Monday, December 12, 2016

How Radicals Destroyed Liberalism

When college students wailed in anguish over the Trump election, many of us took note. What were they thinking? Unless they believed that regression was the road to mental health, they were looking like utter fools.

I have offered my own views of this phenomenon. Today, I pass the baton to Nicholas Kristof. To say the least, he finds it all disconcerting. He, like most of us, believes that the problem derives from the fact that these students inhabit a bubble.

In his words:

After Donald Trump’s election, some universities echoed with primal howls. Faculty members canceled classes for weeping, terrified students who asked: How could this possibly be happening?

I share apprehensions about President-elect Trump, but I also fear the reaction was evidence of how insular universities have become. When students inhabit liberal bubbles, they’re not learning much about their own country. To be fully educated, students should encounter not only Plato, but also Republicans.

True enough, students today do not learn anything about their own country. They are force-fed the radical narrative about a corrupt criminal enterprise that calls itself a nation. They are told that patriotism is a false front disguising a nation built on corruption, oppression, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia and transphobia. They never encounter a Republican and never engage with anyone who thinks differently. University hiring processes do a good job of ensuring that no such animals exist.

As for reading Plato, I would be happy if it were true, but I suspect that the philosopher has been tossed in the dustbin of authors who were merely profiting from their white male privilege.

Of course, universities are hotbeds of bigotry. They discriminate against anyone who does not hold to politically correct beliefs and have been trained to police the thought of everyone on and off campus. If it all sounds like the Holy Inquisition and witch hunts, it’s because that’s what it is.

Kristof writes:

We liberals are adept at pointing out the hypocrisies of Trump, but we should also address our own hypocrisy in terrain we govern, such as most universities: Too often, we embrace diversity of all kinds except for ideological. Repeated studies have found that about 10 percent of professors in the social sciences or the humanities are Republicans.

We champion tolerance, except for conservatives and evangelical Christians. We want to be inclusive of people who don’t look like us — so long as they think like us.

Kristof is right here. Universities—like America’s largest cities—are governed by liberals. And by intolerant liberal hypocrites, at that. If something is wrong on campus, if students suffer a collective nervous breakdown upon discovering that their world is not real, then those who are in charge ought to ask themselves what they have been doing wrong. Why is it that their students cannot deal with reality without melting into a puddle of emotion?

Like New York City, America’s universities are full of free thinkers, all of whom think exactly the same thing. Kristof is rightly alarmed at the prospect that these liberal bubbles are now likely to double down on intolerance and to stifle intellectual diversity:

I fear that liberal outrage at Trump’s presidency will exacerbate the problem of liberal echo chambers, by creating a more hostile environment for conservatives and evangelicals. Already, the lack of ideological diversity on campuses is a disservice to the students and to liberalism itself, with liberalism collapsing on some campuses into self-parody.

He is also correct to point out that the spectacle of whining students on college campuses has severely damaged the reputation of liberalism and progressive thought. That once proud movement has dissolve into self-parody, losing credibility and discrediting itself.

These culture warriors have fallen into the trap that they accuse others of being in: stereotyping people:

Some of you are saying that it’s O.K. to be intolerant of intolerance, to discriminate against bigots who acquiesce in Trump’s record of racism and misogyny. By all means, stand up to the bigots. But do we really want to caricature half of Americans, some of whom voted for President Obama twice, as racist bigots? Maybe if we knew more Trump voters we’d be less inclined to stereotype them.

True enough. To some extent Hillary lost because she called Trump supporters a “basket of deplorables.” Those who believe that they should keep up the attack on local bakeries are pushing more Americans into the Republican column. While the night riders of the thought police were attacking bigots, the American people voted the Democratic Party into near irrelevance. Liberals are screaming and shouting because they no longer have any political power. It’s called impotent rage.

It makes universities into more of a bubble.

Kristof quickly dismisses the notion that conservatives, even evangelicals, have nothing to add to the conversation. Were one to believe such a thing one might argue that one ought to shut them up and to shut them down. What happened to first amendment protections of offensive speech?

He quotes Harvard Law Professor Cass Sunstein, formerly an Obama university czar:

The weakest argument against intellectual diversity is that conservatives or evangelicals have nothing to add to the conversation. “The idea that conservative ideas are dumb is so preposterous that you have to live in an echo chamber to think of it,” Sunstein told me.

Of course, we shouldn’t empower racists and misogynists on campuses. But whatever some liberals think, “conservative” and “bigot” are not synonyms.

Of course, campuses have been expanding the definitions of racism and misogyny. Uses the wrong pronouns—even at Oxford University—and you will be branded a bigot.

American intellectuals, academic and otherwise, have rendered the Democratic Party powerless. Its members need to ask themselves, yet again, how it happened that they were so completely out of touch with America. Surely, the answer resides in the fact that they were not promoting a political agenda.

They were fighting a cultural revolution. They wanted to transform the culture by performing a radical pogrom against all of those who represented Western Judeo-Christian values, the better to create a new nation where everyone thought the same thoughts, felt the same feelings and believed the same beliefs:

I fear the damage a Trump administration will do, from health care to foreign policy. But this election also underscores that we were out of touch with much of America, and we will fight back more effectively if we are less isolated.

When universities are echo chambers, they become conservative punch lines, and liberal hand-wringing may be one reason Trump’s popularity has jumped since his election.

It’s ineffably sad that today “that’s academic” often means “that’s irrelevant.” One step to correcting that is for us liberals to embrace the diversity we supposedly champion.

As for the students, I believe that they ought to reflect on one thing. As they are regaling the nation with infantile regressions, they should put themselves in the minds of those who will be interviewing them for prospective jobs.

They should take a cold hard look at themselves and ask: Why would anyone ever hire you?


Katielee4211 said...

And the irony is; if Liberals allow and consider discourse, they may drift to conservatism.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

When Glenn Thrush -- the Politico "reporter" who sent stories to the Clinton campaign for pre-approval -- gets hired by the New York Times (the "paper of record"), college students wouldn't think there's anything in the way of anybody hiring them. After all, these snowflakes hold politically correct beliefs. They care.

Sam L. said...

Has Kristof had a "road to Damascus" event, or is he just having a one-off moment? I suspect it's a one-off.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

This is not the first time he has argued a similar point.

Trigger Warning said...

"They should take a cold hard look at themselves and ask: Why would anyone ever hire you?"

I'm sure there's some position with a non-operating foundation somewhere, handing out other people's money to loony "community groups" with grievances.

After all, until he stole a couple of local elections, that's where Obama worked. Obama chaired the Chicago Annenberg Challenge for several years in a make-work job handed to him by admitted terrorist and "just a guy who lived in his neighborhood", Bill Ayers. The Final Report concluded that, during Obama's inspired leadership, "the Challenge has little impact on student incomes".

Trigger Warning said...

Sorry. Fat-finger.

"the Challenge had little impact on student outcomes."

Ares Olympus said...

Jonathan Haidt handled this topic in an October lecture. He didn't say it, but the implication would seem to be that we have three models of education - religious right (more an old testament paternalism), secular objective truth, and religious left (more a new testament maternalism). The first group is inhabited by the evangelicals, mostly right, and and the last group is inhabited by the Social Justice Warriors, and more "liberal" churches, with both holding religious faith in their sacred values that can't be questioned.

So Haidt's modest proposal is that all institutions of higher learning recognize the losses in allowing the SWJ's free reign that shuts down free speech, and commit themselves to truth that comes from free exchange of ideas over a need for ideological purity.
Professor Haidt argues that conflicts arise at many American universities today because they are pursuing two potentially incompatible goals: truth and social justice. While Haidt thinks both goals are important, he maintains that they can come into conflict.

According to some versions of social justice, whenever we observe a disparity of outcomes between races, genders, or other groups, we should infer that injustice has been done. Haidt challenges this view of social justice and shows how it sometimes leads to violations of truth, and even justice.

Haidt concludes that universities should be free to pursue whatever goals – truth or social justice – they want, but that they should make it clear which of these two goals is their “telos” – their highest purpose. He ends with a discussion of his initiative,, to bring more viewpoint diversity to universities in order to improve research and learning.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Ares Olympus @December 13, 2016 at 11:21 AM:

"... the implication would seem to be that we have three models of education - religious right (more an old testament paternalism), secular objective truth, and religious left (more a new testament maternalism)."

Ridiculous. Ludicrous. Absurd.

Do you make this shit up, or do people feed it to you?

Your idea of "Secular objective truth" hands out Play-Doh to timid, neurotic snowflakes living in a subjective, ideological alternative universe based on the willful suspension of disbelief. Hardly "objective."

And you forgot the adjectives majestic and magnificent in front. Tsk-tsk. I wonder what Jonathan Haidt would think of that omission in your interpretation.

Ares Olympus said...

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said... Your idea of "Secular objective truth" hands out Play-Doh to timid, neurotic snowflakes living in a subjective, ideological alternative universe based on the willful suspension of disbelief. Hardly "objective."

I start from the hard sciences - math, computer science, physics, chemistry astronomy, geology, etc, where objective facts can be measured empirically by hard evidence, at least about the nonliving aspects of existence. It doesn't go very far once you add life and awareness and self-consciousness that can't be contained by simple models.

I accept things like philosphy economics, and the humanities are awash in their own mythology or ideological systems that can't be proven true or false, but do contain useful shortcuts that allow decisions to be made without perfect knowledge or holistic understanding. But they can be studied in the way of qualitive description. I know they don't like that and would prefer to defend themselves on solider grounds, and when they try they're likely to fall into their own contradictions.

It would seem ultimately all you can do in those fuzzy lands is try to state your assumptions, and your values, and go on from there. But in the world of actual practice, like the field of economics, it does seem like something like "religious faith" is the primary component, and it can easily become a popularity contest where the winner is whatever the most people want to hear as long as the costs can be swept under the rug, or the undesireable consequences ever pushed into the future.

Iain McGilchrist's "divided brain" speeches give something of the problem, like this 11 minute short version. RSA ANIMATE: The Divided Brain

So when I say "Secular objective truth", I'm saying when two people with different backgrounds debate, whatever common ground can be found, it should be to be able to agree starting with the same facts, and if you can't do that, if your values or ideology require you to dimiss what you don't want to see, you're not going to be good with objective truth.

I think it can be useful to argue with values first, but to do so, you have to accept your values are not holistic, and can be confused by personal bias, and won't be compelling to someone with different blindspots.