don’t be an accelerant

So this is deeply related to the post yesterday, but it reflects on the online version of things. It’s complex and so I have to write at length, so if you don’t feel like reading a couple thousand words, please exercise your privilege not to read it.

As with my post yesterday, I want to take a second and say that I think the basic dynamics of “political correctness”/ social justice politics/ social media activism/ language policing/ etc are misrepresented by all sides. Discussion of the frequently toxic environment in which social justice politics occur tends to assume certain camps. One of those camps is liberal/left critics of these politics who criticize them on grounds of fairness, political strategy, and compassion. The other camp is perceived as activists who defend these politics on grounds of respect, recognition of massive inequalities in privilege and voice, and the right of oppressed groups to dictate the conversation. The thing to understand, and I think a big part of the problem, is that these are tactical differences that are frequently misrepresented as ideological and demographic.

One of Chait’s biggest problems is that he defines political correctness as a marker of extremity, but in fact radicals are often the most committed critics of language policing. Meanwhile, some of the people who defend political correctness are fairly moderate Democrats. Casting this debate as one of ideological extremity simply confuses things and makes it harder to parse. But the real misunderstanding, in my view, is the demographic assumptions. Typically, these debates are represented as a matter of white, middle class-to-affluent journalists lecturing activists of color who are working class or come from working class backgrounds. So, for example, Michelle Goldberg’s essays about these issues are frequently criticized on those grounds, that she is an established white journalist who attacks marginalized women of color activists. That situation is often used to define the broader debate.

As with my post about real-world debates of this kind yesterday, I simply do not recognize that as the world of Twitter storms and online trashing. Very frequently, both the loudest voices and the ones who seem most intent on creating personal strife are in fact white and from affluent backgrounds themselves. That’s not to take away prominence from the large and growing body of passionate, committed activists of color online. Instead, it’s to say that I think there is in fact a third camp, one that has huge impact on these various battles but almost never gets discussed. And I think they’re the problem.

First, let me say this about anger. Perhaps the first thing that any critic of vicious social justice politics must do is recognize the perfect legitimacy of rage as a reaction to structural  oppression. When you have been born in a racist and sexist world, and you grow into adulthood to find that world has improved very little, rage is a profoundly understandable, human reaction. While I disagree tactically with people who defend angrier online political engagement, my criticism is never about anger as such. Anger is a necessary political impulse. And while I will continue to argue that this form of engagement is counterproductive, I will also take care to recognize that it’s really easy for me to say so. It is easy for me, who lives outside of structural oppression, to counsel others to be tactically reserved in the face of an unjust world. I still will  counsel them to do so because I see no alternative to growing the coalition. But such talk is cheap coming from me, isn’t it? This is something that many critics of political correctness (including some who enthusiastically shared my last post) will never recognize: the fundamental legitimacy of the anger and frustration that causes the nastiness in online politics. Oppressed peoples who express that anger are the victims of it, not the progenitors of it. The responsibility for it lies with injustice and inequality.

However, while white leftists like myself have a responsibility to recognize that our tactical emotional remove is a luxury not shared by everyone in our coalition, that responsibility cuts the other way as well. We have a responsibility to recognize that we have the ability to inject more anger into the situation without having the same personal stakes as members of outgroups. And that responsibility really is profound, because too often these days, self-professed white allies inject emotion into inter-left debates in a way that is an artifact of their privilege, without considering the inherent superior need of the oppressed for political victory. This is my problem with the third camp.

I have come to calling the third camp the accelerants.

Last semester, I started to develop an academic research project on #CancelColbert. I had to abandon it, as I just had too much on my plate. But I did a bunch of initial data gathering, and in that period I looked at literally thousands of Tweets from that controversy. It was there that I really got a sense that the typical conception that toxic online politics emerge from people of color, women, or the working class is wrong. Again and again, I found that the people who really caused the deepest nastiness appeared to be self-style white allies. Given the anonymity of Twitter, it wasn’t always possible to ascertain these things, and I will admit that this is more of an anecdotal impression than a systematic review. But so often, the people who raised the rhetorical stakes, the people who got really nasty, the people who made it all personal, were not the activists of color but the white allies. And I found this slice of people to be a really strange phenomenon. Often, they did not have any particular markers of being activists away from Twitter. They typically didn’t have their own writing careers. They seemed to only engage in that space. And they seemed only to engage in that way. I can’t tell you how many accounts I found that seemed simply to pinball from one online controversy to another, raising the stakes wherever they could, making progress impossible. They don’t do the organizing and advocacy that the actual activists do, and they don’t perform the necessary function of internal criticism that all healthy political movements need. They just exacerbate conflict and slander people.

