Over 50 years ago, Susan Sontag infamously declared: “The white race is the cancer of human history.”  Sontag explained that “it is the white race and it alone—its ideologies and inventions—which eradicates autonomous civilizations wherever it spreads, which has upset the ecological balance of the planet, [and] which now threatens the very existence of life itself.”

America, “the culmination of Western civilization,” alone suffices to prove that “there must be something terribly wrong with” it.

“The truth is that Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Marx, Balanchine ballets, et al., don’t redeem what this particular civilization has wrought upon the world.”

Since Sontag made her remarks, the left, particularly in academia, has become even more opposed to the West.  At least Sontag could be read as suggesting that Mozart, Pascal, and so forth may be notable exceptions to the rule of Western depravity.  In contrast, what all too many contemporary academics maintain is that those ideas that have served to distinguish the West from the rest, ideas such as a common humanity, individualism, and the ideal of “color-blindness,” say, along with the disciplines of philosophy, mathematics, and literature, are themselves weapons of white, Christian, masculine bourgeois repression.

Another American philosopher, the late Iris Marion Young, goes even further to expressly renounce the ideal of a shared humanity transcending differences of race, gender, religion, and so forth.  Such an ideal, she insists, has “oppressive consequences [.]”

The problem, as Young sees it, is that currently, in the West, “the privileged groups implicitly define the standards according to which all will be measured.” This is “oppressive” because, insofar as “their privilege” prevents them from “recognizing these standards as culturally and experientially specific, the ideal of a common humanity in which all can participate without regard to race, gender, religion, or sexuality poses as neutral and universal.”

In other words, this ideal of “a common humanity,” being the product of the “dominant culture,” is actually “Anglo, European, Christian, masculine, straight.”

Young’s thought is representative of the Critical Race Theory (CRT) wing of the postmodern academy.  Will Oremus, writing in the popular left-wing publication, Slate, accurately characterizes the CRT perspective: “Classical liberal ideals such as meritocracy, equal opportunity, and colorblind justice…actually served the white elite by cloaking and reinforcing society’s deep structural inequalities.”

In other words, as the title of one particularly popular text on Critical Race theory reveals, proponents of CRT, or “crits,” obsess over “racism without racists.”

Oremus notes that the term “critical race theory” was a “takeoff” of “critical legal theory.” The latter is “a branch of legal scholarship that challenges the validity of concepts such as rationality, objective truth, and judicial neutrality.” Yet critical legal theory was in turn taken from “critical theory,” “a philosophical framework with roots in Marxist thought.”

Oremus is also correct in pointing out that CRT “is widely taught and studied, not only in law but in sociology, education, and other fields.”

More recently, Rochelle Gutierrez, a professor of mathematics education at the University of Illinois, wrote that even something as apparently universal, as race and gender-neutral, and as apolitical as mathematics is, in effect, a species of racial politics.  “On many levels,” Gutierrez claims, “mathematics itself operates as Whiteness.”

Mathematics facilitates “Whiteness” insofar as  who “gets credit for doing and developing mathematics, who is capable in mathematics, and who is seen as part of the mathematical community is generally viewed as White.”  For instance, “mathematics curricula” in schools “emphasizing terms like Pythagorean theorem and pi perpetuate a perception that mathematics was largely developed by Greeks and other Europeans.”

Yet even “more importantly, mathematics operates with unearned privilege in society, just like Whiteness.”

What Gutierrez means by this is that mathematics “is viewed as so pure that it has become the discipline by which we measure other disciplines.”  Due to “its perceived purity, we assume mathematics should be the basis for how we think about the world and what is important.” Thus, math “operates as a proxy for intelligence.”

Mathematics is treated “as if it is a natural reflection of the universe,” a realm that “occurs outside of human influence” and that is a way of “encoding the universe with eternal truths, a natural order of things that should not be questioned.”

Due to this popular conception of mathematics, the latter “is viewed as a version of the world that is proper, separate from humans, where no emotions or agendas take place.”

And what is true of mathematics is equally true of Gutierrez calls “Whiteness.”

So, it isn’t just that the teaching of mathematics is “political.”  Mathematics as a discipline is political, for in multiple ways, “knowledge, power, and identity are interwoven with mathematics [.]”

Mathematics is inescapably political, the “effects” it has are “lasting.”  “So many people are walking around in society who have experienced trauma, microaggressions from participating in math classrooms where the idea of being a successful person, being an intelligent person, is removing oneself from the context, not involving emotions, not involving the body, and being judged by whether one can reason abstractly.”

As far as Gutierrez is concerned, “all knowledge is relational.” Knowledge is not “objective” but, rather, “subjective.”

Gutierrez’s view is representative of the contemporary academy.  In an abstract of her essay, Donna Riley, a professor of engineering education at Purdue University, contends that in the fields of “engineering, engineering education, and engineering education research,” the very notion of academic “rigor”—“the aspirational quality academics apply to disciplinary standards of quality”—is the cause of “dirty deeds.”

These “dirty deeds” are the activities of “disciplining, demarcating boundaries, and demonstrating”—what else?—“white male heterosexual privilege.” (italics added).

The concept of rigor, hence, must be “relinquished” so that “we can welcome other ways of knowing” and “ways of being” and form a “community for inclusive and holistic engineering education.”

Not incidentally, the journal in which Riley’s essay appears has featured articles with titles like: “Hydrocracies, Engineers and Power: Questioning Masculinities in Water;” “The Perilous Whiteness of Pumpkins;” “Civility and White Institutional Presence: An Exploration of White Students’ Understanding of Race-Talk at a Traditionally White Institution;” and “Introduction: Blackness as Method.”

From the vantage of the hard academic left, reason is nothing more or less than a smokescreen designed to facilitate the power or “hegemony” of what it perceives as the “dominant class” of white, heterosexual, Christian men.

 

 

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