A recent issue of Duke Magazine featured three members of the Group of 88 showing that critical self-reflection is not a hallmark of Group scholarship.
The first essay—coupled with a bizarre photograph—came from Karla Holloway, identified as “James B. Duke Professor of English and professor of law.” (Holloway is the very rare member of an elite law school’s faculty who does not possess a J.D.)
Holloway’s essay is a paean to the right to privacy. Writes she,
The right to privacy that allows us to associate our homes with sanctuary and that places the highest value on an "inviolable personhood"—a nineteenth-century notion of "the right to be let alone"—is a right we still understand and desire today. But in twenty-five years, I suspect that we will barely recognize how public—and indeed how violated—our inviolable personhood has become. In fact, we have encouraged some of this slippage. The threat of terrorism has been enough to persuade us to accept warrantless searches. And when these searches became virtual in the form of warrantless wire-tapping, it seemed merely a change of venue rather than a loss of constitutional rights. In the battle between privacy and national security, the nation followed its fears.
Holloway also expresses grave concern about how DNA—even when given up voluntarily—can cause a loss of privacy. “As the science advances, the material you sent in for one purpose may end up being used for something entirely different—from medical research for the public good to tracking down a suspected criminal in your family, using the very genetic markers you made available for discovery.”
Is this the same Karla Holloway who couldn’t be bothered when a local judge demanded that some Duke students who weren’t even in Durham County the night of an alleged crime had to turn over their DNA, under force of compulsion, to local authorities? We all know how Holloway responded to that loss of privacy—she signed onto the Group of 88’s statement, proclaiming that something had “happened” to the accuser and thanking protesters who had (in another seeming violation of privacy) blanketed the campus with “wanted” photos of the lacrosse players.
You’d think that having seen this remarkable transgression of privacy rights, occurring to students at her own institution, might have caused Prof. Holloway to reflect on her part in events of 2006 and 2007. But it appears that for the ”James B. Duke Professor of English and professor of law,” some invasions of privacy aren’t much of a problem.
Duke Magazine also brought to alumni the insights of Group of 88’er Paula McClain. McClain, who offers a variety of courses on race and American politics but seemingly teaches nothing else, cautioned that the election of Barack Obama does not signal “the end of issues of race or racism in the U.S.”
McClain concedes that, yes, the African-American Obama received a higher percentage of the white vote than did the white John Kerry. And she also notes that he carried a majority of the vote from younger whites. But these facts, she cautions, shouldn’t detract from Victimology 101, “because so many areas of structural inequality in the U.S. have existed for so long.”
How should this “structural inequality” be addressed? McClain doesn’t say, although she implies support for a continued racial preferences scheme coupled with government assistance to minorities. And even if Obama did everything she wanted, the Group of 88’er asserted that “much would remain to be done after he leaves office.”
McClain concluded with an off-the-wall comment: “As the nation becomes increasingly multiracial over the next twenty-five years, the imperative to confront these inequities will be even more important if the nation is to continue moving forward.”
Of course, “as the nation becomes increasingly multiracial,” the racial preferences system will almost certainly become harder to sustain. To take the most clear-cut example—higher education admissions—the testing data suggests that African-Americans benefit from “diversity” admissions primarily at the expense not of whites but of Asian-Americans. How would this problem be addressed in the “increasingly multiracial” United States? McClain doesn’t seem interested in exploring the matter.
Duke Magazine readers also got to hear from Cathy Davidson (shown, like Holloway, in a somewhat peculiar photograph). In a passage that could have applied to her fellow Group of 88’ers, Davidson maintained, “Given the ever-increasing rapidity and magnitude of change on a global scale, we all need to master the precious and formidable skill of being able to stop in our tracks, discard the road map that has failed us, and try a different route on the unpredictable journey ahead.”
Her essay mostly consists of complaints that good grades don’t predict future success and that universities don’t have enough “interdisciplinary” offerings (which, freed from even the limited constraints of disciplinary bounds, are particularly appealing for the politically correct). The time has come, writes Davidson, for “radical educational transformation.” Of course.
Davidson, McClain, and Holloway would be well-served by reading an essay published last week by Cass Sunstein, President Obama’s nominee to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, whose work I have cited on other occasions in the blog. The title could be a description of the Group of 88: “To become an extremist, hang around with people you agree with.”
As Sunstein notes, research shows that “much of the time groups of people end up thinking and doing things that group members would never think or do on their own . . . when people find themselves in groups of like-minded types, they are especially likely to move to extremes. And when such groups include authorities who tell group members what to do, or who put them into certain social roles, very bad things can happen.“
What explains group polarization? According to Sunstein, the key “involves the exchange of new information. Group polarisation often occurs because people are telling one another what they know, and what they know is skewed in a predictable direction. When they listen to each other, they move.” Applied to the Duke case: In the race/class/gender world of the Group of 88, where dissenting opinions are rarely if ever heard, the natural development was a movement to a position that was more extreme than what all but a handful of the Group of 88 (perhaps Wahneema Lubiano, Grant Farred, and Eduardo Bonilla-Silva) would have taken on their own.
Again describing a phenomenon we saw with the Group of 88, Sunstein notes, “People tend to respond to the arguments made by other people — and the pool of arguments, in a group with a predisposition in a particular direction, will inevitably be skewed in the direction of the original predisposition.”
The contrast: “Those who lack confidence and who are unsure what they should think tend to moderate their views. Suppose that you are asked what you think about some question on which you lack information. You are likely to avoid extremes. It is for this reason that cautious people, not knowing what to do, tend to choose some midpoint between the extremes. But if other people seem to share their views, people become more confident that they are correct.”
As we saw with the lemming-like signatures to the “clarifying” letter, in which Group members proudly proclaimed they would never apologize, a certainty of their rightness characterized the Group throughout the case.