The Shark Attack Party
How panic porn shapes our politics
In the Before Times, you could always tell that it was a slow news day when we got lots of stories about the crisis of shark attacks. Even now, we have a taste for the panic porn.
Fox News News reports: “Shark attack prompts dramatic rescue at Florida beach.”
And: '“Florida authorities respond to 2 shark attacks on same day.”
Also Fox News: “Shark sightings, detections increase near East Coast as summer unfolds.”
Since it’s that time of year, we also get this: “Why New Smyrna Beach has so many shark attacks,” and this “California drone video shows growing number of great white sharks swimming near people,” and this, “‘Holy s---!' Hammerhead shark thrashes in ankle-deep water near beachgoers,” and this, “Sharks circle women on a floatie at Florida beach.”
Scary stuff. A consumer of the news could be forgiven for thinking that shark bites were, in fact, a growing crisis: “Study finds that the U.S. had more shark attacks last year than any other country.”
Cue the panic. Except for this:
It turns out that the attacks remain vanishingly rare, and fatalities even rarer. Over the last four years there were a total of four (4) fatalities nationwide. So your actual chances of being killed by a shark are… well, you do the math.
But the shark attack stories illustrate an important phenomenon: even the rarest occurrence can seem like a crisis if it is amplified and dramatized by media coverage. Warn of attacks, hype attacks, dramatize each incident, and before you know it, we have a problem that we have to worry about.
Shark attacks may be rare, but in the media world, they become very real. And here is the important thing: you can do this with almost any issue, using scattered anecdotes to create a sense of crisis.
Which brings us to the political equivalents of shark attacks.
The latest edition of Imprimis, which is published by Hillsdale College, features an article by Mark Steyn with the suitably apocalyptical title: “Our Increasingly Unrecognizable Civilization”. Steyn warns that, “at this moment of crisis for Western Civilization, or for what we used to call Christendom, the leading country of the free world is pulling the wrong way.”
He follows with genuinely scary stories. Such as this:
Think of it. Your daughter has been training since she was a little girl to run in school sports. Now at 17, she’s in the state high school track championships, and you are forbidden even to notice that she’s competing against a woman who is 6’2” with thighs like tugboats, a great touch of five o’clock shadow on her face, and the most muscular bosom you’ve ever seen.
He follows up by warning of the dire consequences of removing the statues of Confederate generals (like Nathan Bedford Forrest, the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan).
“But of course it doesn’t stop there,” warns Steyn, “—now they’re going for all the statues. Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, McKinley, and on and on.”
You really hate to see it.
But how widespread are the horrors he describes?
It turns out that there's no official count of trans athletes in youth, high school or college sports. By some estimates there may be 50 trans athletes on female sports teams at the collegiate level.
Legislators in more than 20 states have introduced bills this year that would ban transgender girls from competing on girls’ sports teams in public high schools. Yet in almost every case, sponsors cannot cite a single instance in their own state or region where such participation has caused problems.
How about the assault on statues of Abraham Lincoln that are making our civilization unrecognizable to Mark Steyn?
One Lincoln statue was, in fact, torn down by protesters in Portland Oregon, and officials in Boston removed one that “depicts a Black man, shirtless and on his knees, in front of a clothed and standing Abraham Lincoln.”
Last year, I wrote about activists in Madison, Wisconsin, who objected to a Lincoln statue on the University of Wisconsin campus. The statue of the seated Lincoln atop UW’s Bascom Hill has been an iconic figure for more than a century. It is still there.
There are also scattered, random attacks on other statues, but the whole movement is really at a “shark attack” level of rarity.
So this brings us to the current panic over Critical Race Theory.
Right wing media has been flooded with anecdotes and stories about anti-white racist propaganda in the schools. Check out these charts. It’s almost as if someone decided that this was going to be a thing… and lo and behold… it became one.
But what’s the reality in actual classrooms?
There are, in fact, real instances of intolerance, illiberalism, and indoctrination. Bari Weiss published a horrific account by a teacher at Manhattan’s Grace Church High School describing a mandatory anti-racism policy that “requires teachers like myself to treat students differently on the basis of race.”
