Tag Archives: Roger W. Smith

Pitirim A. Sorokin: “the fact of stratification is universal”


Please note my post

“the fact of stratification is universal”

on my Sorokin site

“the fact of stratification is universal”

Sorokin’s observations have important implications.


— Roger W. Smith

specious reasoning


In an exchange on Facebook about my post

Harvard does not discriminate against Asian-Americans (except that it does).

Harvard does not discriminate against Asian-Americans (except that it does).

the following points were made.


PETE SMITH (my brother)

If you ran a college and accepted applicants only on test scores and extracurricular activities and grades and references, without any consideration of ethnicity, and it turned out that the incoming class was going to be 95% Asian, or 95% white Christians, or some other clear imbalance that doesn’t begin to resemble the general population (as with the classes when we were in college), would you be OK with this?



I think it is a fault or defect in argumentation to hinge your point or rebuttal on the most extreme cases. It is unlikely that such an imbalance is going to happen today, or can be foreseen under your scenario. I don’t know about the case of, say, Southern Baptist colleges, historically black colleges, or Yeshiva University. But my post focuses on what I see as principle and what I regard as a commitment to educational excellence. From my perspective and experience, and based on what I have read in the press.

I don’t think that educators should be counting heads. It is not their job, as I see it — they should not have to worry about this unless clear patterns of discrimination can be shown. I also feel that it is wholly commendable for university officials to be trying to encourage and recruit qualified students from groups not well represented or from abroad. And if the university feels sports are important, I think it’s okay to admit athletes using athletics as one criterion; or talented musicians for the music department; and so forth That’s a kind of diversity I would endorse.



But not ethnic diversity? Gender diversity? Income diversity? Are these less important than having the right combination of musicians and basketball players? What if these groups are not “well represented”?



It’s not that there is a “right” combination of musicians or basketball players. It’s just that if a school has a music department, it wants some music majors. This should be a matter of common sense and it does not affect policy questions.

If it is going to have sports teams (at my school, sports were deemphasized), it needs some athletes. And it wants some English, French, and bio majors; physics and math majors and premeds; future businessmen and businesswomen if it has a business major or perhaps wants students studying economics; and so on. (Rensselaer Polytech and Julliard are different in this respect.)




I keep running this discussion through my mind, and similar ones and thoughts I have had about such issues ever since racial preferences in college (and elite secondary school) admissions became an issue. And about broader issues involving race, gender, and so on in the workplace and in matters affecting public policy.

In the Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision (1896), the Court ruled that racial segregation laws did not violate the U.S. Constitution as long as facilities are equal — the infamous “separate but equal doctrine.” It was a bit of specious reasoning that violates the fundamental principles of fairness and law.

In Grutter v. Bollinger (2003), the Supreme Court’s ruling was again based on specious reasoning that supposedly upholds the concept of race blind admissions policies (affirms the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause) while holding that an admissions process that favors “underrepresented minority groups” does not violate the law so long as it takes into account other factors evaluated on an individual basis for every applicant. The Court held that the Equal Protection Clause did not prohibit the University of Michigan’ Law School’s narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.

Something that has occurred to me in articulating points I made in my post and similar ones is a sort of philosophical question. Is race a “thing”? Regarding the concept of race and government mandated racial categories (used for demographic purposes and to examine compliance with rules and guidelines), I wrote in a previous blog:

the absurdity of racial categorizations (a glaring example

the absurdity of racial categorizations (a glaring example)

There is such diversity in ethic groupings that it seems nonsensical to me to sort them into ironclad groupings. The groupings were made up by someone or other who manufactured them out of thin air, bureaucrats; they ignore many ethnic groups and sort them almost willy-nilly.

When (as I assert above) admitting an entering class, it makes sense to ensure that there is diversity among the academic disciplines (majors) of students. A candidate for admission is qualified and interested in pursuing a career in music. This is something tangible and specific that it makes sense to take into account — provided that the student’s qualifications are valid. It’s a fact, and a meaningful one.

You would not want an entering class with no music or art majors (or any other pertinent example), if your school has a music department and (probably) a student orchestra.

But what makes two candidates from different racial or ethnic (or religious, for that matter) groups fundamentally different, in the case of an admissions committee considering the applications of each candidate? Assuming the race of the student is known, why should it be a positive or negative factor (admission wise)? Which group of groups has more or less to contribute? Which individual students? How can this be determined?