So I’ve come to think that the battle is not really, or not just,  between (largely white and established) critics of political correctness and (largely people of color and working class) activists for political correctness, but a matter of those two groups getting pulled into deeper and nastier and more destructive conflicts by a third camp that largely goes unnoticed. And they have this built-in defense that is highly effective and incredibly cynical: when you criticize them, the accelerants, they attack you for criticizing the activist camp. When you say “you’re just being nasty and unhelpful,” they say “why are you lecturing women of color from your position of privilege,” even though they themselves aren’t women of color. They treat traditionally oppressed groups as a defensive device. I have had confrontations where I have said “look, this behavior sucks,” and gotten the reply “don’t criticize activists of color,” and had to say “I’m not criticizing activists of color, I’m criticizing you.” That method of instrumentalizing people of color is deeply, deeply ugly.

As I have gotten older, I have grown more and more convinced that the most important element of politics is stakes. Stakes. Skin in the game. And the accelerants demonstrates how a difference in stakes can render the most ardent allies into a part of the problem. For the urge to simply intensify every conflict demonstrates an indifference to political progress that can only emerge from privilege, from a lack of stakes. Why not throw gas on every fire, when you know you’re never going to get burned? Chait discusses the way in which burnout develops from these kinds of conflicts, the way people end up giving up out of exhaustion. And, indeed, I have observed in my life some of the more vituperative political voices I know grow jaded by the nastiness they themselves have helped create. But this is where stakes comes in most directly: because these people are white and educated and financially comfortable, they could withdraw from politics in a way that people of color and the working class simply can’t. A woman of color activist can cease to take part in activism, but the reality of racism and sexism will follow her wherever she goes. This is what I mean by stakes, the difference whether politics is a choice or an enforced condition. And it’s what I find most cynical about the accelerants; they have the luxury of engaging with maximum anger and ugliness, and then withdrawing when they run out of steam. For them, and for me, withdrawal is possible, and so the urge to engage in a vicious way comes without as many consequences. No such release valve really exists for the activists of color in whose name the accelerants trash others. This is what we mean when we talk about privilege.

In darker moments, I sometimes wondered whether the accelerants I was observing around #CancelColbert were plants, fakes, forces of establishment power who are deliberately undermining the left. But the reality is probably a lot more mundane and, in a sense, sadder. Some of these people really do just want to cause chaos and start shit for its own sake. But most of them, I think, probably think that they’re really helping, that they’re really being good allies. They’re motivated by self-aggrandizing impulses and they can be impossibly cruel, but many of them have deluded themselves into think that, by turning every conflict into a mudfight, they somehow are speaking truth to power.

And I have to learn to be more forgiving of them, at least to the degree possible. Some of them are responsible for situations that I can’t forgive, like the disgraceful smear campaign against Amber Frost and Megan Kilpatrick. But many of them are just thoughtless and clumsy, not really noticing or caring whether they are actually doing good rather than being good, convinced that their good intentions are all that matter. And just as I ask that we all be more understanding and forgiving to good people who sometimes say dopey things, I have to counsel myself to be more  forgiving of these people too.

So to them I say: don’t be an accelerant. Be a passionate advocate when necessary. Speak truth to power when you feel it’s right. But train your powerful tools of criticism  of others on yourselves, and be ruthless when it comes to your own good intentions. Ask yourself: when I intensify this conflict, when I beat my chest and declare someone evil, when I throw fuel on the fire, am I really helping the people of color and women I claim to speak for? When I go for the jugular again and again, am I actually helping to solve injustice? Is this kind of engagement from me an instrument of political progress? If not, why am I doing it? How am I contributing to this cause?

Because if you don’t do  this  kind of self-analysis, if you don’t subject your own behavior to harsh scrutiny, if you allow yourself to wear the mantel of white progressive righteousness as a bulletproof vest, if you always trust your good intentions rather than consider your actual impact on the world, you’re guilty of a profound abuse of privilege.

