Preferences as Sideshow

I had to read this post by Reihan Salam — one of Andrew Sullivan’s guest bloggers — a couple times to get what he was saying. It’s been a long day and me stupid. But, without reading all of his links, Salam seems to be saying that the demand for racial quotas at universities is rooted in the liberal elite’s vanity more than anything else. They’ve internalized the notion that only “diverse” institutions are legitimate and therefore they want the institutions which conferred power and prestige upon them to be diverse, i.e. legitimate. He goes on to say that the real issue should be to raise incomes of American blacks. But that would require elite liberals to drop their vanity and work on hard questions rather than defending the status quo, which is so much more rewarding.

It’s an interesting point of view, though I don’t buy it, or at least not completely. I suppose I agree that serious progressives should be more worried about the broader condition of the poor and of poor blacks. But I don’t think you can call the fight for how our leading civilizing, culture-transferring and, yes, wealth conferring institutions pick and choose their students a “sideshow.” Besides, without knowing specifically how he plans to raise “incomes” for the more deserving (according to him), I think as a general proposition the world of higher education is hardly a sideshow to that project either. But, again, it’s been a long day.

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