(Guest post by Greg Forster)
OCPA carries my article on a truly boring and esoteric topic, sure to put everyone straight to sleep – “critical race theory” in education:
Although it has been widely described as banning Oklahoma schools from teaching CRT, the text of the bill—which is very brief and easy to read, fortunately for those happy few who elect to read it before talking about it—does not even mention CRT. It prohibits schools from teaching that one race is inherently superior to others, that anyone ought to feel anguish or distress because of their own race, that anyone is inherently racist solely because of their race, that “meritocracy” as an idea is inherently racist, etc.
Now, it’s true that the ideas Oklahoma schools are prohibited to teach are core features of CRT as some important advocates of CRT define CRT. But the emphasis in that sentence is on “some.” Other advocates of CRT strenuously deny that CRT involves the view that white people should be ashamed to be white, or that all white people are racist, or that meritocracy is racist.
Rather than bicker about the definition of a term, why not step back and do some genuinely critical theorizing by asking which ideas are actually good and which are bad?
Academic subjects don’t grow on trees. They are disciplines of learning, created by human effort. Therefore they inevitably have blind spots – sometimes “a whole Seurat mural’s worth of blind spots” (yes, I’m proud of that line) – due to the prejudices of our ancestors. Discovering and exposing those blind spots is not just good, it’s essential. In the article, I mention some research I’ve been doing for a book on how our inherited understanding of 4th-century Christianity has been distorted in important ways by centuries of scholars who operated on the assumption that nothing intellectually or culturally important could possibly have happened in Africa.
The key question is whether we are really seeking to overcome error and get to the truth, or if we have given up on the idea of truth altogether. The more radical versions of CRT argue that the inherited blind spots in our academic disciplines prove that there is no truth, only socially constructed systems of power. At the end of that hallway is Room 101:
This means—necessarily, unavoidably—that there can be no common ground, no compromise and no reconciliation. There can only be endless war between power factions that have competing identity claims. On this view, we actually need to have an eternal war between factions competing for power, because the conflict between their identity claims is the only way we can know who we are. If there is no truth, our identities must depend on systems of power, and systems of power can’t be exercised without conflict.
As Orwell saw with such agonizing clarity, if there is no truth, the future is a boot stamping on a human face forever.
On that cheerful note, I will open the floor to hear your critical theory about my critical theory!