Narratives and Nonsense

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More than four months have passed since North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper unequivocally declared Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty, and David Evans "innocent of all charges" in the infamous Duke Non-Rape, Non-Kidnapping, and Non-Sexual Assault Case, yet the True Believers in Durham, Duke University, and the mainstream news media continue to spin the same story: "Something" happened. Now, the "something" ranges from out-and-out rape to an unspecified assault, but since "no one really knows what happened that night," the three young men must be guilty of "whatever happened."

Anyone who knows something about logic and who has even a small understanding of science also knows that the entire story was a lie. No one even touched Crystal Mangum that night and the realities of time and space make it impossible, given what all of the objective evidence tells us, but that is not good enough for people who Claim to Be More Intelligent Than The Rest Of Us, or who simply are not going to let go of a Good Story.

Take Sally Deutsch, Duke’s dean of the Social Sciences of Trinity College, for example. Historian Ralph Luker recalls talking to her at a recent conference:

She bristled noticeably when I said that, after all, he’d (blogger and historian K.C. Johnson) turned out to be correct about the lacrosse case. "You mean about the charges being dropped?," she asked. I started to say: "No. Read my lips: u2018There was no rape.'” But the hairs were already standing up from the back of her neck up over to her eyebrows and her eyes were flashing.

Deutsch had signed the infamous "We’re Listening" advertisement of April 6, 2006, along with 87 of her other colleagues. The series of statements, which appeared in the Duke Chronicle, praised the protesters who called for the white Duke lacrosse players to be "castrated" and given "equal measures," and thanked the protesters for "not waiting" to find out the truth. After all, they already knew the truth, even if they didn’t know it.

Furthermore, in statements made by many Duke faculty members and others following the very public exoneration, the True Believers have made it quite clear that Cooper’s words mean nothing. By emphasizing that since one cannot "prove" a negative, the three young men are guilty until proven guilty. Literally, with much of the Duke faculty, absolutely nothing has changed; in fact, the very dropping of the charges, should one follow the thinking of Dean Deutsch, is in itself a travesty of justice.

One asks how we ever got to this point where facts don’t matter and, to further the point, the insistence upon emphasizing the facts of the case is in itself “proof” of guilt. The answer lies in the modern application of academic Marxism, for while Marx and his Labor Theory of Value have long been discredited among economists, the Marxian "narrative" and the "polylogism" of which Ludwig von Mises writes in Human Action have become the polestar of higher education. One cannot understand what is happening in disciplines such as literature, English, history, sociology, and the gaggle of “identity studies” (such as African American Studies, Womens’ Studies, Queer Studies, and the like) that are dominating much of the academic curriculum, unless one understands the Marxist mindset, with its emphasis upon “narratives” and power.

People who are skeptical about this particular direction in which academe is headed call it "political correctness," and that is not far off the mark, even though those on the academic left who first coined that term now are angry whenever someone throws it back at them. Indeed, if politics is about the usurpation of raw power by those in "authority," then "political correctness" is an excellent term to describe what is happening, for modern academe is geared at increasing the power of the state to impose a way of life that all of what one might call "natural law" rejects. The belief is that the political process can be marshaled in a manner in which those in power can force people to do what they never would do otherwise and even change the very face of nature itself.

While the hardcore political correctness has come to full fruition (if that is possible) in the past 15 years, the hard left has been dominant in higher education for nearly four decades. For example, when I was at the University of Tennessee in 1974, one of my religion classes was force-fed out-and-out communist Chinese propaganda, which touted the "economic miracle" that Mao supposedly had brought to that country.

My religion professor was not the only one who was enthusiastic about "Mao’s Miracles." I recall reading a Sojourners interview with Dorothy Day about 30 years ago in which she held communist China as the shining example of God’s politics. China, she beamed enthusiastically, had no real poverty and no "want." Everyone was happily fed and clothed, and while the whole process might have been costly, nonetheless it was worth it. (The editor of Sojourners, Jim Wallis, was equally enthusiastic about Mao’s modern paradise.)