I don’t know what to do, you guys

So, to state the obvious: Jon Chait is a jerk who somehow manages to be both condescending and wounded in his piece on political correctness. He gets the basic nature of language policing wrong, and his solutions are wrong, and he’s a centrist Democrat scold who is just as eager to shut people out of the debate as the people he criticizes. That’s true.

Here are some things that are also true.

I have seen, with my own two eyes, a 19 year old white woman — smart, well-meaning, passionate — literally run crying from a classroom because she was so ruthlessly brow-beaten for using the word “disabled.” Not repeatedly. Not with malice. Not because of privilege. She used the word once and was excoriated for it. She never came back. I watched that happen.

I have seen, with my own two eyes, a 20 year old black man, a track athlete who tried to fit organizing meetings around classes and his ridiculous practice schedule (for which he received a scholarship worth a quarter of tuition), be told not to return to those meetings because he said he thought there were such a thing as innate gender differences. He wasn’t a homophobe, or transphobic, or a misogynist. It turns out that 20 year olds from rural South Carolina aren’t born with an innate understanding of the intersectionality playbook. But those were the terms deployed against him, those and worse. So that was it; he was gone.

I have seen, with my own two eyes, a 33 year old Hispanic man, an Iraq war veteran who had served three tours and had become an outspoken critic of our presence there, be lectured about patriarchy by an affluent 22 year old white liberal arts college student, because he had said that other vets have to “man up” and speak out about the war. Because apparently we have to pretend that we don’t know how metaphorical language works or else we’re bad people. I watched his eyes glaze over as this woman with $300 shoes berated him. I saw that. Myself.

These things aren’t hypothetical. This isn’t some thought experiment. This is where I live, where I have lived. These and many, many more depressing stories of good people pushed out and marginalized in left-wing circles because they didn’t use the proper set of social and class signals to satisfy the world of intersectional politics. So you’ll forgive me when I roll my eyes at the army of media liberals, stuffed into their narrow enclaves, responding to Chait by insisting that there is no problem here and that anyone who says there is should be considered the enemy.

By the way: in these incidents, and dozens and dozens of more like it, which I have witnessed as a 30-hour-a-week antiwar activist for three years and as a blogger for the last seven and as a grad student for the  past six, the culprits overwhelmingly were not women of color. That’s always how this conversation goes down: if you say, hey, we appear to have a real problem with how we talk to other people, we are losing potential allies left and right, then the response is always “stop lecturing women of color.” But these codes aren’t enforced by women of color, in the overwhelming majority of the time. They’re enforced by the children of privilege. I know. I live here. I am on campus. I have been in the activist meetings and the lefty coffee houses. My perspective goes beyond the same 200 people who write the entire Cool Kid Progressive Media.

Amanda Taub says political correctness “doesn’t exist.” To which I can only ask, how would you know? I don’t understand where she gets that certainty. Is Traub under the impression that the Vox offices represents the breadth of left-wing culture? I read dozens of tweets and hot take after hot take, insisting that there’s no problem here, and it’s coming overwhelmingly from people who have no idea what they’re talking about.

Well, listen, you guys: I don’t know what to do. I am out of ideas. I am willing to listen to suggestions. What do I do, when I see so many good, impressionable young people run screaming from left-wing politics because they are excoriated the first second they step mildly out of line? Megan Garber, you have any suggestions for me, when I meet some 20 year old who got caught in a Twitter storm and determined that she never wanted to set foot in that culture again? I’m all ears. If I’m not allowed to ever say, hey, you know, there’s more productive, more inclusive ways to argue here, then I don’t know what the fuck I am supposed to do or say. Hey, Alex Pareene. I get it. You can write this kind of piece in your sleep. You will always find work writing pieces like that. It’s easy and it’s fun and you can tell jokes and those same 200 media jerks will give you a thousand pats on the back for it. Do you have any advice for me, here, on campus? Do you know what I’m supposed to say to some shellshocked 19 year old from Terra Haute who, I’m very sorry to say, hasn’t had a decade to absorb bell hooks? Can you maybe do me a favor, and instead of writing a piece designed to get you yet-more retweets from Weird Twitter, tell me how to reach these potential allies when I know that they’re going to get burned terribly for just being typical clumsy kids? Since you’re telling me that if I say a word against people who go nuclear at the slightest provocation, I’m just one of the Jon Chaits, please inform me how I can act as an educator and an ally and a friend. Because I am out of fucking ideas.

