There’s been so much said about l’affaire Richwine that I am not keen to get deeply involved. I would advise that you read Jason Richwine’s account, as well as Ph.D. thesis itself. There are now various movements to expurgate Richwine’s thesis on explicitly ideological grounds. This is very stupid.
As a non-liberal with some affiliation with academia I’m in a peculiar position. I get to observe people blithely confusing their normative presuppositions with the basic background assumptions of the average person. By analogy, in a conservative evangelical church “Christians” have specific opinions on issues such as abortion and taxes. And yet the reality is that there are many self-identified Christians who would take issue with these assumptions. But these other types of Christians may not be part of the social group of conservative evangelicals, so the implicit assumption is that those who would espouse abortion rights and higher taxes must be secular humanists (actually, most self-identified liberals are religious and believe in God).
What’s happening here is that many liberals hold that Richwine’s thesis is ipso facto racist due to the axioms and inferences he made. Obviously this is a red line for the cultural Left today, and it makes sense why they would be outraged. The issue is that this thesis has already been given the stamp of approval by Harvard via the regular channels. If the thesis was put under special scrutiny or even revoked on ideological grounds then that would be rather exceptional, and also a major crack in the facade of the idea of intellectual integrity within the academy.
The problem with this is that many questions and conclusions which liberals are not so offended by are quite offensive and objectionable to non-liberals, and especially social conservatives. People within the academy are generally not conscious of this because they rarely encounter people who are offended by the concept of Queer Studies, or the type of Ph.D. theses which come out of these departments. Currently exploration of topics objectionable and offensive to “Middle America” are protected by the idea that part of the academy’s role is to provoke and even offend, to explore taboo issues and reach shocking conclusions. But if the academy starts to make exceptions in such a blatant manner for areas which it finds the offense unacceptable, then its defense of heterodoxy becomes much weaker. Outrage for thee, but not for me.
This may not may not be a big issue in the short run. But, it will contribute to the continued alienation of the majority of the nation from elite higher education, especially the sort of research institutions which by their very nature are going to be culturally transgressive of mainstream values. If the cultural Left manages to get an asterisk placed on the Richwine Ph.D., or have it revoked, then the rational move by conservatives is simple. First, conservative think-tanks should go put the spotlight on the Ph.D.’s of prominent liberals and highlight aspects which are “objectionable” so as to smear their reputations (e.g., anything “anti-American” or sympathetic to cultural Marxism, or questioning bourgeois institutions like marriage). Second, an army of activists could comb through departments which are known award Ph.D.’s with “radical” political and social agendas, and use these as evidence to argue that the academy has become just an arm of cultural Leftism and should no longer receive public funds aside from explicitly practical disciplines (e.g., engineering).
I think a reasonable person can make the case that academic research questions and conclusions should not be adjudicated in by a “voice vote” of democratic acclaim or rejection. But once you open this sort of Pandora’s Box it’s hard to put the tool you unleashed back in. You can’t always control the ends once the means are available.
The Bill Maher clip has to be watched to be believed. Not the guest’s attempt to obfuscate.
The fundamental issue is simple: most non-Muslims don’t care about Islam or Muslims so long as Islam and Muslims don’t impinge upon their lives. We don’t care about the heterogeneity of Islam or history when faced to real and present fear about the violence currently associated with the religion. By analogy, non-Buddhists who live in Sri Lanka or Myanmar could care less that Buddhism is really fundamentally a religion of peace. To non-believers the ideals of a religion don’t matter, the realized actions of the religionists do.
One of the more maddening aspects of modern discourse is the attempt to interject the concept of racism into internecine ideological conflicts where it really isn’t appropriate. For example, some anti-Zionists label Zionism racism, and the state of Israel a racist state. And yet conversely, some supporters of the Zionist project label those who reject or criticize aspects (or the totality) of the state of Israel anti-Semites, a subset of racism. Though some of these accusations are justifiable (e.g., many ‘National Religious’ elements of Israeli society exhibit views analogous to racial nationalism, while much of the anti-Israel sentiment in the Arab world is crassly anti-Semitic), in many cases the accusation is misleading, and dodges the substantive issues at the heart of the debate (Arabs are second class citizens in Israel, but non-Muslims are much more marginalized in neighboring states, making accusations of prejudice seem rich to me). For example I put myself in the category of someone who is skeptical of the long term project of a Jewish democratic state in the Middle East. Yet I also do not think the ‘Israel issue’ is particularly important in the grand scheme of world affairs, and believe that the fixation on the oppression of Palestinian Arabs specifically is driven by ethnocentrism (Arab Muslims privileging their own concerns, Muslims identifying with co-religionists) and the character of the oppressors (elite Israeli society is still Western oriented, and therefore Western critics judge it by the standards of Western society, not Middle Eastern society).
These issues are even more prominent today when it comes to the Muslim question. The reality is that the Islamic world is hell for non-Muslims, and fear of Islamic populations is justified on empirical grounds. Not only is the Arab Spring moving in an illiberal religious-populist direction, but atheists are being killed in Bangladesh, and anti-Christan pogroms are regular occurrences in Pakistan. Recently there has been a internet debate between Glenn Greenwald and Sam Harris on the question of “Islamophobia.”
Below the fold is a guest post on the issue from Jackson Doughart which I think is well worth ruminating upon.
This weblog has been around for 4+ years now. It started as a way to give voice to people who lean Right who are not necessarily libertarian. America’s conservative party, the Republicans, have lost their second presidential election in a row to a definitively liberal candidate. Whether America is a “center-right” country, center-right politics are having difficulties at the national level. A primary problem seems to be that the Republican party has to account for the reality that religious social conservatives are a necessary part of their coalition, but they need to expand the tent out toward more secular and socially moderate voters. The gay marriage debate is to some extent a signpost for the general conundrum; how to hold onto to the base, while attracting converts.
There are no easy answers here. The substantive issue is fundamentally tricky, because many social conservatives have strong principles in particular domains which brook little margin for compromise. On the other hand there are many younger and secular individuals whose aversion to the Republican party and conservative politics seems to be one of identity, not issue. The simple and clear message of liberty, order, and security, should have broad appeal. Unfortunately though the Republican brand in the minds of many has become exclusively identified with religious social conservatives, even though in terms of policy I would argue this component of the coalition receives by and large lip service.
Rod Dreher has an interesting post up at The American Conservative, The Lie Of Atheism (It’s Not What You Think). He relays a scourging of the New Atheists by Damon Linker. Rod has an interesting passage which I think highlights the difference between his psychology and that of my own:
…I have never understood why people would think of atheism as a liberation (aside from those who were raised in a traumatic religious situation, I mean). When I was at my point of greatest doubt about the existence of God, the loss of Him struck me as a thing to accept with fear and trembling. If it was true, I told myself, then I would have to accept it. But, as Linker avers, what a terrible truth!
This is probably the norm. I have talked to atheists and non-atheists who have recounted to me their moment of doubt. No matter whether the moment passed, or, it propelled them toward disbelief, it was emotionally fraught. The power of this moment, and the possible falseness of deep intuitions about a transcendent God, are genuinely affecting and I do not doubt the authenticity of these experiences. But one must be careful to generalize here, as there are some for whom God is not intuitive, and never has been. I speak from personal experience, as I have never had a deep intuitive belief in God, even when indoctrinated as a child. My wife is similar. This is why I think people need to be careful when asserting that a Nietzschean understanding of atheism is the only honest understanding of atheism. No matter your philosophical stance, the authenticity of the Nietzschean frame is contingent upon one’s own psychology. If the universe was banal and Godless, there is never not “reveal” of his death and the consequences of that event.
And obviously all the concerns about personal nihilism as a universal human conundrum faced by those who abandon God are moot in the case of individuals who never knew God in their bones to begin with and exhibit normal social and ethical mores. There may still be broader philosophical issues, but those do not have the same emotional valence. And, of course, one can still assert that for most people the Nietzschean model is relevant (I would dispute this, but this is a matter more subject to empirical investigation).
Rod Dreher has some interests thoughts and link roundups to the idea of Natural Law, by way of explaining how non-religious people need Natural Law to construct a rational foundation for ethics. I think Hume is right on this:
Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.
I tend to find the objection that having women in combat positions is a case of social engineering somewhat short-sighted. The military has long been a testing ground for social engineering. In the 1st century B.C. the Marian reforms helped transform the Roman legions from being the Roman nation at arms to a professional fighting force. It is a defensible position that those reforms were a major catalyst for the emergence of strongmen such as Sulla and Caesar, as professional soldiers looked to their generals to safeguard their rights, rather than the citizen soldiers who were safeguarding their nation and property. The issue then is not social engineering, but the shape and consequences of that engineering.
Women will now officially be in combat roles. My understanding is that over the past generation they have already been de facto in the “line of fire.” Conservatives, who are skeptical of change, have then to confront a very radical overturning of tradition. The likelihood of this being reversed is low. But, there are different trajectories that this policy could take. It seems that the primary issue that conservatives need to stand on is the fact that proportionality and ‘gender norming’ will not be guiding principles. There seems broad public acceptance of the idea that individual women who have the capacity to serve in combat roles should be given that liberty, but there is no consensus that women should be equally represented in all arms of the military in direct proportion to their overall representation (15 percent).
It is notable to me that The New York Times, an organ of mainstream cultural liberalism, published a cautionary piece on women in combat in Israel, Looking to Israel for Clues on Women in Combat. Even after decades of having women in military roles there has not been an elimination of deep structural differences in males and females in terms of their typical roles. Why? Because males and females differ in bio-behavioral dispositions, and social and cultural mores may not be able to eliminate those differences (often, cultural changes only shift the differences in novel configurations).
Social conservatives who oppose these changes on principle will not be able to turn back the clock in the near term. The best case solution then is an alliance with libertarians who will be able to agree that the fitness of a soldier must be evaluated on an objective and universal set of individual criteria. If sex is no longer to be a bar on general service in combat, nor should it be a category which one uses to alter the rules of evaluation for fitness in that service.
Comments off · Posted by David Hume in Uncategorized
The new report from Moody’s Investors Service, casting doubt on the financial state of affairs in higher education, has provoked a good deal of anxiety.
The comments about tuition are potentially most alarming. Institutionally, the most significant change in higher education over the past generation has been the explosion of administrators’ positions, whose rate of growth has far exceeded that of full-time faculty. As any glance through FIRE’s website reveals, the emergence of administrators has had a pernicious effect: student life bureaucracies have a well-deserved reputation for both political correctness and a hostility to free exchange on campus
Moody’s finding regarding a diminution of state and (to a lesser extent) federal support seems likely even if the economy suddenly improves. Over the past generation, as politics have become increasingly polarized and partisan, higher education has moved consistently in one ideological and partisan direction. (At my home institution of CUNY, the faculty union is notorious for refusing even to reach out to Republican state legislators, even as the GOP controls the New York state Senate.) Universities are perfectly free, of course, to create race/class/gender-dominated faculty and adamantly commit themselves to “diversity” as their preeminent goal. But it should come as little surprise that colleges with such an agenda will tend to isolate themselves politically–meaning that, in hard economic times, as legislators have to make tough choices over what programs to fund, state governments will fund other, more politically popular, programs.
