“Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.” — Marx
As I continue to work on my relocation to the sociopolitical desert, I find myself irritated? Saddened? Weary… of statements I find on social media along the lines of “If you support (or for some, if you don’t support) [Politician or policy X], just go ahead and unfriend/unfollow me.”
While people of course have the right to interact on social media with anyone they choose — or with no one, if they prefer, it has always seemed odd to me that political similarity would be the sine qua non for a relationship. I’m connected via social media to a wide variety of people. I agree with some, and disagree quite vehemently with others. But I can’t help thinking that their politics are the least interesting part of who they are. We’re back to Mondo’s Law again: If your life isn’t bigger than your politics, you’re doing one of them wrong.
Again, I think some of this goes to the fact that my best friend and I differ radically on these matters, and in a sense, I suppose our differences are growing as I try to withdraw from a sphere of life in which he’s deeply invested. But I know he’s going to watch the same basketball game that I will this afternoon, and that we both love our wives and kids, and that he would likely enjoy watching the leaves fall on my patio as much as I do.
I also think that some of this stems from the truth that I don’t much care to tell other folks what to do. To cop a line from Eric Hoffer, because I find my own business worth minding, I don’t need to try to mind that of others.
But finally, I don’t know why I would want only to be surrounded by people who think like I do. I am a limited instrument — there are things I think about and do very well, but there are other things at which I’m dreadful. Why would I want to live in an entire social universe that shares my blind spot? Something useful — or at least, something interesting — might be going on there.
So I hope it doesn’t ruin anyone’s day, but I don’t particularly care about Candidate X — he or she is just someone else who thinks we should punish people who disobey him or her, anyway. And if you don’t like it? Feel free to tell me why. At worst, I’ll probably disagree.
Good post, ProfMondo.
You know, I go through life with the general idea I haven’t yet gone mad, that I understand the objective meanings of words, and that I can both process and describe events that define reality. Having said that, I’ve argued issues and arrived at that place you described, red-hot and glaring to the point where I was willing to disconnect from dissenters. I’ve also hovered over the unfriend button a few times but never went through with it. So when you find this sociopolitical desert, do send me the coordinates. 🙂
As for your friend, I wonder if he has reached the point where he would advocate the suspension of democracy to install and enforce policies on an unwilling populace. I hope not. It would put a strain on a friendship, even if one side of the relationship is occupied by a very open and tolerant libertarian.
I can’t speak for the Mad Dog, but no, I can’t imagine him being that authoritarian. And may you enjoy the season as well!
I truly appreciate this post. The Lady of the House and I profoundly disagree about politics, but we’d be fools to let that ruin a good thing. I’ve also pulled back from what was already fairly limited engagement with the political sphere; as far as I can tell, we’re in a period of polarized unreason that has to wind down on its own, and I don’t want to be swept up in it or implicit in it. Thank goodness for the things that bring us together: books, poetry, music, art…
The “unfriend me if you disagree with me on Issue X” trend has definitely increased. I’ve noticed that some people whose Facebook friends have granted their request are already getting bored and now go hunting for conflict in fetid comments sections. I hope it’s not all leading to something worse than any of us can yet foresee.
The guy who comments on a post and takes eight times the pixels of the original post, well, that guy better the Hell have something to say. AND if he just quotes somebody else, well, he is really on shaky ground. Dassme – I went and found this and here it is. Dave
The Yale Problem Begins in High School
by Jonathan Haidt | Nov 24, 2015 | campus turmoil, free speech | 303 comments
A month before the Yale Halloween meltdown, I had a bizarre and illuminating experience at an elite private high school on the West Coast. I’ll call it Centerville High. I gave a version of a talk that you can see here, on Coddle U. vs. Strengthen U. (In an amazing coincidence, I first gave that talk at Yale a few weeks earlier). The entire student body — around 450 students, from grades 9-12 — were in the auditorium. There was plenty of laughter at all the right spots, and a lot of applause at the end, so I thought the talk was well received.
