one or two barely-supported ideas spread very very thin,
Rezension bezieht sich auf: A Dream Deferred: The Second Betrayal of Black Freedom in America (Gebundene Ausgabe)
The main point of this book is that US society's only real motive in supporing affirmative action (and other policies that seek structural solutions to structural problems) is not authentic concern for American blacks, but merely trying to assuage a sense of guilt.
This is a promising start, but unfortunately Steele takes it nowhere fast. In the end it just turns into bad writing based on plain old unexamined assumptions. The main problem is the author simply assumes not that his POSITION is right and others' POSITIONS are wrong; but that HE is right and anyone else IS wrong. It turns into really silly double standards of the sort: I am reasoned, THEY are fuzzy-headed; I uphold principles, THEY are beholden to superficialities; I voice my objections, THEY mindlessly repeat slogans; I am responsible for my freedom and agency, THEY are all cowed and cowardly. I am strident; and they resent that! And so on, and so forth, until you don't know which is worse -- that, or his interminable verbal benders where he seems intent on constructing as many sentences as possible entirely out of abstract nouns. (Try the Shelby Steele drinking game: take a drink for every sentence including any three of the words "freedom", "merit", "virtue", "ulteriority", or "responsbility". Double-score for for "moral accountability".)
Now, some writers just have their quirks, but Steele's bad habits just go on and on until they crowd out absolutely everything else. He overuses scare quotes. He charges ahead with weird generalizations that just leave you scratching your head: "Thus kitsch is always an invitation to a consoling sense of superiority." It... it is? Always? Invitation? What? "Ersatz virtue will thrive precisely to protect us from the risk of being stigmatized that real virtue always entails." It does? "'Diversity' and 'multiculturalism' have no substance as ideas except where they connote perfection exactly where America was shameful." I try to figure out what this means, but I can't get past the scare quotes and the nebulous abstract nouns and the assertion of a negative.
Steele seems happiest when the abstract nouns he's constellating are nice short words that gloss over the grey areas of American life: upholding educational "standards" glosses over the possiblity that one's SAT score may be a measure of nothing more "virtuous" than one's ability to score well on the SAT; "responsibility" and "individuality" and even "freedom" are clean-cut concepts only in a world where everyone has equal access to credit, education, and personal or family wealth. But he treats these all as absolutes; you're free, or you're not. You're responsible, or not. The dualisms pile up.
And the grandest dualism of all is his view of American ethnicity: black people, and those white people who feel guilty about those horrible things they did to black people, what with national original sin and whatnot. With this laughably minimalist view as the starting point, it's no wonder he strains to fill 180 pages. Life is so simple when you can see only two colors.
And all the while I had the nagging feeling that if Steele'd bothered to have a look at the relationship between Native Americans and white America's guilt manifest thru government, he'd have a much broader and deeper history to test his abstract generalizations against. But why ruin a good theory with bothersome data, especially complicated data with lots of grey areas? But THAT could have made for a book worth reading.