The Outstater

February 23, 2024

Equity? Here’s a Position for You

ALMOST 50 YEARS of an incoherent national dialogue on race has left me with some perverse views. If we are going to have separate black and and white national anthems, for instance, my position is that one of them ought to be Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 8 in C Minor, Op. 13.

Recently, I have struggled with the prevailing logic that a founding document declaring all men (persons) equal is somehow entirely negated by a ruling elite’s reversal (slaveholding) of that principle. No matter that it was corrected with mechanisms set in motion by the document itself.

That, it would seem to me, was resounding affirmation of the wisdom of the document’s signers. I am told I am seriously wrong about that.

And yet, a friend recounts his experience judging an adolescent speech competition where one team’s position began with the “fact” that America was founded to preserve slavery. The room was flummoxed by my friend’s simple question as to who taught those bright young people such nonsense.

Moving along, I am trying to see the logic in commanding that people be hired on the basis of a skin pigmentation gradient. The free market being what it is, the only way that could work is by brute force — force applied to employers to do what is not in their best interests, i.e., maintain a purposefully and mathematically less productive workforce.

Absent such force, a friend explained how things work — or once worked. He remembers an administrator at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology saying that a good number of engineering graduates, black or white, don’t end up actually engineering anything. Rather, because of their recognized cognitive and problem-solving abilities, they were soon promoted to management. That, however, now may be illegal.

The late Kurt Vonnegut handled the absurdity nicely. His dystopian short story, “Harrison Bergeron,” although inexplicably absent from Wikipedia’s list of Vonnegut’s work, centers on an abusive government that requires ballerinas, for instance, to wear leg weights so they are not more graceful than anyone else.

I am looking at a chart that shows over time the standing by race as a result of omissions of certain types of questioning on the Composite Standard Aptitude Test. These changes, beginning in the 1990s, were meant to bring “equity” to the scoring system.

Instead, they optimized the scoring of already advantaged groups. Here is the political scientist Charles Murray offering an explanation:

“It rewarded systematic test prep, period, and it turns out that the people who work the hardest on test prep are Asian students and the white children of the affluent who want to get into elite schools. Want to know what the hardest-to-prep-for kind of question is? Analogies. Vocabulary is a close second. Yes, you can try to memorize vocabulary lists, but the real edge goes to young people who reflexively try to figure out what an unfamiliar word means when they encounter one. It’s a strong signal of — you guessed it — cognitive ability. The College Board dropped both analogies and vocabulary.”

We pause to let that sink in: They dropped the problem-solvers. Yes, our once great nation has figured out a way to discriminate against problem-solving by whatever race. I would say that was a policy error except that a hero of mine, Thomas Sowell, has been warning about this for so long and so eloquently it qualifies as determined, purposeful self-destruction.

I will let Sowell’s observation stand as the only rational position left us — a sort of blanket absolution to be spoken aloud before any public gathering:

“Much of the social history of the Western world over the past three decades has involved replacing what worked with what sounded good. In area after area – crime, education, housing, race relations — the situation has gotten worse after the bright new theories were put into operation. The amazing thing is that this history of failure and disaster has neither discouraged the social engineers nor discredited them.” — tcl



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