Sunday, March 4, 2018

Free Speech: What It Is and Why It Matters

Free Speech: What It Is and Why It Matters
“However unwilling a person who has a strong opinion may be to admit that his opinion might be false, he ought to be moved by this thought: however true it may be, if it isn’t fully, frequently and fearlessly discussed, it will be held as a dead dogma rather than as a living truth. ”
John Stuart Mill
The First Amendment guarantees that the “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of people peaceably to assemble”. This provision clarifies the point that the government cannot pass a law criminalizing the act of free expression. However, certain spoken statements could constitute an act of violence.
“An opinion that corn-dealers are starvers of the poor, or that private property is robbery, ought to be unmolested when simply circulated through the press, but may justly incur punishment when delivered orally to an excited mob assembled before the house of a corn-dealer, or when handed about among the same mob in the form of a placard” (John Stuart Mill, On Liberty).
            In other words, free speech is to be distinguished from statements that directly jeopardize the safety of others. However, the standards for what constitutes such acts of jeopardizing safety need to be carefully considered and evaluated with due care. In his famous statement, John Stuart Mill noted that such acts of violence in speech occur when the speaker clearly encourages others to take violent action against others. Nonetheless, individuals who are often silenced and censored seldom directly encourage violence against others. At the very least, before the act of censoring takes place, it must be shown that the allegedly inappropriate commentary directly causes harm to others that goes beyond the initial emotional reaction to the statement in question. The burden of proof should always be on the accuser, not on the accused.  
College campuses are engulfed by protests against sexism and racism to the point where conservative speakers are routinely boycotted. When “non-progressive” speakers are allowed to visit campuses, their discussion cannot commence because they are constantly shouted down by left-wing activists who demand safe spaces (https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/03/middlebury-free-speech-violence/518667/. )  Right-leaning activists cite the First Amendment as their defense against these acts of harassment. In defense of their position, it is unlawful for government institutions to banish people from public spaces because of their ideological views. However, the same principle does not apply in private spaces.
            One is always free to remove a guest from their home for any reason, regardless of how inadequate that reason may seem. Likewise, owners of private companies reserve the right to terminate an employee or an associate for any reason. Consequently, such acts often take place in the event where the evicted party made offensive utterances. While there is and there should not be a law prohibiting preventing owners of private property from refusing to accept guests or associates whom they find objectionable, there is a moral problem underlying this issue. Specifically, hosts who remove offensive guests solely on the grounds of their alleged inappropriate remarks appear to underestimate the importance of the value of free expression.
            If an undesirable party invades one’s home, the host may evict him and he has the prerogative to defend his private property. Likewise, he has the same right to remove any guest from his domicile for any reason. Nonetheless, there is an apparent moral problem with the act of removing a person from private property simply because the host disagrees with their beliefs. This invites the question of what values such actions promote. Clearly, the value in question constitute an infringement on free speech. Left-wing activists maintain that this is done in the interest of protecting the interests of the most vulnerable members of society.
            Following in the foot-steps of Herbert Marcuse, the left has embraced the doctrine of Repressive Tolerance (om/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/repressive-tolerance). In line with this thesis, the left maintains that everyone has the right to be free from fear and misery. Consequently, they hold that the government is responsible for the individual’s personal well-being. If the government fails to achieve this, they believe that the citizens should take matters into their own hands. In other words, the hooligans must antagonize anyone who stands in the way of progress.
            The reasons why Repressive Tolerance is problematic are numerous. It is mired in the fallacy of the Philosopher King. In the Republic, Plato proposed a theory of knowledge to suggest that one may cultivate an understanding of politics similarly to how one may do so with respect to mathematics. In other words, if one is sufficiently intelligent and dedicated, they may solve any political problem, just as they would be able to do so for a mathematical proof. While it is questionable that even the most intelligent cohort of political thinkers could develop a comprehensive solution to all political problems, it is far from clear that they will have the will-power to do what is right.
            To address this problem, Plato developed the tripartite conception of the soul. As Plato had it, the soul consisted of three elements: the logical, spirited and the appetitive. The latter two corresponded to the passionate and the instinctive parts of the human psyche, while the former represented the intellectual capabilities. Plato maintained that the Philosopher King should be able to subjugate his self-serving instincts to his rational judgment. In other words, the Philosopher King knows what is best for the public and has the moral fortitude to do so, irrespective of whether they welcome the change.
            In the opening volume of “The Open Society and Its Enemies”, Karl Popper identified Plato’s Philosopher King thesis as the basis of a totalitarian ideology (https://www.amazon.com/Open-Society-Its-Enemies-ebook/dp/B00C791JIO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1503168661&sr=8-1&keywords=the+open+society+and+its+enemies).  Popper’s analysis shows that if it is possible and desirable for the most capable of politicians to govern, there is no reason for leaders to tolerate dissent. Plato elaborated upon this point by drawing an analogy between statecraft and the endeavor of piloting a ship. For good reasons, the most capable of seafarers have the privilege of captaincy and in many cases, they have no reason to take orders from their less knowledgeable colleagues. If politics is a craft in the same sense that sea-faring is, there is no reason for the Philosopher King to consider any objections he may face from his constituents.
            Popper traced the development of the Philosopher King doctrine to the philosophy of Hegel, who argued that the Prussian state had the authority to determine the nature of public morality. In stark contrast to the legal positivists who insisted on a distinction between law and morality, Hegel maintained that only the legislators could know the nature of morality and they have codified their insights into law. Building on this premise, Hegel developed the philosophy of “dialectical idealism” which provided a comprehensive account of historical progress. Hegel’s contention was that ideas shaped social reform and such developments frequently occurred within the Prussian State.
