak points on opposing sides and indicate which side you think makes the better case, and why.

Drafting and Revising

The next stage is to create a first draft, then a second draft, a third, fourth, and so on, revising and polishing for clarity, conciseness, and continuity until you get it just right. (It has been truly said that every piece of writing is infinitely improvable.) There is, again, no formula here, only a process of trial and error, cutting and pasting, to test what “works” best. Word processing is a godsend to writers, since you can write and store any number of drafts to compare and merge. It’s a good idea to get feedback from friends and teachers at any step in this process, to get a second opinion on what works and what doesn’t.

Attributing Opinions to Sources

The most frequent form of support in college argumentative papers is the citation of sources. In using citations it is essential to understand the principle of attribution and the value of using formulations like “according to” and “in X’s opinion” (this is what journalists call “sourcing”). Looking ahead to a case study in Chapter 5, if you write, “Anita Hill was lying about Clarence Thomas,” then you are making an assertion of fact that demands evidence in support of its factuality. (You could preface the assertion by saying “In my opinion, ,” but if you present no evidence to support that opinion, it isn’t going to persuade anybody.) On the other hand, if you write, “According to David Brock [or “In David Brock’s opinion”], Anita Hill was lying,” it is a fact that Brock says this, as you can verify by citing key passages from his book. A handy principle to learn, to avoid getting graded down for writing unsupported assertions, is to prune your own opinions from your papers and substitute a summary of the opinions of your sources. Of course, the mere fact that a source asserts an opinion does not make it any more valid in itself than your own unsupported opinion. To be sure, the opinion of an expert on the subject carries more weight than that of a novice, but experts too need to support their opinions, and you need to evaluate their support.

Phrasing your arguments mainly as summaries of opposing sides’ arguments also enables you to reach a conclusion that is adequately qualified but not completely wishywashy—for example, by phrasing it, not as your own opinion about whether Clarence Thomas or Anita Hill was telling the truth, but as your reasoned evaluation of the rhetorical strengths and weaknesses of the sources on opposing sides.

Continuity, Transitions, Connections

The effective “flow” of a paper depends on continuity, the skill of leading readers smoothly from one sentence, paragraph, or section to the next, without leaving them puzzling over how you got from here to there. Transitional phrases, including conjunctive adverbs (those grammatically joining two ideas) are useful tools here: “as a result,” “for example,” “however,” “consequently,” “nevertheless.” Here is Part of the main body of a student paper summarizing the case that American economic policies in the late 1970s and 1980s increased the gap between the rich, the middle class, and the poor. The previous paragraph ended with data about the growing gap in individual income and wealth during this period. This paragraph, which begins with a transitional sentence, will develop the argument by showing some of the consequences for public policies and institutions:

More importantly than the growing gap in personal wealth, these policies had destructive consequences for institutions like public schools that serve the needs of the poor and middle class more than those of the rich, who can afford to send their children to private schools. For example, in California, the funding cuts resulting from the passage of Proposition 13, the 1978 initiative putting a lid on property taxes, led to the decline of the state to forty-third nationally in education spending; according to a column by Brent Staples in <em>The New York Times</em> in 1998, California now spends about $30,000 less per classroom per year than the national average.

Another important element of continuity, which reflects a key critical thinking skill, is being able to connect two ideas, sets of data, or sources to support the same point. Elsewhere in the paper quoted above, the student connects two sources that make complementary points:

A letter to The New York Times criticizing high-priced “skyboxes” in a new, tax-subsidized sports stadium, argues, “New York’s taxpayers will be paying twice for those seats—once when they are constructed and a second time when they are occupied,” because they are frequently purchased for clients by businesses who then write off the entire evening from their taxes as a business deduction. How do such outrageous policies come about? An answer is suggested, concerning a host of similar subsidies for the rich on the national level, by Donald Barlett and James Steele in their book America: What Went Wrong?: “For this, you can thank the people in Washington—a succession of Congress and presidents, administrators and regulators, Democrats and Republicans, who write the government rule book, the accumulation of laws and regulations that provide the framework for the country’s economy. As might be expected, some people profit handsomely from the rule books.”

More about Introductions and Conclusions

Student writers often get stuck in starting to write a paper because they think that they have to have decided exactly what they are going to say from beginning to end. Here is a professional tip for overcoming writer’s block in introductions: there is no law saying that you have to write a paper in linear progression from introduction through main body to conclusion; no one but you will know what sequence led you to the final version. When you have gathered your notes and made a broad outline, there will probably be some points that you’re more ready to write about than others; simply start writing whatever section you’re most ready for, then work backward and forward from there adding others. In any case, don’t even try to write the introduction before you have completed the main body. Once you know what you will be saying, you can calibrate the introduction to lead most economically into the main body.

The exact nature of introductions and conclusions will vary according to the length of the paper. In a long paper, say, twenty pages or more, and especially in a book-length manuscript, it may be worthwhile to use the introduction to outline the points you will be making, and to use the conclusion to summarize them, helping the reader synthesize a complex, extended line of argument. In a paper of ten pages or less, this kind of summary may be redundant. Many students seem to have had English teachers who instructed them to preview in the introduction everything they are going to say, then to repeat it again in the conclusion. This is another recipe for dullness, as is the kind of vague, generalizing introduction that begins something like, “Throughout history, people have disagreed about the distribution of wealth in society” and the equally platitudinous kind of conclusion that goes, “Everybody has his own opinion about ”

If you have been taught to write this kind of introduction and conclusion, please try to forget it and instead keep these principles in mind: never labor the obvious, and never repeat points except for needed clarification. Do not tell your readers anything that they probably know and agree with already; do not make any generalizations beyond the level of the specific issues you are addressing. In the introduction to any paper of ten pages or less, lead readers as quickly and directly as possible to your specific topic and thesis, with only the minimum of background information to enable them to follow your argument. In your conclusion, do not repeat anything you have said previously, unless it needs special emphasis, but add something new by way of a judgment on the ideas and sources you have presented, such as a balance of the strong and weak points you have found in the opposing sides. The many newspaper and magazine op-ed columns, running 700-900 words, throughout this book provide good models of introductions and conclusions that get in and out of the subject in a rapid, lively manner.

It often is a good idea, however, to grab the reader’s interest at the beginning and to end on an original note in the conclusion by interjecting a personal touch, in an observation (possibly humorous if the subject warrants it), an anecdote, an experience, or a pertinent allusion to or quotation from a song, movie, fictional work, poem, TV show, or the like.


Proofreading and Polishing

If worrying about sentence and paragraph structure, spelling, punctuation, and grammar distracts you from the content of your writing, don’t even think about them until you have finished a semifinal draft. Then tighten up your sentences, paragraphs, and transitions and proofread several times, very carefully, first sentence by sentence, then continuously through the entire paper to get a sense of it as a whole. Print out the paper and spread the pages out so you can see as many as possible at once; doing this will help you catch unnecessary repetitions, identify things you may have left out, and devise possible improvements in organization.

This is the time to use your dictionary and grammar book or whatever checklists your instructor has provided. Some students erroneously believe that the better a writer you are, the less you need to use the dictionary and other reference books. Just the opposite is true. Most professional journalists and other writers keep their reference books close at hand and check them several times every day, using the dictionary both for spelling and for meaning. Another error that recent students have fallen into is to believe that the computer’s spelling and grammar checks provide a substitute for learning rules of spelling and grammar. Spelling and grammar form Part of the complex, organic system of a written language (as opposed to a spoken dialect, such as black English, whose rules, though internally consistent and functional, follow a different system from those of standard written English), and you need to learn them in order to develop a grasp of the system as a whole.

Only after you have used your own knowledge and looked up every possible error you see in reference materials should you use your computer’s spell check and grammar check to catch points you overlooked. Do not rely on computer checks, because they miss as much as they catch, and— lacking a human sense of variable contexts—will sometimes misadvise you.

Reading Aloud

Here is another pointer that can dramatically improve your writing. Get in the habit of reading aloud everything you write. Read it several times over, so that it sounds as much as possible like your natural speaking voice; read as you are composing each sentence, then read the entire paper as though you were presenting it before an audience. Doing this is guaranteed to improve your sentence rhythms and structure, to enable you to catch words accidentally left out or put in, and to help you spot gross misspellings, since spelling in general corresponds to the sound of spoken words.

Table 4.1. Levels of Education of Audiences and Credibility in Sources of Information That Might Be Used as Research Resources

Books Periodicals
High School Best-sellers, checkout stands Most mass circulation newspapers and magazines
College Serious journalistic books, government documents

Guides: Books in Print

Library of Congress Catalog

Online subject indexes | Journals of opinion:

NY Times, LA Times, Washington Post, Washington Times, WallStreetJournal& their book reviews

Guide: Reader’s Guide toPeriodical


Infotrack |

Scholarly and University press books Scholarly, professional journals
Professional Government and research institute reports Guides: indexes and Abstracts, New YorkReview; Chronicle ofHigher Education ***LOCATING AND EVALUATING SOURCES

Table 4.1 indicates three broad levels of possible sources of information for the kind of critical writing you will be doing for college courses. The levels refer to presumed levels of education in target audiences: high school graduate or below, college student or graduate, and scholarly and professional.

High School Level

Most mass-circulation newspapers, magazines (tabloids, Readers Digest, People, and so on), and nonfiction books on current events, such as those you find at checkout stands, seek to maximize profits by appealing to the widest possible audience, which they calculate to be at a tenth-grade or lower level of reading ability and attention span; most commercial television and radio programs aim at an even lower level. Such media tend to be of dubious credibility because they operate under the pressure of speedy production, sensationalistic appeal, oversimplification of issues to fit abbreviated spaces or “sound bites,” and skimpy documentation, so they are not always scrupulous about checking the accuracy of what they print or broadcast. The history of these media over the past century in America includes moguls like William Randolph Hearst, Joseph Pulitzer, and Henry Luce (founder of Time, Life, and Fortune), who competed in irresponsible sensationalism and use of their media to advance their own political agendas (usually conservative) and business interests. Since the 1950s, many of these media have become more responsible, hiring professionally educated editors and writers and becoming somewhat more concerned with factuality— but the remnants of the earlier age are still widespread.

This is not to say that you should avoid these sources or should never cite them in college papers. They can be quite useful for suggesting topics for further study, lines of argument, and particular viewpoints (found especially in opinion sections). You just need to be wary of accepting their factual assertions without question and try to verify them through more reliable sources.

College Level

The most frequent kind of sources for college papers is to be found in media at the next higher level of literacy and credibility—close to that of college students and graduates with a grounding in general education—in periodicals, the contemporary weekly newsmagazines Time, Newsweek, and US News and World Report, as well as newspapers that have national circulation and influence—most prominently the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, and a few others in large metropolitan centers. These publications hire fact-checkers and are committed to factual accuracy, in principle though not always in practice.

These newspapers also publish daily book reviews and full Sunday book-review supplements on new fiction and nonfiction new books. Their reviews of books on current events, history, and other topics studied in general education courses should be regular reading for college students and graduates. Most serious readers read a lot more reviews than actual books, and reading reviews is an excellent way to build your general store of knowledge; a review also can tell you at a glance whether the book is likely to be useful for your current studies, and you might want to cite reviewers’ comments and passages they quote or paraphrase from the book itself.

In magazines, the comparable level—a step above that of the newsweeklies—is what are termed “journals of opinion,” several of which are included in Chapter 15, appendix 1; these are weeklies, biweeklies, monthlies, or quarterlies that generally express, more openly than do most newspapers and newsmagazines, the viewpoint of owners, editors, and their target audiences, who usually are highly educated, and of writers. The writers are generally at a higher level of professionalism than in the mass media and are expected to base their stories on verifiable research; scholars often also write for these journals, adapting their academic studies for a broader readership. Most of the journals operate at a loss, having little and low-revenue advertising and small circulation (they are subsidized by wealthy individual owners and by subscribers and donors), but some of them exert a great deal of influence because they are read by wellinformed insiders in politics, the professions, and the intellectual and artistic world. Their “back of the book” sections contain authoritative reviews of current books, films, and other arts, and these reviews can be very influential in the reception of these works. The major journals of opinion can be found at better newsstands and bookstores or are available at reasonable cost by subscription; many of them now have Web sites that contain the full text or synopses of recent issues. Most are indexed by subject and title of articles in Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature and comparable electronic versions like FirstSearch and CARL.

The comparable level of books includes those by responsible journalists who scrupulously research and document their reports on current events and who are less concerned with writing sensational best sellers than with the honest pursuit of truth; prepublication excerpts from their books are regularly published in the newsweeklies or journals of opinion. Documentation in such books falls somewhere between that in mass-circulation books and that in scholarly books; they contain varying degrees of “light” or “heavy” footnoting or other means of citing sources. The counterparts at this level in TV and radio are the Public Broadcasting System (PBS), National Public Radio (NPR), Pacifica Radio, and other noncommercial media, along with some commercial “magazine” programs based on investigative reporting like Sixty Minutes and Nightline.

Although sources at this level are generally more trustworthy than those in mass commercial media, they cannot be assumed always to be accurate. There are often lapses, and several scandals have occurred in recent years involving writers’ faking or bungling their research.

Scholarly and Professional Level

This is the level of books, reports, and periodicals that is essential to in-depth, advanced research papers in undergraduate or graduate courses and dissertations. Most books here are published by university presses, which (at least until recent years, when the larger presses have become more commercial) are not operated as profit-making enterprises but are subsidized by universities for the propagation of research by faculties. They can be expected to contain the most thoroughly conducted and documented research, as can monographs (long articles published in pamphlet form) and book-length reports published by scholarly organizations, research institutes, or government agencies.

In periodicals here, there are many thousands of scholarly and professional journals, on every subject from feedlot management to gay and lesbian studies, which are usually available only in libraries or by subscription (although some are now accessible on the Internet). Articles in these journals are indexed in reference volumes, similar to Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature, for each academic discipline and subjects within the discipline; in many cases, there are also companion volumes of abstracts—brief summaries of each article’s contents, which can tell you whether the article might be useful to you.

Two periodicals aimed at a readership of professors, graduate students, and other intellectuals—the New York Review of Books and the Chronicle of Higher Education—are not recommended as regular reading for most college students, but they do contain many articles that can provide excellent source material for college papers. The biweekly New York Review carries long reviews that typically survey several books, along with opinion articles and excerpts from forthcoming books on a wide range of current controversies, with solid documentation. It also carries long exchanges of letters to the editor that provide a lively model of intellectual polemics. The weekly Chronicle is the major newspaper of the academic world (on both scholarly and institutional matters), and its news reports, opinion columns, and letters are often good sources for student research and argumentative papers; see, for example, the columns by Gabriela Montell in Chapter 16and Mildred K. Cho in Chapter 17.

The only broadcast media on this level, unfortunately, are some university-affiliated local FM radio and public TV stations and C-SPAN on national TV, which regularly broadcasts academic conferences and lectures that can be quite useful for students (it shows advance listings several times a day). Scholarly and professional experts do, however, turn up fairly often as “talking heads” on news and interview programs, especially on public radio and television.

Political Viewpoints in Sources

One more important variable in sources is their explicit or implicit political viewpoint. Please refer to appendix 1, “Political Viewpoints in Sources,” in Chapter 15for a survey of these viewpoints in book publishers, general-circulation periodicals, and research institutes or “think tanks.” Also see the lists of resources identified by viewpoint in Chapter 23.

A Model of the Writing Process in a Student Paper

The approach outlined in this Chapter is illustrated in the following sequence coming out of an assignment to write a paper of about five pages, or 1,200-1,500 words, analyzing the opposing views in the chapters from Naomi Wolf’s book The Beauty Myth and Christina Hoff Sommers’s Who Stole Feminism? later in this chapter. (Reading those selections first will help you follow this sequence.)

First Draft

Susan Brooks wrote the following first draft.


Susan Brooks

”I was in a land where men forced women to hide their facial features, and here in the West it’s just the same but they’re using make-up veils”

—Andy Partridge, XTC

Feminism is a controversial issue that women have faced in the twentieth century. How extreme is it? Who is to blame? Do women take the blame, or are the media and men to blame? These questions are broad and diverse, and have been addressed by many individuals. It is difficult to determine which author’s opinions are to be believed on this subject.

Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth: How Images of Women Are Used Against Women, believes that as women shifted from the primary roles of wife, mother and housekeeper, the advertising giants needed to shift their focus from “housework guilt” to “beauty guilt” to sustain their profits. Thus the Beauty Myth was born.

Wolf says that advertising revenues diminished once women joined the workforce. So the media and advertisers figured they had to convince women to spend more money to look beautiful. The advertising giants have created a problem that was non-existent before. Their focus had shifted from maintaining a perfect household to maintaining beauty and youth. “Somehow, somewhere, someone must have figured out that they will buy more things if they are kept in the self-hating, ever failing, hungry and sexually insecure state of being aspiring ‘beauties’” (66). Fortunately, younger women are acknowledging the manipulation by the media and are questioning women’s responses to such advertising.

Christina Hoff Sommers, author of Who Stole Feminism?: How Women Have Betrayed Women, does not agree that women are being manipulated by advertising or by themselves. She believes that there is much more to feminism than just appearances.

A common issue brought up on this subject is the influence advertisers and businesses have on women. It is believed that companies are constantly trying to create a new product desirable by women, which promises them they will be beautiful and fit the stereotype illustrated in the magazines. Millions of dollars are spent on hair styles, make-up, and clothing, and accessories, not to mention the eating disorders that are a health risk. Money is spent on developing newer products or better hairstyles resulting in more consumer spending. Only one side in this scenario is smiling, and that is of the advertising industry. “Today, business wants even more desperately to seduce.............................................................................. It wants to demolish

resistance” (Wolf 79).

Sommers’ Chapter “The Backlash Myth” refutes the theories of the Beauty Myth. She questions the validity of theories and research studies noted by Wolf and by Susan Faludi. She thinks that Wolf and Faludi are sensationalists with a radical-leftist agenda and an anti-male, anti-capitalist bias, who try to alarm us with exaggerated (and factually inaccurate) accounts of a backlash against women’s gains, and she charges that such radical feminists have gained a stranglehold on women’s studies programs in universities and elsewhere. Sommers contacted research sources and refutes Wolf’s claim that attractive women “compare themselves only to models, not to other women” (Sommers 233). Women possessing the need to be beautiful can’t be blamed on just the advertising agencies. “Peer beauty qualified as a more appropriate standard for social comparison than professional beauty” (Sommers 233).

Sommers also does not agree that women are being manipulated by advertising, or that they make themselves unhappy or sick trying to look like fashion models:

Much of the support Wolf brings for her beauty-myth theory consists of merely labeling an activity insidious rather than showing it to be so—exercising, dieting, and buying Lancome products at the cosmetics counter in Bloomingdale’s all come under attack. Characterizing Weight Watchers as a cult does not constitute evidence that it is one. In her zeal to construe every effort of American women to lose weight as a symptom of a male-induced anxiety, she overlooks the fact that many people—men as well as women—suffer from obesity and are threatened by diseases that do not affect people who are fit. Stressing the importance of diet and fitness can hardly be considered as an insidious attempt by the male establishment to disempower women. (234)

I definitely agree with Sommers here. What’s wrong with wanting to be healthy, well-toned, and attractive looking? And nobody forces me to wear make-up, starve myself, work out or shop til I drop. Although all the research Wolf cites may not support her theory, I do believe that many women in our society are obsessed with youth, beauty, and thinness. But women are not all naive and many recognize the subtle manipulation by the media that Wolf describes, and are not taken in.

Peer Editing

Susan’s draft was then discussed in a peer editing session, in which two classmates, who had been studying the topics and terminology in this Chapter and the rest of Reading and Writing for Civic Literacy, first read and wrote comments on her paper. One student’s notes are reproduced on pages 100-103. A transcript of the discussion follows.

Class Discussion

Lachelle: I think you make some really good points in your paper, Susan. I like the song you quote at the beginning, and the title. But your introductory paragraph is too vague to tell me where you’re going in the rest of the paper, and then I have a hard time following your line of argument after that. It doesn’t look like you worked from a clear outline.

Susan: You’re right, I really wasn’t very confident about where I was going, so was just winging it. I’ll write an outline before revising it.

Lachelle: For example, you sort of assume the reader is familiar with both Wolf’s and Sommers’s books, so you make a lot of references to them that no one would understand without looking back over the texts.

Roberto: I agree with Lachelle about that. You jump into the middle of the authors’ arguments without taking the audience along with you, and back and forth between the two books. Sometimes I can’t figure out when you’re expressing your own opinion and when you’re attributing an opinion to Wolf or Sommers—and there are a couple spots where you seem to attribute something to Sommers when she’s quoting somebody else.

Lachelle: Yeah. What I’d like to see is a fuller summary at the beginning of your paper of Wolf’s main arguments and Sommers’s rebuttals, then develop it from there.

You could also say something about where the two writers are coming from politically, where there’s a pretty clear opposition between Wolf as a liberal and Sommers as a conservative. Don’t you sort of need to explain where conservatives and liberals are opposed on feminism?

Susan: OK, I can add that from our class discussion about this.

the influence advertisers and businesses have on women. I-t. io believed that companies are constantly trying to create a new product

desirable by women,

Christina Hoff Sommers,

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than just


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the advertising industry. "Today, business



even more desperately to seduce. .

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Sommers' Chapter "The Backlash Myth" refutes

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are sensationalists with a radical-leftist

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4 products at the cosmetics counter in Bloomingdale's all come under attack.

\C Characterizing Weight Watchers as a cult does

not constitute evidence that it is one. In her zeal to construe every effort of American women to lose weight as a symptom of a male-induced anxiety, she overlooks the fact that many people—men as well as women—suffer from obesity and are threatened by diseases that do not affect people who are fit. Stressing the importance of diet and fitness can hardly be considered as an insidious attempt by the male establishment to disempower women. (234)

I definitely agree with Sommers here. What's wrong with wanting to be healthy, well-toned, and attractive looking? And nobody forces me to wear make-up, starve myself, work out or shop til I drop. ^Although all the research Wolf cites may not support her theory, I do believe that many women in our society are obsessed with youth, beauty, and thinness. But women are not all naive and many

Roberto: Another point that I thought was unclear was your conclusion paragraph. I can’t tell whether you’re agreeing with Wolf or Sommers.

Lachelle: Right, your last sentence is sort of wishy-washy: “But women are not all naive and many recognize the subtle manipulation by the media that Wolf describes, and are not taken in.” Is this just your opinion, or can you back it up with evidence? Maybe you could do a survey of women at our college. Even if you’re right, though, this seems to take any blame away from the media, and Wolf’s main aim is to criticize the media—and the corporations they advertise for—because they spend such a huge amount of money and energy trying to manipulate women. Sommers tries to take the corporations and media off the hook.

Susan: I was sort of faking it in the conclusion, cause I wasn’t really clear on the disagreements between Wolf and Sommers, or where I stood, because I’ve never thought much about these arguments before.

Roberto: I think a really important point that you could say more about, is when Sommers says Wolf has this conspiracy theory that a bunch of men get together and plan how to hypnotize millions of women into buying beauty products, and then women internalize these images to make themselves miserable. Sommers says Wolf doesn’t really have any evidence to prove that this conspiracy exists, and that it insults women’s intelligence to imply that they’ve been turned into robotic “Stepford Wives”—which I agree with.

Susan: Right, I should say more about that, ’cause I agree with Sommers too.

Lachelle: Whoa, hold on a minute. I don’t think Sommers presents a fair account of Wolf’s case. What Wolf says is, there doesn’t have to be a conspiracy, in the literal sense. All she says is that corporations always try to maximize their profits, and manufacturers, advertising agencies, and media have done a lot of market research that shows there’s megaprofits to be made from keeping women in constant anxiety about their faces, their weight, their clothes, their hair, their age—through comparing themselves to those freakishly thin, gorgeous models that are on every magazine cover and in every commercial. Plus those models are nearly all Caucasian, because the advertisers figure that it’s upscale white women who have the most money to spend on beauty products. It’s really humiliating to women of color to always see white women set up as the norm. Can anyone deny all this? Or that guys are equally programmed to go after women who look like these ideal beauties? Wolf also says that feminists have opposed the beauty myth in favor of a better-rounded (and less expensive) self-image for women, and so the manufacturers and media have a bias against feminism because it threatens their profits. That’s a sensible theory, isn’t it? And Wolf supports the theory with research studies that manufacturers and the media themselves have conducted.

Roberto: Yeah, but Sommers nails Wolf with misrepresenting two studies—the one, I think it was at Old Dominion University, and the other one—which you don’t talk about, but should—was on the number of women who die from anorexia, where her figures are way off. If Wolf is that sneaky about these cases, it makes you doubt her overall reliability.

Lachelle: OK, I concede that Sommers catches Wolf in getting those two studies wrong, and that really weakens her case. If there were a lot of other inaccuracies in her book, that would totally shoot down her credibility. But she presents a lot more evidence, on much more central issues, so I’d say these two errors could be honest slip-ups and an inadequate sampling of Wolf’s credibility, which Sommers uses to evade Wolf’s most solid arguments and evidence. It just seems to me from my own experience, and most of the other girls and women I know, that Wolf’s basic argument makes sense, that the beauty industry does play on our insecurities because their profits depend on it, so it’s a reasonable inference that they’ve intentionally calculated how to do this. As far as reliability of evidence is concerned, how do we know that Sommers’s documentation is accurate? Wouldn’t we need to check with the source of the Old Dominion study to make sure what she claims is accurate?

Susan: Good point. Maybe I’ll say something like that in my revision. Getting back to what Roberto said, though, I agree that women aren’t just helpless dupes of the media, with no mind or will of their own to resist the beauty myth if they choose. Nobody forces me to wear make-up or work out or buy brand-name fashions.

Lachelle: But this gets into the whole issue of cultural conditioning. If the media have been trying to program us, from the day we’re born, into a certain set of attitudes—say, about looks, weight, or fashions—how can we say for sure that the choices we think we make freely haven’t really been conditioned? Sommers never really addresses that argument. For example, look at the increase in eating disorders in girls and women that Wolf discusses. She may have her statistics wrong, but who doesn’t know at least one girl or woman who is anorexic or bulimic? Isn’t it pretty obvious that this was largely the result of conditioning by the media to worship thinness? Or look at the way students all wear brand-name clothes, with their logos prominently displayed—where does everyone get the idea to do that?

Roberto: Yeah, but it isn’t just the media that causes us to conform. There’s also peer pressure—which is what Sommers said that study at Old Dominion showed.

Lachelle: So what do you think causes the peer pressure? Doesn’t it come mainly from the media? That’s a perfect example of a vicious circle.

Roberto: Maybe so, but as Sommers says, the main reason people diet and work out is not that they’re conforming, but that it makes them healthier. What’s wrong with that, or with wanting to look your best? That’s true of everyone, men as well as women.

Lachelle: I don’t think Wolf disagrees with any of that. Sommers is just attacking a straw man—or straw feminist—if she puts those words in Wolf’s mouth. Wolf’s point is that these healthy impulses have been pushed to destructive extremes by the beauty industry, just because they have constantly increasing investments, billions of dollars, that depend on hyping the sales of these products. Sommers totally downplays that argument and evades this issue, and I think that may be partly because her own work is subsidized by conservative foundations funded by big corporations, which she says in her own acknowledgments at the beginning of her book.

Roberto: Isn’t there pressure on men too to wear brand names, work out and diet so they’ll look like Brad Pitt? And don’t sports in the media present the same kinds of idols for men that fashion models do for women? Why doesn’t Wolf criticize that?

Lachelle: Well, I think Wolf would agree that the media manipulate men as well as women, and she’d say two wrongs don’t make a right. But do you really think there’s as much emphasis on men’s looks as women’s in the media? Gimme a break! Look at TV commercials, or the magazine covers at any supermarket check-out stand, and compare the proportion of women’s and men’s pictures, and whether they’re shown for their looks or their accomplishments.

Roberto: That would be a good topic for a research paper project, just to count the number of images of women and men on magazine covers and commercials, and how many are shown for looks versus accomplishments.

Susan: Wow, those are all pretty complicated questions to get into in a four or five page paper. Maybe I can just raise some of these points briefly at the end, to leave the conclusion sort of open-ended. Anyway, thanks to both of you for your suggestions. This has given me a lot more ideas for topics to talk about and how to pull the paper together. Now I feel like I have more ideas than I can even fit into a five page paper, so I’ll have to cut instead of padding!

Susan’s Outline for Revision

I. Introduction: Difficulty of sorting out the truth in opposing sources, illustrated by Wolf vs. Sommers

II. Main Body

A. Summary of Wolf’s arguments

1. Changes in marketing after World War II from housekeeping to beauty

2. Feminism in sixties posed a threat to beauty myth

3. In backlash against feminism, corporations intensified selling of beauty

4. Beauty myth handicaps women’s equality with men

B. Sommers

1. Note political viewpoint of Sommers vs. Wolf: Wolf a liberal Democrat, Sommers says she’s also a feminist and not a Republican, but associated with conservative foundations and publisher, and she thinks Wolf’s and Susan Faludi’s variety of feminism is sensationalistic and dogmatic.

2. Sommers’ rebuttals of Wolf and Faludi

a. Inaccuracies in their research (S’s strongest argument)

1. Old Dominion study showed women don’t compare themselves to media images, as Wolf claims

2. Wolf confuses number of anorexia sufferers with number of deaths

b. Sommers says Wolf has conspiracy theory, but Wolf says there’s no conspiracy, only a common drive for profits by corporations

c. Sommers says there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be healthy and to look good.

1. I agree, but W’s defenders would say she does too, and is only criticizing excesses, like anorexia

2. S downplays Wolf’s criticisms of the beauty industry and its power to get inside our heads, even when we think we know they’re trying to manipulate us. Are we really free to “take it or leave it” when we’ve been conditioned into the beauty myth every day of our lives?

III. Conclusion

A. It’s a draw between W and S, who are both skillful writers and rhetoricians. More research is needed to judge between the two

B. Studying this subject has made me question the source of my own attitudes toward beauty, and made me more aware of how much everyone’s attitudes are influenced by cultural conditioning and what side they’re on politically

Revised Draft

Make-Up Veils (Revision)

Susan Brooks

”I was in a land where men forced women to hide their facial features, and here in the West it’s just the same but they’re using make-up veils”—Andy Partridge, XTC In public controversies, it can be very difficult to know who you can believe amid a variety of viewpoints in sources that totally contradict each other. I found this out in reading the book The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women, by Naomi Wolf (published in 199l) and a rebuttal to it in another book, Who Stole Feminism?: How Women Have Betrayed Women, by Christina Hoff Sommers, published in 1994, which includes a Chapter titled “The Backlash Myth,” aimed at Wolf and Susan Faludi, author of Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women.

Wolf argues that in recent decades the “beauty industry” has tried to brainwash women into living up to totally unrealistic models of cosmetic glamour, thinness, and youth. Wolf’s thesis is that up to World War II, marketing, advertising, and media content for women manipulated insecurities about being a good housewife. As modern technology took a lot of the drudgery out of childrearing and housekeeping, manufacturers and the media shifted to beauty products. At the same time, in the sixties, a revival of feminism was fighting for women’s equality with men in education and jobs, and feminists rejected the excessive emphasis that the media were putting on beauty. Wolf claims that women’s economic equality and the rejection of the beauty myth posed a threat to men in power, while manufacturers, advertisers, and the media (also dominated by men) feared that they would lose billions of dollars in profits if the sales of beauty products declined. So Wolf says there has been a backlash against feminism, which has involved a campaign to convince women that they need to spend ever more money, time, and fretting to make themselves beautiful and thin—on top of working at jobs and being wives and mothers. “Somehow, somewhere, someone must have figured out that they [women] will buy more things if they are kept in the self-hating, ever-failing, hungry, and sexually insecure state of being aspiring ‘beauties’” (66). This drain on women’s time, money, and psyche creates a handicap for women against men, who are not judged as much on looks and so are able to devote more of their energy to professional achievement, instead of to making up, dressing up, doing their hair, shopping, and starving themselves.

I found all of Wolf’s arguments very persuasive—until I read Sommers’ refutation of them. There is an interesting political issue going on “between the lines” in Wolf vs. Sommers. Wolf, a free-lance journalist, is well-known as a feminist, a liberal, and a Democratic Party activist, who has been an advisor to Hillary Clinton (the feminists’ heroine!) and Al Gore. Sommers, a philosophy professor at Clark University, does not come out and say she is a conservative. She insists that she too is a feminist, and a member of the Democratic Party, which is more identified with feminist causes than the Republicans, who tend to support more traditional gender roles (128). Her position is more conservative than Wolf’s, though, in that she believes women have made great advances in American society, to the point where they are nearly equal to men. She believes some feminists like Wolf and Faludi are sensationalists with a radicalleftist agenda and an anti-male, anti-capitalist bias, who try to alarm us with exaggerated (and factually inaccurate) accounts of a backlash against women’s gains, and she charges that such radical feminists have gained tyrannical control over women’s studies in universities and elsewhere. Sommers does say in her book’s acknowledgments that her research was funded by the Lynne and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Carthage Foundation, and the John M. Olin Foundation, all conservative institutions allied with large corporations and the Republican Party (8)— so she might have a conflict of interest in defending corporations against Wolf’s charges—while Wolf’s acknowledgments do not indicate that she had any financial sponsors. Sommers’ book was published by Simon and Schuster, which does feature a lot of conservative books, while Wolf’s was published by Doubleday and Anchor, which aren’t identified with any political viewpoint.

Sommers’ strongest arguments are the many examples she gives of gross inaccuracies in research by feminists, including Wolf and Faludi. Sommers checked the source of a research study at Old Dominion University, which Wolf claimed showed that women measure themselves more against images of beauty in the media than against their peers, but which Sommers says in fact showed just the opposite (233). Worse yet, according to Sommers, Wolf claimed that about 150,000 American women die of anorexia each year, but when Sommers traced this figure to its alleged source, the American Anorexia and Bulimia Association, she was informed that their figures showed that was the number of sufferers, not deaths, which number only somewhere between one hundred and four hundred per year. (Sommers does acknowledge, “The deaths of these young women are a tragedy, certainly”.) Sommers says she wrote a letter about this error to Wolf, who promised to correct it in the second edition of her book (Sommers 276). (Wolf must have done this, since I couldn’t find the figure in the second edition.) This point really illustrates how important it is for writers to get their facts right. Much of Wolf’s documentation and reasoning concerning women’s anxieties about their looks, and about eating disorders, seem to be pretty valid (even Sommers acknowledges some of Wolf’s basic points), but a few errors like this cast doubt on her credibility and give her political opponents ammunition to discredit everything she says.

Sommers accuses Wolf of having a conspiracy theory that “somewhere in America a group of male ‘elders’ has sat down to plot ways to perpetuate the subjugation of women” (227). But what Wolf actually says is: “This is not a conspiracy theory; it doesn’t have to be” (17). It’s just about a common pursuit of profits by many of the world’s largest corporations, whose effect is as powerful as a conspiracy.

Sommers further argues:

Much of the support Wolf brings for her beauty-myth theory consists of merely labeling an activity insidious rather than showing it to be so—exercising, dieting, and buying Lancome products at the cosmetics counter in Bloomingdale’s all come under attack. Characterizing Weight Watchers as a cult does not constitute evidence that it is one. In her zeal to construe every effort of American women to lose weight as a symptom of a male-induced anxiety, she overlooks the fact that many people—men as well as women—suffer from obesity and are threatened by diseases that do not affect people who are fit. Stressing the importance of diet and fitness can hardly be considered as an insidious attempt by the male establishment to disempower women. (234)

I definitely agree with Sommers here. What’s wrong with wanting to be healthy, well-toned, and attractive looking? And nobody forces me to wear make-up, starve myself, work out or shop til I drop. Of course, Wolf’s defenders might reply that Sommers is attacking a “straw feminist,” that Wolf isn’t really criticizing a healthy lifestyle or attention to weight and appearance to a point, but just criticizing pushing it to an extreme where women who are perfectly healthy and ok-looking are made to feel miserable because they don’t match up to Julia Roberts. Don’t these media images have a lot to do with the incredible increase in anorexia and bulimia? And Sommers evasively downplays Wolf’s sensible theory that manufacturers and the media do have a big investment in constantly selling more beauty products, diet food, gyms and workout equipment, etc.

Wolf’s defenders might also question how much we are all really free to “take it or leave it” concerning the images that the media bombard us with. How can I say for sure that the choices I think I make freely haven’t been influenced by the media I’ve been conditioned by every day of my life, or the peer pressures the media create?

I’d call the debate between Wolf and Sommers a draw: both are very skillful writers and rhetoricians, although both let their political partisanship draw them into some fallacious arguments. I’d need to think about and study these arguments a lot more to decide which is right on balance. I do know, though, that studying the pros and cons of this subject has made me question the reasons for my own attitudes about appearance and made me more aware of how much everyone’s attitudes may be biased by their cultural conditioning and what side they’re on politically.

Works Cited

Partridge, Andy (Composer for XTC). “Make-Up Veils.” (Recording, no date or place of publication).

Sommers, Christina Hoff. Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994.

Wolf, Naomi. The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Have Been Used Against Women. Anchor Books, Revised Edition, 1992.

Topics for Discussion and Writing

Here are the chapters from Naomi Wolf ’s The Beauty Myth and Christina Hoff Sommers’s Who Stole Feminism? that Susan wrote her paper on. Carry on the debate among yourselves and generate your own papers out of it.

From The Beauty Myth: How Images]] of Beauty Are Used Against Women

Naomi Wolf

Anchor Books, 1992


gry debate about the issues I raised. Before

It’s been a wild year since The Beauty Myth you enter into your own dialogue with the was first published in hardcover—a year of book, I’d like to lay to rest three fallacies that sharp, exhilarated, and sometimes very anoften got in the way of its actual message.

The first fallacy is that this book is antibeauty. If I could write The Beauty Myth again, I’d put the clear conclusion of the argument—that we need to embrace pleasure, choice in adornment, our own real beauty and sexuality, and call ourselves feminists— in the first paragraph. There is not a single sentence on a single page in this book that condemns women for the choices that we make about beauty, or suggests that we should not wear makeup if we want to, dress up, or show our bodies. On the contrary: I argue that we deserve the choice to do whatever we want with our faces and bodies without being punished by an ideology that is using attitudes, economic pressure, and even legal judgments regarding women’s appearance to undermine us psychologically and politically.

Many such critics—Marcelle Clements in the New York Times, for instance, who charged that “My life is complicated and my vision of myself is made up as I go along and it sometimes translates into buying a lipstick or a pair of cowboy boots. Why are you making me feel bad? Give me a break!”; or Betty Friedan, who wrote that “If feminism really meant a war against men—a repudiation of love and beauty and home and children— most women wouldn’t want to win it”—seem not to have read it. For I conclude that the enemy is not lipstick, but guilt itself; that we deserve lipstick, if we want it, and free speech; we deserve to be sexual and serious— or whatever we please; we are entitled to wear cowboy boots to our own revolution. The terrible irony of this frequent misreading of my message is that one damaging aspect of “the beauty myth” as I define it is not makeup—but the disempowering, backlash propaganda that suggests that feminism makes women ugly, or forces women to choose between beauty and liberation. Critics who made this mistake fell victim to the very dynamic of the backlash that I criticize: an antifeminist impulse that invariably seeks—as many TV shows did as well—to pit ”The Feminist” against “The Beauty Queen.”

A related fallacy is that The Beauty Myth objects categorically to images of glamour and beauty in mass culture. Absolutely not. The harm of these images is not that they exist, but that they proliferate at the expense of most other images and stories of female heroines, role models, villains, eccentrics, buffoons, visionaries, sex goddesses, and pranksters. If the icon of the anorexic fashion model were one flat image out of a full spectrum in which young girls could find a thousand wild and tantalizing visions of possible futures, that icon would not have the power to hurt them; fashion and beauty scenarios would be yet another source of the infinite pleasures and intrigues of life in the female body.

The real issue, if we understand this, is one of censorship and free speech. Beauty advertisers pressure mass culture to populate itself almost entirely with images of the icon; this effectively censors vast pools of American talent. Aspiring actresses, rock singers, writers and TV journalists, comediennes, athletes, and politicians, who might not fit the narrow confines of the icon, are returned to ground by this screening process. American culture is the loser. And we as consumers of mass culture lose out too, as ad pressure forces women’s magazines to center readers’ anxieties on the scale and the mirror, at the expense of real coverage of the wide world of women.

This double standard for free speech in women’s media versus men’s is compounded by the double standard for consumer rights. Women deserve real information if we are to make real choices about beauty; but the unspoken loyalty oath advertisers have demanded of editors over the decade of the beauty backlash has brought disastrous consequences.

The charge I made—that mass media aimed at women was not telling the whole truth about the beauty industry because they could not—brought frenzied and hostile denials from editors of magazines on national television. But the evidence keeps growing: The NIH issued a report debunking the dieting industry, the FDA cracked down on cosmetic surgeons for silicone injections, Dow Corning has been accused of concealing evidence of serious medical problems associated with breast implants, and a House Subcommittee is investigating the dangerously unregulated nature of the beauty surgery industry. Women who believed the products and procedures were safe are asking, dismayed, ”Why weren’t we told?” Again and again, women editors and TV journalists would attack this position and deny ad pressure on the air; but when the lights went down, they would say, “Of course you’re right. But I can’t say that on camera and keep my job.” Women paid the price for this orchestration of silence.

The third fallacy in the debate is that I am constructing a conspiracy theory. As I write in the first chapter: “This is not a conspiracy theory; it doesn’t have to be.” A backlash against women’s advancement does not originate in a smoke-filled room; it is often unconscious and reflexive, like racism. A backlash against feminism that uses an ideology about beauty to keep women down is not an organized conspiracy with maps and pins, but a generalized atmosphere in which men’s fears and women’s guilt are addressed and elaborated through the culture’s images of women, and its messages to women about the relationship between their value and their bodies.

We know that ideals of femininity have sought to control women before: The suffragists of the nineteenth century were faced with the glamorized invalid, and women were driven out of the work force in the 1950s by the glamorized full-time housewife. The beauty myth’s backlash image of women does not suddenly appear everywhere in the media as a result of a conspiracy, but as a result of how audience response and mass media interact. Research shows that people will react to those ads, films, and videos that strike their deepest feelings, regardless of whether the images soothe anxiety or provoke it.

Ours is a time when gender roles are contested as never before. At a moment when many women have guilt feelings and uncertainties about their entry into public life, and many men have fears about women’s empowerment made all the stronger by the doubled competition during a recession, those images or articles that show women being put, or putting themselves, back under control are most likely to get a strong audience reaction. The savvy editor or marketer knows that a story on the breast implant trend is “sexier”in such a Zeitgeist than a story on the La Leche League; that a series on semistarvation diets is “sexier” than a series on women’s health.

A magazine sensitive to the backlash mood does what the New York Times did, according to Working Woman: For the cover of the Sunday Magazine that profiled Karen Valenstein, one of the first female traders on Wall Street, it chose—out of contact sheets of smiling, pretty shots of this slim blond woman—the one unattractive, unsmiling portrait. This selection was not a conscious effort to portray powerful women in a negative light; but by stirring up women’s insecurities while soothing men’s fears, this choice simply sold more copies.

The beauty backlash against feminism is no conspiracy, but a million million separate individual reflexes such as that one that coalesce into a national mood weighing women down; the backlash is all the more oppressive because the source of the suffocation is so diffuse as to be almost invisible. The beauty myth is an employer saying to a woman engineer, We can’t hire you because you’re so pretty you’ll keep the men from doing their work. It’s a judge ruling that Christine Craft doesn’t deserve her job back. It’s a journalists’ organization ranking Roseanne Barr above Saddam Hussein in a poll for its “Sitting Duck” Awards. It’s Playboy recruiting from women in the military, women in the Ivy League, women in the Police Department. It’s Barbara Walters saying angrily on “20/20” that the charge that there is a double standard for appearance in her profession is “a crock.” It’s a People magazine “health” feature in which a young actress says that she knows it’s time to eat when she passes out on the set. It’s a male student telling a female classmate that she got a scholarship only because of her looks. It’s an anchorwoman losing her job when her laughlines start to show. It’s the phrase, “You’re too pretty to be a feminist.” It’s an Alabama judge ruling that he didn’t believe

Karen Smith had been sexually harassed by her boss because in his opinion the boss’s wife was prettier. It’s the caption under a newspaper cartoon of Patricia Bowman, the alleged victim in the William Kennedy Smith rape trial: ’I liked her better behind the blob.” It’s congressmen, beaten again this year by a professional women’s basketball team, saying, “They’re faster. They’re younger. And they’re prettier.” Instead of simply: “They won.”

Because I wrote this book as a tribute to women’s beauty and power, one of the most difficult parts of the debate was the often angry denial of the problem from women. For a decade, women have had drilled into us the belief that we bear individual responsibility for the social problem of sexism. In such a climate, an analysis that points out just what the pressures on us really are can be upsetting to listen to—precisely because most of us intuit the situation so well.

Those initial impulses of denial are understandable: People most need the mechanism of denial when an intolerable situation has been pointed out to them—but the means for change does not yet exist. Slowly, though, alternatives are becoming imaginable; and as that happens, the response to the message grows steadily warmer. The deep freeze of feminism within the beauty backlash has finally begun to crack and thaw.

The past year not only saw the FDA confront Dow Corning; it also saw Continental service representative Theresa Fischette, fired because she did not wear makeup, fight on national television for her job—and win. American Airlines flight attendants fought discriminatory weight tables—and won. On a hotline staffed by 9 to 5, the working women’s organization, looks discrimination surfaced as one of the top three forms of sex discrimination on the job. The Clarence Thomas hearings exposed as a myth the “postfeminist” pretense of a level playing field, and membership in women’s organizations jumped. Susan Faludi’s Backlash added new dimensions as well as validation to my charge that we live in a backlash against women’s liberation. Elle offered “The shapely, well-fed body of the ’90’s.” A Glamour readers’ poll showed that women no longer ranked losing weight over success in work or love. And two California cities made appearance discrimination illegal—establishing that women “don’t have to be thin and blonde to do their jobs well.”

New evidence came out, adding details to my basic argument: Fashion magazine editors acknowledged at last the existence of the Scitex machine—a computer graphics machine that alters almost every fashion or glamour image we see. Research has found that young women’s self-esteem scored measurably lower after they were shown fashion and beauty images than before. And the final piece of the puzzle fell into place: researchers at Wayne State University found that anorexia and bulimia were triggered, in women who had a biochemical predisposition to it, by simple dieting; caloric restriction resulted in biochemical changes in the brain, which addicted women physiologically to anorexia and bulimia.

When asked, What should be done? I’ve said that it is readers themselves who will write the final Chapter of The Beauty Myth. And women did so, each one inventing solutions within her own life. Teachers across the country devised anti-anorexia programs for their preadolescent students. College women organized consciousness-raising groups, finding a new introduction to feminism in the discovery that, even if you have reproductive rights, you don’t control your body if you cannot eat. Many took up the challenge to dismantle the beauty myth through culture: they made art projects that reimagined the female body and its beauty; they created videos and rap songs, performance art, photography exhibits, and street theater.

For all the controversy surrounding this book, there is one development of the last year that is so heartening that it is like a gift of energy. At the points in The Beauty Myth where I addressed my own generation’s problematic relationship to feminism, I did so in real darkness. Where were they? Why were they so quiet? A year later, I can say with certainty that I’ve seen the Third Wave on college campuses and young women’s organizations across America, its numbers and commitment swelling every day. A college senior writes in The Village Voice about her generation’s “Third Wave Feminism”; another student writes in Ms. that “I am not a postfeminist feminist. I am the Third Wave.” A national organization of “Third Wave feminists”—updating the feminist agenda for today’s young women—has recently been formed. Even William F. Buckley has referred to the Third Wave in the National Review.

Finally, in response to the criticism that the beauty myth is not the biggest problem women face today, of course that is true. But the beauty backlash arose specifically to hypnotize women into political paralysis. Therefore, by knowing how to break its spell, we liberate those occupied territories of our minds and energize ourselves to take up the real fight for women’s equality.

As my feminist foremothers taught me, naming a problem has power. Many young women tell me that the connections they were able to make between the beauty myth with its stereotype of “the ugly feminist,” and their own fears about calling themselves feminists, allowed them to speak up at last on their own behalf as women. The turbulence of the past year is worth it a thousand times over, when I see it in the light of that gift.

The Beauty Myth

At last, after a long silence, women took to the streets. In the two decades of radical action that followed the rebirth of feminism in the early 1970s, Western women gained legal and reproductive rights, pursued higher education, entered the trades and the professions, and overturned ancient and revered beliefs about their social role. A generation on, do women feel free?

