Friday, April 13, 2018

More on “Dialogue” According to the Academic Left


Rod Dreher has written many a good piece on what is happening to American education under the daft and authoritarian regime of the SJWs. On April 3, he posted on “The Ideological Corruptions of Scholarship”, then immediately followed it up with a detailed letter from a young academic who decided to throw in the towel rather than conform to the SJWs’ preferred discourse and priorities.

The American Conservative, Dreher’s main outlet, also posts his articles on their Facebook page. The commentary these posts draw, unlike the often brilliant and varied commentary one finds at the original TAC posts, is often shabby and sniping and cheap. I sometimes weigh in when comments sink to a certain level of shallow. It’s depressing to see TAC’s Facebook posts used mainly as a punching bag for pint-sized pseudo-leftists.

This time, however, with the Facebook posting of the April 3 piece, one (presumably) young academic, Jessie M., weighed in at length, making the argument that Dreher’s reading of our campuses is wrongheaded, things aren’t nearly so bad, that he is, in short, cherrypicking. I ended up in dialogue with Jessie, and you’ll see, if you read on, how it ended.

I’m posting the whole thread, surnames effaced, beginning with a bit of sparring with guttersnipes. My reading of Jessie’s finale may of course be wrong, but I’ve a very strong hunch it’s not. Most people like this, I’ve come to learn, the hard way, if they had power simply to delete your comments, they’d do so. For the “safety” of the “community”, of course.

Eric Mader

Here’s how things started out in reaction to Dreher’s piece:

CHRIS M.: I can't imagine being so frightened of the world around me. If he weren't so willing to demonize others with differing views, I could almost feel bad for Dreher.

MICHAEL M.: can you please put the by-line in the post, I only click on these to play "guess who" with rod. i always win.

SHELLY R.: This article is by Dreher. I'm shocked.

ERIC MADER: Chris, Michael, and Shelly: Interesting that you even follow TAC. It looks like you only do so to dismiss Dreher's pieces offhand as "Oh, it's just business as usual in our universities" or "Rod is a bigoted alarmist." So your thesis is that he is making things up, writing up from scratch all the evidence of groupthink and ideological hate-mongering that he includes in his pieces? Yes?

And Chris, you really are a laugh: "demonize others with differing views"? That’s precisely what this piece is about. SJW groupthink is a monolithic ideology that promotes a mono-discourse, organizing constant activities and initiatives to enforce this mono-discourse and "out" anyone who might not be going along.

Oh, but wait, sorry, Dreher is just making all this up, including the lengthy quotes from people in academia who see what's happening.

Y'all are pathetic.

JESSIE M.: The problem is not that Dreher is making things up, but that he's cherry-picking evidence and not explaining any context.

Imagine you're a student at a university who regularly experiences messages that you don't belong there and you aren't as good as your peers, for some reason. This is not conducive to your education. You're put at a significant disadvantage in confidence and willingness to participate, to ask for help when needed, to explore activities and ideas outside of your comfort zone. Confidence is enormously important in most of life, and particularly in learning-- after all, everyone makes errors and fails, and we have tho pick ourselves back up.

Educators have a responsibility to seek out those reasons that affect students in such ways and to mitigate the effects, and to try to prevent the cause itself. It happens-- unsurprisingly-- that classism, racism, sexism, and other prejudices play a large role in undercutting many students at many universities. Workshops calling attention to how we treat each other, and how our treatment of each other relates to patterns in wider society, are important.

I think this *can* sometimes be too narrowly focused, but then why is the argument for these workshops to be eliminated rather than to have more of them on more topics? (And indeed, you will find workshops on masculinity and other topics Dreher notably excludes).

Universities are places for the exchange of ideas, and that requires respect of one another as equals. Sensitivity training may not be the best way to do that, but then suggest something else!! ("Get over it" demonstrably does not work, and is its own "monolithic ideology"). Dreher doesn't offer any solution, he just shits all over the one being tried right now, when it's really still too early to see how well it will work.

Jon Haidt has some really interesting stuff on this topic-- *much* better argued than Dreher. And in the interest of honesty, I'm an academic, but I wouldn't say I'm in some "groupthink" cult, at least not on this topic!