Walking in Hegel’s footsteps, Marx famously asserted that he stood Hegel on his head and to this day, Marxism the blueprint for the prototypical totalitarian state. In the “Open Society and Its Enemies”, Plato traced the origins of totalitarian ideology to Plato, Hegel and Marx. The common ground between the three thinkers is apparent: their political philosophers are rooted in the Philosopher King thesis. Similarly, Marcuse’s doctrine of repressive tolerance empowers the intellectual elite to determine who the truly intolerant people are and when they should be censored.
The intellectual successors of Marcuse and Marx have gone on to develop a various schools of thought under the banner of post-modern relativism, which held that objectivity was a fiction and that all claims to a knowledge of truth are merely expressions of prejudice. While the post-modernists have observed that the dominant groups of society will assert their interests, they neglect to apply this criticism to the academic leaders who represent their interests. In most departments of the humanities, registered Democrats outnumber their Republican counterparts by a wide margin (https://fee.org/articles/government-spending-on-education-is-higher-than-ever-and-for-what/). Predictably, the professoriate continues to assert their group interests at the expense of their peers who are a minority in the collegiate milieu. Examples where right-leaning professors have been subjected to hostile treatment are numerous and continue to proliferate (https://reason.com/blog/2017/01/04/georgia-tech-climatologist-judith-curry).
When confronted about their intolerance, academics tend to cavalierly dismiss all of such allegations, insisting that “truth has a left-wing bent” (https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/10/opinion/sunday/the-dangers-of-echo-chambers-on-campus.html). In other words, they tacitly invoke the Philosopher King thesis, implying that the views of the intellectual elite are beyond scrutiny. Yet, evidence suggests that human knowledge is context-specific and scholars who are highly proficient in their field seldom have the ability to apply it to a broad range of other endeavors (https://www.amazon.com/Thinking-Fast-Slow-Daniel-Kahneman-ebook/dp/B00555X8OA/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1520178361&sr=8-1&keywords=kahneman+thinking+fast+and+slow). For example, as Daniel Kahneman has shown, even the distinguished scholars of statistics are not good “intuitive statisticians”, as they often commit elementary errors when forced to solve statistical problems in a real world context (http://www.burns-stat.com/review-thinking-fast-slow-daniel-kahneman/). Despite the enormous frustration progressive professors express at the leaders of the Democratic Party who reject their erudite advice, it is quite likely that the guidance of academics could be misleading in as many ways as it is helpful (https://www.berkeleyside.com/2017/05/02/berkeley-author-george-lakoff-says-dont-underestimate-trump).
The ethos of totalitarianism are ingrained in the collective worldview of the academic left. It is also worth noting that the ideological descendants of Marcuse and Marx tend to be densely concentrated in the humanities and fields where findings are subjected to rather lenient standards of empirical evidence. Hence, the far-left activists are far more common in departments of Gender and Queer studies than in Economics. This is a clear reflection of the underlying philosophical tendencies of leftist activists who oppose free-speech. They are wedded to the Philosopher King thesis which leads them to believe that it is acceptable to silence those who question their apparent wisdom.
In stark contrast to Plato, Aristotle regarded politics as an empirical craft that one learns through trial and error. Building on his distinction between episteme and techne, he argued that no level of intellectual ability allows one to grasp the art of statecraft in an a priori fashion. By contrast, he likened political skill to tangible crafts rather than the purely intellectual undertakings. Consistently with this rejection of the Philosopher King thesis, Aristotle maintained that the rulers inevitable will display bias toward their own interests. Furthermore, in order to solve that problem, it is necessary to create a system where the power-holders have minimal incentives to oppress other groups of people.
Aristotle correctly observed that oligarchy allows the rich to pilfer public resources and depredate the wealth of the polis. Conversely,  if the poor are to have their way, they will oppress the rich. On the other hand, if the middle class were to seize power, they would have no reason to oppress either class. While the members of the middle-class are not any less self-serving than the poor or the rich, they can act as the buffer between the competing class interests. In the interest of creating political stability, it is always desirable to expand the middle class and this should be the key objective of any economic or political agenda.
John Stuart Mill developed the distinction between offense and harm, maintaining that the state should intervene only if one individual directly harms another. However, a mere offense is not a legitimate cause for such an intervention. Consequently, the left’s arguments that their opponents threaten the marginalized groups’ right to exist should be regarded as complaints about offensive speech, rather than as harmful action. Yet, because these instances do not involve a direct call to violence and cannot be regarded as a cause of hate crime, there is no reason for the offensive communicators to be censored. Accordingly, all statements that do not directly harm others are to be regarded as free speech and should be allowed under all circumstances.
Although the principle of freedom of expression may have intrinsic value, its practical benefits cannot be overstated. In the absence of vigorous public debate, the Philosopher King thesis will remain entrenched in the nation’s collective consciousness. If the authority of the leads is not subjected to rigorous scrutiny, corruption, mismanagement of public resources and adherence to misguided doctrines will occur. As a result, the public’s trust in institutions will decline, as the official state ideology will be treated as a “dead dogma” rather than as a living truth. That is precisely what happened in various Marxist-Leninists states of Eastern Europe and Latin America where the economy collapsed, the public lost respect for the rule of law and the commissars could only rely on brute power to enforce their unearned authority.
