Paul L. Caron

Friday, August 25, 2017

Reaction To Law Profs' Op-Ed On The Breakdown Of The 'Bourgeois Culture'

Following up on last week's post on the op-ed by Amy Wax (Pennsylvania) & Larry Alexander (San Diego), Paying The Price For Breakdown Of The Country's Bourgeois Culture:

Philly Voice, 18 Law Professors Argue Colleagues' 'Bourgeois' Ideal Is Racist and Classist:

There are rare occasions ... in which the opinions expressed by another law professor display both a moral toxicity and an intellectual bankruptcy that require us to put collegiality aside, and to call out such opinions for what they are. Such is the case with the opinions expressed recently on by University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax and University of San Diego law professor Larry Alexander. ...

There are assertions ... which are divorced from intellectual rigor and serve no purpose beyond coddling the existing prejudices of their speakers and listeners who wish to justify similar prejudices. The opinions expressed by Professors Wax and Alexander fall squarely within the latter category and do not deserve our respect. They are dehumanizing, inherently racist, and ultimately irrational. It bears emphasizing that the professors’ opinions are offered without evidentiary support, which is — to say the least — a glaring omission from two trained lawyers and frankly shocking coming from two professors charged with educating students about law and logic.

Nor, in these times, do these opinions deserve our silence. Silence is an especially pernicious response to overt expressions of racism. The silence of respectable people has enabled bigotry and injustice of all varieties to flourish in this country for far too long. Silence is no longer an option.

We hope that the students at Penn and USD Schools of Law understand that this is not the best that the law has to offer. We specifically hope that minority law students at those and other American institutions do not believe that their faculties consider them inferior. After all, what unites us as an American nation is not our race, ethnicity, or language, but our dedication, to paraphrase President Lincoln, to the proposition that all people are created equal. As legal academics, we owe it to our nation to do all we can to uphold that most basic American value, and to do so with fairness, intellectual rigor, and decency. Our nation should expect no less of us, and we should expect no less of one another.

Inside Higher Ed, Outrage Over Op-Ed:

“People are outraged at me for sort of touting a life script that’s been out there forever,” Wax told Inside Higher Ed. “I’m waiting for them to get there and march against bourgeois values. I’m waiting for that. If they were really being consistent, they would go out there and say, ‘We’re going commit crimes, and get high, and go on strike and go on food stamps, and have a bunch of out-of-wedlock babies, because we want to have nothing to do with these tainted, racist values,’” Wax said. “These clearly aren’t universal values, no one can argue that with a straight face, in the sense that they have come out of a particular time, a particular place and a particular culture.”

When asked if there could be outside factors to not following those values, beyond choosing to not follow them, she called that idea a nonstarter, and shortly after declined to speak further. “Anyone can adhere to them if they so choose,” she said.

For Alexander, any claims of racism are misplaced. “There’s not a single racist claim in it,” he said. “I have a multiracial family. This is the kind of thing — when you don’t have an argument that deals with the claims made, you just make claims like it’s racist, it’s sexist, it’s homophobic. That’s a sure sign you don’t have an argument.”

Alexander’s interpretation that the norms he highlights are causes of success — and his devaluation of outside factors, such as systemic racism -- lies in his belief that racial discrimination is largely nonexistent today, he says, which makes identity politics’ focus on race a problem. “Offense is largely manufactured,” he said. “This is another thing people can cite in order to claim power … This is another way to arrogate power, by claiming you’ve been offended.”

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The ignorance displayed by Wax and Alexander is extremely disappointing. I doubt Wax and Alexander came from a disadvantaged background, or bothered to get to know someone who came from a disadvantaged background while they attended undergrad or law school. Wax and Alexander know very little about the people that they lampooned in their op-ed.

Wax and Alexander extol the virtues of bourgeois culture, and claim the breakdown of bourgeois culture is at the root of our problems today. But the fact is, many people from disadvantaged groups already embrace these values. Many African Americans, Hispanics, and Whites from disadvantaged backgrounds value education. But because public education is funded through property taxes, they attend inadequately funded public schools. They do not have the opportunity to attend prep schools or well-funded public schools, like the children of the wealthy. Disadvantaged students fall behind and attend lower ranked colleges or worse, they attend the for-profit scam colleges. Despite embracing the supposed bourgeois cultural norm espoused by Wax and Alexander: “Get the education you need for gainful employment...”, people from disadvantaged backgrounds do not get the education they need and do not have the same employment opportunities as those from more affluent backgrounds.

Moreover, globalization has hit blue collar families hard. When a factory closes in a small town, families lose their source of income. We hear from pundits that these families should just move to another town with job openings. But these families can’t just sell their home. Their town has no employment opportunities. Nobody wants to buy their home and live in the town. So the family loses the money invested in their home. The family remains stuck in the town, with no job opportunities, no income, no savings, and nobody willing to buy their home so they can try to move somewhere else to find employment. These people embraced bourgeois culture – they worked, they raised families, they owned a home – but society abandoned them. Now Wax and Alexander want to place blame on the victims of globalization for embracing an inferior culture.

Wax and Alexander extol the virtue to “[b]e a patriot, ready to serve the country.” Mentioning this value is puzzling, because people of all backgrounds, whether they be White, African American, Hispanic, homosexual, or Muslim, serve in the U.S. military. African Americans have said the military is an attractive career, because they have more opportunity for promotion and face less discrimination than the private sector. Poor whites have said the military provided them with higher earnings and a better career than the opportunities they had back home. Military servicemembers are universally respected by liberals and conservatives in this country. Despite all the love this country has for military servicemembers, and the diverse group of people serving, this country continues to fail military servicemembers to this day. Veterans are not getting the care they need from the VA. They face struggles finding employment when they leave the military.

As for the value to “get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake,” I hope Wax and Alexander are aware that our nation recently had a fight over marriage equality. Gays and lesbians fought for the right to marry. The people who scream the loudest that they support family values and marriage, stood in the way of marriage equality.

The problems today are not due to poor Whites, African Americans, Hispanics, and other groups abandoning our cultural values. The problems are due to our country abandoning these people, and blaming them for their troubles.

Posted by: anon JD/MD | Aug 27, 2017 9:09:08 AM

The solution can simply be found in looking at the situation in Rwanda. A Tutsie mother has forgiven a Hutu man for slaughtering her son 20 years ago. The same goes for all of its citizens. They are a Christian nation. No-one refers to themselves as Tutsies or Hutus, they are all "Rwandans." In the same manner, we need to ask for forgiveness , forgive, love, and become one people and one nation. We are all Americans!

Posted by: Jamie Johnson | Aug 25, 2017 10:34:17 AM