But then the discussion began, and it was the most unremittingly hostile questioning I’ve ever had. I don’t mind when people ask hard or critical questions, but I was surprised that I had misread the audience so thoroughly. My talk had little to do with gender, but the second question was “So you think rape is OK?” Like most of the questions, it was backed up by a sea of finger snaps — the sort you can hear in the infamous Yale video, where a student screams at Prof. Christakis to “be quiet” and tells him that he is “disgusting.” I had never heard the snapping before. When it happens in a large auditorium it is disconcerting. It makes you feel that you are facing an angry and unified mob — a feeling I have never had in 25 years of teaching and public speaking.
After the first dozen questions I noticed that not a single questioner was male. I began to search the sea of hands asking to be called on and I did find one boy, who asked a question that indicated that he too was critical of my talk. But other than him, the 200 or so boys in the audience sat silently.
After the Q&A, I got a half-standing ovation: almost all of the boys in the room stood up to cheer. And after the crowd broke up, a line of boys came up to me to thank me and shake my hand. Not a single girl came up to me afterward.
After my main lecture, the next session involved 60 students who had signed up for further discussion with me. We moved to a large classroom. The last thing I wanted to do was to continue the same fruitless arguing for another 75 minutes, so I decided to take control of the session and reframe the discussion. Here is what happened next:
Me: What kind of intellectual climate do you want here at Centerville? Would you rather have option A: a school where people with views you find offensive keep their mouths shut, or B: a school where everyone feels that they can speak up in class discussions?
Audience: All hands go up for B.
Me: OK, let’s see if you have that. When there is a class discussion about gender issues, do you feel free to speak up and say what you are thinking? Or do you feel that you are walking on eggshells and you must heavily censor yourself? Just the girls in the class, raise your hand if you feel you can speak up? [about 70% said they feel free, vs about 10% who said eggshells ]. Now just the boys? [about 80% said eggshells, nobody said they feel free].
Me: Now let’s try it for race. When a topic related to race comes up in class, do you feel free to speak up and say what you are thinking, or do you feel that you are walking on eggshells and you must heavily censor yourself? Just the non-white students? [the group was around 30% non-white, mostly South and East Asians, and some African Americans. A majority said they felt free to speak, although a large minority said eggshells] Now just the white students? [A large majority said eggshells]
Me: Now lets try it for politics. How many of you would say you are on the right politically, or that you are conservative or Republican? [6 hands went up, out of 60 students]. Just you folks, when politically charged topics come up, can you speak freely? [Only one hand went up, but that student clarified that everyone gets mad at him when he speaks up, but he does it anyway. The other 5 said eggshells.] How many of you are on the left, liberal, or democrat? [Most hands go up] Can you speak freely, or is it eggshells? [Almost all said they can speak freely.]
Me: So let me get this straight. You were unanimous in saying that you want your school to be a place where people feel free to speak up, even if you strongly dislike their views. But you don’t have such a school. In fact, you have exactly the sort of “tolerance” that Herbert Marcuse advocated [which I had discussed in my lecture, and which you can read about here]. You have a school in which only people in the preferred groups get to speak, and everyone else is afraid. What are you going to do about this? Let’s talk.
After that, the conversation was extremely civil and constructive. The boys took part just as much as the girls. We talked about what Centerville could do to improve its climate, and I said that the most important single step would be to make viewpoint diversity a priority. On the entire faculty, there was not a single teacher that was known to be conservative or Republican. So if these teenagers are coming into political consciousness inside of a “moral matrix” that is uniformly leftist, there will always be anger directed at those who disrupt that consensus.
That night, after I gave a different talk to an adult audience, there was a reception at which I spoke with some of the parents. Several came up to me to tell me that their sons had told them about the day’s events. The boys finally had a way to express and explain their feelings of discouragement. Their parents were angry to learn about how their sons were being treated and… there’s no other word for it, bullied into submission by the girls.*
And Centerville High is not alone. Last summer I had a conversation with some boys who attend one of the nation’s top prep schools, in New England. They reported the same thing: as white males, they are constantly on eggshells, afraid to speak up on any remotely controversial topic lest they be sent to the “equality police” (that was their term for the multicultural center). I probed to see if their fear extended beyond the classroom. I asked them what they would do if there was a new student at their school, from, say Yemen. Would they feel free to ask the student questions about his or her country? No, they said, it’s too risky, a question could be perceived as offensive.
