Conrad Black a.k.a The Foot-in-Mouth Intellectual

When it comes to Conrad Black there’s a problem in expecting him to wield his words responsibly: his public seems driven by the same colonial attitude and heaping dollops of white privilege. There are intellectuals whose writing at least feigns reaching across the aisle to those of opposing belief. Someone like Conrad – and this tendency is not relegated to conservative thinkers – seems comfortable pandering to a prejudiced support base, resulting in a myopic mindset in both the writer and their public. Unfortunately, Black does more damage than good by remaining inconsiderate of his responsibility in adding reasonable and logical discussion to public discourse.
As an example, let’s look at “Canada is Afflicted by a pandemic of defective moralizing on native issues” from the National Post. That Black – Baron Black of Crossharbour, a life peer who once compared his time in jail for fraud to the political struggles of Nelson Mandela – feels he has a moral high ground from which he can cast down guidelines regarding how people discuss indigenous issues is, in itself, troubling. What’s more troublesome is the way in which he chooses to write about them.
Residential SchoolsBlack’s focus is the residential school system, under which thousands of indigenous children suffered by decree of the Canadian government and enforced via the Roman Catholic Church. He begins with “the charlatans of the victimhood industry,” then moves on to note it’s terrible children were hurt, though he glosses over the rape and assault many of them experienced. Immediately he backtracks on that halfhearted sentiment by brutally generalising the “sociopathic” and “hopeless” communities from which these children all apparently came. Black acts as if it were a variant of Sophie’s Choice: either indigenous kids were sent to residential schools to get an ‘education’ (a.k.a assimilated/robbed of their culture) and some of them were abused along the way, or, in his mind, they would be left at home to suffer. Between the lines is Black’s racist narrative: the natives were wild and the whites had to tame them.
Ignoring indigenous perspectives is bad enough. His anti-intellectual method when he opts to compare life in the residential schools to a Charles Dickens novel is worse. Likewise, instead of using information available about intergenerational trauma and other related issues, Black chooses hypothetical situations. Added to the fact he does not cite any academic writing, these blunders are enough to suggest a lack of concern with intellectual debate in lieu of nationalism.
One of Black’s problems is a disregard of language. In the aforementioned National Post article Black makes the mistake of using the word “savagery” – an ugly term used to denigrate indigenous peoples. He uses this in reference to treatment of indigenous children in the schools, whereas any self-aware white writer would never have included the word under any circumstance because of its historical use as a racist term.
Black makes similar mistakes in a recent National Post article when criticising 21st-century feminism. He proves himself a member of the Good Ole Boys Club by using the term “rabid feminists” and he paints feminism as a movement of “manhating” women. Black poises himself in a tone deaf stance by reverting to anti-intellectual name calling, just as he chose to eschew any sense of an academic position in discussing residential schools.
conradblacknoboarder“The Role of the Public Intellectual” by Alan Lightman identifies three levels of public intellectuals. At Level III, he writes that an intellectual with power and influence “must wield that power with respect.” This is the exact problem with Black’s casual sort of colonialism which reduces indigenous struggles through what amounts to nothing more than weak comparison and whataboutism. Worse, he does so without worry for his toxic contribution to the discourse surrounding the residential school system.
Maybe it’s foolish to believe Black would have any other opinion than the one he holds. Not only is Black both white and economically privileged, he is also a devout Catholic. He is a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Gregory the Great, an order of chivalry given to him by Pope John Paul II. He also holds significant shares in The Catholic Herald (one of the magazine’s bloggers was Milo Yiannopoulos). It’s safe to say Black isn’t likely to criticise anything in which the Roman Catholic Church and the Vatican have ever been involved.
So why is Black given a platform? Part of that answer is he founded the National Post. Money bought him the ability to say what he wants and ensured he gets to express it however he pleases. Academic journals certainly aren’t beating down his door. So long as Black has the wealth, and the influence that goes with it, he will surely have a home for his articles full of purple prose and lacking the academic sincerity of others more deserving of the public intellectual moniker.

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