Furthermore, in order to maintain a united front for our students, teachers at Grace are directed to confine our doubts about this pedagogical framework to conversations with an in-house “Office of Community Engagement” for whom every significant objection leads to a foregone conclusion. Any doubting students are likewise “challenged” to reframe their views to conform to this orthodoxy.
Another teacher at a “posh” New Jersey prep school also quit in protest over the school’s divisive racial ideology.
“The school’s ideology requires students to see themselves not as individuals, but as representatives of a group, forcing them to adopt the status of privilege or victimhood,” [teacher Dana] Stangel-Plowe wrote in her letter to school brass.
“As a result, students arrive in my classroom accepting this theory as fact: People born with less melanin in their skin are oppressors, and people born with more melanin in their skin are oppressed. Men are oppressors, women are oppressed, and so on,” she continued.
And, as Caitlin Flanagan wrote in the Atlantic, anti-racist policies sparked a revolt by some of the parents at New York’s elite Dalton school.
According to the letter [from anonymous parents] , in science class there have been “racist cop” reenactments, art class has focused on “decentering whiteness,” and health class has examined white supremacy. “Love of learning and teaching is now being abandoned in favor of an ‘anti-racist curriculum,’ ” the parents wrote. “Every class this year has had an obsessive focus on race and identity.”
These are more than scattered anecdotes, and do seem to indicate a trend — at least in a certain strata of schools.
But how widespread is this sort of thing in less elite, posh, rarefied precincts?
The question came up on social media yesterday.
Iowahawk is, of course, absolutely right. But how often is this happening around the country?
In 2018 there were 130,930 elementary and secondary schools in the United States. How many teach CRT?
In the 2019-20 school year, 56.5 million students attended public and private elementary and secondary schools in the United States. What percentage of them are being subject to CRT? 1%? .01%? .001%?
Curious minds wanted to know:
More specifically, is it happening in places like Texas?
As far as I know, nobody knows the answer. And nobody — least of all folks like Ted Cruz — really wants to find out.
The point of shark attack politics is not data — it is fear and outrage. And for outrage, anecdata is more than sufficient. Statistics are irrelevant, if the stories are graphic and alarming enough.
So, even though the vast majority of Americans will never encounter anything remotely like CRT, it becomes a real threat and a potent political weapon.
There are sharks out there and if you refuse to join the panic, you must support shark attacks.
Two people were arrested following a local school board meeting in Virginia that turned unruly, with officials shutting down a public comment period during a heated debate about critical race theory and policy on transgender students.
Meanwhile in NYC:
1. How the Southern Baptist Convention Rejected Populist Nationalism
Alan Cross writes that the SBC faced an organized attempted takeover from the forces of populist nationalism. And they rejected it in favor of the Gospel.
Last week in Nashville, in the midst of a full-blown populist-fundamentalist onslaught intent on takeover, Southern Baptists conserved their hard fought and deeply rooted positions by acknowledging problems and failures, repenting, opposing clearly the false accusations being lobbed against them, and by digging deep into their core values and ancient transcendent truths. They kept the ship afloat and moving forward by going back to the Scriptures and by agreeing to keep reforming, keep repenting—and keep receiving and giving grace.
Renew the center, save the whole. Maybe there’s a lesson there for all of us in how good things can be conserved.
2. COVID, Hacking, and Spying Helped China Develop a New Stealth Fighter in Record Time
Reuben Johnson writes that while the pandemic put our defense industry on hold, the Chinese military used the time to make big advances.
“This is the kind of relentless drive the PRC is on to pass the United States and become the dominant power in the Pacific,” says Fanell, “and this program is just the tip of the iceberg. For almost a decade the PLAN has built and continues to build new warships at a rate of four-to-one compared to the U.S. Navy. This challenge should be the top priority of the Pentagon and the services. . . . China is trying to be push us out of the Pacific. If we do not push back soon it may be too late.”
Why won’t Liz just move on?