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      Roland Frerking

      1619’s Woke Pulitzer

      Dreta Thunberg didn’t quite win her heat, but Nikole Hannah-Jones of the 1619 Project (literally) took the gold in hers. Shortly after the teenage Swedish climate expert was again nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, following a 2019 defeat, 1619’s “NHJ” stepped forward to accept the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction commentary. Make no mistake: while in different lanes, the two activists were running in the same race — the social justice left’s all-out bid for capture of the major Western institutions of discourse. The victory of at least one of them is troublesome, meriting discussion here.

      What is aggravating about 1619 is very specific: the Project represents (1) flawed scholarship that is (2) being promoted by political partisans for specific ideological reasons. The multiple foundational flaws of 1619, however, make it almost unavoidable. Most notably, as has been widely discussed elsewhere, Hannah-Jones’ keystone essay for the Project claimed that a “primary” motivation for the American colonists in rebelling against Great Britain was the desire to protect Black slavery — alongside of or rather than taxation without representation, conflicts over French and Indian war debt, and literal armed exchanges like the “Boston Massacre.”

      Hannah-Jones’ bizarre allegation about the morally malicious motivations of our Minutemen hardly stands alone as a false or debatable assertion made by the Project. Across one or more of its essays, the Project also claims that slavery largely built the wealth of the United States — ignoring the backwater status of the feudal antebellum South, the horrific 610,000-man toll of the Civil War, and the immigration-driven 11,796 percent increase in national GDP ($15 billion to $18.64 trillion) between 1865 and today. The Project contends that Black people for the most part “fought back alone” against racism and discrimination — ignoring the fact that the Civil Rights Act was passed by a 99 percent white Senate and signed into law by the distinctly non-West African Lyndon Baines Johnson. For good measure, one 1619 essay even claims that “segregation caused your traffic jam.” In exurban Chicago: really now? Motivated largely by NHJ’s “Revolutionary War” claim, but quite possibly also by the combined weight of arguments like these, 1619’s own fact checker recently wrote a remarkable and hilarious essay for Politico, headlined, “I Helped Fact-Check the 1619 Project; The Times Ignored Me.”

      Obviously, the argument that virtually every aspect of American culture — capitalism, non-single-payer health care, even how we drive and the amount of sugar we eat — is a direct result of chattel slavery is a boon to those (Congresswoman Omar comes to mind) who often seem to see America as evil, and who certainly want to change her dramatically. If the USA lacks single-payer health care not because only 31 percent of Americans favor it (Pew 2018), but rather because of a disregard for human life ushered in under slavery, establishing a more European model quite arguably becomes a moral imperative. Similarly, if aggressive capitalism is a legacy of Black enslavement — something Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and particularly Singapore would be shocked to discover — moderating the whip-scarred current system is an immediate ethical necessity.

      Those backing 1619 are openly making those arguments as often as they can, to listeners as young and impressionable as possible. The Project has already developed a professionally packaged grade school curriculum in partnership with the Pulitzer Center, which can be examined here. This curriculum has already been adopted by some 3,500 school districts, including adoptions district-wide by the city of Chicago and the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. The curricular website for 1619 makes no real attempt to hide the Project’s end-game goals, at one point asking the question, “What is national memory, and how can we change it?”

      The attempt by “social justice” activists to use conventionally respectable institutions such as the Pulitzer Center or the Pulitzer Prize Committee to mainstream radical ideas like 1619’s is not something conservatives are imagining, it is not a matter of coincidence or accident, and it is not limited to the field of journalism. The influential Marxist writer Antonio Gramsci long ago argued that leftists — who are hardly likely to dominate enterprise business, the military, sport, agriculture, or organized religion under most circumstances — should focus on seizing control of the institutions of “discourse,” to promote an alternative “hegemony” to middle-class norms. To a very significant extent, this appears to have occurred across multiple fields in the modern West, so that major awards and prizes of recognition go to the most “woke” works rather than the best.

      Many opinions held by the social justice warrior set are amplified by their near-control of mass media, but are shared by virtually no Americans. On a lark, I recently used anonymous Twitter polls to ask a diverse and fairly representative group of followers their positions on some woke points of faith — biological males who identify as women should be allowed to play women’s sports, upper-middle class people of color are oppressed, and so on. Very consistently, I found that only 2 to 3 percent of those to privately respond agreed with these theses, whatever they might say in public. Similarly, most people know that The Shape of Water is not a better and more watchable movie than 1917 (or Black Panther), and that the American Revolution was not fought to prevent freedom, and for that matter that potential Nobelist Thunberg is not also a world-leading expert on COVID-19.

      When the organs of culture say things that frankly seem insane, my honest suggestion would often be: turn off the damn TV for a bit, pour and sip a Scotch, and never let yourself become confused enough to forget America’s real birthday — July 4, 1776.

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