How Civilizations Die (An Ongoing Series)

by Jonah Goldberg

Last week, we debated whether it was socially acceptable (i.e., is it “racist”?) to use the word “thug” for people exhibiting thuggish behavior. It was a pathetic debate given that we could strike the word from our vocabulary tomorrow and it would A) not improve the plight of the inner-city poor one iota B) within minutes we’d find a new word to replace “thug” to describe goons, gangsters cads, ruffians, bandits and bullies and C) it was clear that people wanted to debate “thug” so they didn’t have to debate the causes of thuggishness. 

In my column today, I argue that the causes of inner-city thuggishness and myriad other problems are deeply tied to the cultures of bad neighborhoods. Already, I’m getting the usual complaints. I’m blaming the victim. It’s all about jobs. Raaaaacist! Yada yada.

What I find amazing is how many liberals love to denounce every kind of culture under sun — campus culture, rape culture, white culture, corporate culture — or at least argue about how important culture is (what is the “check-your-privilege” stuff other than an argument about culture?) but if you talk about inner city culture in a negative way, even when couched in concern, they freak out. Surely it can’t be the case that inner city culture is the only place in the realm where the culture is working perfectly? 

This sort of condescension would be instantly recognizable as itself racist if it were not for the good intentions and self-regard of the people displaying it. Still, it’s deadly. I got this email from a reader who liked my column (they exist too):

Hi Jonah,

I enjoyed reading your culture column. It all makes a lot of sense. 

I work at a community college. I’m not on the faculty (thank God for that!), but I do know a lot of faculty. I heard something very disturbing yesterday.

One of our faculty who teaches Composition I and II will not grade on grammar. She thinks that’s immoral. You see, correctly written and spoken English is the language of the rich and powerful. I’m not sure where the argument goes from there. It makes no sense to me. 

If I’m sending a teen off to Japan to make their way in that society, would I send them there with no knowledge of the language or the broader cultural differences?

How are any of these students supposed to be upwardly mobile if they’re not fluent in the “language of the rich and powerful?” 

I just can’t believe it – grammar is a social justice issue. It doesn’t help that a lot of what I do is editing. The things I have to correct in faculty submissions… oy.

Anyway — thanks for another great read!

[Name withheld]

There was a time when it was understood that the best favor you do for the under-privileged was to get them to a place where they could compete with the privileged. I’m sure this Composition teacher thinks she’s doing that. But she’s not. While it may be true that the poor kid with bad grammar and the “privileged” kid with good grammar (I use quotation marks because I don’t see community colleges as hotbeds of privilege of any sort) will get the same grades in her class, the kid with good grammar will be far better prepared for life beyond college. What may feel like compassion in the classroom is actually cowardice; the teacher is afraid to hurt the feelings of kids who, at some level, may need to have their feelings hurt if that’s the price of a good education. The notion that we help the under-privileged by leveling away distinctions between good grammar and bad grammar — or thuggishness and non-thuggishness — is quite simply an argument for dismantling civilization.

Speaking of leveling and education, there’s also this insanity from Down Under. Philosopher Adam Swift (a near perfect name if he were only joking) suggests that parents who read to their kids are giving them an unfair advantage

‘The evidence shows that the difference between those who get bedtime stories and those who don’t—the difference in their life chances—is bigger than the difference between those who get elite private schooling and those that don’t,’ he says.

This devilish twist of evidence surely leads to a further conclusion—that perhaps in the interests of levelling the playing field, bedtime stories should also be restricted.

Now, put aside the fact that any serious attempt to abolish bed time stories would be a pristine example of totalitarianism. Instead ask yourself the more reasonable question: WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE?!?

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