The affluent, educated, liberated women of the First World, who can enjoy freedoms unavailable to any women ever before, do not feel as free as they want to. And they can no longer restrict to the subconscious their sense that this lack of freedom has something to do with—with apparently frivolous issues, things that really should not matter. Many are ashamed to admit that such trivial concerns—to do with physical appearance, bodies, faces, hair, clothes—matter so much. But in spite of shame, guilt, and denial, more and more women are wondering if it isn’t that they are entirely neurotic and alone but rather that something important is indeed at stake that has to do with the relationship between female liberation and female beauty.

The more legal and material hindrances women have broken through, the more strictly and heavily and cruelly images of female beauty have come to weigh upon us. Many women sense that women’s collective progress has stalled; compared with the heady momentum of earlier days, there is a dispiriting climate of confusion, division, cynicism, and above all, exhaustion. After years of much struggle and little recognition, many older women feel burned out; after years of taking its light for granted, many younger women show little interest in touching new fire to the torch.

During the past decade, women breached the power structure; meanwhile, eating disorders rose exponentially and cosmetic surgery became the fastest-growing medical specialty. During the past five years, consumer spending doubled, pornography became the main media category, ahead of legitimate films and records combined, and thirty-three thousand American women told researchers that they would rather lose ten to fifteen pounds than achieve any other goal. More women have more money and power and scope and legal recognition than we have ever had before; but in terms of how we feel about ourselves physically, we may actually be worse off than our unliberated grandmothers. Recent research consistently shows that inside the majority of the West’s controlled, attractive, successful working women, there is a secret “underlife” poisoning our freedom; infused with notions of beauty, it is a dark vein of self-hatred, physical obsessions, terror of aging, and dread of lost control.

It is no accident that so many potentially powerful women feel this way. We are in the midst of a violent backlash against feminism that uses images of female beauty as a political weapon against women’s advancement: the beauty myth. It is the modern version of a social reflex that has been in force since the Industrial Revolution. As women released themselves from the feminine mystique of domesticity, the beauty myth took over its lost ground, expanding as it wanted to carry on its work of social control.

The contemporary backlash is so violent because the ideology of beauty is the last one remaining of the old feminine ideologies that still has the power to control those women whom second wave feminism would have otherwise made relatively uncontrollable: It has grown stronger to take over the work of social coercion that myths about motherhood, domesticity, chastity, and passivity, no longer can manage. It is seeking right now to undo psychologically and covertly all the good things that feminism did for women materially and overtly.

This counterforce is operating to checkmate the inheritance of feminism on every level in the lives of Western women. Feminism gave us laws against job discrimination based on gender; immediately case law evolved in Britain and the United States that institutionalized job discrimination based on women’s appearances. Patriarchal religion declined; new religious dogma, using some of the mind-altering techniques of older cults and sects, arose around age and weight to functionally supplant traditional ritual. Feminists, inspired by Friedan, broke the stranglehold on the women’s popular press of advertisers for household products, who were promoting the feminine mystique; at once, the diet and skin care industries became the new cultural censors of women’s intellectual space, and because of their pressure, the gaunt, youthful model supplanted the happy housewife as the arbiter of successful womanhood. The sexual revolution promoted the discovery of female sexuality; “beauty pornography,” which for the first time in women’s history artificially links a commodified “beauty” directly and explicitly to sexuality—invaded the mainstream to undermine women’s new and vulnerable sense of sexual self-worth. Reproductive rights gave Western women control over our own bodies; the weight of fashion models plummeted to 23 percent below that of ordinary women, eating disorders rose exponentially, and a mass neurosis was promoted that used food and weight to strip women of that sense of control. Women insisted on politicizing health; new technologies of invasive, potentially deadly “cosmetic” surgeries developed space to re-exert old forms of medical control of women.

Every generation since about 1830 has had to fight its version of the beauty myth. “It is very little to me,” said the suffragist Lucy Stone in 1855, “to have the right to vote, to own property, etcetera, if I may not keep my body, and its uses, in my absolute right.” Eighty years later, after women had won the vote, and the first wave of the organized women’s movement had subsided, Virginia Woolf wrote that it would still be decades before women could tell the truth about their bodies. In 1962, Betty Friedan quoted a young women trapped in the Feminine Mystique: “Lately, I look in the mirror, and I’m so afraid I’m going to look like my mother.” Eight years after that, heralding the cataclysmic second wave of feminism, Germaine Greer described “the Stereotype”: “To her belongs all that is beautiful, even the very word beauty itself . . . she is a doll . . . I’m sick of the masquerade.” In spite of the great revolution of the second wave, we are not exempt. Now we can look out over ruined barricades: A revolution has come upon us and changed everything in its path, enough time has passed since then for babies to have grown into women, but there still remains a final right not fully claimed.

The beauty myth tells a story: The quality called “beauty” objectively and universally exists. Women must want to embody it and men must want to possess women who embody it. This embodiment is an imperative for women and not for men, which situation is necessary and natural because it is biological, sexual, and evolutionary: Strong men battle for beautiful women, and beautiful women are more reproductively successful. Women’s beauty must correlate to their fertility, and since this system is based on sexual selection, it is inevitable and changeless.

None of this is true. “Beauty” is a currency system like the gold standard. Like any economy, it is determined by politics, and in the modern age in the West it is the last, best belief system that keeps male dominance intact. In assigning value to women in a vertical hierarchy according to a culturally imposed physical standard, it is an expression of power relations in which women must unnaturally compete for resources that men have appropriated for themselves.

”Beauty” is not universal or changeless, though the West pretends that all ideals of female beauty stem from one Platonic Ideal Woman; the Maori admire a fat vulva, and the Padung, droopy breasts. Nor is “beauty” a function of evolution: Its ideals change at a pace far more rapid than that of the evolution of species, and Charles Darwin was himself unconvinced by his own explanation that “beauty” resulted from a “sexual selection” that deviated from the role of natural selection; for women to compete with women through “beauty” is a reversal of the way in which natural selection affects all other mammals. Anthropology has overturned the notion that females must be “beautiful” to be selected to mate: Evelyn Reed, Elaine Morgan, and others have dismissed sociobiological assertions on innate male polygamy and female monogamy. Female higher primates are the sexual initiators; not only do they seek out and enjoy sex with many partners, but “every nonpregnant female takes her turn at being the most desirable of all her troop. And that cycle keeps turning as long as she lives.” The inflamed pink sexual organs of primates are often cited by male sociobiologists as analogous to human arrangements relating to female “beauty,” when in fact that is a universal, nonhierarchical female primate characteristic.

Nor has the beauty myth always been this way. Though the pairing of the older rich men with young, “beautiful” women is taken to be somehow inevitable, in the matriarchal Goddess religions that dominated the Mediterranean from about 25,000 B.C.E. to about 700 B.C.E., the situation was reversed: “In every culture, the Goddess has many lovers . . . The clear pattern is of an older woman with a beautiful but expandable youth— Ishtar and Tammuz, Venus and Adonis, Cybele and Attis, Isis and Osiris . . . Their only function the service of the divine ‘womb.‘” Nor is it something only women do and only men watch: Among the Nigerian Wodaabes, the women hold economic power and the tribe is obsessed with male beauty; Wodaabe men spend hours together in elaborate makeup sessions, and compete—provocatively painted and dressed, with swaying hips and seductive expressions—in beauty contests judged by women. There is no legitimate historical or biological justification for the beauty myth; what it is doing to women today is a result of nothing more exalted than the need of today’s power structure, economy, and culture to mount a counteroffensive against women.

If the beauty myth is not based on evolution, sex, gender, aesthetics, or God, on what is it based? It claims to be about intimacy and sex and life, a celebration of women. It is actually composed of emotional distance, politics, finance, and sexual repression. The beauty myth is not about women at all. It is about men’s institutions and institutional power.

The qualities that a given period calls beautiful in women are merely symbols of the female behavior that that period considers desirable: The beauty myth is always actually prescribing behavior and not appearance. Competition between women has been made Part of the myth so that women will be divided from one another. Youth and (until recently) virginity have been “beautiful” in women since they stand for experiential and sexual ignorance. Aging in women is “unbeautiful” since women grow more powerful with time, and since the links between generations of women must always be newly broken: Older women fear young ones, young women fear old, and the beauty myth truncates for all the female life span. Most urgently, women’s identity must be premised upon our “beauty” so that we will remain vulnerable to outside approval, carrying the vital sensitive organ of self-esteem exposed to the air.

Though there has, of course, been a beauty myth in some form for as long as there has been patriarchy, the beauty myth in its modern form is a fairly recent invention. The myth flourishes when material constraints on women are dangerously loosened. Before the Industrial Revolution, the average woman could not have had the same feelings about “beauty” that modern women do who experience the myth as continual comparison to a mass disseminated physical ideal. Before the development of technologies of mass production—daguerreotypes, photographs, etc.—an ordinary woman was exposed to few such images outside the Church. Since the family was a productive unit and women’s work complemented men’s, the value of women who were not aristocrats or prostitutes lay in their work skills, economic shrewdness, physical strength, and fertility. Physical attraction, obviously, played its part; but “beauty” as we understand it was not, for ordinary women, a serious issue in the marriage marketplace. The beauty myth in its modern form gained ground after the upheavals of industrialization, as the work unit of the family was destroyed, and urbanization and the emerging factory system demanded what social engineers of the time termed the “separate sphere” of domesticity, which supported the new labor category of the “breadwinner” who left home for the workplace during the day. The middle class expanded, the standards of living and literacy rose, the size of families shrank; a new class of literature, idle women developed, on whose submission to enforced domesticity the evolving system of industrial capitalism depended. Most of our assumptions about the way women have always thought about “beauty” date from no earlier than the 1830s, when the cult of domesticity was first consolidated and the beauty index invented.

For the first time new technologies could reproduce—in fashion plates, daguerreotypes, tintypes, and rotogravures—images of how women should look. In the 1840s the first nude photographs of prostitutes were taken; advertisements using images of “beautiful” women first appeared in mid-century. Copies of classical artworks, postcards of society beauties and royal mistresses, Currier and Ives prints, and porcelain figurines flooded the separate sphere to which middleclass women were confined.

Since the Industrial Revolution, middleclass Western women have been controlled by ideals and stereotypes as much as by material constraints. This situation, unique to this group, means that analyses that trace “cultural conspiracies” are uniquely plausible in relation to them. The rise of the beauty myth was just one of several emerging social fictions that masqueraded as natural components of the feminine sphere, the better to enclose those women inside it. Other such fictions arose contemporaneously: a version of childhood that required continual material supervision; a concept of female biology that required middle-class women to act out the roles of hysterics and hypochondriacs; a conviction that respectable women were sexually anesthetic; and a definition of women’s work that occupied them with repetitive, time-consuming, and painstaking tasks such as needlepoint and lacemaking. All such Victorian inventions as these served a double function—that is, though they were encouraged as a means to expend female energy and intelligence in harmless ways, women often used them to express genuine creativity and passion.

But in spite of middle-class women’s creativity with fashion and embroidery and child rearing, and, a century later, with the role of the suburban housewife that devolved from these social fictions, the fictions’ main purpose was served: During a century and a half of unprecedented feminist agitation, they effectively counteracted middle-class women’s dangerous new leisure, literacy, and relative freedom from material constraints.

Though these timeand mind-consuming fictions about women’s natural role adapted themselves to resurface in the postwar Feminine Mystique, when the second wave of the women’s movement took a Part what women’s magazines had portrayed as the “romance,” “science,” and “adventure” of homemaking and suburban family life, they temporarily failed. The cloying domestic fiction of “togetherness” lost its meaning and middle-class women walked out of their front doors in masses.

So the fictions simply transformed themselves once more: Since the women’s movement had successfully taken a Part most other necessary fictions of femininity, all the work of social control once spread out over the whole network of these fictions had to be reassigned to the only strand left intact, which action consequently strengthened it a hundredfold. This reimposed onto liberated women’s faces and bodies all the limitations, taboos, and punishments of the repressive laws, religious injunctions, and reproductive enslavement that no longer carried sufficient force. Inexhaustible but ephemeral beauty work took over from inexhaustible but ephemeral housework. As the economy, law, religion, sexual mores, education, and culture were forcibly opened up to include women more fairly, a private reality colonized female consciousness. By using ideas about “beauty,” it reconstructed an alternative female world with its own laws, economy, religion, sexuality, education, and culture, each element as repressive as any that had gone before.

Since middle-class Western women can best be weakened psychologically now that we are stronger materially, the beauty myth, as it has resurfaced in the last generation, has had to draw on more technological sophistication and reactionary fervor than ever before. The modern arsenal of the myth is a dissemination of millions of images of the current ideal; although this barrage is generally seen as a collective sexual fantasy, there is in fact little that is sexual about it. It is summoned out of political fear on the Part of male-dominated institutions threatened by women’s freedom, and it exploits female guilt and apprehension about our own liberation—latent fears that we might be going too far. This frantic aggregation of imagery is a collective reactionary hallucination willed into being by both men and women stunned and disoriented by the rapidity with which gender relations have been transformed: a bulwark of reassurance against the blood of change. The mass depiction of the modern woman as a “beauty” is a contradiction: Where modern women are growing, moving, and expressing their individuality, as the myth has it, “beauty” is by definition inert, timeless, and generic. That this hallucination is necessary and deliberate is evident in the way “beauty” so directly contradicts women’s real situation.

And the unconscious hallucination grows ever more influential and pervasive because of what is now conscious market manipulation: powerful industries—the $33-billiona-year diet industry, the $20-billion cosmetics industry, the $300-million cosmetic surgery industry, and the $7-billion pornography industry—have arisen from the capital made out of unconscious anxieties, and are in turn able, through their influence on mass culture, to use, stimulate, and reinforce the hallucination in a rising economic spiral.

This is not a conspiracy theory; it doesn’t have to be. Societies tell themselves necessary fictions in the same way that individuals and families do. Henrik Ibsen called them “vital lies,” and psychologist Daniel Goleman describes them working the same way on the social level that they do within families: “The collusion is maintained by directing attention away from the fearsome fact, or by repackaging its meaning in an acceptable format.” The costs of these social blind spots, he writes, are destructive communal illusions. Possibilities for women have become so open-ended that they threaten to destabilize the institutions on which a male-dominated culture has depended, and a collective panic reaction on the Part of both sexes has forced a demand for counterimages.

The resulting hallucination materializes, for women, as something all too real. No longer just an idea, it becomes three-dimensional, incorporating within itself how women live and how they do not live: It becomes the Iron Maiden. The original Iron Maiden was a medieval German instrument of torture, a body-shaped casket painted with the limbs and features of a lovely smiling young woman. The unlucky victim was slowly enclosed inside her; the lid fell shut to immobilize the victim, who died either of starvation or, less cruelly, of the metal spikes embedded in her interior. The modern hallucination in which women are trapped or trap themselves is similarly rigid, cruel, and euphemistically painted. Contemporary culture directs attention to imagery of the Iron Maiden, while censoring real women’s faces and bodies.

Why does the social order feel the need to defend itself by evading the fact of real women, our faces and voices and bodies, and reducing the meaning of women to these formulaic and endlessly reproduced “beautiful” images? Though unconscious personal anxieties can be a powerful force in the creation of a vital lie, economic necessity practically guarantees it. An economy that depends on slavery needs to promote images of slaves that “justify” the institution of slavery. Western economies are absolutely dependent now on the continued underpayment of women. An ideology that makes women feel “worth less” was urgently needed to counteract the way feminism had begun to make us feel worth more. This does not require a conspiracy; merely an atmosphere. The contemporary economy depends right now on the representation of women within the beauty myth. Economist John Kenneth Galbraith offers an economic explanation for “the persistence of the view of homemaking as a ‘higher-calling’”: the concept of women as naturally trapped within the Feminine Mystique, he feels, “has been forced on us by popular sociology, by magazines, and by fiction to disguise the fact that woman in her role of consumer has been essential to the development of our industrial society.................................................

Behavior that is essential for economic reasons is transformed into a social virtue.” As soon as a woman’s primary social value could no longer be defined as the attainment of virtuous domesticity, the beauty myth redefined it as the attainment of virtuous beauty. It did so to substitute both a new consumer imperative and a new justification for economic unfairness in the workplace where the old ones had lost their hold over newly liberated women.

Another hallucination arose to accompany that of the Iron Maiden: The caricature of the Ugly Feminist was resurrected to dog the steps of the women’s movement. The caricature is unoriginal; it was coined to ridicule the feminists of the nineteenth century. Lucy Stone herself, whom supporters saw as “a prototype of womanly grace . . . fresh and fair as the morning,” was derided by detractors with “the usual report” about Victorian feminists: “a big masculine woman, wearing boots, smoking a cigar, swearing like a trooper.” As Betty Friedan put it presciently in 1960, even before the savage revamping of that old caricature: “The unpleasant image of feminists today resembles less the feminists themselves than the image fostered by the interests who so bitterly opposed the vote for women in state after state.” Thirty years on, her conclusion is more true than ever: That resurrected caricature, which sought to punish women for their public acts by going after their private sense of self, became the paradigm for new limits placed on aspiring women everywhere. After the success of the women’s movement’s second wave, the beauty myth was perfected to checkmate power at every level in individual women’s lives. The modern neuroses of life in the female body spread to woman after woman at epidemic rates. The myth is undermining— slowly, imperceptibly, without our being aware of the real forces of erosion—the ground women have gained through long, hard, honorable struggle.

The beauty myth of the present is more insidious than any mystique of femininity yet: A century ago, Nora slammed the door of the doll’s house; a generation ago, women turned their backs on the consumer heaven of the isolated multiapplianced home; but where women are trapped today, there is no door to slam. The contemporary ravages of the beauty backlash are destroying women physically and depleting us psychologically. If we are to free ourselves from the dead weight that has once again been made out of femaleness, it is not ballots or lobbyists or placards that women will need first; it is a new way to see.

The Backlash Myth

By Christina Hoff Sommers

From Who Stole Feminism?

Simon and Schuster, 1994. Original footnotes have been deleted in this reading.

When regard for truth has been broken down or even slightly weaned, all things will remain doubtful.—ST. AUGUSTINE

A couple of years ago, American publishing was enlivened by the release of Susan Faludi’s Backlash and Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth, two impassioned feminist creeds uncovering and denouncing the schemes that have prevented women from enjoying the fruits of the women’s movement. For our purposes, what these books have in common is more interesting and important than what distinguishes them. Both reported a widespread conspiracy against women. In both, the putative conspiracy has the same goal: to prevent today’s women from making use of their hard-won freedoms—to punish them, in other words, for liberating themselves. As Ms. Wolf informs us: “After the success of the women’s movement’s second wave, the beauty myth was perfected to checkmate power at every level in individual women’s lives.”

Conspiracy theories are always popular, but in this case the authors, writing primarily for middle-class readers, faced a tricky problem. No reasonable person in this day and age could be expected to believe that somewhere in America a group of male “elders” has sat down to plot ways to perpetuate the subjugation of women. How, then, could they persuade anyone of the existence of a widespread effort to control women for the good of men?

The solution that they hit upon made it possible for them to have their conspiracy while disavowing it. Faludi and Wolf argued that the conspiracy against women is being carried out by malevolent but invisible backlash forces or beauty-myth forces that act in purposeful ways. The forces in question are subtle, powerful, and insidiously efficient, and women are largely unconscious of them. What is more, the primary enforcers of the conspiracy are not a group of sequestered males plotting and planning their next backlash maneuvers: it is women themselves who “internalize” the aims of the backlash, who, unwittingly, do its bidding. In other words, the backlash is Us. Or, as Wolf puts it, “many women internalize Big Brother’s eye.”

Faludi’s scope is wider than Wolf’s; she argues that the media and the political system have been co-opted by the backlash, as well:

The backlash is not a conspiracy, with a council dispatching agents from some central control room, nor are the people who serve its ends often aware of their role; some even consider themselves feminists. For the most part, its workings are encoded and internalized, diffuse and chameleonic . . . generated by a culture machine that is always scrounging for a “fresh” angle. Taken as a whole, however, these codes and cajolings, these whispers and threats and myths, move overwhelmingly in one direction: they try to push women back into their “acceptable” roles.

Wolf focuses more narrowly on the “beauty backlash,” which pressures women to diet, dress up, make up, and work out in ways that are “destroying women physically and depleting us psychologically”. “The beauty backlash against feminism is no conspiracy, but a million separate individual reflexes . . . that coalesce into a national mood weighing women down; the backlash is all the more oppressive because the source of the suffocation is so diffuse as to be almost invisible.”

Having thus skirted a claim of outright conspiracy, Faludi and Wolf nevertheless freely use the language of subterfuge to arouse anger and bitterness. In their systems, the backlash and the beauty myth become malevolent personified forces behind plot after plot against women.

They incite unscrupulous stooges in the media to write articles that make “single and childless women feel like circus freaks.” Cosmetics saleswomen are backlash agents, “trained,” Wolf says, “with techniques akin to those used by professional cult converters and hypnotists.” She calls Weight Watchers a “cult” and compares its disciplines to those of the Unification Church, Scientology, est, and Lifespring. In aerobics classes, “robotic” women do the “same bouncing dance . . . practiced by the Hare Krishnas for the same effect.”

What the backlash “wants” is clear to both Faludi and Wolf. By the seventies, women had been granted a great deal of equality. The primary aim of the backlash is to retake lost ground, to put women to rout. The subtitle of Faludi’s book is The Undeclared War Against American Women. Backlash itself may be regarded as a feminist counterattack in this supposed war. As Patricia Schroeder noted in a review of the book, women are not “riled up enough,” and Faludi “may be able to do what political activists have tried to do for years.” Indeed, she and Wolf together succeeded in moving countless women to anger and dismay.

Where did Faludi and Wolf get the idea that masses of seemingly free women were being mysteriously manipulated from within? A look at their source of inspiration illustrates the workings of a law of intellectual fashion that the journalist Paul Berman calls “Parisian determinism”—that is, whatever is the rage in Paris will be fashionable in America fifteen years later.

Michel Foucault, a professor of philosophy at the distinguished College de France and an irreverent social thinker who felt deeply alienated from the society in which he lives, introduced his theory of interior disciplines in 1975. His book Discipline and Punish, with its novel explanation of how large groups of people could be controlled without the need of exterior controllers, took intellectual Paris by storm. Foucault had little love for the modern democratic state. Like Marx, he was interested in the forces that keep citizens of democracies law-abiding and obedient.

According to Foucault, the individual subjects of contemporary democracies are not free at all. Instead, democratic societies turn out to be even more rigidly authoritarian than the tyrannies they replaced. Modern citizens find themselves subject to the rules (he calls them “disciplines” of modern bureaucratic institutions: schools, factories, hospitals, the military, the prisons. In premodern societies, where power was overtly authoritarian, enforcement was inconsistent, haphazard, and inefficient, the king’s minions could not be everywhere all the time. In contemporary societies, control is pervasive and unceasing: the modern citizen, having internalized the disciplines of the institutions, polices himself. This results in a “disciplinary society” of “docile” subjects who keep themselves in line with what is expected. According to the philosopher Richard Rorty, Foucault believed he was exposing “a vast organization of repression and injustice.” He regarded the multitude of selfdisciplined individuals as constituting a “microfascism” that is even more efficiently constraining than the macrofascism of totalitarian states.

How seriously can one take Foucault’s theory? Not very, says Princeton political philosopher Michael Walzer, who characterizes Foucault’s politics as “infantile leftism.” Foucault was aware that he was equating modern democracies with repressively brutal systems like the Soviet prison camps in the Gulag. In a 1977 interview, he showed some concern about how his ideas might be interpreted: “I am indeed worried by a certain use . . . which consists in saying, ‘Everyone has their own Gulag, the Gulag is here at our door, in our cities, our hospitals, our prisons, it’s here in our heads.’” But, as Walzer points out, so long as Foucault rejected the possibility of individual freedom, which is the moral basis for liberal democracy, it was unclear how he could sustain the distinction between the real Gulag and the one inside the heads of bourgeois citizens.

Foucault’s theory has few adherents among social philosophers, but it is nonetheless highly popular among gender feminist theorists, who find his critique of liberal democracy useful for their purposes. Foucault has given them an all-purpose weapon to be used against traditional-minded feminists.

Equity feminists believe that American women have made great progress and that our system of government allows them to expect more. They do not believe that women are “socially subordinate.” By contrast, the gender feminists believe that modern women are still in thrall to patriarchy, and Foucault helps them to make their case. When equity feminists point to the gains made by women in recent decades, gender feminists consider them naive. Applying Foucalt, they insist that male power remains all-pervasive, only now it has become “interiorized” and therefore even more efficient; force is no longer necessary. In effect, they have adopted Foucault’s “discourses” to argue that “femininity” itself is really a discipline that continues to degrade and oppress women, even those in the socalled free democracies. As Sandra Lee Bartky puts it:

No one is marched off for electrolysis at the end of a rifle . . . Nevertheless . . . the disciplinary practices of femininity . . . must be understood as aspects of a far larger discipline, an oppressive and inegalitarian system of sexual subordination. This system aims at turning women into the docile and compliant companions of men just as surely as the army aims to turn its raw recruits into soldiers.

For Bartky, contemporary American women live in a kind of sexual prison, subject to disciplines that ordain much of their daily lives:

The woman who checks her make-up half a dozen times a day to see if her foundation has caked or her mascara run, who worries that the wind or rain may spoil her hairdo, who looks frequently to see if her stockings have bagged at the ankle, or who, feeling fat, monitors everything she eats, has become, just as surely as the inmate [under constant surveillance], a self-policing subject, a self committed to a relentless self-surveillance. This self-surveillance is a form of obedience to patriarchy [my emphasis].

Catharine MacKinnon presents her own sexier version of how contemporary women have “interiorized” a self-destructive, selfsustaining, despairing, craven identity that serves men very well and continues to humiliate women:

Sexual desire in women, at least in this culture, is socially constructed as that by which we come to want our own selfannihilation; that is, our subordination is eroticized, . . . we get off on it, to a degree. This is our stake in this system that is not in our interest, our stake in this system that is killing us. I’m saying that femininity as we know it is how we come to want male dominance, which most emphatically is not in our interest.

MacKinnon rejects “femininity as we know it” because it has come to mean accepting and even desiring male domination. Her militant, gynocentric feminism would teach women to see how deeply, craftily, and deceptively the male culture has socialized them to compliance: “Male dominance is perhaps the most pervasive and tenacious system of power in history Its force is exercised as

consent, its authority as participation.”

It would be a mistake to think that the idea of a tenacious internalized power that is keeping women subjugated is on the fringe of the New Feminism and not at its center. To most feminist leaders, the backlash is very real. It was the theme of a 1992 conference I attended at Radcliffe College called “In the Eye of the Storm: Feminist Research and Action in the 90’s.” One of the purposes of the conference was to “explore the backlash—against the women’s movement, against women’s research, women’s studies . . . and against public policy equity agendas.” The conference was sponsored by the prestigious National Council for Research on Women—an umbrella organization that represents more than seventy women’s groups, including the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women and the American Association of University Women. Expenses were covered by the Ford Foundation. Though the conference featured extremists like Charlotte Bunch (who referred to Dan Quayle as a Klansman), it also had Nannerl Keohane, now president of Duke University, who seemed not to be disturbed by all the backlash rhetoric.

The assumption that women must defend themselves against an enemy who is waging an undeclared war against them has by now achieved the status of conventional feminist wisdom. In large part, this has happened because seemingly reasonable and highly placed feminists like Ms. Keohane have not seen fit to challenge it. Whether they have been silent because they agree or because they have found it politic to refrain from criticism, I do not know.

Foucault promulgated his doctrine of self-surveillance in the midseventies. By the mideighties, it had turned up in the books of feminist theorists; by the nineties, it had become thematic in feminist best-sellers. Wolf mentions Foucault in her bibliography. Faludi offers him no acknowledgment, but the characterization of the backlash bespeaks his influence:

The lack of orchestration, the absence of a single string-puller, only makes it harder to see—and perhaps more effective. A backlash against women’s rights succeeds to the degree that it appears not to be political, that it appears not to be a struggle at all. It is most powerful when it goes private, when it lodges inside a woman’s mind and turns her vision inward, until she imagines the pressure is all in her head, until she begins to enforce the backlash too—on herself.

Wolf and Faludi tend to portray the “disciplined” and docile women in the grip of the backlash as Stepford wives—helpless, possessed, and robotic. Wolf sometimes speaks of women as victims of “mass hypnosis.” “This is not a conspiracy theory,” she reminds us. “It doesn’t have to be.” Faludi explains how the backlash managed to “infiltrate the thoughts of women, broadcasting on these private channels its soundwaves of shame and reproach.”

In addition to Foucauldian theory, Faludi and Wolf have appropriated masses of statistics and studies that “consistently show” the workings of the backlash and the beauty myth and their effects on American women. But although their books are massively footnoted, reliable statistical evidence for the backlash hypothesis is in terribly short supply. According to Wolf, “Recent research consistently shows that inside the majority of the West’s controlled, attractive, successful working women, there is a secret ‘underlife‘ poisoning our freedom; infused with notions of beauty, it is a dark vein of self-hatred, physical obsessions, terror of aging, and dread of lost control.” The research she cites was done in 1983 at Old Dominion University. She claims that the researchers found that attractive women “compare themselves only to models, not to other women,” and feel unattractive. This kind of claim is central to Wolf’s contention that images of beautiful, willowy women in fashion magazines demoralize real women. In fact, the study she cited suggested the opposite. The Old Dominion researchers compared the self-reports of three groups of college-age women: one group evaluated themselves after looking at photos of fashion models, another group after looking at pictures of unattractive peers, and a third group after looking at pictures of very attractive peers. The researchers were careful not to exaggerate the significance of this small experiment, but they (tentatively) concluded that although reactions to attractive peers negatively influenced women’s self-evaluation, exposure to the models had no such effect:

Perhaps in the eyes of most of our subjects, peer beauty qualified as a more appropriate standard for social comparison than professional beauty................................................. Viewed in a

practical sense, our results further suggest that thumbing through popular magazines filled with beautiful models may have little immediate effect on the self-images of most women.

I called the principal author of the study, Thomas Cash, a psychologist at Old Dominion, and asked him what he thought about Ms. Wolf’s use of his research. “It had nothing to do with what we found. It made no sense. What I reported was just the opposite of what Wolf claimed She grabbed it, ran

with it, and got it backward.” We have already discussed her sensational disclosure that the beauty backlash is wreaking havoc with young women by leading them into a lethal epidemic of anorexia with annual fatalities of 150,000. The actual fatalities may be as low as 100 per year.

Much of the support Wolf brings for her beauty-myth theory consists of merely labeling an activity insidious rather than showing it to be so—exercising, dieting, and buying Lancome products at the cosmetics counter in Bloomingdale’s all come under attack. Characterizing Weight Watchers as a cult does not constitute evidence that it is one. In her zeal to construe every effort of American women to lose weight as a symptom of a male-induced anxiety, she overlooks the fact that many people—men as well as women—suffer from obesity and are threatened by diseases that do not affect people who are fit. Stressing the importance of diet and fitness can hardly be considered as an insidious attempt by the male establishment to disempower women. The desire to achieve greater fitness is perhaps the main motive inspiring both men and women to exercise and to monitor their diets.

Wolf recycled results from every alarmist-advocacy study she could get her hands on. Mary Koss’s results on date rape are duly reported: “One in four women respondents had an experience that met the American legal definition of rape or attempted rape.” She does not mention that Koss’s definition of rape was controversial. She does not tell us that almost half the women Koss classified as victims dated their “rapists” again. Wolf does sometimes point to real problems, such as the overwhelming fear of being “unfeminine,” the excessive rate of cosmetic surgery, and the high incidence of domestic violence. But she errs in systematically ascribing them to the same misogynist cause. Good social theorists are painfully aware of the complexity of the phenomena they seek to explain, and honest researchers tend to be suspicious of single-factor explanations, no matter how beguiling.

Part 2: Attaining an Open Mind:Critical Thinking and

Argumentative Rhetoric

Taylor & Francis

Taylor & Francis Croup



Chapter 5. Viewpoint, Bias, and Fairness: From Cocksure Ignorance to Thoughtful Uncertainty

Education is the process of moving from cocksure ignorance to thoughtful uncertainty.


The trouble ain’t that people are ignorant; it’s that they “know” so much that ain’t so.

—Josh Billings (nineteenth-century American humorist)

Chapter 1made a case that “[a]ny writer or reader addressing controversial issues will almost inevitably have a subjective, partisan viewpoint (that is, a viewpoint siding with a particular party or ideology) Our aims should simply be to learn to identify and understand what the viewpoint of any given source is, so that we can weigh its rhetorical quality against opposing viewpoints.” Is every viewpoint, then, a “biased” one? Yes and no. The word bias is an ambiguous one; it is usually, but not necessarily, used with a negative connotation. Bias can simply mean a particular subjective viewpoint, which is to say, once again, that all of us inevitably have our own biases resulting from the ethnocentric limitations of our experience and temperament, as much as we may try to attain objectivity.

This notion of bias derives from the long philosophical tradition of skepticism. The American Heritage Dictionary defines skepticism as “the philosophical doctrine that absolute knowledge is impossible and that inquiry must be a process of doubting in order to acquire 125 approximate or relative certainty.” Skepticism does not necessarily deny that there are objective, external truths but asserts that these truths are often too obscure or complex for any one human being to know with absolute certainty, so that our perceptions of objective reality are inevitably biased to a large extent by our subjective viewpoint. Primary certitude is a psychological term for the mind set of people who are fixed in absolute beliefs so dogmatically, without recognizing their own bias, that they cannot bear to have their beliefs questioned or doubted. Much of the rest of this book develops possible ways to overcome primary certitude and the multiple forces in all of our lives that block objectivity.

A key paradox discovered in the course of higher education (or of wide reading and personal experience) is that the more you study subjects of controversy, the less certain you are apt to become that you know the truth about them. A large Part of higher education consists of finding out how much you don’t know that you previously thought you did, or of “moving from cocksure ignorance to thoughtful uncertainty.” The reason for this is that you are constantly seeing more complexities and complications, more differing viewpoints on any given issue. People with less education are likely to be exposed to a narrower range of information and viewpoints, so it is easier for them to feel sure they know the truth and remain fixed in primary certitude. (To be sure, highly educated people can lurch to the equal and opposite extreme in being limited to intellectual sources to the exclusion of the realms of hard experience and experiential common sense in which the less educated may be more sophisticated.)

A classic site of skepticism is Plato’s dialogues about his teacher Socrates, particularly “The Apology,” written in Greece in the fourth century BC. Explaining at his trial the reasons he has antagonized the citizens of Athens to the point of their sentencing him to death, Socrates says that the oracle of Delphi once declared that there is no one wiser than Socrates. Socrates muses:

From The Apology


Translated by B. Jowett, Clarendon Press, 1875

I am going to explain to you why I have such an evil name. When I heard the answer, I said to myself, What can the god mean? and what is the interpretation of his riddle? for I know that I have no wisdom, small or great. What then can he mean when he says that I am the wisest of men? And yet he is a god, and cannot lie; that would be against his nature. After long consideration, I at last thought of a method of trying the question. I reflected that if I could only find a man wiser than myself, then I might go to the god with a refutation in my hand. I should say to him, ‘Here is a man who is wiser than I am; but you said that I was the wisest.‘ Accordingly I went to one who had the reputation of wisdom, and observed him—his name I need not mention; he was a politician whom I selected for examination—and the result was as follows: When I began to talk with him, I could not help thinking that he was not really wise, although he was thought wise by many, and wiser still by himself; and thereupon I tried to explain to him that he thought himself wise, but was not really wise; and the consequence was that he hated me, and his enmity was shared by several who were present and heard me. So I left him, saying to myself, as I went away: Well, although I do not suppose that either of us knows anything really beautiful and good, I am better off than he is,—for he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows; I neither know nor think that I know. In this latter particular, then, I seem to have slightly the advantage of him. (353)

Albert Camus, a twentieth-century exponent of skepticism, writes about this passage in Plato, “Socrates, threatened by the death penalty, granted himself no superiority other than this: he did not presume to know what he did not know. The most exemplary life and thought of these centuries ends with a proud acknowledgment of ignorance” (Lyrical and Critical Essays 149-50). To be sure, neither Plato, Socrates, nor Camus was a total skeptic; on the contrary, the philosophy of “Platonic idealism” is based on the belief that there is a transcendent world of true, logical ideas that can be approximated through painstaking philosophical inquiry, although most humans live in a world of distorted shadows of those ideas and deceive themselves into mistaking the shadows for the reality, as Plato dramatizes in his allegory of the cave in <em>The Republic.</em> Socrates’ skepticism, then, is directed at those who are locked into primary certitude by their faulty perception of truth. Again, the aim of skepticism is not to cynically belittle all beliefs and values but to rationally distinguish those that are legitimate from those that are false. Elsewhere in “The Apology,” Socrates says, “I tell you that no greater good can happen to a man than to discuss human excellence every day and the other matters about which you have heard me arguing and examining myself and others, and that an unexamined life is not worth living” (371). Likewise, an unexamined idea is not worth holding on to.

A contemporary echo of this passage from Plato can be heard in a June 27, 2004, Los Angeles Times op-ed column by conservative political scientist Francis Fukuyama. Criticizing the Department of Defense’s inadequate understanding of the problems that would face American forces in Iraq after their overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, Fukuyama writes, “The Pentagon, we learned only later, didn’t have the capacity to organize things and didn’t know what it didn’t know.”

Relativism and Commitment

The issues discussed here have been a center of controversy in the American “culture wars” in the past few decades, dividing liberals and conservatives. Conservatives like William J. Bennett and Lynne V. Cheney (respectively secretary of education in the administration of Ronald Reagan and chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities in the administrations of Reagan and George H. W. Bush) have attacked liberal academics for allegedly substituting “moral relativism” for any belief in objective truth or universal values. (Remember Bennett’s op-ed “A Preview Case: September 11, 2001” in Chapter 1.) In her 1995 book Telling the Truth: Why Our Culture and Our Country Have Stopped Making Sense—and What We Can Do about It, Cheney writes:

In the view of a growing number of academics, the truth was not merely irrelevant, it no longer existed. They had moved far beyond the ideas that have shaped modern scholarship— that we should think of the truth we hold today as tentative and partial, recognizing that it may require rethinking tomorrow in light of new information and insight—to the view that there is no truth. They had leaped beyond the commonsense observation that people’s descriptions of reality differ to the conclusion that there is no independent reality and thus no basis for making judgments about truth—or falsity (15-16)

Whether Cheney’s account of what this “growing number of academics” believe is accurate or is a straw man misrepresentation is disputable and beyond our concerns here. The particular viewpoint that I am presenting is not the extreme position she criticizes but is closer to what she accepts as “the ideas that have shaped modern scholarship” and “commonsense,” as well as the ideas associated with skepticism throughout the history of Western humanistic education. (Cheney defends this history against what she sees as its rejection by advocates of multicultural canon revision, but to my mind this is a false dilemma, since the two are not mutually exclusive, as shown throughout this book in the emphasis on continuity between classics of the past and multicultural contemporary views.) To reiterate, I agree with Cheney that objectivity is a worthy goal to strive for, though we can rarely attain it completely. Paradoxically, becoming aware of our subjective viewpoint and biases is an essential step toward objectivity. (It is necessary to clarify one’s position on such loaded issues beyond any possible misunderstanding, because in culture-war polemics, it is common for those on one side to distort the ideas of their opponents to imply guilt by association with extreme positions, particularly through the fallacy of quotation out of context, pulling a few, extreme-sounding words out of their qualifying context. You might also want to check Cheney’s text to make sure I have not quoted her out of context!)

A valuable perspective on relativism and skeptical questioning has been provided by psychological researchers such as William Perry and Lawrence Kohlberg, who have studied development in cognition (acquisition of knowledge and learning and reasoning skills) and moral reasoning in college students over the period of a four-year liberal arts education. In Perry’s terms, students entering college tend to think in terms of black-and-white absolutism. As they are exposed to a diversity of perspectives, they are apt to lurch to the opposite, skeptical extreme of unqualified relativism, the attitude that “Everyone has his or her own opinion, and who’s to say which one is right?” The ultimate stage in development is committed relativism, in which students have learned that, in spite of the complexity and uncertainty of many truths, judgments of truth and falsity, right and wrong, and moral commitments still need to be made, on the basis of the most complete, diverse knowledge presently available to us. (Kohlberg’s and Perry’s ideas have been questioned on the grounds of gender bias and somewhat modified by Carol Gilligan, their colleague in the Harvard psychology department, in her book In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development and in another book by followers of Gilligan, Women’s Ways of Knowing: The Development of Self, Voice, and Mind, by Mary Field Belenky and others, a portion of which is included in Chapter 6.)

Biased and Unbiased Viewpoints:

The Esbyods Principle

The concept of the term “bias” that equates it with a subjective, relative viewpoint is more benign than that which equates it with deliberate slanting and propaganda—often a legitimate equation, to be sure, as we will see throughout this book, especially in relation to the rhetoric of politics, mass media, and scholarship. For now, however, let us only consider how difficult it is to recognize the biases in ourselves and sources of information that support any group we identify with—in contrast to how easy it is for us to recognize biases in other individuals and supporters of other groups.

An inelegant but wise old folk saying goes, “Everyone defecates, but your own doesn’t stink.” (This, of course, is a euphemized version of the original, but we have a social taboo against using the “s” word in media like college textbooks or classrooms, even though it is far from an unfamiliar or shocking term to most college students; I will incorporate the uneuphemized version in an acronym of the first letters of each phrase: the ESBYODS principle.) Here is a test of the ESBYODS principle: Can you remember any instance in which you thought a statement by a politician, a news reporter or commentator, a teacher or textbook was biased when that statement supported your side? A large step in the direction of objectivity, then, is learning to avoid applying a double standard toward biases favoring our own side versus those favoring the other. If each of us is captive, in differing degrees, to many subjective biases, the same truth applies to the sources of information from which we derive our beliefs. It is a totem of our society for government officials, journalists, teachers, and scholars to insist on their commitment to the objective pursuit and transmission of truth in the arguments they put forth. This goal may be a worthy one in principle, but in practice those who pay lip service to it often deceive themselves, if not the public, about the extent to which their views are colored by the biases of partisan ideology, gender, race, social class, age, and so on. A large body of scholarship in the humanities and social sciences since the 1960s has documented countless instances in which such claims to objectivity or disinterestedness have been belied in the practice of government, journalism, and education.

The point here, once again, is not to breed cynical rejection of everything you read and hear but simply to alert you as a critical reader and listener to be somewhat skeptical about excessive claims to objectivity in your sources of information and to suggest that such sources of information are in fact more credible when they are out front in admitting to their own subjective viewpoint, possible biases, and inclination to <strong>special pleading</strong> (see Chapter 18). By doing so, writers and speakers can replace the pretense of total objectivity with the more realistic principle of presenting a viewpoint that they acknowledge as subjective and perhaps biased, and that consequently takes extra care to be fair-minded in presentation of viewpoints differing from, or opposed to, their own. That is to say, conscientious writers and speakers will bend over backward to present views they themselves do not endorse in a manner acceptable to their advocates—fully, accurately, and sympathetically. Even though the writer or speaker might then go on to voice disagreements or refutations of those views, they will be more credible because they have demonstrated that they are responding to an accurate version of an opposing position, not a straw-man account of it. Even in heatedly polemical arguments, it is possible to present opponents’ positions fairly; guidelines for doing so will be outlined in “Ground Rules for Polemicists” in Chapter 11. Your written and spoken arguments will be far more effective if as a student you make the same efforts to acknowledge your own subjective viewpoint and possible biases and to summarize arguments with which you might disagree in a full, accurate, and sympathetic manner, prior to attempting to refute them.

In other words, every writer or speaker has subjective opinions and viewpoints, but not all opinions or viewpoints are equally biased, in the negative sense of prejudiced. Your aim as a critical thinker and writer should not be to avoid expressing opinions but to express opinions that will impress your readers as educated, unprejudiced, and fair, by the criteria surveyed in Chapter 2.

To clarify an essential point for this entire book: There is no reason to suppose that all sides have equally strong arguments on every issue. On any given issue, members of one camp might have overwhelming reasoning and evidence on their side, and members of the other might be lying through their teeth. Neither open-mindedness, fairness, nor objectivity obliges you to give a side with few strong arguments and many weak ones more credit than it deserves or “equal time” with one that has many strong arguments and few weak ones. (In fact, a predictable rhetorical tactic of those with lame arguments on their side is to complain that their position has not been accorded equal time or respect, that it is the victim of “prejudice.”)

In the student paper in Chapter 4, the author concluded that there was about an equal balance of strong and weak points in the opposing arguments by Naomi Wolf and Christina Hoff Sommers. In that particular case, this conclusion was warranted by the preceding analysis, but you should not necessarily take it as a model for every paper you write. In general, you should avoid the generic, wishy-washy, evasive conclusion, “Everybody has his or her own viewpoint, and who is to judge which is right and which is wrong?” You are to judge! If you judge one side’s arguments to be weak, you are simply obliged to summarize them objectively, without either distorting or commenting negatively about them, but then you are also obliged to point out their weaknesses. The judgment about which are the stronger or weaker arguments is, of course, to some extent a subjective one; the point is for you to provide adequate support for that judgment—support that, in your mind and in that of your readers or listeners, gives a fair account of arguments in the process of pointing out their weaknesses.

Acknowledge Your Own and Opposing Viewpoints

In acknowledging your own subjective biases, in college papers and discussions you should not be expected to reveal details of your personal life or beliefs that you consider private; still, you should be able to indicate your background in terms broad enough that you don’t consider them intrusive. For example, a student might begin a paper on affirmative action:

As an African-American woman who has seen many beneficial effects of affirmative action for minorities and women from disadvantaged backgrounds, I am of course inclined to spring to the defense when affirmative action is attacked. This being my bias, I will now try to summarize the argument against affirmative action the way its opponents see it.

Or another might write:

I am a middle-class white male, so I guess I’m against affirmative action mainly because I see it discriminating against me and those I identify most closely with. Nevertheless, I will make my best effort to make the case in favor of affirmative action, and then will look at how well my objections to it hold up against that case.

The principles developed here about learning to recognize your own subjective biases and those of sources you write about can be extended to one of the most important keys to effective argumentative writing and speaking: Always acknowledge, and speak to as sympathetically as fairness requires, the position opposed to yours. You will never persuade anyone who doesn’t already agree with you if you stack the deck by presenting only arguments in support of your own position, while ignoring or distorting arguments on the other side. Imagine a reader or listener who not only disagrees with your position but whose ethnocentric mind-set is quite different from your own, then calculate everything you say to win that person over to your position, through showing that you understand her position, anticipating her arguments, and respectfully explaining to her why yours are more reasonable.

Rogerian Argument, Believers and Doubters

Scholars of composition have come up with various techniques to generate argumentative writing that stretches students’ minds beyond their own customary viewpoint. One of the most popular is called Rogerian argument, based on the ideas of Carl Rogers, a psychologist affiliated with the International Society for General Semantics. Rogerian argument grew out of a technique that Rogers used both in personal psychotherapy for couples and for organizational or group psychology. The idea was that conflict is frequently based on semantic or psychological misunderstandings and inability to empathize with someone else’s viewpoint when it clashes with your own. (The Swiss child psychologist Jean Piaget expressed a similar notion in theorizing that the healthiest development of reasoning in children consists of a progression from egocentrism and ethnocentrism [or, in Piaget’s term, sociocentrism] to reciprocity, or empathy.) In Rogers’s technique patients are asked to address those with whom they are in conflict in a manner that assures them that the speaker fully understands and empathizes with their viewpoint; in other words, one person must present the other’s position in a way that the latter accepts as accurate. The speaker next acknowledges points on the other side that he or she finds valid and then tries respectfully to explain where and why he or she differs. This method thus avoids an antagonistic atmosphere in arguments, as well as straw-man misrepresentation of an opponent’s ideas.

Rogerian argument works better in face-to-face arguments than written ones, but it is an excellent way to air opposing positions on assigned writing topics in class discussion prior to writing. When writing the paper, you can then translate the classroom dialogue into the section summarizing the opposing positions, thereby assuring that you are presenting both sides fairly.

