An old joke about totalitarianism suggests that under such a system everything is either mandatory or forbidden. The vast area in between—where things are optional and you make your own choices—gets forgotten. Unfortunately, most politics, including the politics around affirmative action, is expected to operate in this binary, all-or-nothing way in most people’s minds, and not just in totalitarian countries.
So it is that the U.S. legal system is expected to render one giant thumb up or down on something like racial preferences in college admissions. The Supreme Court now says, roughly, that you can’t use racial preferences even if the goal is to help out marginalized ethnic groups. By contrast, for several decades prior to this, endless technicalities aside, the government told universities to increase the number of their non-white students even if lower academic standards had to be applied to blacks and Latinos to reach the desired numbers.
If the liberal establishment had honestly explained this was the plan—and furthermore that it was a very crude but temporary form of legal compensation for centuries of coercion in the other direction in the form of slavery and Jim Crow laws—the overwhelming majority of Americans, including conservatives and libertarians, probably would’ve accepted it. They did, in fact.
But liberals had to go and claim that they were using completely race-blind standards at the same time.
And shame anyone who didn’t seem to be doing so.
And claim that they were at the same time trying to place extra value on ethnic diversity in the student body and faculty by paying attention to race.
And that they were merely responding to real ongoing bigotry that was blocking perfectly equally qualified non-whites from gaining admission.
And that they, as the collegiate elite, were competent, non-bigoted referees of race-neutrality.
But also that in the absence of conscious favoritism, whites would dominate their campuses.
And that they merely wanted to legally mandate student bodies, like company workforces, must match the demographic proportions of the general population—regardless of any uneven distribution of interests, talents, and personal histories.
But also that decreeing proportional student bodies would somehow help blacks and Latinos without decreasing the number of whites or Asians on campus, which is obviously algebraically impossible—obvious, that is, unless you’re a human resources department or public relations b.s. artist who can insist with a straight face that, say, restricting the incoming student body to three percent Asians even if Asians were 30 percent of your high-scorers by all academic metrics in no way harms or inconveniences Asians.
Chinese communist bureaucrats and Orwell characters have nothing on H.R. and P.R. personnel when it comes to stringing warm-sounding nonsense sentences together to make it seem as if Policy X is not in fact Policy X. (This might be one of the most important arguments nowadays for being more accepting of Asian immigration: The West has thoroughly proven it’s capable of collectivist brainwashing and doubletalk all on its own, no malign foreign influence necessary.)
This sort of habitual evasion and illogic has by now, after decades of practice, infected essentially all liberal personality types, not just the panicked, conflicted souls tasked with making every edict from the H.R. department seem consistent with the prior ones.
The liberals’ evasions go by different names—outside-the-box thinking, alternative perspectives, relativism, “listening,” postmodernism, irony—but in the end, it’s your ability to juggle blatantly contradictory beliefs or moral/legal imperatives that qualifies you for membership, and possibly a lucrative career, in the herd-like ranks of modern liberalism. If you can overlook nonsense, you’re in. When in doubt, mock some other tribe’s nonsense as a distraction, possibly religious fundamentalism.
And now, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision, Harvard wants you to know they don’t look at applicants’ ethnicity, except when they look at ethnicity. But not of Asians. Except when welcoming them with open arms. In smaller numbers. And so on.
No wonder liberals and the left, contrary to the impression the media give you, are so much more likely to be mentally ill than moderates, conservatives, and libertarians. Society didn’t drive the left nuts. The left practiced being nuts to help them maintain their faith in the illogical command-and-control systems by which the authorities in most sectors of 21st-century society run things.
And unlike the Supreme Court, I—like any good libertarian free-marketeer—think Harvard or any other institution that wants to jump through those mental loop-de-loops should be allowed by law to do so, so long as they’re completely honest about how they do it—no misrepresenting the stats or lying to prospective students. Misrepresentation under these circumstances, luring in tuition-paying customers who might instead have wanted a genuinely race-blind admissions process, warrants a colossal class action suit.
But then so would, say, admissions processes a century ago that purported to be purely merit-based while quietly using an old-boys network to exclude Jewish applicants. (By the late-20th century, that problem had so thoroughly vanished that I recall a joke letter to the Brown Daily Herald saying that if admissions is based on proportional representation of the U.S.’s general ethnic makeup, Brown should be trying to get its Jewish student population down to about three percent instead of the roughly one-third of the student body that was Jewish in a more or less free market of admissions and acceptances.)
Let the market do what it usually does—provide different systems for different customers’ preferences, even Harvardians’—and you no longer need to worry about the government decreeing a one-size-fits-all solution to the whole mess, whether that solution is pro-black, pro-white, rigidly neutral, or varying according to faculty tastes. There’s no one obvious solution so right that every university should be made by law to have the same student body composition. Apply to the place where you think you’ll fare best, both as an applicant and later as a student.
We can have a perfectly civil and honest conversation about that—but not if that conversation is dominated by people like the shameless liars at NPR, who aired a piece claiming Asians were never harmed by affirmative action at Harvard at all and that they’re now merely being used by racist whites who want to end all such programs. Since many Asians can do math, I don’t think they’re going to fall for NPR’s cynical political coddling and fuzzy math.
Meanwhile, Biden touts a new equity initiative ostensibly aimed at aiding everyone but straight, white males (and I’d add capitalists to the short list of the disfavored under that or any government program, since by contrast those tied to the governmental redistributive apparatus will still get a cut). He gambles that Americans are more likely to vote with outrage in favor of rescuing the country’s governmental racial spoils system from the Supreme Court than to welcome an era of increased individualism and choice. Opinion surveys say he’s wrong.
But then, choices in the marketplace should decide this on an individual-customer and individual-institution basis, not a majority on the court, at the polls, or in surveys.