Wednesday, April 30, 2008

What side of the brain are you reading this on?

I listened to two speeches by The Reverend (which used to be the correct title – the former adjective is now a proper noun) Jeremiah Wright this week. I thought he was a good speaker, except when he sang. But, admittedly, I am almost always bored when speakers sing. To me, but apparently not many others, he is a somewhat entertaining distraction from the election and the issues. On the other hand, I really don’t care if he is ever mentioned again. And I certainly could care less if Obama has seven friends like him. Wouldn’t it be terrible if one of your friends couldn’t get elected because of some of your idiotic beliefs.

In fact, most people, maybe all people, believe and say ridiculous things all the time, including Plato, who defined a man as a biped without feathers, and I, on the other extreme, who has labored to convince people that that the discovery of an economic method of growing square peas will save the economy. Politics, particularly partisan politics, makes us exaggerate the importance of the stupid things political enemies say. If there wasn't a political penalty for admitting it was a stupid thing to say, more politicians would admit their mistakes.

I do NOT believe that just because a peace advocate, which is what Wright intends to be, says “God damn, America,” and believes the government is capable of great evils, that he hates Americans or can’t be patriotic. Frankly, many Americans (and our friends around the world) feel much like Wright despite Obama's statement that all Americans are offended by what he says. Personally, I am disappointed that Obama has now totally discredited his former pastor, who was probably hurt when his friend and "family member" denounced what he believed in and has preached openly for years.

Although it is obvious Obama takes this route under tremendous political pressure (much like McCain sidling up to the religious right and all the candidates being against gay marriage) I would have been more impressed if he showed some personal loyalty to someone as close to him as Wright was, however nutty he might be to most of us, particularly as Wright had done nothing to Obama, but only defended himself from personal attack. It is the Clintons who we are told are so ambitious all the time, but, obviously, it is just a political thing, to which even the saint-like Obama is susceptible. I much preferred his original approach and do not accept the refrain that by defending or promoting himself, Wright has now attacked Obama.

Of course, as I have also already said in an earlier post in this almost unbearably riveting blog, Wright will be Obama’s undoing one way or another either during the primaries or the general election. Many people don’t feel as tepid as I do about Wright's anti-American (government) statements, and the partisan opportunities are too good for Obama's opponents to ignore, and much too good for ratings for the media not to play over and over. Of course, they, our own collective media imbeciles, are so in love with Obama, many continue to pronounce that this has all passed now that Obama has "thrown Wright under the bus". Nope.

Four paragraphs into this and I still did not come to my point. Here it is. I am stunned, just stunned, that some in our supposedly intelligent media, while noting that Wright has hurt Obama politically, actually say he makes sense when he talks about black children learning on the right side of their brains and white kids on their left. Are you kidding me? For those who will rely on pseudo-science to support him -- there is absolutely no scientific evidence which would support such a statement. And I once did a whole coloring book on the brain, so I should know.

While scientists have taught us that the left and right side of the brain have somewhat different functions, it is not so simple as thinking of them as separate compartments in which some people learn in one box and other people in the other one. Different attributes are associated with different parts of the brain like the medulla oblongata (motor stuff) and Broca’s area (language, comprehension). Let me repeat for the hard of thinking, yes, there are two parts of the brain, but blacks and whites don’t learn on different sides of it. Wasn't there a sport's commentator a few years ago whose career was ended just because he opined that black's muscles twitch faster than white's.

Here’s Wright’s basis for his theory: Black children come from a culture where African griots memorized long histories and stories. So what? How many black people have you met who were trained as griots. I know there are a few griots left in the world because I looked it up. But, are not black children in American and European schools learning from the same methods as white kids – generally watching the same television shows and movies; playing the same video games? How many black kids in America does Wright think learned from griots? How many of there parents or grandparents learned from them? Or great grandparents, for that matter. My guess, with little fear of contradiction – it is pretty close to zero, if not exactly zero. Does he believe in hereditary learning? Does our media?

Is Wright not aware that there is a black man now running for president who went to Harvard Law School and seems to take to logic and math just fine? Or, does he think he was capable of doing so only because he is half white and could learn on both sides of his brain? That’s where his logic leads. Does he not realize that same man was actually the son of an African (unlike most blacks in this country) and was raised for a few years in an Asian country and yet was a tip top student in Western schools? If you don’t know who I am talking about, stop reading and watch cable news for a few weeks.

Does Wright not realize that the Western world has a history of bards who memorized long passages too. Ever hear of Homer, or traveling minstrels? Ever see a concert orchestra play a several hour long piece? What about all of the Muslim students who memorized the Koran? Are they incapable of learning in Western schools? As a Hispanic commenter on a blog said this week (I’m paraphrasing) – “I am Hispanic – what side of the brain do I learn on?” Does Wright not realize that not all black’s ancestors came from places in Africa that had griots? Does he not realize how many Africans in West Africa live in cities these days, not in villages without any schools.

This is why blacks, he says, can memorize rap lyrics – they are learning on another side of their brains. How would he explain the fact that many white people can also recite the words from dozens of songs, including rap. It is just what they are interested in and motivated to learn – nothing more.