And I should add because it was such a ridiculous claim-- rejection of papers for conferences, etc. Is the NORM. That first example is utterly suspicious, and in any case is pure speculation from a resentful party. Not reliable evidence.

[I was surprised at the length of this comment, but as it was at least relevant, and civil, I replied cordially.]

ERIC MADER: Good points, Jessie. But my own reading is that 1) the SJW approach is way over the top; 2) it is illiberal (speech codes, microaggressions, etc.); 3) what the writer says in the second post about "woke" academic writing as largely conformist hackwork is true for a wide range of fields; and 4), and perhaps most importantly in the big picture, our SJW left is raising up its mirror image in the growing and ever more explicit racism of the Alt-Right, which, depending on how things play out in the coming decade, may not be something to sneeze at.

I think Dreher's and my own solution would be: 1) open discourse must not be shut down; 2) university administrations must not keep caving to gangs of student demagogues; 3) students and faculty must be able to challenge things like "the elimination of whiteness" and "toxic masculinity" as the racist and sexist discourse they are, rather than what happens at present, where a protective shield is built around these discourses, or they are framed as “progress” in campus-wide initiatives, woe to anyone who would protest.

Oh, and also: American university administrative budgets should be cut in HALF, at least, across the board, while more money and more stable employment should be given to the people who actually WORK: i.e. teachers and scholars.

MICHAEL M.: I can’t imagine my self-esteem being so fragile I had to defend Rod Dreher.

And lol @ “we just want to open the discourse” somehow you’ve missed Rod’s book on running away from all the discourse

Also I’m pretty sure half of AmCons online readership leans left, came for the anti-imperialism, and stuck around to make fun of Dreher. Go look at any of their FB posts

ERIC MADER: Yeah LOL. I'm just cringing here in low self-esteem. What a flake you are. No approach to the issues under debate, just little pop psychology jabs. You should be over at Teen Vogue posting. And in fact I reviewed Rod's book, which you haven't read.

MICHAEL M.: Eric wow there is a lot to unpack there. But seriously nobody “viscerally hates” you or Rod, the left has just turned you into caricatures it can laugh at.

And I have to say, we really appreciate y’all playing along. I guess ironic readers are better than nothing, amirite?

ERIC MADER: Plenty of people on the left viscerally hate Rod Dreher, and in my day I've gained plenty of visceral haters too. Although I spent most of my life on the left.

I don't find the left funny anymore, and I don't even find it in any meaningful way the left. What I see is the "left".

MICHAEL M.: i think you need them to hate you otherwise you're just shrill, fragile men shouting about the death of social systems that worshiped them to ironically entertain hipsters

ERIC MADER: Uh-huh. I'm not much interested in social systems that might worship me. I'm interested in things like 1) the continued viability of Western culture, 2) averting authoritarianism, and especially 3) the truth I recognize in Christianity. But you go enjoy your hipsterdom, okay?

JESSIE M.: Eric-- I agree with you in part for many points; I put it off onto aligning myself with Haidt since my comment was already of TLDR length.

I think there are cases that have been over the top, but I've not seen any evidence that this is the NORM in how issues are handled. What happened to the Christakises at Harvard [sic] (the email about Halloween costumes which led to both her and her spouse being spat on, harassed, and eventually fired) is always the example that comes to mind. But this was as alarming to many in the university community-- this is not something "normal" on college campuses.

Likewise, with scholarship there have been cases of concern. Rebecca Tuvel published an unpopular article and received a lot of hate, even from some people within the field (philosophy), but ultimately-- and quickly-- she won out; the majority of people in the field sided with her, even if they disagreed with her position. Haidt has given some other examples of political scientists publicly condemning the work of a colleague.

One of Dreher's weaknesses when he writes on this topic is that he treats the extreme cases as the norm when they aren't-- or at least I've seen no evidence or response to them that indicate this. Moreover, he ignores how much disagreement there is in academia, and he doesn't clearly distinguish professors from administrators. These "controversial people" have defenders from the left, from their colleagues. Hell, Margaret Atwood defended her colleague in Canada who's been mistreated from the mishandling of a sexual harassment allegation. A book was recently published on a similar situation. These cases make the news because there ISN'T groupthink. (As an aside, you'll get no argument from me that admins are paid too much and teachers too little-- I think this is a much bigger problem for education, but here I'm clearly a little biased.)

