Scenes from the Culture War

Yoga, the 1619 project, and Critical Race Theory

The culture wars bubble on. Two reports from the front.

In Alabama, the legislature has lifted a decades-old ban on yoga in schools, but with some caveats.

Under the new law, yoga instructors are barred from using any Sanskrit names for poses and must refer to them using their English equivalent only. There will be no oms in the schoolhouse, as mantras are verboten as is chanting of any kind. In fact, the state Legislature has also banned the use of the salutation namaste altogether.

As if that version of yoga weren’t watered down enough, the state will also require participating students to get a permission slip signed by their parents. The text of said permission slip was included in the bill: “I understand that yoga is part of the Hinduism religion. I give my child permission to participate in yoga instruction in school.” Good to double-check just to make sure yoga isn’t sneaking up on anyone in Alabama.

In Texas, legislators are busy banning Critical Race Theory.

The latest version of the bill also reintroduced an explicit ban of the teaching of The New York Times’ 1619 Project, which examines U.S. history from the date when enslaved people first arrived on American soil, marking that year as the country’s foundational date. That 2019 work from journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones won the Pulitzer Prize and was recently thrust back into the national spotlight after the University of North Carolina did not grant her tenure after conservative criticism of her work.

As you might expect with this kind of intersectionality, all of this is messy and complicated. For a balanced look at the controversy over Nikole Hannah-Jones and the tenure controversy at UNC, you should read Conor Friedersdorf’s piece in the Atlantic.

In denying Hannah-Jones tenure (but giving her a 5-year stint on the faculty), he writes, we have “politicians exerting influence that chills rather than protects the free exchange of ideas. If the evidence shows—as I and many others suspect it will—that she was denied tenure because of viewpoint discrimination, the decision should be reversed.”

But Friedersdorf also notes that the 1619 Project itself is problematic. An “ideologically diverse group of critics” has argued that 1619 Project “was marred by multiple factual errorsdamning revelations from a fact-checker, and obfuscatory stealth edits…”

But many of those critiques were “overlooked or waved away by focusing exclusively on the dumbest criticism of the project (most prominently, demagogic attacks by then-President Donald Trump).”

Here we get to an interesting ideological paradox. Bhaskar Sunkara, the publisher of the left-wing journal Jacobin, and author of ‘the Socialist Manifesto,” writes:

Among the most serious critics of the 1619 Project’s errors have been socialists, people very committed to radical reevaluations of US history. But unfortunately the debate has been polarized between reactionary “1776 Project” types and Nikole Hannah-Jones apologists.

But perhaps polarization is the point, because it actually benefits both sides of the 1619 vs 1776 food fight. Jonathan Chait observes that “People with extreme views often prefer to polarize the debate so they don't need to engage with more measured critics or compete with more reasonable alternatives.”

Well, exactly.

Which brings us to the chronically bad-faith fight over “Critical Race Theory,” whatever people think that means. At its extremes CRT is reductionist, heavy-handed, and illiberal — but the debate seems to have devolved into something else. To be sure, there have been detailed and trenchant critiques of the theory. There have also been numerous in-depth explainers such as this one in the Atlantic and this one from CNN. Other attempts have been made on Twitter and on blogs.

But, as the Boston Review noted:

The exact targets of CRT’s critics vary wildly, but it is obvious that most critics simply do not know what they are talking about. Instead, CRT functions for the right today primarily as an empty signifier for any talk of race and racism at all, a catch-all specter lumping together “multiculturalism,” “wokeism,” “anti-racism,” and “identity politics”—or indeed any suggestion that racial inequities in the United States are anything but fair outcomes, the result of choices made by equally positioned individuals in a free society. They are simply against any talk, discussion, mention, analysis, or intimation of race—except to say we shouldn’t talk about it.

