YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

October 24, 2014

Rescuing the black family: Harvard points the way

Orlando Patterson, Harvard sociologist

Orlando Patterson, Harvard sociologist

The Harvard Magazine cover story on Orlando Patterson (November-December 2014) lauds Patterson’s glorious predecessors in sociology, social psychology, and progressive social nostrums (e.g., Max Weber, Talcott Parsons, David Riesman, Daniel Patrick Moynihan), and Patterson’s journey from Jamaican novelist to Harvard superstar professor and “the Caribbean Zola.”* (On his achievements see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orlando_Patterson.)

Dwelling upon the baleful effects of slavery on black family structure, the author of the long alumni magazine essay, Craig Lambert (deputy editor and a Harvard Ph.D.) drops such loaded terms as “freedom” (an attribute only of non-slave whites), “belonging/beloved”ness (the non plus ultra of social well-being: missing in slavery and the ostensibly non-existent slave family), “culture” and even more vaguely, “dynamic” “interaction” between “culture” and “structures,” lest Talcott Parsons’ fictional emphasis on structures and functions cast doubt on Patterson’s contributions to social peace.

[On Parsons and his cohort in sociology and social psychology see https://clarespark.com/2009/08/25/preventive-politics-and-socially-responsible-capitalists-1930s-40s/. On Harvard and the turn toward “cultural history” see https://clarespark.com/2009/12/12/switching-the-enlightenment-corporatist-liberalism-and-the-revision-of-american-history/. Or see https://clarespark.com/2014/09/08/why-progressive-social-psychologists-make-us-crazy/.%5D

Harvard, like other elite institutions, is worried about anomie or “atomization” in our society, and resorts to the time-tested clichés and Great Society programs of progressivism, which are abstract enough to please a diverse body of graduates, all of whom are adjured to seek belongingness in multiple, overlapping interest groups. Moreover Harvard can brag about the quality of its professors, especially those of color that underline the success of “diversity.” And in recent years, the “neo-Marxist” or “New Left” affiliations of its versatile professors (e.g. OP) are not a cause for heartburn. Indeed, Patterson’s life and work are appropriated to puff black supremacy, affirmative action, rap and reggae, Barbados democracy, and “democratic socialist revolution.” Yet he is portrayed as a maverick and an artist, having defended Clarence Thomas while under attack from Anita Hill (Hill did not note the changing context of CT’s language from ten years ago, Patterson wrote: see http://www.nytimes.com/1991/10/20/opinion/op-ed-race-gender-and-liberal-fallacies.html).

But there is a missing context to this cover story that includes 1. The upcoming midterm elections that will be a referendum on a black president’s social policies, and 2. The bipartisan fight over how to rescue inner city children from poverty. Here is the US Census report (2012) that would have to alarm pro-capitalist circles concerned with upward mobility in the multicultural society pushed by the white liberal establishment: “Black children (55 percent) and Hispanic children (31 percent) were more likely to live with one parent than non-Hispanic White children (21 percent) or Asian children (13 percent).”
And here is one conservative think tank’s solution to diminished prospects for minority inner-city children: http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2012/09/marriage-americas-greatest-weapon-against-child-poverty.)

Despite one failed marriage, Patterson is presented as a happily married father: both wives (apparently) were or are white academics, which situates Patterson in a reassuringly integrated setting, though his sociology tilts toward the mandatory Harvard progressive line that emphasizes the lingering effects of slavery, justifying all kinds of reparations. By focusing on Orlando Patterson’s climb to fame and professional approbation despite his Jamaican “cultural heritage” of slavery (and in one sentence, linking Patterson to Obama), Harvard can avoid such practical problems as massive black unemployment, labor competition, or union domination of public education, defeating parental choice and lowering our expectations of the curriculum.

Illustration by Gary Kelley

Illustration by Gary Kelley

* Note the comparison of Patterson the novelist to Emile Zola, whose “realistic” novels won leftist and anti-imperialist support for their depictions of social forces and the lower depths of society in turn of the century France.

November 18, 2010

Harvard’s “Alpha Dogs”

Amy Cuddy, “Alpha Dog”

One of America’s most significant founding principles was a product of the Enlightenment: that each citizen would be capable of rationality and independent judgment based on shared perceptions of facts or things as they are. We were supposedly educable, no matter how lowly our birth by traditional European standards. Such ideals were asserted against all prior forms of coercion, pomp and demagoguery of political establishments. (For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2012/04/02/touch-me-touch-me-not/, also https://clarespark.com/2013/01/12/hate-hard-liberty-quick-fixes/.)

How far we have departed from that standard can be seen in the featured story for the latest issue of Harvard Magazine (Nov.-Dec.2010), “The Psyche on Automatic,” by Craig Lambert.  Although one might infer from the cover that the social psychologist Amy Cuddy (who teaches at the Harvard Business School in courses on “negotiation, power and influence”) would be directing the reader away from “snap judgments” or other instances of irrationality, the article delineates a scientific basis for manipulating audiences, potential employers, investors and other targets, taken to be not amenable to rational persuasion and naked displays of “competence.” Rather these potential patrons (suckers?) are bound to be impressed by body language, warmth, and an ineffable quality of connectivity, as opposed to the stark display of competence, for competence in conjunction with “coldness” can make others envious and hostile—to the point of genocide! There are tables of ideal types to demonstrate her thesis, one that is buttressed by her studies of testosterone and cortisol levels in “high-power or low-power poses.” And there are pictures of Cuddy and others demonstrating the effective postures of power and influence—influence that will ultimately correct pre-existent cruel cognitive patterns indicating contempt for “the homeless, welfare recipients, poor people” [OMG they must be Republicans] while at the same time boosting investor confidence in the projects of “venture capitalists.”

Harvard trains leaders, and wants them to increase “social cohesiveness”(i.e., solicitude for those less fortunate than themselves: noblesse oblige). Of course Cuddy does not advocate stupidity, it is just that successful people can beat out the other would-be alpha dogs* with her techniques. We alphas do not make ourselves physically little, we do not snarl, we do not brag by pretending to superior expertise or to knowledge of “the truth”—nor do we expose our necks as a sign of submission or “niceness.” [That last sentence was my reading, not quoted directly from the article.]

The long article on making friends and influencing people while overpowering them concludes, in my view, by subtly admonishing pushy, know-it-all [Jews?]:

“Leaders often see themselves as separate from their audiences… They want to stake out a position and then move audiences toward them. That’s not effective… ‘[Her students] overemphasize the importance of projecting high competence—they want to be the smartest guy in the room. They’re trying to be dominant. Clearly there are advantages to feeling and seeing yourself as powerful and competent—you’ll be more confident, more willing to take risks. And it’s important for others to perceive you as strong and competent. That said, you don’t have to prove that you’re the most dominant, the most competent person there. In fact, it’s rarely a good idea to strive to show everyone that you’re the smartest guy in the room: that person tends to be less creative, and less cognitively open to other ideas and people.’

[quote cont.] “Instead, says Cuddy, the goal should be connecting. When people give a speech or lead a meeting, for example, they tend to exaggerate the importance of words. They ‘care too much about content and delivering it with precision. That makes them sound scripted.’ Far better, she advises, to ‘come into a room, be trusting, connect with the audience wherever they are, and then move them with you.’”

In vino veritas.

*The expression “alpha dog” is used in the subtitle of the article: “Amy Cuddy probes snap judgments, warm feelings, and how to become an “alpha dog.”

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