I know, writing these words, exactly how this will go down. I know Weird Twitter will hoot and the same pack of self-absorbed media liberals will herp de derp about it. I know I’ll get read the intersectionality riot act, even though everyone I’m criticizing here is white, educated, and privileged. I know nobody will bother to say, boy, maybe I don’t actually understand the entire world of left-wing politics because I went to Sarah Lawrence. I know that. But Christ, I wish people would think outside of their social circle for 5 minutes.

Jon Chait is an asshole. He’s wrong. I don’t want these kids to be more like Jon Chait. I sure as hell don’t want them to be less left-wing. I want them to be more left-wing. I want a left that can win, and there’s no way I can have that when the actually-existing left sheds potential allies at an impossible rate. But the prohibition against ever telling anyone to be friendlier and more forgiving is so powerful and calcified it’s a permanent feature of today’s progressivism. And I’m left as this sad old 33 year old teacher who no longer has the slightest fucking idea what to say to the many brilliant, passionate young people whose only crime is not already being perfect.

listen to Adolph Reed

Here’s a really interesting conversation on the Remix with Dr. James Peterson with Dr. Adolph Reed, one of the most prescient, brilliant commentators on left-wing politics, race, and activism. I highly recommend you listen to it; it’s less than a half hour.

I don’t agree with Dr. Reed on everything. In particular, I’m much less critical of the #BlackLivesMatter protests than he is. I am typically annoyed by left-wing criticisms of actually-existing protest movements in favor of some theoretical better protest movements. We’ve got people in the streets, doing  real mass protest actions in response to immense injustice, and that’s inspiring to me. But if anyone has credibility to criticize, it’s Dr. Reed, who has not only vast academic background on these issues but a long history of street-level organizing and activism. A few thoughts.

1. I am pro-reparations because I think that American racial inequality is fundamentally economic in nature, first and foremost, and even those aspects of inequality that are not first-order economic are perpetuated by black America’s lack of economic power. Cutting checks to black people would do more to defeat structural racism (and improve quality of life) than most other reforms. However, as Dr. Reed himself is, in the most basic sense of reparations as payment  for historical crimes, I’m agnostic. The means testing that genealogy-based reparations would require, as Dr. Peterson mentions, would be incredibly onerous, would leave out some black people who surely suffer from structural disadvantage, and cause enormous unhappiness. In contrast, broader-based social democratic reforms that redistribute wealth in a variety of ways are likely far more politically possible (even if they seem remote right now) and would likely have equally beneficial results for black America. So I favor reparations in the sense that I think it’s just and right if the government cuts checks to black Americans, but only as part of a larger sense in which I think redistributing wealth is a key component of moral and economic progress.

2. I think that pop culture is inherently political, and there’s all kinds of political resonances and lessons that can be drawn from pop culture. But as Dr. Reed suggests, there is a kind of made-up quality about cyclical pop culture political battles that distorts and exhausts. Iggy Azalea vs. Azealia Banks is not politics; it’s a politics-like substance that mostly serves to steal attention and energy away from real political and racial issues.

3. The analogy of certain kinds of political practice, and particularly social media politics, with kayfabe is brilliant.

the Inside Higher Ed purchase is a bellwether

Via Gawker, a private equity firm that is massively invested in for-profit colleges has purchased a controlling stake in Inside Higher Ed, a publication that covers colleges and universities. That’s about as direct a conflict of interest as you can get.

1. Inside Higher Ed should not be trusted as a source of legitimate news about for-profit colleges and universities any longer, and perhaps not trusted as a legitimate source of news, period. Treat anything published by it about for-profit colleges like PR or advertising, because that’s essentially what it’ll be.

2. I’m willing to bet that this is going to happen a lot more often. The continuing financial troubles of journalism as an industry has to have industry licking its chops. We’re already seeing more and more fusion between for-profit entities and magazines, paper or digital — “advertorials,” “native content,” and various other weaselly terms I refuse to write without scare quotes. I have always found it profoundly insulting when people claim that the purpose of these ventures is not to fool readers into thinking that the copy they’re reading is like any other story; if so, why wouldn’t they then make them entirely visually different? If there’s no intent to confuse, then make them as visually and obviously distinct as possible. Well, now we’re going a step further. Rather than trying to get these publications to run your advertising in a way designed to confuse advertising for editorial, or to use your PR flacks to pressure them to give you favorable coverage, why not cut out the middle man and buy them outright? And as this happens more and more, people will be more and more inclined to simply call this standard operating procedure. Hey, everyone else is doing it! Why not us?

