Brennan-hug_122019
Image Credit: above: Botham Jean’s younger brother Brandt Jean hugs former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger after delivering his impact statement to her in Dallas, Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019 (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP, Pool)
Ivory Tower Iconoclast

Simple Answers for Hateful Minds

When did Americans become the stormtroopers of irrational simplification? Not a moment passes when a tweet, Facebook post, or Instagram picture doesn’t rip through our amber waves of grain and drive a social justice warrior to attack the nearest deplorable. Take this recent example from The New York Times of a mentally deranged reductionist. In the paper’s “Here to Help” section, in which fashion critic Vanessa Friedman “answers your style questions,” a reader—“Wendy, New York”—asked:

I’m hoping you will address an important “size-ist” issue: The need for more large–size clothing in the stores. The issue goes along the same lines as ageism, sexism. I need a dress for my daughter’s wedding, but I am finding that many stores no longer have a larger size section, and I had zilch to choose from when I went to individual designers.… Since so much of the Western world is gaining weight, or more overweight than ever, why does this prejudice exist?

If I had to guess, I would predict “Wendy” majored in some version of ethnic or gender grievance studies in college and never took an economics, logic, or biology class. Akin to many other Times readers, Julián Castro supporters, and many under age 30, she reflexively assumed a dearth of selections in her size range could only result from unjust discrimination. When confronted by any sort of difficulty or disagreement, the unthinking American ideologue now assumes he is the victim of “prejudice,” a term Wendy used but obviously can’t define. The mindless have learned that whining about perceived injustice gets results. But the few Americans not under the sway of our current infantilizing political discourse, or the education cartel, admit more complex explanations.

Dressmakers sell their wares to customers of all shapes and sizes. If that were not true, then we would see obese women—like Wendy, by her own admission—walking around naked as “many stores no longer have a larger size section” while individual designers have “zilch” per her rigorous empirical field work. Since Wendy already has an unhealthy addiction to the Times, she should consult the paper’s very own Paul Krugman and his latest economics textbook, ingeniously titled Economics. I’m using it in my microeconomics course this semester. Before you stop reading, let me add that it’s well written, concise, and surprisingly devoid of political asides.

Since Wendy wouldn’t trust, let alone understand, Friedrich Hayek or Ludwig von Mises’ simple explanations of economic realities, she might feel safer relying on Dr. Krugman’s explanation of product differentiation and market segmentation. There she will learn that entrepreneurs are motivated to serve specific customer groups while unjust, immoral, and irrational discrimination rarely plays a part in their economic calculations.

Such an ontological leap to economic enlightenment may prove too daunting for ideologues like Wendy. Yet, should she succeed, that small dose of economic theory alone will hone her subpar logic skills.

Reductionist fanaticism pervades the Times, and not just in its frivolous style section. A Sept. 28 article on this fall’s elections in Austria detailed former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s reelection efforts. The Times’ Berlin bureau chief, Katrin Bennhold, referenced Kurz’s pride in lowering taxes, stanching unemployment, and adding no new national debt. However, as soon as the reductionist part of Bennhold’s brain kicked in, she declared that what “stands out most” from Kurz’s evil tenure as chancellor were “measures…aimed at making life uncomfortable for immigrants.”

What were those inhumane, xenophobic measures? Bennhold found Kurz’s policy of “sharply” cutting benefits to families with “more than two children” overtly racist. Austria’s 2016 below-replacement birthrate of 1.49 children per female of childbearing age shows this policy could have only resulted from hatred of newcomers, as the two-child limit was clearly not directed at native Austrians and their 1.49 children. Benefits were also cut for those “who do not speak German or English,” another prima facie racist policy. Lastly, Kurz’s ban on headscarves in primary and secondary schools further confirmed the Times’ reductionist narrative for Austria’s upcoming election: Sebastian Kurz, his Austrian People’s Party, and—while we’re at it—every native-born Austrian, is a retrograde racist. If you think Kurz implemented those policies to protect Austria’s coffers, culture, or citizens, then you’re a racist too.

Gertrude Kraus, a 78-year-old Austrian, who in the Times’ view may as well be a card-carrying Nazi, dog-whistled to her fellow furtive extremists in Bennhold’s article by praising Kurz for being “strong on immigration.” Ostrich-brained Times readers will be sure to conflate poor Gertrude’s preference for a reasonable restraint on immigration as hatred.