Believers and Doubters is a similar method devised by composition theorist Peter Elbow in his 1973 book Writing without Teachers; it is most helpful in the prewriting stage. The technique consists of your first reading a source on one side of an issue and writing an account of it in the most sympathetic way you can, thinking of additional arguments and evidence in support of the author’s position—and then switching to write an account that disagrees with it, using whatever arguments and evidence you can find in rebuttal. You can then draw from both accounts in balancing the source’s strengths and weaknesses in your final version.

You can use either Rogerian argument or Believers and Doubters to generate the sections in your paper fair-mindedly summarizing and evaluating the strong and weak points of opposing sources. Do not, however, use either of them to get you off the hook of making the final judgment that one side’s arguments are much stronger than the other’s, if that is the case!

A Semantic Calculator for Bias in Rhetoric

This is a guide that you can apply in writing papers about sources, with respect both to those sources’ biases and to your own as a writer.

1. What is the author’s vantage point, in terms of social class, wealth, occupation, gender, ethnic group, political ideology, educational level, age, and so on? Is that vantage point apt to color her/his attitudes on the issue under discussion? Does she/he have anything personally to gain from the position she/he is arguing for, any conflicts of interest or other reasons for special pleading? (See Chapter 17.)

2. What organized financial, political, ethnic, or other interests are backing the advocated position? What groups or special interests stand to profit financially, politically, or otherwise from it? In the Latin phrase, cui bono, “Who benefits?” (See Chapter 17.)

3. Once you have determined the author’s vantage point and/or the special interests being favored, look for signs of ethnocentrism, rationalization or wishful thinking, sentimentality, one-sidedness, selective vision, or a double standard. (See Chapter 8.)

4. Look for the following forms of setting the agenda and stacking the deck reflecting the biases in number 3:

a. Playing up

(1) arguments favorable to one’s own side

(2) arguments unfavorable to the other side

(3) the other side’s power, wealth, extremism, misdeeds (“a widespread pattern of abuses”), or unity (“a vast conspiracy,” “a tightly coordinated machine”)

b. Downplaying (or suppressing altogether)

(1) arguments unfavorable to one’s own side

(2) arguments favorable to the other side

(3) one’s own side’s power, wealth, extremism, misdeeds (“a small number of isolated instances,” “a few rotten apples”), or unity (“an uncoordinated collection of diverse, grassroots groups”)

c. Applying “clean” words (ones with positive connotations) to one’s own side, without support

Applying “dirty” words (ones with negative connotations) to the other side, without support

d. Assuming that the representatives of one’s own side are trustworthy, truthful, and have no selfish motives, while assuming the opposite of the other side’s representatives

e. Giving credit to one’s own side for positive events

f. Blaming the other side for negative events

This calculator can be usefully applied to all of the opposed readings from conservative versus liberal or leftist sources in this book, as well as to all your daily intake of information in the public sphere. It is an application of the ESBYODS principle, indicating the ways in which we all are inclined, intentionally or unintentionally, to react—often with anger and exaggeration—to our opponents’ perceived faults and exercises of power, while not seeing (or smelling) our own side’s comparable ones. Of course, emphasizing our side’s “good” and the other side’s “bad” is a perfectly legitimate Part of argumentation, so long as it is done honestly, accurately, with sufficient support, and with a sense of proportion. But good-faith efforts at doing so need to be distinguished from the bad-faith ones of propagandists who stack the deck by deliberately, dishonestly using these techniques to present a simplistic opposition between “good guys” and “bad guys,” or the efforts of sincere but closed-minded ideologues who resort to the techniques in a knee-jerk conditioned reaction to every public event. In any given case, differential semantic descriptions might serve to make an accurate, supportable judgment on the relative merits of opposing camps—or they might not; it’s for you to judge.

If you don’t find blatant signs of the above biases, and if you judge that the emotional language is supported by adequate evidence, that’s a good indication that the writer is a credible one. If there are many such signs, that’s an indication that the writer is not a credible source. However, finding signs of the above biases does not in itself prove that the writer’s arguments are fallacious. Don’t fall into the ad hominem (“to the man”) fallacy— evading the issue by attacking the character or motives of the writer or speaker without refuting the substance of the argument itself. What the writer says may or may not be factual, regardless of the semantic biases. The point is not to let yourself be swayed by emotive words alone, especially when you are inclined to wishful thinking on one side of the subject yourself. When you find these biases in other writers, or in yourself, that is a sign that you need to be extra careful to check the facts with a variety of other sources and to find out what the arguments are on the other side of the issue.

Topics for Discussion and Writing

Discuss the form of skepticism that “does not deny that there are objective, external truths, but asserts that these truths are often too obscure or complex for any one human being to know with absolute certainty, so that our perceptions of objective reality are inevitably colored to a large extent by our subjective viewpoint Objectivity is a worthy goal to strive for, though we can rarely attain

it completely. Paradoxically, becoming aware of our subjective viewpoint and biases is an essential step toward objectivity.” What examples or evidence can you present in support of this position, and what ones against it? Which people whom you know or know of might disagree with it, and why? For a test case here, see the account below of opposing viewpoints on the Clarence ThomasAnita Hill dispute.

”Primary certitude is a psychological term for the mind-set of people who are fixed in absolute beliefs so dogmatically that they cannot bear to have those beliefs questioned or doubted.” Write a description of someone you know who is captive to primary certitude on some particular subject.

”Can you remember any instance in which you thought a statement by a politician, a news reporter or commentator, a teacher or textbook was biased when that statement supported your side?” Can you? The next time you hear or read such a statement, try to think of ways in which it might in fact be biased.

Find examples of the ESBYODS principle in (a) your own personal relationships and those of others you know, and (b) current public arguments.

Apply Rogerian argument or Doubters and Believers, in class discussion or individual writing, to any of the opposed sources in the readings for this book, such as those on September 11, 2001, in Chapter 1or on the beauty myth in Chapter 4.

Write or role-play in class discussion an imagined version of a Rogerian argument between leading Republicans and Democrats, or between the opponents on Crossfire-style TV talk programs.

Case Study: Anita Hill Versus Clarence Thomas

As a concrete example of relativity of viewpoint, bias in rhetoric, and the ESBYODS principle, let us consider one of the most controversial episodes in recent American history, the nationally televised Senate confirmation hearings for the appointment of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court in October 1991. Thomas, a conservative black judge opposed to affirmative action and much other civil rights legislation, had been nominated by Republican president George H. W. Bush to replace retiring Justice Thurgood Marshall, a liberal black who had been appointed by Democratic president Lyndon Johnson after serving as counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in the civil rights movement of the late 1950s and early 1960s. From the outset, opinions toward Thomas divided predictably along party and ideological lines.

Late in the hearings, when Thomas’s nomination seemed certain, Anita Hill, a law professor at the University of Oklahoma and, like Thomas, a Yale Law School graduate, testified that he had sexually harassed her when she worked for him when he was head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the agency in charge of implementing laws against sexual harassment) in 1983. Although Hill’s own party and ideological identity remains a matter of dispute, this development further polarized public opinion along liberal versus conservative lines because sexual harassment is generally a liberal issue.

There indisputably was an objective reality in this case: Hill’s allegations probably were either true or false (although it is also possible that to some extent Hill and Thomas had differing subjective impressions of the events in question). However, neither the Senate hearings nor subsequent scholarly and journalistic investigations have substantiated the truth of either side’s story beyond dispute. All we have, up to this writing, is a large collection of opposing opinions and interpretations about the facts of the case.

The following two articles, presenting diametrically opposed views on the case, appeared in Rush Limbaugh’s 1992 book The Way Things Ought to Be and in the left-of-liberal journal of opinion the Progressive (December 1991), for which the late June Jordan was a regular columnist. Limbaugh cites as his main source a 1992 article by David Brock in the conservative journal of opinion American Spectator, the basis for Brock’s later book The Real Anita Hill.

The Effort to Destroy Clarence Thomas

Rush Limbaugh

From The Way Things Ought to Be (New York: Pocket Books, 1993)

  1. The rumor-mongering against Judge Thomas was an eleventh-hour attempt to ruin his life, and I have never witnessed anything so despicable. Irrespective of the truth of the allegations that Clarence Thomas sexually harassed a female employee, his reputation and career have been incurably degraded and his life has been dramatically affected.

  2. These allegations were lodged by people who stopped at nothing to defeat his nomination, including destroying his character with unsubstantiated innuendo. To them the end justified the means. Certain people feared Thomas’s confirmation because it threatened their very political existence. In order for them to survive as a minority with preferred treatment, they believed it necessary to thwart his bid by whatever means necessary.

  3. The civil rights coalition in this country has had its way with the Democratic party since 1957. That was the last time the coalition, as a liberal constituency, was defeated. The coalition includes the ACLU and the leaders of such civil rights organizations as People for the American Way and the National Association for the Advancement of (Liberal) Colored People.

  4. How have the leaders of these civil rights organizations become so empowered? They do not have normal jobs. Benjamin Hooks of the NAACP, for example, raises money and keeps a percentage of it for himself as head of the organization. The same is true for the head of People for the American Way. They do not have real jobs, yet they have power. They derive that power by utilizing the tools of class envy and hatred.

  5. These people enjoy power for only one reason. Their sole source of strength is their monolithic constituency—which determines the number of liberal votes they can deliver to Democrats on election day. This monolithic constituency delivers up to 90 percent of the minority vote to the Democratic candidate for president every presidential election year. The ability of all these civil rights groups to deliver the vote for Democrats has invested them with power. This vote, in turn, has invested the Democrats with power. It’s a win-win situation.

  6. Then along comes Clarence Thomas, who, by contrast, has held many fine jobs. He works and earns money for a living. He does not head an organization that begs people to contribute money to it. He is a man who has escaped the bonds of poverty by methods other than those prescribed by these civil rights organizations. He has succeeded by relying on himself, rather than prostituting himself into the dependency cycle. As a result of eschewing their prescription, he has risen to levels far above what would have been possible for him had he relied on the black leadership’s formula for achievement.

  7. The elevation of Judge Thomas to the Supreme Court represents the greatest threat to the civil rights constituency since 1957. Clarence Thomas, a man of conservative moral values, as an associate justice of the highest court of the land, will set an example for members of the minority community in America who will want to follow his successful lead. The message is that there is another way for blacks to achieve vertical mobility. As a result, blacks inevitably will be drawn away from the traditional civil rights leaders.

  8. Once that happens, a certain percentage of minority votes will likely abandon the Democratic party. Such a scenario threatens the careers of the civil rights leaders, because [[their only ticket to power is their guaranteed delivery of minority votes to the Democratic ticket. With this probable exodus, the power of the civil rights leadership would be permanently eroded. In addition ,the Democrats’ lock on Congress would be jeopardized.

  9. It is neither farfetched nor unfair to draw an analogy between the civil rights leadership and the Soviet Communist leadership, insofar as exploitation of their people is concerned. The leaders of both enjoy the privileges of class at the expense of the masses, who do all the work and whom the leaders purport to serve. They may consider themselves hard workers by virtue of the amount of time they spend on the phone asking people for money or playing politics, but they certainly do not subscribe to the basic work ethic common to this country. Their efforts produce no goods or services to be contributed to the economy, but in fact have just the opposite effect. They discourage achievement by merit, which is tantamount to discouraging the production of wealth.

  10. Clarence Thomas will no doubt siphon much of the civil rights rank and file away from this monolithic constituency. There was only one way to avoid that—to undermine and destroy him—thereby saving the civil rights leadership and perhaps the Democratic majority in Congress. Hours before the Senate confirmation vote, senators were receiving anonymous telephone calls urging them not to confirm Thomas. These calls were phony and orchestrated by those desperate to defeat Thomas in order to preserve their own thrones of exploitation. Unfortunately, many senators were unnerved because the calls were coming from their own constituencies.

  11. The objective of Thomas’s opponents was, and still is, to ruin him as a man and as a judge.

  12. This was one of the most heinous, malevolent attempts at character assassination that has occurred in decades. Judge Thomas has categorically denied the allegations leveled against him. But it does not matter. The allegations succeeded in surfacing and will never be forgotten. No matter how great and decent a man Clarence Thomas is, a Part of his life will be forever ruined.

The Unraveling of Anita Hill

13. Emma Jordan, one of Anita Hill’s attorneys, went ballistic on how offended she was by Senator Alan Simpson’s threat to reveal the contents of letters and faxes on Anita Hill’s character which arrived unsolicited from all over the country. Those were unsubstantiated allegations, hearsay evidence, she complained.

14. Well, excuse me. Isn’t that precisely what the angelic and virtuous Anita Hill was doing? Tossing around unsubstantiated allegations? Ten-year-old allegations at that. She made her first claim of sexual harassment against someone when she was working at a Washington law firm in the spring of 1981. That was before she had even met Clarence Thomas. It was only later that she changed her testimony to say that the sexual harassment occurred in the fall of 1981.

15. Oh, sure, she had four “corroborating” witnesses. Three of them said she spoke of being harassed by an unnamed “supervisor,” a curious term for someone who is chairman of a large federal agency. The fourth, Judge Susan Hoerchner, said Anita Hill told her about the harassment in the early spring of 1981. But, again: Anita Hill did not go to work for Clarence Thomas, did not even meet him, until September 1981! This timely bit of information, and a lot more, can be found in the yeoman research effort by Washington investigative reporter David Brock in a cover story in the March 1992 issue of The American Spectator.

16. Clarence Thomas denied all of Anita Hill’s allegations. But now that she was on the national stage she not only did not back down, but began adding details that she had never before mentioned, even to the FBI agents who took her affidavit.

17. The left screams about Senator Simpson’s efforts on behalf of Clarence Thomas because they were defeated by someone using their own tactics. Senator Simpson and Clarence Thomas’s other defenders on that committee shouldn’t apologize. They should be applauded for resisting an orchestrated effort not to seek the truth but to destroy Clarence Thomas’s life.

Can I Get a Witness?

June Jordan

From the Progressive, December 1991

1. I wanted to write a letter to Anita Hill. I wanted to say thanks. I wanted to convey the sorrow and the bitterness I feel on her behalf. I wanted to explode the history that twisted itself around the innocence of her fate. I wanted to assail the brutal ironies, the cruel consistencies that left her—at the moment of her utmost vulnerability and public power—isolated, betrayed, abused, and not nearly as powerful as those who sought and who seek to besmirch, ridicule, and condemn the truth of her important and perishable human being. I wanted to reassure her of her rights, her sanity, and the African beauty of her earnest commitment to do right and to be a good woman: a good black woman in this America.

2. But tonight I am still too furious. I am still too hurt, I am still too astounded and nauseated by the enemies of Anita Hill. Tonight my heart pounds with shame.

3. Is there no way to interdict and terminate the traditional, abusive loneliness of black women in this savage country?

4. From those slavery times when African men could not dare to defend their sisters, their mothers, their sweethearts, their wives, and their daughters—except at the risk of their lives—from those times until today: Has nothing changed?

5. How is it possible that only John Carr—a young black corporate lawyer who maintained a friendship with Anita Hill ten years ago (“It didn’t go but so far,” he testified, with an engaging handsome trace of a smile)—how is it possible that he, alone among black men, stood tall and strong and righteous as a witness for her defense?

6. What about spokesmen for the NAACP for the National Urban League?

7. What about spokesmen for the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus?

8. All of the organizational and elected black men who spoke aloud against a wrong black man, Clarence Thomas, for the sake of principles resting upon decency and concerns for fair play, equal protection, and affirmative action—where did they go when, suddenly, a good black woman arose among us, trying to tell the truth?

9. Where did they go? And why?

10. Is it conceivable that a young white woman could be tricked into appearing before twelve black men of the U.S. Senate? Is it conceivable that a young white woman could be tricked into appearing before a lineup of incredibly powerful and hypocritical and sneering and hellbent black men freely insinuating and freely hypothesizing whatever lurid scenario came into their heads?

11. Is it conceivable that such a young woman—such a flower of white womanhood—would, by herself, have to withstand the calumny and unabashed, unlawful bullying that was heaped upon Anita Hill?

12. Is it conceivable that this flower would not be swiftly surrounded by white knights rallying—with ropes, or guns, or whatever—to defend her honor and the honor, the legal and civilized rights, of white people, per se?

13. Anita Hill was tricked. She was set up. She had been minding her business at the University of Oklahoma Law School when the Senators asked her to describe her relationship with Clarence Thomas. Anita Hill’s dutiful answers disclosed that Thomas had violated the trust of his office as head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Sitting in that office of ultimate recourse for women suffering from sexual harassment, Thomas himself harassed Anita Hill, repeatedly, with unwanted sexual advances and remarks.

14. Although Anita Hill had not volunteered this information and only supplied it in response to direct, specific inquiries from the FBI,

15. And although Anita Hill was promised the protection of confidentiality as regards her sworn statement of allegations,

16. And despite the fact that four witnesses—two men and two women, two black and two white distinguished Americans, including a Federal judge and a professor of law—testified, under oath, that Anita Hill had told each of them about these sordid carryings on by Thomas at the time of their occurrence or in the years that followed,

17. And despite the fact that Anita Hill sustained a remarkably fastidious display of exact recall and never alleged, for example, that Thomas actually touched her,

18. And despite the unpardonable decision by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to prohibit expert testimony on sexual harassment,

19. Anita Hill, a young black woman born and raised within a black farm family of thirteen children, a graduate of an Oklahoma public high school who later earned honors and graduated from Yale Law School, a political conservative and, now, a professor of law,

20. Anita Hill, a young black woman who suffered sexual harassment once in ten years and, therefore, never reported sexual harassment to any of her friends except for that once in ten years,

21. Anita Hill, whose public calm and dispassionate sincerity refreshed America’s eyes and ears with her persuasive example of what somebody looks like and sounds like when she’s simply trying to tell the truth,

22. Anita Hill was subpoenaed by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee of fourteen white men and made to testify and to tolerate interrogation on national television.

23. 1. Why didn’t she “do something” when Thomas allegedly harassed her?

24. The Senators didn’t seem to notice or to care that Thomas occupied the office of last recourse for victims of sexual harassment. And had the Committee allowed any expert on the subject to testify, we would have learned that it is absolutely typical for victims to keep silent.

25. Wasn’t it the case that she had had fantasies and is delusional?

26. Remarkably, not a single psychiatrist or licensed psychologist was allowed to testify. These slanderous suppositions about the psychic functionings of Anita Hill were never more than malevolent speculation invited by one or another of the fourteen white Senators as they sat above an assortment of character witnesses hand picked by White House staffers eager to protect the President’s nominee.

27. One loathsomely memorable item: John Doggett, a self-infatuated black attorney and a friend of Clarence Thomas, declared that Thomas would not have jeopardized his career for Anita Hill because Doggett, a black man, explained to the Senate Committee of fourteen white men, “She is not worth it.”

28. 3. Why was she “lying”?

29. It should be noted that Anita Hill readily agreed to a lie-detector test and that according to the test, she was telling the truth. It should also be noted that Clarence Thomas refused even to consider such a test and that, furthermore, he has already established himself as a liar when earlier in the Senate hearings, he insisted that he had never discussed Roe v. Wade and didn’t know much about this paramount legal dispute.

30. Meanwhile, Clarence Thomas— who has nodded and grinned his way to glory and power by denying systemic American realities of racism, on the one hand, and by publicly castigating and lying about his own sister, a poor black woman, on the other— this Thomas, this Uncle Tom calamity of mediocre abilities at best, this bootstrap miracle of egomaniacal myth and self-pity, this choice of the very same President who has vetoed two civil-rights bills and boasted about that, how did he respond to the testimony of Anita Hill?

31. Clarence Thomas thundered and he shook. Clarence Thomas glowered and he growled. “God is my judge!” he cried, at one especially disgusting low point in the Senate proceedings. “God is my judge, Senator. And not you!” This candidate for the Supreme Court evidently believes himself exempt from the judgments of mere men.

32. This Clarence Thomas—about whom an African-American young man in my freshman composition class exclaimed, “He’s an Uncle Tom. He’s a hypocritical Uncle Tom. And I don’t care what happens to his punk ass”—this Thomas vilified the hearings as a “high-tech lynching.”

33. When he got into hot water for the first time (on public record, at any rate), he attempted to identify himself as a regular black man. What a peculiar reaction to the charge of sexual harassment!

34. And where was the laughter that should have embarrassed him out of that chamber?

35. And where were the tears?

36. When and where was there ever a black man lynched because he was bothering a black woman?

37. When and where was there ever a white man jailed or tarred and feathered because he was bothering a black woman?

38. When a black woman is raped or beaten or mutilated by a black man or a white man, what happens?

39. To be a black woman in this savage country: Is that to be nothing and no one beautiful and precious and exquisitely compelling?

40. To be a black woman in this savage country: Is that to be nothing and no one revered and defended and given our help and our gratitude?

41. The only powerful man to utter and to level the appropriate word of revulsion as a charge against his peers—the word was “SHAME”—that man was U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, a white man whose ongoing, successful career illuminates the unequal privileges of male gender, white race, and millionaire-class identity.

42. But Ted Kennedy was not on trial. He has never been on trial.

43. Clarence Thomas was supposed to be on trial but he was not: He is more powerful than Anita Hill. And his bedfellows, from Senator Strom Thurmond to President George Bush, persist—way more powerful than Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill combined.

44. And so, at the last, it was she, Anita Hill, who stood alone trying to tell the truth in an arena of snakes and hyenas and dinosaurs and power-mad dogs. And with this televised victimization of Anita Hill, the American war of violence against women moved from the streets, moved from hip hop, moved from multimillion-dollar movies into the highest chambers of the U.S. Government.

45. And what is anybody going to do about it?

46. I, for one, I am going to write a letter to Anita Hill. I am going to tell her that, thank God, she is a black woman who is somebody and something beautiful and precious and exquisitely compelling.

47. And I am going to say that if this Government will not protect and defend her, and all black women, and all women, period, in this savage country—if this Government will not defend us from poverty and violence and contempt—then we will change the Government. We have the numbers to deliver on this warning.

48. And, as for those brothers who disappeared when a black woman rose up to tell the truth, listen: It’s getting to be payback time. I have been speaking on behalf of a good black woman. Can you hear me? Can I get a witness?

Topics for Discussion and Writing

Apply the “Semantic Calculator for Bias in Rhetoric” in this Chapter to these two articles.

Try to imagine, as unlikely as it may seem, a Rogerian argument between Limbaugh and Jordan.

To what extent was your reaction to the two articles conditioned by whether you were previously sympathetic to Thomas or Hill? Did any arguments on either side cause you to change your mind at all?

Go through both Limbaugh’s and Jordan’s articles sentence by sentence, noting which sentences (or parts of sentences) are worded as statements of fact and which as statements of opinion. With statements of both fact and opinion, what supporting evidence, reasoning, and sources does each author provide? Both authors use a lot of emotional appeal. How persuasive is this, and how well is it supported by reasoned arguments?

What similar lines of argument do Jordan and Limbaugh use on their opposing sides? Do you find one or the other line more effective, and on specific points of fact where they contradict one another, which (if either) do you think makes a better case? Explain why.

Notice how much of both Limbaugh’s and Jordan’s arguments proceeds from the underlying assumption or hidden premise that Hill or Thomas, respectively, was lying. What evidence do the two present in support of their premise, and do you find either’s evidence sufficient to establish the premise’s truth? How substantial are the rest of their arguments—speculating about motives and methods for the lies, and so on—without that premise having been convincingly established?

In paragraph 14, Jordan asserts, “Anita Hill was tricked. She was set up. She had been minding her business.” What is the implication about who set Hill up and why? It is generally acknowledged that Hill either decided herself to testify or was persuaded by Democratic Senate staff members who considered her story damaging to Thomas. Does Jordan’s subsequent account in paragraphs 14-19 adequately reconcile these facts with her claim that Hill was set up? If so, outline the sequence of argument.

How valid do you find Jordan’s analogies in paragraphs 10-11?

How effective do you consider Jordan’s refutation in paragraph 37 of Clarence Thomas’s characterization of the hearing as “a high-tech lynching”? How relevant are paragraph 38-45 to the central issues in the case?

In paragraph 1, Limbaugh says, “Irrespective of the truth of the allegations . . ., his reputation and career have been incurably degraded.” Is Limbaugh implying that Thomas’s reputation and career ought not to have been degraded if the allegations were true? Or do you think he meant to say, “Irrespective of the falsehood of the allegations,” as the context of the following passages suggests?

In paragraph 2, Limbaugh writes, “These allegations were lodged by people who stopped at nothing to defeat his nomination.” According to this and subsequent paragraphs, who were these “certain people”? The antecedent of “these allegations” in paragraph 1 is “the allegations that Clarence Thomas sexually harassed a female employee.” To your knowledge, who lodged these allegations? If your answer is Anita Hill, then what is Limbaugh implying about the relation of Hill to those “certain people,” particularly “the civil rights coalition”? What evidence does he present to support this implication? Jordan implies in paragraphs 6-7 that the civil rights organizations did not support Hill, while other writers have asserted that the NAACP and some other civil rights organizations themselves have a record of discrimination against women. See what you can find on this subject in David Brock’s book The Real Anita Hill and Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson’s Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas or other sources, looking up references in the books’ indexes.

If no link has been established between Anita Hill and “the civil rights coalition,” how relevant to the issue at hand—Hill’s charges of sexual harassment by Thomas—is the rest of Limbaugh’s extended attack on civil rights organizations in paragraphs 3-12? Do you find any comparable possible non sequiturs in Jordan’s article?

Evaluate Limbaugh’s level of generalization in his accusations against “the leaders of these civil rights organizations” since 1957. Do you think he would include in these accusations Martin Luther King Jr., who was a leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference after 1957, and Medgar Evers, head of the Mississippi NAACP who was shot in the back by a white racist in 1964? Do you have any idea why he dates this change to 1957? Do you think most of Limbaugh’s listeners or readers did? Do some research on the civil rights movement to look for an answer, or write or e-mail Limbaugh to see if he can provide an answer.

In 1994 Justice Clarence Thomas officiated at Rush Limbaugh’s wedding, which took place in Thomas’s house. Consider arguments pro and con about whether and how this fact might be relevant to Limbaugh’s strong support for Thomas two years earlier. Do research to find out whether Limbaugh was previously friends with Thomas; if so, would this constitute a conflict of interest in his writing on the case? As another research project, see ifyou can find out whether June Jordan was personally friendly with Anita Hill or had any other possible conflicts of interest. Aside from personal relations, what might either author have had to gain from supporting Hill or Thomas?

In paragraph 3, Limbaugh says civil rights leaders do not have “normal jobs” or “real jobs.” What do you think his definition of such a job might be? Is it suggested in paragraph 9: efforts that produce “goods or services to be contributed to the economy”? Can you think of any jobs that you consider real or normal, yet do not directly contribute goods or services to the economy? In what sense is Rush Limbaugh’s a “real job”?

In paragraph 6, Limbaugh says Thomas “has held many fine jobs. He works and earns money for a living.” Research the jobs Thomas has held throughout his career. Do you suppose Limbaugh would include among the “fine jobs” those Thomas held as a lawyer and federal government official—two categories of employment generally not well regarded by Limbaugh and other conservatives, who generally do not define such jobs as contributing goods or services to the economy?

In paragraph 8, Limbaugh makes an analogy between “the civil rights leadership and the Soviet Communist leadership.” What evidence does he present in support of this analogy, and how persuasive do you find that evidence? To your knowledge, are there more significant similarities or differences between the two groups?

Thomas Versus Hill: Postscript 1, 2001

Several reporters spent the year or more following the Hill-Thomas hearings doing extensive research in an attempt to get at the truth. One of them, David Brock, published his results in a 1993 book, The Real Anita Hill, which concluded that Hill was lying and Thomas telling the truth. Two others, Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson, published their results in Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas (1994)—coming to the exact opposite conclusion. Both books were heavily documented with footnoted citations. However, reviewers of the two books from liberal and conservative camps predictably denounced the one supporting the other camp. Deirdre English, writing in the leftist journal of opinion the Nation (“Untelling the Story,” June 28, 1993), charged, “Brock’s book is a sham and a scandal, marking a journalistic standard so low that no reputable publishing house should have touched it” (911). English alleged that the book is filled with factual errors, footnotes that claim to support points they don’t, logical self-contradictions, interviews of dubious credibility, quotes out of context, and an overall conservative bias that belies Brock’s claim that he approached the case with an open mind. Brock in turn wrote a review in American Spectator of Mayer and Abramson’s book, making virtually the same charges against it, for example, “In addition to relying on fake evidence, doctored quotes, and unsupported hearsay, the book is brimming with anonymous and discreditable sources” (31).

So whom are we to believe, Hill or Thomas, Brock or Mayer and Abramson, English in her review or Brock in his? Frankly, I do not know. Unless some dramatic new evidence emerges after the time of this writing, one must come to the skeptical conclusion that we simply cannot be sure which side is right. And yet, when the Hill-Thomas case first comes up for discussion in my classes, many students express absolute certainty that they know the truth, on one side or the other. After being exposed to a strong dose of these opposing sources, however, they admit that their attitude has changed from cocksure ignorance to thoughtful uncertainty.

Does this mean we have to throw up our hands and cynically conclude that there is no objective truth in the Hill-Thomas case or any other? By no means. Each student can, and must, plow through all the arguments and evidence on both sides, try to discern which side makes the more persuasive case for its account of the facts, and make a tentative judgment on which side is to be believed.

Thomas Versus Hill: Postscript 2, 2004

The preceding postscript was written before the publication in 2002 of David Brock’s Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative. In that book, Brock confesses that in his articles and The Real Anita Hill, he was posing as an objective reporter in search of the facts but that he was really less intent on fact-finding than on writing propagandistic invective bending the facts to exonerate Thomas and smear Hill (although at the time he believed Thomas’s side). He admits that he dredged up every negative allegation he could find about Hill and her corroborating witnesses and presented these allegations as facts without any attempt at verification, and that his review of Mayer and Abramson’s book defending Hill was an unscrupulous “hatchet job,” a red herring to distract attention from their accurate refutations of Brock’s reporting. In the following Chapter he tells how he ultimately came to believe that “Hill’s testimony was more truthful than Thomas’s flat denials after all. My version of the Thomas-Hill controversy was wrong, my belief in it as truth was a delusion.” Rush Limbaugh had based his defense of Thomas on “the yeoman research effort by Washington investigative reporter David Brock.” In Blinded, Brock says of Limbaugh in general, “Under the guise of facts and evidence and logic he was really putting out disinformation to his hungry fans The self-described ‘most danger

ous man in America’ was an old-fashioned demagogue, staking a claim of moral superiority for those on ‘the right side,’ as he interpreted even the smallest developments in the news as a rigid evil/liberal versus good/conservative context” (56).

Strange Lies

David Brock

From Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative (New York: Crown Books, 2002)

The publication of Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson’s book Strange Justice a few weeks before the November 1994 elections was the final battle in the war over the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill case. Though the case had receded from the headlines, the book was hotly anticipated by partisans on both sides of the historic cataclysm as the answer to The Real Anita Hill. Now, we would see the fruits of Mayer and Abramson’s three years of research—whether they had any goods. My own reputation, which had been sullied by the two authors in the New Yorker, to say nothing of Clarence Thomas’s, and that of the political cause he represented, hung in the balance.

My telephone rang shortly after dawn on the morning that Strange Justice was excerpted across the front page of the second section of the Wall Street Journal, where Mayer and Abramson then worked as reporters. (Only the Journal’s editorial pages, not the news department, leaned to the right.) I had examined the excerpt carefully before answering the phone that October morning. While interest in pornography is no scandal in itself, Thomas’s history with pornography was central to Hill’s charge of sexual harassment. Through interviews with the owner and patrons of a Washington video rental store that stocked X-rated films, the authors corroborated Hill’s story by revealing that Thomas was an avid consumer of the type of pornography Hill described in her testimony. They also produced a new witness who attested to Thomas’s obsessive interest in porn during the years that he supervised Hill. Yet so far as I was concerned, the case was already settled. Since we had the truth on our side, new facts to the contrary had to be lies, Part of the relentless campaign by the left to strip Thomas of his legitimacy as a justice and advance the liberal agenda.

When I lifted the handset off the console, Ricky Silberman was on the other end of the line. The vice chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under Thomas and a close friend of his, Silberman had been one of my most trusted sources, going back to the time I first paid her a visit while researching my Spectator article three years before. Ricky’s confident testament to Thomas’s character, her absolute certainty that Thomas was incapable of doing anything like what Hill accused him of, had shaped my early thinking about the case. Her husband, Larry, who sat with Thomas on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, had fortified these impressions. I would have expected Ricky, of all people, to share my opinion that Mayer and Abramson hadn’t put a dent in Thomas’s armor. If belief in Thomas’s innocence was a leap of faith for me, for Ricky it was a matter of experience. She knew him, I didn’t. “Have you read it?” Ricky roared into the phone, referring to the Journal excerpt. “He did it, didn’t he?”

“He did it, didn’t he?” The words burned through my being with the force of a blowtorch. Surely the excerpt, sensational though it was, could not have shaken the stalwart Ricky. What was going on? Was this the same woman who had assured me that Hill’s charges were impossible? Who had marched on the Senate chambers as founder of Women for Judge Thomas? Who had testified under oath to his impeccable character? Did Ricky know something I didn’t? Stunned, I couldn’t find it within myself to confront her—though I wanted to say, ”What the hell are you talking about, ‘He did it?’” Instead, I anxiously sought to calm her down and persuade her that the excerpt was no cause for alarm; it was a predictable left-wing hit job. In an odd reversal of roles, I was trying to talk one of my key sources into her own position. As I worked to convince Ricky, I was trying to convince myself, too, trying to hold on to the convictions that I thought we had shared.

Ricky’s primal reaction stood in the way. It spoke volumes: Even Thomas’s closest friends didn’t believe him, maybe never had. In the face of this knowledge, how could I maintain my position as a true believer in the Thomas cause? Was my book a Big Lie? I felt used by Ricky, on whom I had relied to tell me the unvarnished truth.

Yet as if our telephone conversation had never occurred, as though we were in denial about a dark family secret, Ricky and I sprang into action to discredit the Mayer and Abramson book. At mid-morning, we met at the Capitol Hill offices of Paul Weyrich’s Free Congress Foundation, the most powerful right-wing lobby behind the Thomas nomination. Weyrich’s operation was housed in a modern complex, including an impressive television studio, that took up much of a city block near the northeast side of the Capitol. Ricky was joined by Barbara Ledeen, a neo-conservative operative who was the executive director of the Independent Women’s Forum, the antifeminist group Ricky had formed, in Part with [Richard Mellon] Scaife money, from Women for Judge Thomas. Ledeen was married to Michael Ledeen, a shadowy intriguer who was involved in Iranian arms deals during the Iran-contra scandal. Referring to herself as an “ex-hippie,” she displayed the same zealousness of 1960’s left-wing extremism, now from the other side. Like many neocons I knew, Barbara had remained in the same emotional state of allout war for the past thirty years. If only for the hell of it, Barbara was boiling mad.

I was angrier and more disappointed with Ricky than with Mayer and Abramson. I could hardly see straight. Yet I was able to displace my rage. Like the Hiss-Chambers case, the Thomas-Hill case lent itself to endless hairsplitting over the true meaning of obscure factoids. I knew the ins and outs of the case better than anyone on our side, and I knew how to twist and turn them to our advantage. I had done this previously, in my book, in the service of a sincerely held belief. Now, I wasn’t sure why I was doing it. I was just doing it. As Barbara Ledeen took notes on a legal pad, I played the role I was expected to play. Donning my defense lawyer hat, I dissected the Mayer and Abramson excerpt, methodically turning back each new damaging allegation they raised and patching up the sizable holes they had shot in Thomas’s defense.

The three of us then collaborated on a radio script for Rush Limbaugh’s show at noon. Many on the right believed that Mayer and Abramson had published their book just before the election to boost the prospects of the Democrats, in a replay of 1992’s “Anita Hill effect.” We would use Rush to crush Mayer and Abramson, defend Justice Thomas, and protect Republican prospects in the impending election that would bring Newt Gingrich to power. We faxed off the script. Tuning in to his show, I listened as Limbaugh read from the fax virtually verbatim. The war was on! Hearing Rush blast those feminazis gave me a jolt of adrenaline. I was back on message. Forget that hysterical Ricky Silberman, I told myself. I’d show her, too, by going out and proving that Mayer and Abramson were frauds and liars. Consumed by a kind of mania, as if my entire worldview and indeed my self-conception depended on the outcome, I was now on a mission to sink Strange Justice.

Working harder than I ever had, I set about re-reporting the book for a review for the Spectator. By the time I finished, I must have covered the 360-page book in several hundred yellow Post-it notes, I did find a few factual errors of the type that all nonfiction contains, and patches of the reporting relied on arguable interpretations of events. That was not enough for me. With my faith in Thomas’s innocence now shaken—and with it, my faith in the entire political enterprise of the right—I felt it necessary to eviscerate every piece of evidence, every allegation, every question that the authors raised in making their case. This was the only hope of regaining my ideological and personal bearings.

Whether I was following the ugly dictates of partisan politics, the personal vanity and careerism of a professional writer in a literary cat fight, or the ability I had to wind myself up for battle while cutting my emotions dead, I reacted by denying what was happening, and taking things up another notch. I defended my position, my work, my cause, with more vigor and more ingenuity than before. When that proved inadequate, I quite consciously became what my critics believed I was all along: a witting cog in the Republican sleaze machine.

The biggest problem raised by the Strange Justice authors for the Thomas camp was the testimony of yet another woman, Kaye Savage, who had not been heard from during the first round of hearings. Savage made the claim, billboarded by the authors as a prized piece of evidence missed by the Senate committee, that she had seen Playboy pinups papered along the walls of Thomas’s apartment in the early 1980’s when she and Thomas had been friends and Anita Hill was working for Thomas. Though the presence of Playboy centerfolds in Thomas’s bachelor apartment did not in itself prove misconduct toward Hill, I felt compelled to smash the highly publicized anecdote anyway. Appearing on the ABC newsmagazine Turning Point in connection with the publication of Strange Justice, Savage spoke of having seen one pinup from Playboy in Thomas’s kitchen. She didn’t mention the rest of the apartment being plastered with pinups, as she had described it to Mayer and Abramson. I seized on this apparent discrepancy, and prepared to confront Savage about it, hoping to discredit her account.

Shortly after the Turning Point broadcast, I reported for work at mid-morning to the Spectator, where I was hard at work on my review. I called Mark Paoletta at his Washington law office and discussed the Savage matter with him. Mark had been helping me on all other aspects of the review, and we developed a plan for dealing with Savage. I needed to find out quickly who she was and what negative information might exist about her before confronting her and trying to force her into backing off the story she had told the Strange Justice authors. I was intent on doing to Savage what had been done to Anita Hill and Angela Wright during the Thomas hearings. Mark said he would call Clarence Thomas and see what he could find out. I was thrilled. This was the first time I would have access to Thomas, whom I had met for the first time at a christening of one of Mark’s children at Mark’s home just the prior month.

Within an hour or so that morning, Mark phoned me back. He said he had posed my question about how to discredit Savage to Thomas, who knew I was at work on a review of the Mayer and Abramson book. Mark told me that Thomas had, in fact, some derogatory information on his former friend Savage; he passed it along to Mark so that Mark could give it to me. Quoting Thomas directly, Mark told me of unverified, embarrassing personal information about Savage that Thomas claimed had been raised against her in a sealed court record of a divorce and child custody battle more than a decade ago. Thomas also told Mark where Savage worked after Mark related that I was eager to hunt her down as soon as possible. Surely skirting the bounds of judicial propriety to intimidate and smear yet another witness against him, Thomas was playing dirty, and so was I.

I hung up the phone with Mark, called Savage, and immediately got through. I identified myself, told Savage I was investigating her statements against Thomas, and told her I knew of something bad in her past. Pushed and prodded by me, she seemed to hedge on her quotations in Strange Justice. Though this was not unusual behavior for a skittish source who has supplied a reporter with sensitive material and is suddenly thrust into the headlines, I moved in for the kill, pressuring her to meet with me, and she nervously agreed.

I was now determined to take advantage of the uncertainty and fear Savage had shown on the telephone by getting Savage to retract her statements in Strange Justice. As we sat in the bar of the Marriott Hotel in downtown Washington, I grilled Savage, a mild-mannered, middle-aged African American civil servant, with the menacing threat of personal exposure hanging in the background. I then told her that she could either cooperate with me and give me what I needed to discredit Strange Justice, or I would have to discredit her as a witness by disclosing whatever personal information I had about her, just as I had blackened the reputations of all the other women who had come forward with damaging information about Thomas. In the face of this threat, Savage refused to recant her accusations. I continued to press for anything I could get her to say to blunt the impact of her accusation. We agreed that Savage would give me a written statement in which she would say the Strange Justice authors had distorted and sensationalized her quotes. When I got back to my office at the Spectator, Savage faxed me a statement, but it was too weak to be of any use: the Strange Justice account would still stand. I called Savage at her office and insisted on some changes that would allow me to cast at least some doubt on the way Mayer and Abramson had quoted her. After a struggle on the phone in which I renewed my threats, Savage made some handwritten changes to the document and faxed it to me again. I ran through the creaky hallways of the Spectator brandishing the statement triumphantly. I knew Savage had given me enough to work with so that I could use the statement in my review to make it appear as though she had recanted the story, when in fact she had not.

While one could argue that as a journalist I was entitled to ask Savage about the personal information covertly passed along by Thomas in order to assess her credibility as a source for Mayer and Abramson, I was dishonest in using the material to strong-arm Savage, an unsteady and vulnerable woman, into saying what I wanted her to say. Threatening a woman who had come forward to talk to two journalists in the context of a sexual harassment case was the conduct of a scorched-earth defense attorney, not a journalist, even one with a political agenda. Up to this point in my career, even when I fell short, I had always believed I was pursuing accurate information. Now, I let go of my own standards. I wanted Savage’s allegation to go away, truth be damned.

I next set out to blow away the Mayer and Abramson story that Thomas had been a frequent customer of an X-rated video store near Dupont Circle, called Graffiti, where in the early 1980s he was alleged to have rented X-rated videos of the type that Hill claimed he had discussed with her in graphic terms. In the hearings, Thomas had pointedly refused to answer questions about his personal use of pornography, other than to categorically deny that he had ever talked about porn with Hill. The Graffiti story was another theretofore unknown piece of evidence for Hill’s case, and it was a powerful counterpoint to the prudish image of Thomas presented by supporters like Armstrong Williams and repeated by me in The Real Anita Hill. Now that Mark had opened up a channel directly to Thomas, I asked him to find out for me whether Thomas had owned the video equipment needed to view movies at home in the early 1980s. Such equipment was not then as commonly used as it was in the mid-1990s, and I figured if I could assert in the review that Thomas had no way of watching the movies, the matter would be settled definitively.

Mark came back with a straightforward answer: Thomas not only had the video equipment in his apartment, but he also habitually rented pornographic movies from Graffiti during the years that Anita Hill worked for him, just as Mayer and Abramson reported. Here was the proof that Senate investigators and reporters had been searching for during the hearings. Mark, of course, was still a true believer in Thomas’s innocence. He couldn’t see the porn rentals as at all significant. To Mark, Hill was still a liar despite suggestions to the contrary. But I had some distance from Thomas and I was troubled by the damaging report. It made Hill’s entire story much more plausible.

In the heat of the moment, I then mounted a cover-up to protect Thomas. As I drafted the lengthy review on deadline back in Washington, I met Mark and Lee Liberman, the Federalist Society founder who had orchestrated Thomas’s appointment as Boyden Gray’s deputy in the Bush White House. We convened at Mark’s small but charming cottage in the Virginia suburbs, which was filled with the joyful sounds of two adorable young children, and two frisky

Siberian huskies. In a team effort, Mark and Lee also had been combing through the book looking for ways to undermine it while salvaging Thomas’s reputation. We were all hyped up for battle. A brilliant lawyer and former clerk to Antonin Scalia, Lee was the ideological commissar of the operation. This was no time to be thinking for myself. Lee had a few typewritten notes that I snatched from her hands and plugged into my draft.

As I sat in Mark’s cozy blue-and-white living room, I had a flashback to a conversation I once had with Lee while I was researching The Real Anita Hill. In an awkward aside, Lee told me to “stay away” from the subject of Thomas and porn. I hadn’t paid the warning any heed at the time, but now I understood what Lee must have been telling me. The Bush White House must have known all along about Thomas’s vulnerability on the subject and done a good job of covering it up. Lee must have been giving me a comradely heads-up not to go out on a limb to defend Thomas on allegations she knew could be proven true.

Now that I had the damning report, I could have done what Lee originally suggested, avoiding the subject of Thomas and pornography altogether, and letting the Graffiti allegation stand. I had plenty of other material to work with for my review. But I wouldn’t let it go. I remained in a dependent condition; I had to win one more for the movement, and I crossed a line I had never crossed before. I shredded Mayer and Abramson’s porn story as full of misquotation and unreliable secondhand sourcing. There was no evidence, I concluded in the Spectator, “that Thomas had rented even one pornographic video. let alone that he was a ‘habitual’ consumer of pornography.” When I wrote those words, I knew they were false. I put a lie in print.

The publication of my Spectator review, under the Orwellian headline “Strange Lies,” set in motion another literary and political contretemps between Mayer and Abramson and me. The authors, I charged, had perpetrated “one of the most outrageous journalistic hoaxes in recent memory.” The controversy was covered in several major newspapers, and a slew of conservative commentators and editorial pages cited my review in denouncing the book as a sham. The conservative counterattack spilled onto the airwaves, where conservative writer Fred Barnes, appearing on CNN, called the review “devastating.” The review also helped vindicate Thomas in some high-level liberal circles. I was told by Judge Silberman that Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, a Clinton appointee, had let it be known around the court that the review settled the case for him in Thomas’s favor.

Writing in Mayer and Abramson’s defense was Times columnist Frank Rich, who interviewed a lawyer consulted by Kaye Savage after my intimidating encounter with her. In a column headlined “Brock’s Strange Journalism,” Rich wrote, “This time Mr. Brock’s partisan desperation has led him to a tactic that is beyond the pale of even tabloid journalism and that would make any citizen think twice before talking freely again to any journalist: He tried to bully a source in Strange Justice, a onetime Hill and Thomas associate named Kaye Savage, to get her to sign a statement denying her own contribution to the book.” As he had in his column accusing me of misogyny, Rich once again stung me by exposing the truth about my work. And once again, I moved swiftly to try to spin my way out of an embarrassing and humiliating situation with cleverly worded denials. My coauthor in this denial was not Adam Bellow, but Mark Paoletta and another top Federalist Society legal gun, Michael Carvin, a battlescarred veteran of the Reagan Justice Department. I was so chagrined and angry at Rich for exposing my scheme in print that I felt I needed to make a dramatic move, suing him for libel for accusing me of blackmail. Mark was all whipped up as well, and he took me to a meeting in Carvin’s office, where we went over the facts of what had transpired, though I don’t think we told Carvin that I had gotten the Savage smear story from Thomas. Carvin soon talked me down from initiating any legal action: He could see that I was actually quite vulnerable to the charge Rich had made and pointed out that Savage could do far more damage to my reputation in litigation than Rich had already done. The three of us agreed that I would write a letter to the <em>Times,</em> which they helped me draft, denying that I had done anything dishonest—one lie piled on top of another.

Mark and I had fallen into the habit of exchanging Christmas gifts. After the review appeared, I told Mark all I wanted for Christmas was a signed photograph of Clarence Thomas, who had surely read my review and seen how I lied for him on the porn issue and tried to discredit Savage’s truthful account. The photo arrived, Thomas in his black judicial robes, with the inscription “To David, With admiration and affection, Clarence.”

I had weathered the storms over The Real Anita Hill, Troopergate, and even over my own sexuality, keeping myself and my mission intact. But the storm over the Strange Justice review was one I could not weather. Gone was the confidence I had in the moral stature of the pro-Thomas camp and the broader political movement that backed him. I was being forced to give up the hubristic illusion that defending Clarence Thomas and all he stood for was right and good; it had all been just another power game in the service of a hard-right ideology that I never shared.

Worst of all, I had seen myself as a truthteller; after reviewing Strange Justice, I knew I was a liar and a fraud in a dubious cause. My foundations were irrevocably shaken. I could see that my reportorial method in The Real Anita Hill was shoddy, not only in the sources I had trusted, but in the obvious fact that I had missed significant evidence that showed that Hill’s testimony was more truthful than Thomas’s flat denials after all. My version of the Thomas-Hill controversy was wrong, my belief in it as truth was a delusion. Perhaps the errors of The Real Anita Hill could be attributed to journalistic carelessness, ideological bias, and my misdirected quest for acceptance from a political movement. In the review of Strange Justice, however, to protect myself and my tribe from the truth and consequences of our own hypocrisy, smears, falsehoods, and cover-ups, I consciously and actively chose an unethical path. I continued to malign Anita Hill and her liberal supporters as liars. I trashed the professional reputations of two journalists for reporting something I knew was correct. I coerced an unsteady source, I knowingly published a lie, and I falsified the historical record.