You might think that this is some sort of justice — white males have enjoyed positions of privilege for centuries, and now they are getting a taste of their own medicine. But these are children. And remember that most students who are in a victim group for one topic are in the “oppressor” group for another. So everyone is on eggshells sometimes; all students at Centerville High learn to engage with books, ideas, and people using the twin habits of defensive self-censorship and vindictive protectiveness.
And then… they go off to college and learn new ways to gain status by expressing collective anger at those who disagree. They curse professors and spit on visiting speakers at Yale. They shut down newspapers at Wesleyan. They torment a dean who was trying to help them at Claremont McKenna. They threaten and torment fellow students at Dartmouth. And in all cases, they demand that adults in power DO SOMETHING to punish those whose words and views offend them. Their high schools have thoroughly socialized them into what sociologists call victimhood culture, which weakens students by turning them into “moral dependents” who cannot deal with problems on their own. They must get adult authorities to validate their victim status.
So they issue ultimatums to college presidents, and, as we saw at Yale, the college presidents meet their deadlines, give them much of what they demanded, commit their schools to an ever tighter embrace of victimhood culture, and say nothing to criticize the bullying, threats, and intimidation tactics that have created a culture of intense fear for anyone who might even consider questioning the prevailing moral matrix. What do you suppose a conversation about race or gender will look like in any Yale classroom ten years from now? Who will dare to challenge the orthodox narrative imposed by victimhood culture? The “Next Yale” that activists are demanding will make today’s Centerville High look like Plato’s Academy by comparison.
The only hope for Centerville High — and for Yale — is to disrupt their repressively uniform moral matrices to make room for dissenting views. High schools and colleges that lack viewpoint diversity should make it their top priority. Race and gender diversity matter too, but if those goals are pursued in the ways that student activists are currently demanding, then political orthodoxy is likely to intensify. Schools that value freedom of thought should therefore actively seek out non-leftist faculty, and they should explicitly include viewpoint diversity and political diversity in all statements about diversity and discrimination.** Parents and students who value freedom of thought should take viewpoint diversity into account when applying to colleges. Alumni should take it into account before writing any more checks.
The Yale problem refers to an unfortunate feedback loop: Once you allow victimhood culture to spread on your campus, you can expect ever more anger from students representing victim groups, coupled with demands for a deeper institutional commitment to victimhood culture, which leads inexorably to more anger, more demands, and more commitment. But the Yale problem didn’t start at Yale. It started in high school. As long as many of our elite prep schools are turning out students who have only known eggshells and anger, whose social cognition is limited to a single dimension of victims and victimizers, and who demand safe spaces and trigger warnings, it’s hard to imagine how any university can open students’ minds and prepare them to converse respectfully with people who don’t share their values. Especially when there are no adults around who don’t share their values.
* * * * *
*My original draft of this post included the phrase “with the blessing of the teachers” at this point. But this was unfair and I regret it. The Centerville teachers I met were all very friendly to me, even after my talk. I think they could do more to counter the intimidation felt by students with minority viewpoints, but I have no reason to think that the teachers at Centerville are anything other than caring professionals who try to curate class discussions without inserting their own views. Indeed, the comments from “Centerville” students below, in the comment threads, indicate that the intimidation comes primarily from other students, not from the teachers. This is a pattern I have seen at universities as well.
**To help high schools and colleges measure the scale of their problem, we at HeterodoxAcademy will develop an “Eggshellometer” – a simple anonymous survey that can be distributed to all students, or to all faculty for that matter – that can be used to quantify the degree to which members of an academic community live in fear. In the meantime, if you are a teacher, you can use the simple “show of hands” method that I described above, or you can easily turn it into an anonymous paper and pencil survey.
*** To read a new post extracting the 13 comments below from “Centerville High” students, with commentary, click here.
Thanks very much for this, Dave. I’ve been watching Haidt’s work lately, but I missed this one. Good catch.