Winograd’s dilemma

Via the Dish, I read this hype-ridden piece on the “astonishing” progress of Google Translate, and this far more sober piece by Lance Ulanoff. Ulanoff writes,

“Initially… the translation was perfect, but when I started to speak in longer sentences, it basically fell apart and got a lot of it wrong. As I tested with others who spoke in Greek, German and French, we noticed the same thing. We could never completely rely on Google translate to get the words right.”

This is, I think, a constant dynamic in tech circles: astonishment, followed by growing dissatisfaction and frustration. So what makes machine translation difficult?

I could go on about these issues forever. (Put a beer in me and I’ll talk your ear off about why both the Chomskyan approach and the Peter Norvig approach are at an impasse when it comes to actually decoding language as a system.) Let’s pick one particular issue for true machine translation: the dilemma put forth by Terry Winograd, professor of computer science at Stanford. (I first read about this in this fantastic piece on AI by Peter Kassan.) Winograd proposed two sentences:

The committee denied the group a parade permit because they advocated violence.

The committee denied the group a parade permit because they feared violence.

There’s one essential step to decoding these sentences that’s more important than any other step: deciding what the “they” refers to. (In linguistics, we call this coindexing.) There are two potential within-sentence nouns that the pronoun could refer to, “the committee” and “the group.” (Note that both are singular and “they” is plural, so one thing machine translation has to overcome is problems with formalist grammar!) These sentences are structurally identical, and the two verbs are grammatically as similar as they can be. The only difference between them is the semantic meaning. And semantics is a different field from syntax, right? After all, Chomsky teaches us that a sentence’s grammatically is independent from its meaning. That’s why “colorless green ideas sleep furiously” is nonsensical but grammatical, while “gave Bob apples I two” is ungrammatical and yet fairly easily understood.

But there’s a problem here: the coindexing is different depending on the verb. In the first sentence, a vast majority of people will say that “they” refers to “the group.” In the second sentence, a vast majority of people will say that “they” refers to “the committee.” Why? Because of what we know about committees and parades and permitting in the real world. Because of semantics. A syntactitian of the old school will simply say “the sentence is ambiguous.” But for the vast majority of native English speakers, the coindexing is not ambiguous. In fact, for most people it’s trivially obvious. And in order for a computer to truly understand language, it has to have an equal amount of certainty about the coindexing as your average human speaker. In order for that to happen, it has to have a theory of the world, and that theory of the world has to not only include understanding of committees and permits and parades, but apples and honor and schadenfreude and love and ambiguity and paradox….

Some might say that this is a particularly bad example to pick with Google Translate, because it is a probablistic engine; rather than trying to parse the syntax-semantics interface for these sentences, it would merely see how these sentences or parts of sentences have been translated in the past, assign a certain probability to a given set of translations being correct, and act accordingly. (In terms of pure translation, anyway, it would only have to faithfully provide an equivalent language-specific reading of the English text to speakers of other languages, but I’m afraid in some languages that would entail having to coindex the pronoun itself.) That’s true– but it’s precisely that probabilistic nature, that reliance on chance, that leaves Ulanoff and his partners frequently unable to understand each other past a certain level of complexity. In order to do that — in order to go from pretty good to legitimately astonishing — I believe machine translation would have to move beyond Bayesian probabilistic approaches and towards developing an actual theory of the world for their models, which would entail a functioning theory of mind. Outside of Doug Hofstadter, hardly anyone is even trying  to do that. (As my friend Alex Waller says, “It’s okay to discuss the pros and cons of AI, but we need to admit actual AI will almost certainly not exist in our lifetimes.”) So for now we’ll have to settle for OK and recognize that there’s always going to be the odd WTF awful translation popping up, because of what the human language capacity can do and computers can’t.

it’s good for me to feel this kind of revulsion

This piece from New York magazine about a daughter-father sure is… something. As you might expect, it’s produced a feeling of visceral revulsion in me. I also think that since the uncoerced and informed consent of all parties is the only criterion for whether sexual conduct should be permissible, I think it should be legal. In those two opinions — that the relationship is viscerally unpalatable to me and that it should be legal — I imagine I am joined by a majority of progressive types.

