E-Pluribus | October 14, 2021

Another take on CRT; school boards should listen to parents, not feel threatened by them; and Facebook doesn't mind a slanted playing field.

A round up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:

Wilfred Reilly: What Is Critical Race Theory, Really?

Everybody is talking about Critical Race Theory these days, but Wilfred Reilly isn’t sure everyone really knows what it is. Writing at City Journal, Reilly tries to cut through some of the noise to explain why CRT has so many parents concerned.

As the debate over the teaching of various critical theories in U.S. public schools has heated up, major papers have published wave after wave of articles denying that critical race theory is taught much at all outside law schools, while other writers have drawn the most technical of distinctions between “CRT” and other academic specialties like critical theory, whiteness studies, critical pedagogy, intersectionality, white fragility, white privilege theory, and so on.

This debate over semantics might provide an interesting basis for a panel at a scholarly conference, but it’s of little use or interest for parents concerned that their children are being taught partisan nonsense. While technical differences exist between the various critical paradigms, virtually all of them share three baseline assumptions: that racism is “everywhere,” and supposedly neutral systems, such as policing or standardized tests, are set up to oppress minorities; that to prove the existence of this oppression one need only note that large groups perform at different levels; and that the solution to this problem is equity—or proportional representation of all groups across all endeavors.

None of this is an exaggeration. The quote about racism being “everyday” and constant comes from Richard Delgado, one of the founders of critical race theory. The claim that group differences must indicate racism or other prejudice comes from no less a critical eminence than Ibram X. Kendi, who has famously said that the only possible explanations for such gaps are either oppression or literal genetic inferiority. Kendi has also proposed a federal-level Department of Anti-Racism. Along with these core ideas of “systemic racism” generally come a basket of other woke concepts like white privilege, “cultural appropriation,” “intersectionality,” the Black Lives Matter take on policing, and the idea of constant interracial conflict and crime.

Read it all.

Brian Jones: Furious parents at school board meetings have a right to speak. We should listen to them.

Speaking of concerned parents, Brian W. Jones, former Education Department counsel and former member of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, explains at the Washington Post why concerned parents should not be written off as troublemakers. Jones recalls his own experiences with charter school parents whose passion helped him understand what was at stake as they advocated for their children’s education.

[T]he National School Boards Association addressed a letter to President Biden requesting assistance from federal law enforcement in investigating threats [and] Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that the FBI would coordinate with local leaders and law enforcement to address a “disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers and staff.”

Violence or the imminent threat of it, we can all agree, is beyond the pale. But I worry about the Justice Department’s actions seeming to imply that angry, even disruptive and intimidating parents should be silenced.

As the Justice Department proceeds, I would urge it to do so carefully. For it is also important that our civic institutions and the public servants who lead them model respect for the freedoms of assembly and expression that define us as Americans.

[…]

I initially came to the PCSB with a philosophical zeal for the idea that choice in education was the answer to what ailed our urban public schools. The relentlessness and disruptiveness of distressed parents taught me that choice is only part of the solution.

It’s no exaggeration to say their outrage made me a better public servant. They unmoored me from my ideology. I still believe in education choice, but I appreciate better that not all parents prioritize the same things. I understand more strongly the value of transparency. I have a more acute sense of the importance of engaging, and educating, stakeholders.

Read the whole thing.

Joe Lancaster: Facebook Welcomes Regulations, Specifically Those That Hurt Its Competition

The behavior of Big Tech companies is often inconsistent when it comes to free speech, particularly when it comes to how the industry should handle concerns related to it. Joe Lancaster at Reason says that it should be no surprise Facebook favors at least some regulation by the government because the social media behemoth knows its competitors will likely be hit harder than Facebook itself.

Lately, Section 230 has been in the crosshairs of both political parties, though for different reasons: Republicans feel that the social media giants censor too much content, while Democrats feel that they do not censor enough. Any fine-tuning of the law would almost certainly never pass such an evenly divided Congress. Besides, the last time Section 230 was amended was with the passage of 2018's Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), which has ultimately done more harm than good.

Any potential repeal or revision, however, would likely only serve to insulate Facebook as the world's most popular social media site, as well as to discourage competitors.

"Section 230 was vital to Facebook's creation, and its growth," Kosseff explains, "but now that it's a trillion-dollar company, Section 230 is perhaps a bit less important to Facebook, but it is far more important to smaller sites. Facebook can handle defending a bunch of defamation cases on the merits much more than a site like Yelp or Glassdoor."

Yelp, for example, states in its content moderation section that it forbids "hate speech, bigotry, racism, or similarly harmful language;" however, they also "don't typically take sides in factual disputes." Under a robust Section 230, Yelp is able to maintain that stance without having to worry about being sued over content that users post on the site. Without it, they would risk defamation suits or takedown requests by businesses who get negative reviews; since even the most frivolous lawsuits would require time and money to fight, Yelp may become completely unreliable if businesses are able to pick and choose their own reviews.

Read it all here.

Around Twitter

Cathy Young comments on a thread by author Mark Harris (excerpts of Harris’s thread below) that appears to simultaneously downplay “cancel culture” and also justify it:

Here’s a short exchange on the Dave Chappelle/Netflix controversy":

And finally: