Thursday, September 09, 2004


Textbook Bias, Parts III & IV

Since I've been remiss in posting here--both because of teaching duties and because Blogger has been a royal pain in the ass lately--I'll post two subsections of the left-center-right section from the Giannetti book.

Chutry from Wordherders didn't see the bias in the last excerpt--I think that once I have posted the whole thing, it will perhaps become more obvious. There is a value judgment being made here.


Relative Versus Absolute

People on the left believe that we ought to be flexible in our judgments, capable of adjusting to the specifics of each case. Children are characteristically raised in a permissive environment and encouraged in self-expression, as in My Life as a Dog. Moral values are merely social conventions, not eternal verities. Issues of right and wrong must be placed in a social context, including any mitigating circumstances, before we can judge them fairly.

Rightists are more absolute in judging human behavior. Children are expected to be disciplined, respectful, and obedient to their elders. Right and wrong are fairly clear-cut and ought to be evaluated according to a strict code of conduct, as in Pinocchio. Violations of moral principles ought to be punished to maintain law and order and to set an example for others.

Is it really necessary for me to fisk this in order to reveal the bias? Do I really need to point out the difference between saying "people on the left" and "rightists"? Between the kindly leftist being decribed above versus the punitive and inflexible person on the right? Christ--this passage drips with bias.

The next one is more subtle, and at least calls leftists "leftists":

Secular Versus Religious

Leftists believe that religion, like sex, is a private matter and should not be the concern of governments. Some left-wingers are atheists or agnostics, although some of the most famous have been members of the clergy, like the leaders of the American Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. Most leftists are humanists. Religious skeptics frequently invoke the authority of science to refute traditional religious beliefs. Others are openly critical of organized religion, which they view as simply another social institution with a set of economic interests to protect, as in Aguirre, the Wrath of God. Leftists who are religious tend to be attracted to "progressive" denominations, which are more democratically organized than authoritarian or hierarchical religions.

Rightists accord religion a privileged status, as in The Virgin Spring. Some authoritarian societies decree an official faith for all their citizens, and nonbelievers are sometimes treated as second-class citizens, if they are tolerated at all. The clergy enjoy a prestigious status and are respected as moral arbiters. Piety is regarded as a sigh of superior virtue and spirituality.
The left is consistently described in positive terms, and is equated with freedom and liberty. The right is consistently associated with authoritarianism.

The excesses of the left--those that have resulted in societies like the former Soviet Union, North Korea, Cuba, and Vietnam--are ignored. The excesses of the right are on full display, and the right is described almost exclusively in negative terms.

This is biased.

Yep, I'm a 'herder. Figured I'd be clear/honest about that rather than linking to my student/class blogs on Blogger.

I think this passage clarifies your argument about the text--no fisking necessary. I have a tremendous amount of imaptience for this kind of short-hand sociology, and the second passage is pretty transparent in its politics without any real/effective support for its positions, which I regard as a bigger fault than articulating a political position.

Regarding the first passage you quoted, I'd imagine that many people on the right, including people I knew from my parents' church, would agree that discpline, respect, and obedience are valuable but wouldn't see that position as being incompatible with kindness and caring.
I think what really bugs me is that when academics write things like this in books that are considered "authoritative," we simply contribute to the great left/right divide. Instead of trying to solve sociological problems, we simply perpetuate them. That's my big beef with identity politics.

Guess I'm just a massively disillusioned idealist.
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