He also says that blacks have a different rhythm than whites. I was a little stunned when he was imitating a black marching band as if they had vaguely simian qualities. I am not denying that different forms of music have different beats. But black people are perfectly capable of performing Western music and excelling at it and whites are perfectly capable of playing jazz and blues as well as blacks, regardless of Wright’s suggestion to the contrary. It has nothing to do with what side of the brain they are learning on.

Can you imagine, can you imagine, can you just imagine, if John McCain or Hillary Clinton or any white politician dared say that black kids learn on a different side of their brain than whites, and that is why they don’t do as well in school? Everyone would be screaming racism. Can you imagine if John McCain imitated a black marching band by crouching down and swaying as if he were an ape? I shudder to think about it. Yet, somehow, some of the same people who condemn the authors of The Bell Curve for racism (I'm not getting into that here -- but read the book before you condemn it thus) swallow these silly comments whole as if Wright had just spent a year doing neurological research.

Wright’s message is just horrible for blacks struggling with the educational system. It is a pretty rare specimen these days who doesn’t believe that the way blacks were treated in this country for centuries was horrific right up into our life times. There is still a need for better education opportunities for many of them, particularly in primary and secondary schools (certainly not all and obviously, not Barack or his wife). And, I am sympathetic with Wright’s message that we have to look at differences in cultures and people and understand that because it is not the same as we do it is necessarily worse. BUT THAT DOESN NOT MEAN THAT EVERYTHING IS OF THE SAME VALUE. This is the same as the relativistic argument that all wrongs are equal (stealing a pen is the same as killing someone to steal their pen). It is a mistake to say that because we all have different accents that there is not a range of proper speech that will permit people of all races to better succeed in school and work. Yet, Wright would hold otherwise. Even his specifics lack a factual background. Yes, Presidents Kennedy and Johnson had strong accents, but there accents on vowels did not mean they spoke ungrammatically or idiotically. In fact, if you listen to the speeches that he makes fun of, they were perfectly understandable (he would have done better picking on our current president's syntax.

Television and movies are now filled with black men and women who speak excellent English, are highly educated and are getting an opportunity to show it. They are good role models. Barack Obama and his wife are perfect examples. Black journalists are another. But, ministers telling parents of a child who isn’t learning or can’t sit in a chair that he or she is doing fine, that he or she is just different or speaking some type racially diverse English, is generally helping doom that child in terms of education and earning a living.

We love celebrities as a people, and the media has now made one of Wright. Remember, the press also made Paris Hilton famous, so there really are no limits to how talentless or generally nonsensical a person can be and still stay in the limelight. Wright can now go on talk shows and have people take his silly remarks seriously. Chris Matthews will likely interview him someday with the same seeming infatuation he has for Al Sharpton, who appears quite rationale compared to Wright (sorry, Chris has disappointed me lately and I just felt like taking a mild shot at him). I am not even going into Wright’s theories about AIDS and why terrorists attack us. His educational theories are enough to make my point.

Sometime this year Wright will come out with a book, or maybe more than one. Although he has done very well, he might make more money in one year than he did in many an earlier one thanks to the publicity from his (former) friend running for president and his own wacky imagination. Had he been unoffensive and mild, he would not be known to us today.

Whenver you comment on race, there are those people who will quickly condemn you as a racist, which is a far worse insult in my mind, than someone hurling swear words at you. To some, I would be considered a racist although I believe there is at least no substantial difference in learning ability between what we call races (however possible some such differences might be among groups of people with different genetic backgrounds), and Wright, who thinks that black kids can’t succeed because they are being taught on the wrong side of their brains (if we could only bring back the griots) would likely not be considered a racist by those some people.

There is only so much energy we should spend listening to people who spout nonsense, unless we are just entertained by them. Discussing Wright yesterday with a relative, I was not surprised to hear him say that even if what Wright said was not true in my mind, he was stating a “different truth”. Unfortunately, this wisdom is all too commonly overused these days.

I mean, doesn’t there have to be at least just a little “truth” in the truth?


  1. Okay, so let me get this straight. Most people are idiots, and this is NEWS to you??

  2. Not news to me. Apparently, news to the media. It's as if they don't realize that Paula Abdul is the rule, not the exception.

  3. Anonymous1:22 PM

    Michele Obama a good role model???

  4. Yup, she is. Young woman who gets herself into Ivy League schools, marries well (perhaps the future president), raises a family, speaks beautifully and passionately about what is important to her. I just googled her bio, because I don't know all that much about her: "Former associate dean at the University of Chicago; a member of six boards of directors, and Vice President, Community and External Affairs at the University of Chicago Hospitals." I'd say that is a good role model for young black people. You are possibly still excited about her saying something like -- "for the first time in a long time, I am proud of my country --". I'm not offended when black people or people from other backgrounds look at the history of the country with more scrutiny than some whites do. Why would you believe her and so much into it when she says the above comment, but don't believe her when she says she is patriotic and loves the country. I wholeheartedly agree with her husband when he says that the media sits there and picks apart the statements of people who are exhausted and constantly speaking in public as if they aren't going to make a lot of mistakes. If you believe only the negative things then you must believe that John McCain intends to be fighting in Iraq for 100 years, and neither you nor I believe he meant that. See, now, you made me go and add another page of blather. Thanks for the comment though, as always.


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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .