On the June issue:

The Iniquity of Equity

To the Editor:
In his article (“Equality =/ Equity,” June), Tal Fortgang writes: “Equity, to its supporters, begins from the assumption that there are people with different natural strengths and weaknesses, and it suggests that rather than treating all people equally—that is, neutrally—it is better to try to account for what advantages and disadvantages an individual faces as we decide how to distribute resources.”

For years, I worked on equity-related issues in higher education, and I never once heard anyone claim that equity “begins from the assumption that there are people with different natural strengths and weaknesses.” Though many of my colleagues mistakenly downplayed the importance of individual efforts, we all agreed that the work of equity had to do not with “natural” strengths and weaknesses but, rather, with structural and systemic advantages and disadvantages.

I use the terms “structural” and “systemic” very restrictedly and denotatively. For example, when I was a young boy, my family could not join a nearby country club because the club didn’t admit Jews; that was a structural limitation. Similarly, if a college’s payment policies make it so that students with means can easily meet the deadlines but that students without the means may not be able to, then the college needs to address this systemic problem. 

Though Fortgang makes a number of very good points about, for example, the dangers of wanting equality of outcomes and the dangers of social engineering, his essay would have been even stronger had he offered a more nuanced analysis of the complex issues at stake.
Richard Prystowsky
Granville, Ohio

To the Editor:
I am a 70-year-old Afro-American who fancied himself something of a 1980s liberal. But I write in response to Tal Fortgang’s article as, I suppose, an old-man conservative. I’m delighted that the country moved past the War on Drugs, and it made sense to me that we took good advantage of the moment wrought by the George Floyd tragedy. I was also thrilled to advocate for marriage equality. But the left seems to have mishandled so much in the past 30 years: environmentalism, police behavior, education, free expression, housing, and homelessness.

This I know in my bones: My neighbors will never remake their lives around a struggle against “structural racism,” and children of all races must absorb the norms and values essential to success. It’s going to take a long, long time to do what we need to do. Removing Confederate statues, patrolling “microaggressions,” and pretending that merit equals racism will not cut it.
Christopher H. Foreman
Sea Cliff, New York 

To the Editor:
For decades, COMMENTARY has been the home of persuasive pieces regarding equality. The article by Tal Fortgang continues in that tradition. It takes bravery for a young law student to face down the mob as Fortgang does.

There is nothing “equitable” about the doctrine of taking from X, who earned it, and giving it to Y, who did not. Call it what it is: theft. Or perhaps cultural misappropriation. The left would steal the bene-fits that come from accepting the core values of America, such as reason and individual freedom, and give them to those who do not accept such values.
Mathew Hoffman
New Rochelle, New York

To the Editor:
Tal Fortgang’s article reminded me that I used to suggest “Harrison Bergeron” to those around me who pushed equity. I’m now convinced, however, that, much like George Orwell’s 1984, Kurt Vonnegut’s dystopia would be seen only as a guidebook, not a warning.
Jon Lachman
Jupiter, Florida

To the Editor:
This is a great article. Tal Fortgang lays bare the twisted thinking of the woke police. I used to think I was a liberal. But despite my college degree and doctorate in psychology, I’ve retained some common sense. The current crazy thinking, especially the nonsense about punctuality and politeness being racist, would be laughable if not for so many overly educated people unthinkingly swallowing it whole.
Cecelia Cox
Center Sandwich, New Hampshire

Tal Fortgang writes:
I am gratified to receive encouragement from Christopher Foreman, Mathew Hoffman, Jon Lachman, and Cecilia Cox, and I’m grateful they took the time to share their kind words. I am equally grateful to Richard Prystowsky for his pushback, though I do not believe we disagree on much. Surely, he and his colleagues in higher education did not claim anything in particular about the assumptions undergirding their work; that is, after all, what makes them assumptions. And indeed, equity work has everything to do with structural and systemic advantages. What’s relevant to today’s equity advocates, though, is how apparently neutral structures and systems disproportionately advantage or disadvantage certain groups—disparities that emerge as a result of human differences. Equity is about the interaction between what seems neutral to a dominant group but must be suspect in some way because it leads to unequal outcomes. Mr. Prystowsky’s example of a college payment plan is a good one, but it would not satiate today’s equity activists. They would demand that deadlines be abolished—if not the means of payment, too—because in this great big system we call America, the virtues of timeliness and making others whole are morally arbitrary behaviors merely imposed by the powerful on the subaltern. I do appreciate the reiteration, nonetheless, that some sensitivity to structural and systemic effects can be indicated as an extension of the principles of equality and fairness. 

