The End? Good.

Screenshot 2016-02-17 11.27.07

This is an Ending of some sort for conservatism as we’ve known it, and, depending on outcomes, probably liberalism as well. For better or worse – and I’m just enough of a political Pollyanna to think “better,” I’d say it is time for a major re-alignment in American politics and for a questioning of some of the assumptions we’re all making.

I don’t much care for the idea of either a narcissistic blowhard capitalist or an idealistic septuagenarian sitting in the White House, but I’ll freely admit that the system needed the combined jab-to-the-face/punch-to-the-gut these two represent.

When the Left Denies Science

Galileo’s Middle Finger is one of the most important social-science books of 2015 because of how thoroughly it punctures liberal smugness about science.

Jesse Singal
When Liberals Attack Social Science
The New Yorker
December 30, 2015

I spare no virtual ink in this forum excoriating those who would deny science in the name of political ideology, and am studiously non-partisan about this: the conservatives who still refuse to consider the possibility of climate change, end stem-cell research, or keep evolution out of textbooks come under as much fire as the liberals engaged in a jihad against GMOs, who deny the role of evolution in the human brain, and who in the words of Michael Shermer, maintain that “everything natural is good, and everything non-natural is bad.”

So it is encouraging to come across Jesse Singal’s moving review of Galileo’s Middle FingerAlice Dreger’s new book about what happens when science clashes with activist liberal dogma. In the book, Dreger documents in meticulous detail two specific cases of when this happens, and the results are disturbing. I won’t go into specifics, but suffice to say that both researchers collected evidence that pointed in a direction that challenged liberal dogma, and as a result, faced baseless academic and popular witch hunts aimed at ruining their lives and their careers, not simply challenging their conclusions.

That this is reprehensible is axiomatic. As Singal notes:

We should want researchers to poke around at the edges of “respectable” beliefs about gender and race and religion and sex and identity and trauma, and other issues that make us squirm. That’s why the scientific method was invented in the first place. If activists — any activists, regardless of their political orientation or the rightness of their cause — get to decide by fiat what is and isn’t an acceptable interpretation of the world, then science is pointless, and we should just throw the whole damn thing out.

These accusations are not being flung by some right-wing PAC. Not only is The New Yorker somewhere to the left of center in its own editorial policies, Dr. Dreger is a genuine progressive who has spent years working with the transgendered. Her conclusions are thus animated by a desire to rid science of politics rather than score points on the opposition.

Read the entire review, and then do what I did: pick up Dregel’s book. This nonsense has to end, and we, by being informed, can help end it.

The Limits of “Mansplaining”

 

It is a fact universally acknowledged that a woman in possession of an opinion must be in want of a correction. Well, actually, no it isn’t, but who doesn’t love riffing on Jane Austen? The answer is: lots of people, because we’re all different and some of us haven’t even read Pride and Prejudice dozens of times, but the main point is that I’ve been performing interesting experiments in proffering my opinions and finding that some of the men out there respond on the grounds that my opinion is wrong, while theirs is right because they are convinced that their opinion is a fact, while mine is a delusion. Sometimes they also seem to think that they are in charge, of me as well of facts.

Source: “Men Explain Lolita to Me,” Rebecca Solnit, Literary Hub

I can understand Rebecca Solnit’s frustration. Even in these “modern” times, there is no shortage of men who will discount the opinion of a woman because of her gender, sometimes without even realizing that they’re doing it. Neither men nor women should hesitate to raise a flag when it happens.

At the same time, it should be apparent to the wise reader that not everything that might feel like “mansplaining” is actually a manifestation of paternalist condescension. At the risk of appearing to be “mansplaining” myself, a few commonsense points to keep in mind ere using that term:

  1. There are people – men and women – who believe they are right and you are wrong and with undisguised condescension will tell you so in no uncertain terms, even when they are so wrong that it beggars belief. 
  2. Those people can and will do so without respect to your gender, race, creed, color.
  3. The behavior pattern described above is not limited to white men. Indeed, I have been the victim of such behavior from men and women of caucasian, Asian, and African-American derivation. I have dated women – one Asian woman in particular – who treated every word that came out of my mouth as wrong, and felt the compulsion to enlighten me, the ignorant barbarian. I know for a fact that she has behaved in a like fashion to men who were older, wiser, and wealthier than I.
  4. In many cases, such behavior is rooted in arrogance. But often when we encounter such pushback, it is because we ourselves are actually wrong, and we refuse to see it.
  5. The real universal truth – apologies to Jane Austen – is that a person in public possession of an opinion must be in want of correction. To have an opinion and state it publicly is a prima facie invitation for people to either agree or disagree with you. (For proof, spend a morning looking at Facebook or Tumblr.) That they don’t agree doesn’t make them bad. It simply means they take issue with your opinion, which, however sincerely held, is probably not universal. In the words of Sergeant Hackler, “opinions are like assholes: everyone’s got one, and they all stink.” This is why blogs have comment sections.
  6. All of us need to get over the sanctity of our opinions. The beauty of free speech is that we can have our own opinions. The ugliness of free speech is that we grow so attached to them that we cling to them even when the preponderance of facts proves us wrong.
  7. Opinions may at times be supported by facts, but we confuse the two far too often.