It’s easy to find racism everywhere if you’re disposed to do so. You may think of Wall Street as a place where the morally bankrupt spend all of their time engineering financial cataclysms and screwing widows and orphans. But nevermind that, there’s racism afoot! Swiss investment bank UBS Group AG’s veteran economist Paul Donovan recently made what, to a normal person, sounded like a rather tame joke about rising consumer prices in China. After extinguishing his Tiki torch, removing his Klan hood, and flashing a white power sign, Donovan attributed the rise in Chinese pork prices to the spread of African swine fever, before joking that it only matters “if you are a Chinese pig.”

Numerous Asian securities professionals of the immature, overpaid, and coddled variety, as well as the perpetually offended Chinese state media, took offense at this slight. Whether his hate was directed at the Chinese people or their porcine friends, no matter—Donovan was temporarily suspended. A Maoist teaching session is clearly needed to inform us benighted Westerners that labeling someone a “pig” in China denotes “laziness and stupidity”—unlike in America, where it apparently denotes positive qualities such as slovenliness and gluttony. The reductionists ignore nuance, distinction, and complexity. In their eyes, Mr. Donovan will forever remain guilty until proven innocent.

Back here in The Land Where No One Cares and Anything Goes, the recent murder conviction of white Dallas police officer Amber Guyger, who killed her black neighbor when she mistook his apartment for her own and shot him after entering it, has received a torrent of press coverage, but for an unexpected reason. At her sentencing, the victim’s brother asked if he could hug Guyger as a sign of forgiveness. This refreshingly uplifting gesture gave Americans reason to reflect on the role mercy plays in our justice system. But not for the reductionists. After the trial, the civil rights attorney for the victim’s family thundered that Guyger’s conviction was “a victory for black people in America” that would “begin to change policing culture all over the world.”

Slow down a moment. Officer Guyger mistakenly entered the victim’s apartment as she mindlessly went to the wrong floor of her multi-story apartment building. This has happened to me at various hotels and several times when I lived in a 34-story apartment building. Humans make mistakes and accidents do happen.

But there are no mistakes in the reductionists’ world. There is one and only one explanation for Guyger’s murderous behavior: racism. Yes, Guyger may have tried to confuse the assembled reductionist mob at her sentencing when she addressed the court, saying:

I feel like a terrible person, I feel like a piece of crap…I feel like I don’t deserve the chance to be with my family and friends…I am so sorry. This is not about hate, it’s about being scared that night.

However, the reductionist straight jacket only allows one explanation for everything, by definition. Forget about motive. The result of her actions proves she’s a racist.

Before I gave a recent microeconomics midterm exam, a nervous student asked me if calculators would be permitted during the test. Since the course has focused on the qualitative aspects of economics as opposed to the quantitative ones, I answered, “You won’t need a calculator on this test.” The student snapped back at me, “Oh, you’re saying because I’m Asian you think I’m really good at math and I won’t need a calculator?”

Ten years ago this comment would have shocked me. I wasn’t expecting her reaction, but I guess I should have. When I corrected her by explaining that she had mistakenly emphasized the word “you” in my response when the emphasis belonged on the word “need,” she walked away perplexed that an innocuous explanation existed. Society has now sunk to a depth where we immediately assume the worst motivation in others, regardless of logic, common sense, or context.

Charity demands we broaden our perspective when we try to discern the motives behind others’ thoughts and actions. When reductionists like Wendy, Katrin Bennhold, and Asian finance professionals thoughtlessly ascribe behaviors to the worst possible human motives, they do so for political reasons. The left’s never-ending fight against the latest “-ism” and injustice has now morphed into a philosophical crusade. The leftist mob broadcasts its reductionist accusations on social media to drown out reasoned discourse. The reality of existence, as it manifests itself in women’s clothing retailers, Austrian electoral politics, and the tragic mistakes of Officer Guyger are driven by a host of factors that can’t be meaningfully reduced to racism, despite the left’s caterwauls and inflammatory accusations.

As in other aspects of the left’s plan for utopia, the denial of human dignity lies at its root. Leftists view humans as driven robotically by selfishness and hatred. “Homo odium” has become the left’s Promethean, reductionist assumption. Yet, if hatred explains everything, then it explains nothing. Charity and goodwill—concepts foreign to leftist ideologues—demand we look more closely at the human psyche, cultural influences, and myriad other factors that drive human behavior. Humans are fallible. More importantly, they are forgivable.

Mark G. Brennan

Mark G. Brennan is the books editor of Chronicles and writes from New York.

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