Topics for Discussion and Writing

Reread the Limbaugh-Jordan exchange and the questions following it to see whether Brock’s later account changes your perspective on them.

What significant revelations does Brock provide about organizations and individuals, particularly representing special interests, who operate secretly, behind the scenes of public discourse, to “spin” political events and media coverage, and about their ethics and rhetorical strategies?

Does Brock’s personal relationship with Clarence Thomas and his close associates, in his account, create a conflict of interest?

When Brock’s book was published, some of the conservative sources that he cites here denied making the statements to him or others that he claims they did. Where does that leave us in terms of making a final judgment on the Hill-Thomas case?

Some conservative critics reacted to Brock’s book by saying that he was a liar before, so why should anything he says now be believed? Where does this leave those of them who accepted the truth of his earlier accusations against Hill and President Clinton, which Brock now retracts? See if you can find conservative reviews of the book or Rush Limbaugh’s response to it, and read the book itself to judge its credibility.

Chapter 6. Questioning Culturally ConditionedAssumptions and Ethnocentrism

BLOOM COUNTY by Berke Breathed


In his textbook Clear Thinking for Composition, Ray Kytle introduces this subject in better words than I could devise:

We are, to a large degree, creatures of our particular age. We grow up in a certain “climate of opinion.” And this climate of opinion determines the form of many of our attitudes and values. . . . Because we live in a particular country, in a particular Part of the world, in a particular age, because we were raised in a particular class and educated in a particular educational system by teachers who were also in many ways the product of their culture, we possess a large collection of attitudes and values whose accuracy, truth, or merit we have probably never questioned.

These attitudes and values can be called assumptions because we assume them to be accurate.

We don’t question them; we probably don’t even see them as open to question. (47-49)

Kytle’s list of factors in our cultural conditioning—“a particular country . . . [historical] age . . . class . . . educational system”—can be expanded to include our particular family, peers and age group, race, gender, geographical region, religion, political ideology and party, and so on. Each of these factors and others tend to impose their own filters on our perception of the world.

Totems and Taboos

We go through life taking for granted any number of beliefs, customs, norms, habits, routines, and tastes as the way things are, always have been, and ought to be, in both small matters and large ones, local matters and global ones. Some of these may be perfectly reasonable and practical, but others may be wholly arbitrary—that is, they don’t have any logical reason for being but are conformed to, blindly worshiped as totems or shunned as taboos. A cartoon by Dedini in the New Yorker shows a large group of middle-aged men sitting, fully dressed, in armchairs on a beach. A young boy has asked a question to one of them, his father, who replies, “Generations of our people have sat by the sea, my son. When you are older and have sat by the sea, you will understand.” The point humorously made in the cartoon is that people often follow the same customs generation after generation for no other reason than circular reasoning—this is the way we’ve always done it. Some arbitrary customs last for centuries and cross different cultures; others are specific to one locality or subculture and may change drastically over time, even in our own lifetime, and yet as long as they remain in force (even in the short life span of fashions and fads), they can exact conformity as rigidly as if they were eternal commandments.

The human tendency to conform without question to established traditions, right or wrong, and to the present status quo is a strong force for social and political conservatism. To be sure, there is often wisdom in the instinct, as Shakespeare’s Hamlet says, to “rather bear those ills we have/Than fly to others that we know not of” 3.1.56). However, it is a prime test of the critical thinking ability of drawing the line to judge when to be critically wary of uncertain changes and when to be willing to question past conventions and the present powers that be. The terms Appeal to the Past or Tradition or Resistance to Change might be defined as the logical fallacy of arguing for a policy only because it has been followed in the past, is a tradition in one’s culture, or has been established as the status quo, regardless of its possible outdatedness. This line was used to justify slavery in the South for centuries before its abolition and segregation of blacks for another century afterwards, and used similarly to oppose women’s and gay rights because they transgressed traditional roles. A similar line argues that because in the past there has been a large degree of opportunity to get ahead economically and socially in the United States; this is still true and always will be—in disregard of possible changes in economic realities over recent decades.

A ruling by a San Francisco judge that the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance were unconstitutional provoked a storm of outrage by politicians of both parties from President George W. Bush on down. Many people’s angry reaction seemed to assume that these words were embedded in the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence, but several commentators pointed out that they dated only from 1954 and were motivated by Cold War competition with “godless Communism.” A further historical irony was that the original pledge, without reference to God, was written in 1892 by a minister who believed Jesus was a socialist. Critics also argued that phrases like “under God” and “In God We Trust” are only expressions of religiosity, a public pose of devout religious belief without any substantial commitment to practice that belief. In other words, it is a totem for all American politicians to pay lip service to religious belief—even though many of them fail to practice what they preach in their public or personal life, and some of them probably do not even believe in God—and it is taboo for any of them to express skepticism about religious belief or the dubious constitutionality of these references to God, vague and politically motivated as they may be.

Think about the arbitrariness of many of our culture’s other customs. Our mass media reproduce habits that would seem quite bizarre in other times and places, such as artificially engineered laugh tracks on situation comedies; do viewers at home really laugh when they are electronically coached to? Or the custom of everyone in advertisements constantly wearing a big smile, whether they are selling workout equipment, tires, or laxatives (in addition, of course, to their all being young, slender, and beautiful, as though these envied qualities will carry over to the product by association). Even the custom of smiling in photographs or painted portraits is a mid-twentieth-century innovation; previously, a rather serious, dignified expression was the norm. Then there is the assumption that used to dominate radio and TV newscasts or commentary that a deep, reassuring—and usually male—tone of voice carries more authority than a higher-pitched male or female one would (this is a form of the fallacy of argument to authority). Broadcast reporter Cokie Roberts says, in defense of affirmative action, that when she was starting out, “I was told, ‘We will not hire women to deliver the news. Their voices are not authoritative. We won’t hire women as writers. Men would have to work for them and we can’t have that’” (Richard Reeves, “The Best and Worst in the National Heart,” San Francisco Examiner, May 10, 1995, A26). Now, however, the cultural conditioning has shifted so that on cable news networks news is broadcast not by professional journalists but by anchors of both sexes who are young, chirpy, and look like fashion models, and there is little apparent concern for their journalistic credentials.

Another bizarre cultural convention perpetuated by mass media is that our lives should constantly be filled with music or noise. Music through the ages until the twentieth century, with some occasional exceptions, had two uses: to be listened to with all one’s attention, or to be danced to. Only recently, with the advanced development of radio and recordings, has the concept of purely “background music,” to be absorbed while we are doing something else, been conceivable. But what exactly is the point of background music not of our choosing—especially when we are forced to listen to it while shopping, eating, riding an elevator, or on telephone “hold”—except as a kind of chewing gum for the ears? It is often used in parties, bars, or restaurants, as a presumed accompaniment to conversation, but then why is it played so loudly that any conversation has to be shouted over it? In bars, it is common for two or more television sets to be showing different sports events, at top volume, at the same time recorded music is blaring. The assumption seems to be that people desire to be bombarded constantly with noise and visual stimuli. Is this true of you or anyone you know?

Gender roles are one of the most powerful fields of cultural conditioning. But these roles have been challenged by feminists in recent years with criticisms, for example, of boys being socialized into aggression through GI Joe, toy guns, and muscle building, while girls are socialized into concern with looks and grooming with Barbie dolls and nurturing through playing nurse. How different might adult roles be if these modes of childhood conditioning were changed, and how much have they been changing in your lifetime? Gender conditioning continues in adult roles and identities. Consider that men typically wear pants with pockets in which they carry keys, coins, and billfolds with identification cards and paper money. Social psychologists might observe that these are symbols of power and that the proximity in which they are worn to the physical symbols of masculinity serves to reinforce the sense of male empowerment. Most women’s clothes, however, do not have pockets, mainly because the fashion industry has decreed that they are “unfeminine.” So women are bodily separated from their symbols of identity, which must be carried in a purse that can easily be lost or stolen and whose cavernous depths must constantly be searched for keys, money, and ID.

Or consider dress codes. In the 1950s, short hair was the norm for American males; late in that decade and into the sixties, long hair became a symbol of nonconformity, and long hair could get you killed in some parts of the country. Little by little, the custom changed, and today long hair has become, if not the norm, at least acceptable in most parts of the country and walks of life. If you are a male college student interviewing for a job, you are probably expected to wear a suit and tie to the interview. (If you are a woman, you are expected to wear a more “dressy” dress or slacks than you would ordinarily wear.) Nowadays, once you get the job, you might never need to wear a jacket and tie to work; still, you must go through the ritual, as must those who are interviewing you. The reasons are obscure—having partly to do with vestiges of earlier decades when dress was more formal and even college students were required to wear a tie to school. Historically, ties originated as an item of sartorial, individually tailored elegance in the upper classes, but by the early twentieth century mass-produced ties had become more a uniform of the middle class, a symbol of “white-collar” status as opposed to “blue-collar,” manual workers. Although many men find ties and shirts buttoned at the neck uncomfortable, and they have become far less common with the relaxation of cultural formalities, especially since the 1960s, it is still generally the rule that the higher a man’s professional status is, the more likely he is to wear a tie.

Women are even more captive to culturally conditioned styles in clothing and physical appearance than men—beginning with the greater expectations of beauty in women than in men. In most periods before the mid-twentieth century, the norm of female beauty in Western culture was plump by today’s standards, yet today women undergo enormous selfdeprivation and social pressure to become unnaturally slender. A boyish figure with small breasts was fashionable in the 1920s, and today’s idealized combination of large, but upright, breasts on an otherwise slender torso is both a historical novelty and a physical rarity. Likewise, before the twentieth century, pale skin was considered the norm of beauty, as it was associated with the sheltered upper classes; suntan was associated with peasants, and hence was shunned by the fashionable. Suntan became a mark of beauty and prestige in our time as outdoor life and sports became fashionable. Ironically, in spite of the history of doctrines of white supremacy in America, whites go to great lengths to make their skin look like that of darker races. Now that excessive exposure to sun has become recognized as a cause of skin cancer, suntanning is declining in fashionability again.

In dress codes, throughout history women have suffered everything from bound feet in China to high-heeled shoes, which damage feet and restrict the ability to walk or run, to corsets, girdles, bustles, and multiple layers of petticoats in the West. And think about how arbitrary the custom of women disguising their natural appearance with makeup is, even though it has been accepted as the norm for centuries in Western and other societies. In some past periods, such as the European Renaissance, men (at least in the fashionable classes) wore makeup too. The deceptiveness of women’s makeup was a favorite topic in Renaissance rhetorical exercises; the poet John Donne (1573-1631) wrote a tongue-incheek argumentative essay titled “That Women Ought to Paint,” and Shakespeare’s Hamlet railed against the custom in venting his grievances against women to Ophelia: “I have heard of your paintings too, well enough. God hath given you one face, and you make yourselves another” (3.1.141-43) Of course, this might be considered a typical case of blaming the victim, since women have generally worn makeup because it pleases men.

Maureen Dowd’s op-ed “Rescue Me, Please,” later in this chapter, suggests semihumorously that American women have now rejected the feminist reforms championed by Naomi Wolf in The Beauty Myth and have voluntarily reverted to more traditional cultural conditioning.


Ethnocentrism is the mentality of “Ours is best” or “We’re number one,” or in my inelegant acronym, “ESBYODS.” The term refers literally to seeing life solely from the perspective of one ethnic group, but it extends to many other factors in socialization discussed throughout this book. Painful as it is for us to admit it, those beliefs are sometimes misinformed, mistaken, or prejudiced, even though they may have been passed down from generation to generation as what is termed received or conventional wisdom. Because we are dependent on our family and immediate peers throughout childhood for nurturing and learning, we need to accept as the truth most of what they tell us. In later childhood and adolescence, however, most of us little by little become aware of the limitations in their knowledge and wisdom, and we develop the ability to think independently. This process often accelerates dramatically when we go away to college, leading typically to quarrels between students questioning their parents’ authority and parents reacting defensively against that questioning. These quarrels can be very traumatic, but they are a necessary Part of growing up for the children and of letting go for the parents. After all, there is no logical reason to suppose that our parents are especially well informed and wise about every issue simply because they are our parents. We all want to think the best about our families and friends, and it is hard to admit that Aunt Edith is an alcoholic or that Cousin George’s business practices are crooked.


Even Hitler’s mother probably would have rationalized, “All those things they say about Adolf can’t be true. He was always a good boy—he wouldn’t hurt a fly.”

Of course, ethnocentrism serves a positive role in enabling us to take justifiable pride in ourselves and whatever groups we belong to, and many of its forms are quite worthwhile. But ethnocentrism throughout history has also been a major cause of wars and social divisiveness; think of the perpetual conflicts among the Bosnians, Serbs, and other ethnic groups comprising the former Yugoslavia. Propagandists, office seekers, advertisers, and other selfserving rhetoricians specialize in manipulating appeals to varieties of ethnocentrism like jingoism (blind patriotism in support of war), religious dogmatism, boosterism (contrived business-community or school “spirit”), and racial, class, or sexual prejudice. The nouns demagogue and demagogy (or demagoguery) refer precisely to a politician or other public figure who makes emotional appeals to such forms of ethnocentrism for self-advancing aims, while pretending to be a populist—a member or true representative of the common people. The plain folks fallacy consists of exactly this false pretense by a member of the elite to be a spokesperson for populism, or concern for the well-being of “the little guy.”

Two words synonymous with ethnocentrism are parochialism and provincialism. Parochialism derives from parish, a small church district; so a parochial-minded or provincial person is one who literally never ventures outside a small, isolated area or who, by metaphoric extension, goes through life with a narrow-minded perspective. Liberal education is essentially the process of growing out of our provincial narrow-mindedness, multiplying the different perspectives from which we can view issues. In her 1938 essay “Three Guineas,” English writer Virginia Woolf described being asked what kind of freedom would advance the fight against fascism and its allies racism, colonialism, and sexism. She replied: “Freedom from unreal loyalties You must rid yourself of pride of nationality in the first place;

also of religious pride, college pride, family pride, sex pride and those unreal loyalties that spring from them” (quoted in Margo Jefferson, “Unreal Loyalties,” New York Times Book Review, April 13, 2003, p. 31). This is not to say that education obliges us to disown our native culture; we can maintain our loyalty and reaffirm what is valuable in it, while becoming able to evaluate it in a broader perspective and to “switch codes,” as linguists say, from our own culture to others and back.

Gaining perspective on our own ethnocentrism enables us to view with amusement some of the hyperboles of parochialism. A little nightclub in San Luis Obispo, California, advertises itself as “The World Famous Dark Room.” “The World Series” includes a rather small portion of the actual world and is ignored in most other countries—though many countries are equally fanatic about soccer championships. Every high school in every small town in America vaunts its sports teams as “number one.” In Illinois, the Big Game is Illinois versus Northwestern, but in New England everyone knows it’s Harvard versus Yale, in Northern California it’s Stanford versus Berkeley, in Southern California it’s UCLA versus USC, in the Southeast it’s Tennessee versus Alabama, and so on.

In politics and religion, members of every sect or party tend to cluster together and confirm one another’s ethnocentric certainties. In Orange County, California, conservatives gather in bars to proclaim, “Rush is right—isn’t it awful about those welfare swindlers and the bleeding-heart liberals who coddle them—along with those feminazis and commie intellectuals and environmental wackos,” while everyone chants, “Right! Right!” Meanwhile, five hundred miles to the north, leftists are gathered in Berkeley cafes reading the Nation and lamenting, “Isn’t it awful about those corporate crooks and racist cops and fascist talk show hosts,” while everyone chants, “Right! Right!” Both groups are like planets in separate galaxies, circling endlessly in their own orbits without ever having their assumptions challenged by communicating with anyone who thinks differently. Learning to “decenter” from our need to believe our group is best or right is a lifelong, painful struggle, but an essential one in intellectual and emotional growth.

Likewise, in personal relations each of us is compelled to believe that he or she is right and the other person wrong in any conflict—think about the amazingly different accounts you’ve heard from the opposing parties after a marriage or love affair has broken up. As the nineteenth-century Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote, “Oh wad some Power the giftie gie us/To see oursels as ithers see us!”

In normal child development, aided by education and other experiences like travel, we grow beyond ethnocentrism to a greater or lesser degree, toward what child psychologist Jean Piaget termed “reciprocity,” becoming able to recognize the possible validity of others’ viewpoints. This is not to imply that your previous beliefs, or those of your family or community, are necessarily wrong. The point is that as an educated person you should not just go through life maintaining any belief automatically, never holding it up to critical examination. If a belief is valid, it should stand up under that critical examination; you should be able to defend it rationally against opposing beliefs, and if you can do so, then it will be a far more secure belief than one that is held blindly and irrationally. By the same token, if that belief does not hold up against opposing ones, then you should be willing to change your mind about it. If you approach your studies with the attitude of “My mind’s made up; don’t try to change it with the facts,” you’re wasting your own and your teachers’ time in college.

American Ethnocentrism

The following article, titled“Battle over Patriotism Curriculum,”by Larry Rohter, appeared in the New York Times on May 15, 1994:

Like other generations who went through the public schools in this small town an hour’s drive north of Orlando, students at Tavres Middle School are taught to take pride in American citizenship and heritage. The school’s athletic teams are even nicknamed the Patriots, and the school colors are red, white and blue.

But the fundamentalist Christians who dominate the Lake County school board say that is not enough. As Part of a policy approved this week by a vote of 3 to 2, teachers will be required to teach the county’s 22,526 students that American culture, values and political institutions are inherently “superior to other foreign or historic cultures.”

Members of the local teachers union and citizens groups are protesting the measure, which they say is jingoistic and probably illegal. They have filed an appeal to the state Department of Education, and a court challenge appears likely.

’Sort of Laughingstock’

”People don’t understand the purpose and the point of this,” said Keith Mullins, chairman of People for Mainstream Values, a local political action committee formed in response to the religious right’s rise to power here. “We are already teaching our children to love and honor our country, so why spend all this time and money talking about something we are already doing? We’ve become sort of a laughingstock.”

The new policy, conceived as a response to the state’s multicultural education policy, is the handiwork of the board’s chairman, Pat Hart, who describes herself as a patriot, a Christian and a Republican. She said it was fine that students learn about other nations, as required by the state’s multicultural education curriculum, so long as they were also taught that the United States was “unquestionably superior” to any other society in all of human history.

Mrs. Hart said she drafted the policy statement, which also requires teachers to promote “strong family values” and “an appreciation of our American heritage and culture,” to insure that students never forget that “we are the best of the best.”

Mrs. Hart, whose own children are enrolled in private religious schools, acknowledges that she has never set foot outside the United States, speaks no foreign languages and has no academic training in comparative culture, religion or government.

”I don’t need to visit other countries to know that America is the best country in the world,” she said. “Thousands of people risk life and limb every day to come to America because they know this is the land of the free.”

The controversy over multicultural education in this central Florida county, a blend of 160,000 people living in Orlando bedroom suburbs, small towns, retiree trailer parks and farms, follows nearly two years of acrimony over issues like sex education and government aid.

Mrs. Hart was elected four years ago in a contest that attracted few voters. She was joined in 1992 by two other religious conservatives who, like her, espouse the views of Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition. With their support, she became board chairman.

One board member, Judy Pearson, said, “We need to reinforce that we should be teaching America first.” Otherwise, she said, young people, “if they felt our land was inferior or equal to others, would have no motivation to go to war and defend our country.”

Ms. Pearson, who is a member of both the Christian Coalition and the equally conservative Citizens for Excellence in Education, said she thought it was evident that “our form of government is superior to other nations because it has survived when others have fallen.”

Phyllis Patten, one of two board members who voted against the measure, said such views were simplistic and undemocratic. “These are people with no experience and no education,” she said of her fundamentalist colleagues. “You’ve got three people sitting on that board with high school educations who want to wrap the Bible and the flag around themselves, who don’t believe in public education and are trying to undermine the system.”

Mrs. Hart, whose seat is up for election this year, originally ran on a tax-efficiency platform, emphasizing her religious agenda only after narrowly winning election.

In one early action that stirred controversy here, the revamped board rejected Federal money intended for Head Start programs for disadvantaged children. Mrs. Hart or her allies have also sought to severely limit sex education, to mandate creationism in the science curriculum and to limit some reading material in schools, primarily children’s books by Shel Silverstein.

The state government, which has the authority to suspend state aid or take the issue to court, has so far taken no action against the school board. But the Education Commissioner, Doug Jamerson, quickly condemned the new policy, which he and other officials said was clearly at odds with state requirements.

”American culture is made up of many different cultures from around the world,” Mr. Jamerson said. “To say American culture is superior to all others calls into question the rich history and significant contributions of all other nations and cultures whose influence helped shape this country.”

Mrs. Hart dismissed the importance of the controversy, saying “everything is being blown out of proportion by a radical teacher’s union.” And Mrs. Pearson said, “If we are already teaching these things, then there should be no opposition to this, and no problem, should there?”

Steven Farrell, one of the social studies teachers who will be required to teach the new curriculum, said they were not quite sure what the board wanted them to do. “We need clearer definitions,” said Mr. Farrell, who teaches American history. “We regard American culture as very diverse, and we’re not sure what values they see as American culture.”

The story goes that an American lands for the first time in a European country, and upon seeing a sign saying Foreigners This Way, exclaims, “But you’re the foreigners.” Nationalistic ethnocentrism is common to most countries. (Piaget studied the attitudes of children in Switzerland—a tiny country surrounded by France, Italy, and Germany—toward their own and neighboring countries, finding that the younger ones consistently believed “Switzerland is best.” As they got older, they tended to outgrow this “sociocentrism” and recognize that “everyone thinks his own is best.”) However, ethnocentrism is a distinctive problem in the United States, for several reasons. We have always been more insulated than most major countries geographically and culturally. Because of the conditions of our country’s founding and development, it has been regarded throughout the world as a unique land of democracy, opportunity, and even virtue. Over the course of the twentieth century, the United States became the largest economic and military power in the world. During nearly half a century of Cold War with the Soviet Union and its Communist allies, when it appeared necessary for Americans to side with one or another of the two world superpowers, there was little question that the United States represented the superior alternative. However, this hard choice resulted in a certain amount of oversimplification, and valid criticisms of this country were often stifled because they were perceived to give aid and comfort to the enemy, giving rise to either-or fallacies like “America: Love It or Leave It” and “If you don’t like it here, why don’t you go to Russia”—as though there were no other democratic countries in the world. Even the common use of the word America as a synonym for the United States reflects our ethnocentric exclusion of Canada, Mexico, and Central and South America.

The danger implicit in our country’s fortunate situation is an inclination toward smugness if not arrogance, toward defense mechanisms against admitting that we have social problems or that we are not necessarily and always number one in every way, and that we might have something to learn from other democratic countries’ different ways of doing things. In the preceding article, “Battle over Patriotism Curriculum,” a Florida school board head is quoted as insisting that children be taught “that the United States was ‘unquestionably superior’ to any other society in human history.” She then is quoted as saying that refugees come to America “because they know this is the land of the free.” This might be viewed as an example of compartmentalization if we consider that one of the central American freedoms is that of speech and thought—including the freedom to question America’s “unquestionable” superiority!

In response to reports in 2004 about the sadistic abuse of prisoners by American military personnel at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, President George W. Bush declared, “Their treatment does not reflect the nature of the American people. That’s not the way we do things in America I also want to remind people that those few people who did do that

do not reflect the nature of men and women we’ve sent overseas” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 1, 2004, p. 1). Think about the level of generalization and semantic abstraction (seechapters 7 and9) in these ethnocentric appeals, which represent an extreme form of what is sometimes called “American exceptionalism,” the belief that the United States has been historically exempt from the faults that have plagued every other country through history. Can anyone accurately make such sweeping statements about the “nature” of everyone in a country or its armed forces? Minimal knowledge of our history confirms that Americans, while relatively more civilized than many peoples through history, have been far from free of sadistic violence against Native Americans, African Americans (both during and for a hundred years after slavery), women, immigrants, labor organizers, homosexuals, and other victimized groups. Violent “frontier justice” dominated the settling of the West, and our modern rates of crime and imprisonment are among the highest in the world. Is there a town anywhere in the United States—like anywhere else—that doesn’t have its hoodlums, bullies, bigots, and corrupt officials? Our officials sentimentalize the nature of war and military service, which in America, as everywhere, sometimes attracts those whose violent inclinations might make them criminals in civilian life. Soldiers are necessarily indoctrinated to kill and to dehumanize the enemy. It is arguable that the occurrence of atrocity killings, torture, rape, and pillaging by American forces in wars is not vastly less frequent or vicious than what has always taken place in wars everywhere—e.g., the massacre of hundreds of civilians in the village of My Lai and elsewhere in the Vietnam War, and similar numbers of peasants and church workers in Central America massacred in the 1980s by militias supported by the U.S. government. (In fact, among the rationalizations used to excuse such events, including those in Iraq, was that they are common practice, the kind of thing that happens in every war, or that there are always “a few bad apples,” or that they weren’t so different from athletes’ roughhousing or fraternity hazing, practices that have in fact often gotten out of hand and resulted in deaths.

No country has ever remained the leading world power for more than a few centuries, and America’s lease on prosperity and power is not necessarily granted in perpetuity. A sobering perspective on contemporary America is provided in Andrew Shapiro’s book <em>We’re Number One: Where America Stands—and Falls—in the New World Order,</em> a two-hundredpage catalog of the many areas in which we rank number one in the <em>least</em> desirable traits compared to other industrial democracies. We have, for example, the highest ratings in crime and violence, extremes of wealth and poverty, the gap between employers and workers, cost of college education, and environmental destruction and the lowest ratings in health and health care, status of women, participation in elections, and aspects of education such as funding of public schools, teacher salaries, amount of homework and days in school, and proficiency in math and science, geography, and foreign languages. Likewise, according to Steve Brouwer’s <em>Sharing the Pie: A Citizen’s Guide to Wealth and Power in America</em>, excerpted in Chapter 15, the United States ranks far behind most contemporary industrial democracies in unionization of workers, minimum wage levels, length of work week, and vacation time,

Many Americans have a strong tendency toward rationalization, denial, and other defense mechanisms in reacting against critiques like Shapiro’s by dismissing them as motivated by “anti-American prejudice.” Such critiques might be motivated simply by the desire to see our country face its problems realistically, and we need to look at such commentaries with a cool head, evaluating them as objectively and open-mindedly as possible, solely on the grounds of the evidence supporting them, not on whether or not they make us feel good about our country. Remember, Adolf Hitler did a wonderful job of making Germans feel good about their country too—to the point of fostering illusions about “Deutschland uber Alles” (Germany Over All) that led to their destruction.

Questioning Capitalism

The American economy is primarily based on capitalism, or free enterprise. There is a classic semantic problem of denotation and connotation here: capitalism has a negative connotation in many people’s minds, though not everyone’s; free enterprise is a somewhat euphemistic substitute preferred by advocates because of the positive connotation associated with freedom. Both words, however, denote an economic system in which most businesses and industries are owned by private corporations and run on the principle of investment for profit. Our culturally conditioned assumptions perpetuate the premises of that system, frequently without consciousness or questioning. One of those premises, which is in fact disputable, is that a free enterprise economy is synonymous with political freedom and democracy; for the contrary opinion held by leftists, see “Conservatives, Liberals, Socialists, Libertarians” in Chapter 15.

The current equation of corporate capitalism with political democracy did not prevail in earlier American history. Contemporary defenders of corporate society often invoke the eighteenth-century “founding fathers” as sources for the belief that free enterprise, industrial capitalism, and private property are intrinsic to “the American way of life.” However, such invocations commit the logical fallacy of equivocation, a shift in definition of words away from the one appropriate to the context in question. When writers like Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur praised free enterprise, they meant individual farms or trades, not the modern usage of corporate enterprise free from government regulation. When they lauded “industry,” they meant individual industriousness, not corporate industries. Crevecoeur emphasized in “What Is An American,” “Here there are . . . no great manufacturers employing thousands, no great refinements of luxury........................................................................................................ We

are all animated with the spirit of an industry which is unfettered and unrestrained, because each person works for himself” (40-41). And by private property, they meant ownership of one’s own house, farm, or trade, not private ownership, through stocks, of large corporations, as in contemporary usage.

In fact, Jefferson wrote in 1816, “I hope we shall crush in its infancy the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.” (Quoted in Lawrence Goodwyn, The Populist Movement [New York: Oxford University Press, 1978] , frontispiece.) Jim Hightower and Phillip Frazer write in the Hightower Newsletter (April 2003):

From the start, the corporate structure was the exact opposite of democracy, and its singleminded pursuit of private gain was at odds with the public good. The founders knew that this anti-democracy bomb had to be tightly controlled, so the state charters authorizing each corporation to exist served as rigorous watchdogs for the public interest. To get a charter, a corporation:

  • Had to have a public purpose, from building canals to providing education (Harvard University, for example, was the first U.S. corporation). If it failed to perform its public purpose, the corporation was dissolved.

  • Was limited in what business it could pursue, was not allowed to buy other corporations, and could amass only a certain level of capital.

  • Faced term limits, with its charter usually expiring after 15 or 20 years, requiring it to seek renewal.

  • Had to treat farmers, small businesses, and other suppliers fairly and responsibly.

  • Was strictly prohibited from engaging in lobbying or political campaigns.

Jefferson, James Madison, and others actually wanted an eleventh amendment in the Bill of Rights. As described by Thom Hartmann in his book about the rise of corporate dominance, Unequal Protection: “Jefferson kept pushing for a law, written into the Constitution as an amendment, that would prevent companies from growing so large that they could dominate entire industries or have the power to influence the people’s government.” Referring to “aritificial aristocracies,” Jefferson pushed for a formal declaration of “freedom of commerce against monopolies.” The chief reason that this was not included in our constitutional protections is that other founders felt it was simply unnecessary, since corporate power was so universally condemned at the time and was considered to be held in check by the vigilant state-chartering process.

If only they had heeded Jefferson’s warnings that the corporation is an incorrigible beast that will not—cannot—restrain itself, and perpetually seeks to expand its reach, wealth, and power beyond whatever limits society draws! While the people continued to favor strict restraints, by the time of the Civil War, corporate fiefdoms were growing with industrialization, and the war itself fueled these new empires with rich government war contracts. This rise did not go unnoticed.......................................... Abraham Lincoln was appalled by the brazenness of corporate war

profiteers. J. P. Morgan, for example (hailed today as an icon of corporate meritocracy), bought 5,000 defective rifles for $3.50 each from a U.S. Army arsenal, then resold them to a Union field general for $22 each and skipped off with his war profits, while the rifles exploded in the hands of the soldiers who carried them. In an 1864 letter to his friend Col. William Elkins, Lincoln wrote: “I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”

Like all social systems, then, ours has its irrational or unjust aspects, arguably contrary to political freedom and democracy, to which our conditioning tends to blind us. Nor is this conditioning wholly accidental or impersonal. Those who have benefited the most from free enterprise, large corporations and wealthy individuals, quite naturally have a personal stake (or interest, in the sense of “self-interest” or “a special-interest group”) in selling the public on the virtues of this economic system, and they spend billions of dollars every year in the effort to do so, and to influence political policies in their own favor (see the readings in Part 4). The additional facts that news, entertainment, and other communications media—such as computer hardware, software, and Internet providers—are among the industries mostly owned by corporations and operated for profit in America and that they also serve as media for corporate advertising and public relations mean that those media form Part of the whole system of what can be termed—without a negative connotation—capitalistic propaganda, in the sense of that word meaning “the propagation of a particular ideology.” (Defenders of capitalistic ownership of media, of course, deny that those media are dominated by capitalist ideology; see Chapter 16.)

Of even more immediate concern to you as a student, if you plan eventually to work for a corporation, is the fact that employers have the power to hire and fire. Employees (or students as future employees) have a strong tendency to rationalize their necessary compliance with this power by tailoring their beliefs to match those of corporations—one of the most widespread forms of authoritarianism.

One of the premises of this book is that courses in critical thinking have a responsibility to examine the assumptions of free enterprise, as a counterbalance to corporate cultural conditioning, propaganda, and power; thus, many of the readings address the pros and cons of these assumptions. To the extent that corporate interests can be identified as conservative, then many if not most teachers and scholars, especially in higher education, can be identified as liberal in raising views that critically examine free enterprise. (See Chapter l5 for further refinement of these definitions.) It would be a false inference and an either-or fallacy, however, to deduce that teachers who criticize free enterprise therefore must advocate socialism or other leftist alternatives. They may or may not, but they see their primary mission simply to be enabling students to get beyond the ethnocentric assumptions of our culture that restrict critical thinking.

On the other hand, in a case of the equal and opposite extreme, conservatives often accuse college teachers of having a liberal, leftist, socialist, or even Communist bias and of imposing that bias propagandistically through attitudes recently labeled political correctness. Another line of argument that conservatives take is that teachers themselves form Part of a “new class” of public employees, professionals, and intellectuals with its own, opposing set of culturally conditioned assumptions; because members of this class themselves as rivals to capitalists, their criticisms of free enterprise may be propaganda for themselves as a special interest group (see Chapter 17, and David Horowitz’s article “The Intellectual Class War” in Chapter 15). Whatever the truth may be in this particular opposition of viewpoints, the approach of this book is simply to alert you to the predictable patterns of rhetoric that you should learn to look for in opposing sides on public controversies. Once you understand whose ideological viewpoint you are getting and what their argumentative moves are likely to be, you can then judge whether they are presenting their viewpoint in a biased or unbiased way.

Arguments on the pros and cons of capitalism and corporations are emphasized throughout this book, but for now a few examples will serve to indicate some of the self-contradictory aspects of free enterprise that we normally accept as rational. (Again, this is not to imply an “anti-free-enterprise” or, worse yet, “anti-American” viewpoint; any alternative system, real or hypothetical, is likely to have comparable self-contradictions, and these arguments simply need to be weighed in proportion to the positive aspects of free enterprise that you are likely to have heard more about.) If and when you are in a position to invest some money (or even put some in a checking or savings account), it is natural, under the logic of the capitalist system, for you to want to gain the maximum return on your capital; indeed the entire system is predicated on the competition of corporations and banks to return maximum profits to investors. But this very aspect of the system sometimes dictates corporate policies that are harmful to the public good, so that every investor develops a possible special interest, or a stake, in policies that they might personally oppose or that might harm them.

If you have money invested in energy stocks, you profit from high gas prices and reduction of environmental regulation, even though as a driver you may scream about the price at the pump or about air pollution from auto emissions. Higher profits for your corporate employer might be attained at the cost of lower wages for you, or even the loss of your job if the company downsizes or relocates to Third World countries where workers can be paid slave wages. Relocation also permits products like sports shoes to be sold at a lower price than if they were made in the United States, so what you save as a consumer buying sweatshop-produced goods may cost you as a worker. (See “The Campus Anti-Sweatshop Movement” in the readings here for a report on students currently challenging assumptions about the value of the global economy.) Maximizing profits can lead to cutting corners on environmental protection or on the safety and healthfulness of products or workplaces and may also foster racial and gender discrimination. The tobacco industry and the manufacture and sale of handguns, assault weapons, and war armaments in this country and internationally (where they have frequently been turned against Americans) are examples of industries where many investors’ profits depend on the sale of products that much of the public has recognized as socially harmful. (See “Confessions of a Tobacco Lobbyist” in Chapter 18.) It is true that a growing number of companies have pledged to subordinate maximizing profits to socially responsible policies. Isn’t it also true, however, that many investors have little or no awareness of the policies of companies in which they invest and perhaps would rather not know about irresponsible policies, as long as the profits are rolling in?

American society’s norms of, and emphasis on, female beauty are largely taken for granted. However, in the reading in Chapter 4 from Naomi Wolf’s book The Beauty Myth, Wolf argues that these norms have been engineered and maintained mainly for the purposes of maximizing profits for “the $33-billion-a-year diet industry, the $20-billion cosmetics industry, the $300-million cosmetic surgery industry, and the $7-billion pornography industry” (17). Manufacturers of beauty and diet products conduct psychological depth research on what insecurities in women can be manipulated and then use the results to saturate print, broadcast, and film media with images and ads playing on these insecurities:

Why is it never said that the really crucial function that women serve as aspiring beauties is to buy more things for the body? Somehow, somewhere, someone must have figured out that they will buy more things if they are kept in the self-hating, ever-failing, hungry, and sexually insecure state of being aspiring ‘beauties.’ (67)

In a final example of the more irrational aspects of capitalism, a headline in the New York Times (July 6, 1996) reads, “Signs of Unexpected Growth Send Markets Tumbling.” The story, by Floyd Norris, reports that Wall Street “reacted with alarm to the disclosure that a lot more Americans were working than had been anticipated. The report renews concern that the Federal Reserve would soon tighten credit,” thereby causing inflation (Yl7). In a satirical column titled “Those Vital Paupers,” in the New York Times , Russell Baker used verbal irony to comment humorously on this self-contradiction in relation to the Clinton administration’s cutbacks in welfare benefits and attempts to move welfare recipients into jobs. “There is probably no solution to the welfare problem. It is the inescapable product of an economic system with which the powers that be are quite content Attacking the

problem at its root would mean admitting that it is rooted in the structure of American capitalism.” Baker explained, “The health of the American economy obviously depends on keeping a percentage of the workforce unemployed. The Federal Reserve System sees to this by constantly raising interest rates to prevent the economy from ‘overheating.’” In addition, full employment and a surplus of available jobs would mean that workers can command higher wages. So a degree of unemployment—“Something around 5 percent seems to be just about right”—is desirable both to enable employers to pay lower wages and to prevent the inflation resulting from workers having more money to spend, thus causing consumer

prices to rise. Thus Baker concludes that unemployed welfare recipients are beneficial to the economy, so that we should be grateful to them rather than despising them or pretending to oblige them to find nonexistent jobs.

The headline of an op-ed in the New York Times (June 30, 2002, online edition) by Kurt Eichenwald asks, “Could Capitalists Actually Bring Down Capitalism?” In the wake of recent corporate scandals, Eichenwald asks, “Could the short-time, self-rewarding mentality of a handful of capitalists truly destroy capitalism? Bring on hundreds of bankruptcies, force banks under, end the giving of loans? Destroy America as we know it?” These are the kinds of questions traditionally raised by Marxists and other socialists who believe that capitalism sows the seeds of its own destruction. Eichenwald’s answer, though, reveals that he is a liberal capitalist, not a socialist (see the distinction in Chapter 15): “Not very likely. The system has a built-in corrective factor, which kicks in when abuses go too far. Harm to investor confidence harms the market, which harms the ability of corporations to raise the capital they need to grow and be profitable. Eventually, the capitalists’ desire to get investor confidence back wins the day.”


Some feminist theorists have identified male “phallocentrism” or “patriarchy” (paternal rule) as a source of many of the world’s evils and have advocated counterbalancing or replacing it with “gynocentrism,” ways of being, doing, and communicating that are more cooperative and collective than competitive and individualistic, more nurturing and intuitive than autonomous and pragmatic. Two influential recent books along these lines are psychologist Carol Gilligan’s In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development, and Women’s Ways of Knowing: The Development of Self, Voice, and Mind, by Mary Field Belenky, Blythe

McVicker Clinchy, Nancy Rule Goldberger, and Jill Mattuck Tarule. Gilligan and Belenky et al. modify and supplement the paradigms of cognitive development in the work of Piaget, William Perry, and Lawrence Kohlberg with the hypothesis that young women’s cognitive development differs in important aspects from that of the young men studied exclusively by Perry and Kohlberg. A key section from Women’s Ways of Knowing follows this chapter.

Some applications of feminist psychological theory have gone to the equal and opposite extreme in setting up an absolute opposition between male and female psychology, in favoring the latter unconditionally, and in throwing out the entire notion of stages of cognitive development for its alleged male bias. The most profound contribution that feminist approaches like Gilligan’s and Belenky’s have had, however, is in their more moderate versions, by simply pointing out the many ways in which biases in favor of men’s assumed superiority and blind spots toward women’s sensibility in society and in scholarship have resulted in neglect of the “feminine” side in each of us and in social values. See the excerpt from Virginia Woolf’s book A Room of One’s Own later in this Chapter for Woolf’s powerful description of the psychology behind the culturally conditioned assumption of male superiority throughout the ages.


Other kinds of “-centrism” have been the subject of heated debate in the “culture wars” of recent years. As surveyed in Diane Ravitch’s “Multiculturalism” in Chapter 3, multiculturalists have challenged the dominance of “Eurocentrism” in American and other Western cultures. Some African-American scholars have developed an entire competing philosophy of “Afrocentrism,” emphasizing the centrality of contributions to civilization by black peoples over the ages, and in a few cases going to the equal and opposite extreme by inverting the claims of white supremacists to assert the biological superiority of the black race.

A little-known humorous essay by Benjamin Franklin, “Remarks Concerning the Savages of North America,” written in 1784, which is included in this chapter, skeptically satirizes the ethnocentrism of white Christians’ sense of moral and religious superiority over Native Americans during the colonial period. Franklin’s piece, though tongue-in-cheek, indicates that the belief in what William J. Bennett scorns as “moral relativism” (see his “Faced With Evil” in Chapter 1) in recognizing the worthiness of other cultures in comparison to our own was not the invention of twentieth-century academics but derives from a tradition dating back at least to the eighteenth-century secular intellectual movement called the Enlightenment, of which Franklin, Jefferson, and other “founders” were prominent advocates.

Many writers in the skeptical tradition have satirized not only the follies of ethnocentrism but also those of the human race as a whole, in its often excessive pretensions to superiority over the rest of nature and our “anthropocentric” (or, more commonly, “anthropomorphic”) tendency to view animals, the earth, and the universe through human lenses. Reversal of our anthropomorphic perspective is the most common theme in Gary Larson’s “Far Side” cartoons, which look at humans from the viewpoint of animals or extraterrestrials. Satirists in earlier centuries have taken similar views. In book 4 of Gulliver’s Travels (1726) by Jonathan Swift, the hero finds himself in the land of the Houyhnhnms, horselike creatures whose intelligence and virtues far exceed those of humans, while their slaves— filthy, malicious, monkeylike creatures called Yahoos—are gradually revealed to symbolize the human race.

Mark Twain’s essay “The Lowest Animal,” written around 1905, applies Twain’s inimitable humorous style to a devastatingly “decentering” reversal of the conventional belief that the “moral sense” elevates humans above the animals. Twain puns on Charles Darwin’s


© 1983 Far Works. Inc An Rights Rasarvad/Dnt by Creators Syndicate

”That was incredible. No fur, claws, horns, antlers, or nothin’... just soft and pink.”

theory that humans are descended through evolution from animals, in describing the results of his studies, which contradict Darwin’s account of the ascent of humans from “‘the lower animals’ (so called).” Twain writes: “It now seems plain to me that that theory ought to be vacated in favor of a new and truer one, this new and truer one to be named the Descent of Man from the Higher Animals.”

The higher animals engage in individual fights, but never in organized masses. Man is the only animal that deals in that atrocity of atrocities, War. He is the only one that gathers his brethren about him and goes forth in cold blood and with calm pulse to exterminate his kind. He is the only animal that for sordid wages will march out, as the Hessians did in our Revolution, and as the boyish Prince Napoleon did in the Zulu war, and help to slaughter strangers of his own species who have done him no harm and with whom he has no quarrel........................................................................

Man is the only Patriot. He sets himself a Part in his own country, under his own flag, and sneers at the other nations, and keeps multitudinous uniformed assassins on hand at heavy expense to grab slices of other people’s countries, and to keep them from grabbing slices of his. And in the intervals between campaigns he washes the blood off his hands and works for “the universal brotherhood of man”—with his mouth.

Man is the Religious Animal. He is the only Religious Animal. He is the only animal that has the True Religion—several of them. He is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself, and cuts his throat if his theology isn’t straight. He has made a graveyard of the globe in trying his honest best to smooth his brother’s path to happiness and heaven. (225-27)

From A Room of One’s Own

Virginia Woolf

Harcourt, 1929

Life for both sexes . . . is arduous, difficult, perpetual struggle. It calls for gigantic courage and strength. More than anything, perhaps, creatures of illusion as we are, it calls for confidence in oneself. Without self-confidence we are as babes in the cradle. And how can we generate this imponderable quality, which is yet so invaluable, most quickly? By thinking that other people are inferior to oneself. By feeling that one has some innate superiority—it may be wealth, or rank, a straight nose, or the portrait of a grandfather by Romney—for there is no end to the pathetic devices of the human imagination— over other people. Hence the enormous importance to a patriarch who has to conquer, who has to rule, of feeling that great numbers of people, half the human race indeed, are by nature inferior to himself............................................................. Women

have served all these centuries as lookingglasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size That serves to explain in

Part the necessity that women so often are to men. And it serves to explain how restless they are under her criticism; how impossible it is for her to say to them this book is bad, this picture is feeble, or whatever it may be, without giving far more pain and rousing far more anger than a man would do who gave the same criticism. For if she begins to tell the truth, the figure in the looking-glass shrinks; his fitness for life is diminished. How is he to go on giving judgements, civilizing natives, making laws, writing books, dressing up and speechifying at banquets, unless he can see himself at breakfast and dinner at least twice the size he really is? (34-36)

Rescue Me, Please!

Maureen Dowd

From the New York Times, June 7, 2000

The modern history of women can be summed up in three sentences:

Women demand equality.

Girls just want to have fun.

Ladies long to loll about.

Hillary Rodham Clinton remains a go-getter, clambering up the ladder, seeking gender equity, trying to shed the title she scorns, first lady.

But others are celebrating lady chic, indulging in the old-fashioned dress and languid behavior that predated hard-charging feminism.

Women want to be rescued.

Women want to flirt.

Women want to shop till they drop.

Women want to get married and stay home and be taken care of.

Women want to carry little ladylike purses and wear acres of floral chiffon and chandelier earrings. With the lady look, matching bags and shoes are hot again. So are gloves and hats. And coming from Prada this fall—the Eisenhower jacket!

The new female role models celebrated in women’s magazines are socialites and debutantes, Palm Beach matrons and Park Avenue princesses.

Thirty-five years of striving have tuckered women out. “You go girl!” has downshifted to “You go lie down, girl.”

Ms. magazine expects too much. Much better to curl up with the new Conde Nast shopping magazine, Lucky, featuring “Shoes You Need! Shoes You’d Kill For! And Then Even Still More Shoes!” and a centerfold of row upon row of “dreampuffs”—cosmetic sponges, makeup wedges and faux alpaca powder puffs.

What an arc: from powder puffs to empowerment to powder puffs.

The June Cosmopolitan reports on “the New Housewife Wanna-bes”—twentysomethings who dream of quitting the daily grind.

After just a few months on the fast track at her investment banking firm, Erica, 23, had a new goal: “Marry that cute associate two cubicles down and embark on a fulltime stint as his housefrau.”

Cosmo quotes a survey by Youth Intelligence, a market research firm in New York, that finds that 68 percent of 3,000 married and single young women said “they’d ditch work if they could afford to. And a Cosmo poll of 800 women revealed the same startling statistic: two out of three respondents would rather kick back a casa than climb the corporate ladder.”

”So why has ordering sheets and stirring sauces taken on more allure than making vice president by age 30?” Cosmo wonders. “Probably because so few career women do land an awesome title quickly. Work is, well, work—it’s just not as glam as we’re led to believe.”

Women who used to abhor the Mommy Track now pray for it.

If twentysomethings are tired, think how fortysomethings are dragging.

Maybe women have not evolved to the point where they want to work as long as men. Or maybe they don’t want to become company women on an institutional track; maybe they’d rather work for themselves than keep grasping for that elusive managing director title. Or maybe they just value time spent with friends and family more than time spent on office warfare.

Five years ago, you would often hear high-powered women fantasize that they would love a Wife, somebody to do the shopping, cooking, carpooling, so they could focus on work.

Now the fantasy is more retro: They just want to be that Wife.

Many women I know, who once disdained their mothers’ lifestyles, no longer see those lives as boring and indulgent. Now, they look back with a tad of longing. Wouldn’t it be pleasant to while away time playing bridge and tennis and lunching with girlfriends and eating shrimp cocktails and napping and taking the kids up to the beach house all summer and chilling the cocktail shaker when hubby’s on his way home?

