Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Brainwashed or Bigoted?

Imagine that one day they hold an election in the land of Dystopia. Later that evening, the authorities announce the results: candidate A won 98% of the votes.

Being an intelligent human being, you know instantly that the election was rigged. There is no such thing as a free and fair election where everyone votes the same way.

Issues, like elections, have two sides. If everyone votes for one side, that means that no one has given any real consideration to the other side.

But, what if the election was not rigged. What if everyone agreed on who was the best candidate? In the depths of their souls, they knew that all the merit lay on one side. They cast their ballots freely and they all wanted the same candidate.

And let’s imagine that they are were all telling the truth, that is, that they really believed that they had not been coerced into voting for candidate A.

Would it be fair to say that they had all been brainwashed? When a large group of intelligent people all thinks the same thing, you cannot say that they have been persuaded by the force of your reasoning.

More plausibly, you will conclude that they have all come to understand that membership in their community depends on their holding the same beliefs as anyone else.

Brainwashing involves threats to your membership in the group. It threatens unbelievers with ostracism. It does not try to persuade them with a series of excellent arguments or irrefutable facts.

Whether they know it or not-- and often they do not-- people who have been brainwashed have been dispossessed of their free choice.

The cost of a deviant opinion is so high that they do not even allow their minds to entertain such thoughts. Above all they fear expulsion from the group; they know that an offhand remark can spell social oblivion.

And they have discovered that the best way to avoid such accidents is to shut out any of what we can call politically incorrect thoughts.

Now, let’s move beyond the brainwashed citizens of Dystopia and talk about a group of 1000 social psychologists. According to John Tierney’s article, these people have made careers out of the idea that anytime a social organization does not conform to their vision, then someone must be discriminating against someone. Link here.

As it happened, one member of this group, UVA psychologist, Jonathan Haidt took a poll at a convention of social psychologists and discovered that, of the 1000, around 800 were liberals, a few dozen were centrists and libertarians, and 3 were willing to admit in public that they were conservative.

Given that 20% of Americans consider themselves to be liberal while 40% identify as conservative, it is reasonably clear that the ideological positions of social psychologists do not “look like America.“

They may look like the citizens of Dystopia, or they may reflect the ideological divisions of the academy, but they do not, to use Bill Clinton’s famous phrase, “look like America.”

Dr. Haidt drew some conclusions from his brief, informal survey.

As Tierney reports: “’This is a statistically impossible lack of diversity,’ Dr. Haidt concluded, noting polls showing that 40 percent of Americans are conservative and 20 percent are liberal. In  his speech and in an interview, Dr. Haidt argued that social psychologists are a 'tribal-moral community' united by 'sacred values' that hinder research and damage their credibility — and blind them to the hostile climate they’ve created for non-liberals.

“’Anywhere in the world that social psychologists see women or minorities underrepresented by a factor of two or three, our minds jump to discrimination as the explanation,’ said Dr. Haidt, who called himself a longtime liberal turned centrist. ‘But when we find out that conservatives are underrepresented among us by a factor of more than 100, suddenly everyone finds it quite easy to generate alternate explanations.’”

Surely, Haidt is correct to see academic disciplines within the humanities and social sciences as “tribal-moral” communities that are united by “sacred values.”

But why not call things by their names: these communities make the unquestioning adherence to dogma the price of admission.

So much so that it is simply too risky even to entertain an opposing point of view.

In many ways this is a throwback to a time when there were witch hunts and inquisitions, and where people were tortured for suspected heretical views. People who belong to modern versions of these communities are nothing but full-bore reactionaries.

Normally, group membership depends on blood ties, family alliances, ritual exchanges, and formal ceremonies. These public displays of membership are, precisely, public, and thus undeniably visible.

If you perform the correct ritual, everyone knows it because you have done it in front of everyone.

When the issue shifts to the question of belief, we do not have a machine that can tell the difference between those that are true believers and those who are faking it in order to avoid persecution.

So, all members of the community shift into hyper-vigilance. Within the conversations and interactions that constitute normal socializing they are always on the lookout for a slip of the tongue that might reveal that a person is not quite the true believer that he pretends to be.

If you are constantly under surveillance, you will be doing your best to purge your mind of contrary opinions, for fear of seeing one slip out at an inopportune time and consign you to social oblivion.

This would also preclude anything that resembles a free exchange of differing points of view. If there is only one correct opinion, only one dogma, then you risk your life by defending an opposing point of view. Even if you are playing Devil's advocate.

If a classical dystopia-- the term was first used by John Stuart Mill-- involves a drastic inhibition of human freedom, then clearly social psychologists live within such a community.

And they do not know it. Before Jonathan Haidt raised the issue and public embarrassed them, they did not even think that it was a problem.

But how do you explain the intellectual uniformity and conformity among social scientists and humanists? Surely, there is no governmental force, no national thought police that is running around brainwashing people.

But, have these social scientists all been brainwashed, or are they pure and simple bigots? Are they intolerant and prejudiced against people who hold different opinions?

If you look up the word bigotry in the dictionary, you will see that it is not just limited to race and ethnicity and gender. It also involves an irrational prejudice against people who hold different political or religious points of view.

How does it happen that social scientists are infected with such a manifest form of groupthink?

At the least, we know that this ideological conformity begins in the classroom.

Anyone who expects to receive good grades from teachers in the humanities and social sciences, be it in high school or college, will learn, one way or the other, to toe the party line.

We should never underestimate the power of grades to produce ideological conformity. If you were a high school student , would you risk your grades and your future because you wanted to stand up against liberal orthodoxy.

A teacher in math and science cannot downgrade your work arbitrarily or for reasons of political incorrectness. A teacher in the humanities and social sciences can.

Any student who aspires to an academic career will soon understand that he must express the correct opinions, lest his career path be blocked.

Someone else might say that these career paths attract people who are congenitally liberal in the first place, but clearly the teachers in these disciplines must be doing everything in their power to reinforce these prejudices.

Given the amount of ideological conformity in the social sciences, I think it fair to say that they are no longer real academic disciplines. They are really advocacy groups.

Thus, we should always take their research results under advisement.

They are not trying to teach, they are trying to control minds in order to engineer certain desirable political outcomes.

Now, Jonathan Haidt has shamed a group of social psychologists into proclaiming their willingness to opoen their ranks to conservative scholars. Surely, this is a good sign. But it is easier said than done.

For now, they can try to figure out whether they have been brainwashed or whether they are precisely the kinds of bigots they have made careers denouncing.


Anonymous said...

I live in San Francisco, and this general exclusion of the conservative is a major factor in life here. I have long observed that leftist activists are indeed bigoted - in a very mean spirited way. They will vandalize your car if it sports a conservative sticker, for instance. And they will not hire or promote you, or give you the fair grade.

I have to learn to get along with and respect liberals, but the opposite is not true.

Yet, I think they are brainwashed as well. They take it all too seriously, like the famous non-negotiable demand. You cannot just have different values, principles, visions of the essential human condition. Rather, you are evil, stupid, a tool . . . One friend of mine, a chemistry professor, refers to conservatives as "Homers" - as in Homer Simpson. If they are more thoughtful than Homer, they are evil. He lives and works in an environment that is extremely hostile to anything conservative, and is, in fact, quite estranged from them.

I vote for both - they are bigoted because they will not treat a conservative fairly, or even legally, if they can get away with it. But they are brainwashed to the extent of never engaging with a conservative because they just don't have to.

And heaven help a conservative who actually needs or wants psychotherapy.

Anonymous said...

TO: All
RE: Heh

When the distaff ran for the state assembly's House of Reps on the Republican ticket, we had people in the neighborhood tell us that they'd love to give money to her campaign, but were afraid that their political party would find out about it through the campaign finance laws.


P.S. Name that party....

Anonymous said...

so adulthood is unpopular with the social psychology crowd.

this is news?

- shoe