IQ2 Debate: John McWhorter & Michael Eric Dyson

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24 Jun 2021, 6:28 pm

I missed this one, it looks like it was toward the end of last year, but it the assertion that's being evaluated:

Is it a winning strategy?

Michael Eric Dyson (famous for the Toronto debate a few years back with Jordan Peterson) argues yes.

John McWhorter, Columbia University Linguistics professor and frequent on Glenn Loury's podcasts , argues no.

I'm not all that far in yet but John stressed some things that seem profoundly important as the core issues, the first one seems obvious and I'm surprised it doesn't come up more often and some of the others are a bit more subtle, in particular giving a big nod perhaps to Peter Turchin's work about overproduction of graduate degrees:

1) End the drug war.
2) Improve literacy education.
3) Free contraception for low income women.
4) Get rid of the perpetual push for four year degrees and up, encourage vocational school more.

In particular the first strikes me as being of increased relevance not just for the black community but poorer communities in general - ie. decrease the homicides related to the illegal market and take this off the plate with respect to policing.

I'll finish this while I'm working this evening hopefully, but I like as well that there's a lot of agreement on fundamental realities - ie. they're not talking past each other, just have very different views on what viable solutions look like.

"The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. To be your own man is a hard business. If you try it, you'll be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privelege of owning yourself" - Rudyard Kipling


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27 Jun 2021, 8:34 pm

Overall I thought Dyson was too light on specifics and McWhorter's solutions didn't go far enough. The first three I agree with (although it's odd to treat the first two as separate issues from racism when its a big part of the reason for the drug war and underfunded schools). Treating an excess of college degrees as a problem for African-Americans specifically is bizarre, since they are less likely to have degrees than the population as a whole. People see college as a better path to the middle class than vocational school because unions have declined and wages are stagnating in blue-collar industries. If too many people are getting college degrees, the solution is to make non-college jobs more profitable.

I hate the term "identity politics" because it lumps together a lot of disparate and contradictory ideas and feeds into the right's narrative that the status quo is neutral and that the left is the source of division. It doesn't make sense to call it identity politics merely because group identities are being mentioned if the goal is to have them matter less in the long run. McWhorter seemed uncharitable to Dyson (and the comment section was much worse) but Dyson's vagueness results in people interpreting what he says through the lens of whatever they already believe about identity politics. Dyson's correct in saying that a lot of racist policy is hidden behind a veneer of neutrality but beyond pointing this out its unclear exactly what he thinks the strategy should be. He made a great point about healthcare near the end and I wish he expanded on it and went into how economic issues could unite the working class across racial lines.