Israel and Asia

To the Editor:
Daniel J. Samet’s essay provides an informative summary of the diplomatic history and current status of relations between Israel and various Asian countries (“In Asia, Israel Must Choose Wisely,” June).

One factor to note is that Europe and the United States both enjoy a cultural familiarity with Jews. With some notable exceptions, East Asia does not have a rich Jewish history. And there is no large concentration of Jews in the region today. There is an argument that Jews might share something of an affinity with Indians because of the geographic proximity of Israel and India and because there is a relatively rich history of Jews living and participating in Indian society.

To be sure, the smart move for Israel is to seize opportunities to advance relations with East Asian countries. Nonetheless, in these cases, utility will always be the driver. If national interests diverge, there will be little cultural glue of the sort that exists between Israel and the West to keep such relations together.
Iddo Wernick
Passaic, New Jersey

Daniel J. Samet writes:
Iddo Wernick makes compelling observations, not least on the heritage of Indian Jewry. A fair number of Israelis are direct descendants of that community, while some Indians may remember living and working among Jews. Doubtless Jerusalem and New Delhi cannot forget their historical bonds. 

As regards East Asia, I agree that Israel’s relationships there are built primarily on interests. Yet to assert that “there will be little cultural glue” is to overlook what is already there. The Japanese have a strong appreciation for Israel’s many accomplishments. The Israelis likewise respect what postwar Japan has achieved on the economic and cultural fronts. The two nations are not foreign to each other. Even greater is the affinity between South Korea and Israel. Like America, the former views the Jewish state through a biblical lens. A large percentage of South Koreans are Christians who see in Israel the hand of God at work. Tens of thousands of South Koreans visit Israel each year, often on pilgrimages to the Holy Land. They kept coming to Israel during the second intifada and helped keep the tourism sector afloat. 

All that makes for more cultural sway than one might think.  

Violence and Speech

To the Editor:
It’s worth noting, in light of Tara Helfman’s article on the Internet and free speech, that the many credible threats and instances of partisan violence that arise from cancel culture, political demonstration, and intergroup hostility may be related to the verbal equation of violence with argument, dissent, or dismissive comment (“An Experiment in Ordered Liberty,” June). False equivalence by society may generate a false perception of equivalence among the specific parties. If society deems a remark about someone’s appearance as equivalent to physical violence, this may make it easier for the critic (or admirer) to move from commenting to attacking. Rather than understanding that step as a difference in kind, it will be felt by the perpetrator as merely a matter of degree.
Peter Suedfeld
Vancouver, British Columbia

Media Myopia

To the Editor:
Thank you to COMMENTARY and to James B. Meigs for his recent column (“Can Elon Musk Save Twitter?” June). It demonstrates how good writing can inform, inspire, make us laugh, and make us cry.

Meigs writes: “A look at what sorts of speech Twitter amplifies and suppresses…Calls to murder Jews; no problem! Doubts about Covid policies? Ban that account! And don’t get me started on Hunter Biden’s cocaine-encrusted laptop.”

These handful of sentences had me gasping for air from laughter and may have even brought a tear to my eye when I considered how they may not be all that satirical. 

Our national media beat us over the head with nihilism and catastrophism so often that watching the evening news causes one to empathize with Betty and Barney Rubble after adopting Bamm-Bamm.

Thank you for bringing levity into the often-dark landscape of journalism.
Frank Petrillo
Portland, Oregon

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