If you're up for more reading, let me try to give a tempered defense of "speech codes." Speech-police, in a sense, always has occurred. If I referred to you in a way you didn't like, I'd expect and hope you'd correct me. We correct people when they don't call us by the right name, or they mispronounce it, etc. It's a basic thing of respect that we don't deliberately call someone by the wrong name or mispronounce it.

Speech codes SHOULD be unnecessary, and I think someday they will be. (I'm an optimist.) But a lot of people--even people as young as I am-- didn't grow up in a time when we were taught very well about what kinds of words, etc. are disrespectful, at least as disrespectful as calling someone by the wrong name.

As I see it, there are two main options for making the situation better. We can tell people to get over it and just deal with the disrespect that they feel. This has the benefit of some people being able to say whatever they want. It has the downside of some people clearly NOT being able to say what they want, because it will just be dismissed-- "Get over it". The other possibility is to change the social environment to put everyone on an equal footing. Microaggressions are things that really have to be learned-- they're so easy to not notice if one isn't affected by them (hence the name). And someone who makes a microaggression isn't doing anything *Seriously* wrong, in a sense, but one or two microaggressions from a wide selection of people adds up. Imagine if you went about your workweek with everyone calling you the wrong name and using the wrong gender pronoun. I would hope you'd object.

And that's what people at universities are doing; they're collectively objecting, rather than objecting to each individual microaggressor. Where I think it goes overboard is when blame & shame get involved to an unwarranted degree (as in the Christakis case). And I think you make a good point that this is tied to mirroring the alt-right, something I also oppose. But usually this stuff isn't so dramatic, and that's due in part to workshops educating people on social skills.

ERIC MADER: Much appreciate your lengthy comments, Jessie, that make a lot of excellent points I would agree with, and a few on which I wouldn't. But as I'm busy, I haven't been able to respond yet. Tomorrow, I hope. Cheers.

JESSIE M.: I look forward to your response!

ERIC MADER: Jessie M.: I'm as close to being a free-speech absolutist as a sane person can come. What I mean by this is simple: In society at large, there should be laws only against clear, unambiguous incitement to violence. Thus I think most Western countries' "hate speech" laws are noxious. And getting worse quickly. They are noxious for the three reasons that: 1) they abridge free speech; 2) hate speech is notoriously difficult to define and will always be defined in biased ways by elites; 3) suppressing speech only makes bias and hate go underground, where it will get worse.

That goes for society at large, and in my view many Western societies are failing. As for campus communities, I think your perspective that things are not as bad as the Drehers of the world imply is generally good news, though you haven't quite convinced me. For two reasons: 1) I think that since you are already on board with much of the left-liberal interpretation of society, progress, etc. (I may be wrong about this, but just a hunch)--I think that you, like many in your shoes, aren't well-positioned even to *notice* how this interpretation increasingly excludes outlier voices. Shuts them up in fact. 2) The news of campus thought-policing keeps falling heavy and quick, and it is not getting better, but rather worse.

Re: speech codes and microaggressions on campus--and I think this may offer a good example of how you aren't noticing something essential--I agree that in campus communities, including especially classrooms, it would be entirely inappropriate and basically breaking the social contract for a professor or student to use the n-word to refer to another student. If a student in class were to say to another, "Yeah, that's just your n***** attitude talking”--then I think we have a serious problem and the basic social contract that allows civil discussion to continue has been broken. So: Speech codes of one sort or another are appropriate in corporate or classroom settings. But as for gender pronouns, any rules regarding gender pronouns, and as for nannying student populations on this absurd thing called microaggressions, I totally disagree with you.

