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John Wilson

Stranger in a Strange Land

Greatly love the intellect

In this space two issues ago ["Thou Shalt Not Take Cheap Shots," September/October] I wrote about what might be called "rules of engagement" for argument, drawing on an essay by the philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff ("Tertullian's Enduring Question," The Cresset, Trinity [June/July] 1999). Here I want to continue on that theme, focusing on a particular kind of argument that is pervasive in American society today. In arguments of this type, there is a claim of injustice and a demand that it be redressed. For example—though readers who have not been in hibernation for the last decade could supply their own examples—in the Chicago Tribune of November 29, 1999, columnist Salim Muwakkil advocated the payment of reparations by the U.S. government to the descendants of slaves. The next day, the front page of the Tribune featured a story about survivors of the siege of Leningrad during World War II, who are now calling for reparations. "People talk so much about survivors of the Nazis," says Bella Zaltsman, a "Leningrad survivor" now living in Chicago. "And in this, we are not included? Is that justice?"

Of course, these examples represent only one subset of the many varieties of such claims. Recently I was told that Wheaton College (where, I am delighted to say, my daughter began her studies last fall) is under pressure to change its admissions policies. Unlike many colleges (see "Colleges Look for Ways to Reverse a Decline in Enrollment by Men," The Chronicle of Higher Education, November 26, 1999), Wheaton has maintained a more or less even balance between men and women. But because far more women than men apply to Wheaton, the admissions bar for women is set much higher. (Many young men enrolled at Wheaton, it could be said, are the beneficiaries of "affirmative action.") To some of the parents of young women denied admission—and no doubt to some of the applicants themselves—this seems ...

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