With all of the holiday commotion I have neglected to put up notice here of my final visit to Yale for this semester, this Tuesday at 4:30, in the same location as before (WLH 207, 100 Wall Street). Sponsored by the William F. Buckley Program, I’ll be giving a lecture on the topic of equality.
I’m going to begin with the droll opening line from Peter deVries’s novel The Prick of Noon: “The problem with treating people as equals is that the first thing you know they may be doing the same thing to you.” I think this perfectly captures the hypocrisy of the way progressive elites actually think about equality. From there I’m going to revive and update Aaron Wildavsky’s classic 1972 essay “The Search for the Oppressed” in which Wildavsky calculated that 374 percent of the American population were oppressed minorities.* Using his methodology and the current hierarchy of what is known as the “Oppression Olympics” on campus, I figure the number of oppressed minorities nowadays exceeds 700 percent of the population, though I’m still crunching the numbers.
But beyond this exercise in competitive victimology, Wildavsky was dead on about the incentives for the progressive class constantly to enlarge the number of oppressed victims, who naturally require the help of the progressive administrators, which naturally requires more power for the progressive administrators. Wildavsky:
[T[here are innumerable Americans with elite characteristics who, in our day, believe that status stems from the ability to improve the lot of those they define as underprivileged. This can be done only by discovering an underprivileged group that will allow the elite member to do something for it. But the old-time minorities are well populated with elites who have established a claim to have done (or who are trying to do) something for them. The best, the most efficient, the cheapest way of gaining reward, therefore, is to find a hitherto undiscovered oppressed minority and something for (or to) it before anyone else does. . .
It stands to reason that oppressed minorities do not proliferate in a just society. To justify its aspirations for leadership, therefore, the privileged elite has a vested interest in crying that society is foul. The need to rationalize the position explains an otherwise incredible phenomenon: Injustice in America grows apparently in direct proportion to efforts to alleviate it. . .
The beauty of the search for the oppressed is that it generates its own growth: The more minorities one finds, the more there turn out to be, for the discovery of oppressed-minorities (the two words uttered in the same breath, linked as if they were one) is invariably followed by efforts to compensate the victims in the form of special treatment.
Wildavsky, one of the most distinguished political scientists of his generation, passed away in 1993, so he did not live to see the proliferation of the various offices of “diversity and inclusion” on college campuses, but he certainly understood the underlying dynamic of what we today call “identity politics” quite clearly.
Ultimately the remedy for this madness is re-acquiring the proper understanding of the American idea of equality as propounded in the Declaration of Independence, which I’ll attempt to do in the balance of the lecture.
If you’re not in the New Haven area, not to despair—the lecture will be videotaped and posted on YouTube, and I’ll also make it into a podcast episode later on. And I’ll be visiting Yale again in the spring semester with another slate of lectures/provocations.
* The Wildavsky essay does not appear to be available online, but you can find it in a collection of his essays published in 1992 under the title The Rise of Radical Egalitarianism. Probably available on the second-hand book market.