Justice Sandra Day O’Connor:

Diversity is a compelling interest that can justify the narrowly tailored use of race when public universities select applicants for admission. In this case, the Law School’s (Defendant) admissions program bears the hallmarks of a narrowly tailored plan. Truly individualized consideration demands that race be used in a flexible, non-mechanical way. It follows from this mandate that universities cannot establish quotas for members of certain racial groups or put members of those groups on separate admission tracks. Universities also cannot insulate applicants who belong to certain racial or ethnic groups from the competition for admission. However … universities can consider race or ethnicity more flexibly as a plus factor in the context of individualized consideration of each and every applicant.

And so on.

This is the same tortured, specious reasoning. It says that discrimination in the admissions process is not being condoned — it is not okay — it’s against the law! Except that it is okay. To ensure a diverse student body. Well, we are very much the same, fundamentally, all of us, or we should think this way. (All men are created equal.)

Discrimination (as the term implies) involves non-acceptance of this principle. When I discriminate, I choose between groups. Some groups are superior and some inferior. The inferior groups and persons are not entitled to the same rights and privileges as the superior ones. So Plessy v. Ferguson held — except that they didn’t exactly. They got around this by saying that all persons would be treated the same under the doctrine of separate but equal.

And (Grutter v. Bollinger), while the Constitution and acts of Congress prohibit discrimination, it’s okay under some conditions. In giving consideration to the race of an applicant. This is actually specious, Plessy v. Ferguson style reasoning. But, you see, it’s not discrimination; it’s the promotion of diversity, which sounds good, as an abstraction. Except that people aren’t abstractions. They are all equal, in principle. And different, naturally, in actuality (different inherited characteristics and differences manifested as people grow and change over the course of a life).

We do come from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, but in what sense does that make us different? In a meaningful way? It does make us different experientially. But this can’t be quantified and it is meaningless to try. In practice, we should treat everyone the same. It’s nonsensical to look at another person and expect them to be the same as you, and wrong to make the differences matter from a legal or moral point of view.

Am I too idealistic? Blind to actual disparities and social realities? Well, I submit my reasoning — sophisticated or unsophisticated as it may be — for consideration vis-à-vis the tortuous process by which the courts arrive at decisions and officials implement policy. A music major is different from a computer science major. A school can and should keep track of how many of each it has. You can’t quantify what a student from one race or another may or not add to a school’s educational environment, or take away from it, using race as a metric. And while there is clearly such a thing as broad groupings according to the type of categories an Ancestry.com DNA test will identify, in individual cases (as a tool of differentiation among individuals) they are meaningless; and by the way, the categories used by the government and organizations for counting purposes are crude and inaccurate for descriptive or classification purposes.


— Roger W. Smith

    January 2022

Barbara Grizzutti Harrison, “Joan Didion: Only Disconnect”


Barbara Grizzutti Harrison’s Essay “Joan Didion: Only Disconnect” is online at


It complements my post

Joan Didion and NYC

Joan Didion and NYC


— Roger W. Smith

Joan Didion and NYC


Joan Didion – Saturday Evening Post 1-4-1967


Reading Joan Didion’s obituaries this week, I was reminded in particular of an essay of hers I had heard about. I don’t think I have read it before.

Joan Didion

“Farwell to the Enchanted City” (subsequently republished as “Goodbye to All That”)

Saturday Evening Post

January 4, 1967

I desired to read it. I wanted to see what she thought about New Yok City when she first moved there from California, in the late 1950s. About ten years later, I myself first relocated to New York and settled there.

What things about the City attracted and delighted her? Repelled her?




When I moved to New York, it both fascinated (I found it intoxicating) and overwhelmed me with a sort of fear or numbness (emotional deadness). Meaning that it was so impersonal; the buildings were so tall, dominating the streetscapes; there was no nature; the people were all in a hurry and seemingly cold and impersonal, too busy and goal oriented to talk to you.

Everything depended on having money, of which I had very little.

I had been to New York a very few times before. The first time was in 1953 when my parents took me to visit the City for a few days. We stayed in the Edison Hotel in Times Square. (Rooms were four dollars a day.) Still there, I believe. (We must have been able to park our car.) I could not get over the experience of the Empire State Building. Being on the observation deck on the top and looking down at the cars on Fifth Avenue, which seemed like toy cars. The Automat. The little windows where you would put a dime or nickel in a slot and get a piece of pie. My mother wanted to see Greenwich Village. We drove around the crooked streets. I don’t think we ever got out of the car. I recall the cobblestones and that the car was jolting.