I will grant that all of the above is apocrypha and opinion. You are cordially invited to disagree. Ms. Solnit, for her part, might well take the above as a “mansplain,” prima facie evidence that I am an anti-feminist, and then dismiss me out of hand.

“Mansplaining” happens, and when it takes place in the context of an individual rejecting the opinion of a woman out of hand, it is wrong. Yet we must acknowledge that this is a negative behavior for which white straight men cannot claim anything approaching a monopoly.

What is more, the implicit danger of a term like “mansplaining” is that it is so vague and haphazardly applied that they can undermine debate, compelling some people (straight white males) to self-censor for fear of appearing sexist, and others to dismiss out of hand the opinions of people with that same gender, race, and orientation. The indiscriminate condemnation of a white male rebuttal to the opinion of a woman or person of color “mansplaining” only serves to label every straight male opinion as illegitimate, irrelevant, or worse.

Finally, you do not win the war for civility and tolerance by fostering more incivility and discrimination. That is the line Ms. Solnit and others like her must tread with care, lest it serve only to replace old hurts with new ones.

 

Yale and the Apotheosis of Infantile Leftism

“Free speech is all well and good, apparently, when the speaker is a bigoted lunatic from a “marginalized” group; not so good when the person in question is a Yale professor advocating for her students’ freedom to choose a Halloween costume.”

Source: Where Are The Adults at Yale? – Tablet Magazine

Read James Kirchick’s article. It is not perfect – he tries to make too many points at once – but he manages to make many that are worth positing.

First, that there are better ways to handle hateful speech, much less moderate arguments from a “well-meaning child developmental psychologist,” than plead for safe-rooms and the elimination of opposing voices on campus. He did so when he was a student, engaging in open debate without calling for institutional retribution against the individual (or the campus groups that sponsored him) who attacked both his identity and him personally.

Second, that any parallels between what is happening at Yale and the campus uprisings of the 1960s is superficial at best. Five decades ago the demand was for student empowerment and the freedom of speech on campus; now students are demanding protection from emotional pain and the end to free and open debate.

Third, that the current issue at Yale is the natural evolution of an identity politics that has devolved to ” ‘grievance mongering,’ which holds that the relative virtue of an argument is directly proportional to the professed ‘marginalization’ of its proponent,” and that whatever the virtues of such thinking may be, it is inimical to the goals of a liberal education.

Fourth, that the condemnation of such behavior comes not just from conservative old white men, but from acknowledged liberals like President Barack Obama.

And finally, that a university is not and should not be a democracy. It is, rather, an environment run by leading educators with the advice and input of students and primarily for the benefit of those students. Thanks to the efforts of the student movement of the 1960s, those being educated have a vote in the way a university is run. But they do not be pandered to and allowed to run rampant over the operation of the university, if for no other reason than their short-term desires are often at odds with the long-term interests of the university and the wider community it serves.

 

Greg Lukianoff: The New Yorker is wrong about Free Speech

“It’s because The New Yorker has a history of publishing great articles like Packer’s that I was so disappointed to read Kelefa Sanneh’s article, “The Hell You Say,” in the August 10 edition of the magazine. In the article, Sanneh likens free speech advocates (like me, I assume) to “gun nuts,” claims that campus speech codes have mostly been repealed (which is completely false), then bizarrely questions if people can believe in a diversity of belief. Those of us who are big fans of the concept of pluralism found the latter particularly mystifying.”

Source: A Dozen Things ‘The New Yorker’ Gets Wrong about Free Speech (And Why It Matters) | Greg Lukianoff

Read both Sanneh’s article and Lukianoff’s rebuttal. At the very least, Sanneh makes good points badly.

American Incompatibility

“Alasdair Macintyre is right,” he said. “It’s like a nuclear bomb went off, but in slow motion.” What he meant by this is that our culture has lost the ability to reason together, because too many of us want and believe radically incompatible things.

via After Obergefell, Revisiting Prof. Kingsfield | The American Conservative.

I don’t consider myself to be on the far right of the American political spectrum. If anything, I’m one or two campsites to the right of the American center line.

But I spend my life worrying about exactly what MacIntyre and Rod Dreher are talking about. America is increasingly two countries, and we aren’t spending enough time weaving the connective fabric to hold the two together and draw them closer.

Compromise is a singularly American virtue. It is time we all rediscovered it before it is too late.