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Posts Tagged ‘Liberal’

I read a rather extraordinary piece in the Canadian newspaper, The Globe and Mail. It is called “Don’t bother trying to understand those on the ‘other side'”, and is written by a University of Toronto philosophy professor named Mark Kingwell.

Professor Kingwell writes:

“There is a moral baseline that Nazism is indefensible; we ought likewise to recognize that most people can’t actually be reasoned with.” I was with him about the Nazis, but that is quite a left turn in the next sentence.

More:
“The utopia of a rational public sphere is an illusion, and efforts to unearth it – in the form of core American values, Canadian tolerance or some other political chimera – fool’s errands. What we need, instead, is what social scientists call scaffolding.”

In simple forms, scaffolding means things such as air-traffic control, highway roundabouts, exit signage, and queuing conventions – small mechanisms that allow humans to co-ordinate action when their individual interests might otherwise generate chaos. … Why don’t we acknowledge that political belief is also an aspect of human behaviour in need of external control? ”

Professor Kingwell would do well to re-introduce himself to the recent work of Jonathan Haidt at New York University on Moral Foundations Theory. Haidt theorizes that there are several moral values people share – liberals and conservatives agree that fairness and compassion are important. Conservatives also value loyalty, authority and sanctity. So when a liberal makes an assertion based on fairness or compassion, a conservative often can understand from where the liberal is coming. But when a conservative tries to balance those ideas, liberals can’t understand why those other values even matter.

Mr. Kingwell, rather than make further attempts to understand the other (ie. conservative) side, instead seeks to proscribe certain kinds of speech:
“Curbs on speech and strict rules of engagement – no interruptions, no slogans, no talking points – may be the right answer here. We already, in this country, ban hateful speech. Let’s go farther and insist on discourse rules, limits on public outrage and aggressively regulated social media. We could even ban media panel discussions.”

The sheer impossibility of enforcing such rules makes this suggestion sound silly. What exactly is the penalty for interrupting anyway? There are people on the fringes of each side that don’t listen to reason. But I disagree with Professor Kingwell when he says:
“Classical liberals argue that bad speech should be met with more and better speech, that the marketplace of ideas will short bad stocks and return investment on good ones. Alas, not so.”
On the contrary, I say that most people, given a compelling message and messenger, will take opposing arguments into account. As an anonymous blogger (due to job concerns), I don’t make personal attacks. I think if you do, you should name yourself. I’m sure Professor Kingwell means well, but I found his prescription unconvincing.

He’s not completely wrong, though in that, there are things more than rational arguments sometimes. I have found people are much more receptive to a message if the person making it has led by example. This leads me to another a much more useful Globe and Mail article entitled “I was a neo-Nazi. I know the cure for hate” by Tony McAleer. In short, the answer was compassion. I think Mr. McAleer raises a strong point. He speaks that one of the reasons he joined one of those groups is because it was the first place he felt connected and appreciated by others.  It wasn’t hate that attracted him; it was acceptance.  It mirrored a recent article by a sixty-something Catholic priest in Virginia’s Arlington Diocese speaking with regret of his time with white supremacists in his (pre-seminary) early twenties. It also mirrors the reason a lot of young men of any race join street gangs. One thing I noticed about the Charlottesville marchers – a lot of them were very young. Attack their gross ideology, sure, but don’t write them off as unworthy of salvaging. Many of them are working out personal issues of which hate is a symptom, not a cause. If you want to organize large, peaceful counter-demonstrations, fine.  But I don’t see screaming and violence doing much to help. It is more productive to talk in a manner as to separate the young and impressionable from the hard-core racists. Simply calling those young people – not their actions, but them – “evil” is counterproductive. That isolation and disdain from others is what helped create them in the first place. More isolation and disdain isn’t likely to fix them. Compassion may though.  That’s one of those universal values conservatives and liberals actually agree on.

– 1TF

P.S.  Professor Kingwell raised a point I thought he was dead right on, namely his calling out those who “deliberately misinterpret” what their opponent is saying. I share his exasperation with that, if not his prescription for it.  I hope I have accurately reflected his position on these matters. If not, it’s not deliberate.

 

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David Leonhardt of the New York Times wrote an interesting column complaining about declining funding for college. He held that declining state funding for college was leading to declining economic diversity, especially at four-year colleges.

Meanwhile, Fareed Zakaria was on CNN lamenting the lack of ideological diversity on campus, citing in particular the Notre Dame students who walked out on Vice President Pence’s graduation speech and the Middlebury students who shut down Charles Murray’s speech. There have also been problems reported at Berkely and at Evergreen State. It also seems each year, while the vast majority of graduation speakers are liberal, only conservative speakers get protested.

I wonder if these things might be tied. I went to school with a lot of working class & middle class students. They weren’t trying to “discover themselves” or “save the world” – they were learning to better their lot in life and become productive citizens. Many, like me, were working part-time to put themselves through school.
When you’ve actually got to struggle to get that education, you’re a little too busy to look for new things to be angry about. I suspect part of the problem of the Yale kids who berated two professors who had the temerity to think the school didn’t need to police Halloween costumes is they didn’t actually have real struggles to worry about. These Evergreen State kids who abused the professor who didn’t want to participate in a “Day Without White People” or whatever they wanted to call it need to see some actual hardship.

Some professors will try to guide them properly, but they appear to be becoming an actual aggrieved minority. Just look at what happened to the Duke University professor who didn’t want to attend diversity training, and advised other faculty members not to attend. He’s no longer employed at Duke. He should have been more diplomatic, but I also think had he been undiplomatic in supporting a liberal position, he’d still have a job.

Duke had someone undiplomatically express a conservative opinion (held in secret by many other faculty) and he is no longer employed. Yale had a mob assault a faculty member, and Yale just gave two of the mob leaders an award. People see this – and makes them wonder what the students are actually learning. And whether they want the government to pay for that.

Mr. Leonhardt may well have a point about lack of funding for higher education aid to poorer students.  And I appreciate that he also cited the money wasted on student centers and expensive never-pay-for-themselves athletic programs and other lower utility budget items as culprits in this problems.  But he may want to take a look at the ideological diversity of the faculty as another culprit.  The waste and the ideological litmus test (which are another form of waste by ruling out better qualified right-of-center applicants) makes people on the right less interested in funding overall.  But I’m really curious why those on the left seem less interested in financial aid.  Could it be that letting in more working-class, pragmatic students might interfere with the entitled liberal ones who may start protests but also vote the ‘right way’?

– 1TF

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