Here’s an example of how bad the bad faith argumentation has gotten. Christopher Rufo has become one of the go-to critics of CRT. His work has appeared in the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal, Fox News, and the NY Post; he has also been featured by Hillsdale College; and touted by the Heritage Foundation.

Rufo also reportedly inspired Trump’s personal interest in the issue. After hearing Rufo on Fox News describing “critical race theory programs in government” as “the cult of indoctrination,” Trump issued an executive order last year banning “diversity and race sensitivity training” in the federal government, including all “spending related to any training on critical race theory.” 

But here is Rufo, essentially giving away the game. For Rufo, it is all about “branding,’ and the audacity of his charlatanry is breathtaking:

Arc Digital’s Berny Belvedere explains why its hard to take critics like Rufo seriously.

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Outrage in the skies. Via the NYT:

MOSCOW — The strongman president of Belarus sent a fighter jet to intercept a European airliner traveling through the country’s airspace on Sunday and ordered the plane to land in the capital, Minsk, where a prominent opposition journalist aboard was then seized, provoking international outrage.

The stunning gambit by Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, a brutal and erratic leader who has clung to power despite huge protests against his government last year, was condemned by European officials, who compared it to hijacking. It underscored that with the support of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, Mr. Lukashenko is prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to repress dissent.


Your weekend MTG:

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Burned into the American Mind:

George Will:

“I would like to see January 6th burned into the American mind as firmly as 9/11, because it was that scale of a shock to the system.”

“I think there will be a commission, but it is controversial for that reason.”


Maybe this is why folks don’t trust the progs on crime. From the NYT:

At a board of supervisors hearing last week, representatives from Walgreens said that thefts at its stores in San Francisco were four times the chain’s national average, and that it had closed 17 stores, largely because the scale of thefts had made business untenable.

Brendan Dugan, the director of the retail crime division at CVS Health, called San Francisco “one of the epicenters of organized retail crime” and said employees were instructed not to pursue suspected thieves because encounters had become too dangerous.

“We’ve had incidents where our security officers are assaulted on a pretty regular basis in San Francisco,” Dugan said.

The retail executives and police officers emphasized the role of organized crime in the thefts. And they told the supervisors that Proposition 47, the 2014 ballot measure that reclassified nonviolent thefts as misdemeanors if the stolen goods are worth less than $950, had emboldened thieves.

“The one trend we are seeing is more violence and escalating — and much more bold,” said Commander Raj Vaswani, the head of the investigations bureau at the San Francisco Police Department. “We see a lot of repeat offenders.”

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Quick Hits

1. Is Biden Going Soft on Putin?

David J. Kramer in today’s Bulwark:

After taking an appropriately hard line toward the Putin regime in its early months, the Biden administration seems to be going wobbly. Early on, the administration coupled sanctions on Russian officials for the poisoning and arrest of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, the SolarWinds hack, and interference in U.S. elections with rhetoric indicating the United States would oppose Russia’s malign influence around the globe. More recently, however, it waived sanctions over the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline and is preparing for a summit between President Biden and President Vladimir Putin—two concessions that Putin has not earned and that do not advance American interests.


2. Lame Duck: The End of the Most Gerrymandered District in Ohio

Keith Osmun writes that Ohio is losing a seat in Congress, but will it keep Jim Jordan?

At R+14, it is arguably the safest Republican district in the country. The current occupant of its seat in the House of Representatives is everyone’s favorite Trump sycophant: Jim Jordan.

If you zoom out to a certain distance on Google Maps, District 4 looks like a duck….

“The goal of gerrymandering is not to keep folk like Jim Jordan from ever being elected, but gerrymandering allows Jim Jordan to be the most Jim Jordan he can be: the most bombastic, bomb throwing, partisan person in congress. He hasn’t passed a single piece of legislation in ten years. He has no real incentive to compromise because he only has to worry about a primary challenge.” If the changes work as intended the ride “safe-seats” provide legislators like Jim Jordan will be a bumpier one in the midterms.

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Manly man update.