Ethnic Studies and Hxrstory: Not Doubleplusgood
By Pierre Lemieux
In his last book, The Fatal Conceit, Nobel Laureate economist Friedrich Hayek seemed too pessimistic on the future of civilization. But when one looks at the current project of a mandatory Ethnic Studies class for California high school and Cal State students (“Ethnic Studies May Soon Be Mandatory. Can California Get It Right,” August 13, 2019), some pessimism is warranted.
Hayek believed that traditional, evolved morality formed the basis of a civilized society. He was referring to rules of property, freedom, justice, exchange, privacy, and such. (He pointed out that some moral rules, such as those related to sexual mores, may need to change because they have outlived their usefulness: he was a classical liberal more than a conservative.) His pessimism came from the danger of social-engineering society with non-tested morals:
I do claim that, whether we like it or not, without the particular traditions I have mentioned, the extended order of civilization could not continue to exist … and that if we discard these traditions, out of ill-considered notions of what it is to be reasonable, we shall doom a large part of mankind to poverty and death.
The Los Angeles Times (“Cishereropatriarchy. Hxrstory. The Language of Ethnic Studies Explained,” August 13, 2019) reports a few definitions from the glossary of the State of California’s draft model curriculum of Ethnic Studies, including:
Capitalism — an economic and political system in which industry and trade are based on a “free market” and largely controlled by private companies instead of the government. Within Ethnic Studies, scholars are often very critical of the system of capitalism as research has shown that Native people and people of color are disproportionately exploited within the system. In a capitalist economy, surplus value (profit) is generated from human labor and everything is commodified.
Hxrstory — pronounced the same as “herstory,” hxrstory is used to describe history written from a more gender inclusive perspective. The “x” is used to disrupt the often rigid gender binarist approach to telling history.
That is not doubleplusgood, could we say in the Newspeak of Orwell’s 1984, a language modified to make sure that nobody has the words and the grammar to entertain critical thoughts.
The California project will be modified following public comments, perhaps into a horse designed by a committee, but it is in the spirit of the times. It reminds me of the serious academic who criticized rigor in engineering as “a thinly veiled assertion of white male (hetero) sexuality”; or the other academic authors who claimed that “ice is not just ice” and invoked “the feminist glaciology framework” against “those who dominate and frame the production of glaciological knowledge.” Add the problem of “the gendered discourses of science and knowledge, and the way in which colonial, military, and geopolitical domination co-constitute glaciological knowledge.” (See my post “‘Ice is not Ice’ and the Limits of Conversation“.)
Bill Evers of the Hoover Institution says:
Instead of an objective account of the history of ethnic groups and their current situation, this is a biased portrait emphasizing suffering and victimization, serving as a kind of road map to create ideological activists based on racial identity. Will you be graded on having the politically correct answers?
Paradoxically, it seems, teaching “ethnic studies” aims at making all students intellectually identical and equally miserable.
ERRATUM: As Mark Brady commented (see below), I (and, it appears, the Los Angeles Times) confused the proposed high-school curriculum and the different legislation regarding Cal State. My quote is from the former.