Let us contrast this academic and religious enthusiasm with what really went on during that period, if nothing else to demonstrate how people like Day, Wallis, and my former "religion" professor willingly and wholeheartedly embraced the Big Lie. Lew Rockwell writes:

What is most striking about these product criticisms is how historically insular they appear in light of the modern history of China. This is a subject that is deeply painful, horrifying in its detail, highly instructive in helping us understand politics — and also puts into perspective these reports of recent troubles in China. It’s a scandal, in fact, that few Westerners are even aware, or, if they are aware, they are not conscious, of the bloody reality that prevailed in China between the years 1949 and 1976, the years of rule by Mao Zedong

How many died as a result of persecutions and the communist policies of Mao? Perhaps you care to guess? Many people over the years have attempted to guess. But they have always underestimated. As more data rolled in during the 1980s and 1990s, and specialists have devoted themselves to investigations and estimates, the figures have become ever more reliable. And yet they remain imprecise. What kind of error term are we talking about? It could be as low as 40 million. It could be as high as 100 million — or more. In the Great Leap Forward from 1959 to 1961 alone, figures range between 20 million to 75 million. In the period before, 20 million. In the period after, tens of millions more.

As scholars in the area of mass death point out, most of us can’t imagine 100 dead or 1000. Above that, we are just talking about statistics: they have no conceptual meaning for us. And there is only so much ghastly information that our brains can absorb, only so much blood we can imagine. And yet there is more to why China’s communist experiment remains a hidden fact: it makes a decisive case against government power, one even more compelling than the cases of Russia or Germany in the 20th century.

Let me go on, using Mr. Rockwell’s words:

The communization of China took place in the usual three stages: purge, plan, and scapegoat. First there was the purge to bring about communism. There were guerillas to kill and land to nationalize. The churches had to be destroyed. The counterrevolutionaries had to be put down. The violence began in the country and spread later to the cities. All peasants were first divided into four classes that were considered politically acceptable: poor, semi-poor, average, and rich. Everyone else was considered a landowner and targeted for elimination. If no landowners could be found, the “rich” were often included in this group. The demonized class was ferreted out in a country-wide series of “bitterness meetings” in which people turned in their neighbors for owning property and being politically disloyal. Those who were so deemed were immediately executed along with those who sympathized with them.

The rule was that there had to be at least one person killed per village. The number killed is estimated to be between one and five million. In addition, another four to six million landowners were slaughtered for the crime of being capital owners. If anyone was suspected of hiding wealth, he or she was tortured with hot irons to confess. The families of the killed were then tortured and the graves of their ancestors looted and pillaged. What happened to the land? It was divided into tiny plots and distributed among the remaining peasants.

Next, Mr. Rockwell describes the "Great Leap Forward," which according to people like Day, Wallis, and my "religion" professor, resulted in the satiation of wants for the lucky people of Mao’s China:

As the rivers of blood rose ever higher, Mao brought about the Hundred Flowers Campaign in two months of 1957, the legacy of which is the phrase we often hear: “let a hundred flowers bloom.” People were encouraged to speak freely and give their point of view, an opportunity that was very tempting for intellectuals. The liberalization was short lived. In fact, it was a trick. All those who spoke out against what was happening to China were rounded up and imprisoned, perhaps between 400,000 and 700,000 people, including 10 percent of the well-educated classes. Others were branded as right-wingers and subjected to interrogation, reeducation, kicked out of their homes, and shunned.