Aristotle’s criticism of Plato’s Philosopher King thesis is correct in all respects. However, above all, politics should be treated as a practical craft where knowledge is gained in an a posteriori fashion. Consequently, the study of politics should bear a closer semblance to the scientific method than to the one that is employed in the ideological motivated departments of academia. It is not a coincidence that the most vehement opponents of free speech seldom reside in the departments of the natural sciences or that of rigorous humanities, as serious scholars recognize the importance of free inquiry and academic freedom. Conversely, the worldview of the PC ideologues would collapse if tolerance for the diverging viewpoint was part of the culture of their community.
University campuses are the focal points of the anti-free speech activism and several steps can be taken to redress this problem.
1.      Defund the ideologically motivated departments: Much of the curriculum in courses on Women’s Studies, Gender Studies, Queer Studies and Transgender studies are predicated on a denial of scientific facts about biological gender and genetics (https://steemit.com/news/@manuel20/news-post-number-1-2961). In most cases, these courses do little to help students think critically or to learn the basic facts of reality. In most cases, they are scholarly fronts for left-wing activism that teach students to jump to conclusions, offer emotional responses to complex issues and to vilify their opponents. For these reasons, such courses invariably debauch their minds and contribute to the precipitous decline of the intellectual caliber of the student-body.
2.      Support various initiatives that promote viewpoint diversity on college campuses, Jonathan Haidt’s Heterodox Academy is the case in point (https://heterodoxacademy.org/author/jonathan-haidt/).
3.      Collaborate with individuals who intend to expose professors who abuse their authority to push a political agenda in class. (http://www.businessinsider.com/professor-watchlist-aims-to-expose-leftist-propaganda-2016-12) Of course, it will be next to impossible to track all purveyors of such demagoguery, but the most egregious of perpetrators can be identified and exposed.
4.      Defund non-profits that are known for their opposition to freedom of expression. Additionally, organizations that tend to make a promiscuous use of derogatory epithets such as “racist, sexist, homophobe, transphobe, white nationalist” and so on, should be kept under closer supervision. For example, the SPLC labeled Charles Murray as a white nationalist because his findings on IQ suggested that European-Americans tend to outperform African-Americans. Murray’s contention was supported by a wealth of data and nearly all psychometrists acknowledge the existence of the racial gap with regard to the IQ test-scores. That is a well-documented fact, although most psychometrists maintain that 40 to 80% of one’s IQ is a result of genetic factors (http://www.intelligence.martinsewell.com/Gottfredson1997.pdf) It is necessary to question the culture and moral authority of organizations that are more concerned with promoting a political agenda than with educating the public.
5.      Discourage others from majoring in ideologically motivated fields and persuade new college students to enroll in universities that are known for their viewpoint diversity. Jonathan Haidt’s Heterodox Academy will prove to be an invaluable resource in this respect.
6.      Oppose all political proposals to increase funding for universities or expand the availability of federally funded student loans. Once college students begin paying tuition on their own endeavor, universities will be forced to become more sensitive to the financial needs of the students. As a result, the tuition rates will drop and less funding will be available to the Politically Correct departments. Consequently, the universities will need to focus on the truly essential courses that appear to impart practical skills onto the learners.

7.      Oppose grade inflation. Various prestigious four-year universities admit more than half of their undergraduate applicants. For example, George Mason University boasts a 69% admission rate and 84% of applicants who wish to enroll at Marymount University are admitted. Likewise, Michigan State University accepts nearly two-thirds of applicants, as their admission rate is 65.7%. An abundance of underqualified students creates enormous pressure for administrators and instructors to lower their standards. As a result, these circumstances create the preconditions for the emergence of entire academic departments where students can pass with flying colors merely by toeing the party line. 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Middle Class is a Prerequisite For True Democracy




November 7, 2017




The Middle Class is a Prerequisite For True Democracy 
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In the Republic, Plato propounded the Philosopher King thesis, where he argued in favor of the following doctrines. (1) The most intellectually capable of individuals should be in charge of governing society. (2) Private property should be abolished. (3) The individual’s role in society and the degree to which he is rewarded for his contributions ought to be determined by the Philosopher Kings. This argument stems from Plato’s theory of forms, which holds that the true essence of all things is abstract, objective and can be understood through the exercise of one’s intellect. In other words, Plato held that one can understand truths about politics and society similarly to how one does so with regard to mathematics.
To be sure, it makes little sense for a distinguished mathematician to debate the truths of Calculus with an undergraduate student. In Plato’s own analogy, statecraft is similar to seafaring and the Philosopher King should chart the course for social progress just as the captain of the ship navigates the crew’s voyage. Consequently, if the same assumption underlies political thought, the enlightened elites have no reason to concern themselves with objections from their subjects.  Moreover, if the Philosopher King is the knower of all things about politico-economic matters, only he should have the privilege to manage all private property. Therefore, private enterprise and its concomitant market mechanism for setting wages should play no role in a just society.
This rationale leaves out an analysis of the problem concerning the weakness of the will. It may seem that there is a difference between knowing what is right and doing the right thing. Plato addressed this objection by developing the TripartiteConception of the Soul, which consisted of reason, spirit, and appetite. While ordinary people are governed by their spirit and appetite, the Philosopher King responds only to reason. Therefore, he will be able to resist all temptations to act unvirtuously.
In the aftermath of World War II, Karl Popper published the Open Society and Its Enemies, which he declared to be his war effort.  Therein, he identified the Philosopher King thesis as the basis of totalitarianism and traced this political philosophy to Marxism-Leninism. Less than a decade later, Bertrand Russell noted in his History of Western Philosophy that “Plato’s communism annoyed Aristotle”. Aristotle mounted a two-pronged critique of the Philosopher King thesis which enabled him to reject the epistemic and ethical implications of Plato’s theory. In opposition to the theory of forms, Aristotle coined the distinction between episteme and techne, acknowledging the difference between “knowing that” and “knowing how”.