In the season debut of HBO’s “Sex and the City,” the four girlfriends discuss the appeal of firemen.

”It’s because women really just want to be rescued,” the ladylike Charlotte says. “I’m sorry, but I’ve been dating since I was 15. I’m exhausted. Where is he?”

Sarah Jessica Parker, as narrator, intones: “There it was. The sentence independent single women in their 30’s are never supposed to think, let alone speak.”

In the Washington Post Style section yesterday, Roxanne Roberts began her article: “Here’s a proposition for you: Bring back flirting.”

So, ladies, there you have it: Shop. Eat shrimp cocktail. Flirt. Get rescued. The new definition of Having It All.

Objectivity in Connected Teaching

By Mary Field Belenky, Blythe McVicker Clinchy, Nancy Rule Goldberger and Jill Mattuck Tarule

From Women’s Ways of Knowing: The Development of Self, Voice and Mind

Basic Books, 1986

Connected teachers try to discern the truth inside the students. It is essential that the search be disinterested. A fifty-four-year-old mother of six in her second term at an adult program said,

I keep discovering things inside myself. I see myself for the first time through the eyes of others. In the past, whenever I’ve seen myself through the eyes of others it’s been another that I cared a great deal about, who had the power to destroy me, and usually did. Now I see myself through the eyes of others who matter, but not that closely. I’m not entwined with them emotionally. I feel that it’s a truer thing that I’m getting back from these people.

Several women spontaneously remarked that in this adult program they were able for the first time since childhood to initiate a conversation, because they knew that they would be listened to in their own terms. “Everyone wants what’s best for me,” said one.

Connected teachers welcome diversity of opinion in class discussion. Many of the women we interviewed spoke with appreciation of teachers who refrained from “inflicting” (a common term) their own opinions on the students. Elizabeth remembered a Bible course as “just great.”

We had Baptists and we had Jews in there and we had atheists in there. We had people with just absolute disregard for humanity in there. And all of us could contribute and learn something and gain something because he could tolerate so many different views. I think that’s a mark of excellence, the ability to accept dissent from your own opinion.

Objectivity in connected teaching, as in connected knowing, means seeing the other, the student, in the student’s own terms. Noddings contrasts separate and connected (in her terms, “caring”) approaches to teaching.

Suppose, for example, that I am a teacher who loves mathematics. I encounter a student who is doing poorly, and I decide to have a talk with him. He tells me that he hates mathematics. I do not begin with dazzling performances designed to intrigue him or to change his attitude.

I begin, as nearly as I can, with the view from his eyes: Mathematics is bleak, jumbled, scary, boring, boring, boring. From that point on. we struggle together with it (1984, pp. 15-16)

In traditional separate education, the student tries to look at the material through the teacher’s eyes. In contrast, the caring teacher “receives and accepts the student’s feeling toward the subject matter; she looks at it and listens to it through his eyes and ears.” She acts “as if for herself,” but in the interests of the student’s projects, realizing that the student is “independent, a subject” (Noddings 1984, p. 177). In the developmental story Perry tells, the student becomes an independent thinker through executing the teacher’s projects in the teacher’s own terms. Connected education follows a straighter path: The student is treated from the start not as subordinate or as object but as “independent, a subject.”

Teaching can be simultaneously objective and personal. There is no inherent contradiction, so long as objectivity is not defined as self-extrication. Connected teachers use a technique similar to the “participantobservation” method anthropologists use. Participant-observers maintain “a dynamic tension” between the separate stance of an observer and the connected, “subjective” stance of a participant, being “neither one entirely” (Wilson 1977, p. 250). Reinharz (1984) found the participant-observation method uncomfortable for precisely this reason; investigating friendships among patients in a mental hospital she felt herself to be in an anomalous position, neither truly attached nor truly detached from her subjects, a stranger in their midst. In a subsequent field project in an Israeli town she and her colleagues on the research team coined the phrase “temporary affiliation” to describe their modification of the participant-observation method. This term, Reinharz thinks, better captures the “human mutuality” that should characterize the relationship between researchers and their informants. The researchers act as “short-term partners” who give the informants a chance to be heard and provide feedback to them. For a brief period, researcher and subject meet on common turf, each “truly being with the other.”

Noddings describes the relation between caring teachers and their students in similar terms. “I do not need to establish a lasting, time-consuming personal relationship with every student. What I must do is to be totally and nonselectively present to the student—to each student—as he addresses me. The time interval may be brief but the encounter is total” (p. 180).

Portrait of a Connected Teacher

Candace remembered an English professor at the women’s college who could serve as an ideal prototype of a connected teacher. Candace was “moved” by this woman’s “rigorous” approach to teaching. “You had to assume that there was a purpose to everything the writer did. And if something seemed odd, you couldn’t overlook it or ignore it or throw it out.” This teacher was thoroughly “objective”in treating the students’ responses as real and independent of her own.

She was intensely, genuinely interested in everybody’s feelings about things. She asked a question and wanted to know what your response was. She wanted to know because she wanted to see what sort of effect this writing was having. She wasn’t using us as a sounding board for her own feelings about things. She really wanted to know.

She was careful not to use the students to “develop her own argument.”

Candace recalled with special vividness an occasion when the teacher become embroiled in a real argument with a student and stubbornly refused to hear the student’s point.

And she came in the next day and said, “You know, my response to this student was being governed by my own biases.” And she learned from that, she said, how she really did feel about something, and then she related it actually to the work we were studying. And it was just so wonderful, so amazing that somebody would really—in this theater of the classroom—that she was fully engaged in what was going on.

This teacher managed not only to present herself as a person while retaining her objectivity but to present objectivity as a personal issue. By her actions as well as her words she made it clear that to overlook or ignore or throw out a piece of data or another person’s words was a violation of her own person. And the violation itself became another piece of data not to be overlooked or ignored or thrown out. Instead, it had to be acknowledged in full view of the class, understood, and even used to illuminate the material the class was studying. The personal became the professional; the professional became the personal. And subjectivity and objectivity became one. The anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson, attempting to define the method of participant-observation, writes,

These resonances between the personal and the professional are the source of both insight and error. You avoid mistakes and distortions not so much by trying to build a wall between the observer and the observed as by observing the observer— observing yourself—as well, and bringing the personal issues into consciousness (1984, p. 161)

Investigators who use this sort of method, whether they label it “participant-observation”as Bateson does or “experiential analysis” as Reinharz (1984) does, practice a sophisticated form of connected knowing, a “technique of disciplined subjectivity” (Erikson 1964) requiring that they “systematically empathize with the participants” (Wilson 1977, p. 259.). They participate in the enterprise they are studying in order to undergo experiences similar to those of the other participants, placing themselves in a better position to understand the experiences of the other participants. They use their own reactions to formulate hypotheses about the other participants’ reactions.

Candace’s English teacher behaved in a similar way. She did not treat her own experience of the material under study as primary, and she did not assume that her students experienced the material as she did; this would be undisciplined subjectivity or, in Albow’s words, “projection in the bad sense” (1973, p. 171). She really wanted to know how the students were experiencing the material. As a teacher, she believed she had to trust each student’s experience, although as a person or a critic she might not agree with it. To trust means not just to tolerate a variety of viewpoints, acting as an impartial referee, assuring equal air time to all. It means to try to connect, to enter into each student’s perspective.

But, again, subjectivity is disciplined. Like the participant-observer, the connected teacher is careful not to “abandon” herself to these perspectives (Wilson 1977, p. 259). A connected teacher is not just another student; the role carries special responsibilities. It does not entail power over the students; however, it does carry authority, an authority based not on subordination but on cooperation.

Belief, Doubt, and Development

Connected teachers are believers. They trust their students’ thinking and encourage them to expand it. But in the psychological literature concerning the factors promoting cognitive development, doubt has played a more prominent role than belief. People are said to be precipitated into states of cognitive conflict when, for example, some external event challenges their ideas and the effort to resolve the conflict leads to cognitive growth. We do not deny that cognitive conflict can act as an impetus to growth; all of us can attest to such experiences in our own lives. But in our interviews only a handful of women described a powerful and positive learning experience in which a teacher aggressively challenged their notions. The midwife model was much more prominent.

This could be interpreted to mean that the midwife model was more prominent than the conflict model in the institutions we sampled, but we do not think so. Women did tell of occasions when teachers challenged their ideas—and we have retold some in this book—but they did not describe them as occasions for cognitive growth. On the whole, women found the experience of being doubted debilitating rather than energizing. Several women said that they and their friends left school as soon as they legally could, married, and got pregnant (not necessarily in that order) “so that we wouldn’t have to put up with being put down every day.”

Because so many women are already consumed with self-doubt, doubts imposed from outside seem at best redundant and at worst confirming the women’s own sense of themselves as inadequate knowers. The doubting model, then, may be peculiarly inappropriate for women, although we are not convinced that it is appropriate for men, either.

Both the authoritarian banking model and the adversarial doubting model of education are, we believe, wrong for women. Freire says that if we abandon the banking model in favor of the problem-posing model, we will “undermine the power of oppression” (1971, p. 62). If we replace the separate with the connected model, we can spare women the “alienation, repression, and division” their schooling currently confers upon them (Jacobus 1979, p. 10). Education conducted on the connected model would help women toward community, power, and integrity. Such an education could facilitate the development of women’s minds and spirits rather than, as in so many cases reported in this book, retarding, arresting, or even reversing their growth.

Women’s Development as the Aim of Education

Some years ago, in a now classic paper called “Development as the Aim of Education,” Kohlberg and Mayer suggested that the proper purpose of education was to assist students in moving toward more mature stages of intellectual, epistemological, and ethical development. They argued that this sort of education did not entail indoctrination, because it merely stimulated children in the “natural directions” of development (1972, p. 475).

We found this argument compelling at the time, and we still believe in development as the aim of education; but parts of the Kohlberg-Mayer argument now make us uneasy. It turns out, of course, that those “natural directions” in which all human beings supposedly head are toward principled moral judgment and an epistemology based on standard (and separate) “principles of scientific method” serving “as the basis of rational reflection” (p. 475).

Along with many of our colleagues, we believed at the time that psychologists such as Piaget and Kohlberg had established through empirical investigation that these were the universal and natural trajectories in human development. And we believed that they had discovered effective strategies for “moving” students to more advanced levels, such as instigating moral arguments among students at varying stages (the adversarial model) and exposing students to real or fictional people making statements at a slightly more sophisticated stage (“plus-one-model”). Most of the research on these matters had, of course, been done by and “on” males.

Since the publication of Kohlberg’s paper, research by, with, and for women has increased. (We like to think less work is being done “on” women.) This research suggests that the directions then assumed to be natural do not come naturally to many women. Gilligan (1982) and Lyons (1983) have demonstrated that an ethic of responsibility may be more “natural” to most women than an ethic of rights. We believe that connected knowing comes more easily to many women than does separate knowing.

We have argued in this book that educators can help women develop their own authentic voices if they emphasize connection over separation, understanding and acceptance over assessment, and collaboration over debate; if they accord respect to and allow time for the knowledge that emerges from firsthand experience; if instead of imposing their own expectations and arbitrary requirements, they encourage students to evolve their own patterns of work based on the problems they are pursuing. These are the lessons we have learned in listening to women’s voices.

The Campus Anti-Sweatshop Movement]]

By Richard Appelbaum and Peter Dreier

From The American Prospect September-October 1999

Each year of the past five, the annual survey of national freshman attitudes conducted by the University of California at Los Angeles has hit a new record low with students who say it is important to keep up with political affairs. At 26 percent this year, it was down from 58 percent when the survey was first done in 1966.

Boston Globe, February 15, 1999

From: Arne David Ekstrom <ekstrom@NSMA.Arizona.EDU>

To: usas@listbot.com [United Students Against Sweatshops listserve]

Date: Thursday, April 29, 1999


For those of you who are wondering, the University of Arizona sit-in is STILL GOING ON! We have reached a USAS record of 200 hours and still counting. Negotiations are still going slowly although progress is being made. We could still most definitely use your support in the form of emails, phone calls, and letters. Morale tends to go up and down but support ALWAYS keeps it high!

our cell phone: (520) 400-1066 (somewhat unreliable)

our email: akolers@u.arizona.edu (avery), lsnow@u.arizona.edu (laura) our President’s email: President Likins at plikins@lan.admin.arizona.edu

our President’s phone: (520) 621-5511

If University of Arizona activist Arne Ekstrom was aware of today’s widely reported student apathy, he certainly was not deterred when he helped lead his campus anti-sweatshop sit-in. Nor, for that matter, were any of the other thousands of students across the United States who participated in anti-sweatshop activities during the past academic year, coordinating their activities on the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) listserv (a listserv is an online mailing list for the purpose of group discussion) and Web site.

Last year’s student anti-sweatshop movement gained momentum as it swept westward, eventually encompassing more than 100 campuses across the country. Sparked by a sit-in at Duke University, students organized teach-ins, led demonstrations, and occupied buildings—first at Georgetown, then northeast to the Ivy League, then west to the Big Ten. After militant actions at Notre Dame, Wisconsin, and Michigan made the New York Times, Business Week, Time, National Public Radio, and almost every major daily newspaper, the growing student movement reached California, where schools from tiny Occidental College to the giant ten-campus University of California system agreed to limit the use of their names and logos to sweatshop-free apparel. Now the practical challenge is to devise a regime of monitoring and compliance.

The anti-sweatshop movement is the largest wave of student activism to hit campuses since students rallied to free Nelson Mandella by calling for a halt to university investments in South Africa more than a decade ago. This time around, the movement is electronically connected. Student activists bring their laptops and cell phones with them when they occupy administration buildings, sharing ideas and strategies with fellow activists from Boston to Berkeley. On the USAS listserv, victorious students from Wisconsin counsel neophytes from Arizona and Kentucky, and professors at Berkeley and Harvard explain how to calculate a living wage and guarantee independent monitoring in Honduras.

The target of this renewed activism is the $2.5 billion collegiate licensing industry— led by major companies like Nike, Gear, Champion, and Fruit of the Loom—which pays colleges and universities sizable royalties in exchange for the right to use the campus logo on caps, sweatshirts, jackets, and other items. Students are demanding that the workers who made these goods be paid a living wage, no matter where in the world industry operates. Students are also calling for an end to discrimination against women workers, public disclosure of the names and addresses of all factories involved in production, and independent monitoring in order to verify compliance.

These demands are opposed by the apparel industry, the White House, and most universities. Yet so far students have made significant progress in putting the industry on the defensive. A growing number of colleges and clothing companies have adopted “codes of conduct”—something unthinkable a decade ago—although student activists consider many of these standards inadequate.

In a world economy increasingly dominated by giant retailers and manufacturers who control global networks of independently owned factories, organizing consumers may prove to be a precondition for organizing production workers. And students are a potent group of consumers. If students next year succeed in building on this year’s momentum, the collegiate licensing industry will be forced to change the way it does business. These changes, in turn, could affect the organization of the world’s most globalized and exploitative industry—apparel manufacturing—along with the growing number of industries that, like apparel, outsource production in order to lower labor costs and blunt worker organizing.

The Global Sweatshop

In the apparel industry, so-called manufacturers—in reality, design and marketing firms—outsource the fabrication of clothing to independent contractors around the world. In this labor intensive industry where capital requirements are minimal, it is relatively easy to open a clothing factory. This has contributed to a global race to the bottom, in which there is always someplace, somewhere, where clothing can be made still more cheaply. Low wages reflect not low productivity, but low bargaining power. A recent analysis in Business Week found that although Mexican apparel workers are 70 percent as productive as U.S. workers, they earn only 11 percent as much as their U.S. counterparts; Indonesian workers, who are 50 percent as productive, earn less than 2 percent as much.

The explosion of imports has proven devastating to once well-paid, unionized U.S. garment workers. The number of American garment workers has declined from peak levels of 1.4 million in the early 1970s to 800,000 today. The one exception to these trends is the expansion of garment employment, largely among immigrant and undocumented workers, in Los Angeles, which has more than 160,000 sweatshop workers. Recent U.S. Department of Labor surveys found that more than nine out of ten such firms violate legal health and safety standards, with more than half troubled by serious violations that could lead to severe injuries or death. Working conditions in New York City, the other major domestic garment center, are similar.

The very word “sweatshop” comes from the apparel industry, where profits were “sweated” out of workers by forcing them to work longer and faster at their sewing machines. Although significant advances have been made in such aspects of production as computer-assisted design, computerized marking, and computerized cutting, the industry still remains low-tech in its core production process, the sewing of garments. The basic unit of production continues to be a worker, usually a woman, sitting or standing at a sewing machine and sewing together pieces of limp cloth.

The structure of the garment industry fosters sweatshop production. During the past decade, retailing in the United States has become increasingly concentrated. Today, the four largest U.S. retailers—Wal-Mart, Kmart, Sears, and Dayton Hudson (owner of Target and Mervyns)—account for nearly twothirds of U.S. retail sales. Retailers squeeze manufacturers, who in turn squeeze the contractors who actually make their products. Retailers and manufacturers preserve the fiction of being completely separate from contractors because they do not want to be held legally responsible for workplace violations of labor, health, and safety laws. Retailers and manufacturers alike insist that what happens in contractor factories is not their responsibility—even though their production managers and quality control officers are constantly checking up on the sewing shops that make their clothing.

The contracting system also allows retailers and manufacturers to eliminate much uncertainty and risk. When business is slow, the contract is simply not renewed; manufacturers need not worry about paying unemployment benefits or dealing with idle workers who might go on strike or otherwise make trouble. If a particular contractor becomes a problem, there are countless others to be found who will be only too happy to get their business. Workers, however, experience the flip side of the enormous flexibility enjoyed by retailers and manufacturers. They become contingent labor, employed and paid only when their work is needed.

Since profits are taken out at each level of the supply chain, labor costs are reduced to a tiny fraction of the retail price. Consider the economics of a dress that is sewn in Los Angeles and retails for $100. Half goes to the department store and half to the manufacturer, who keeps $12.50 to cover expenses and profit, spends $22.50 on textiles, and pays $15 to the contractor. The contractor keeps $9 to cover expenses and profits. That leaves just $6 of the $100 retail price for the workers who actually make the dress. Even if the cost of direct production labor were to increase by half, the dress would still only cost $103—a small increment that would make a world of difference to the seamstress in Los Angeles, whose $7,000 to $8,000 in annual wages are roughly two-thirds of the poverty level. A garment worker in Mexico would be lucky to earn $1,000 during a year of 48 to 60 hour workweeks; in China, $500.

At the other end of the apparel production chain, the heads of the 60 publicly traded U.S. apparel retailers earn an average $1.5 million a year. The heads of the 35 publicly traded apparel manufacturers average $2 million. In 1997, according to the Los Angeles Business Journal, five of the six highest-paid apparel executives in Los Angeles all came from a single firm: Guess?, Inc. They took home nearly $12.6 million—enough to double the yearly wages of 1,700 L.A. apparel workers.

Organizing workers at the point of production, the century-old strategy that built the power of labor in Europe and North America, is best suited to production processes where most of the work goes on in-house. In industries whose production can easily be shifted almost anywhere on the planet, organizing is extremely difficult. Someday, perhaps, a truly international labor movement will confront global manufacturers. But in the meantime, organized consumers may well be labor’s best ally. Consumers, after all, are not as readily moved as factories. And among American consumers, college students represent an especially potent force.

Kathie Lee and Robert Reich

During the early 1990s, American human rights and labor groups protested the proliferation of sweatshops at home and abroad— with major campaigns focusing on Nike and Gap. These efforts largely fizzled. But then two exposes of sweatshop conditions captured public attention. In August 1995, state and federal officials raided a garment factory in El Monte, California—a Los Angeles suburb—where 71 Thai immigrants had been held for several years in virtual slavery in an apartment complex ringed with barbed wire and spiked fences. They worked an average of 84 hours a week for $1.60 an hour, living eight to ten persons in a room. The garments they sewed ended up in major retail chains, including Macy’s, Filene’s and RobinsonsMay, and for brand-name labels like B.U.M., Tomato, and High Sierra. Major daily papers and TV networks picked up on the story, leading to a flood of outraged editorials and columns calling for a clamp-down on domestic sweatshops. Then in April 1996, TV celebrity Kathie Lee Gifford tearfully acknowledged on national television that the Wal-Mart line of clothing that bore her name was made by children in Honduran sweatshops, even though tags on the garments promised that Part of the profits would go to help children. Embarrassed by the publicity, Gifford soon became a crusader against sweatshop abuses.

For several years, then-Labor Secretary Robert Reich (now the Prospect’s senior editor) had been trying to inject the sweatshop issue onto the nation’s agenda. The mounting publicity surrounding the El Monte and Kathie Lee scandals gave Reich new leverage. After all, what the apparel industry primarily sells is image, and the image of some of its major labels was getting a drubbing. He began pressing apparel executives, threatening to issue a report card on firms’ behavior unless they agreed to help establish industry-wide standards.

In August 1996, the Clinton administration brought together representatives from the garment industry, labor unions, and consumer and human rights groups to grapple with sweatshops. The members of what they called the White House Apparel Industry Partnership (AIP) included apparel firms (Liz Claiborne, Reebok, L.L. Bean, Nike, Patagonia, PhillipsVan Heusen, Wal-Mart’s Kathie Lee Gifford brand, and Nicole Miller), several nonprofit organizations (including the National Consumers League, Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, International Labor Rights Fund, Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, and Business for Social Responsibility), as well as the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE), the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, and the AFL-CIO.

After intense negotiations, the Department of Labor issued an interim AIP report in April 1997 and the White House released the final 40-page report in November 1998, which included a proposed workplace code of conduct and a set of monitoring guidelines. By then, Reich had left the Clinton administration, replaced by Alexis Herman. The two labor representatives on the AIP, as well as the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, quit the group to protest the feeble recommendations, which had been crafted primarily by the garment industry delegates and which called, essentially, for the industry to police itself. This maneuvering would not have generated much attention except that a new factor—college activism—had been added to the equation.

A “Sweat-Free” Campus

The campus movement began in the fall of 1997 at Duke when a group called Students Against Sweatshops persuaded the university to require manufacturers of items with the Duke label to sign a pledge that they would not use sweatshop labor. Duke has 700 licenses (including Nike and other major labels) that make apparel at hundreds of plants in the U.S. and in more than 10 other countries, generating almost $25 million annually in sales. Following months of negotiations, in March 1998 Duke President Nannerl Keohane and the student activists jointly announced a detailed “code of conduct” that bars Duke licensees from using child labor, requires them to maintain safe workplaces, to pay the minimum wage, to recognize the right of workers to unionize, to disclose the locations of all factories making products with Duke’s name, and to allow visits by independent monitors to inspect the factories.

The Duke victory quickly inspired students on other campuses. The level of activity on campuses accelerated, with students finding creative ways to dramatize the issue. At Yale, student activists staged a “knit-in” to draw attention to sweatshop abuses. At Holy Cross and the University of California at Santa Barbara, students sponsored mock fashion shows where they discussed the working conditions under which the garments were manufactured. Duke students published a coloring book explaining how (and where) the campus mascot, the Blue Devil, is stitched onto clothing by workers in sweatshops. Activists at the University of Wisconsin infiltrated a homecoming parade and, dressed like sweatshop workers in Indonesia, carried a giant Reebok shoe. They also held a press conference in front of the chancellor’s office and presented him with an oversized check for 16 cents—the hourly wage paid to workers in China making Nike athletic shoes. At Georgetown, Wisconsin, Michigan, Arizona, and Duke, students occupied administration buildings to pressure their institutions to adopt (or, in Duke’s case, strengthen) anti-sweatshop codes.

In the summer of 1998, disparate campus groups formed United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS). The USAS has weekly conference calls to discuss their negotiations with Nike, the Department of Labor, and others. It has sponsored training sessions for student leaders and conferences at several campuses where the sweatshop issue is only Part of an agenda that also includes helping to build the labor movement, NAFTA, the World Trade Organization, women’s rights, and other issues.

The Labor Connection

At the core of the movement is a strong bond with organized labor. The movement is an important byproduct of the labor movement’s recent efforts, under President John Sweeney, to repair the rift between students and unions that dates to the Vietnam War. Since 1996, the AFL-CIO’s Union Summer has placed almost 2,000 college students in internships with local unions around the country, most of whom work on grassroots organizing campaigns with low-wage workers in hotels, agriculture, food processing, janitorial service, and other industries. The program has its own staff, mostly young organizers only a few years out of college themselves, who actively recruit on campuses, looking for the next generation of union organizers and researchers, particularly minorities, immigrants, and women. Union summer graduates are among the key leadership of the campus anti-sweatshop movement.

Unions and several liberal foundations have provided modest funding for student anti-sweatshop groups. Until this summer USAS had no staff, nor did any of its local campus affiliates. In contrast, corporate-sponsored conservative foundations have over the past two decades, funded dozens of conservative student publications, subsidized student organizations and conferences, and recruited conservative students for internships and jobs in right-wing think tanks and publications as well as positions in the Reagan and Bush administrations and Congress seeking to groom the next generation of conservative activists. The Intercollegiate Studies Institute, the leading right-wing campus umbrella group has an annual budget over $5 million. In comparison, the Center for Campus Organizing, a Boston-based group that works closely with anti-sweatshop groups and other progressive campus organizations, operates on a budget under $200,000.

This student movement even has some sympathizers among university administrators. “Thank God students are getting passionate about something other than basketball and bonfires,” John Burness, Duke administrator who helped negotiate the end of the 31-hour sit-in, told the Boston Globe. “But the tone is definitely different. In the old days, we used to have to scramble to cut off phone lines when they took over the president’s office, but we didn’t have to worry about that here. They just bring their laptops and they do work.”

At every university where students organized a sit-in (Duke, Georgetown, Arizona,

Michigan, and Wisconsin) they have wrested agreements to require licensees to disclose the specific location of their factory sites, which is necessary for independent monitoring. Students elsewhere (including Harvard, Illinois, Brown, the University of California, Princeton, Middlebury, and Occidental) won a public disclosure requirement without resorting to civil disobedience. A few institutions have agreed to require manufacturers to pay their employees a “living wage.” Wisconsin agreed to organize an academic conference this fall to discuss how to calculate living-wage formulas for countries with widely disparate costs of living, and then to implement its own policy recommendations. [See Richard Rothstein, “The Global Hiring Hall: Why We Need Worldwide Labor Standards,” TAP, Spring 1994.]

The Industry’s New Clothes

Last November, the White House-initiated Apparel Industry Partnership created a monitoring arm, the Fair Labor Association (FLA), and a few months later invited universities to join. Colleges, however, have just one seat on FLA’s 14-member board. Under the group’s bylaws the garment firms control the board’s decisionmaking. The bylaws require a “supermajority” to approve all key questions, thus any three companies can veto a proposal they don’t like.

At this writing, FLA member companies agree to ban child and prison labor, to prohibit physical abuse by supervisors, and to allow workers the freedom to organize unions in their foreign factories, though independent enforcement has not yet been specified. FLA wants to assign this monitoring task to corporate accounting firms like PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young, to allow companies to select which facilities will be inspected, and to keep factory locations and the monitoring reports secret. Student activists want human rights and labor groups to do the monitoring.

This is only a bare beginning, but it establishes the crucial moral precedent of companies taking responsibility for labor conditions beyond their shores. Seeing this foot in the door, several companies have bowed out because they consider these standards too tough. The FLA expects that by 2001, after its monitoring program has been in place for a year, participating firms will be able to use the FLA logo on their labels and advertising as evidence of their ethical corporate practices. [See Richard Rothstein, “The Starbucks Solution: Can Voluntary Codes Raise Global Living Standards?” TAP, JulyAugust 1996.]

The original list of 17 FLA-affiliated universities grew to more than 100 by mid-summer of this year. And yet, some campus groups have dissuaded college administrations (including the Universities of Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Toronto, and California, as well as Oberlin, Bucknell, and Earlham Colleges) from joining FLA, while others have persuaded their institutions (including Brown, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Georgetown) to join only if the FLA adopts stronger standards. While FLA members are supposed to abide by each country’s minimum-wage standards, these are typically far below the poverty level. In fact, no company has made a commitment to pay a living wage.

The campus movement has succeeded in raising awareness (both on campus and among the general public) about sweatshops as well as the global economy. It has contributed to industry acceptance of extraterritorial labor standards, something hitherto considered utopian. It has also given thousands of students experience in the nuts and bolts of social activism, many of whom are likely to carry their idealism and organizing experiences with them into jobs with unions, community and environmental groups, and other public interest crusades.

So far, however, the movement has had only minimal impact on the daily lives of sweatshop workers at home and abroad. Nike and Reebok, largely because of student protests, have raised wages and benefits in their Indonesian footwear factories—which employ more than 100,000 workers—to 43 percent above the minimum wage. But this translates to only 20 cents an hour in U.S. dollars, far below a “living wage” to raise a family and even below the 27 cents Nike paid before Indonesia’s currency devaluation. Last spring Nike announced its willingness to disclose the location of its overseas plants that produce clothing for universities. This created an important split in industry ranks, since industry leaders have argued that disclosure would undermine each firm’s competitive position. But Nike has opened itself up to the charge of having a double standard, since it still refuses to disclose the location of its non-university production sites.

Within a year, when FLA’s monitoring system is fully operational, students at several large schools with major licensing contracts—including Duke, Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina, and Georgetown—will have lists of factories in the U.S. and overseas that produce university clothing and equipment. This information will be very useful to civic and labor organizations at home and abroad, providing more opportunities to expose working conditions. Student activists at each university will be able to visit these sites—bringing media and public officials with them—to expose working conditions (and, if necessary, challenge the findings of the FLA’s own monitors) and support organizing efforts by local unions and women’s groups.

If the student activists can help force a small but visible “ethical” niche of the apparel industry to adopt higher standards, it will divide the industry and give unions and consumer groups more leverage to challenge the sweatshop practices of the rest of the industry. The campus anti-sweatshop crusade is Part of what might be called a “conscience constituency” among consumers who are willing to incorporate ethical principles into their buying habits, even if it means slightly higher prices. Environmentalists have done the same thing with the “buy green” campaign, as have various “socially responsible” investment firms.

Beyond Consumer Awareness

In a global production system characterized by powerful retailers and invisible contractors, consumer action has an important role to play. But ultimately it must be combined with worker organizing and legislative and regulatory remedies. Unionizing the global apparel industry is an organizer’s nightmare. With globalization and the contracting system, any apparel factory with a union risks losing its business.

Domestically, UNITE represents fewer than 300,000 textile and garment industry workers, down from the 800,000 represented by its two predecessor unions in the late 1960s. In the low-income countries where most U.S. apparel is now made, the prospects for unionization are dimmer still. In Mexico, labor unions are controlled by the government. China outlaws independent unions, punishing organizers with prison terms. Building the capacity for unfettered union organizing must necessarily be a longterm strategy for union organizers throughout the world. Here, the student anti-sweatshop movement can help. The independent verification of anti-sweatshop standards that students want can also serve the goal of union organizing.

Public policy could also help. As Part of our trade policy, Congress could require public disclosure of manufacturing sites and independent monitoring of firms that sell goods in the American market. It could enact legislation that requires U.S. companies to follow U.S. health and safety standards globally and to bar the import of clothing made in sweatshops or made by workers who are denied the basic right to organize unions. In addition, legislation sponsored by Representative William Clay could make retailers and manufacturers]]legally liable for the working conditions behind the goods they design and sell, thereby ending the fiction that contractors are completely independent of the manufacturers and retailers that hire them. Last spring the California Assembly passed a state version of this legislation. Student and union activists hope that the Democrat-controlled state senate and Democratic Governor Gray Davis—whose lopsided victory last November was largely attributed to organized labor’s get-out-the-vote effort—will support the bill.

Thanks to the student movement, public opinion may be changing. And last spring, speaking both to the International Labor Organization in Geneva and at the commencement ceremonies at the University of Chicago (an institution founded by John D. Rockefeller and a stronghold of free market economics, but also a center of student antisweatshop activism), President Clinton called for an international campaign against child labor, including restrictions on government purchases of goods made by children.

A shift of much apparel production to developing countries may well be inevitable in a global economy. But when companies do move their production abroad, student activists are warning “you can run but you can’t hide,” demanding that they be held responsible for conditions in contractor factories no matter where they are. Students can’t accomplish this on their own, but in a very short period of time they have made many Americans aware that they don’t have to leave their consciences at home when they shop for clothes.

The Case for Sweatshops]]

By David R. Henderson

Advertisement for the Hoover Institution in The Weekly Standard February 7, 2002

Candida Rosa Lopez, an employee in a Nicaan hour. Interviewed recently by a Miami raguan garment factory, works long hours Herald reporter, Ms. Lopez has a message for over a sewing machine at less than a dollar people in the United States and other wealthy

countries who are nervous about buying goods from “sweatshops”: “I wish more people would buy the clothes we make.”

Contrary to what you have heard, sweatshops in third-world countries are a good deal for the people who work in them. Why? Because work, other than slave labor, is an exchange. A worker chooses a particular job because she thinks herself better off in that job than at her next-best alternative. Most of us would regard a low-paying job in Nicaragua or Honduras as a lousy job. But we’re not being asked to take those jobs. Those jobs are the best options those workers have, or else they would quit and work elsewhere. You don’t make someone better off by taking away the best of a bunch of bad choices.

Many workers in third-world sweatshops have left even harder, lower-paying jobs in agriculture to move to garment factories. Moreover, sweatshops are a normal step in economic development. Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, and Hong Kong all had sweatshop jobs thirty years ago. They don’t now because workers in those countries have acquired skills and employers have accumulated capital. That’s what will happen in Honduras, Nicaragua, and other poor countries—if we only let it.

What happens when people persuade companies not to hire children to work long hours? Oxfam, the British charity reported that when factory owners in Bangladesh were pressured to fire child laborers, thousands of the children became prostitutes or starved.

Yet the National Labor Committee’s executive director, Charles Kernaghan, goes around the country attacking sweatshops and trying to put legal barriers in the way of people buying from sweatshops. Robert Reich, former U.S. labor secretary under President Clinton, pressured Reebok International and Sears Roebuck to get ShinWon, their South Korean subcontractor in Honduras, to lay off fifty teenage girls. He apparently did not ask, or care, what happened to them after they lost their jobs. Why are Kernaghan and Reich hurting the people they claim to care about? Simple. The people they really care about are unionized garment workers in the United States; the NLC is funded by U.S. unions. The garment workers lost on NAFTA and lost on GATT. This is their last-ditch effort to prevent foreign competition.

The next time you feel guilty for buying clothes made in a third-world sweatshop, remember this: you’re helping the workers who made that clothing. The people who should feel guilty are those who argue against, or use legislation to prevent us giving a boost up the economic ladder to members of the human race unlucky enough to have been born in a poor country. Someone who intentionally gets you fired is not your friend.

Remarks Concerning the Savages of]] North America

By Benjamin Franklin


Savages we call them, because their Manners differ from ours, which we think the Perfection of Civility; they think the same of theirs.

Perhaps, if we could examine the Manners of different Nations with Impartiality, we should find no People so rude, as to be without any Rules of Politeness; nor any so polite, as not to have some Remains of Rudeness.

The Indian Men, when young, are Hunters and Warriors; when old, Counselors; for all their Government is by Counsel of the Sages; there is no Force, there are no Prisons, no Officers to compel Obedience, or

inflict Punishment. Hence they generally study Oratory, the best Speaker having the most Influence. The Indian Women till the Ground, dress the Food, nurse and bring up the Children, and preserve and hand down to Posterity the Memory of public Transactions. These Employments of Men and Women are accounted natural and honorable. Having few artificial Wants, they have abundance of Leisure for Improvement by Conversation. Our laborious Manner of Life, compared with theirs, they esteem slavish and base; and the Learning, on which we value ourselves, they regard as frivolous and useless. An Instance of this occurred at the Treaty of Lancaster, In Pennsylvania, anno 1744, between the Government of Virginia and the Six Nations. After the principal Business was settled, the Commissioners from Virginia acquainted the Indians by a Speech, that there was at Williamsburg a College, with a Fund for Educating Indian youth; and that, if the Six Nations would send down half a dozen of their young Lads to that College, the Government would take care that they should be well provided for, and instructed in all the Learning of the White People. It is one of the Indian Rules of Politeness not to answer a public Proposition the same day that it is made; they think it would be treating it as a light matter, and that they show it Respect by taking time to consider it, as a Matter Important. They therefore deferr’d their Answer till the Day following; when their Speaker began, by expressing their deep Sense of the kindness of the Virginia Government, in making them that Offer; “for we know,” says he, “that you highly esteem the kind of Learning taught in those Colleges, and that the Maintenance of our young Men, while with you, would be very expensive to you. We are convinc’d, therefore, that you mean to do us Good by your Proposal; and we thank you heartily. But you, who are wise, must know that different Nations have different Conceptions of things; and you will therefore not take it amiss, if our Ideas of this kind of Education happen not to be the same with yours. We have had some Experience of it; Several of our young People were formerly brought up at the Colleges of the Northern Provinces; they were instructed in all your Sciences; but, when they came back to us, they were bad Runners, ignorant of every means of living in the Woods, unable to bear either Cold or Hunger, knew neither how to build a Cabin, take a Deer, or kill an Enemy, spoke our Language imperfectly, were therefore neither fit for Hunters, Warriors, nor Counsellors; they were totally good for nothing. We are however not the less oblig’d by your kind Offer, tho’ we decline accepting it; and, to show our grateful Sense of it, if the Gentlemen of Virginia will send us a Dozen of their Sons, we will take a great Care of their Education, instruct them in all we know, and make Men of them.”

Having frequent Occasions to hold public Councils, they have acquired great Order and Decency in conducting them. The old Men sit in the foremost Ranks, the Warriors in the next, and the Women and Children in the hindmost. The Business of the Women is to take exact Notice of what passes, imprint it in their Memories (for they have no Writing), and communicate it to their Children. They are the Records of the Council, and they preserve Traditions of the Stipulations in Treaties 100 Years back; which, when we compare with our Writings, we always find exact. He that would speak, rises. The rest observe a profound Silence. When he has finish’d and sits down, they leave him 5 to 6 Minutes to recollect, that, if he has omitted anything he intended to say, or has any thing to add, he may rise again and deliver it. To interrupt another, even in common Conversation, is reckon’d highly indecent. How different this is from the conduct of a polite British House of Commons, where scarce a day passes without some Confusion, that makes the Speaker hoarse in calling to Order; and how different from the Mode of Conversation in many polite Companies of Europe, where, if you do not deliver your Sentence with great Rapidity, you are cut off in the middle of it by the Impatient Loquacity of those you converse with, and never suffer’d to finish it!

The Politeness of these Savages in Conversation is indeed carried to Excess, since it does not permit them to contradict or deny the Truth of what is asserted in their Presence. By this means they indeed avoid Disputes; but then it becomes difficult to know their Minds, or what Impression you make upon them. The Missionaries who have attempted to convert them to Christianity, all complain of this as one of the great Difficulties of their Mission. The Indians hear with Patience the Truths of the Gospel explain’d to them, and give their usual Tokens of Assent and Approbation; you would think they were convinc’d. No such matter. It is mere Civility.

A Swedish Minister, having assembled the chiefs of the Susquehanah Indians, made a Sermon to them, acquainting them with the principal historical Facts on which our Religion is founded; such as the Fall of our first parents by eating an Apple, the coming of Christ to repair the Mischief, his Miracles and Suffering, &c. When he had finished, an Indian Orator stood up to thank him. “What you have told us,” says he, “is all very good. It is indeed bad to eat Apples. It is better to make them all into Cyder. We are much oblig’d by your kindness in coming so far, to tell us these Things which you have heard from your Mothers. In return, I will tell you some of those we had heard from ours. In the Beginning, our Fathers had only the Flesh of Animals to subsist on; and if their Hunting was unsuccessful, they were starving. Two of our young Hunters, having kill’d a Deer, made a Fire in the Woods to broil some Part of it. When they were about to satisfy their Hunger, they beheld a beautiful young Woman descend from the Clouds, and seat herself on that Hill which you see yonder among the blue Mountains. They said to each other, it is a Spirit that has smelt our broiling Venison, and wishes to eat of it; let us offer some to her They presented her with the Tongue; she was pleas’d with the Taste of it, and said, ‘Your kindness shall be rewarded; come to this Place after thirteen Moons, and you shall find something that will be of great Benefit in nourishing you and your Children to the latest Generations.’ They did so, and, to their Surprise, found Plants they had never seen before; but which, from that ancient time, have been constantly cultivated among us, to our great Advantage. Where her right Hand had touched the Ground, they found Maize; where her left hand had touch’d it, they found KidneyBeans; and where her Backside had sat on it, they found Tobacco.” The good Missionary, disgusted with this idle Tale, said, “What I delivered to you were sacred Truths; but what you tell me is mere Fable, Fiction, and Falsehood.” The Indian, offended, reply’d “My brother, it seems your Friends have not done you Justice in your Education; they have not well instructed you in the Rules of common Civility. You saw that we, who understand and practice those Rules, believ’d all your stories; why do you refuse to believe ours?”

When any of them come into our Towns, our People are apt to crowd round them, gaze upon them, and incommode them, where they desire to be private; this they esteem great Rudeness, and the Effect of the Want of Instruction in the Rules of Civility and good Manners. “We have,” say they, “as much Curiosity as you, and when you come into our Towns, we wish for Opportunities of looking at you; but for this purpose we hide ourselves behind Bushes, where you are to pass, and never intrude ourselves into your Company.”

Their Manner of entering one another’s village has likewise its Rules. It is reckon’d uncivil in travelling Strangers to enter a Village abruptly, without giving Notice of their Approach. Therefore, as soon as they arrive within hearing, they stop and hollow, remaining there till invited to enter. Two old Men usually come out to them, and lead them in. There is in every Village a vacant Dwelling, called the Strangers’ House. Here they are plac’d, while the old Men go round from Hut to Hut, acquainting the Inhabitants, that Strangers are arriv’d, who are probably hungry and weary; and every one sends them what he can spare of Victuals, and Skins to repose on. When the Strangers are refresh’d, Pipes and Tobacco are brought; and then, but not before, Conversation begins, with Enquiries who they are, whither bound, what News, &c., and it usually ends with offers of Service, if the Strangers have occasion of Guides, or any Necessaries for continuing their Journey; and nothing is exacted for the Entertainment.

The same Hospitality, esteem’d among them as a principal Virtue, is practis’d by private Persons; of which Conrad Weiser, our Interpreter, gave me the following Instance. He had been naturaliz’d among the Six Nations, and spoke well the Mohock Language. In going thro’ the Indian Country, to carry a message from our Governor to the Council at Onondaga, he call’d at the Habitation of Canassatego, an old Acquaintance, who embrac’d him, spread Furs for him to sit on, plac’d before him some boil’d Beans and Venison, and mix’d some Rum and Water for his Drink. When he was well refresh’d, and had lit his Pipe, Canassatego began to converse with him; ask’d how he had far’d the many Years since they had seen each other; whence he then came; what occasion’d the Journey, &c. Conrad answered all his Questions; and when the Discourse began to flag, the Indian, to continue it, said, “Conrad, you have lived long among the white People, and know something of their Customs; I have been sometimes at Albany, and have observed, that once in Seven Days they shut up their shops, and assemble all in the great House; tell me what it is for? What do they do there” “They meet there,” says Conrad, “to hear and learn <em>Good Things.</em>” “I do not doubt,” says the Indian, “that they tell you so; they have told me the same; but I doubt the Truth of what they say, and I will tell you my Reasons. I went lately to Albany to sell my Skins and buy Blankets, Knives, Powder, Rum, &c. You know I us’d generally to deal with Hans Hanson; but I was a little inclin’d this time to try some other Merchant. However, I call’d first upon Hans, and asked him what he would give for Beaver, He said he could not give any more than four Shillings a Pound; ‘but, says he, ‘I cannot talk on Business now; this is the Day when we meet together to learn <em>Good Things,</em> and I am going to the Meeting.‘ So I thought to myself, ‘Since we cannot do any Business today, I may as well go to the meeting too,‘ and I went with him. There stood up a Man in Black, and began to talk to the People very angrily. I did not understand what he said; but, perceiving that he look’d much at me and at Hanson, I imagin’d he was angry at seeing me there; so I went out, sat down near the House, struck Fire, and lit my Pipe, waiting till the Meeting should break up. I thought too, that the Man had mention’d something of Beaver, and I suspected it mightbe the Subject of their Meeting. So, when they came out, I accosted my Merchant. ‘Well, Hans,‘ says I, ‘I hope you have agreed to give more than four shillings a Pound.’ ‘No,’ says he, ‘I cannot give so much; I cannot give more than three shillings and sixpence.‘ I then spoke to several other Dealers, but they all sung the same song.—Three and sixpence,—Three and sixpence. This made it clear to me, that my Suspicion was right; and, that whatever they pretended of meeting to learn Good Things, the real purpose was to consult how to cheat Indians in the Price of Beaver. Consider but a little, Conrad, and you must be of my Opinion. If they met so often to learn Good Things, they would certainly have learnt some before this time. But they are still ignorant. You know our Practice. If a white Man, in travelling thro’ our country, enters one of our Cabins, we all treat him as I treat you; we dry him if he is wet, we warm him if he is cold, we give him Meat and Drink, that he may allay his Thirst and Hunger; and we spread soft Furs for him to rest and sleep on; we demand nothing in return. But, if I go into a white Man’s House at Albany, and ask for Victuals and Drink, they say, ‘Where is your Money?‘ and if I have none, they say, ‘Get out, you Indian Dog.‘ You see they have not yet learned those little Good Things, that we need no Meetings to be instructed in, because our Mothers taught them to us when we were Children; and therefore it is impossible their Meetings should be, as they say, for any such purpose, or have any such Effect; they are only to contrive the Cheating of Indians in the Price of Beaver.”[17]

Topics for Discussion and Writing

Discuss and write notes on some culturally conditioned assumptions, totems and taboos, that strike you as artificial and questionable.

Think of one example, from your own experience or knowledge, of a case in which ethnocentrism has served a socially beneficial function and one in which it has served a harmful one.

Think of a recent, specific example in America of a public figure indulging in what you consider demagogy or the plain folks fallacy in appealing to the mass audience’s ethnocentrism. Think of another example of someone authentically speaking as a populist. Support your judgments with evidence.

What do you think Mrs. Hart, the school board chair in Larry Rohter’s “Battle over Patriotism Curriculum,” would say in response to the unfavorable statistics about the United States in Shapiro’s We’re Number One and Brouwer’s Sharing the Pie?

Maureen Dowd’s “Rescue Me, Please” was written when Hillary Clinton was running for senator from New York. Is Dowd’s tone serious or ironic? Contrast her image of culturally conditioned assumptions about women’s consciousness today with Wolf’s exhortations for women to resist “the beauty myth.” How accurate do you think Dowd’s account is (including her level of generalization), and what social forces might explain the alleged reversion to prefeminist attitudes?

”The Campus Anti-Sweatshop Movement” appeared in the American Prospect, a journal that speaks for the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, somewhat to the left of John Kerry, John Edwards, Bill Clinton, and Al Gore. This is followed by an advertisement sponsored by the Hoover Institution, a prominent conservative research institute at Stanford University, defending corporations’ use of sweatshop labor, which appeared in the conservative journal the Weekly Standard. The author, David R. Henderson, is identified as an economics professor. Why do you think this was published as an ad rather than an article? Can you draw the line here between journalism and corporate public relations? Apply the tests in “A Semantic Calculator for Bias in Rhetoric” to Henderson’s and Applebaum and Dreier’s pieces for significant arguments that one has downplayed or ignored and that might refute arguments that the other plays up. Evaluate the use of emotional appeal, especially appeal to pity, in the opposing accounts.

Stage a class debate between defenders of corporate capitalism as the traditional “American way of life” and the account of the founders’ anticorporate views documented by Hightower and Frazer in the excerpts in this chapter.

How seriously do you think Russell Baker’s humorous argument can be taken that welfare recipients are “vital paupers,” serving to keep employment rates, wages, and inflation low? How defensible a refutation is this of conservatives’ belief that people are unemployed or on welfare mainly because of lack of motivation or skills? It might similarly be argued that in a capitalist economy, a large number of low-wage workers are required to do necessary but undesirable jobs, so that people with relatively privileged jobs would not necessarily want everyone to have equal educational or employment opportunity because it would increase competition and raise prices. True or false?

How accurate in the contemporary United States is Woolf’s portrait of the importance to the powerful male “who has to conquer, who has to rule, of feeling that great numbers of people, half the human race indeed, are by nature inferior to himself,” and the corollary that “women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size”?