But this was nothing compared with phase two, which was one of history’s great central-planning catastrophes. Following the collectivization of land, Mao decided to go further to dictate to the peasants what they would grow, how they would grow it, and where they would ship it, or whether they would grow anything at all as versus plunge into industry. This would become the Great Leap Forward that would generate history’s most deadly famine. Peasants were grouped into groups of thousands and forced to share all things. All groups were to be economically self-sufficient. Production goals were raised ever higher. (Emphasis mine)

Remember, this was something that the intellectuals in the United States were praising as the Answer To World Hunger, yet in reality, it violated all of natural law. Of course, Mao even believed (as did western intellectuals) that even the laws of botany could be superseded by the Glories of Socialism:

Mao had this idea that he knew how to grow grain. He proclaimed that “seeds are happiest when growing together” and so seeds were sown at five to ten times their usual density. Plants died, the soil dried out, and the salt rose to the surface. To keep birds from eating grain, sparrows were wiped out, which vastly increased the number of parasites. Erosion and flooding became endemic. Tea plantations were turned to rice fields, on grounds that tea was decadent and capitalistic. Hydraulic equipment built to service the new collective farms didn’t work and lacked any replacement parts. This led Mao to put new emphasis on localized industry, which was forced to appear in the same areas as agriculture, leading to ever more chaos. Workers were drafted from one sector to another, and mandatory cuts in some sectors was balanced by mandatory high quotas in another.

In 1957, the disaster was everywhere. Workers were growing too weak even to harvest their meager crops, so they died watching the rice rot. Industry churned and churned but produced nothing of any use. The government responded by telling people that fat and proteins were unnecessary. But the famine couldn’t be denied. The black-market price of rice rose 20 to 30 times. Because trade had been forbidden between collectives (self-sufficiency, you know), millions were left to starve. By 1960, the death rate soared from 15 percent to 68 percent, and the birth rate plummeted. Anyone caught hording grain was shot. Peasants found with the smallest amount were imprisoned. Fires were banned. Funerals were prohibited as wasteful.

Villagers who tried to flee from the countryside to the city were shot at the gates. Deaths from hunger reached 50 percent in some villages. Survivors boiled grass and bark to make soup and wandered the roads looking for food. Sometimes they banded together and raided houses looking for ground maize. Women were unable to conceive because of malnutrition. People in work camps were used for food experiments that led to sickness and death.

By now, readers are wondering why I am comparing the intellectuals and China to the Duke Lacrosse Case. After all, one involved the starvation and murder of millions of innocent people, and the other was a false rape charge in which those accused did not spend a day in prison.

My point, however, is not to compare the enormity of Mao’s crimes with what Nifong and his supporters did. Instead, my larger point is that these two things flow from the same mindset: the "narrative" is everything. In the case of China, the "narrative" was that socialism protects and feeds "the poor," so anything done in the name of socialism is good, and if there are problems, they must be due either to the remnants of Trotsky’s supporters or to capitalist propaganda, since socialism by definition cannot oppress the poor.

That socialism goes against human nature and natural law itself is irrelevant; the "narrative" is what matters, not outcomes. Likewise, in the Duke case, it was the "narrative" that drove the stories, not the facts, especially since it is linear-thinking, White Oppressive Eurocentric Males that drive logic and "natural law."

Thus, as Newsweek’s Evan Thomas told American Journalism Review’s Rachael Smolkin, "The narrative was correct, but the facts were wrong." Daniel Okrent, the former public editor for the New York Times, which had some of the worst coverage in this case, does Thomas one better:

“It was too delicious a story. It conformed too well to too many preconceived notions of too many in the press: white over black, rich over poor, athletes over non-athletes, men over women, educated over non-educated. Wow. That’s a package of sins that really fit the preconceptions of a lot of us.”

Indeed, the press and their academic allies wanted us to believe that the very facts of nature could be overlooked in pursuit of this "delicious" story. We were told to believe that three large, young athletes could squeeze into a tiny bathroom space (one former realtor in Durham said that as soon as he knew the address of the house where the rape was supposed to have taken place, he realized the bathroom was too small for it to have occurred as now-former prosecutor Michael Nifong and the Durham police said it did).