Building on this premise, Aristotle maintained that some types of knowledge are exclusively practical and can be acquired only through experience. Therefore, it is a fallacy of composition to insist that because one can grasp mathematical truths solely through the exercise of the intellect, the same method of acquisition of knowledge is effective in all other crafts. On the basis of this rationale, Aristotle developed the empirical foundation of modern science. In light of the fact that statecraft is an empirical and a practical metier, it bears a closer semblance to science than to mathematics. Accordingly, it is a mistake to conclude that anyone can achieve indisputable knowledge of political matters.
Moreover, to the extent that statecraft is a science, it is a very imprecise one, which is why it bears a closer resemblance to sociology than to physics. Consequently, the process of accumulating political knowledge cannot take place solely in an academic setting as it requires contributions from people with a broad range of worldly experience. Echoing Aristotle’s claim, Friedrich Hayek reinforced Aristotle’s argument against the Philosopher King thesis in his famous essay, the Use of Knowledge in Society.  Therein, Hayek has shown that it is easy to underestimate the volume of knowledge that the government must have at their disposal in order to allow a centrally planned economy to function. Moreover, in addition to economics, the Philosopher King must possess enormous knowledge about a broad range of other socially relevant topics, many of which are substantially more complex than economics.
In the Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle also rejected Plato’s tripartite conception of the soul and developed a school of thought in moral philosophy that is now known as Virtue Ethics.  In stark contrast to Plato, Aristotle held that virtue is achieved not through the discipline of rational thought, but through character-building activities. Accordingly, in order to resist self-serving temptations, one must practice self-discipline and self-sacrifice. The degree to which one succeeds in cultivating virtue depends largely on how diligently and frequently one engages in character-building activities. In light of this phenomenon, recent studies have shown that ethicists are not any more likely to act virtuously than people who know nothing about ethics.
In light of the repudiation of Plato’s Philosopher King thesis, one is left with the question of who should govern. The apparent answer is that no specific individual can be trusted to have unlimited power because of the limitations of human knowledge and the weakness of the will. Regardless of who seizes power, they will act in a self-serving manner in ways that will often benefit themselves and people they identify with. Aristotle anticipated this problem and his principle of the Golden Mean sheds light on this remedy. The premise that virtue is the middle-point of two vicious extremes reveals the nature of virtue in statecraft.
Aristotle correctly observed that oligarchy allows the rich to pilfer public resources and depredate the wealth of the polis. Conversely,  if the poor are to have their way, they will oppress the rich. On the other hand, if the middle class were to seize power, they would have no reason to oppress either class. While the members of the middle-class are not any less self-serving than the poor or the rich, they can act as the buffer between the competing class interests. In the interest of creating political stability, it is always desirable to expand the middle class and this should be the key objective of any economic agenda.
In the “Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy“, Barrington Moore observed “no bourgeoisie, no democracy”. In so doing, he has supported Aristotle’s argument against Plato’s Philosopher King thesis. In a similar vein, modern political scientists Acemoglu and Robinson published the “Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy“, showing that the emergence of the middle-class must precede the onset of democracy. Vice-versa puts the cart before the horse and deprives society of the opportunity to achieve either objective. It is worth noting that the U.S constitution does not mention the word democracy and in the strictest sense of the word, such a regime did not exist anywhere in the Westernized world until several countries achieved industrialization.
Conversely, countries that have prioritized democracy over economic growth have regressed to autocratic forms of left-wing populism. Venezuela, Cuba and Argentina under Peron are striking cases in point. Nonetheless, every rule has an exception and Allende’s Chile constitutes the only example in the history of civilization where a socialist has been democratically elected. Nonetheless, Chile’s democratic institutions were fragile, political polarization ran rife, economic discontent was rampant and the stage was set for a military coup. Even in the absence of the U.S intervention, it seems unlikely that Chile would have blossomed into a genuine democracy.
Nonetheless, the left categorically rejects the primacy of bourgeoisie over democracy and pertinaciously cites Sweden as the counter-example to this argument. Yet, Barrington Moore cited the medieval Sweden as a key example in support of his theory, showing that Sweden never had a serf-class to the extent that many other European societies did. Likewise, in the “Scandinavian Unexceptionalism” Nima Sanandaji chronicled the economic progress of Sweden, showing that the nation maintained a free-market economy long before the wave of economic liberalization engulfed other European societies. Despite this, Paul Krugman maintained that the European politico-economic model is preferable to the American because “it is easier to be poor” in Europe.  In other words, the modern American left seems to be more concerned with alleviating the hardships of the indigent than with expanding the middle-class.
In response to this contention, the left often claims that the middle-class has been shrinking since the neo-liberal reforms began taking place in the 1980s. However, this argument hinges on the specific definitions of the middle class. In many cases, the distinctions between upper-middle-class, the lower-middle-class, the poor and the rich tend to be vague. The left-wing narrative about the diminishing middle class holds true only in the sense that a larger portion of middle-class homes can now be considered upper-middle class. In light of the fact that two-thirds of Americans who left the middle-class have become more prosperous, there is little evidence to support the left-wing narrative that the underclass is rapidly increasing because of the wealth disparities.
Moreover, the vagueness of the narrative concerning the diminution of the American middle-class becomes evident in light of the apparently arbitrary metrics that are used to define it. The notion of the middle-class corresponds to the median income in the nation, but it does not always reflect the financial well-being of the citizenry. For example, the middle class of most European societies is larger than it is in the U.S, however, the average citizen of a Western European country is less affluent than the average American. Moreover, considerable evidence exists to suggest that the quality of life many of the underprivileged Americans enjoy today is comparable to that the middle-class took for granted in the 1970s.