We took the Staten Island Ferry to cool off. It was July or August and one of those sweltering NYC hot spells.




As a young man and adult, I grew to love and appreciate — so much — New York. See my post

“I went to the school of New York.”

“I went to the school of New York.”

for one way in which this was true.

The art movie theaters. The bookstores. Libraries. Most of all, the intellectual energy and appetites of the people I got to know.

In Massachusetts, as a young man, I would have been embarrassed to go to a movie by myself. In Connecticut, where I worked briefly, I was once asked to leave a folk music coffee house because I was sitting at table by myself. In NYC, no problem. I went to movies almost always by myself. Good way to spend an evening or a Sunday afternoon if you felt lonely.

Sit at a restaurant table by oneself? No problem. It was the same with half the other customers.

I would go to Central Park on Sunday afternoons and sit on a park bench feeling a bit lonely but like I was an amorphous participant in something. The bars were an oasis. A glass of beer twenty cents. Every third one free. The bartender was your and everyone’s friend.

One day in a subway station, I asked some people a question of some sort (maybe directions). They answered politely and helpfully. I told a friend of mine from college who lived in Flushing, Queens about this.

“Someone was actually nice to me in the subway,” I said.

“New Yorkers are people, too,” he replied.


Wonderful people. So full of energy. So interesting. Except when I first came the people on the subway all seemed so pale and sickly to me.




So what was Joan Didion’s experience?

Read her famous essay (attached).

It’s really about her — instead of, at bottom, the City. It is very self-centered. It is surprising how much it seems to be built upon – – to be a tissue of — generalities. Of musings, inner thoughts. It does not convey much INFORMATION, substance.

You learn hardly anything about what New York was like when she was there.



“Joan Didion: Only Disconnect”

From Off Center: Essays by Barbara Grizzutti Harrison

I do not find Joan Didion appealing. … I am disinclined to find endearing a chronicler of the 1960s who is beset by migraines that can be triggered by her decorator’s having pleated instead of gathered her new diningroom curtains. … more …. of a neurasthenic Cher than of a writer who has been called America’s finest woman prose stylist. … her subject is always herself. …

Didion uses style as argument. … for Didion, only surfaces matter. … Didion tells us, many times, and in many ways, that her mind “veers inflexibly toward the particular.”

To what in particular?




Enough said. Read Joan Didion’s essay if you feel like it.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

  December 25, 2021




Facebook comments

December 25, 2021


Pete Smith

Interesting thoughts. But don’t most writer’s thoughts relate largely to themselves? Think of Truman Capote’s short stories, like Dazzle. Or Melville, talking as himself (Ishmael) throughout Moby-Dick. I don’t object to your objecting to Didion but were she still alive she might have the same complaints about those of your posts, including this one, that borrow heavily on your own experience. I think this is what makes your posts interesting, and don’t see why it wouldn’t also apply to Didion’s writing.


Roger W. Smith

Barbara Grizzutti Harrison’s essay is dead on. You should read it. You are wrong about my writing. Of course everyone writes about and from the perspective of themselves and their own experience. This post insofar as it relates to me is built on experiences I had that readers can relate to.


Pete Smith

Roger, I think your reply was hidden for some reason but you missed my point. I was not criticizing you for writing about your own history or own perspective; I was basically saying that that is what everyone usually does and that I found it odd that you were criticizing Joan Didion for doing so — and I was acknowledging that this did not mean you had to like her writing. . . .


Roger W. Smith

I was criticizing her writing — from a certain point of view (view of her writing); which of course does not mean that writers should not write about themselves. Harrison’s essay articulates what I was trying to say; I had not read it before. By the way, Melville created a character, Ishmael, that was sort of his alter ego, but to say+ that amounts to writing about oneself is not correct. I guess the best way to put it is that Didion’s writing seems overly self-absorbed and there is something missing content- or sustenance-wise that a reader wants to be able to take away. I read some Didion before, including one of her novels. I was sort of impressed then, but now have come to the opinions of my post.


Pete Smith

All I meant was that Melville’s writing, like Truman Capote’s and like much of yours, was based on his own personal experience — in his case, whaling. I can understand your comment about Didion’s self absorption but when she’s writing a book all about the tragic and terrible year of her husband’s death, I would guess it would be difficult for any passionate observer to accuse her of self-absorption.


Roger W. Smith

I have not read [Joan Didion’s] The Year of Magical Thinking. I began this post with one essay of Didion’s which disappointed me and, based upon which, I drew inferences about her writing which seem valid. She always wrote about herself in a way that Melville didn’t.