But I also think that it’s very healthy for me to be feeling grossed out by other people’s consensual sexual practice. It’s good from the standpoint of living in a democratic society; it’s always beneficial for one side of controversial political questions to  actually experience the stakes of the other side. I am part of a social and political movement that thinks we should permit those sexual practices that involve the consent of adult, informed, uncoerced partners, and that do no harm to others, and further that we should be tolerant towards those who practice sexual acts that we don’t. But in the realm where this has had the most widespread valence, sex and marriage between partners of the same sex, the negative consequences for me are very low, because I don’t feel any revulsion towards those things. It’s easy for me to advocate tolerance towards them because for me they don’t require tolerance at all. So this experience, of feeling grossed out by practice that I think we have to tolerate, is a healthy way to experience the other side of that equation.

Now some will immediately say that there is a qualitative and substantive difference between same-sex relationships and incestuous relationships, differences in power and in rarity and in civic need, etc. And I agree completely; those two things are not the same. (You can expect, of course, a deluge of tweets saying “deBoer thinks gay sex and incest are the same!”) The point is not that I think that these behaviors are comparable, but rather that the feeling of revulsion I feel towards the act described is (as far as I know) similar to the feeling of revulsion that opponents of same-sex relationships feel towards those acts. And that, fundamentally, is a healthy political experience. It’s not like I hold these two revulsions to be equal from my own perspective; I would not tolerate the public expression of revulsion towards gay sex from people I am friends with, while I would be very surprised if I had many friends who didn’t feel revulsion towards father-daughter incest. But as a matter of genuinely understanding what I have long insisted other people should believe if they want to be enlightened and moral political beings, I find the comparison useful.

I find political learning for me is precisely as useful as it is difficult. No political lesson that ever came easy to me has had much use. Politics really mean something when they hurt. And one of the problems with politics is that most of our lessons come easy and pain-free, whichever side we’re on.

I also think that we need to get used to hearing more about these things that gross us out. Because consent, as powerful and essential of an instrument as it is, does not have the power to make sex palatable for all of us. And when you think that civic morality should not have any place in dictating consensual adult sexual practice, that will inevitably have consequences beyond the ones you intended. That’s life, that’s politics.

looks like The Atlantic needs to print a retraction

The Atlantic recently printed a sensationalistic story about the perceived difficulty for even the highest-achieving poor minority students to get into the City University of New York system. The article reflected on a claimed general trend but focused significantly on an individual student. CUNY objected to some of the article’s claims, and a minor correction was appended to the story and a subhead changed. But CUNY has posted a long list of other problems, and these look like major flaws that seriously undermine the entire intent of the article. On the student who is the centerpiece of the story (forgive the lengthy excerpt):

Your story continues to lead with ten paragraphs and two photographs about Mr. Kenneth Rosario….

The prior version you put on line yesterday only cited his rejection from Hunter College and Baruch College. You neglected to mention that his first choice was the venerable City College of New York and the fact that he was accepted into the prestigious CCNY Andrew Grove School of Engineering.

Today, you still did not mention that CCNY was his first choice—he was accepted and declined. Please explain.

You mentioned that he was accepted at New York City College of Technology—but you did not mention that it was his second choice.

You mention that he was accepted to Brooklyn College ( he declined) but you omit the fact that this was his third choice.

You mention he was accepted to Lehman College (he declined) but you omit the fact that this was his fourth choice.

And inexplicably, you omit the fact that Mr. Rosario listed Hunter College and Baruch College as his fifth and sixth choices.

The authors claim ,“After being rejected from CUNY’s top business college, Rosario decided to give up on business and pursue electrical engineering.” Your “correction” at the end of the article is also not correct. Here is why:

First, he applied to CUNY, including CCNY and the Andrew Grove School of Engineering, in November, 2012, before he received any communication from Baruch College. He chose electrical engineering on his original application and was accepted to CCNY. In fact, he completed a supplemental application specifically required by applicants to the Grove School of Engineering at CCNY.