Freedom from class antagonism is a prerequisite for a truly democratic society and this objective can be reached through the expansion of the middle-class. However, this is more than merely a matter of distributing the nation’s wealth in a way that allows more citizens to claim an income that is close to the national median. Class tensions arise when the underclass expands and its members suffer from severe destitution. Despite the shrinking middle class in the United States, the socio-economic trends have pointed in the opposite direction. The poor enjoy a higher standard of living than they did several decades ago and conversely, more members of the middle-class are now likely to be regarded as members of the upper-middle class.
In stark contrast, a reversal of these trends is evident in many Western European societies that are considerably more egalitarian. For example, Spain’s unemployment rate was as high as 25% until very recently and these developments have substantially contributed to the nation’s political instability. The government responded in a hardline manner by suppressing the rebellion, which is a testament to the nation’s weakening democratic institutions. Likewise, the economic woes of France created the political climate in which a far-right candidate who is much more radical than Donald Trump had a considerable chance of becoming president. Even more disconcertingly, if Sweden is to maintain its egalitarian economic policies, the Nordic nation is likely to become a “third world” country by 2030, with palpably disastrous consequences for one of the oldest democracies on the continent.
All three of the aforementioned nations were committed to wealth redistribution and these developments diminished the health of their respective democracies. Although the economy of the United States is substantially healthier, virtually no nation has escaped the financial crisis unscathed. It is not a coincidence that after the living standards plummetted, Barack Obama was able to only pay lip-service to those who condemned the authoritarian manner in which the Bush administration governed. He proceeded to curb the civil liberties of Americans in the form of expanding NSA surveillance and acted undemocratically by waging unpopular drone warfare in six different nations. These trends exacerbated in light of the fact that the two politicians who intended to succeed him no longer had the need to spout spurious rhetoric in defense of democracy.
While the left has legitimate grounds on which to criticize Trump as an enemy of democracy, Hillary Clinton routinely implied herself to be above the law and defended her privilege to have “private opinions” which made her impervious to public scrutiny. It is a well-documented fact that when the standards of living decline and the middle class shrinks, the general public becomes more open to dictatorial solutions to society’s problems. This is partly why at the apex of the Great Depression, FDR issued more executive orders than all of his predecessors did. There is no antithesis between democracy and economic growth, the two go hand in hand. However, the former is a vital prerequisite for the latter.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Grand Inquisitor of the Ivory Tower

“And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew, 18:13
“In the end they will lay their freedom at our feet and say to us, Make us your slaves, but feed us.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Grand Inquisitor
http://hrp.bard.edu/files/2014/10/here-lies-academic-freedom.jpg
In the aftermath of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, America was in for a drastic change. In stark contrast to the 1940s and 50s that were characterized by order and respect for authority, the cultural revolution raged on through the 1960s. Lyndon B. Johnson succeeded Kennedy and energetically responded to the public demand for social change by legislating the Civil Rights of 1964, effectively de-legalizing segregation. Galvanized by Martin Luther King’s fiery oratory, the Black community aggressively challenged institutions they viewed as racist and oppressive. College students rallied against the Vietnam war and the authoritarian formalism of campus administrators.
Echoing the tumultuous spirit of the times, student activist Mario Savio urged his peers to put their bodies upon “the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus” and “to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!”. Contemporaneously, the seditious spirit reigned in Eastern Europe as Soviet forces quelled the Prague Spring and less than a decade ago, the Warsaw Pact subdued the Hungarian uprising. Even the USSR underwent a period of “De-Stalinization” under Kruschev’s leadership.
The American free speech movement swept across campuses questioning the status-quo of the academic establishment. For good reasons, they believed that the culture of philistinism pervaded academic life and scholarly institutions stood systematically opposed to creative expressions of intellectual individuality. In stark contrast to the modern collegial environment, students of the 50s were expected to dress professionally and to converse with their superiors in a formal manner. Educators stressed the importance of building a comprehensive background of knowledge and left very little room for autonomous thought, especially if it led students to question the establishment.
Today, the academic establishment promotes conformity and obedience to authority just as much as it did in the 1940s. Savio and his followers fought for freedom of expression in the name of egalitarian causes. Yet, they have succeeded only in very limited respects. The collegiate milieu embraced the progressive ideals of the Free Speech movement, yet the moral ideal of their campaign has been discarded. As recently as 1994, Savio denounced senator Jesse Holmes as a “crypto-fascist”, yet it did not occur to him that this epithet should be applied to the modern university administrators and their allies in the Democratic Party.
To their credit, Savio’s cohort were willing to fight for their beliefs and that is what they had in common with their contemporaries who fought against despotic regimes abroad. However, the same cannot be said about the Social Justice warriors, their modern-day successors. Far from continuing the original fight for free speech, these students are looking to silence professors, visiting lectures and peers alike. With every passing generation, the standard for what counts as offensive changes and this sharply reflects on the overall mental health ofstudents. The evidence clearly shows that newer students are more likely to be politically engaged.  Moreover, the most active of demonstrators are the most likely to display various traits of mental instability .
