Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Liberal culture?

In the US, there is always a huge identity issue for people who are well-educated and supposedly aware of what goes on in the world: are you a conservative or a liberal? While these terms aren't exactly models of clarity, "conservative" usually gets associated with opinions like opposing gay marriage and abortion, while "liberal" gets associated with more progressive views like pro-abortion rights and pro-gay marriage. To any one who's been part of the academic community in this country, it would be clear that academicians mostly fall in the "liberal" category.

To me personally, the liberal culture is of primary interest since it provides the "kinder" and more "progressive" end of the mainstream spectrum. So, I was at an NSF (National Science Foundation) panel meeting yesterday - we were deciding among 15 proposals from different universities, which were the best candidates to fund. Each proposal has to not only argue the technical points, but also point out the broader impact on education and outreach. I tend to read these sections with some interest since it shows some interesting attitudes. Witness what I read in one of the proposals. The PI (principal investigator) was arguing about the outreach and impact of his proposal. He had a category called "Inclusion of under-represented minorities". The first sentence in this read "Our database group is actively involved in recruiting under-represented minorities for research....". Very promising so far. Next, he said "Two of our current students are women...." justifying his previous claim.

I am not kidding - he was classifying women as a minority. I had to read it a second time to make sure that was what he was saying. And remember his background - its a liberal, well-educated community of intellectuals with PhDs, doing research and so on.

To those of you who've read the Carter administration's report "Crisis of Democracy", this kind of sensibility would immediately ring a bell. The "Crisis of Democracy" was a book-length report written by the Trilateral Commission, initiated by David Rockefeller, consisting of representatives from three world components of capitalist democracy - US, Japan and Western Europe. Their main concern was the "governability of democracies". The Carter administration was highly liberal - Jimmy Carter is in fact a winner of the Nobel Peace prize (here is a quote attributed to this martyr of peace. Talking about the Vietnam war, he said the US owed no reparations to Vietnam since "the destruction was mutual").

Back to the "crisis of democracy", the authors felt that what is called for "is a greater degree of moderation in democracy" to overcome the "excess of democracy" of the 60s. One of the threats that caused this "excess of democracy" was that "previously passive or unorganized groups in the population," such as "blacks, Indians, Chicanos, white ethnic groups, students and WOMEN -- (all of whom) became organized and mobilized in new ways to achieve what they considered to be their appropriate share of the action and of the rewards" (capitals are mine). Of course these groups were classified as "minorities", "some part of the population", etc. This was a serious threat to the governability of democracies since, according to the authors, "The effective operation of a democratic political system usually requires some measure of apathy and noninvolvement on the part of some individuals and groups," such as women.

This is what liberal thought really is.....


At 4:25 PM, Blogger Mustang said...


though I wont subscribe to the views in Carter report, one has to look at the term minority in context in fields you mention. for instance, there aren't many women in engineering faculty of most universities. labeling women as minority here will be politically and socially incorrect but taking measures to encourage women by acknowledging their presence is not necessarily a bad approach.

I was walking thru UW campus and found this posting; it calls for candidates who are "traditionally underrepresented"...just fell short of using the term minority but was clearly meant for women, afro-americans as b/w images on the posting showed afro-americans and women.

at times we get caught up in words so much tht we forget the intent.

At 5:33 PM, Blogger Raghav said...

Well, I would understand if women are referred to as "underrepresented". That's important to note, and also correct. Even the term "minority" used in isolation, given the context, would be ok. But the term used was "underrepresented minorities", which isn't the same.

The intent might well be to increase representation, but with what underlying attitude? To me, it seems to be a condescending one. And it's very common....

At 5:46 PM, Blogger Sunil said...

Raghav....there is something of a condescending attitude.....but more often than not, I feel it is a genuine desire to increase representation.

Just my 2c.


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