Second, in his application to Baruch College, he specifically listed his preferred major as “Computer Information Systems”—not business, as the authors and the correction claim. So he did not list business as his intended major. He also did not list business as his preferred major on his application for Brooklyn College and Lehman College where there are substantial business programs.

And on the broader question of minority enrollment in CUNY, the post goes on at length about what appear to be simple factual errors. For example:

The article paints an inaccurate picture of declining minority enrollments at CUNY highly selective colleges. The authors of the piece received enrollment data from CUNY in October, 2014 indicating that new Black student enrollment increased by 1 percent over the period from 2008-2009 to 2013-14. Hispanic new student enrollment increased by 5% over the same period.

In addition, since the fall of 2013, the upward trend has continued. The number of Black students admitted to CUNY’s highly selective senior colleges has increased by 15% and the number of Hispanic students has increased by 23%. The representation of both groups has also risen as a percentage of all new students:

The article states that “overcrowded two-year community colleges have filled up with more black and Latino students”. Over the last decade the percentage of Black students at the CUNY community colleges has decreased by 4 percentage points while Asian students has increased by 2 percentage points.

There could always be more to the story, but unless The Atlantic can offer up some serious contrary evidence, I don’t see how they can let the piece stay up.

boy, this Selma vs. Boyhood debate is going to blow

So my prediction is that both Selma and Boyhood will be nominated for Best Picture in the Oscars, they will be the two runaway favorites, and their status as such will prompt an endless, wearying, vituperative inter-liberal squabble that will bring out absolutely everything wrong with contemporary media progressivism. It’s going to suck so hard. We’re in for a months-long trip on the Problematic Hot Take Express.

And I’m not even predicting an outcome, here. I’m not picking a favorite. Both movies are going to be hurt by this. If Selma wins, it’ll get people whining that it only won because of political correctness, which sucks, but it’ll also get the more subtle liberal version, where people condescendingly refuse to evaluate the movie’s actual virtues and secretly make their appreciation all about them. If Boyhood wins, it’ll get destroyed for being about white self-obsession, mostly by self-obsessed white writers. They’ll be infected with the modern contagion where everything becomes a symbol of culture war. The only thing worse for these movies than losing will be winning.

We’re not going to get to actually appreciate them as movies. Selma has already rapidly become one of those artistic objects that our chattering class will not allow to exist simply as art, and instead is used as a cudgel with which to beat each other over various petty ideological sins. I’d like to just watch it, first, before I have to run it through the second-order meta meat grinder. Yes, I get it, there’s a debate to be about the nature of history and the responsibility of nonfiction film makers to stick to it. (And I’ll just mention that most people seem to be on literally the opposite side of the fence they were when it came to Lincoln and the question of historical accuracy, and along predictable political grounds.) That stuff’s important. But the way we argue about these things now, where your opinion on Beyonce is this all-encompassing acrostic on who you are as a political and moral being, is least likely to actually produce insight.

So much of this is going to proceed from the fact that our media is filled with people who presume to speak for those who lack privilege but who enjoy it themselves, racial and economic privilege. The difference in stakes between those who suffer under racism and classism and most of those who just write about them distorts the conversation over and over again. Which leads to things like last year, where people preemptively complained about the racism inherent in 12 Years a Slave not winning, whining about American Hustle and white privilege, and then actually seemed disappointed when 12 Years did win. You know you’re a privileged person when the fun of complaining about injustice outweighs the pleasure of a just outcome.

Could there be a national conversation the various issues playing out here that was edifying, smart, and meaningful? Sure. Will there be? Hahahaha, no! There’s tons of important things to be said about the relationship between art and politics, about the continuing racism of Hollywood, about what it means to be universal in the way that Boyhood is frequently praised for (and largely black films usually aren’t), about what it means to be Oscar-bait in the 21st century…. But I can pretty much guarantee you that we won’t have an effective conversation about any of it, because lately our whole apparatus seems broken. When those two cops got killed in NYC, I thought to myself, “we are not equipped for this.” I knew we did not have it in us, as a national conversation, to talk about it in a productive way. Obviously, the stakes there were far higher. But more and more, I feel like the problem is not just that we live in a broken world, but that our systems for talking about how to fix it are broken themselves. Even the daily outrage cycle seems more exhausted than destructive, at this point. Everybody’s spent.

I’m just gonna tap out, on this one. I’m just gonna avoid all of the takes to come. I haven’t got it in me.