When the PC movement was first beginning to gain traction on campuses, comments prominently featuring derogatory views about minorities were deemed unacceptable. Yet slowly but surely, the trend shifted away from excoriating people who make comments that clearly seem racist and toward those who simply appear to think poorly of minorities. In this sense, the inculpation targets not only those who do things that are deemed inappropriate, but also those who seem to be thinking problematic thoughts. There is a manifest similarity between this position of the Social Justice Warriors and that of Christian preachers who teach that hating another person is just as sinful as murdering them. With these considerations in perspective, a new code of thought-control emerged known as “micro-aggressions”.
By definition, people who are guilty of such thought crimes, do not intend to do any harm to the person they have offended. In other words, they are racist, homophobic, ableist or transphobic; but they simply are not aware of that. In the eyes of the Social Justice Warriors, this does not make their transgressions any less severe. To the contrary, those who unintentionally ruffle people’s feathers must have morally corrupt minds in the same sense that Christians who fantasize about committing adultery are deemed to have unwholesome souls. Similarly; Christians may admit that devout believers may act out of character, the Social Justice warriors will also concede that good people sometimes fail to live up to their values. Consistently with the doctrine of the original sin, most Christians believe that man is depraved by nature and because of that, he will always be tempted to do evil. Consistently with this position, professor Noel Ignatiev holds that “whiteness” is to be defined as a social construct that serves the sole purpose of persecuting people ofcolor.
Therefore, it is completely understandable that white people are racist by nature and they seem to have a biological imperative to victimize colored people. Thus, it is to be expected that even the most devoted of white “anti-racism” activists will sometimes slip up and display tears in an “inappropriate manner”, thereby implying that white people are somehow more deserving of sympathy than their exotically colored neighbors .  Such activists are more than willing to forgive their collaborators who simply slip up on occasion.  However, if an individual is guilty of a micro-aggression, it is not the case that he simply acted out of character on one occasion. Instead, it is to be assumed that he is so deeply sexist, racist, ableist, homophobic and transphobic that he does not even realize it. Entertaining thoughts that offend protected groups must come as easily to him as breathing does.
Therefore, he deserves the severest censure and excoriation. In the event where such a person is invited to campus, the student activists will strive to sabotage the speaking event in any way possible. If that does not work, they will create safe spaces to ensure that no “gentle souls” are harmed by what may be said there.  In light of the recent escalations concerning what counts as a micro-aggression, students have been developing increasingly more refined sensitivities to what can be construed as offensive. Now, even the appearance of an effeminate homosexual speaker such as Milo Yiannopoulos causes an uproar on campus, sending hundreds of students scurrying away to “safe spaces”.
These developments leave one with a question as to why the academic administrators continue to aid and abet these developments in juvenile delinquency. One obvious answer is that universities desire to collect greater revenue by accepting hordes of students who have neither the intellectual ability nor emotional maturity to withstand the rigors of genuine education. The other and more politically significant reason rests in the Grand Inquisitor problem. In Dostoevsky’s Opus Magnum, Ivan Karamazov composed a play describing the resurrection of Christ in the 17th century Sevilla. At the heyday of the Inquisitions, He appeared at the funeral of a little girl and resurrected her, cured the sick and performed various miracles described in the New Testament. Christ was immediately apprehended by the head of the Catholic Church and incarcerated in the tower where “the vilest of heretics” are burned. Therein, the Grand Inquisitor demanded to know how “He dared to disturb us”. Christ remained silent throughout the interrogation as the patriarch of the clergy lectured him on how “man does live on bread alone” and that is why people prefer security to freedom.
Despite his brusque manner of treating those who “disturbed” the religious institutions, he clearly was guided by benevolent motives. Likewise; the university administrators who promote policies concerning micro-aggressions, the Grand Inquisitor wanted to protect the people he saw as inherently fragile and incapable of standing on their own two feet in a truly free society. In the Gospel of Matthew, Christ preached that people are to become like children and to that end, the university system continues to infantilize their minds. It is difficult to judge the character of the Grand Inquisitor without suspecting that his actions have also been inspired by ulterior motives. It is clear that he demanded absolute servitude from his subjects and in return, he seized tremendous wealth and power. Yet, the same can be said about the elites of the Ivory Tower whose social position is deeply embedded within the highest echelons of the American politico-economic hierarchy. Just as the Grand Inquisitor provided his subjects with a predictable and a secure life, the university colludes with the public sector to ensure that ideologically obedient graduates continue to serve government expansion upon graduation.  As these students graduate from college, completely bereft of practical or intellectual skills useful to society, they will have little choice but to seek employment with non-profit organizations championing the causes they have been “educated” to fight for.
Indoctrination is never an end in itself, but a means to the end of radically reshaping the collective consciousness of society. Once students are taught that any inkling of a notion that is not compatible with the PC left’s position is a micro-aggression, they will never even entertain the idea of questioning what they were taught. At any rate, they were never taught to think for themselves and the schooling they received ensured that every last vestige of intellectual individuality has been banished from their minds. They reflexively assume that anyone who criticizes plans for the expansion of government must be guided by sinister motives; or as Stalin would have described them, they must be “the enemy of the people”.
In a recent speech, Hungary’s Prime Minister Victor Orban declared that “freedom starts with speaking the truth” and that the “enemies of freedom no longer send dissidents to concentration camps”, but institute rigid thought control policies punishing those who stand for anything national, historical, traditional or individualistic . Orban’s speech received a predictable reaction, yet his criticisms apply widely to cultural milieus across the “free world”. John Stuart Mill defined liberty in a strictly negative sense to mean “freedom from coercion” and this has been the cornerstone of individual rights across the Western civilization. The British philosophers were first to describe a doctrine where people were free to do as they wished, provided only that they did not inflict harm upon others. Mill strictly adhered to the distinction between offense and harm, maintaining that in order to remain truly free; a society must never punish those who merely offend others. Clearly, this lesson has been upon the modern academic establishment and their coterie of cronies who are rapidly eroding the roots of the Western society.
