Letters to a Young Conservative: Chapters 11-12

October 10, 2012 | Marian

After Chris, our student pen pal, wrote a column criticizing affirmative action, a group of racial activists burned him in effigy. In response, D’Souza calmly tackles the dividing topic of affirmative action.

He gives a brief history, noting that affirmative action was intended to be a temporary counterbalance to racial bigotry. D’Souza argues that in actuality, affirmative action has become an abusive requirement of preference, with no natural end point.

Many advocates of affirmative action say that preferences should come to an end only when prejudice and discrimination come to an end; in short, they want such programs to continue forever. (92)

Recognizing that many errant forms of preference exist, D’Souza opposes all systems not primarily merit-based. For example, he once challenged a liberal gentleman to join him in condemning both college admissions practices: Favoring children of alumni, and favoring applicants of certain ethnicities. The man refused.

I realized that he wasn’t really against alumni preferences; his point was that since nepotism is already in place, why not allow minority applicants to benefit from it? (96)

D’Souza argues that a reasonable desire for equality has been replaced with an unreasonable expectation of favor.

Our civil leaders have gone from attacking nepotism and embracing merit, which was the Martin Luther King approach, to embracing nepotism and attacking merit, which is the Jesse Jackson approach. (96)

Usually viewed as an advantage for the recipient, affirmative action is functionally counter-productive, D’Souza explains.

There remains a widespread suspicion that [blacks] might be intellectually inferior. Far from dispelling this suspicion, affirmative action strengthens it. Affirmative action conveys the message to society that “this group is incapable of making it on its own merits.” (98)

As I read this chapter, I mused how it must be easier for D’Souza, a non-Caucasian, to write to plainly about racial issues. But then, I realized I was wrong. D’Souza isn’t this candid because he’s leveraging his skin color to legitimize his perspective; he’s this candid because he truly rejects the premise of race-based superiority. He doesn’t believe his (or anyone else’s) ethnicity has any impact on the validity of their argument. Thus, he can discuss racial policies with the same relaxed professionalism he would use discussing fiscal or military policies.

Those of us still walking cautiously lest we be branded as bigots, may be indirectly perpetuating the problem. Affirmative action is a topic like any other. If affirmative action is inefficient or disadvantageous, then any of us who sees this should frankly say so.

And we ought to roll our eyes at anyone who calls that bigotry.

* * *

Next, D’Souza dissects the claims of gender favoritism. His paradigm is simple; he believes most statistical differences (treatment, pay, achievement) between genders are due to factors other than discrimination. For example:

Reasons for male-female earnings difference could be that women choose different fields than men, that women sometimes drop out of the workforce, and so on. (103)

He cites an interesting study to account for the apparent disparity in male/female accomplishment.

The mean [IQ] score [of 100] for these two groups is the same, but the bell curves look different. The female bell curve is taller and narrower; the male bell curve is shorter and flatter. This means that the female performance tends to congregate around the mean, whereas among men, there are many more geniuses – and many more dummies. (103)

Explaining the recent increase in female employees, he stresses that:

Technology, not feminism, paved the way for mass female entry into the workforce. The vacuum cleaner, the forklift, and the birth-control pill had far more to do with this… (104)

Housekeeping and and parenting used to be obligatory, full-time jobs; now women can largely decide if/when we become mothers, and if we want to be a construction worker or a chef. All fields are available to us.

And D’Souza isn’t saying that women should always stay at home instead.

The feminist error was to embrace the value of the workplace as greater than the value of the home. (105)

He notes that dismissing the contributions of women who work at home has become a recognized injustice. However, he ends his letter by asserting that

… the other equally-unfair outcome [is that] women are now competing with men in a domain where, at the very top level, they are likely to lose. (106)

Here, I bristled a little, which surprised me because I agreed with D’Souza until this point. Algebraically, his “likely” is valid. If promotions are based on intellect, and fewer women are intellectually brilliant, then the overall probability is higher that a man will get promoted instead of a woman, yes.

But, his comment still felt simplistic. Don’t many career fields self-regulate? Would less-intellectual women shy away from more-academic jobs? People might naturally attract to fields where they are capable of ascending to the “top.”

Say a woman aspires to be a doctor; isn’t it likely that she is one of the more-intelligent women, and thus likely on par with the other top, male, medical candidates? Likewise, if a female actress applied for a CEO position, she probably wouldn’t get it – but, she also probably wouldn’t want it.

And what about sheer determination? Many ambitious women (just like men) have surpassed their “on paper” potential, just because they worked so hard.

My brain kept thinking of exceptions, and nitpicking at D’Souza’s final, rather broad remark. However, clearly his main point is that modern feminism has done few favors for either the homemaker or the professional woman.

And this is a valid point – one that many of us, on both sides of the debate, are beginning to recognize as true.

Next week, we’ll read Chapters 13-14, on Postmodernism and Leftist Professors!

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