Pete Smith

Got it, but of course you understand that I wasn’t suggesting in any way that Melville and Didion wrote about themselves in the same way.


Roger W. Smith

No, I don’t think that (your first sentence).


Ella Rutledge

I’m no fan of Didion’s either. The only thing of hers I have read is The Year of Magical Thinking. (I think a negative review at amazon.com

called it “A Lifetime of Magical Thinking.”) She is a member of the NY literati and so they all praise her writing because she writes from their point of view. You, Roger, on the other hand, document and record NYC life from an “everyman” perspective. I hated that book. So shallow, so limited, in its view of grief, grieving, loss, death, faith, belief in anything other than the material world, of which she constantly reminded us with references to the best hospitals (reached by helicopter), the best doctors, Brooks Brothers suits, Hollywood and the Beverly Hills Hotel. Death is final and any tendency to hope for anything beyond is “magical” (or in her view deluded) thinking.


Roger W. Smith

Thanks very much for the incisive comments, Ella, What you say about The Year of Magical Thinking confirms what I have said. I based my comments (mainly) on the essay I read this morning and on Harrison’s devastating article about Didion. And, yes, I did see what I felt was a distinction between my own writing and hers — or do now — it wasn’t my main point, and I was thinking about her writing, not mine, but when I read her essay about leaving New York, I felt empty; and I realize now, in retrospect, that that is more or less how I felt years ago when I read “Play It As It Lays.”

my student essay on Tolstoy



Roger’s biographical sketch of Tolstoy


my Tolstoy essay – typed version


my Tolstoy essay – TRANSLATION


I am posting it again.

I am very proud of it. It was written in the 1970s.

I told my therapist, Dr. Colp, that I was taking an advanced Russian evening course at NYU.  l said that based on my previous study, I belonged in the intermediate course, but I wanted to be challenged. Made sense to him.

The paper was based on oral presentation in class. Dr, Colp wasn’t given to fulsome praise. But when I told him I gave a talk in Russian, he was impressed — “in Russian?” he said.

I learned Russian script in the introductory course I took, but I have forgotten it mostly and could not do as I did then: produce a handwritten paper.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   November 2021

a lynching


Southern Worker 12-12-1931



3 Fellow_Worker_of_Lynched_Man_S 4 Gov._Ritchie,_Possible_Preside

4 Gov._Ritchie,_Possible_Preside


If you can bear it, read the news item, “Negro Worker Lynched for Demanding Pay,” in the Southern Worker, December 12, 1931, pp. 1-2.

There is an editorial on page 4.

Plus, I am posting a few other news stories from the time. The mainstream media gave the lynching only glancing notice. The Baltimore Afro-American was the only newspaper to give it serious coverage.

This is how blacks were treated then.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   December 2021

“Don’t you ever forget that name.”


‘Don’t you ever forget that name’ – Washington Post 8-30-2021


President Biden made his way on Sunday around a quiet room at Dover Air Force Base, … with dignitaries and grieving families huddling together as the president came to speak to them privately, one family at a time.

Mark Schmitz had told a military officer the night before that he wasn’t much interested in speaking to a president he did not vote for, one whose execution of the Afghan pullout he disdains — and one he now blames for the death of his 20-year-old son Jared.

But overnight, … Schmitz changed his mind. So on that dreary morning he and his ex-wife were approached by Biden after he’d talked to all the other families. … Schmitz glared hard at the president. …. Eventually, the parents took out a photo to show to Biden. I said, “Don’t you ever forget that name. Don’t you ever forget that face. Don’t you ever forget the names of the other 12,” Schmitz said. “And take some time to learn their stories.”

Biden did not seem to like that, Schmitz recalled, and he bristled, offering a blunt response: “I do know their stories.”





‘Don’t you ever forget that name’: Biden’s tough meeting with grieving relatives

By Matt Viser

The Washington Post

August 30, 2021


President Biden did not deserve this. It is the grieving father who, in my opinion, is wrong here.

Wrong to say what he did in the way he said it.

Biden did not, obviously, desire this tragic occurrence, and he is not responsible for it.

Admittedly, policies he recently implemented were an indirect cause for an airport attack in Kabul, Afghanistan last week that resulted in the deaths of thirteen U.S. Marines and service members. But Biden is not personally responsible. The suicide bomber and gunmen were.

Putting this aside, let’s focus on what’s appropriate, what is called for here.