Jeremy Bentham developed the concept of panopticism referring to a prison where the inmate is under constant observation of the guard. In Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault applied the concept of panopticism in a socio-cultural context. At the time of his writing, it seemed that citizens were under constant scrutiny from their superiors in factories, schools, court houses and all other public institutions. People were under pressure to “think properly” or risk having their reputations ruined, which could potentially bar them from the polite society and destroy their livelihood. Since then, this phenomenon has been taken to its vicious extremes to the point where not even the most distinguished academics are safe from their own brand of McCarthyism.
There is no shortage of stories regarding professors who incurred devastating professional consequences because of their heterodox ideological views. Recently, Duke University placed professor Jerry Hough on an administrative leave because he repeatedly criticized the pervasive climate of political correctness on college campuses. While Hough was a senior instructor with over 40 years of teaching experience, he was not a renowned scholar. Nonetheless, even the most distinguished of academics are not immune to such treatment. Despite that Dr. James Watson made enormous contributions to the discovery of DNA, his enormous academic stature was jeopardized by comments that the left judged to be racist. In reality, Watson merely contended that foreign aid to Africa is not sufficiently effective because the average IQ of Africans is substantially lower than that of Caucasians. Far from being a bizarre speculation of a racist, Watson’s claim is amply corroborated by a wealth of empirical studies in psychometrics. Academics cannot procure the freedom to be intellectually honest about topics that the left deems heretical, even if they reached the highest echelons of the collegiate institution. Professor Lawrence Summers was not only a distinguished scholar, but also president of Harvard when the establishment forced him to resign because some of his speeches allegedly promoted sexism. In reality, he merely cited a well-documented fact that the IQs of women tend to be average while men tend toward extremes in both ends of the spectrum. Nowhere did he say that men had superior intelligence to women; his only contention was that men are more likely to be exceptionally bright or quite dull.
The political correctness ideologues are not only the grave-diggers of academic freedom who create a pervasive culture of censorship across every sphere of society; they have no use for the concept of negative liberty or individual rights. Although they call themselves “liberal”, the Jacobins and the Leninists are their true intellectual predecessors. In the strictest sense of the term, they are the enemies of free speech and their objectives are fundamentally opposed to that of Savio’s movement. They have traded their freedom of thought for security and they expect the rest of the society to follow suit because the prevailing zeitgeist exhorts us to do so. Although academics are growing wary of the creeping authoritarianism of the PC movement, many are powerless to resist.  Casualties continue to mount as careers and livelihoods of academics are destroyed for thought crimes.
Not even the common-place white-collar professionals can afford to simply disagree with the establishment. It is up to the Grey Tribe to take a firm stand against this scourge. If we fail to do so, who else will? Recently, a Canadian photographer was facing hard prison time for disagreeing with a feminist on Twitter. Immediate action must be taken or we’ll soon be dealing with a country that we do not even recognize. Instead of the court of justice with the due process of law, we may well be dealing with a ferocious people’s tribunal and a committee for policing thought crimes. We call upon our readers to antagonize this climate of censorship in any way possible. First of all, the collegiate environment is to be boycotted: if you need to advance in your career, find an economically viable niche and enter a trade-school or a “boot-camp”. Avoid all social gatherings that serve the ostensible purpose of promoting this cancer of the intellect. If you do find yourself in such a company, undercut them in any way possible; be it through disruption, tirade or internet publications exposing them for who they are.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

McDonaldization of Education and the Civil Religion of the Left

As I neared completion of my academic program in 2009, I was surrounded by professors who ascribed the economic crisis to “unfettered capitalism”. One of my instructors lamented “if only we had the state sponsor all of our classes, we would treat students as intellects rather than as clients”, implying that if only the universities had more influence over public policy, the disaster would have been averted.  Yet strangely, policies that led to this outcome were developed and implemented by the socio-economic elites who were educated in the most prestigious of American institutions. Most professors see no reason to defend such views on campuses because they reflect the consensus of the academic class. Yet, if they were to make an honest effort to substantiate their point of view, they would probably attribute these failures to the Philosopher King thesis gone askew.
            Upon graduation, I scrambled to earn a living writing papers for college students, most of whom were much more interested in acquiring credentials than in learning. Seemingly, they and I had an unspoken agreement that our transaction was to be treated in strictly economic terms. In other words, there was nothing intrinsically valuable about education and acquisition of credentials was the sole purpose of matriculation. Once in a great while, I’d receive a hostile email from a disgruntled professor questioning the premises of our arrangement and swearing to “wage war” on myself and saboteurs of the “educational process” of my ilk.  In his effusive tirade, one of such instructors urged me to wonder why I “contribute to the dumbing-down of this nation” and whether I realized that “lack of education” was the reason for the financial crisis that left me writing papers.
            Such a brazen allegation laced with seemingly absurd presumptions made me wonder if he believed in anything he wrote. For that matter, I was puzzled how any reasonable person could even entertain such notions. The connection between the financial crisis and the education system seemed tenuous at best. Yet, his irate missive prompted to think carefully about what he may have meant. Or at any rate, what argument a reasonable person his persuasion could mount.
            Contrary to the popular allegation from the right, these professors would insist that they do not want the educated elite to run the country. They would further maintain that the true purpose of education is to teach students to think for themselves. Moreover, the economic crisis was nothing but a result of the educated elites abusing public trust. From this perspective, such unseemly outcomes were possible only because the citizenry is not well educated enough to take matters of policy into their own hands. That is part of the reason why America is a representative rather than a direct democracy.