Woolf asks, “How is he to go on . . . civilizing natives . . . unless he can see himself at breakfast and dinner at least twice the size he really is?” Woolf was a harsh critic of British colonialism. With that knowledge we can infer or read between the lines that she meant “civilizing natives” ironically. There is also an echo in this line of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, in which Swift, two centuries before Woolf, discussed English and European conquest of distant lands “by Divine Right” (the belief that all actions of kings were approved by God):

Ships are sent with the first opportunity; the natives driven out or destroyed, their princes tortured to discover their gold; a free license given to all acts of inhumanity and lust; the earth reeking with the blood of its inhabitants; and this execrable crew of butchers employed in so pious an expedition is a modern colony sent to convert and civilize an idolatrous and barbaric people. (237)

Who is Swift suggesting are the real “idolatrous and barbaric people” and who are the civilized ones? Compare his use of irony on this subject with Woolf ’s, as well as with Franklins in the title and text of “Remarks Concerning the Savages . . .” and Twain’s in “The Lowest Animal.”

In what ways does “Objectivity in Connected Teaching” contradict the principles of argumentative rhetoric and critical thinking on which Reading and Writing for Civic Literacy is based? What might Belenky et al. say about the women’s ways of argument displayed by many female writers in this book? Conduct a debate (or a connected learning conversation!) on the value and limitations of these different approaches to teaching, learning, and argumentation, or possible ways in which they might be reconciled.


Chapter 7. Overgeneralization, Stereotyping, and Prejudice

Inadequately qualified generalizations, or overgeneralizations, are probably the most common and often the most offensive variety of logical fallacy, especially in the forms of stereotyping and prejudice. Almost all oral or written communications, and particularly arguments, involve frequent generalizations. (The last two sentences just made some.) Generalizations are central elements of argumentation, then, and perfectly legitimate, when they are adequately qualified. Critical thinkers and writers must constantly draw the line about the degree to which they can accurately generalize without lapsing into overgeneralization; they must regularly decide what is the highest acceptable level of generalization, from the following ladders of adjectives and adverbs:


almost all




a few

almost no/none



almost always usually

often, frequently


occasionally almost never


Good axioms are “Never say never” or “Almost never say never,” and “Never say all/ always” or “almost never say all/always.” Even when you say or write “most,” listeners or readers are apt to expect you to provide evidence. Both “Most welfare recipients cannot find a good-paying job no matter how hard they try” and “Most welfare recipients could find a good job if they tried” call for documentation through citing empirical studies, with statistics and percentage points verifying that the statement is true of a majority of those studied.

”Many” is not as likely to require evidence, and “some” is even safer—though in the preceding two sentences, the use of these safer adjectives is still likely to be met with a demand for statistics. (Specific percentages in general are preferable to any of these degrees of generalization.) So always (there he goes again!) bring your generalizations down to the safest level, and be careful to use further qualifying phrases like “listeners or readers are apt to expect you to provide evidence,” and “Cautious writers tend to qualify their generalizations.”

Try to keep in mind, then, first, that not all generalizations are overgeneralizations or stereotypes and, second, that stereotypes are not always prejudiced and that some may be accurate to a degree. Indeed, some people do act in a stereotypical manner, unintentionally or even intentionally, in an effort to conform to a certain image. There are students, unfortunately, who do come across as computer nerds, dumb jocks, sorority queens, and so on, although it is a pleasant surprise when one shows that such a first impression is deceptive. African Americans derisively refer to “Uncle Toms,” blacks who act in just the stereotyped servile manner that pleases racist whites. Stereotyping can also be a two-edged sword, as when certain people, in stereotyping others unfairly, become a stereotype themselves, an Archie Bunker-like bundle of prejudices. Among the sources you read or listen to, criticize those that are guilty of stereotyping without adequate support, but praise those that provide supported criticisms of stereotyping in their opponents.

When you read an author or listen to a speaker, watch carefully for the qualifications and degrees in their generalizations and be fair-minded toward sources. Beware of a common form of false inference in which the reader or listener (often emotionally involved in the issue) assumes that the writer or speaker has overgeneralized when in fact she or he has not done so. A student wrote about Russell Mokhiber’s “Underworld USA,” included at the end of this chapter, “Mokhiber insinuates that all big businesses engage in criminal activities.” Read that article carefully to see if this is a sound inference.


Prejudice is an extremely touchy subject to discuss today. Many people insist they aren’t prejudiced and get indignant at any suggestion that they might be. Even the most virtuous of us, however, are bound to have some prejudices, and the best we can do is acknowledge and do our best to overcome them. Throughout human history most cultures have been steeped in prejudices. In the United States, until a few decades ago, prejudices were blatantly displayed toward African Americans and many other ethnic and racial groups as well as women and homosexuals. Prejudices were not only accepted as culturally conditioned assumptions but as the basis for jokes, comedy routines, and face-to-face taunting, extending even to handicapped, obese, or homely people. Movements like those for civil rights and women’s and gay liberation put opposition to prejudice on the national agenda; consequently, the cultural norms have shifted significantly, especially among younger people, and most Americans regard this shift as an advance toward a more humane society.

Nowadays, it is no longer as common to hear people express outright bigotry, to declare, “I hate ——s,” or to make stereotypical overgeneralizations about all members of a group. This is not to say, however, that prejudice no longer exists. In the 1980s and 1990s, the United States and other countries saw a resurgence of prejudice in the growth of white supremacist and neoNazi groups, and even college campuses, ideally bastions of tolerance, became the sites of widespread incidents of racist and homophobic hate speech and occasional violence.

In many cases, however, people have simply learned to be more guarded in expressing their prejudices, to restrict them to special settings, such as white male enclaves like bars, clubs, and sports events. Golf is my game, and I am continually embarrassed in playing at public courses by “the guys” assuming everyone wants to listen to jokes based on the crudest ethnic and sexual stereotypes. Or people will speak in certain codes; they will say, for example, “I’m not prejudiced, but . . .”—and then go on to express highly prejudiced opinions. (This is a nice example of that form of <strong>compartmentalization</strong> I’ve termed <strong>I won’t, but I will</strong>.) Or they will denounce welfare recipients and high illegitimacy rates without explicitly associating them with African Americans, although it is implicit that they are the group being referred to, or they will complain about illegal immigration, when they are thinking specifically of Mexicans or Central Americans.

Moreover, prejudice doesn’t always consist of blatant bigotry but may take more subtle forms. It comes out in people’s readiness to jump to hasty conclusions or to overgeneralize about some groups. After the U.S. government building in Oklahoma City was bombed by Timothy McVeigh in 1995, many American mass media, politicians, and citizens immediately assumed that the perpetrators were Arabs or Muslims—groups stereotypically associated with terrorism. Similarly, prejudice comes out in considering every individual in one group as responsible for, or guilty by association with, its worst members. This kind of prejudice was evident in several violent acts against innocent American Muslims after the Oklahoma City bombing and again after September 11, 2001, when this kind of irrationality extended to hate acts against dark-skinned Americans or citizens from a variety of national origins and religions, including some East Indian Hindus. Prejudice comes out in an ethnocentric double standard—the ESBYODS principlewhen we exact a higher degree of morality from some other group than from our own, in selective vision when we get angry at that group for something that doesn’t bother us in our own, in playing up or exaggerating that group’s wealth, power, or privileges while downplaying or understating our own in comparison.

For example, Jews are often negatively stereotyped as being “pushy” because their culture has a long tradition of encouraging industriousness and high professional achievement—qualities that are generally praised in the majority culture. Anti-Semitism similarly involves a faulty causal analysis attributing Jews’ high achievement level in many professions to a conspiracy or favoritism by those in power toward their own—an explanation that is likely to be a resentful rationalization for the more plausible explanation, that the achievement level results mainly from the same tradition of socialization of children to be achievers, and that Jews probably favor their own no more and no less than any other group when given the opportunity.

Class Prejudice

One of the most common and universal forms of prejudice is that toward people in social classes below one’s own. Gordon Allport, a Harvard psychologist associated with the philosophy of general semantics, discusses this form in his book The Nature of Prejudice, first published in 1954:

Now young children early learn the facts of caste and class. In one experiment, both white and Negro children in kindergarten and in the first and second grades were given different types of doll clothing and houses, and asked to assign them to dolls representing Negro and white men and women. A great majority of the children of both races gave the white doll good clothes and housing, and the Negro doll poor clothes and housing One little girl, five

years of age, cried when she saw the Negro family next door moving away. “Now,” she wailed, “there is no one that we are better than.”

At a somewhat older age, children are inclined to ascribe all sorts of virtues to upper-class individuals and all sorts of defects to members of the lower classes. An experiment with fifthand-sixth-grade children, for example, asked them to give the names of schoolmates whom they considered “clean,” “dirty,” “good-looking,” “not good-looking,” “always having a good time,” and the like. For every desirable quality the children of higher social classes in the school were given high ratings. Children from lower social classes were given lower ratings. It seems that the youngsters were not able to perceive their classmates as individuals, but only as representatives of class. To them children from the upper classes seem to be good-ingeneral; from the lower classes, bad-in-general. Since these fifth and sixth graders are “thinking ill without sufficient warrant” we conclude that they are manifesting class prejudice. (322)

As these experiments indicate, we seem much more inclined to be prejudiced against those below us on the socioeconomic scale, and over whom we have some power, than against those above us, who have power over us. This pattern is deeply rooted in the history of Western culture. The word noble took on a favorable connotation in the Middle Ages and Renaissance through association with the feudal upper class, the nobility. Think about all the fairy tales starring “the handsome prince” and “the beautiful princess,” in which good looks and virtue are associated with the nobility. Many middle-class people literally and figuratively look up to the rich because they would like to be rich themselves, or at least would like to be more secure financially than they are, while very few people would choose to be poorer than they are.

In her book Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class, Barbara Ehrenreich sees the fear of falling into poverty at the root of many middle-class people’s loathing of the poor: we need to regard the latter as an alien Other, in a form of denial or projection that we could possibly end up in the same condition. (The very use of “we” in formulations like this reflects the culturally conditioned assumption that the kind of people who discuss these issues with each other are themselves middle class, in a whole different discourse community from “them.”)

Another factor in prejudice against those below us on the socioeconomic ladder is fear that they are a threat to our physical security, as criminals, or our economic security, either through competition for jobs or through taxes paid to support them through welfare and other public services or affirmative action programs. All these attitudes are an important factor in the disagreements between conservatives and liberals over issues like welfare, homelessness, and illegitimacy among the poor: conservatives tend to view the poor as Other, as different from “us,” and as being themselves to blame for their poverty through lack of the virtues we possess, while liberals tend to regard this view as blaming the victims for circumstances over which they often have little control.

The readings at the end of this Chapter from James Patterson and Peter Kim’s “Beverly Hills vs. the South Bronx,” Donald Barlett and James Steele’s “Life on the Expense Account,” Stephen Moore’s “How to Slash Corporate Welfare,” and Russell Mokhiber’s “Corporations: Underworld USA” suggest that there may be as much crime and immorality among the rich as among the poor, but that people in the middle class tend to have a double standard in neglecting or rationalizing upper-class immorality and crime. An example is a student paper on the morality of the rich and poor. At one point, the student writes, “Many of those in poverty are perfectly able to work, yet still don’t. I personally have seen people sitting on curbs with signs saying, ‘Will work for food.’ What makes me so mad is that right behind them there is a fast food restaurant with a sign in the window claiming that they were now hiring. You cannot tell me that these people have not lost their incentive to make something of themselves.” And, a few pages later: “Conservatives feel that the rich have been unnecessarily stereotyped. Granted, there are the few who take advantage of their wealth through corporate crimes such as embezzlement, racketeering, income tax evasion, and insider trading. However, I feel that these crimes are a small minority of those in the highest tax bracket of wealth. Many wealthy people are a benefit to our society and should not be penalized by being stereotyped.”

Note this student’s quickness to generalize about the “many” unvirtuous poor, versus the “few” unvirtuous rich and the “many” who are a benefit to society—without any data indicating the relevant percentages in both groups or other support beyond “I feel” and the one example of the people with the “Will work for food” sign. Also note the selective vision in the student’s complaint about the rich being stereotyped, with no comparable recognition of stereotyping about the poor, in which the paper itself might be considered to indulge.

Conservatives argue that it is a false analogy to compare crimes by the lower class with those by the upper class, since the former are more likely to be physical and violent while the latter are mainly in the financial realm. Liberals respond with a causal analysis arguing that corporate crime that takes money from other classes and the public, political influence buying that blocks legislation aiding the poor, and social irresponsibility in failing to provide jobs in low-income areas are major causes of economic deprivation in the poor, leaving some of them little alternative but to turn to street crime in order to survive.

The diagram on page 188 presents a hypothesis for the patterns of blocks to critical thinking in middle-class attitudes toward the rich and poor. How valid do you find this hypothesis, from your experience, and at what level of generalization would it need to be qualified to prevent its being an overgeneralization or stereotype about those in the middle class?

Reverse Prejudice

In recent years, many claims have been made, mainly by political conservatives, that liberals sincerely attempting to overcome prejudice have sometimes failed to draw the line and have thus produced reverse prejudice or discrimination (terms that have most often been used to describe affirmative action). This would be a case of the fallacy of the equal and opposite extreme. Certainly, some members of groups that have been the victims of prejudice in the past retaliate in an equally prejudiced way against all members of the group that has oppressed them, or against some other group; many Israeli Jews, for example, have rechanneled past prejudices against them into prejudice toward Palestinians. In the early 1960s, the leader of the Nation of Islam (or Black Muslims), Elijah Muhammad, preached that all white people are devils—an extreme position that led prominent African Americans like Malcolm X and James Baldwin to dissociate themselves from the Black Muslims. The leader of the Nation of Islam in the 1990s, Louis Farrakhan, also alienated many people with anti-Semitic statements. Some extreme advocates of Afrocentrism stereotype blacks as “sun people” and whites as “ice people,” or claim that all whites are genetically deficient in skin coloring. Likewise, some (though not most) feminists stereotype all men as rapists and abusers; others, overreacting against past negative stereotypes of women as emotional creatures incapable of reason, have uncritically celebrated emotionality and “women’s intuition,” rejecting rationality and reasoned argument altogether as mere male-centered biases—although with what might be considered compartmentalized thinking, they use reasoned argument to argue against rationality.

Another controversy since the nineties has involved “political correctness,” or “PC,” on college campuses and elsewhere. The claim was that groups that had previously been discriminated against in American society and education, including minorities, women, homosexuals, and socialists, were now imposing their viewpoints on students and faculties in a prejudicial way. PC was to some extent a classic case of the invention by the media of a semantic label that grossly overgeneralized about and oversimplified a large diversity of issues and incidents. The controversy also, either at its origins or quickly thereafter, became a political football, with the charges of PC being launched mainly by conservatives and



Positive stereotypes and generalizations

”Clean” words

Rationalizations excusing their privileges and misdeeds

Middle class ethnocentric attitudes


Negative stereotpyes and generalizations

”Dirty” words

Rationalizations for dumping on them (blaming the victim)

supported by leaders of the Republican Party, and with leftists denying the accuracy of many alleged incidents and launching countercharges that conservatives had imposed their PC dogmas and used the anti-PC crusade as a strategy to silence liberals and leftists altogether. (Some liberals lined up with the conservatives, and some sided with the leftists.) As difficult as it was to evaluate which charges were accurate and which weren’t, most responsible liberals and leftists agreed with conservatives that enough of these charges were accurate to conclude that PC in at least some cases was indeed another real form of reverse prejudice.

Reverse prejudice can also take place in class relations. As previously noted, in the United States and most other societies past and present, class prejudice has usually followed a pattern favorable toward the rich and unfavorable toward the poor and working class (although in socialist and Communist countries this pattern is reversed). In recent years, however, a body of research has been published, mostly originating in conservative think tanks, concluding that this pattern has now been reversed, resulting in prejudice in American mass media, entertainment, education, and other areas of culture against the rich and big business. A predictable line of political rhetoric is that whenever liberals argue that the growing gap between the rich and the middle class and poor should be slowed by higher taxes on the rich and by other policies aimed toward more equality of wealth, conservatives will accuse them of “waging class warfare.” (Liberals reply that this is a trick of Orwellian doublethink [see Chapter 8] , since it is in fact the rich who are waging war against the middle class and poor, while liberals are only trying to redress the resulting imbalance.) To be sure, much of the research presenting the wealthy as victims has been financially supported, and in some cases commissioned, by wealthy individuals and big businesses, raising a question of special pleading, but the research and arguments must still be evaluated on their own strengths. Some student writers do go to the equal and opposite extreme from the paper quoted earlier that overgeneralized about the poor, as in the following excerpt: “Rush Limbaugh makes it sound as if the upper class corporation owners are so much more hard-working than the poor, but really the upper class just rely on their employees to keep things going while they go out for a corporate lunch or take a weekend vacation.”

We have established a consensus, then, that reverse prejudice is a reality. The rhetorical dimensions of the issue are highly complex, however. Let’s say that you are an old-fashioned racist, but you see that it is no longer socially acceptable to speak or act accordingly. You hear all the talk about reverse discrimination, and from it you get the idea that if you are deprived of your “right” to discriminate against minorities or to benefit from social advantages solely on the basis of your class, race, or sex, that amounts to discrimination against you. This is the mind-set satirized in Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22 in the character of General Dreedle, who considers himself persecuted because he’s not allowed to have anyone under his command shot at his whim. It is a difficult moral, legal, and rhetorical issue of drawing the line to decide just how tolerant we should be of those who are intolerant. A student kicked out of a university for yelling drunken slurs against minorities and homosexuals may have a legitimate legal case in his defense, but should he be praised as a heroic, victimized defender of free speech? And are white males who consider themselves persecuted perhaps indulging in the same victimology they ridicule in minorities and feminists?

It is also likely that some people who really are prejudiced will rationalize that anyone who claims legitimately to be discriminated against is just “whining.” They will overgeneralize that most claims of discrimination are phony and will greet with “megadittos” every such charge by conservative authority figures like Rush Limbaugh—without thoughtfully weighing the facts in every particular case. And certainly anyone demonstrates a lack of proportion and a double standard who gets more angry at the relatively recent and lesser instances of reverse prejudice by minorities or women than they ever have or will at the more numerous and graver instances of prejudice against those groups. There is little dispute that such prejudice has been the historical rule and reverse prejudice a very recent exception to the rule—in causal terms a reaction to a prior action, or long series of actions. This is not to condone or rationalize reverse prejudice but only to recognize that one must judge it in proportion to that series of prior actions, without falling into the fallacies of argument from the exception or selective vision in judging the reaction in isolation from the action that provoked it. In terms of discrimination between whites and blacks or men and women, “Who started it?” is a legitimate rhetorical consideration, as is, of course, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

Will Sex Stereotypes Never End?]]

By Becky Wildman-Tobriner

From The San Francisco Chronicle February 16, 1996

Becky Wildman-Tobriner, 15, attends Lick-Wilmerding High School in San Francisco

While the Super Bowl is long past, it’s a good than football. More than 750 million people time to think about what we really saw dursaw the Super Bowl. They observed the ing the game, since we watched a lot more Steelers’ fourth quarterback comeback

attempt and Larry Brown’s two interceptions. But as John Carman, The Chronicle television columnist, said, “The real suspense was how much football (the network would) squeeze in between commercials. Not much as it turned out.”

As I watched the game with friends, every time we got excited about something, a commercial would spoil the moment. Network commercialism is slowly strangling the joy out of television sports. One minute you may be watching an 80-yard interception, and the next—oops! McDonald’s game break. The play actually stops for TV.

Having so many commercials is outrageous, but even more despicable is what these commercials imply to society.

Pepsi and Burger King commercials both featured men working for the competition but who were eager to consume the advertiser’s product. A Coke man grabs a Pepsi from the shelf and all the Pepsis tumble onto the floor. The McDonald’s employees grab a quick Burger King lunch. Both Burger King and Pepsi are advertising by putting their competition down. In order to prove they are any good, they make it a cruel competition.

Besides selling products, commercials are also models that people imitate, which inevitably will rub off on viewers.

Pepsi’s and Berger King’s commercials both starred male actors. Generally, all of the commercials aired during the Super Bowl starred male actors. What has happened to women? Is it that the Super Bowl is just for male bonding and male enjoyment? Why aren’t any females in commercials? And if the advertisers stoop to include the females on their payroll, the women serve as sex objects or makeup models. The women who are on TV are only one type: disgustingly thin, gorgeous and mostly white. What does this show society? Society sees one type of person, so we come to the conclusion that there’s only one type of female. But that’s not true.

The only commercials I can remember with females in them were mothers. The only roles women seem to have is as pretty, skinny moms, cleaning kids’ dirty clothes, describing how well Tide works. Men are seldom in detergent commercials. The picture of life in commercials suggests housework is for women only.

There are a few family commercials with women. In the McDonald’s commercial, a family is coming a long distance for the two for two sale. Most families in commercials, TV shows and magazines fit the description heterosexual, white, middle class and happy, implying that this is the right way to be and if you’re not like them, something is wrong. The McDonald’s family didn’t fit the “typical” description, but this family was portrayed as exotic and different, yet trying to be like “everyone else.” TV images influence how viewers imagine reality and decide what is the norm.

As a young female in a growing generation, I think the media should show what the world is really like. If networks prefer commercials with women as housewives, and men selling cars, then at least balance it a little. The suggestiveness in commercials implies a lifestyle to the public along with selling merchandise, and change would be appreciated. Women deserve a chance and we aren’t going to get one until the media shapes up. And what’s a better time than now?

An Unexpected Education at St. Anthony’s

By Stephanie Salter

From The San Francisco Examiner, January 18, 1994

Privileged children of the middle class, they Anthony’s Dining Room expecting the stewent into their two-week stint at St. reotypes: hostile and violent drug addicts,

filthy and shameless street people, able-bodied men and women who like being parasites on society.

Instead: “We’ve become realists, and it’s scary The reality is that those people (at

St. Anthony’s) and the other thousands like them are like you and us. The overwhelming majority are people who have been beaten by some bad odds—family abuse, mental illness, alcoholism, catastrophic illness, old age or were just unemployed one month too many and had no one to help out.”

The above is from a copy of a letter written by six St. Ignatius College Prep students and their teacher. The original letter went to a columnist for another Bay Area newspaper in response to an essay about the unattractive “realities” of San Francisco’s homeless.

Too bad the other paper chose not to print the letter. These S.I. kids not only understand poverty and homelessness, their letter pointedly demonstrates what happens when the comfortable do as Mother Teresa suggests:

”Come and see.”

For the record, the students are Aram Bloom, Lisa Devitt, Beth Horan, Tom Fregoso, Jenjie Pineda and Anne Warren. Their teacher is Mary Ahlbach, a 40-year-old native San Franciscan who teaches English and theology.

Ahlbach is one of those Catholics who doesn’t just talk Christianity but tries to put its essence—love thy neighbor as thyself— into action in daily life. As Part of an S.I. peace and justice program called “Immersion,” which was created by history teacher Kathy Purcell, Ahlbach and her students spent two weeks this past summer working every day at St. Anthony’s in the Tenderloin.

No one emerged unchanged.

”You have to stand behind the counter and hand out 2,000 trays of food as fast as the kitchen can dish them out,” wrote the students. “You have to walk up and down the jammed tables and bus the used trays of the handicapped and elderly. Try and stop to talk to a few of these individuals or families and hear their stories.

”It takes a while to see the shame they carry right beneath their survival-toughened surface . . . Stay a bit longer to talk to those who work there . . . the elderly who have volunteered for five or 10 years, the young, those who have experienced homelessness, and those, by luck, or fate or fortitude, who never will.”

According to Ahlbach, the students spent most of their first week at St. Anthony’s in one of two, intense emotional states: anger or depression.

”They kept saying, “We can’t treat people this way,” she said.

Priorities were radically reordered. Perspectives were turned inside out. As the students put it in their letter.

”How many people would stop for a dog, hungry and sick, lying in the bottom of the emptied fountain in front of City Hall, as we witnessed a man, a human being, last Tuesday?”

Rather than scapegoat and blame the people they got to know, the St. Ignatius students know exactly where to place the blame.

”We, as a society that calls itself civilized, have rationalized so well and so convincingly this shame of denying human beings the dignity and self-worth of employment or the basic right to be cared for if they are ill or old,” they wrote.

”We are madly rushing to circle the wagons and separate ourselves as far as possible from these people, not because their plight is a sham but because their plight is so utterly beyond our capacity or willingness to comprehend, let alone solve.

”Somewhere in the past 10 years, we’ve walked over that one-too-many person lying in the street, and we had to escape—intelligently arguing the obvious reasons we need to do this in order not to face the reality of our inhumane and unjust policies and attitudes toward the poor.”

With the help of some of the veteran volunteers at St. Anthony’s said Ahlbach, the students learned a lesson that is necessary for anyone who wants to work for social change and survive: Anger must be channeled into action, and helplessness is fought by thinking and working small—with individuals, not the whole world.

Perhaps most important, by serving the poor, seeing their faces, hearing their stories—by recognizing their human value— the six S.I. students learned something that far too many adults have yet to understand.

Contrary to an increasingly popular tendency to blame the poor, criminalize the homeless and obsess on ferreting out “fraud” in a mean and despicable system of social welfare, the students learned:

”The bottom line has to be: We who have our lives, through whatever reasons, intact, need to help those who don’t put theirs back together again. If a few take advantage of that, then so be it.”

Life on the Expense Account

By Donald Barlett and James Steele

From America: What Went Wrong? Dismantling the Middle Class

Andrews McNeely, 1992

Meet Thomas Spiegel. He is the former chairman and chief executive officer of Columbia Savings & Loan Association, a Beverly Hillsbased thrift that the New York Times described in February 1989 as an institution that “has been extremely successful investing in junk bonds and other ventures.” Spiegel is a major fund-raiser and financial supporter of political candidates, Democrats and Republicans alike. He and his family live in a six-bedroom Beverly Hills home—complete with swimming pool, tennis court and entertainment pavilion—that could be purchased for about $10 million.

Spiegel thrived at Columbia during the 1980s, a time when the executive branch of the federal government loosened regulatory oversight of the savings and loan industry. Working with his friend and business associate Michael Milken, whose Drexel Burnham Lambert, Inc. office was just down the street in Beverly Hills, Spiegel used depositors’ federally insured savings to buy a portfolio of junk bonds, the high-risk debt instruments that promised to pay big dividends.

Columbia’s profits soared. Earnings jumped from $44.1 million in 1984 to $122.3 million in 1985 and $193.5 million in 1986, before trailing off to $119.3 million in 1987 and $85 million in 1988.

Spiegel’s compensation for those years averaged slightly under $100,000 a week. He spent $2,000 for a French wine-tasting course, $3,000 a night for hotel suites on the French Riviera, $19,775 for cashmere throws and comforters, $8,600 for towels and $91,000 for a collection of guns—Uzis, Magnums, Sakos, Berettas, Sig Sauers.

Not unusual outlays, you might think, for someone who collected a multimilliondollar yearly salary. Only in this case, according to a much-belated federal audit, it was Columbia—the savings and loan—not Spiegel, that picked up the tab.

There is, to be sure, nothing new about lavish corporate expense accounts. The practice of converting personal living expenses to a deduction on a company or business tax return has been around as long as the income tax. It is a practice that Congress has been unable to curb. But in the 1980s, corporate tax write-offs for personal executive expenses as well as overall corporate excesses—from goldplated plumbing fixtures in the private office to family wedding receptions in Paris and London—reached epidemic proportions.

The reasons varied. Among them:

  • The pace of corporate restructuring brought on by Wall Street created a climate in which once-unacceptable practices became acceptable, indeed, were even chronicled on radio and television, in newspapers and magazines.

  • In a monumental change in the rules, Congress deregulated the savings and loan industry, in effect opening the doors to the vaults of the nation’s savings institutions, while at the same time discouraging meaningful audits or crackdowns when irregularities were detected.

  • The Internal Revenue Service lacks the staffing and time to conduct the intense audits of companies that would uncover such abuses. And even if the resources were available, an impenetrable tax code places too many other demands on the agency.

All this made possible a Tom Spiegel— and an army of other corporate executives who lived high on their expense accounts. Federal auditors eventually found that Spiegel used Columbia funds to pay for trips to Europe, to buy luxury condominiums in Columbia’s name in the United States and to purchase expensive aircraft. From 1987 to 1989, for example, Spiegel made at least four trips to Europe at Columbia’s expense, the auditors reported, staying at the best hotels and running up large bills.

They included, the report said “$7,446 for a hotel and room service bill for three nights in the Berkeley Hotel in London . . . for Spiegel and his wife . . . in November 1988” and “$6,066 for a hotel and room service bill for three nights in the Hotel Plaza Athenee in Paris . . . in July 1989.”

The Spiegels’ most expensive stay was in July 1989 at the Hotel du Cap on the French Riviera, where the family ran up a $16,519 bill in five days. And when they weren’t flying to Europe, the Spiegels spent time at luxury condominiums, acquired at a cost of $1.9 million, at Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Indian Wells, California; and Park City, Utah.

To make all this travel easier, Spiegel arranged for Columbia, a savings and loan that had no offices outside of California, to buy corporate aircraft, including a Gulfstream IV equipped with a kitchen and lounge. Federal auditors now say that Columbia paid $2.4 million “for use of corporate aircraft in commercial flights for the personal travel for Spiegel, his immediate family and other persons accompanying Spiegel.” Columbia wrote off those expenses on its tax returns, thereby transferring the cost of the Spiegel lifestyle to you, the taxpayer.

The Federal Office of Thrift Supervision has filed a complaint against Spiegel, seeking to recover at least $19 million in Columbia funds that it claims he misspent. Spiegel’s lawyer, Dennis Perluss, said Spiegel is contesting the charges.

”All of the uses that are at issue in terms of the planes and the condominiums were for legitimate business purposes,” Perluss said.

But you are paying for more than Spiegel’s lifestyle. You are also going to be picking up the tab for his management of Columbia. After heady earnings in the mid-1980s, Columbia lost twice as much money in 1989 and 1990—a total of $1.4 billion—as it had made in the previous twenty years added together. Federal regulators seized Columbia in January 1991. Taxpayers will pay for a bailout expected to cost more than $1.5 billion.

That final figure depends, in part, on how much the government collects for the sale of the corporate headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. When construction started, it was expected to cost $17 million. By the time work was finished, after Spiegel had made the last of his design changes— “the highest possible grade of limestone and marble, stainless steel floors and ceiling tiles, leather wall coverings”—the cost had soared to $55 million.

It could have been even higher, except that one of Spiegel’s ambitious plans never was translated into bricks and mortar. According to federal auditors, he had wanted to include in the building “a large multilevel gymnasium and ‘survival chamber‘ bathrooms with bulletproof glass and an independent air and food supply.”

Just who Spiegel thought might attack the bathrooms of a Beverly Hills savings and loan is unclear.

Beverly Hills vs. the South Bronx:]] The Day They Told the Truth on Rodeo Drive

By James Patterson and Peter Kim

From The Day America Told the Truth: What People Really Believe About Everything That Really Matters. New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1991

James Patterson is the chairman of J. Walther Thompson and one of the most highly respected writers in advertising. He is also the author of six novels, including an Edgar Award Winner, The Thomas Berryman Number. Peter Kim is senior vice-president and director of Research Services and Consumer Behavior for J. Walter Thompson and the youngest member of the agency’s U.S. board of directors. The authors live in New York.

At two poles of American society lie Beverly Hills, California, and the South Bronx, a distressed neighborhood in New York City.

Is it possible for one community to be “above” morality, while another is “below” it? We thought it would be fascinating to find out.

We were able to find out through the use of a test specially designed for these two communities. We did a series of confidential, indepth interviews, then we tabulated the results: Beverly Hills vs. the South Bronx.

Beverly Hills is the coddled bedroom of the American dream factory. It’s a place where you see limousines standing on quiet streets before the manicured lawns of mansions. Almost everyone is white. The average annual family income exceeds $100,000. Reported crimes against people in 1988 numbered 284, of which 3 were killings and 8 were rapes. The 14,805 residents have the services of 351 doctors, 121 dentists, and 536 legal firms.

The South Bronx is at the opposite end of the American spectrum. It is a place of littered streets lined by half-abandoned, gutted tenements,. The people are mostly Hispanic and black. Few are white. The average annual family income is less than $10,000. The 2,014 reported crimes against people in 1988 included 25 murders and 47 rapes. At last count, there were 11 doctors, 13 dentists, and 2 law firms for 37,449 residents.

These are two extremes of the American experience.

We wanted to know in which area the residents are more prone to violence. Who uses illegal drugs more? Are the people of Beverly Hills morally superior to those in an American ghetto? But what we really wanted to find out was, how do the radical differences in their surroundings affect the sense of community of people in Beverly Hills and the South Bronx?


When we called the Beverly Hills police for the official crime statistics, a very polite, friendly officer told us that he’d immediately tap into their computer system and fax us the information that day. He did. When we called the 51st Police Precinct in the South Bronx, a gruff police officer told us to “go bother the Police Commissioner.”

Among the hundreds of people we interviewed in the South Bronx were a clerk, a cashier, a cook, a nurse’s aide, a building superintendent, a dental hygiene therapist, a professional thief, an elementary-school teacher, a cab driver, and a philosopher.


Their counterparts in Beverly Hills included an oil company president, two film producers, an accountant, a physician, a pension fund administrator, and an engineer.

Here’s what our modern Tale of Two Cities revealed:

Legitimacy of the legal order. People in the South Bronx absolutely reject the system of social and legal order. A high percentage, 49 percent, believe that “most of the laws in society are unfair . . . and we should not be forced to obey them.” Only 14 percent of people in Beverly Hills agree with that point of view.

Official crime. In 1988, there were ten times as many homicides, six times as many rapes, and five times as many robberies in the South Bronx as there were in Beverly Hills.

The police. Forty-five percent of people in the South Bronx give the local police a failing grade. In Beverly Hills that percentage is only 33 percent.

Suicide. Fifty-four percent of the people in Beverly Hills actually knew someone who committed suicide vs. 35 percent in the South Bronx. And in Beverly Hills, a third more people than in the South Bronx have considered suicide themselves.

Child abuse. Sadly, child abuse is very common in the South Bronx. However, child abuse is just as common in Beverly Hills. The figures on child abuse are almost identical for both communities!

Infidelity. People in Beverly Hills are much more likely to have an extramarital affair (or two or three) than are people living in the South Bronx ghetto.

Drugs. The people in Beverly Hills are twice as likely to use illegal drugs as are the residents of the South Bronx. Thirty-eight percent of residents in Beverly Hills use illegal drugs vs. 17 percent in the Bronx.

Hidden crime. When we looked at unreported crimes, Beverly Hills residents were twice as likely to have actually committed a crime themselves. Beverly Hills residents were also more likely to personally know someone who has gone to jail.

Violence. Violence is certainly a fact of life in the South Bronx. But the average resident of Beverly Hills is four times as likely to own a gun. Twice as many reported that they had actually shot someone. Beverly Hills residents are as prone as residents of the South Bronx are to resorting to fistfights or shouting matches, but they are more likely (13 percent vs. 9 percent) to have sent someone to the hospital.

Charity. The 46 percent of people in the South Bronx who give to charity make a far greater sacrifice than do the 70 percent of wealthier residents of Beverly Hills, because they give much more on a percentage basis.

Not in my back yard. The principle of “not in my back yard” is considerably stronger in Beverly Hills than it is in the South Bronx. We asked residents in both places whether they would vote “Yes” or “No” to a proposal to locate certain kinds of institutions on the streets where they live. Whether it was a drug rehabilitation center, a shelter for the homeless, a home for the retarded, or an AIDS hospice, the not-on-my-street vote was greater, often twice as high, in Beverly Hills.

Capital crime and punishment. Capital crime is far more common in the South Bronx. However, the people of Beverly Hills are more vocal (70 percent vs. 52 percent) in support of the death penalty. A sizable number of people in Beverly Hills reported very harsh opinions on imposing legal death as well:

  • Forty-three percent would execute an insane person

  • Twenty-seven percent have no objection to executing the mentally retarded

  • Twenty-three percent would execute a ten-year-old criminal

In the South Bronx, less than half as many people agreed.

The South Bronx has been depicted (several times by Hollywood) as a burnt-out shell of a community. In Fort Apache the Bronx and The Bonfire of the Vanities, the people were stereotyped as villains and mal hombres.

But we found the majority of people there to be honest and hardworking, trying to do their best under nearly impossible circumstances.


Among the women in Beverly Hills who would execute a ten-year-old criminal, we found a single college graduate in her early twenties, whose annual household income is more than $100,000. She gives nothing to charity but does give to panhandlers; would keep an envelope containing $100 that she found on the street; would not give half of a $20 million lottery hit to charity; and votes “No” on five of seven not-in-my-backyard questions. She rates her moral standing as “excellent” and her chances of heaven as “very good.”

Among the Beverly Hills men who would execute a ten-year-old, is a single college graduate in his early twenties, whose household income is $75,000. He doesn’t give to charity or to panhandlers. He voted “Not in my backyard” all the way.

Beverly Hills has its share of very good people too, but there is an unusually high degree of law-breaking and a high incidence of child abuse.

What of the future? Well, 54 percent of the adults in the South Bronx firmly believe that their children are growing up with stronger moral values than they have. In Beverly Hills, the number is 27 percent.

From our study, there is certainly no evidence that living in Beverly hills results in being a better human being. On the contrary, on many counts, we had to score this one a moral victory for the people of the South Bronx.

How to Slash Corporate Welfare

By Stephen Moore

From The New York Times, April 5, 1995

A new political catch phrase has entered the Washington lexicon: corporate welfare.

On the left, Labor Secretary Robert Reich and Representative Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a socialist, have called for an end to “aid to dependent corporations.” On the right, Senator Phil Gramm of Texas and John Kasich of Ohio, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, have pledged to eliminate billions of dollars in Federal loans and subsidies to selected industries. Congress may finally be getting serious about getting business off Government support.

Still, few in Washington fully appreciate the extent to which aid to corporate America permeates the Federal budget. The Cato Institute calculates that Congress finances more than 125 programs that subsidize private businesses at a net cost of about $85 billion per year. Add tax breaks, and the price tag exceeds $100 billion a year—or half the annual Federal deficit.

Following are eight of the most egregious examples of corporate welfare embedded in various agencies of the Federal budget.

  • Sematech. The Pentagon provides nearly $100 million a year to this consortium of semiconductor producers based in Austin, Tex. Of the more than 200 chip makers in the United States, only the 14 largest, including Intel and the National Semiconductor Corporation, receive aid from Sematech. Originally designed to help U.S. companies compete internationally, Sematech now mostly benefits the largest Silicon Valley producers at the expense of small domestic upstarts.

  • Sugar price supports. Because Washington restricts sugar imports, the price for U.S. sugar is kept artificially high. The 33 largest American plantations each receive more than $1 million apiece in higher sales prices, and the cost is largely passed on to the poor. According to a Commerce Department study: “Because sugar is an ingredient in many food items, the effect of the sugar program is similar to a regressive sales tax, which hits lowerincome families harder than upper-income families.”

  • Subsidies to electric utilities. Through the rural Electrification Administration and the Federal power marketing administrations, the Government gives some $2 billion in subsidies each year to large and profitable electric utility cooperatives. Thus subsidies, in the form of low-interest loans, hold down the cost of running ski resorts in Aspen, Colo., and luxurious hotels in Hilton Head, S.C.

  • Timber industry subsidies. Last year, the Forest Service spent $140 million building roads in national forests, thus helping pay for the removal of timber by private firms. Over the past 20 years, the Forest Service has built 340,000 miles of roads—more than eight times the length of the interstate highway system—primarily for logging companies.

  • The Department of Agriculture’s market promotion program. Through the department’s Foreign Agriculture Service, this program spends $110 million a year advertising American products abroad. In 1991, taxpayers spent $10 million promoting Sunkist oranges, $2.9 million selling Pillsbury muffins and pies, $1.2 million boosting the sales of American Legend mink coats and $465,000 advertising McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets.

  • The advanced technology program. The Administration’s high-tech version of the Small Business Administration, started in 1993, funneled $400 million last year to such giants as Chevron, General electric, I.B.M., and Texaco. Federal Election Commission records indicate that all of these companies, along with many other techno-pork recipients, were substantial contributors to Bill Clinton’s Presidential campaign or to the Democratic National Committee.

  • Ethanol. This corn-based gasoline substitute gets two special breaks: a tax credit for companies that make ethanol and an exemption from Federal excise taxes that together amount to at least $500 million. Though proponents defend ethanol subsidies on the grounds that the fuel reduces both pollution and U.S. dependence on foreign oil, an often cited 1986 Department of Agriculture study concluded that “when all economic costs and benefits are tallied, an ethanol subsidy program is not cost effective.” Indeed, it takes more energy to produce a gallon of ethanol than is in a gallon of ethanol.

Archer-Daniels-Midland, a $10 billion company based in Decatur, Ill., produces two-thirds of the ethanol used in this country. The company and its chief executive, Dwayne Andreas, have been among the nation’s most generous campaign contributors; Bob Dole, the Senate majority leader, has received more than $150,000 from them over the years.

  • The clean car initiative. This year, the Administration is requesting $333 million for this program, also known as the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles, with the aim of producing a more fuel-efficient car. The White House says the program will “insure the global competitiveness of the U.S. automobile industry”—that is, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, whose combined profits last year came to a record $13.9 billion.

Many people in and out of Government defend these programs by arguing that they strengthen strategic industries and thus protect high-paying U.S. jobs. But tens of thousands of businesses export products abroad; perhaps 1 percent receive Federal assistance. At most, half of 1 percent of the millions of small companies will ever receive a Small Business Administration loan, yet the 99.5 percent that don’t will pay higher taxes to support those that do.

If the Government eliminated one-third of the corporate subsidies scattered throughout the budget, enough money would be saved to abolish the capital gains tax. That would create far more jobs and start-up businesses than 100 Sematechs.

In any case, should the Government even be in the business of picking corporate winners and losers? Business subsidies mainly create an uneven playing field, usually to the advantage of politically influential industry leaders and at the expense of their less wellconnected rivals. Nor is it very likely that bureaucrats will correctly identify America’s next Microsoft, Intel or MCI. In fact, the Government has a poor record of picking winners. The delinquency rate on the Government’s business loans is about 8 percent, compared to the approximately 3 percent among private banks.

Despite all the appealing arguments in Washington about the need to forge closer partnerships between the Government and industry, in practice golden handshakes tend to have a corrupting influence on both. Corporate welfare is anti-business as well as antitaxpayer.

Corporations: Underworld, U.S.A.

By Russell Mokhiber

From In These Times, April 1, 1996

Russell Mokhiber is the editor of Corporate Crime Reporter, a legal weekly based in Washington, D.C.

Spurred by Patrick Buchanan’s presidential campaign, American reporters and political leaders are suddenly abuzz with the formerly taboo subject of corporate power and its abuse. Newsweek (“Corporate Killers”), the New York Times (“Corporations Under Fire”), Business Week (“The Coming Backlash Against Business”), even Bob Dole, have all weighed in on the tragedy of escalating layoffs.

Yet all the talk of “corporate responsibility,” unprecedented as it is, remains numbingly vague. No major political figure or publication has mustered the courage to address the country’s current wave of corporate crime and violence. (Newsweek’s headline writers didn’t mean killing people; they meant the elimination of jobs.) But corporate crime and violence inflict far more damage on society than all street crime combined.

Nevertheless, inside-the-Beltway corporate liberals and conservatives alike insist that crime in America is committed primarily by the poor and blacks.

Richard Cohen, a Washington Post columnist and a corporate liberal, believes that “young black males commit most of the crimes in Washington, D.C.” Charles Krauthammer, a Post columnist and a corporate conservative, has written that “crime is generally an occupation of the poor.” And James Glassman, a straight-out corporatist and Post contributor, writes that the rich “don’t commit the violent crimes that require billions to be spent on law enforcement.”

These statements can be considered plausible only if we ignore—as Cohen, Krauthammer, Glassman and their colleagues in the mainstream media regularly ignore—the crimes and violence committed by powerful large American corporations and their primarily wealthy non-young-black-male executives.

How much damage these corporations inflict is known only by the criminals, their high-powered lobbyists and their attorneys, (Robert Bennett, one of the nation’s premier white-collar crime defense lawyers, has said that “90 percent of what I work on never sees the public light of day—and that should be true of any good white-collar crime defense attorney.”)

Every year, the FBI issues its Crimes in the United States report, which documents murder, robbery, assault, burglary and other street crimes. The report ignores corporate and white-collar crimes such as pollution, procurement fraud, financial fraud, public corruption and occupational homicide.

But some evidence indicates the magnitude of the problem. The FBI reports burglary and robbery combined cost the nation about $4 billion in 1995. In contrast, whitecollar fraud, generally committed by intelligent people of means—such as doctors, lawyers, accountants and businessmen—alone costs an estimated 50 times as much—$200 billion a year, according to W. Steve Albrecht, a professor of accountancy at Brigham Young University.

The FBI puts the street homicide rate at about 24,000 a year. But the Labor Department reports that more than twice that number—56,000 Americans—die every year on the job or from occupational diseases such as black lung, brown lung, asbestosis and various occupationally induced cancers.

Even these figures, which scarcely meet with any serious public attention or debate, don’t get at the full scale of the problem. Most corporate wrongdoing and violence goes unreported for one compelling reason—unlike all other criminal groups in the United States, major corporations have enough power to define the law under which they live.

The auto industry is a case in point. Today, the federal auto safety law carries no criminal sanctions, thanks to the auto industry lobby. For years, auto safety advocates have sought to add criminal sanctions to the law, and for years, the auto lobby has blocked their passage.

This might seem to many mainstream observers a harmless legislative perk. But consider that for more than 20 years, the auto industry also defeated efforts to enact a federal law that would require air bags as standard equipment on all U.S. cars.

It wasn’t that the industry didn’t know how to save lives. General Motors produced more than 11,000 Chevrolets, Buicks, Oldsmobiles and Cadillacs with full front air bags in the early 1970s. Numerous studies predicted what the auto companies and safety experts are now seeing on the road— air bags are saving lives and preventing serious injury.

However, the industry didn’t want to live under a life-saving rule of law. So every time safety advocates brought the air bag law up in Congress, the crime lobby defeated it. It wasn’t until 1991, after government-procured cars demonstrated the life-saving potential of air bags, that the industry gave in to growing public pressure.

Auto safety expert Byron Bloch, who owns an original production 1973 Chevy Impala with full front air bags, estimates that as many as 140,000 Americans—“almost three Vietnam walls worth of Americans”—have died in auto crashes since the early 1970s because the auto companies’ legislative privilege effectively thwarted all efforts to develop and legally mandate the device in American cars.

Yet even if a genuine populist movement were to enact tough laws criminalizing the reckless conduct of corporations, there would still remain the problem of prosecution. And here, too, lurks a central, if unsurprising, obstacle to reining in corporate crime: Unlike most other criminal groups, corporations have enough power to influence prosecutors not to bring criminal charges.

According to former New York Times reporter David Burnham, each of the past halfdozen U.S. attorneys general have publicly committed the Justice Department to a war against white-collar crime. But as Burnham reports in his recent book, Above the Law: Secret Deals, Political Fixes and Other Misadventures of the U.S. Department of Justice, the Department doesn’t walk the talk.

Burnham—who now co-directs the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, which collects data on the performance of the U.S. government—finds that less than one half of 1 percent (250) of the criminal indictments (51,253) brought by the Department in 1994 involved environmental crimes, occupational safety and health crimes, and crimes involving product and consumer safety issues. Burnham doubts whether this record reflects the true level of corporate crime in America.

”In August 1993, the National Law Journal did a survey of general counsels of major corporations,” Burnham told Corporate Crime Reporter. “Sixty-six percent of the counsels said they believed that their companies had violated federal or state environmental laws in the last year. You have tens of thousands of major corporations. You have a substantial number of the general counsels of these companies saying they are committing crimes. That speaks for itself.”

Burnham believes that corporate criminals often get away because of “unacknowledged class biases, outright political deals, poorly drafted laws and incompetent investigators” at the Justice Department. When it comes to prosecuting white-collar crime cases, Burnham argues, “the Justice Department itself could be convicted of fraud.”

On-the-job homicides are some of the most heinous crimes corporations could be charged with. Yet corporate violence that results in worker deaths rarely provokes criminal prosecutions, either at the state or federal level. The National Safety Council estimates that since the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHAct) in 1970, 250,000 workers have died on the job.