For various reasons it is likely that for the indefinite future the academia will lean Left, and, that public monies will be required to supplement tuition and fees (institutions with rich endowments may not fall into this class). But, there is I believe a disturbing trend of ‘sorting’ where some elements of the hyper-politicized professoriate lose all perspective as to the genuine distribution of ideological viewpoints in the broader population which supports them, at least in part. By this, I mean that in fields like sociology the typical ‘conservative’ may actually be a moderate Democrat, while the Left may consist of unreconstructed Marxists. When you perceive people on the political Right as engaged in “hate speech” by definition, that is going to create hostility from said Right. One’s opinion is one’ prerogative, but one can’t presume that the targets of one’s ire will be happy to fund that invective indefinitely. A liberal academia supported in part by an ideologically diverse tax base can persist. And it certainly did for decades. But, one has to draw a line when the perception begins to develop that academia is engaged in a hostile culture war against elements of the population, with the intent of delegitimizing that perspective as viable.
One of the seminal clarion calls of modern American conservatism is that it exists to “It stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.” To a great extent that is the value of a conservative disposition. Rather than “why not,” one is forced to ask “why”? I am prompted to consider this when reflecting on a peculiar piece in The New York Times, Generation LGBTQIA. Consider:
…But even these measures cannot keep pace with the demands of incoming students, who are challenging the curriculum much as gay activists did in the ’80s and ’90s. Rather than protest the lack of gay studies classes, they are critiquing existing ones for being too narrow.
Several members of Penn Non-Cis had been complaining among themselves about a writing seminar they were taking called “Beyond ‘Will & Grace,’ ” which examined gay characters on shows like “Ellen,” “Glee” and “Modern Family.” The professor, Gail Shister, who is a lesbian, had criticized several students for using “L.G.B.T.Q.” in their essays, saying it was clunky, and proposed using “queer” instead. Some students found the suggestion offensive, including Britt Gilbert, who described Ms. Shister as “unaccepting of things that she doesn’t understand.”
Over at The Daily Caller, Time for a secular right. But what does this mean??? Last I checked the majority of Republican voters are not evangelical Protestants. But, evangelical Protestantism, and to a great extent Southern white sectionalism, are associated with the Republican and conservative brand in the United States. Obviously one has to be careful about overplaying this aspect; not too many people at National Review (or The Daily Caller!) are culturally Southern white evangelicals. But that’s not really the point.
The Democratic party is a coalition of highly religious blacks and highly secular Jews, to point to the two cultural antipodes. Despite the fact that one of the most avowedly religious segments of American society, blacks, are a substantial proportion of the Democratic coalition, the reality is that the Democrats are culturally dominated by elite secular liberals. Yet they tend to put up professing Christians, albeit liberal ones, such as Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama, as national candidates. But one needs to be careful about one plays this gimmick. To a great extent in 2008 many of John Edwards’ supported him because they felt his synergy of his white Southern male identity could balance out his hard Left politics (in 2008 he was to the Left of the other two major candidates). He didn’t fool anyone, and he failed the authenticity test (later other aspects of his character confirmed this general tendency in his personality).
Given the right conditions a conservative Southern evangelical Potestant Republican national candidate can win. But I believe it would be harder than if the standard bearer exhibited this cultural profile. The issue here is that to a great extent they’d be an inverse Michael Dukakis, combing a particular brand of politics with all the associated identity markers. Granted, George W. Bush won with a Southern evangelical Protestant identity, but the reality is that as a Texan he was not quite the prototype, and, his own background is that of a New England WASP (though George H. W. Bush has spent most of his life now as a Texan, I think it is fair to contend that culturally he remains un-Texan in affect). Therefore the strategy for the Republicans is not to become secular. The reality is that the Republican party is the white Christian party. Rather, it would be to pull a ” reverse Clinton.” On paper Mitt Romney fit that bill, but the reality is that unlike Clinton Romney seems to be a relatively pedestrian politician. A white ethnic governor from the Midwest or Northeast, or a “cowboy” from the West, would perhaps at least neutralize some of the cultural concerns that a explicitly sectional Republican party would elicit.