Friday, December 22, 2017

Jonathan Haidt on the liberal outpouring

City Journal has a fascinating abstract of Jonathan Haidt's recent lecture at the Manhattan Institute. He talks about the wonder called a "fine-tuned liberal democracy", 
When we look back at the ways our ancestors lived, there’s no getting around it: we are tribal primates. We are exquisitely designed and adapted by evolution for life in small societies with intense, animistic religion and violent intergroup conflict over territory. We love tribal living so much that we invented sports, fraternities, street gangs, fan clubs, and tattoos. Tribalism is in our hearts and minds... Here is the fine-tuned liberal democracy hypothesis: as tribal primates, human beings are unsuited for life in large, diverse secular democracies, unless you get certain settings finely adjusted to make possible the development of stable political life. This seems to be what the Founding Fathers believed. Jefferson, Madison, and the rest of those eighteenth-century deists clearly did think that designing a constitution was like designing a giant clock, a clock that might run forever if they chose the right springs and gears... They built in safeguards against runaway factionalism, such as the division of powers among the three branches, and an elaborate series of checks and balances. But they also knew that they had to train future generations of clock mechanics. They were creating a new kind of republic, which would demand far more maturity from its citizens than was needed in nations ruled by a king or other Leviathan.
He points to the rise of centrifugal forces and weakening of centripetal forces that hold together the social fabric. In particular, he points to the absence of a unifying enemy, divisive social media, growing immigration and attendant diversity, radicalisation of the Republican Party (fuelled by the likes of Fox TV), and the new identify politics of the Left. 

On the last, he quotes Jonathan Rauch to define identity politics - a “political mobilization organized around group characteristics such as race, gender, and sexuality, as opposed to party, ideology, or pecuniary interest.” He gives the example of Martin Luther King's speech as an example of good kind of identity politics "because it framed our greatest moral failing as an opportunity for centripetal redemption". He contrasts this with a new version of identity politics taught in universities since the last five years - intersectionality. 
The term and concept were presented in a 1989 essay by KimberlĂ© Crenshaw, a law professor at UCLA, who made the very reasonable point that a black woman’s experience in America is not captured by the summation of the black experience and the female experience. She analyzed a legal case in which black women were victims of discrimination at General Motors, even when the company could show that it hired plenty of blacks (in factory jobs dominated by men), and it hired plenty of women (in clerical jobs dominated by whites). So even though GM was found not guilty of discriminating against blacks or women, it ended up hiring hardly any black women. This is an excellent argument. What academic could oppose the claim that when analyzing a complex system, we must look at interaction effects, not just main effects?
He describes its consequences, 
But what happens when young people study intersectionality? In some majors, it’s woven into many courses. Students memorize diagrams showing matrices of privilege and oppression. It’s not just white privilege causing black oppression, and male privilege causing female oppression; its heterosexual vs. LGBTQ, able-bodied vs. disabled; young vs. old, attractive vs. unattractive, even fertile vs. infertile. Anything that a group has that is good or valued is seen as a kind of privilege, which causes a kind of oppression in those who don’t have it. A funny thing happens when you take young human beings, whose minds evolved for tribal warfare and us/them thinking, and you fill those minds full of binary dimensions. You tell them that one side of each binary is good and the other is bad. You turn on their ancient tribal circuits, preparing them for battle. Many students find it thrilling; it floods them with a sense of meaning and purpose.
And here’s the strategically brilliant move made by intersectionality: all of the binary dimensions of oppression are said to be interlocking and overlapping. America is said to be one giant matrix of oppression, and its victims cannot fight their battles separately. They must all come together to fight their common enemy, the group that sits at the top of the pyramid of oppression: the straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied Christian or Jewish or possibly atheist male. This is why a perceived slight against one victim group calls forth protest from all victim groups. This is why so many campus groups now align against Israel. Intersectionality is like NATO for social-justice activists.

This means that on any campus where intersectionality thrives, conflict will be eternal, because no campus can eliminate all offense, all microaggressions, and all misunderstandings. This is why the use of shout-downs, intimidation, and even violence in response to words and ideas is most common at our most progressive universities, in the most progressive regions of the country. It’s schools such as Yale, Brown, and Middlebury in New England, and U.C. Berkeley, Evergreen, and Reed on the West Coast. Are those the places where oppression is worst, or are they the places where this new way of thinking is most widespread?
Let me remind you of the educational vision of the Founders, by way of E.D. Hirsch: “The American experiment . . . is a thoroughly artificial device designed to counterbalance the natural impulses of group suspicions and hatreds . . . This vast, artificial, trans-tribal construct is what our Founders aimed to achieve.” Intersectionality aims for the exact opposite: an inflaming of tribal suspicions and hatreds, in order to stimulate anger and activism in students, in order to recruit them as fighters for the political mission of the professor. The identity politics taught on campus today is entirely different from that of Martin Luther King. It rejects America and American values. It does not speak of forgiveness or reconciliation. It is a massive centrifugal force, which is now seeping down into high schools, especially progressive private schools.
It is this dynamics of intersectionality that has made the liberal opinion leaders advocate simplistic positions in favour of free-trade, globalisation, deregulation, immigration, excessive individualism and individual rights, and so on. The backlash is for everyone to see.

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