We were told to believe that three strong, young men could beat and rape a woman for 30 minutes and there be absolutely no bruises or marks on her and that although none of the men wore condoms and supposedly ejaculated, not even one cell of DNA of any Duke lacrosse player left anywhere on her body. As one feminist nurse who was insisting that there really was a rape told Nifong, since rape is a crime of "power," the players magically were able to keep their DNA from transferring.

We were told to believe that Reade Seligmann could be in two places at one time, and when police arrested on trumped-up charges the African immigrant cab driver who had been transporting Seligmann at the exact time Reade was supposed to be raping Mangum, there was no outcry in the press, at Duke, or anywhere else. The cab driver, Moez Elmostafa, was an impediment to this righteous prosecution, so if he had to be destroyed, well, "In order to make an omelet, one must break eggs," to take a favorite saying from socialists and American intellectuals.

Lest anyone think that I am taking the "narrative" business too far, take the recent paper in the Southern Illinois University Law Journal by Susan Kosse, an associate professor of law at the University of Louisville Brandeis Law School. Entitled "Race, Riches, and Reporters: Do Race and Class Impact Media Rape Narratives? An Analysis of the Duke Lacrosse Case," the article goes on to excoriate the media for apparently not believing that the three young men raped Crystal Mangum.

As one who read hundreds of articles and Internet postings, disbelief of Crystal Mangum was not the central problem of the media, and especially the mainstream media. In fact, journalists across the country were anxious to believe Mangum and Nifong and willfully discounted all of the exculpatory evidence in the pursuit of the "delicious" story. As blogger K.C. Johnson writes about Kosse’s article:

…Kosse concludes that the Duke case could signal an alarming "trend" in which "the media favors the rich, white defendants." This development could impact "true victims coming forward to tell their stories." Her evidence? In the articles that she reviewed, a "20% difference" existed "between the sympathy statements for the victim [sic, Mangum] and the offenders [sic, the lacrosse players] in the Duke coverage," which "actually shows an increase in pro-offender [sic] statements from the ten earlier cases [from 1980 through 1986]." Kosse never explains how favorably describing the personal characteristics of the lacrosse players should be classified as "pro-offender" given that Seligmann, Finnerty, and Dave Evans were innocent.

Johnson goes on to point out just how ridiculous Kosse’s "narrative" viewpoint really was:

According to Kosse, the Duke case showed that "the media must be careful not to unwittingly advance only one side’s story." Was she talking about the fawning coverage granted to Mike Nifong’s ethically improper pre-primary publicity crusade? No. Instead, she was describing defense attorneys, who "talked freely and often provided the media with uncontested statements questioning the credibility of the woman. The media seemed eager to report anything the defense had to say."

Meanwhile, "the victim [sic] has only spoken to reporters once and been out of the public’s eye for months. The absence of her viewpoint contrasted starkly with the defense u2018spin’ after the indictments."

Kosse never defines what specific remarks constituted "defense u2018spin’." The defense attorneys did say — repeatedly — that their clients were innocent, that there was no evidence of rape, and that Mangum was not credible. As the Attorney General’s investigation revealed, all of those statements were true. Can the truth be considered "defense u2018spin’"?

When there is a "narrative" to protect, however, truth is whatever the intellectuals want it to be. No doubt, there were plenty of people in this country fawning over Mao when he was declaring that seeds are "happiest when growing together," and figured that Trotsky’s descendants or capitalist running dogs must have sabotaged the crops. After all, Mao was operating according to the “correct narrative,” so he must have been right.

It never occurs to the intellectuals that the "narratives" generally are nonsense, and dangerous nonsense at that. My religion professor, who always was preaching "social justice" in class, was perfectly happy to see the lives of millions of people snuffed out in order to create a "politically correct" world.

Furthermore, it is abundantly clear that the "intellectuals" at Duke have learned nothing. In fact, they regard the very innocence of the lacrosse players as being oppressive to them. How dare these racists and rapists be innocent! That violates the narrative! The narrative cannot be wrong! And so it goes. And goes. And goes.

August 22, 2007

William L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him mail], teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland, and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He also is a consultant with American Economic Services.

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