Why should there be campus regulations forbidding someone from using racial epithets in campus settings but NOT regulations on gender pronouns? The answer is obvious. If a woman student describes herself as a "Mexican" and someone else calls her a "wetback", what they are doing is employing an insult instead of the perfectly correct and noncontroversial term. But if someone tells me his preferred gender pronoun is "xe", and I happen to believe strongly that 1) there is no such gender as xe, 2) the phenomenon of newly invented gender pronouns is a species of cultural decay I don't want to abet, and 3) the person before me is clearly male--in this case, it is *not* an insult for me to say "Sorry, I only use *he* and *she* and will use *he* to refer to you." It is not an insult because *he* is not in itself an insulting word. When I refuse to use these novel gender pronouns, I am not intending to insult anyone, I am merely insisting that *my* usage of English will express my own interpretation of the world. On this, I agree with Jordan Peterson. Since there is a sizable percentage of people who do not subscribe to the recent gender-queering interpretation of reality, for the state or universities to force people to use the language preferred by gender ideologists is authoritarian.

Yes, “xe" will feel offended. That's not my concern and it shouldn't be the concern of university administrations. There are lots of things said on American campuses that offend me, but I’m not calling for people to be censored or for their language use to be policed to conform to *my* preferred interpretation of reality.

On microaggressions, I am also very old school. As in: "So, you are tired of people asking where you are from? So what? You can live with it." Or: "So, you are tired of people referring to your beautiful curly African hair? Give me a effing break. Grow up and lean to accept others' way of making small talk." That this discourse on "microaggressions" even began is a sign of how pathetic our campuses have become.

I’m a Western man living in Asia, in a big city, I've lived here for twenty years, and not a day goes by without me getting at least three or four "microaggressions". "Where are you from?" "What are you doing here?" "Oh, you can speak Chinese!" "Isn't it hard for you to live here?" "I know you people don't like this kind of food." "This heat must be worse with so much hair on your body." Literally. But I'm not upset by it because these are people who are TALKING TO ME--i.e. trying to communicate in ways that break the ice, in ways that, for the sillier of them, show me they haven't given a thought to how OFTEN Westerners in Asia must be asked these same damn questions over and over and over, in my case thousands of times. "Do you have a Taiwanese girlfriend?" I get asked that question by men at least a few times a month. Literally. But still, I'm NEVER going to complain about such "microaggressions", because I see that when humans are racially or ethnically different from each other, they use that difference as a stepping stone to communication.

I agree with you that it is better to practice mutual listening and understanding as carefully as we can. But in the case of alternative gender pronouns and microaggressions, we are *not* dealing with mutual listening and understanding. With the former, we are dealing with the imposition of a certain sexual anthropology, one I and many other people reject utterly. With the latter, we are dealing with crybaby minority groups who want to be proud of their minority status while simultaneously ensuring that nobody ever brings it up in ways they might find boring or annoying. Crybabies who want to have their cake and eat it too and then yell at the baker because he ain't woke enough.

As a rather traditionalist Christian keenly interested in furthering and defending what is good in Western culture, and as a supporter of free speech, I can assure you that I would likely not be able to hold down a job on an American campus at present. I might make efforts to get along, but I still wouldn't survive. Because I've got too much of a mouth on me. If I were to see a group of BLM students carrying a poster that denigrated that abstract thing they call "whiteness", I would consider it my right to challenge it aloud.

"Oh, yeah. So whiteness is a problem?" I'd ask.

"Yes! THE problem," they'd say.

"Well, what about the serious problem of blackness?" I'd ask ironically.

I ask you honesty: If any young professor on your campus were to do that, even in ironic tit for tat, wouldn't there be an uproar? Wouldn't he or she have made a virtually fatal mistake that, if caught on cell phone, would bring down the roof upon his/her head? If so, your campus doesn't enough respect freedom of discourse for me.

Looking forward to hearing any reply you may have. Cheers.

[No reply. Four days later I posted the following;]

ERIC MADER: Well, Jessie M., I read your TLDR comments, and replied in detail. You too busy, or am I to understand it's the usual reason I'm getting crickets here?

[Two days later:]

ERIC MADER: Jessie M.: After your lengthy comments about making space for different voices, your decision to drop this dialogue cold, leaving only crickets, only demonstrates my point. Congratulations.

[And so ends yet another dialogue on “dialogue” according to the left.]

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