Many of these deaths stemmed directly from recklessness on the Part of corporate employers, but according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), only four people have done time for OSHAct violations.

Each year, OSHA refers only a handful of cases to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution. And Justice Department officials are reluctant to prosecute these cases, knowing that the federal workplace safety law allows for only six months in prison for a first offense.

This is a law enforcement obscenity. Harassing an animal gets you more time than criminal violations of the federal worker safety law. The maximum criminal penalty for harassing a wild burro on federal land is one year in jail, and seven people have been jailed for this crime.

Labor union activists have sought to strengthen the criminal provisions of the health and safety law over the years, but these efforts have been roundly defeated by big business interests in Congress. And the business-driven anti-law enforcement climate in Washington often leaves OSHA pulling its punches in cases of the most egregious corporate conduct.

Take the case of Patrick Hayes. In October 1993, Hayes was smothered to death under 60 tons of corn at a Showell Farms, Inc. chicken-processing facility in De Funiak Springs, Fla. It took rescue workers five and a half hours to recover his body.

OSHA investigator Linda Campbell found six willful violations of the federal worker safety law and recommended a $530,000 fine against the company. Campbell also told Hayes’ parents that she recommended a criminal prosecution of those responsible for Patrick’s death.

But Campbell’s superiors at OSHA overruled her original determination, reducing the fines to $30,000 and downgrading the citations from “willful violations” to “serious.” Because federal law requires a “willful violation” to prosecute a workplace death, this reversal blocked any possible federal criminal prosecution.

In cases like these, state officials should step into the breach and investigate the workplace death for a possible reckless homicide or manslaughter prosecution. When Ira Reiner was the Los Angeles County district attorney in the 1980s, he investigated every workplace death for a possible criminal prosecution—and took many of the cases to court.

Currently, one such prosecution is pending in Wisconsin. Last year, the district attorney in Jefferson County hit Ladish Malting Co., a wholly owned subsidiary of Cargill, Inc., with reckless homicide charges in connection with the death of Vernon Langholff, an employee who had fallen 100 feet from a fire escape landing that broke a Part from a grain elevator. State officials alleged that the unsafe condition of the fire escape had been reported to the company’s safety committee three years earlier.

But in most such cases, district attorneys are under heavy pressure from big business interests not to bring such prosecutions. In the Hayes case, Patrick’s father, Ron Hayes, approached the Florida state’s attorney to look at the possibility of criminally prosecuting the company.

”[The state’s attorney] told me and my wife and my attorney that he was scared by the company’s attorney,” Hayes says. “The company’s attorney told the state’s attorney that they would make this a political issue if the state tried to prosecute. The state’s attorney said that he just did not want to get into a political battle. He was not going to try to help us politically with this case.”

Even though corporate offenders regularly tilt the legal system to their advantage, some blatant acts of criminality do slip through the cracks and are prosecuted. Fortysix executives were convicted in the “Operation-Ill-Wind” defense procurement fraud enforcement action in the early 1990s. Thirteen major defense corporations—including Boeing, General Electric, United Technologies and Hughes—were convicted in that operation. In When the Pentagon Was for Sale (Scribner, 1995), Andy Pasztor, a Wall Street Journal correspondent who covered the Pentagon, tells the inside story of the country’s biggest defense scandal. Multibillion-dollar contracts were secretly divvied up according to a “shopping list” devoid of any competition, one of the main conspirators recalled to Pasztor. The conspirators assembled their contracts “just the way you would make one out if you went to the supermarket. When you’re in control, you can do anything you want, absolutely anything... And we did.”

Meanwhile, Exxon, International Paper, United Technologies, Weyerhaeuser, Pillsbury, Ashland Oil, Texaco, Nabisco and RalstonPurina have all been convicted of environmental crimes in recent years. Currently, federal grand juries in Manhattan, New Orleans, Washington, D.C., Brooklyn and Alexandria, Va., are investigating the tobacco industry for a whole range of wrongdoing, from lying to Congress to deceiving shareholders about the known addictive hazards of smoking. The first indictments are expected soon.

Recidivist corporations steal billions of dollars every year. They are often caught by company whistleblowers and by federal or state officials under the nation’s toughest anticorporate wrongdoing civil law—the federal False Claims Act. The qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act permit a private citizen to file suit on behalf of the federal government and collect a portion of the money if the government’s action is successful. In 1994, a group of the nation’s largest defense contractors worked the halls of Congress in an effort to weaken this law. (The bill later died in a Senate committee.)

In response, a public-interest group, the Project on Government Oversight, began to research the records of the companies seeking to weaken this popular anti-fraud law. The project studied the criminogenic histories of these companies and found that the companies had been engaged in adjudicated fraudulent activities (some criminal)—many of them three or more times.

The study found that General Electric has engaged in fraudulent activities 16 times since 1990. According to the study, a modified “three strikes and you’re out” rule would have disqualified an impressive roster of fraud-tainted losers from receiving government contracts, including Boeing (4), Grumman (5), Honeywell (3), Hughes Aircraft (9), Martin Marietta (5), McDonnell Douglas (4), Northrop (4), Raytheon (4), Rockwell (4), Teledyne (5), Texas Instruments (3) and United Technologies (3).

Meanwhile, corporatist politicians, not beholden to any notion of corporate justice, are shameless in their defense of corporate crime. Last year, a reporter asked Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich about his association with Southwire Co., a major Georgia company convicted of environmental crimes. The reporter pressed Gingrich to explain why he hadn’t severed his ties to the family that controls the company and that had dumped more than $100,000 into Gingrich’s various campaigns and projects.

”You are talking about the largest employer in Carroll County [Gingrich’s home base], which has over 3,000 people who work for it,” Gingrich said. “I hardly think that having been convicted of a violation turns one into a criminal company.” No politician could get away with an answer like this after taking contributions from convicted inner-city drug dealers who put to work thousands of their fellow citizens.

Gingrich was also asked last year about House Republican efforts to limit the criminal liability of doctors and other health care providers who rip off the health care system for an estimated $100 billion a year. “For the moment, I’d rather lock up the murderers, the rapists and the drug dealers,” he replied. “Once we start getting some vacant jail space, I’d be glad to look at it.” Clearly, Gingrich and the rest of the corporatist Washington crowd fail to grasp a fundamental lesson of effective deterrence: enforce the law against the most powerful members of society first.

Ignore or downplay the crimes of the powerful, and like a fish, respect for legal authority rots—from the head down. Why should street criminals respect legal authority when corporatists like Gingrich give the flashing green light to doctors and hospital executives to plunder the health care system?

Gingrich has said we must “re-establish shame as means of enforcing proper behavior.” Who wouldn’t agree? But let’s start at the top, where the rot takes hold.

Topics for Discussion and Writing

In small groups with classmates, then in general class discussion, devise a survey of the attitudes of students at your college toward the morality of poor people versus rich ones, which might indicate individual students’ opinions both about what social class they themselves belong to and the extent of generalizations and stereotypes they are inclined to make about the rich and poor. Refer to the above diagram “Middle-Class Ethnocentric Attitudes” as a guide to possible questions. Then implement the survey.

Stephanie Salter quotes the high school students working at St. Anthony’s homeless shelter writing, “‘We, as a society that calls itself civilized, have rationalized so well and so convincingly this shame of denying human beings the dignity and self-worth of employment or the basic right to be cared for if they are ill or old.’” Debate this assertion in class. As a research and writing project, try to volunteer to work in a homeless facility in your locality and report on it.

Discuss a popular song, TV series, or movie that either indulges in stereotyping or challenges stereotypes.

Becky Wildman-Tobriner, author of the op-ed “Will Sex Stereotypes Never End?” is identified as a fifteen-year-old high school student. How do you think her writing and reasoning compare with those of the professional writers in this section of readings and elsewhere in this book? How persuasive do you find her arguments? Explain why.

“Beverly Hills vs. the South Bronx” is a Chapter in the book The Day America Told the Truth: What People Really Believe about Everything That Really Matters, by James Patterson and Peter Kim. Patterson and Kim are top executives at J. Walter Thompson, one of America’s wealthiest corporate advertising agencies. What inferences might be drawn about their socioeconomic and political viewpoint? Are their findings what you would predict from that viewpoint? Does the fact that their findings are unfavorable to the class of their own clients give those findings more plausibility? How credible do you find their empirical study and its implications about common stereotypes of the rich and poor? Are there larger inferences that can reasonably be drawn from it, or is it an inadequate sampling from which to generalize?

Russell Mokhiber’s “Corporations: Underworld, USA,” “Life on the Expense Account” by Donald Barlett and James Steele (from their book America: What Went Wrong?), and Stephen Moore’s “How to Slash Corporate Welfare” present collections of empirical evidence that contradict positive generalizations and stereotypes about the morality of the rich and large corporations. How well reasoned and supported are their arguments? How well qualified is their level of generalization? Can it be accurately inferred that they are generalizing about all corporations, most, many, or what? Evaluate the causal analysis and analogy in Mokhiber’s last two paragraphs and his implicit charge that there is a double standard in conservatives’ judgments on street criminals versus corporate ones: “Ignore or downplay the crimes of the powerful, and like a fish, disrespect for legal authority rots—from the head down. Why should street criminals respect legal authority when corporatists like Gingrich give the flashing green light to doctors and hospital executives to plunder the health care system?”

You might look at the rest of the Chapter excerpted from Barlett and Steele, and at their complete book, to get a clearer sense of the context. Their central argument is that the policies of the Reagan administration in the 1980s enacting large tax cuts, deregulating industries like savings and loans, and providing other benefits to the wealthy led to abuses on a large enough scale to discredit Reaganomics. How persuasive is this one example toward that larger argument? (Also see the arguments about Reaganomics inchapters 20and21.)

Stephen Moore is a prominent spokesperson for libertarianism (as defined in Chapter 15), having been associated with two leading libertarian organizations, the Cato Institute and the Club for Growth. Where in his article does he express the view that corporate welfare is inconsistent with, and detrimental to, the workings of a pure free market, which libertarians endorse? How would you surmise that his criticism of corporate welfare differs from that of those “on the left, Labor Secretary [under President Clinton] Robert Reich and Representative Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a socialist”?

Chapter 8. Authoritarianism and Conformity, Rationalization andCompartmentalization

Authoritarianism is the mental trait of uncritically accepting or obeying anything that someone perceived to be in a position of authority says; it also describes the mentality of political rulers who impose that uncritical acceptance of their authority on those they rule, particularly through an undemocratic government, and it can be the name given to a society with that kind of government. Note that the words authoritative and authoritarian are not synonymous. To say that someone is authoritative means that he or she is an authority on a particular subject, speaking with authentic expertise on it, so this word has a positive connotation, in contrast to the negative connotation implied when a person or society is described as authoritarian. (We might, however, fall into a somewhat authoritarian mind-set if we uncritically assume that whatever an authority says is true simply because the individual is an authority, without our verifying his or her evidence and reasoning.)

Of course, in many cases people in positions of authority—government officials, business executives, religious leaders, military and police officers, professionals, educators, scholars and authors, as well as elder members of our own families and communities—deserve to be respected, and the equal and opposite extreme from authoritarianism is falling into knee-jerk, undiscriminating disrespect for anyone in authority. (In the ambivalent and paradoxical nature of human psychology, extreme antiauthoritarianism often is not really the opposite of authoritarianism but rather a twisted reflection of it. Thus people who try to assassinate public figures often turn out to be driven by conflicts within their own deepseated authoritarian mentality.) The golden mean is determining which authorities merit respect on the basis of exercising authority responsibly and which do not, and this is one of the important judgment calls that critical citizenship constantly entails.

If many people are inclined to submit blindly to political or social authorities, many also go through life conforming to the ethnocentric customs and attitudes of their families, friends, schoolmates, church, political party, associates at work, and other social groupings.

Conformity is an especially ticklish subject to discuss objectively because although most of us are conformists to a greater or lesser extent, few of us want to admit it. Would you or anyone you know admit outright, “I am a conformist”? The subject is doubly ticklish in the United States, where there has long been a compartmentalization between our image as a society of rugged individualists and the tendencies toward regimentation that many critics such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau have noted since the mid-nineteenth century. Contrast Jefferson’s vision of a public education system that would “raise the mass of people to the high ground of moral respectability necessary to their own safety, and to orderly government” with Emerson’s contemptuous reference in “The American Scholar” some twenty-five years later: “Men in the world of to-day are bugs, are spawn, and are called ‘the mass’ and ‘the herd’” (106). In Walden (1854) Thoreau famously said, “The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation” (7) and “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer” (295). There is a social taboo today against even raising the subject of conformity, so it comes as rather a shock when a journalist like Jennifer Crichton, in an article from Ms. magazine, declares (albeit with hyperbolic humor), that “American high schools are as notoriously well-organized as totalitarian regimes, complete with secret police, punishment without trial, and banishment” (3).

Social psychologists trace what they term “the authoritarian personality” to childhood socialization in which parents, and especially the father, exert strict, often harsh and unreasonable, authority over their children. In this view, children’s unquestioning submission to paternal authority tends to be projected into their adult compliance with religious, social, and political authority. (Compare with George Lakoff’s description in Chapter 9of “the strict father model” of society that characterizes conservative ideology.) The term patriarchy describes the concept, delineated by Virginia Woolf in the excerpt from A Room With a View in Chapter 6, that our whole social order is based on domination by paternalistic authority and more broadly by the power of men over women; thus the women’s liberation movement represented a challenge to the culturally conditioned assumption of male dominance. Sylvia Plath’s famous 1962 poem “Daddy” fantasized her domineering, German-American father as a Nazi:

Every woman adores a Fascist, The boot in the face, the brute Brute heart of a brute like you.

The poem ends:

There’s a stake in your fat black heart And the villagers never liked you. They are dancing and stamping on you. They always knew it was you.

Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.

This last stanza has been widely interpreted as a rejection, not only of Plath’s father, but of patriarchal domination of women in general.

Erich Fromm’s 1941 book Escape from Freedom is a classic study of the authoritarian social psychology that attracted so many Europeans to fascism—an ultraconservative ideology that combines fanatic nationalism with totalitarian government led by an all-powerful ruler—in the 1930s and that has been a strong tendency even in other modern democracies, including the United States. (See the definition of fascism in Chapter 15.) Fromm discusses many individuals’ fear of growing out of infantile dependency on their parents, projected into a larger fear of thinking critically and exercising free will as an adult in society. He relates this personal and social fear of freedom to masochistic neurosis:

The annihilation of the individual self and the attempt to overcome thereby the unbearable feeling of powerlessness are only one side of the masochistic strivings. The other side is the attempt to become a Part of a bigger and more powerful whole outside of oneself, to submerge and participate in it. This power can be a person, an institution, God, the nation, conscience, or a psychic compulsion. By becoming Part of a power which is felt as unshakably strong, eternal, and glamorous, one participates in its strength and glory. One surrenders one’s own self and renounces all strength and pride connected with it, one loses one’s integrity as an individual and surrenders freedom; but one gains a new security and a new pride in the participation in the power in which one submerges. One gains also security against the torture of doubt. The masochistic person . . . is saved from making decisions, saved from the final responsibility for the fate of his self, and thereby saved from the doubt of what decision to make These questions are answered by the relationship to the power to which he has

attached himself. The meaning of his life and identity of his self are determined by the greater whole into which the self has emerged. (155-56)

Thus, in Fromm’s view, “If the individual finds cultural patterns that satisfy these masochistic strivings (like the submission under the ‘leader’ in Fascist ideology), he gains some security by finding himself united with millions of others who share these feelings” (153). We can see here a key to the recent attraction of various cults for many young Americans. We can also see a key to the tendency after an external threat to a nation like September 11, 2001, for many people to seek security in a president who is a “strict father” figure entrusted to take whatever measures he considers necessary to protect us from foreign and domestic threats. However, many people in this situation also tend not to understand the danger in giving up critical scrutiny of governmental or military authorities, who often in such circumstances historically have manipulated the people’s fears to seize total power and crush democracy and civil liberties—Hitler in Germany being the most notorious example.

Fromm’s title Escape from Freedom alludes to the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Chapter “The Grand Inquisitor” in The Brothers Karamazov (1880). The Grand Inquisitor, Dostoyevsky’s imaginary, sinister prototype of the twentieth-century totalitarian dictator, rationalizes his regime’s antidemocratic social control as follows: “Man is tormented by no greater anxiety than to find some one quickly to whom he can hand over that gift of freedom with which the ill-fated creature is born” (302).

Oh, we shall persuade them that they will only become free when they renounce their freedom to us and submit to us We shall show them that they are weak, that they are only

pitiful children, but that childlike happiness is the sweetest of all. They will become timid and will look to us and huddle close to us in fear, as chicks to the hen.......................................................................................................................... They will tremble

impotently before our wrath, their minds will grow fearful, they will be quick to shed tears like women and children, but they will be just as ready at a sign from us to pass to laughter and rejoicing, to happy mirth and childish song. Yes, we shall set them to work, but in their leisure hours we shall make their life like a child’s game, with children’s songs and innocent dance. (306-7)

Dostoyevsky’s dark prophecy has been echoed by many writers opposing the social control exercised by both modern governments and corporations through mass cultural “children’s songs and innocent dance,” such as in Susan Sontag’s description, cited in Chapter 1, of the Bush administration’s post-9/11 statements as “a campaign to infantilize the public.”

The ultimate modern literary depiction of authoritarianism and conformity is George Orwell’s futuristic 1949 novel 1984. The hero, Winston Smith, rebels throughout the novel against a totally regimented society dominated by a perhaps nonexistent ruler called Big Brother. Smith is ultimately captured, tortured, and brainwashed to correct his “deviation” from conformity. On the last page of the book, he finally submits to servitude before a huge televised picture of Big Brother, perceived here as all-wise father:

Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark mustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-soaked tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother. (197)

A more contemporary version of authoritarian society was presented by the American playwright Paddy Chayevsky in his 1972 screenplay for the film Network, which satirically suggests that by the late twentieth century, the major authority in the world has become not governments but multinational corporations. In the film’s most famous sequence, a TV anchorman, Howard Beale, goes slightly berserk and starts urging all his audience members to rebel against monopolistic corporate control of television and American society in general, by sticking their heads out of their windows and yelling, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more!” Beale is called into the headquarters of the corporation that owns the network for which he works and is lectured by the CEO, Arthur Jensen, in the following scene updating “The Grand Inquisitor” and 1984:

Paddy Chayevsky

From Network

”You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and I won’t have it, is that clear? You think you have merely stopped a business deal—that is not the case! The Arabs have taken billions of dollars out of this country, and now they must put it back. It is ebb and flow, tidal gravity, it is ecological balance! You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations! There are no peoples! There are no Russians. There are no Arabs! There are no third worlds! There is no West! There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multi-variate, multinational dominion of dollars! Petrodollars, electrodollars, multidollars, reichsmarks, rubles, Yin, pounds and shekels. It is the international system of currency that determines the totality of life on this planet! That is the natural order of things today! That is the atomic, subatomic and galactic structure of things today! And you have meddled with the primal forces of nature and you will atone! Am I getting through to you, Mr. Beale?”

In the darkness, Howard said, “Amen.”

”You get up on your little twenty-one inch screen, Mr. Beale” Jensen resumed, “and howl about America and democracy. There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM and ITT and AT&T and Du Pont, Dow, Union Carbide and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world now. What do you think the Russians talk about in their councils of state—Karl Marx? They pull out their linear programming charts, statistical decision theories and minimize solutions like the good little systems-analysts they are and compute the price-cost probabilities of their transactions and investments just like we do.

”We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable bylaws of business. The world is a business, Mr. Beale! It has been that way since man crawled out of the slime, and our children, Mr. Beale, will live to see that perfect world without war and famine, oppression and brutality—one vast and ecumenical holding company, for whom all men will work to serve a common profit, in which all men will hold a share of stock, all necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused. And I have chosen you to preach this evangel, Mr. Beale.”

”Why me?” Howard whispered humbly.

”Because you’re on television dummy. Sixty million people watch you every night of the week, Monday through Friday.”

Howard slowly rose from the blackness of his seat so that he was lit only by the ethereal diffusion of light shooting out of the rear of the room. He stared at Jensen, spotted on the podium, transfixed.

”I have seen the face of God!” Howard said.

Jensen considered this curious statement for a moment. “You just might be right, Mr.


That evening, Howard Beale went on the air to preach the corporate cosmology of Arthur Jensen. He seemed sad, resigned, weary.

BEALE: Last night, I got up here and asked you people to stand up and fight for your heritage and you did and it was beautiful. Six million telegrams were received at the White House. The Arab takeover of CCA has been stopped. The people spoke, the people won. It was a radiant eruption of democracy. But I think that was it, fellers. That sort of thing isn’t likely to happen again. Because in the bottom of all our terrified souls, we all know that democracy is a dying giant, a sick, sick, dying, decaying political concept, writhing in its final pain. I don’t mean the United States is finished as a world power. The United States is the most powerful, the richest, the most advanced country in the world, light-years ahead of any other country. And I don’t mean the Communists are going to take over the world. The Communists are deader than we are. What’s finished is the idea that this great country is dedicated to the freedom and flourishing of every individual in it. It’s the individual that’s finished. It’s the single, solitary human being who’s finished. Because this is no longer a nation of independent individuals. This is a nation of two hundred-odd million, transistorized, deodorized, whiter-than-white, steel-belted bodies, totally unnecessary as human beings and as replaceable as piston rods..................................................................................................................................

What I’m talking about, of course, is dehumanization. That’s a bad word, dehumanization, like imperialism, military-industrial complex, big-business. We’re all supposed to resist dehumanization. Lord knows, I’ve been getting up on this program for eight months and that’s all I’ve been yelling about—we must fight the dehumanization of the spirit. I kept yelling all the good words like justice and brotherhood, the dignity of man, compassion, decency and simple human kindness. Well, we all know that’s a lot of shit. I mean, just look around you. So the time has come to say: is dehumanization such a bad word? Because good or bad, that’s what is so. And we are moving inexorably towards more total dehumanization, drawn by gravitational forces far greater than anything we can comprehend. And not just us, the whole world.

We’re just the most advanced country, so we’re getting there first. The rest of the world— Russia, China, the undeveloped world—can’t wait to catch up to us. It’ll be easy for them. They’re already dedicated to mass societies. The whole world then is becoming humanoid, creatures that look human but aren’t. We are becoming mass-produced, programmed, wired— insensate things useful only to produce and consume other mass-produced things, all of them as unnecessary and useless as we are. Nevertheless, that is the cosmic state of affairs.

Once you’ve grasped that, once you’ve understood the total futility and purposelessness of human existence, then the whole universe becomes orderly and comprehensive. We are no longer an industrialized society; we aren’t even a post-industrial or technological society. We are now a corporate society, a corporate world, a corporate universe. This world is a vast cosmology of small corporations orbiting around larger corporations who, in turn, revolve around giant corporations, and this whole endless, eternal, ultimate cosmology is expressly designed for the production and consumption of useless things.... (130-135)

This sequence from Network is a good example of dramatic irony, through which an author creates a gap between what the characters know or say and the way the audience is expected to interpret it. Here, we are not expected to take Arthur Jensen’s “corporate cosmology” as the benevolent model that he is “selling” but to reject it as an antidemocratic nightmare. Nor are we expected to give in to Howard Beale’s pessimism at the end but again to say, “We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take this any more!”

Likewise, if many writers, ancient and modern, have warned pessimistically of the dangers of authoritarianism and conformity, many have also depicted heroic models of critical nonconformity and rebellion against authority. In Plato’s dialogue The Apology, Socrates in his trial declares his willingness to die for defying social conformity: “There is no man who will preserve his life for very long, either in Athens or elsewhere, if he firmly opposes the multitude, and tries to prevent the commission of much injustice and illegality, in the state. . . . But I thought that I ought to face the danger, with law and justice on my side, rather than join with you in your unjust proposal, from fear of imprisonment or death” (364). Also in ancient Greece, Sophocles’ play Antigone dramatizes the defiance of a brave woman against the arbitrary authority of the emperor Creon. Shakespeare’s Hamlet stands up to the conformity of a court and society that rationalize the dictates of a corrupt, murderous king.

In American literature, some of the most powerful statements against conformity were made shortly before the Civil War by writers associated with the transcendentalist movement, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, and Frederick Douglass, denouncing the nation’s cowardice in refusing to abolish slavery. Thoreau’s 1849 essay “Civil Disobedience” (also sometimes titled “Resistance to Civil Government”) was written to protest the Mexican-American War, which was waged at least partially with the motive of bringing Texas, whose ruling Anglo slave owners wanted independence from Mexico after that country abolished slavery, into the union to strengthen the pro-slavery faction in the federal government. With specific reference to the Mexican-American War, Thoreau says:

A common and natural result of an undue respect for law is, that you may see a file of soldiers, colonel, captain, corporal, privates, powder-monkeys and all, marching in admirable order over hill and dale to the wars, against their wills, aye, against their common sense and consciences, which makes it very steep marching indeed, and produces a palpitation of the heart. They have no doubt that it is a damnable business in which they are concerned; they are all peaceably inclined. Now, what are they? Men at all? or small moveable forts and magazines, at the service of some unscrupulous man in power? (637)

Thoreau refused to pay a poll tax used to finance the war and was sent to prison for one night, an episode he describes and justifies: “I know this well, that if one thousand, if one hundred, if ten men whom I could name,—if ten honest men only—aye, if one honest man in this state of Massachusetts, ceasing to hold slaves, were actually to withdraw from this copartnership, and be locked up in the county jail therefore, it would be the abolition of slavery in America. For it matters not how small the beginning may seem to be: what is once done well is done forever” (646). In a broader defense of nonconformity against government authority, Thoreau asks, “Why does it [government] not encourage its citizens to be on the alert to point out its faults Why does it always crucify Christ, and excommuni

cate Copernicus and Luther, and pronounce Washington and Franklin rebels?” (644).

”Civil Disobedience” has been highly influential on subsequent leaders of rebellions like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Mario Savio. To be sure, the excesses by some elements of the protest movements in the later 1960s provoked a conservative backlash against this variety of nonconformity and a broader questioning of the validity of the whole tradition of antiauthoritarianism. “The sixties” and their “adversary culture” remain fighting words even today, invoked by both sides in the ongoing culture wars four decades later. The poet Adrienne Rich is a veteran of the sixties adversary culture who has remained an activist to the present, in pacifism as well as the women’s and gay rights movements. In her interview with the editor of the Progressive magazine, included in the readings for this chapter, she addresses the reduced hopes for social change and nonconformity today.

To summarize, your challenge as a critical citizen is to judge rationally for yourself in any given situation whether support of authority and majority opinion or criticism of and active opposition to it is warranted, rather than either conforming or rebelling simply because of cultural conditioning or peer pressure.

Rationalization, Compartmentalized Thinking, and Double Standards

Psychological blocks like ethnocentrism and authoritarianism typically lead us toward a need to twist logic around to justify whatever actions and ideas support the authority or group we identify with. Rationalization is the word for this process of deceiving ourselves into believing what we want to believe or what benefits us personally, at the expense of what we would believe on rational grounds. (Definitions get confusing here because rationalize derives from rational, but rationalization means to convince ourselves that an irrational idea is rational; to rationalize is to reason in a way that justifies a predetermined or desired

conclusion.) Geoffrey Chaucer succinctly defined rationalization another way: “Making virtue of necessity.” Many people go through their whole lives confusing rationalization with reasoning, never understanding that what they firmly believe is rational is really rationalization of whatever serves their own or their group’s interests. One common form of rationalization is making excuses and blaming somebody or something else for our own failures: when a student gets a low grade, it’s the teacher’s fault; when a teacher gets poor student evaluations, it’s the students’ fault. Another form is “sour grapes,” saying we don’t really want what we can’t get. Still another common form is simple denial of unpleasant truths.

Rationalizations in turn lead us into unconscious inconsistencies and self-contradictions, or compartmentalized thinking. George Orwell’s 1984 captures the essence of these mental traps in the concept of doublethink, the term devised by the all-powerful ruling party of the future state of Oceania to describe the mental process through which the masses are programmed into rationalizing all of the party’s lies, deprivations of rights, and constant changes of policy or of foreign allies and enemies. Doublethink is brilliantly defined in the readings section of this Chapter through the thoughts of the central character, Winston Smith, a government bureaucrat whose job is rewriting history daily to reconcile it with the shifting party line (when historical records are destroyed, they go “down the memory hole,” suggesting that the entire capacity for memory of the past can be destroyed). The slogans summing up the compartmentalized thinking of doublethink in 1984 are emblazoned on the facade of the Ministry of Truth (the agency in charge of producing lies, of course): “War Is Peace. Freedom Is Slavery. Ignorance Is Strength” (19).

In Oceania every military defeat is described in official broadcasts as a stunning victory, every reduction in the standard of living as a “glorious” increase. (At one point Winston learns that the chocolate ration is to be reduced to twenty grams, but the public announcement describes the change as an increase, and “there had even been demonstrations to thank Big Brother for raising the chocolate ration to twenty grams a week.”) Yet the people “swallow it” because of a doublethink combination of authoritarian craving to believe that the leaders know best and rationalization of the fear that the government will “track down, denounce, and vaporize” anyone who questions its authority. The citizens are regularly stirred up in a collective “Two Minutes Hate” frenzy against whichever other country the government has identified as the enemy of the moment.

In reading 1984 we are apt to feel grateful that we are living in a free society and not in a totalitarian dictatorship like that of the Soviet Union, the immediate model for Orwell’s nightmarish vision. But, in spite of the enormous differences between such dictatorships and American society, our reaction might contain an element of compartmentalized thinking and projection in our denial of the many ways in which we too conform to the power structure of our own society. Are the rationalizations of the shifting alliances in Orwell’s world, for example, so different from our government’s and media’s changing attitudes toward China, Vietnam, and other Communist countries—demonizing them when they were economic rivals but establishing normal relations with them when they decided to do business with us? The United States was an ally of Saddam Hussein, selling him arms (which he used against his own people), when Iraq was at war with Iran in the 1980s. Michael Moore’s film Fahrenheit 9/11 (which alludes directly to 1984 in exposing the alleged rewriting of history by the Bush administration) includes newsreel footage from that period showing Donald Rumsfeld, who would be the secretary of Defense directing the war against Iraq in 2003, cordially shaking hands with Saddam in Baghdad as an emissary to Iraq in the eighties. Later, in our two wars against Saddam, he was transformed by both Bush presidents and Rumsfeld into a Hitler-like monster (which he may well have been, but no less so in the eighties). We also supported the Taliban and leaders of Al Qaeda when they were resisting the Soviet Union’s control of Afghanistan in the eighties; President Ronald Reagan praised them as “freedom fighters”—before they turned the weapons that we provided them against us and became “terrorists.”

At the time the Bush administration was persuading the public to support its war on Iraq in 2002-2003, a Washington Post poll indicated that 70 percent of Americans believed Iraq played a direct role in 9/11. Another poll found that 44 percent of respondents thought “most” or “some” of the 9/11 hijackers were Iraqi. None were; most were citizens of Saudi Arabia (as was Osama Bin Laden), a country that was a close American ally, with which the Bush family had long-standing ties in the oil business. Fifty-five percent polled believed Saddam Hussein directly supported Al Qaeda. A majority of Americans also believed that weapons of mass destruction had been located in Iraq and that Saddam was about to build a nuclear bomb. Among regular viewers of Fox News, these percentages were even higher (see Susan Gerhard’s article “Outfoxed Tweaks Rupert Murdoch’s Mayhem-isphere” inchapter 16). Several subsequent investigations by Congress and government commissions, however, concluded (at least at the time of this writing) that all of these beliefs were ungrounded. In some cases, the Bush administration denied ever having even made these claims, although critics cited many administration statements implying they were true. Was this perhaps a classic case of Orwellian rationalization, wishful thinking by masses of citizens, terrified by 9/11 and desperately wanting to believe that the war against Iraq was both justified and an effective retaliation against the perpetrators of 9/11? Considering the often hate-filled denunciations of the war’s critics (including the Dixie Chicks) as unpatriotic or even treasonous and heightened government surveillance under the Patriot Act, mightn’t some supporters also have been rationalizing their conformity and unwillingness to be tracked down, denounced, and vaporized?

The issue concerning the Iraq War was not what the facts about Saddam Hussein actually were (which at this writing were still open to dispute and new revelations) but whether people’s conformity to the government line might have been yet another example of Orwell’s depiction of these tendencies in all humans and all societies, particularly under the conditions of mass propaganda in modern democracies as well as dictatorships. Indeed, Orwell objected to the popular reception of 1984 in the West as simply an anti-Communist tract or as a warning against the totalitarian potential in English socialism (“Ingsoc”): “The name suggested in Nineteen Eighty-Four is of course Ingsoc, but in practice a wide range of choices is open. In the USA the phrase ‘Americanism’ or ‘hundred per cent Americanism’ is suitable and the qualifying adjective is as totalitarian as one could wish” (quoted in Bernard Crick, George Orwell: A Life, 566.)

Joseph Heller’s 1961 novel Catch-22 applies many of Orwell’s concepts to a satire of American society. One character is a master of rationalization and compartmentalization:

He was a long-limbed farmer, a God-fearing, freedom-loving, law-abiding rugged individualist who held that federal aid to anyone but farmers was creeping socialism. He advocated thrift and hard work and disapproved of loose women who turned him down. His specialty was alfalfa, and he made a good thing out of not growing any. The government paid him well for every bushel of alfalfa he did not grow. The more alfalfa he did not grow, the more money the government gave him, and he spent every penny he didn’t earn on new land to increase the amount of alfalfa he did not produce. (86)

The double standard that Heller is satirizing here, of conservatives who stand up for free enterprise yet lobby for government subsidies for their business enterprises, continues to be timely today, as indicated in Stephen Moore’s “How to Slash Corporate Welfare,” in Chapter 7.

The famous title phrase of Catch-22 refers to an imaginary rule used to force a squadron of American airmen in Europe during World War II to fly an unreasonable number of dangerous combat missions. When the novel’s hero Yossarian asks the company doctor if there is any way his stressed friend Orr could get out of such missions, he is assured that the doctor is empowered to ground any flyer who is crazy. There is, however, a catch—“Catch22”: “Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy................................................ Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions” (47). Over the course of the novel, however, Catch-22 turns out to be an all-purpose gimmick; those in power invent a different version of it in any situation to rationalize their capricious exercise of authority over those beneath them in the hierarchy in exactly the same manner that Orwell’s rulers use doublethink. Most of the characters—including the company chaplain—have learned to deceive themselves into justifications for conforming to the corruptions of the bureaucratic system in which they are caught: “The chaplain had mastered, in a moment of divine intuition, the handy technique of protective rationalization, and he was exhilarated by his discovery. It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character” (372).

In political disputes, opposing sides constantly resort to rationalization, compartmentalization, and their related fallacies to excuse their side’s faults. When liberals side with a militant African American accused of shooting a policeman, they first claim it was a frameup; when evidence shows otherwise, they change their story to, “Oh Well, it was probably self-defense.” “The Sandinistas in Nicaragua were not allied with Communist Russia or Cuba! They were? Oh well, they had to find support somewhere because they were being undermined by the United States.” When conservatives are confronted with atrocities committed by American troops or their right-wing allies in Vietnam or Central America, they similarly deny the facts as long as they can, then when the evidence becomes irrefutable, their story too switches: “Oh well, that happens in every war.” In the Iran-contra scandal, conservatives (including President Reagan) first denied that the United States had traded arms for hostages and diverted the profits from the arms sales to Iran to provide illegal support for the contra rebels against the Sandinistas; then when that denial became untenable, they switched to, “Oh well, it was justified in the fight against Communism.” When stories first surfaced in 2004 about American abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, conservatives tended at first to say, “Oh well, it was just a few rotten apples among the rank-and-file troops.” But when information came out suggesting that approval for the abuse had come from high government officials, the story shifted to, “Oh well, when you’re dealing with terrorists, anything goes.” According to Newsweek (July 19, 2004, 41-42), many of those abused were petty criminals who had nothing to do with terrorism, and others were not guilty of any crime—so some new variety of rationalization was predictable.

Double Standards and Selective Vision

One of the most common forms that compartmentalized thinking and rationalization take is a double standard or selective vision: applying a more demanding standard of morality to the other side than to our own, or blaming the other side for the same faults that we overlook or even praise as virtues on our own. (These are also varieties of stacking the deck, and they frequently involve projection of our own faults onto the other side.) It’s one of the hardest challenges of critical thinking to get beyond the ESBYODS principle and see the double standards and selective vision that blind us all to faults on our own side that we are so quick to see on the other side.

In virtually every day’s news, you can see Republicans and Democrats self-righteously denouncing the other party’s politicians for vices of which their own side is just as likely to be guilty. In scandals during Republican presidential administrations, like Watergate or Iran-contra, Democrats play up the gravity of every accusation, while Republicans go into a mode of denial, downplaying the importance of the alleged crimes (“It was just a thirdrate burglary”), claiming the charges are motivated by political partisanship, and invoking “national security” or “executive privilege” as excuses not to cooperate with the investigation. When Democrats are in office, as in President Bill Clinton’s Monica Lewinsky and Whitewater scandals, the roles and rhetoric switch diametrically. When House Republicans tried to impeach Clinton, they were highly self-righteous in their moral condemnation of Clinton’s adulterous affairs, yet after the impeachment effort failed, it became public knowledge that several Republicans leading that effort had also committed adultery—some at the very time of the impeachment trial.

On the positive side, pointing out double standards in your opponent’s arguments is one of the most effective lines of refutation—that is, if you do not fall into a double standard yourself in so doing! Pointing them out involves a form of argument by analogy, showing that “what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.”

The quality of the argument, then, depends on the validity of the analogy in the claim that the two situations are indeed comparable in the way the author suggests. (See Chapter 11on analogies.) At the end of this Chapter are two opinion columns using double-standard arguments and analogies, one by left-of-liberal Katha Pollitt criticizing conservative opponents of affirmative action and one by conservative Jeff Jacoby criticizing liberal environmentalists.

Other Defense Mechanisms

Psychologists identify further varieties of blocks to open-mindedness stemming from primary certitude and rationalization. Two of the most common defense mechanisms are denial and projection.

When we are confronted with facts or views that threaten our primary certitude, we tend to react by “being in denial,” a state of angry, irrational defense of our own closedminded opinion and refusal to consider any evidence to the contrary. To be sure, not every denial fits the psychological profile of being in denial. There is a big difference between denying the validity of an opposing viewpoint through coolheaded reasoning (even though it may be passionately expressed) and a knee-jerk reaction that is purely emotional and unsupported with evidence and reason.

When we are at fault in relationship to other people but don’t want to admit it, a common form of denial is to convince ourselves that it is the others who are at fault and that they are committing the fault against us that we have committed against them, or at least that our bad behavior toward them is a justified reaction against their behavior toward us, that “they started it.” (This mentality feeds into the causal fallacy of blaming the victim.) Another form that projection often takes is intense anger toward someone who exhibits traits that we have suppressed within ourselves; thus men who are extremely homophobic and who might commit violence against homosexuals may be projecting self-hatred over their own suppressed homosexual tendencies onto an external target.

An excellent analysis of both denial and projection is found in James Baldwin’s 1963 book The Fire Next Time (excerpted in Chapter 10). Baldwin, expressing an African-American viewpoint on how white Americans’ illusions of racial superiority were threatened by the civil rights movement, suggested that whites were in constant denial about four centuries of crimes committed by whites against blacks—beginning with kidnapping and slavery, followed after abolition by unpunished lynching, rape, robbery, segregation, and denial of civil rights. Baldwin said about the truth of this history that many whites “do not know it, and do not want to know it” (15). They suppressed consciousness of reality by rationalizing that blacks preferred to be subordinate and segregated, or by projecting criminality into stereotypes of black men as rapists of white women, murderers, thieves, and loafers. To whatever extent these stereotypes had any basis in reality, that reality was judged causally as a sign of blacks’ innate criminality, not as an effect of or reaction to centuries of crimes against them. Simultaneously, according to Baldwin, in the white psyche, blacks symbolized an uninhibited sexuality and day-to-day intensity of life that whites denied themselves, so that whites’ attitudes were highly compartmentalized: they both looked down on blacks as morally inferior and envied their flamboyant sensuality:

The white man’s unadmitted—and apparently, to him, unspeakable—private fears and longings are projected onto the Negro. The only way he can be released from the Negro’s tyrannical power over him is to consent, in effect, to become black himself, to become a Part of that suffering and dancing country that he now watches wistfully from the heights of his lonely power and, armed with spiritual traveler’s checks, visits surreptitiously [secretly] after dark. (129)

A more recent discussion of projection is found in David Brock’s book Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative, excerpted in Chapter 5. Brock confesses that as a highly successful conservative journalist in the 1990s, he was not really an objective reporter but a propagandist for the Republican Party, with little regard for truth. He says that he and other conservative propagandists rationalized their unscrupulousness by the assumption that liberals had a similarly powerful and unscrupulous machine, but he eventually came to realize this was a false assumption: “I unconsciously projected onto the liberals what I knew and saw and learned of the right wing’s operations” (114).

From 1984

By George Orwell

New York: Harcourt, Brace 1949

For several months during his childhood there had been confused street fighting in London itself, some of which he remembered vividly. But to trace out the history of the whole period, to say who was fighting whom at any given moment, would have been utterly impossible, since no written record, and no spoken word, ever made mention of any other alignment than the existing one. At this moment, for example, in 1984 (if it was 1984), Oceania was at war with Eurasia and in alliance with Eastasia. In no public or private utterance was it ever admitted that the three powers had at any time been grouped along different lines. Actually, as Winston well knew, it was only four years since Oceania had been at war with Eastasia and in alliance with Eurasia. But that was merely a piece of furtive knowledge which he happened

to possess because his memory was not satisfactorily under control. Officially the change of partners had never happened, Oceania was at war with Eurasia: therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia. The enemy of the moment always represented absolute evil, and it followed that any past or future agreement with him was impossible.

The frightening thing, he reflected for the ten thousandth time as he forced his shoulders painfully backward (with hands on hips, they were gyrating their bodies from the waist, an exercise that was supposed to be good for the back muscles)—the frightening thing was that it might all be true. If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, it never happened— that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death.

The Party said that Oceania had never been in alliance with Eurasia. He, Winston Smith, knew that Oceania had been in alliance with Eurasia as short a time as four years ago. But where did that knowledge exist? Only in his own consciousness, which in any case must soon be annihilated. And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. “Who controls the past,” ran the Party slogan, “controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. “Reality control” they called it; in Newspeak, “doublethink.”

Winston sank his arms to his sides and slowly refilled his lungs with air. His mind

slipped away into the labyrinthine world of doublethink. To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that (the party) was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself— that was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the fact of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word “doublethink” involved the use of doublethink.

From “An Interview with Adrienne Rich]]

Progressive, January 1994, online edition

Q: Do you ever get totally depressed about the possibility of change in this country?

Rich: I find the conditions of life in this country often very, very depressing. The work that I choose to do is very much in Part to not get lost and paralyzed. The activism I choose to do, the kind of writing I choose to do has a lot to do with that, with going to the point where I feel there is some energy. And there is a lot of energy in this country—but it’s diffused, it’s scattered, it’s localized. And it’s not in the mainstream media; you can get totally zonked there. What is so notably absent from there is the very thing that poetry embodies, which is passion, which is desire, real desire—I’m not talking about sex and violence. And what I feel among my friends who are activists, who are making things happen, however locally and on however limited a scale—there is an energy there.

We’re in this for the long haul. That just cannot be said too often. I mean, there’s not going to be some miracle in the year 2001. It seems to me our thinking is much less naive than when I started out—about what it’s going to take to make real human possibility happen, to make a democracy that will really be for us all.

Q: You write in What Is Found There, “You’re tired of these lists; so am I”—these lists being sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. Do you ever get so tired that you just don’t want to do politics for a while?

Rich: No, I’m not tired of the issues; I’m tired of the lists—the litany. We’re forced to keep naming these abstractions, but the realities behind them are not abstract. The writer’s job is to keep the concreteness behind the abstractions visible and alive. How can I be tired of the issues? The issues are our lives.

On the Merits

By Katha Pollitt

From Reasonable Creatures

Knopf, 1994

The other day my old classmate Allen and I were discussing who would we the next editor in chief of the influential magazine whose staff he had recently joined. I proposed Rosemary, the deputy editor: She had seniority, she was extremely able, she was practically doing the job already. Allen looked at me as if I had suggested sending out a spacecraft for the editor of The Neptune Gazette. Come on, he said, you know they’d never give it to a woman. So who do you think it will be? I asked innocently. Well, he replied with a modest blush, actually, me.

This exchange made me think again about one of the more insidious arguments being made in the current onslaught against affirmative action: Advancing women and minorities on the basis of sex and race damages their self-esteem. According to Clarence M. Pendleton, Jr., Reagan-appointed chair of the United States Commission on Civil Rights, those who benefit from social and legal pressures on their behalf know in their hearts that they are unworthy and suffer terribly because they fear, correctly, that they won’t measure up. Worse, the women and minorities who would have won the golden prizes anyway—the college acceptance, the job, the promotion—are guilty by association: Everyone thinks they’re tokens, even if they’re not.

It’s an ingenious argument, because it not only appears to demonstrate concern for the same constituency as affirmative action but also makes affirmative action seem by comparison both crude and condescending. What is money, after all, or a job title, compared with the priceless gift of psychological peace? Don’t we all need to think we are rewarded on our merits? Yes, indeed, which is why I’m very worried about my friend

Allen’s peace of mind. If his publisher promotes him over Rosemary because he is a man, won’t Allen spend a lot of sleepless nights wondering if the world is snickering at him behind his back?

Not on your life. Allen has been blithely ignoring such threats to his self-esteem for decades.

We both attended Harvard-Radcliffe, for example, at a time when the ratio of male to female students was fixed at five to one. Granted that the pool of female applicants was smaller, the fact remains it was harder for girls to get in. Everyone knew this, but Allen and his friends never saw themselves as having been rounded up to fill an inflated male quota. Nor did they see as tarnished victories their acceptance into the many allmale clubs and activities that flourished in those benighted years—the Signet Society, for instance, where literary Harvard men were served lunch by literary Radcliffe women employed as waitresses—or scorn to go off to Europe on postgraduate fellowships closed to female classmates.

If the self-esteem argument were true, who would get a good night’s sleep? After all, we live in a society where all sorts of considerations besides merit are accepted as valid means of choosing candidates. Because elite schools want diversity, it’s easier for a student from Montana to get in than one from New York City. Because lawmakers want to reward military service, veterans get lifelong preference for a slew of state and federal jobs. Because political parties want votes, they craft ethnically and geographically balanced tickets.

Some of these nonmerit considerations are rather shady, to say the least. At the Ivy

League college where I taught last year, a delicious scandal came to light when an alumnus wrote an outraged letter to the campus newspaper alleging that his son had been passed over for admission in the rush to accept women and blacks. It turned out that although the overall odds of acceptance were one in seven, for the children of alumni they were almost one in two. Many sheepish things were said in defense of this practice: For example, administrators cited the natural desire of the college to create a sense of continuity between the generations, translated by campus cynics as the natural desire of the college to receive large financial contributions from prosperous grads. But I’m still waiting for Mr. Pendleton to acknowledge the existence of alumni-child preferences, let alone express solicitude for the self-esteem of alumni children.

It’s a curious thing. As long as we’re talking about white men competing with each other, we tacitly acknowledge that we live in a realistic world of a Balzac novel, a world in which we know perfectly well that Harvard C’s beat A’s from Brooklyn College, in which family connections and a good tennis serve never hurt, and sycophancy, backstabbing and organizational inertia carry the undeserving into top jobs every day of the week. Add women and blacks into the picture, though, and suddenly the scene shifts. Now we’re in Plato’s Republic, where sternly impartial philosopher-kings award laurels to the deserving after nights of fasting and prayer. Or did, before affirmative action threw its spanner into the meritocratic works.

So how do the beneficiaries of social privilege avoid the dreaded inferiority complex? That’s where individual psychology and social myopia come in. On the personal level they live in both worlds at once: I slave away in Plato’s Republic, while you weasel your way down the boulevards of Balzac’s Paris. This collective delusion is so culturally approved that people who get the formula backward are considered to be victims of “the impostor syndrome” and in need of psychiatric help.

