Best Reads - Aug. 26, 2020
“A Better Anti-Racism” - Coleman Hughes, Persuasion
Coleman Hughes has become a really important commentator on social issues, race, and American life. Here, he delineates two competing views of racial reconciliation; reconciliation, embodied by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and race-consciousness, embodied in the new social justice warriors like Ibram Kendi and Robin DiAngelo. The difference comes down to a pretty stark binary: Would we rather race be the defining characteristic of individuals or not?
Hughes highlights the positive hopes for race-consciousness: “For black people, race-consciousness seems to promise more status and more access to opportunity. For white people, it promises a way to act on, rather than simply brood over, feelings of guilt over their complicity (real or imagined) in America’s past sins. For the nation as a whole, it seems to promise solutions to ongoing problems like mass incarceration and police brutality.” This totally undermines Dr. King’s vision that people would be judged on the content of their character, rather than the color of their skin. This vision enshrines race as a divisive and unsolvable issue. The most insidious aspect is the way that anti-racist advocates today engage in the kind of discrimination Americans have worked so hard to eliminate; “But any political program that insists that black people be held to a lower standard will never be able to bring black achievement up to those same rejected standards—and thus will struggle mightily to address racial disparity.”
Hughes calls for renewed support for King’s vision, a society in which every person is valued for their character and integrity, and each person is seen as an image-bearer. True racial reconciliation will come when we confront the racial issues in our country with humility, love, justice, forgiveness, and work toward the peace that only God can provide.
“The End of Secularism Is Nigh” - Tom Holland, UnHerd
Secularism is receding. A lot around the world shows religion on the rise and the facade of secular society slowly slipping away. Holland cites several recent examples in Turkey, India, and elsewhere of religious ascendancy, gives a brief history of the “secular state,” and makes a few projections about the future: “The summer of 2020, notable as it already is, will surely be remembered by historians of the future as a key waystop on what is likely to prove perhaps the key narrative of the 21st century: the decline of the West and the rise of a multi-polar world.” This is interesting from a geopolitical perspective, but it’s fascinating to think about it as a multi-polarity between religion and secularism.
“Clinesmith’s Guilty Plea: The Perfect Snapshot of Crossfire Hurricane Duplicity” - Kevin McCarthy, National Review
This is the first in a three-part series McCarthy is writing on the Crossfire Hurricane investigation and it should be required reading headed into November. The Durham report, Lindsay Graham’s investigation in the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Ron Johnson’s investigation in the Senate Oversight Committee may detail one of the worst political scandals in American history. The fact that it’s being dismissed as a conspiracy theory by some of the people who participated in it should be a sign of its seriousness. It can be hard to take Trump seriously when he talks endlessly about how he’s been treated, but he certainly has a point. McCarthy works through the Clinesmith plea and shows the slippery duplicity that runs all the way through this story, from Comey to Rice to Biden to Obama. The FBI and the CIA were used to spy on and sabotage the Trump campaign. You might agree with their underlying concerns, but you certainly cannot agree with their methods. This will become one of the most important stories of the election as time goes on.
“MathGate: Or the Battle of Two Plus Two” - Cathy Young, ARC
You wouldn’t think that 2+2=4 is a controversial topic, but in our world, everything is up for grabs. When James Lindsay tweeted that the rules of mathematics would be shunned as white Western oppression, the progressive left proved his point. Nicole Hannah-Jones, the editor of the 1619 Project at the New York Times, chimed in, followed by a chorus of woke mathematicians and teachers. You have to step back and marvel that the laws of logic have been drafted into the culture wars, but it goes to show that the politicization of every inch of society is almost complete.
If this argument is remembered as anything other than a reductio ad absurdum case study, it will be as a reminder that we need common spaces to function. There has to be a set of principles and maxims that people who live in the same society assent to. All of our engineers need to agree on basic math; it’s not racist or oppressive to say so. But it also reminds us just how comprehensive the neo-Marxist deconstruction of society is and how much credence has been given to racially motivated lines of reasoning. Get used to this line of reasoning. The ascendant worldview in our culture sees everything as an act of oppression, an exertion of power, and as an instance of violence. It’s not a particularly honest or coherent worldview and it also doesn’t seem to have any brakes.
“What Is Masterclass Actually Selling” - Carina Chocano, The Atlantic
You’ve seen the adds for Masterclass. Take a writing class from James Patterson, play tennis with Serena, learn leadership from Doris Kearns Goodwin. It’s one of the best ideas to come along in the streaming innovations of the last decade and the viewership ballooned during the pandemic. Chocano covers the startup and the interesting shift from viewing platforms like Masterclass through different lenses. Is it more like online education or Netflix? The genius is found in merging the two. But Chocano also notices something really significant about our culture. Toward the end of the article, she puts her finger on Masterclass’s appeal, “In a way, Masterclass seems ideally suited to frustrated 30-somethings for whom education has not necessarily resulted in upward mobility or even a job, who feel stuck in their career without a clear path to success.”
When I read this quote I thought less about the career crisis many young people are having (this was true before the pandemic) and more about the desire for mentorship and approval that have spurred it on. The appeal of Masterclass is that a world-renowned master would give you individual attention. Now, the fact that this attention is illusory only underscores the deeper problem. In a digitally connected age, people are starved for real, meaningful, personal investment. As Christians, we know this as discipleship, when someone comes alongside you and takes interest and responsibility in your growth. People are starving for discipleship - vocationally, relationally, and spiritually.
“The Inside Story of the $8 Million Heist from the Carnegie Library” - Travis McDade, Smithsonian Library
This story is pure interest. How often does $8m worth of rare books and manuscripts go missing? More than you might think, apparently. This story starts and ends with incunables - these are the first book printed using movable type, made between 1450-1500 - and the extraordinary collection of these artifacts in the Carnegie Library. This thief made off with a first edition of The Wealth of Nations, Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica, and a collection of sermons printed in 1472. When the collection was audited in 2017 using a 1991 inventory, they realized that over the span of 25 years, this caper had taken millions from the collection. This is a fascinating story for its intrigue and also for the reminder of the value of our cultural heritage.
Cole Feix is the founder and president of So We Speak. Follow him on Twitter, @cfeix7.