You experience a death in your family. The mourners at the funeral or a wake make an effort to convey their grief and empathy, as do those officiating (a minister or priest, speakers at the service).

One should appreciate that they are there. That perhaps it wasn’t easy for them, that it evokes painful memories in them (such as President Biden’s own) of deaths they have experienced, that they are doing their best to be empathic and to express condolences.

That is all one can expect of others in such circumstances, whether the “others” are officials, family members, or friends. No one can ever share fully — experience fully — the grief of a grieving spouse or parent. To expect them to is self-serving and self-centered.

Everyone experiences in their lifetime moments of bereavement and personal grief. Others can recognize and empathize with yours, but they will never quite experience it (your grief) fully — which is to say, not the way you do.

Was it right to berate President Biden for not being sufficiently sorry (which was assumed with there being no basis for thinking so)?



— posted by Roger W. Smith

   August 31, 2021






a society in which “the individual … must be degraded,” “organized according to a reasoned scheme in the interests of the group”


  Avrahm Yarmolinsky, foreword – Dostovesky, ‘The Possessed’


The PDF file posted here contains the text of the foreword by Avrahm Yarmolinsky to the Modern Library edition of Dostoevsky’s novel The Possessed.

[The Possessed] is book begotten of fear and wrath. Dostoyevsky had drawn indiscriminately on his memories of the Fourierist dreamers with whom he had associated in his youth, and on more recent phases of social and political insurgency, and he freely intermingled these elements. The result was an exaggerated, distorted, anachronistic picture of .gullible fools and fiends with a mania for destruction. And yet The Possessed testifies to the fact that Dostoyevsky was not without some insight into the nature of the upheaval from which he was separated by nearly half a century. It was to be such “an upset as the world has never seen before,” a transformation ruled by a violent intransigent spirit, and going beyond mere political and economic change. In the midst of the stormy events of 1905-06, [Dmitry] Merezhkovsky, on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of Dostoyevsky’s death, spoke of him as “the prophet of the Russian revolution.” More recently, opponents of the Bolshevik regime have seen in The Possessed a prophetic anticipation of the events of 1917. But if he was a prophet, he was one whose vision was clouded by horror. At bottom what he feared was that the individual, whose needs, he felt, are of a spiritual and irrational order, must be degraded in a Socialist society organized according to a reasoned scheme in the interests of the group. [italics added]

— Avrahm Yarmolinsky, Foreword (excerpt), The Possessed, By Fyodor Dostoevsky; translated by Constance Garnett (The Modern Library, 1930)




Reading works such as Edmund Burke’s  Reflections on the Revolution in France and Pitirim A. Sorokin’s The Sociology of Revolution has gotten me thinking about observations such as those made in the passage above; and so have recent developments in the US, where supposedly correct thinking people are being driven mad by abstractions to impose their “ideologically correct” edicts and sanctions.


posted by Roger W. Smith

   August 2021



morning thoughts



An email to my brothers and sister, yesterday morning:


Pete, Ralph, and Carol,

Listening to Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music — on my iPhone, on the bus – this morning evoked sentimental, grave thoughts and feelings.

about Bill Dalzell

Grammy Handy

Mom and Dad

What they meant to me, how I appreciate some things about them in retrospect keenly.

What death means. My own. That of loved ones. Its inevitability. How death is a poignant part of life, as Walt Whitman said.






Another email to my siblings (August 15):

Probably platitudes


Is it because of Mozart that I am thinking thusly?

When I am enjoying life keenly, partaking of it, appreciate the most, it seems, being alive.

People … the day as felt (sun, breeze, grass, water, the elements) … books, thoughts, and music … the active life of the mind.

I think of those departed.

Real people who loved and appreciated those same things (and people) purely for them own sake; and enjoyed and partook of them the same … who lived in the moment…. those moments as they experienced them are sharp and indelible in my memory.

We got this from Mom and Dad; and I did from people like Bill who cared not a whit for externals.

Then I think to myself, at such times, that Mom and Dad aren’t here to enjoy these things; and friends like Bill, or Dr. Colp: and I can’t share my enjoyment and appreciation with them.

Then I feel their absence keenly, and feel the poignancy of it all.




I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence,
Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt,
Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd,
Just as you are refresh’d by the gladness of the river and the bright flow, I was refresh’d,
Just as you stand and lean on the rail, yet hurry with the swift current, I stood yet was hurried,
Just as you look on the numberless masts of ships and the thick-stemm’d pipes of steamboats, I look’d.

— Walt Whitman, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry “


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   August 15, 2021