Cherry Picking

Posted on December 20, 2015


We all cherry pick, which is the art or craft of selecting some elements and omitting others. Historians do it all the time. Politicians are mature cherry pickers. Polemicists are among the best. Dictators, radicals, and other extremists also practice the craft to the point of criminality.

Even theologians cherry pick, nibbling here and there in Scripture, taking whole bites sometimes, picking out those areas they like, and omitting those which can prove embarrassing or contradict their point of view.

We call professional cherry pickers lawyers. They pick and choose what supports their case and omit, omit, omit what lies on the other side of the equation. They even have a name for it: case law.

Now, I’m not just picking on my many friends who may be lawyers, attorneys, judges, and the like.

We historians cherry pick also.

Take the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and the general scene surrounding the Founding Fathers. Do we cherish it all? You First Amendminites (I just invented that word for you etymologists) cherry pick like mad, deciding what constitutes free speech, and line up on different sides of lies, libel, and lasciviousness (thereby invoking the rule of three from my Southern Baptist friends and pastors), throwing rotten cherries at your enemies, rewarding your followers with kudos and good cherries.

Even the Founding Fathers were pretty good at cherry picking, giving slave owners some representation in Congress by counting 3/5ths of the number of slaves in population counts to determine how many members would be elected from each state to the House. I suppose some wag expressed the public sentiment that perhaps this was emblematic of how much humanity—3/5ths of a full and free human being– was attributed to the slaves by the white owners.

Historians are among the most skillful cherry pickers, writing “definitive” histories of any phenomenon, usually based on a very small sampling of the extant documentation on any given subject. If you read a history of the First World War—now very fashionable since we are commemorating the 100th anniversary of that butchery (1914-1918)—and the blame for the war is laid at the doorstep of imperialism, the arms race, the vicious Huns or the incompetence of the generals (pick you side), beware, the historian is cherry picking. But, like good lawyers in a courtroom, we have to make our case so we try to be “objective” in an exercise that is grossly “subjective.”

So where is this leading us to? If we are all cherry pickers, where lies the truth? Or, as Pontius Pilate observed to the rabble demanding loudly that he crucify Jesus, “what is the truth?” in this matter. Pilate found Jesus innocent of the charges brought against him by the Jewish leaders, and then washed his hands—nice cherry picking indicating his innocence—and had Jesus crucified.

Today we are surrounded by journeymen cherry pickers working their way up the apprenticeship ladder to become master cherry pickers. All of these belong to a class of cherry pickers who are grieved or offended by far too many causes to identify in a short column.

These diversity, minority, the police-are-out-to-get me cherry pickers are known not only for their nascent cherry picking skills, but for condemning any cherries left in the basket as bad, wrong, immoral, self-serving, and discriminatory for starters. In other words, our cherries are the only good ones. These cherry pickers are also known for the politically correct notion that they are entirely 100% correct, and the rest of you can go to heck.

In my world of colleges and universities, these newest examples of the old cherry picking standard are bent on diversity, not excellence. They see discrimination where in fact none exists, and, if it does, it is reverse discrimination in favor of gender, minorities, and for all I know green eyed people. They have no idea, or choose to ignore (a great cherry picking strategy) how far we have come to change from a world in which true discrimination existed—try Jim Crow laws and segregation for starters—to one where the level playing field has now tipped to their false sense of truth and equity.

College and university presidents are bailing out, or running as rapidly as possible to appease the new cherry pickers, appointing diversity gurus, new committees, making all the appropriate sounds to help keep the cherry pickers from torching or otherwise calling attention to their campus.

It is a sad state for us true cherry pickers who don’t mind a good cherry throwing contest, but one where we respect our opponents. It takes some backbone to stand up for high standards in higher education, not to kow tow to students, and especially faculty who should know better, crying loudly about racial, ethnic, or even religious discrimination where little exists.

The best faculty I have always known, paradoxically, in fact do discriminate. They discriminate in favor hard work, accountability, creativity, scholarship, and a desire to truly learn.

Hold them accountable for those elements, not for some watered down pap in programs that endeavor to allow all to feel good about themselves. That’s picking bad cherries, not a grievous sin in the larger world we inhabit, but a sign of a dull mind in my cherry picking experience.

Published as When We all Cherry-Pick, Where is the Truth? in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday, December 7, 2015

Posted in: History, Politics