As Andrew Cline, editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader , points out, the release of the 911 tapes of the Gates incident reveals the cast of mind that is produced by an academic culture that dehumanizes the individual in the name of advancing what are the apparent interests of one's class, race, or gender. Readers of WWWtW have seen this to a lesser extent when some of us have faced a level of sophomoric reasoning bordering on philosophical malpractice that is in such perverse disproportion to what is appropriate to such disagreements that in prior ages it would have been considered potential Monty Python material.
At some point, all of us--conservatives and liberals alike--have to begin to value the truth for its own sake. I am, of course, under no illusion that even if we all embraced this noble principle, deep disagreements would continue, and that each of us would sometimes think our adversaries are not being entirely candid about their viewpoints and their plausibility. Trust me, I know how difficult it is to exercise virtue under the weight of adversity. But we still have to realize that not every incident of personal or political conflict should be seen as an opportunity to score cultural points when the scoring of those points requires one to dehumanize another under some academic abstraction or "internalized narrative."
Here are some excerpts from Mr. Cline's essay:
Monday, the City of Cambridge released the 911 and arrest tapes from the incident in which Gates was arrested by white police officer James Crowley. It is no wonder that Gates has begun to back down from his allegations of racism. The tapes show no such motivation, and they confirm that Gates was being disorderly, which he had denied.
The tapes reveal a couple of crucial points. 1) the woman who reported the possible break-in at Gates' home never mentioned black males at all. 2) Gates was in fact shouting, despite his claim that this was impossible.
Gates' allegations of being racially profiled by a lying, racist officer collapse upon the tapes' revelations. Officer Crowley was not looking for black men. He had no idea what race the suspects were. And Gates was indeed being disorderly....
Gates began peddling that theory immediately -- literally. He shouted to the bystanders who had gathered before his house upon hearing the commotion, "This is what happens to black men in America!" He threatened a lawsuit and he told anyone who would listen that he was arrested for being black.
Like Woody Allen seeing anti-Semitism everywhere in Annie Hall, Gates projected his own prejudice onto Sgt. Crowley. The moment Sgt. Crowley appeared in his sight, Gates "knew" why: racism.
Thankfully, there were witnesses. Two other police officers who were there -- one Hispanic, one black -- confirmed Crowley's account and defended the arrest. The Gates neighbor who snapped the now famous photo of the professor on his porch in handcuffs said, "I know he (Gates) was tired and upset, but someone of his stature and education should be a little more understanding."
The recordings support the accounts provided by the officers and witnesses. The tapes answer the two most important questions. No, no one reported a break-in by black men, and yes, Gates did shout at Crowley.
The evidence against Gates' story is so compelling that on Monday the black mayor of Cambridge, Denise Simmons, said upon the release of the tapes, "I strongly support our commissioner Bob Haas." That would be Police Commissioner Robert Haas, who fully backs Crowley. Haas said yesterday, "the tapes speak for themselves." ...
This episode was indeed a teaching moment, but the lesson is not what Gates envisioned. It is the lesson taught in David Mamet's Oleana and Philip Roth's The Human Stain. People conditioned to see others not as individuals but as representatives of a whole race or class will do exactly that. In the process, individuality is erased. There are no human-to-human encounters, but only larger clashes between races or classes. Every interaction between people of different races, even the most mundane or innocent, has a larger political meaning. All actions are seen through distorting lenses until the individuals involved disappear entirely and all that is left are blurred hues of dark and light.
That is the world Henry Louis Gates Jr. seems to have created for himself. In that world, Officer James Crowley doesn't exist. The real James Crowley was hand-picked by a black police commissioner to teach new recruits how not to racially profile, tried to save the life of a black Boston Celtics star, and has the unqualified backing of the black officers who know and serve with him. The instant he was perceived through the eyes of Henry Louis Gates Jr., however, Officer James Crowley ceased to exist. In his place was White Officer Questioning An Innocent Black Man.
The lesson America ought to learn from this incident is that Gates' image of the world as a place in which individuals are little more than pawns in the greater historical conflict between the races is fatally misconceived. It is a projection of a hopelessly erroneous political theory that, from time to time, reality disproves in a grand way.