            In their most disingenuous vein, one of such professors would ask what this country would be like if it was a direct democracy. That is, how much more just and prosperous would America be if every citizen was a critical thinker willing to fulfill his civic duty to participate in the political process? As I have explained in our foregoing discussions, nothing could be further from the true objective of American education (http://attackthesystem.com/2015/11/21/the-post-education-era-academic-institutions-in-the-age-of-philistinism/). The ideals of egalitarianism and an educated citizenry are mutually exclusive. If they weren’t, the academe would have had no reason to continuously lower its standards as it does now.
            Consistently with Keith Preston’s of identity in the rubric of American imperialism, the university acts as a secularized version of the Catholic Church (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Ag0fIa4Vgk).  The practices of distributing degrees in exchange for woefully mediocre work is no more commendable than that of selling indulgences. In both cases, the buyer receives an intrinsically worthless service in exchange for a simple payment and a number of fool’s errands. Similarly to the modus operandi of transnational corporations, universities aim to sell a product that is predictable and efficient. The modern universities operate consistently with the McDonaldization paradigm in the following respects.
Efficiency – Just as McDonalds aspires to minimize the time expended on operations, universities tend to be more concerned with their professors submitting grades on time than in ensuring that their classes are genuinely educative.
Calculability – Similarly to how McDonalds rewards their workers for the volume they output rather than the quality they produce; universities expand the sizes of their classrooms to the maximum, often by lowering standards. The proliferation of degree mills and inclusion of online classes into the curricula of four year universities amply corroborate this point. The principle of calculability further manifests in light of the diminution of the rapid replacement of tenue track jobs with that of part-time TA positions. This further conveys an emphasis on quantity over quality.
Predictability – Resembling McDonalds’ commitment to providing customers with the same service at all locations, college students can expect routinized work from all academic institutions. Regardless of whether one attends Harvard or an online degree mill, they will receive a hefty dose of indoctrination on white privilege, social justice, environmentalism, radical feminism and LGBT activism. Admittedly, some institutions have lower admission rates and higher standards than others, very few universities maintain rigorous standards and even encourage students to think autonomously. The majority of four year institutions have an admission rate in excess of 50% and their graduates average a GPA surpassing 3.3. While the most prestigious of academic institutions may expect their students to provide an accurate account of the assigned readings and implement elementary techniques of analysis, they scarcely expect their pupils to produce an inkling of original thought. As for degree mills, unrevised assignment instructions are recycled from institution to institution and instructors tend to grade papers without reading them.
Control – Oral examinations or projects customized to evaluate each student’s potential to think creatively or critically tend to be limited. Instead, the majority of academic institutions rely heavily on standardized tests that can be manipulated by dull students armed with dog-tricks. Further systemization of education manifests in light of how even math homework is now graded by machines that evaluate students based on how precisely they follow arbitrary procedures. The increased proliferation of degree mills that operate according to highly structured, predictable and recyclable curricula is yet another instance of McDonaldized control.
            In essence, the university is a transnational corporation that operates consistently with the cultural narrative of American imperialism. As such, it effaces all forms of identity based on anything other than crass materialism or social standing within a group. That is partly very few academic administrators mourn the declining intellectual value of a college education and even fewer have qualms about the pervasive culture of political correctness undermining academic freedom. Reminiscently of how Amazon and Wal-Mart want customers from all demographic groups to purchase their products, the universities are looking to enroll as many students as possible, regardless of their background or academic capabilities.
            In order for the universities to achieve this objective, the hyper-PC environment must define the rules of engagement on campus. What is truly important for the university administrators is not that the students learn, but only that they do not offend each other. Yet in order to procure the chattel needed for this achievement, they will need the munificent support of the government. Without the abundance of easily accessible student loans, it is impossible for universities to persuade tens of thousands of millennials to continue taking essentially worthless classes for sky-rocketing costs. Furthermore, this feat would also be impossible if such graduates had no hope of finding jobs upon graduation. This realistic fear that many college students share can be assuaged by the expansion of private and public bureaucracies ostensibly created to serve social justice, but actually produce “make-work” for hopelessly incompetent graduates who can scarcely eke out a coherent paragraph.
            Given that the nation continues to move to the left despite the Obama administration’s apparent failures to revitalize the economy and promote group cohesion among the citizenry, it is clear that the strategy of the academic left has been an enormous success (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/01/why-america-is-moving-left/419112/?utm_source=SFFB). The Democratic party continues to applaud the recent changes in the academic milieu not despite its McDonaldization, but because of it. In effect, the university has become an extension of the government’s executive branch that indoctrinates the youth even more effectively than the liberal media.  Ideas that were once seen as the musings of the Democratic Party’s most radicalized factions are now indelibly embedded into the nation’s collective consciousness. The ideology of the academic class is no longer a view of the self-secluded Ivory Tower bureaucrats, it is now emerging as the basis of the left’s civil religion.

In light of how compatible this narrative is with the agenda of American imperialism, the civil religion of the left will soon become the core premise in the nation’s worldview. The American identity is in crisis and further developments in this direction will continue to destabilize it. Just as post-modernism has been canonized in many departments of the humanities, cultural relativism will soon be the basis of the general American ideology. In such a worldview, there is no place for rugged individualism, individual rights, inner-directedness or any other ideal that the founding generation aspired to preserve. In the new American Civil Religion, weakness rather than strength will be deemed the cardinal virtue where victimhood rather than self-sufficiency will be the ultimate expression of the new American Dream.