To transform America into a true meritocracy would be a fascinating experiment in social engineering, but it would make the minor adjustments required for affirmative action look like piano tuning. We’d have to strip the credentials of all male doctors over the age of thirty-five, for instance, since they got into medical school back when a woman had to be Albert Schweitzer in skirts to win a place in the class. Ditto for lawyers, engineers, tenured professors, corporate executives and military officers. The children of the famous would have to change their names. Perhaps it would be too cruel to force the powerful to remain celibate in order to discourage nepotism. But we could certainly make it a criminal offense to marry the boss’s daughter, or even to take her out for coffee.

Brave New World or simple justice? Whichever, I’m ready for it, whenever Mr. Pendleton gives the word; even though, as an alumni child, I’ll have to turn in my college diploma. Because in the perfect meritocracy that would result, Rosemary would get that job. And Allen? Well, he’d have something even more precious. His self-esteem.

Greens Dodge Links to Unabomber]]

By Jeff Jacoby

From The San Francisco Chronicle, April 24, 1996

Jeff Jacoby is a Boston Globe columnist.

That perfect silence you hear is the environcrimes of the Unabomber. It is President mental movement not being blamed for the Clinton not calling a press conference to

denounce the purveyors of hate and division on the ecological fringe. It is the Sundaymorning Beltway pundits not accusing environmental activists of inflaming an unstable creep like Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber suspect. It is editors in America’s great newsrooms not assigning long takeouts on radical groups like Earth First, which blow up logging equipment and demand the blood of environmental “villains”—such as those the Unabomber killed.

There’s environmentalism on the mind of the Unabomber. His own writings cite “anarchist and radical environmentalist journals” to justify attacks on the “the industrial-technological system,” and he obviously drew his victims from the demonology of green extremists. Two examples:

  • At a 1994 Earth First meeting in Missoula, Mont., the public-relations giant Burson-Marsteller was excoriated for supposedly having helped Exxon recover from the Valdez oil spill disaster. Kaczynski attended that meeting. One month later, Thomas Mosser, a former Burson-Marsteller executive, was killed by a bomb mailed to his home. In a letter to the New York Times, the Unabomber claimed credit. “Among other misdeeds,” he wrote, “Burson-Marsteller (sic) helped Exxon clean up its public image after the Exxon Valdez incident.”

  • In a 1989 tract called “Live Wild or Die,” a group of enviro-nihilists put out an “Eco-(expletive deleted) Hit List.” No. 1 on the list was the Timber Association of California. Last year the Unabomber addressed an explosive to the association at its Sacramento headquarters, unaware that it had been renamed the California Forestry Association. Gilbert Murray, the group’s president and a father of three, opened the package. He died on the spot.

So isn’t it odd that the nation’s opinion makers aren’t skewering environmentalists for the Unabomber’s long trail of death and mayhem?

Isn’t it curious that editorial writers and “Nightline” producers aren’t hyping Kaczynski’s connection to the eco-fanatics? Isn’t it strange that we’re not being reminded that deadly rhetoric can fuel deadly deeds—that when environmental advocates put timber executives on a “hit list,” they are encouraging psychopaths to blow up timber executives?

Well, no, it isn’t strange. It would be absurd to blame decent environmentalists for the Unabomber’s murders. Just as it would have been absurd to blame decent conservatives for the horror in Oklahoma City. Whoops. Did somebody say ... “double standard?”

Twelve months ago, when Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols were arrested for the bombing in Oklahoma City, it was open season on anything right of center. President Clinton slammed conservative talk show hosts as “promoters of paranoia” who “leave the impression that ... violence is acceptable.” Washington Post pundit David Broder observed, “The bombing shows how dangerous it really is to inflame twisted minds with statements that suggest political opponents are enemies.” Even the Republican Party found itself charged with the terrorism in Oklahoma City.

He who says X must say Y. Either Al Gore, Earth First and Greenpeace had a hand in the Unabomber’s killings—or Newt Gingrich, the NRA and Rush Limbaugh’s radio show didn’t cause the carnage in Oklahoma City. Every movement has its kooks and degenerates. To blame the left for the crimes of the Unabomber would be shameless. Even as it was shameless to blame the right for the crime in Oklahoma City.

Topics for Discussion and Writing

In the following cartoon, what generalization is implicit as a hidden premise about the man’s connection between his father and the president? What exceptions to that generalization in recent history can you think of that would provide evidence that it is an overgeneralization?

Cobb Weekly Editorial Cartoon 286, Reprinted with permission, Sawyer Press, Los Angeles, California 90046 U.S.A.

A student writes: “From what we have read in this course, it appears like a small handful of corporations are in control of just about everything in America, and it’s a good thing. The average one of the masses could hardly run his own life correctly if someone weren’t looking after him, or so it seems. These huge corporations are responsible for the economic and social well-being of the nation. Hence it is logical to assume that they know what is best.” What line of argument, and possible logical fallacy, is similar here to that in the cartoon in question 1.? Would you guess that the student considers herself or himself “the average one of the masses”? If not, do you think she or he considers herself or himself one of those who will “look after” the others as an executive of one of that “small handful of corporations”? Is compartmentalized thinking perhaps evident here? What evidence can you think of that might be presented either in support of or in refutation of the unsupported assertions about the average one of the masses and about corporate responsibility?

Do you consider yourself a conformist or a nonconformist, or some mix of the two? Support.

Write an essay, based on your own high school memories, supporting or refuting Jennifer Crichton’s semihumorous description of American high schools as “totalitarian regimes.”

How applicable to contemporary America do you find the descriptions of an authoritarian society by Dostoyevsky, Fromm, Orwell, and Chayevsky? How plausible do you find the hypothesis that our childhood relations with our parents, and particularly our fathers, shape our adult attitudes toward social and political authority? And that many people want to “escape from freedom,” to go along with the crowd and submit passively to authority?

When Sylvia Plath says, “Every woman adores a fascist,” she is obviously using poetic hyperbole (deliberate exaggeration for dramatic or humorous effect), rather like Crichton. Do you think there is some truth, though, in the notion that repressive patriarchal cultural conditioning induces some females to seek out males who are domineering father figures? Read the rest of “Daddy” and some of Plath’s other poems in the collection Ariel. Debate whether you think Plath eloquently expresses the grievances of women against patriarchy, as her defenders say, or is just, as some critics charge, venting her personal neuroses.

Thoreau’s views on government, laws, and war in “Civil Disobedience” frequently provoke strong disagreement in contemporary readers. Debate Thoreau’s condemnation of the fact that soldiers give up their individual conscience and submit blindly to military and governmental authority. On the one hand, it can be argued that such submission is a justifiable Part of the military chain of command and discipline needed to fight any war. On the other hand, it can be argued that ignorance of the situation one is in is never a good thing and that blind trust in commanders, by both soldiers and the public, has resulted throughout history in abuses of power and cover-ups of blunders or corruption. Thoreau was not a complete pacifist; indeed, as an abolitionist he strongly supported the Union in the Civil War. Read the complete text of the essay to see if he draws the line about when war is justified and when it isn’t, or if he was just inconsistent.

Review Thoreau’s sentences “I know this well, that ifone thousand, ifone hundred, if ten men . . . it would be the abolition of slavery in America. For it matters not how small the beginning may seem to be: what is once done well is done forever.” Do you think he is just using hyperbole here, or do you see a grain of truth in what he says? For example, Thoreau’s eloquent essay and his night in jail for not paying his taxes were not immediate causes of the abolition of slavery, but they are remembered today as a significant Chapter in the eventual achievement of abolition.

The rhetoric and tactics of civil disobedience advocated by Thoreau and applied by Mario Savio and other leftists in the protest movements of the sixties have more recently been adapted by conservative movements such as militias and antiabortion activists. Write an essay or a dialogue in which you imagine whether or not Thoreau and Mario Savio would agree with the application of their principles to justification of pro-life groups or individuals preventing the normal operation of abortion clinics. Or write one on what you think Savio would say if conservative students shut down the Berkeley campus in protest against the accession of the administration to the demands of the Free Speech Movement.

In the interview with Adrienne Rich, what ideas does she express about the responsibility of writers that put her in the tradition of the writers discussed in the section “Writers as Dissidents” in Chapter 1and of Camus’s and Orwell’s criticisms of semantic abstraction? Her causes are clearly liberal ones—opposition to “sexism, racism, homophobia, etc.” Why do you think creative writers, pre-eminently poets, tend to side with liberal causes like these? Can you find examples of poets and other creative writers who champion current conservative causes?

Evaluate the arguments in Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and Stephen Moore’s “How to Slash Corporate Welfare” in Chapter 7about the compartmentalized thinking, double standard, and rationalization of those who condemn welfare for the poor but approve of it for wealthy farmers and other corporate recipients of government subsidies. Is this a valid or a false analogy? Do some research on recent debates over farm subsidies.

Think ofexamples of rationalization, compartmentalized thinking, double standards, denial, or projection in current public life or in your own acquaintances. Look for examples in which Democrats and Republicans condemn members of the other party for misdeeds that their own party members have also committed.

How strong do you find Katha Pollitts and JeffJacoby’s lines of argument using analogies and allegations of double standards against opponents? Pollitt’s tone is semihumorous, but how serious and persuasive is her argument defending affirmative action?

Jacoby holds environmentalists accountable for the actions of the Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski, who murdered people he considered guilty of environmental destruction, and of other extreme environmentalist groups like Earth First. Is Jacoby committing the fallacy of guilt by association, or is his association a defensible one? Kaczynski was in fact a fan of Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience.” On the basis of the excerpt from that essay here, or of the full text, would you infer that Thoreau would endorse such extreme and violent forms of protest? Does he indicate where to draw the line in avoiding having his beliefs being pushed to such extremes?


Chapter 9. Semantics in Rhetoric andCritical Thinking

Semantics is the field of linguistic studies that deals with language as meaning and communication. The International Society for General Semantics (IGS), a scholarly organization that came to prominence in the 1940s, was devoted to a philosophy of semantics best known through a classic textbook, Language in Thought and Action, by S. I. Hayakawa. The IGS is still active, publishing a quarterly magazine, Etc. The principles of general semantics encompass the complex relationships diagrammed infigure 9.1, between the external world, human thought, language, and communication.

The common phrase “a semantic misunderstanding” refers to the breakdowns of understanding and expression that frequently occur at each stage of these relationships. Humans perceive the external world through sense impressions that, through a mysterious yet almost instinctive process, get translated into ideas and then into the vocabulary and syntax (order within and between sentences) of language. External reality, however, is infinitely complex, and the human mind and language are at best imperfect instruments, so there can never be a complete or precise correspondence between that reality and its transformation into the symbols of thought and language. Hence, one key slogan of general semantics is “The map is not the territory”—that is, maps and other symbols, visual or linguistic, can only be partial replicas of the original.

This first stage of breakdown is compounded at each further stage: putting ideas into language presents a constant struggle to say exactly what we mean, as does communicating our ideas to other people. Such communication is impeded by the cultural, physical, psychological, and semantic filters through which each of us receives messages from others. So virtually every idea, every act of speaking or writing, every communication should be thought of as provisional, subject to revision and further development, possibly to be followed by an “etc.”—hence the title of IGS’s magazine. The practical implication of these points for you as a student is to suggest a tone of “thoughtful uncertainty” in whatever you say or write in academic studies and life in general.

The imperfection of the pictures of reality we carry in our thoughts and language has been infinitely compounded in our age of mass communication by the proliferation of 222

External world ► Thought ► Language ◄ ► Communication

Figure 9.1. Semantics: A Summary

images of the world conveyed in print media, films, radio, and above all television. “Reality is Silly Putty” was a facetious slogan in the 1960s, and the lines between news, drama, advertising, and publicity have been increasingly blurred by all-devouring media and their recombinations of an increasingly plastic reality: infotainment, infomercials, and docudramas in the style of Oliver Stone’s JFK and Nixon, in which history is irresponsibly fictionalized to propagandize for the producer’s political line—in Stone’s case, a liberal one.

Denotation and Connotation

Both the denotation and the connotation of words are key elements in argumentation and critical thinking. Denotation is close in meaning to definition; definition is what a word means in general, while its denotation is the particular object it refers to. A chair may be defined as “a piece of furniture, usually with four legs, designed for one person to sit on.” “This chair” denotes a particular embodiment of this definition. Some words, however, not only define or denote an object but also carry a connotation, an attitude or emotion toward the object. “Draft evader,” “draft dodger,” and “draft resister” all denote the same object, but “draft evader” is relatively neutral or denotative, while “draft dodger” has a negative connotation and “draft resister” has a positive connotation.

Definition and Denotation in Argument

A central issue in the impeachment of President Bill Clinton involved Clinton’s denial of having had sex with Monica Lewinsky; he turned out to be hedging on the literal definition of “having sex.” In response to another question under oath, he responded, “That depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is.” As we see in many issues throughout this book, particularly the political issues surveyed in Chapter 15, the heart of disagreements is very often differing definitions of terms; if opponents are operating with a different understanding of disputed terms, if they have different “semantic filters,” they can reach no common ground. Describing someone as “proabortion” or “antiabortion” neutrally denotes a position on the issue. But “pro-choice” and “pro-life” denote the same positions in a way that defines abortion in partisan terms, either the terms of women’s control over their bodies or the terms of a fetus’s right to be born. Homosexual is a neutral term, gay a positive one, and numerous derogatory expressions denote homosexuality in negative terms. On an issue like legalizing homosexual marriage, its defenders try to define the issue as one of “equal rights,” while opponents try to define it as “special privileges.” Likewise with “affirmative action” versus “reverse discrimination.” In polls asking whether people favor “attempts to remedy discrimination against nonwhites,” the majority answer yes; but when the same people are asked whether they favor “racial preferences,” the majority say no.

A news report by Stanley Meisler in the Los Angeles Times, headlined “Women’s Conference Bogs Down in Semantics” (September 1, 1995, A25), describes a dispute at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, in Beijing, China, between liberal and conservative delegates over which word, sex or gender, should be used in conference reports:

Feminists argue the word sex differentiates men and women only by biological makeup; the word gender, they say, focuses on the differences between men and women that are set down by societies

Using the word sex instead of gender, according to the feminists, misses the point of why women have fewer rights than men in most societies.

But conservatives claim that feminists are using the word gender as a subterfuge to cover a host of activities that the right wing objects to, such as lesbianism or bisexuality.

The readings in “A Preview Case: September 11, 2001,” involved several disputes over definitions of words like patriotism, courage, cowardice, and terrorism. Another semantic issue related to these events was that the terrorist attacks included several targets, presenting the problem of finding a single phrase that could effectively label the events—in contrast, say, to “Pearl Harbor” or “the Gulf War.” It took weeks before a consensus developed in our public discourse to use the date as a label—“September 11” or “9/11,” which seem to have endured as years have gone by without explicit reference to 2001, although the year reference will probably be restored after several years pass. Soon after the attacks, the Bush administration labeled its response a “war on terrorism.” Throughout history, the enemy in a war has been the government of another country. Al Qaeda, however, was not a government but a terrorist organization with cells in many countries, and with support stemming in Part from the historical grievances of Arabs and Muslims internationally against the United States and Europe. These semantic complications made the waging of conventional war against Afghanistan and especially Iraq (whose support of Al Qaeda and links to 9/11 were disputed by many investigators) of questionable effectiveness.

The American war against Iraq in 2003 raised several more issues of semantic labeling. Was it a “liberation,” an “invasion,” or an “occupation”? The enemy in Iraq was presumably Saddam Hussein and his supporters. But after they were overthrown, a problem arose in how to label the different forces who then fought against the American presence, whose political and religious identity was diverse; thus they began to be termed vaguely “insurgents” or “militants.” A report by Richard T. Cooper in the Los Angeles Times (June 26, 2004, online edition, 1) headlined “Semantics Skirmish on 9/11 Report” discussed the Bush administration’s disagreement with the wording of the conclusion of a bipartisan commission investigating 9/11 asserting that Saddam Hussein’s contacts with Al Qaeda “do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship.” On the same point, Michael Isikoff remarked in Newsweek (July 5, 2004, 6), perhaps with a wink to President Clinton’s semantic evasions about Monica Lewinsky, “It all depends on what your definition of a relationship is.” And a New York Times op-ed by Adam Hochschild titled “What’s in a Word? Torture” (May 23, 2004, News of the Week, 11), which addressed the prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, quoted Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld saying, “What has been charged so far is abuse, which I believe technically is different from torture........................................... I’m not going to address the ‘torture’ word.”

All of these examples illustrate an important axiom: Whoever defines the terms wins the argument, or at least gains the upper hand. For two analyses of this point in terms of semantic “framing,” see the readings by George Lakoff and Thomas Sowell at the end of this chapter.

Connotation in Argument:

“cleans” and “dirties”

Semanticists use various terms to describe the use of words with positive versus negative connotations: “God terms and Devil terms,” “purr words and snarl words,” and my favorites, “‘cleans’ and ‘dirties.’” In argumentation, we constantly apply a semantic double standard to apply clean words to our side and dirty ones to the other. You need to become aware when others— or you yourself—are doing this, and verify whether they are justifying their positive and negative judgments or whether they are just emotive. (Keep “A Semantic Calculator for Bias in Rhetoric” in Chapter 5at hand as a guide here.) In a televised election debate, the Republican candidate referred to “labor bosses” but “the business community,” while the Democrat referred to “business fat cats” but “labor leaders.” Unfortunately, the moderator did not catch them in their double standards and press them to justify their loaded judgments of the two groups.

During the Gulf War in 1991, the United States employed a missile named the Patriot, while Iraq used one called (in English) the Scud. What is the difference between a Patriot and a Scud? Mainly semantic. “Patriot” might seem a curious personification (to use a literary term) of a weapon of destruction, if you think about it, but the name obviously was chosen for its positive, humanizing connotation, compounded by all the emotional appeal associated with patriotism. “Scud,” on the other hand, has neither denotative or metaphorical meaning—it is an acronym of the four words of its technical name in English— but it ingeniously embodies several negative connotations by association, like “scum,” “crud,” “dud, “mud.” It might be argued that the Patriot was a defensive weapon, hence it did serve the patriotic function of shooting down attacking missiles. This is a reasonable argument, but the United States also happened to have an offensive nuclear warhead missile called the Peacekeeper. The main point is that any country will predictably give its own weapons— whether defensive or offensive—positive names and its opponents’ weapons negative ones. Most likely, the Iraqis’ names for the two missiles had the opposite connotations from ours. (For further analysis of propaganda in the Gulf War, see “How to Watch the Next War” in Chapter 18.) This manipulation of words by politicians and media in our society and most others is a powerful force in cultural conditioning into nationalistic ethnocentrism. Indeed, semantic ethnocentrism regarding patriotism runs so deep that it is hard to imagine that our “enemies” in any war are also patriots in their own eyes. Being able to make this kind of leap of imagination, however, marks an important step beyond the psychological block of ethnocentrism toward being an open-minded, critical thinker.

Connotative language is the most frequent form of emotional appeal in rhetoric, and it must be evaluated by the same criteria as other forms (see Chapter 14). That is, it can be quite legitimate if the passion and eloquence that emotion adds to an argument are supported by sound reasoning, evidence, and truth with respect to concrete realities. But an argument usually becomes weakened the further it moves away from denotative to connotative language, from concrete realities to unconcretized abstractions, and the more it depends on swaying the audience’s emotions with highly charged words alone. Much demagogic argumentation consists of connotative slanting and stereotyping labels—heavy use of cleans and dirties to create denotatively empty “good guys versus bad guys” oversimplifications, false dichotomies, and double standards: sentimentality toward our side, namecalling, and fear and loathing toward the other.

People are frequently swayed in their opinions simply by differing connotations in writers’ or speakers’ selection of words. An article titled “The Vocabulary of Votes” in the New York Times Magazine (March 26, 1995) describes how political consultant Frank Luntz tests public reactions to different word choices that denote the same reality:

While 62 percent favor sending the children of abusive welfare mothers to “orphanages,” 72 percent favor sending them to “foster homes.”. . . If you ask Americans whether they are “overregulated,” Luntz contends that a majority will say they are. But if you ask them whether Federal regulations are “excessive,” the number who agree drops off. And if you ask whether the regulations “hurt people,” the number falls even further. (46)

An editorial in the San Francisco Examiner titled “The Power of Words” (August 4, 1996) tells how “a judge in Sacramento was obliged to become a semanticist in a crucial dispute over how state voter pamphlets should describe Proposition 209,” the so-called California

Civil Rights Initiative, whose title, according to opponents, exploited the “clean” connotation of “civil rights” to fool voters into voting for a measure that repealed affirmative action policies guaranteeing civil rights to minorities and women. The immediate dispute was over the following wording:

”To prohibit state and local governments from discriminating against or providing preferential treatment in public contracting, employment and education on the basis of race, sex, ethnicity or national origin.”

Misleading and unfair, said opponents. They cite polls that suggest the public is generally opposed to “preference” but likely to support “affirmative action” programs aimed at past patterns of discrimination in hiring, education, and contracts. (B10)

An explicit “how-to” manual for controlling connotation was found in the memo from Newt Gingrich to Republican candidates in 1995, via Gingrich’s political action committee GOPAC, as reported in Extra! Update, a newsletter of the leftist Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting:

As you know, one of the key points in the GOPAC tapes is that “language matters.” In the video “We Are a Majority,” Language is listed as a key mechanism of control used by a majority party, along with Agenda, Rules, Attitude and Learning. As the tapes have been used in training sessions across the country and mailed to candidates, we have heard a plaintive plea: “I wish I could speak like Newt.”

That takes years of practice. But we believe that you could have a significant impact on your campaign and the way you communicate if we help a little. That is why we have created this list of words and phrases.

This list is prepared so that you might have a directory of words to use in writing literature and mail, in preparing speeches, and in producing electronic media. The words and phrases are powerful. Read them. Memorize as many as possible. And remember that, like any tool, these words will not help if they are not used.................................................................................................


Often we search hard for words to help us define our opponents. Sometimes we are hesitant to use contrast. Remember that creating a difference helps you. These are powerful words that can create a clear and easily understood contrast. Apply these to the opponent, their record, proposals and their party.

decay... failure (fail)... collapse (ing)... deeper... crisis... urgent(cy)... destructive... destroy... sick... pathetic... lie... liberal... they/them... unionized bureaucracy... “compassion” is not enough... betray... consequences... limit(s)... shallow... traitors... sensationalists...

endanger... coercion... hypocrisy... radical... threaten... devour... waste... corruption... incompetent... permissive attitudes... destructive... impose... self-serving... greed... ideological... insecure... anti (issue): flag, family, child, jobs... pessimistic... excuses... intolerant...

stagnation... welfare... corrupt... selfish... insensitive... status quo... mandate(s)... taxes... spend(ing)... shame... disgrace... punish (poor...)... bizarre... cynicism... cheat... steal...

abuse of power... machine... bosses... obsolete... criminal rights... red tape... patronage


Use the list below to help define your campaign and your vision of public service. These words can help give extra power to your message. In addition, these words help develop the positive side of the contrast you should create with your opponent, giving your community something to vote for!

share... change... opportunity... legacy... challenge... control... truth... moral... courage... reform... prosperity... crusade... movement... children... family... debate... compete... active(ly)... we/us/our... candid(ly)... humane... pristine... provide...

liberty... commitment... principle(d)... unique.. duty... precious... premise... care(ing)... tough... listen... learn... help... lead... vision... success... empower(ment)... citizen... activist... mobilize... conflict... light... dream... freedom...

peace... rights... pioneer... proud/pride... building... preserve... pro-(issue): flag, children, environment... reform... workfare... eliminate good-time in prison... strength... choice/choose... fair... protect... confident... incentive... hard work... initiative... common sense... passionate

A prominent application of Gingrich’s semantic guidelines for GOPAC appeared in all the “clean” words in titles of provisions in the congressional Republicans’ 1994 Contract with America. The Job Creation and Enhancement Act had nothing to do directly with creating or enhancing jobs; it reduced the capital gains tax. The Common Sense Legal Reforms Act, described by its sponsors as placing “reasonable limits on punitive damages and reform of product liability laws to stem the endless tide of litigation,” reduced the possibility of successful legal action against corporations for securities frauds such as those in the savings-and-loan scandals, as well as for the manufacture and sale of defective parts or for hazardous workplace conditions and environmental destruction. The Personal Responsibility Act prohibited welfare to minor mothers, denied increased Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) for additional children on welfare, enacted a two-years-and-out provision with work requirements, and in a provision “to help combat illiteracy” and “provide incentives to complete high school,” enabled states to reduce AFDC payments to young mothers who have not completed high school; none of these clauses included provisions for creating jobs or job training to compensate for reduced welfare benefits.

One other provision in the Personal Responsibility Act, a proposal to cap spending in future years on the established free school lunch program for poor children, provoked a heated semantic controversy. Democrats charged that the proposal cut funding, while Republicans countered that it actually increased funding over the previous level. The facts were that it did indeed increase funding, but at a lower rate in future years than that mandated in the existing law, a rate that would lag behind school population growth, inflation, and so on. Critics said that the Republicans attempted to cover up the negative growth rate, so that their claim of an increase amounted to a half-truth. Thus the proposal could be defined as either a “cut”—a dirty—or an “increase”—a clean—according to whoever got to control the semantic agenda. Some commentators at the time pointed out ironically that when Democrats in earlier years had tried to slow the rate of military spending, they had similarly tried to euphemize what might be an unpopular act by saying they were increasing spending, while the Republicans charged that it was a cut.

The Republicans won the 1994 congressional election largely on the glittering euphemistic appeal of the Contract with America, yet subsequent surveys showed that few voters were at all familiar with its specific provisions, and when they were informed of the details, most opposed them.


Euphemism is the substitution of a “clean” word for a “dirty” reality. Many common euphemisms are harmless, if somewhat squeamish, conventions, such as “pass away” instead of “die,” or “restroom” instead of “toilet.” But euphemisms are also frequently used in public discourse to deceive or to obscure issues. Writing during the period of World War II in “Politics and the English Language” (1946), George Orwell said:

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. [The same euphemism was later used by the U.S. government in the Vietnam War.—.]

A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outlines and covering up all the details. (256)

Similarly dehumanizing uses of euphemisms are constants in every society and age. About the trend of massive firings from corporations in the 1980s and 1990s, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert wrote:

The euphemism of choice for the corporate chopping block is downsizing, but variations abound. John Thomas, a 59-year-old AT&T employee, was told on Tuesday that his job was “not going forward.” . . .

Other workers are discontinued, involuntarily severed, surplussed. There are men and women at AT&T who actually talk about living in a “surplus universe.”

There are special leaves, separations, rebalances, bumpings and, one of my favorites, cascade bumpings. (Jan. 19, 1996, A15.)

Euphemism is often resorted to in politics to conceal a destructive policy by giving it a “clean” name with positive associations. Everybody likes “reforms” and “relief,” but be sure to read the fine print when you hear a bill described as “welfare reform,” “tax reform,” or “tax relief” (see Lakoff’s “Framing the Issues”). Likewise be wary of the appeal of “free,” as in “the North American Free Trade Agreement” (NAFTA), and “fair,” as in “fair trade.” Among the nominations for the 1995 Doublespeak Award of the National Council of Teachers of English were Attorney General Janet Reno and officials of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, who resorted to various euphemisms to rationalize their fatal attack on the Koresh compound in Waco, Texas,—for example, describing the assault by an army tank as a “dynamic entry.”

Abstract and Concrete Language

Semanticists refer to a “ladder of abstraction,” or a scale of words from very concrete to very abstract. The most concrete are words that denote physical objects, like the tree or a chair. The most abstract are those describing ideas, beliefs, values, or moral judgments, like justice, patriotic, liberty, honor, good, evil, family values, “American” and “un-American,” and all the ideological -isms like conservatism and liberalism. Developmental psychologists have also identified what they term concrete and abstract modes of thinking or cognition. Children’s early speech and thought are almost solely concrete, being limited to their physical surroundings and sensations. But as their experience and learning expand, they come to understand concepts that are abstract or outside their immediate experience. Adults who have not fully developed the capacity to understand abstractions, and whose language or thought remains almost solely concrete, are restricted in their ability to conceptualize or empathize with people, events, and ideas outside their firsthand experience. Hence they tend to have an ethnocentric or parochial viewpoint that inclines them toward prejudice against both people and ideas that are foreign to them. Also remember Stanley Aronowitz’s speculation in Chapter 3about the cognitive effects of TV and other mass media: “The problem of abstraction becomes a major barrier to analysis because students seem enslaved to the concrete... The critical project of learning involves understanding that things are often not

what they seem to be and that abstract concepts such as ‘society,’ ‘capitalism,’ ‘history,’ and other categories not available to the senses are nonetheless real. This whole critical project now seems in eclipse.”

That is not to say, however, that abstract thinking is always preferable to concrete in adults. At the equal and opposite extreme from people who have trouble grasping abstractions are those whose language and thought are so abstract that they are disconnected from concrete realities. Concrete thinking is conducive to clarity, immediacy, and sensuous and vivid imagery, as opposed to the danger in abstractions of impersonality, evasiveness, and (in Orwell’s words) “sheer, cloudy vagueness.” So the ideal mental state to strive for as a critical thinker is to have the ability to connect and move back and forth between the concrete and the abstract, between your own, firsthand experience and the experience of those whose viewpoints differ from yours, and between your personal perceptions and larger, distant realities.

Unconcretized Abstractions

The denotation of abstract words like freedom, patriotic, conservative and liberal is not readily apparent if they are not explicitly defined; there is a great deal of disagreement over their definitions, so differing implicit definitions of them are frequently the cause of arguments. When you speak or write about abstract ideas, then, you should be able to ground them in concrete specifics, using phrases like “for example” or “for instance,” or employing description, narration, dialogue, or vivid images and figures of speech. Another danger in unconcretized abstractions is that, while they are often vague in denotative meaning, they are apt to be strongly loaded connotatively, evoking “clean” or “dirty” conditioned responses. Moreover, abstractions with “clean” connotations are often used euphemistically. In the same vein as Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language,” Albert Camus, addressing an audience of Catholic clergy shortly after World War II, in a talk titled “The Unbeliever and Christians,” appealed for believers and nonbelievers like himself to join together in opposing the euphemizing of mass murder by all the world powers in that new age of total war: “What the world expects of Christians is that Christians should speak out loud and clear, and that they should voice their condemnation in such a way that never a doubt, never the slightest doubt, could rise in the heart of the simplest man. That they should get away from abstraction and confront the blood-stained face history has taken on today” (Resistance, Rebellion, and Death, 71).

The single topic in which concrete realities are most often obscured by abstraction and euphemism is war. A section devoted to this topic appears in Chapter 14 in the context of the uses and abuses of emotional appeal.

Literal and Figurative Language

The words figurative and figure, as in figure of speech, are synonymous with symbolic. This synonym is ambiguous, however, because semantically, all words merely symbolize the object they denote—“the map is not the territory.” We say that words like Hollywood and Washington literally designate those cities, or visualize an image of them, but of course, the names aren’t literally literal—they’re just collections of spoken sounds and written scrawls. We accept them as relatively literal symbols, though, compared to figures of speech—which Hollywood and Washington also happen to be when they symbolize the movie industry and the national government, respectively. These are examples of the figure known as metonymy, the symbolic substitution of a Part for a whole or of a location for what is located there. We can say that literal words are one symbolic step removed from the objects they denote, while figures are two steps removed. They work by an extension of the literal meaning to a symbolic one, in metonymies like these, or by an analogy symbolically substituting one object or image for another, as in metaphor (“You’re a turkey”), simile (“Like a rolling stone”) or personification (“That golf course ate me up”). (Image refers to a picture evoked by a word; an image can be either literal or figurative.)

As forms of analogy, figures of speech in argumentation need to be evaluated by the same criteria (see Chapter 11): in a good analogy or figure, the two terms compared have more important similarities than differences; the reality described is made clearer and more concrete (rather than fuzzier and vaguer); and the emotions evoked connotatively are appropriate to the situation. The lead sentence in a New York Times report (national edition, June 23, 1996, A1) on a series of arson fires in black churches in 1996 uses a simile: “The flames rise into the sky like malignant ghosts from the South’s past, evoking some of the most racially charged images in the nation’s history.” The analogy between flames and malignant ghosts is both visually vivid and historically apt, evoking the history of lynch-mob burnings of southern blacks or their property.

An op-ed column about the Clinton administration Whitewater scandals by William Safire, also in the New York Times (June 24, 1996, A11), begins, “A cancer has been growing on the Clinton Presidency.” A later sentence extends the metaphor: “As the scandal metastasizes, we are beginning to get some idea of its scope and seriousness.” The metaphor is vivid and appropriate to the notion that a relatively minor misdoing in the White House might grow out of control, through attempts to obstruct justice by covering it up, to the point of destroying the presidency. Safire’s metaphor also acquires additional levels of meaning through its allusion to similar phrasing used by President Richard Nixon’s attorney John Dean in warning Nixon about the growing Watergate scandal in 1972, and through Safire’s assumption that his readers remember he was a speechwriter for Nixon at the time of Watergate and understand that he is taking relish, between the lines, in payback against a Democratic president. Coincidentally, the metaphor of cancer also appeared on the same date in a letter to the editor in the San Francisco Chronicle, concerning a convicted killer in California: “Should he receive the death sentence, it will be the same as a surgical removal of a cancerous growth.” Here, however, the metaphor is strong on evoking fear and hatred but weak in clarification. What is the logical point of comparison between a criminal and a cancer? To remove him from society and prevent him from committing further crimes? Life imprisonment without possibility of parole could do that. To remove an evil influence that might encourage other killers—that is, to deter others? Most criminological evidence fails to show that executions deter anyone. In short, the equation of a human being with a spreading disease introduces so many possible significant differences that it only produces logical confusion.

Literal and Figurative Language

In Literature

The use of figurative language for imaginative purposes, as opposed to argumentative ones, is a defining characteristic of creative literature, especially poetry, including song lyrics. (In many literary cases, though, the imaginative and argumentative functions work together, as in the section from Thoreau’s Walden analyzed below.) Sometimes it serves for pure humor and the delight of an ingenious verbal association, as in a song sung by Uncle Dave Macon, a star of the Grand Ole Opry in the 1930s, describing a man with a long beard in the simile: “Look at that hair all around his mouth, / Like he swallowed a mule and left the tail a-hangin’ out.”

Let’s illustrate how creative writers use figurative language to create multiple levels of meaning and complexity of thought and argument by examining one of the best-known passages in American literature, the climax of Henry David Thoreau’s Chapter “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For,” in his book of essays <em>Walden, Or Life in the Woods</em> (1854), later in this chapter. (This passage is a perfect example of the sequence of cumulation and recursiveness in reading and writing discussed in Chapter 3.) Thoreau is explaining why he left the society of Concord, Massachusetts, to live by himself self-sufficiently in the woods near Walden Pond. He wanted to escape urban, industrial society’s conformity, rush, and absorption in trivial busywork, so as to “spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be thrown off the track by every nutshell and mosquito’s wing that falls on the rails” (87). The thesis sentence in the passage is “By closing the eyes and slumbering, and consenting to be deceived by shows, men establish and confirm their daily life of routine and habit every where, which still is built on purely illusory foundations.” The metaphors of sleeping and waking combine with another set of metaphors that begins with “I perceive that we inhabitants of New England live this mean life that we do because our vision does not penetrate the surface of things.” “The surface of things” suggests the surface of water, which both distorts the reality beneath it through refraction and gives a false sense of fixity, or “illusory foundations,” while it is in constant flux. This metaphor is developed by several comparisons of daily routine and conformity with “going with the flow,” such as, “Why should we knock under and go with the stream?” (87). (The stream metaphor is presumably inspired by Thoreau’s literal presence by a tributary of Walden Pond.) He further extends the stream metaphor to contrast the “mud and slush of opinion, prejudice, and tradition” to the “hard bottom” spiritual, intellectual, and poetic realities of life that Thoreau believed in as Part of the Platonic idealism underlying transcendentalist philosophy.

The development of these metaphors through several paragraphs culminates: “Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. I would drink deeper; fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars.” Here the literal stream becomes a metaphor for time, in the sense of the here-and-now and of surface illusions as opposed to eternal truths. Thoreau, who frequently turns puns into metaphors, does so here with “current,” connoting both shallow appearances in space and “current events” in time. Even the bottom of the stream is shallow and shifting, which is to say that the physical world and current events are ultimately an illusion. Thoreau then brilliantly turns the image of the stream’s pebbled, sandy bottom upside down and transforms it into an image of the sky, “pebbly with stars,” symbolizing Heaven or God, infinite space opposed to the finite measures of the physical world, and eternal time as opposed to the transitory stream of life on earth. All of these symbolic connections are created by the active exercise of Thoreau’s poetic imagination or intellect, expressed through his metaphors in the concluding paragraph, “the intellect is a cleaver; it discerns and rifts its way into the secret of things,” and “my head is an organ for burrowing.” His mind has first visually associated the pebbles at the bottom of a stream with the stars in the sky, then translated these sense images into thought and words (literal, metaphorical, and symbolic), then transcribed those words on the written page, to be communicated to his readers. And all this poetic mental activity has developed his argumentative theme of opposition to social conformity and habitual “sleepwalking” through life.

This passage is one of the best illustrations of the aesthetic theory of the American transcendentalist writers like Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and Margaret Fuller, for whom metaphor is the essence of poetry in its power to create connections between the physical world and the intellectual or spiritual world. Poets have a special calling as visionaries of these connections and translators of them into metaphorical language. A remarkably similar conception of poetry is expressed by the contemporary American writer Gloria Anzaldua in her book Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987), in which she views her marginal identity between Latino, Indian, and Anglo culture as a vital source of poetic connections. In a Chapter titled “Tlilli, Tlapalli: The Path of the Red and Black Ink,” she writes:

For the ancient Aztecs, tlilli, tlapalli, la tinta negra y roja de sus codices (the black and red ink painted on codices [pictographic sacred documents]) were the colors symbolizing escritura y sabiduria (writing and wisdom). They believed that through metaphor and symbol, by means of poetry and truth, communication with the Divine could be attained.

. . . An image is a bridge between evoked emotion and conscious knowledge; words are the cables that hold up the bridge. Images are more direct, more immediate than words, and closer to the unconscious. Picture language precedes thinking in words; the metaphorical mind precedes analytical consciousness. (33-34)

A Semantic Analysis of Rush Limbaugh

Consider the following passages from Rush Limbaugh’s book The Way Things Ought to Be (previously discussed in the context of the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas case in Chapter 5; see the fuller version of the quote in that chapter):

The civil rights coalition in this country has had its way with the Democratic Party since 1957 The leaders of these civil rights organizations . . . enjoy power for only one reason This monolithic constituency delivers up to 90 percent of the minority vote to the

Democratic candidate for president every presidential election year............. This vote, in turn, has

invested them with power. It’s a win-win situation........... They discourage achievement by

merit. (117-18)

And later:

[Bill Clinton] has had to revert to liberal, minority, and fringe pandering in order to distinguish himself from Perot, and to gain acceptance from the puppet masters calling his party’s shots. (307)

Limbaugh identifies these puppet masters as “beggar-based constituencies” including “the feminist, environmental, so-called civil rights groups, and Naderites,” and earlier says, “The Democrats love giving money to the poor because it makes them dependent upon the Democrats and helps to ensure their reelection” (41).

Note, first of all, how loaded these passages are with name-calling, “dirty” words like “beggar-based constituencies” and “puppet masters,” sexually suggestive words like “pandering” and “has had its way with,” and the insinuation that civil rights organizations and the Democrats collude in corruption with no sincere commitment to racial justice. But he provides little or no supporting evidence here or elsewhere in his book for these allegations; to do so, he would need to refute any and all accounts of positive achievements of civil rights organizations since 1957, such as the end of segregation and the attainment of blacks’ constitutional rights in the South. What, exactly, is he referring to in these sentences, in denotation, not just connotation? Helping Limbaugh make his argument, through concretizing his vague abstractions, one might infer that his hidden agenda is criticism of policies supported by civil rights organizations like affirmative action, welfare, and increased funding of schools in poor, minority neighborhoods (issues on which Clarence Thomas and the civil rights organizations were at odds). If that were so, then wouldn’t his case be stronger if he addressed those issues directly instead of just name-calling?

The careful reader who digs beneath all the name-calling might also perceive a compartmentalization in Limbaugh’s deductive logic. Presuming that the Democrats want to win elections, why would they “pander” to the poor and other groups that Limbaugh on

Figure 9.2.

other occasions claims constitute a very small percentage of the American population, with (in the case of the poor and racial minorities) the lowest voting rates and the least money for campaign contributions? If a party is going to pander, wouldn’t it be more rewarding to pander to rich and middle-class whites, nonfeminist women, and the wealthy corporations that environmentalists have criticized?

Another possible logical flaw here involves the fallacy of argument from the converse: Limbaugh says the “monolithic constituency” of civil rights organizations “delivers up to 90 percent of the minority vote to the Democratic candidate for president.” The last statement is generally acknowledged as true in itself, but a careless reader might also infer (1) that the 90 percent of minorities who vote constitute 90 percent of the entire minority population, which is untrue because a minority of the minority actually vote (for one example, in the 1994 congressional elections, only 37 percent of eligible blacks voted), or (2) that 90 percent of Democratic voters are minorities, or (3) that this bloc amounts to an electoral majority. But in fact African Americans constitute only 11-12 percent of all voters (Hispanics, the next largest minority, constitute 5 percent of voters), so 90 percent of the minorities who actually vote is hardly enough to swing presidential elections without a larger percentage of whites also voting Democratic, and many of those whites, incidentally, consider themselves conservatives (see Chapter 15). (Source: Ruy Teixeira, “The Real Electorate,” American Prospect, March-April 1998, 84.) Why, then, does Limbaugh single out leaders of a minority of a minority of Democrats as being power-hungry rather than leaders of the white majority in both parties? Furthermore, the historical fact is that when Limbaugh’s book was published, before the 1992 election, Republicans had won five out of the eight presidential elections since 1960. Was this a “win-win situation” for Democrats? (These are examples of the kind of logical fallacy that has to do with quasi-algebraic sets and subsets or classes and subclasses, as visualized in the circle diagrams in figure 9.2.)

After unloading all the semantic slanting and logical fallacies in Limbaugh’s arguments here, what do they boil down to? Here are some exercises calculated to explore this.

Topics for Discussion and Writing

Rephrase Limbaugh’s arguments in these two paragraphs to strip away all the connotative words and leave only denotative ones. That is, on what straight, neutral statements of fact would both sides agree about the relation between civil rights organizations and the Democratic Party, minus all the opinions Limbaugh is injecting about that relation?

Rephrase the two paragraphs, taking the basic facts in topic 1 about Democrats and minorities and rephrasing them in the manner of John Kerry or Bill Clinton, to put a highly positive “spin” on them.

A good way to test for a semantic double standard in Limbaugh or any other writer, including yourself or myself, is to substitute the writer’s own side for the opposition in passages where the latter is being trashed, and see if the argument is just as plausible that way (this is a variation on argument by analogy). Rewrite these two paragraphs, matching Limbaugh’s name-calling point by point, but turned against Republicans, beginning something like this: “The conservative coalition has had its way with the Republican Party since 1968, the year Richard Nixon was elected using what was called ‘the Southern strategy,’ pandering to a backlash against the civil rights movement to win white racists away from the Democrats. The coalition includes. . . ,” and so on to the end. As a discussion or short essay topic, you might argue about how valid this analogy by substitution is and what it reveals about Limbaugh’s own rhetoric in the original.

As another analogy by substitution, list some conservative nonprofit organizations whose leaders presumably “raise money and keep a percentage of it for themselves”—for example, the Christian Coalition, the National Rifle Association, or right-to-life groups, which also have powerful influence in the Republican Party. Could Limbaugh’s criticisms of the civil rights leaders’ jobs and motives be just as plausibly applied to these groups? What do you think Limbaugh would say about this analogy? Do you think these leaders have “real jobs”? As a research project, find out (through tax returns that each organization must make available to the public on request) how much income the heads of these conservative nonprofits make per year, compared to executives in liberal counterparts like the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Bottom line: Don’t let yourself be swayed only through emotionally charged language, devoid of logic and evidence!

Summary: Applying Semantic Analysis

A. Abstract versus concrete language

1. Criticize examples where the author fails to concretize abstractions.

2. Praise examples where the author concretizes abstractions or describes a situation effectively through concrete language that exposes the vagueness of abstract accounts.

B. Criticize use of passive voice to evade responsibility (“Mistakes were made”).

C. Point out examples where opposing sides use different definitions or interpretations of controversial words (e.g., freedom, patriotism).

D. Criticize examples where sources assume that a word (e.g., patriotism, peace, America) is absolutely and always admirable, without recognizing limitations.

E. Connotative language

1. Criticize examples where sources arbitrarily use “clean” words to describe their own side, or “dirties” to describe the other, without support.

2. Criticize examples of the use of euphemism to gloss over an unpleasant reality.

F. Figurative language

1. Praise effective figures of speech; explain why they are effective.

2. Criticize ineffective figures; explain why they are ineffective.

From Where I Lived and What I Lived For

By Henry David Thoreau

From Walden, or Life in the Woods, 1854

Shams and delusions are esteemed for soundest truths, while reality is fabulous. If men would steadily observe realities only, and not allow themselves to be deluded, life, to compare it with such things as we know, would be like a fairy tale and the Arabian Nights’ Entertainments. If we respected only what is inevitable and has a right to be, music and poetry would resound along the streets. When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and worthy things have any permanent and absolute existence,—that petty fears and petty pleasures are but the shadow of the reality. This is always exhilarating and sublime. By closing the eyes and slumbering, and consenting to be deceived by shows, men establish and confirm their daily life of routine and habit everywhere, which still is built on purely illusory foundations. Children, who play life, discern its true law and relations more clearly than men, who fail to live it worthily, but who think that they are wiser by experience, that is, by failure. I have read in a Hindoo book, that “there was a king’s son, who, being expelled in infancy from his native city, was brought up by a forester, and, growing up to maturity in that state, imagined himself to belong to the barbarous race with which he lived. One of his father’s ministers having discovered him, revealed to him what he was, and the misconception of his character was removed, and he knew himself to be a prince. So soul,” continues the Hindoo philosopher, “from the circumstances in which it is placed, mistakes its own character, until the truth is revealed to it by some holy teacher, and then it knows itself to be Brahmen.” I perceive that we inhabitants of New England live this mean life that we do because our vision does not penetrate the surface of things. We think

that that is which appears to be. If a man should walk through this town and see only the reality, where, think you, would be the “Mill-dam” go to? If he should give us an account of the realities he beheld there, we should not recognize the place in his description. Look at a meeting-house, or a courthouse, or a jail, or a shop, or a dwellinghouse, and say what that thing really is before a true gaze, and they would all go to pieces in your account of them. Men esteem truth remote, in the outskirts of the system, behind the farthest star, before Adam and after the last man. In eternity there is indeed something true and sublime. But all these times and places and occasions are now and here. God himself culminates in the present moment, and will never be more divine in the lapse of all the ages. And we are enabled to apprehend at all what is sublime and noble only by the perpetual instilling and drenching of the reality which surrounds us. The universe constantly and obediently answers to our conception; whether we travel fast or slow, the track is laid for us. Let us spend our lives in conceiving then. The poet or the artist never yet had so fair and noble a design but some of his posterity at least could accomplish it.

Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be thrown off the track by every nutshell and mosquito’s wing that falls on the rails. Let us rise early and fast, or break fast, gently, and without perturbation; let company come and let company go, let the bells ring and the children cry,—determined to make a day of it. Why should we knock under and go with the stream? Let us not be upset and overwhelmed in that terrible rapid and whirlpool called a dinner situated in the meridian shallows. Weather this danger and

you are safe, for the rest of the way is down hill. With unrelaxed nerves, with morning vigor, sail by it looking another way, tied to the mast like Ulysses. If the engine whistles, let it whistle till it is hoarse for its pains. If the bell rings, why should we run? We will consider what kind of music they are like. Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance, that alluvion which covers the globe, through Paris and London, through New York and Boston and Concord, through church and state, through poetry and philosophy and religion, till we come to a hard bottom and rocks in place which we can call reality, and say, This is, and no mistake, and then begin, having a point d’appui, below freshet and frost and fire, a place where you might find a wall or a state, or set a lamp-post safely, or perhaps a gauge, not a Nilometer, but a Realometer, that future ages might know how deep a freshet of shams and appearances had gathered from time to time. If you stand right fronting and face to face to a fact, you will see the sun glimmer on both its surfaces, as if it were a scimetar, and feel its sweet edge dividing you

through the heart and marrow, and so you will happily conclude your mortal career. Be it life or death, we crave only reality. If we are really dying, let us hear the rattle in our throats and feel cold in the extremities; if we are