I’m not going to name names here but this follows upon the issues raised by Stephen Meardon that I discussed in this post: What bravery looks like in the modern age. The following note was sent to me offline – that is, not through the Society website but to myself and a colleague personally. This was from Professor “A”.
I sent the following message to Steve Meardon. Meant to copy you two but forgot at the last minute. Hence the reason I’m resending it below. By the way, I agree with your splendid SHOE posts. They make excellent points. Here’s the resent message.
I fear that if HES gets involved in cultural/social issues, attention to economic analysis and its historical development will fall by the wayside. Everybody will be writing articles about racial and gender discrimination. None will be writing on the birth and evolution of basic, formative concepts of economics. Our journals will be filled with complaints about cultural & social bias to the exclusion of economic analysis. One won’t even have to know any economics to write such pieces.
A similar experience happened in the field of English Lit when the gender/racial crowd co-opted it. The field’s journals became filled with pieces on discrimination rather than on literature. I fear a similar outcome might happen to the history of economics.
I say the above even though I support the Black Lives Matter and similar social protest movements
My colleague then replied to the both of us. This is from Professor “B”.
Many thanks for sharing your comment with me. I think the whole list needs to hear your voice.
I tried in my comments to stay within Steve Meardon’s outline — warning about the danger of straying into a cultural/social debate. Otherwise, I would have pointed out that black lives matter to those chanting the slogan only if they are taken by the police. Clearly not all black lives matter to them. The number of blacks that die at the hands of the police in the US is minuscule compared with the number of blacks killed by other blacks. Either from ignorance or cowardice, the HES statement is silent about that; several others do the same. Some of the BLM leaders also publicly have stated that they’re “trained Marxists.” The Marxist-inclined among us may appreciate the BLM cause. I fear the outcome of their success.
There is no excuse for the cowardly act of officer Derek Chavin killing his part-time, night club co-worker who was handcuffed at the back, lying face down, and had two other officers restraining the rest of his body. The killing has been roundly condemned by all and the officers will face justice. For the BLM movement to have taken advantage of the horrific incident to launch their assault on governmental institutions in America in pursuit of their Marxist social agenda appears duplicitous to me.
Imagine if I’d said the above in my HES comments.
This was the reply received from Professor “A”.
Many thanks for your fine, informative response. I’ve already heard the points you make, but usually from Caucasians. Coming from that source, the points always appeared suspicious and specious to me. It was as if they were made-up-on-the-spot special-pleading arguments designed to de-legitimize valid social protests. But coming from you, those same points take on a validity, impact, and immediacy that I hadn’t considered before. Many thanks for enunciating them and making me consider them afresh. There is much to them after all.
Your message teaches that it’s always best to get the perspectives of many different observers before forming an opinion of one’s own. That indeed is a valuable lesson. Thanks again for reminding me of it.
And now I have replied to both with my own take of this all.
I appreciate both of your letters, with “B” particular writing to “A” with myself mostly just copied in. And the fact is that no one can or does live anyone else’s life and knows what it is like to be who they are. And as with “A”, I am grateful to hear “B”‘s views since he, at least, cannot be accused of ignoring these issues because they don’t involve him directly.
These are not issues I ever write on or have been central to any of my work or research. And for what it’s worth – next to nothing in my view – I was brought up during the efforts to desegregate the American south and even remember Brown vs Board of Education which occurred in 1954, an extremely important moment in my own conscious life. I grew up through the period of these demonstrations and participated in them, to the extent anyone in Canada might ever have done so. No one, in my view, brought up during that period can be anything other than someone who entirely supports and believes in equality and human rights.
No one can claim that racism no longer exists, but what can be claimed, and I do claim it, is that racism as an active agency has virtually disappeared within the civilisation of the West. Virtually everyone who is raised in any society that has originated in any of the European countries of the sixteenth century and their “colonial” offshoot societies, is today as free from prejudice and bias as it is possible to be. We are societies in which individual rights are sacred and no one is handicapped due to race, religion, skin colour, gender or sexual orientation. And if I am not using the proper terminology for such discussions in the modern world, well so be it. Institutionally – that is, according to the laws of every one of these societies – everyone is encouraged to reach their full potential as human beings. Any possible social bias has been rooted out of every piece of legislation. Beyond that, all of this is taught as the straightforward core ethic of our societies.
The virtue signalling that came from the statement put out by the HES executive is not leading the way, is not advancing an unknown opinion, but is stating no more than what every one of its members already believes in their heart of hearts. But, as Steve Meardon pointed out, saying so in words does not take us forward, but backwards. Rather than letting things be as they are, by making the statement there is now obvious pressure being put on our society and its members, and the editors of its journals, to do something, and whatever something that is done, will move us away from being what we already are, an open community in which merit is the sole criterion of the work any of us put forward for judgment. There will now, inevitably, be efforts made to ensure that publications occur in relation to criteria unrelated to their academic merit, but are instead related to the personal characteristics of their authors. We are corrupting our own values supposedly in the name of our own values. No good can come from any of this.
It is the values of the Enlightenment that are most deeply embedded in the societies of the West, but they are, like our free market economic system itself, spreading outwards and across the globe. This is a wonderful thing, and I find it a hopeful change that will spread everywhere during the next century. By accusing the United States of some invisible latent racism will only aid the enemies of our Western way of life and undermine the ability to achieve the kind of societies we are all aiming to live in.
My kindest best wishes to you both.