Thursday, May 19, 2016

The rising tide of social intolerance

Nicholas Kristof draws attention to the stunning ideological skew in US universities,
Four studies found that the proportion of professors in the humanities who are Republicans ranges between 6 and 11 percent, and in the social sciences between 7 and 9 percent. Conservatives can be spotted in the sciences and in economics, but they are virtually an endangered species in fields like anthropology, sociology, history and literature. One study found that only 2 percent of English professors are Republicans (although a large share are independents). In contrast, some 18 percent of social scientists say they are Marxist. So it’s easier to find a Marxist in some disciplines than a Republican.
He makes the case for more tolerance of diversity of opinions, especially of conservative views,
When perspectives are unrepresented in discussions, when some kinds of thinkers aren’t at the table, classrooms become echo chambers rather than sounding boards — and we all lose... Universities should be a hubbub of the full range of political perspectives from A to Z, not just from V to Z.
This echoes the speech Micheal Bloomberg made at the 2014 Harvard commencement in praise of tolerance. Incidentally, Bloomberg and Charles Koch make the case for free speech on campus,
Stop stifling free speech and coddling intolerance for controversial ideas, which are crucial to a college education—as well as to human happiness and progress... By doing so, colleges are creating a climate of intellectual conformity that discourages open inquiry, debate and true learning... The purpose of a college education isn’t to reaffirm students’ beliefs, it is to challenge, expand and refine them—and to send students into the world with minds that are open and questioning, not closed and self-righteous. This helps young people discover their talents and prepare them for citizenship in a diverse, pluralistic democratic society. American society is not always a comfortable place to be; the college campus shouldn’t be, either... 
Whether in economics, morality, politics or any other realm of study, progress has always depended upon human beings having the courage to challenge prevailing traditions and beliefs. Many ideas that the majority of Americans now hold dear—including that all people should have equal rights, women deserve the right to vote, and gays and lesbians should be free to marry whom they choose—were once unpopular minority views that many found offensive. They are now widely accepted because people were free to engage in a robust dialogue with their fellow citizens... such dialogue is now disappearing on college campuses... It will also create graduates who are unwilling to tolerate differing opinions—a crisis for a free society. An unwillingness to listen to those with differing opinions is already a serious problem in America’s civic discourse. Unless colleges reverse course, that problem will worsen in the years ahead, with profoundly negative consequences. Administrators and faculty must do more to encourage a marketplace of ideas where individuals need not fear reprisal, harassment or intimidation for airing controversial opinions. 
This is a problem not just in the US, but across the world. One of the possible reasons for the sudden eruption of the dormant strain of social intolerance may be the emergence of social media. This has given the aggressive proponents of any view a platform to disseminate their opinions immediately, very widely, and in an easily digestible (and manipulatable) form. It also allows them to be able to mount attacks on alternative viewpoints with similar ease and effectiveness. Further, unlike with newspapers articles, the accuracy of facts gets heavily discounted in social and electronic media discussions, leaving the field open to insinuations, half-truths, and lies. The fact that the vast majority of users of these platforms are young people more likely to be swayed by the aggressive and provocative peddling of view points may potentially exacerbate collective intolerance.

Update 1 (04.06.2016)

Nicholas Kristof has more. He describes three reasons for more diversity in universities,
First, stereotyping and discrimination are wrong, whether against gays or Muslims, or against conservatives or evangelicals. We shouldn’t define one as bigotry and the other as enlightenment. When a survey finds that more than half of academics in some fields would discriminate against a job seeker who they learned was an evangelical, that feels to me like bigotry.
Second, there’s abundant evidence of the benefits of diversity. Bringing in members of minorities is not an act of charity but a way of strengthening an organization... I’ve often denounced conservative fearmongering about Muslims and refugees, and the liberal hostility toward evangelicals seems rooted in a similar insularity. Surveys show that Americans have negative views of Muslims when they don’t know any; I suspect many liberals disdain evangelicals in part because they don’t have any evangelical friends... Third, when scholars cluster on the left end of the spectrum, they marginalize themselves. We desperately need academics like sociologists and anthropologists influencing American public policy on issues like poverty, yet when they are in an outer-left orbit, their wisdom often goes untapped.

1 comment:

Sai Prasad said...

Is this the phenomenon at work in HCU and JNU?