Few things that start with “Not to alarm you, but…” end up not being alarming. This was exactly that case with a blog post appearing on the American Mathematical Association’s website last week. The article begins;
“Not to alarm you, but I probably want you to quit your job, or at least take a demotion. Statistically speaking, you are probably taking up room that should go to someone else. If you are a white cis man (meaning you identify as male and you were assigned male at birth), you almost certainly should resign from your position of power. That’s right; please quit. Too difficult? Well, as a first step, at least get off your hiring committee, your curriculum committee, and make sure you’re replaced by a woman of color or trans person. Don’t have any in your department? HOW SHOCKING.”
The article continues in equal parts incoherent and disturbing fashion for some 1500 words. The author, Piper Harron, a Ph.D. and lecturer of Mathematics at the University of Hawaii, shows herself to be shockingly ignorant of many things in her non-mathematical blog post.
Mrs. Harron suggests in order to “end sexism” (or something) that universities;
“Stop hiring white cis men (except as needed to get/retain people who are not white cis men) until the problem goes away.”
She then goes on to preempt any criticism of that idea with: “If you think this is a bad or un-serious idea, your sexism/racism/transphobia is showing.”
Mrs. Harron ends her blog with the following paragraph,
“Not to alarm you, but statistically speaking you are the problem. Your very presence. I can’t tell you what is the best strategy for you to stop blocking my path. I can just ask that you, please get out of my way.”
She gives no statistical justification of why I am the problem, the whole piece, in fact, is very light on facts, and very heavy on assumptions and anecdotes. She doesn’t ever lay a clear problem statement or clear proposed solution. All that I got from the blog post was a lot of anger and buzzwords.
The problem with Mrs. Harron’s worldview is that it is simplistic boarding on infantile. I can teach you how to play her game in 30 seconds. “The world is divided into oppressors and the oppressed. Oppressors are evil, and the oppressed are virtuous. I am on the side of the oppressed. Anything my side does is just because it’s in the name of the oppressed.”
The reality is that people are not that simple. Everyone has a group status which makes them oppressed, and one which makes them the oppressor. People do not fit neatly into boxes, into good and evil. Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn writes;
“If only it were so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
During the life of any heart this line keeps changing place; sometimes it is squeezed one way by exuberant evil and sometimes it shifts to allow enough space for good to flourish. One and the same human being is, at various ages, under various circumstances, a totally different human being. At times he is close to being a devil, at times to sainthood. But his name doesn’t change, and to that name we ascribe the whole lot, good and evil.”
Through every human heart. Mrs. Harron believes that there are good people and bad people. People who subscribe to that worldview always seem to put themselves one the side of the good and forgo any serious self-reflection about their flaws. I am personally generally suspicious of anyone who declares that they’re virtuous, even more so of people who then tell me I’m not virtuous based on my skin color, gender, or some other immutable characteristic.
Mrs. Harron would like to see people treated- not as people, unique individuals, as humans, but as a series of demographic check boxes to be tallied up so that they can be put in the “good” or “bad” category. Is there anything more dehumanizing than that? To assert that all I need to know about you are your skin color, gender, and sexual orientation? I don’t think so.
- You can read Mrs. Harron’s blog post at the American Mathematical Society’s website
- You can read Mrs. Harron’s “liberated CV” at her website The Liberated Mathematician
- You can read critical coverage of Mrs. Harron at Campus Reform
- You can read a supportive interview with Mrs. Harron at TheHindu.com
- You can read local coverage at the Honolulu Civil Beat
So dear reader, what do you think about all this?
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